Creativity

Looking for Inspiration in Unlikely Places

Recently on a trip to the Montana mountains, where we spent a week camped near a river that slowly snakes through a broad meadow, I noticed a pair of baby ducks who were clearly without their mother. I walked down to the water several times a day to check on them and was always relieved when I found them actively feeding and looking to be in good health.

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I have been interested in birds since I was a teenager and enjoy simply watching them. The more I watched these two ducks I was startled to realize that they were two different species, two very different kinds of duck. One was clearly a diving duck as it keep arching it’s body down into the river in search of food. The other was a dabbling duck incapable of diving, feeding instead on the pondweed and aquatic insects floating on the surface.

I have never seen anything like these two orphaned ducks so different yet so a home with each other. They never strayed more than a few feet from each other’s side. Baby ducks instinctively have a strong urge for the sense of safety in being part of a flock and they had somehow found each other to satisfy that need.

It occurred to me that nature was offering me a wonderful example of creative problem solving and inspiration for how we human may benefit from forming unlikely alliances in these challenging times. The ducks reminded me of the importance of letting go of how we think things should be and opening to being surprised by new possibilities.

This really is the heart of creativity, a willingness to play outside the box, to try new things and imagine new ways of being. Since this experience I have found myself more open to conversations with strangers who I might have previously perceived as quite different from me.

Along that same river I spoke with a stock broker from Chicago who has been fly fishing the region for 40 years and has a deep commitment to the environment. I met a rancher from South Dakota who is on a treasure hunt with his daughter and grandchildren, who explained that the directions to buried treasure was left in the form of a poem that, to my amazement, he recited by heart.

Being more open allows for more inspiration to flow into our creativity as well. I am finding it’s enriching my life in wonderful ways and new ideas keep popping into my mind. So try this. Consider the ways that you can be more open to unexpected inspiration and play with it. See if it doesn’t bring more joy to your life.

Why Does Being Creative Feel So Good?

Why should we use all our creative power? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate. - Brenda Ueland

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Why does really engaging our creative power feel so good? It brings us into the moment. It brings more of our heart, soul and spirit into play. We are allowing the forces of creation to move through so we feel uplifted and inspired. We find we can do more that we thought we could. This isn’t just about creating art but creative action and problem solving in all its myriad forms.

We have all had the experience of being a work trying to solve a problem with the limited capacities of our mind. Finally we give up in frustration, get in the car, drive home, and as we pull into our driveway the solution pops into our head. We have a sense of ah…ha. The uplifting feeling that bit of magic was at work. Where did that come from we might stop to ask if we weren’t so happy to have an answer. That’s how creative inspiration works. We need to allow for it, rather than try to force it.

When we experience this flow of creativity, whether for a moment or for hours we feel as if we have touched the heart of the universe, something bigger than our everyday selves. There aren’t really words to describe it. We just know if feels good and expanded. This applies whether we are writing a poem or designing our garden, cooking without a recipe or anything where we are doing something in a new way.

You can begin to play with expanding your creative capacities by looking for ways you already feel creative or things you feel drawn to and play more with those. Let go of thinking you aren’t creative or that you have to good at it. Better yet, ask your creative spirit what she would like, let the question go, watch what pops in and follow that lead.

See if the act of bringing more of your creative power to your everyday life doesn’t help you feel better about yourself and the world.

Walking Can Really Enhance Your Creativity

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking. - Frederick Nietzsche

Me thinks that the moment my legs being to move, my thoughts begin to flow. - Henry David Thoreau

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When you are engaged in a project and feel the creative inspiration has dried up, take a break. Anything that occupies the consciousness mind in a physical way can open you to the flow of fresh ideas and insights. Doing the dishes or taking a shower are good ways. One of my favorites is taking a walk. You could simply stroll around the block or walk deep into nature.

I have not been alone in my awareness that walking opens creative channels. There is a long list of well known creatives who walked to allow ideas and connections to flow . Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf, William Wordsworth, Nikola Tesla, Aristotle, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Beethoven to name but a few.

Scientific studies have now found that creative problems can indeed be solved by walking, especially in nature. While walking the brain undergoes physiological changes that lower frustration and stress, increase your awareness and engagement with the world, allow for a natural meditative state and improve your mood. All of this helps you to experience more creative connections and flow.

Walking also allows you to balance two states that enhance creativity. Mindfulness, where you are present in the moment, and mind wandering or daydreaming, where you allow ideas, connections, dreams and visions for the future to come to us from the deeper realms of consciousness.

Try it. Next time you are looking for some creative inspiration take a walk. If you aren’t used to walking or don’t have a lot of time, simply start with a walk around the block. Find a park or a trail in nature and see how your muse opens up for you. Your body and health will love it too.

Feel the Satisfaction of Playing with your Creativity?

True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist. - Albert Einstein

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We are all creative. It’s a natural capacity, that when we are willing to play with it in new and evolving ways, feeds something deep within us. As Irene Claremont de Castillejo insists, “nothing is more satisfying to the human soul than creating something new. . . “. It doesn’t have to be a complicated art project. It can be a simple as cooking without a recipe like I did this holiday season.

I had the inspiration to add chopped pecans to the apple crisp topping. It turned out especially delicious and everyone love it. Granted I had learned the basics of cooking long ago and made apple crisp many times, so I had the foundation to play with. I enjoy playing with new dishes in the kitchen as one aspect of being creative.

What keeps us from exercising a sense of creative play more often? I recently re-watched Ken Robinson’s brilliant TED talk on YouTube, “Does school kills creativity?”. It’s the most watched TED talk ever, with 50 million views. Clearly it’s a subject that resonates with a lot of people. The heart of his thesis is that school discourages creativity by making us terrified of making mistakes.

In school a mistake has serious consequences. We can fail. It can affect jour entire life, so we learn to fit ourselves in the box of what teachers want and expect based on standardized criteria. There is not a lot of room for creativity.

Then there is social pressure that inhibits creativity. Along with the apple crisp I tried a new way of cooking brussel sprouts. I oven roasted the sprouts and the tossed them in a mixture of applesauce and sriracha. As I was about to pour the sauce over the sprouts, a friend leaned in and said with disbelief dripping from his voice, “is that applesauce?”. They turned out pretty good. Everyone ate them including my friend. I learned that next time I’ll try using half the amount of sauce.

The story is the same for all my creative endeavors from the countless rolls of film I used in learning to do black and white photography to the reams of paper as I went through as I practiced the art of writing. I have made a vast quantity of mistakes as I discovered what worked and what didn’t and built the muscles of my creative capacities.

What I learned along the way following my urge to create was to fall in love with the process, mistakes and all. Our creative self is less concerned with a finished product than the satisfaction experienced from the act of creating. When we are willing to play with the process without attachment to outcome we are often surprised and delighted by what comes through us.

As we enter the new year I want to invite you to creative play. Take a minute and check in with your creative self. What would she really like to do. Start with ten minutes a day to ease through any resistance, breathe into any fear of making a mistake, be curious and ask “what else is possible here” and see what comes. Above all have fun.



How Does Relaxing Help Your Creativity

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This morning I was thinking of the importance of being relaxed in enhancing our creativity and our capacity for creative problem solving. The sense of letting go and allowing for things to flow and ideas to come to you. I had in mind doing something like meditation or deep breathing and consciously relaxing your body or taking a walk in nature.

I was intrigued when later in the day I came across an article titled “Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving.” Research done at Mississippi State University found that tipsy subjects solved 13% to 20% more problems than sober subjects did. Mildly intoxicated subjects had more “Aha!” moments than their sober counterparts.

The key awareness around the use of a bit of alcohol is that it allows our minds to lose focus letting them wander. This leads to what neuroscientists call “spreading activation” where subconsciously the mind is searching more of brain for answers.

A glass of wine isn’t the only option. In China research showed that drinking tea versus just a cup of hot water enhanced creativity, possibly because of the relaxation triggered by the ritual of making the tea.

Relaxing is important because at the heart of creativity is a willingness to be open to new ideas and possibilities. When we take a break from the busyness of our lives and our habitual ways of doing things we open to more of our capacities for creative problem solving. We are more receptive to ideas coming from our subconscious, more aware of synchronicities that can provide insight and inspiration and giving space for expanded ideas to pop in.

A hot shower can work, so can staring out the window, sitting in a garden or walking by water. What works for you? Try it with the intention to allow more creativity to flow. The beauty of practicing relaxation is not only is it good for our creativity, it’s great for our over all health and well being as well.

Working with the Infinite Possibilities of Your Imagination

This world is but a canvas to our imagination. - Henry David Thoreau

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We use our imagination all the time, whether we realize it or not. When we are worrying about a future event we are imagining the possibility of a negative outcome. When we are thinking about our next dream vacation we are imagining the place and what we may be doing there.

When we are being creative we are imagining scenes as we write, the cake rising as we mix the ingredients for baking, or the blank canvas giving rise to color.

Yet most of us don’t think much about the ways we use our imagination and the mystery of how it works. Most of us hold tight to the confines of the mind, living from its repeating pattern rather than being open to the infinite possibilities that live in our imagination.

All creative acts arise in the imagination. If we can imagine it, you can create it. When Einstein said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”, he was suggesting that we need to work less with our minds and more with our imagination.

So how do we do this when we are used to trying to figure everything out and understand how to change or create something. How do we play with this incredible capacity of imagination that we all have.

It’s like building a muscle. The more we use it, the stronger it becomes and the more we can trust it to support us. A willingness to play where we just pretend some this real and true, the way we did as children is a good beginning.

Try this. Talk to a tree. Whether it outside your window or in your local park. You don’t have to do this out loud. Just ask the tree a question about a problem you are trying to trying to solve or something you wanting a creative answer to. Then take a few deep breaths, relax, let your mind quiet a bit and see what comes to you. Or you could do this as a writing exercise where you ask the question of a tree by writing it on the page and then allow the tree to answer you through stream of consciousness writing where you just let the words flow.

The key is to have fun with our imagination. Know that it is the doorway to the expanded capacities we need in our live an the world today.



Did School Kill Your Creativity?

I believe this passionately: that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it. - Ken Robinson

The most watched TED talk ever with 54 million views is by acclaimed educator and visionary Sir Ken Robinson. It is titled Does school kill creativity? Schools teach us that it's not okay to think outside the box or draw outside the lines. From an early age we are taught to conform to a set norm which offers little room for being creative.

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Long after we leave school we continue to repress our creative self. We have often decided that we just aren't creative. Robinson insists that when people tell him they aren't creative he assumes that they don't understand what is involved. Creativity is actually a process that can be learned. New advancements in neuroscience have shown that it's not a matter of right brain/left brain but rather that different networks of brain regions are enlisted during different stage of creativity. We all have the capacity to access these parts of our brain.

In the past several years top CEOs and educators around the world are insisting that creativity is the top trait needed to do well in the twenty first century. Creativity has so much to add to our lives. It gives us a deeper understand of ourselves and the world around us. It can improve our performance at work and our pleasure in our daily life.

In working as a creativity coach where I essentially act as a midwife to help others reawaken and reclaim the creativity that is their natural birthright, I have found that it is always alive and well just below the surface waiting for a bit of encouragement and nurturing to come forth.

To begin to do this for yourself, stop telling yourself that you are not creative and start looking for all the ways you already engage your creative capacities. Any time you come up with a solution to a problem you are being creative. Since creativity has a strong subconscious element, exercising our intuition, intention and focus as well as an awareness of those flashes of inspiration are key element in building our creative muscles and experiencing how the process works.

To nurture your creativity play with it. Let yourself be pleasantly surprised. Have fun. Resist the urge to take it seriously or feel you have to do it right or perfectly. The only way to be creative is to try something and see what works and what doesn't, then play with it some more.

What Sparks Your Creativity?

One of the loveliest words in the English language is the word “inspiration”. It signifies again the creative breath. It also has to do with spontaneity, with the arrival of the unexpected image or idea in the mind. Inspiration is the flash of connecting light that suddenly comes from elsewhere and illuminates. - John O’Donohue

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We don’t all find inspiration for our creativity in the same way. For me walking can open things up and let the ideas pop in. In my writing, starting with a word or phrase without thinking about where it’s going and allowing what wants to emerge on the page with a willing to be surprised gets the inspiration going.

For you it may be cooking or playing with your kids or grandkids or walking in nature or sitting in meditation or reading poetry or taking a class or dancing around the living room. Take a minute and consider what brings your inspiration alive. Plan to include more of that in your life.

There is tremendous value in sparking our creativity, not only for our work and personal lives but our bodies benefit as well. Research shows that when we engage our creative capacities we produce endorphins, the feel good hormones, along with boosting our immune system and the neurochemistry that increases brain function. We have an overall sense of wellbeing and an ability to solve problems and engage projects in expanded ways.

I know this is so true for me. Even writing a short draft of a poem or haiku immediately lifts my spirit. It doesn’t even need to be something I think is good. The act of opening to the creative flow even in small ways opens us to more flow and possibilities. Play with it and see if this isn’t true for you.