It’s taken me the greater part of the last year to resolve what I falsely perceived as a dichotomy between creative interpretations of my inner experiences and the actuality of those states. The schism between how I represented myself in word and image and the reality of my consciousness. Indeed, when I first started The Used Life, as a space in which to be my authentic self, it worried me that the more I filled my blog with poetry, blips of fiction, and markedly creative interpretations of psychological theory, the further I would move away from my goal (and, possibly, from entering the field of psychology professionally). As if authenticity, by its nature, demands rationality. Compartmentalization, blandness, and a lack of aesthetic sensitivity. As if to be were a passive enterprise. As if I should approach my intrinsic education as if I were being formally, extrinsically schooled. As if I must approach my own self-analysis as a scientist would. With marked objectivity. And abandon entirely the poetic side of life.
I had to ask myself, was I set up to fail? Doomed from the start to remain caught in a never-ending cycle of blocks, projections, and repressions? Unable to remove these distortions from my field of vision? And, therefore, unable to actualize? Was all of this creativity just a distraction, a form of escapism, a means to avoid facing the very self I had professed to want to know? Oy. Some psychologists would surely think so. But, as I persevered through these many exercises in becoming, as I delved into Rollo May’s and A. H. Maslow’s work, in particular, I began thinking of the relationship between authenticity and creativity differently. Instead of acting as an obstacle to self-analysis, creativity became its complement. A means of relating to myself and my world. The center, even, of all of my attempts at enhanced self-awareness, at self-relatedness. A “self-chosen abandon,” May calls it. The ecstasy of creating oneself with the participation of one’s entire being:
As anyone who has ever really made love or painted or seriously been in a fight or experienced creative ideas knows that ecstasy brings a heightened awareness; one gets ideas he didn’t know he had; one’s vision may be improved, one can see more keenly what to do, can vary his actions, and a sharpness of reason and judgment wells up as it were from subconscious levels. Self-relatedness, as we illustrate in ecstasy, is more than conscious, intellectual awareness. – Rollo May, Psychology and the Human Dilemma
It would be impossible for me to be myself without being my whole self. (My intuition stopped me at the preceding period. There is, perhaps, a great deal more to this statement than I realized as I wrote it.) That is why I was so pleased at reading May’s thoughts on self-relatedness. Creativity as a means to authenticity. Being oneself fully as a form of abandon. Of the kind of abandon required to grow into healthier, more meaningful relationships with oneself and one’s world. As a way of fusing multiple levels of awareness: conscious, unconscious, bodily/kinesthetic, aesthetic. Indeed, is there a more intimate, more authentic way of relating to myself than creating? Than delving into my inner experiences with the goal of dignifying them? Of making them beautiful? Is there a better way of aligning myself with my innermost values than that? Of restoring awe and enchantment to my daily life?
I find that the more I educate myself, with the goal of becoming more myself (what Maslow would call “intrinsic education”), the more all of me becomes involved in the process. The more I read, not with the goal of accumulating knowledge, for example, but of incorporating information that matters to me. Of attempting to live it. Of playing with it. The more I read creatively and involve my entire being in the process of learning. The more knowing becomes an all-over aesthetic experience. Indeed, those of you who’ve been paying attention to my intellectual love affair with Rollo May (and who recall the proclamation of my quest to read everything he’s ever written, a goal I am well on my way to accomplishing) know that his ideas set my soul on fire. But, the real reason I derive so much joy from reading May has a lot less to do with his ideas and a great deal more to do with how his books make me feel. It’s how I engage with the author. It’s his voice that keeps me coming back. It’s the man I hear speaking to me in my mind. The man who sits beside me and in a manner that is firm, but gentle and uncommonly compassionate, wrangles with the phenomena of human existence: love, pain, anxiety, freedom, creativity, and fate. He extols the virtues of existential psychotherapy in a thoughtful and balanced manner. He teaches me about the history of psychoanalysis—about Freud, Rank, Horney, Sullivan, and Adler—their similarities and their differences. He levies harsh criticisms against Skinner and other behaviorists. He’s got me curious about Paul Tillich. His is the voice of a teacher. He is my teacher. It is his voice that keeps me coming back. Maslow, by contrast, is a spitfire. I imagine him, in real life, as a fast talker. No frills. No nonsense. His intellect is foreboding, and his sense of humor is refreshing. Maslow is the kind of guy I like to read occasionally and would love to have a beer with.
I provide the above examples because I don’t know that it would be possible for me to engage with the ideas of either of these theorists as I do–to tease them apart, to play with them, to attempt to create myself with them–if I didn’t immerse myself completely in the reading. If I didn’t hear them, if I didn’t imagine the authors as vividly as I do. If I didn’t sense what I perceive to be the essence of the personality behind the work. If I didn’t allow either man to make me feel happy, concerned, perplexed, or discontented. To challenge me. To make me laugh out loud. I am forced to pause. I am, at present, struck by a thought on openness. That to be open to experience is to have the capacity to encounter one’s environment in an uncommonly holistic way. To imbue one’s ideas, emotions, and surroundings with life. And, that kind of involvement requires imagination, depth, and physicality. It also occurs to me that the relationship between femininity and creativity may be much deeper, a great deal more complex and profound, than I originally thought. That there is something about my femininity that impels me to explore and explicate my inner states creatively. To design my feelings seems a feminine enterprise. One that has the capacity to open me from the inside out.
It was my hope that this post would be more than a loose collection of thoughts on the role of creativity in becoming oneself. On learning imaginatively and holistically. I’m not certain it is. I’m not entirely sure that matters. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t know that I’d write today. This post was spontaneous. And, that’s alright with me.