There is a blackboard on the wall of the office where I write. I reserve its use for questions and concepts that require prolonged reflection. For those particularly elusive or mesmerizing phrases that deserve a wealth of consideration. “Holistic Thinking” now occupies the top third of that space. Scrawled in blue half-cursive and slightly off-center. Quietly asking for its due. My first question to myself when considering novel, enigmatic, or predominantly abstract concepts, such as “holistic thinking,” after having researched all relevant viewpoints, is, What should I call it? That is, how shall I personalize or be otherwise creative with it? How can I make it mine? And, engage with it actively, holistically, even aesthetically, by determining, first, the nature of my own experience with it? The way it makes me feel. Its form. Its concreteness. That’s what entices me. Holistic thinking. Perhaps, unwittingly, the beginnings of a personalized definition.
To be sure, if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ve probably noticed my affinity for renaming abstract concepts, for re-articulating them in terms of feeling, of tangibility, of their lived-in-ness. Even as I write this post (in a favorite local coffeehouse, nowhere near the above mentioned blackboard), I am concerned, first, with aesthetics, with creativeness, and with feeling. To stylize ideas that matter to me, to reimagine or otherwise personalize works of literature, philosophy, or science that entice and intoxicate me, is, to my mind, the highest form of praise. An act of creative criticism.
It is the act of re-envisioning that I love. The poetic flare. The spark that inevitably accompanies the moment of asking, What should I call it? Oooooh, imagine what I could do with THAT! It is the possibility of creation, even in the form of creative criticism, that makes too-abstract, too-rational, or otherwise one-dimensional concepts palatable to those of us who may have a too-strong penchant for feeling. For the poetic and the intuitive sides of life. It is the spoonful of sugar. The sweetness of stylizing what we love. The process of bringing it to life by making it ours.
Initially, I intended the spoonful of sugar in this post, as a metaphor, to refer to a particular type or aspect of creativity Abraham Maslow refers to as “self-actualizing creativity,” or my experience of it (not that I consider myself fully “self-actualized,” mind you. To the contrary.). To emphasize the role of creativity in transforming otherwise mundane, everyday tasks into deeper, awe-inspiring experiences. Although, I find my mind is already veering slightly off-course.
I found it necessary to distinguish ‘special talent creativeness’ from ‘self-actualizing (SA) creativeness’ which sprang much more directly from the personality, and which showed itself widely in the affairs of life, for instance, in a certain kind of humor. It looked like a tendency to do anything creatively: e.g., housekeeping, teaching, etc…Such people can see the fresh, the raw, the concrete, the ideographic, as well as the generic, the abstract, the rubricized, the categorized, and the classified. Consequently, they live far more in the real world of nature than in the verbalized world of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs, and stereotypes… – A.H. Maslow
Indeed, it is from his study of these particular manifestations of creativity–outside of any craft–that he uttered the rather famous line, “A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.” My man. He understood the joy many of us derive from infusing creativity into all the tasks of daily living. And of the very pleasant state of mindfulness, the serenity, the sense of wonder, and completeness that often result. I imagine he also understood the exasperation that some of us feel when we are unable to operate, at once, in multiple dimensions. The abstract and the concrete. The rational and the poetic. The intellectual and the aesthetic. The spoonful of sugar. I imagine Maslow understood the frustration (and intense boredom) that result when some of us are forced to read or listen to exceedingly abstract, structured-to-a-fault, jargon-filled discussions (think: journals, lecture halls, and media outlets that try to be super-cerebral). For God’s sake, give me something messy! Something I can use. Something I can sink my teeth into. Something I can live and feel. Will it help me be a better person? Bring a smile to someone’s face? Can I paint my walls with it? Drill a hole with it? Use it to change a flat tire? Can it help me make a good soufflé? If the answer’s “no,” then out with the trash it goes.
It’s the missing dimension, the spoonful of sugar, the infusion of feeling–of art, poetry, concrete usefulness–that keeps me from feeling like I am starving when I encounter the otherwise one-dimensional. Because that is, in fact, what it feels like. Starvation. Deprivation. As if my mind is working tirelessly, but it’s simply not being fed. Learning and creating are complementary activities. Maslow knew that. For those of us who find our creativity is more person- or task-centered, to create is an act of understanding. Creativity is, for us, a means of translating the abstract, the categorical, and the overly intellectual into concrete, lived experience. Into that which we can do, use, and feel. It is how we make the partial whole. It occurs to me that this act of translation adds depth to every activity. It also occurs to me that I am, and have, for the entire length of this post, been talking about something much more than self-actualizing creativity. Holistic thinking? In my mind, the two seemed to have intertwined themselves. Perhaps this is where they intersect. In the act of translation. For those of us who are always seeking wholeness. Integration. The thing engulfed in its meaning. Painted in color. The grit beneath our fingernails. The sweet spot. Where we encounter the world with our entirety.