This post is formatted to reflect an original journal entry.
I am convinced I do most of my best thinking in my sleep. Is this a terribly peculiar thing to say? I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping my notebook and pencil on the nightstand, within grabbing distance for bouts of 3 a.m. inspiration. Usually just a line of poetry. A short stanza. Or the main idea, in the form of an exceptionally crafty one-liner (often better than active, intentional brainstorming will get me), for an essay. That’s where Jeans Song came from. Middle of the night notebook scribbles. “I like to follow you by the scent of your…” Then, I work to fill in the blanks. The hardest part is convincing myself to make the effort at that late hour to write such things down. (I’ve got a terrible habit of lying there and repeating a line over and over again in my mind until I drift off to sleep, convincing myself that if I rehearse it well enough, I’ll remember it in the morning. I never do. I’ve got to make a note of it.) Or precisely on waking. When I’m still hovering between full wakefulness and a dream. I begin the day with words already on my tongue.
These are some of the best thoughts. The most novel combinations of images and ideas. The answers to questions I’ve been asking myself during waking hours, evolutions in ideas I’ve been playing with, senses or relationships I’ve been working to translate into metaphor. All resolved while I sleep. I wonder how many other creative folks have similar experiences. Probably more than I think. I imagine this kind of sleep-thinking, or dream-thinking, is linked to creativity. What I think of as the lo buzz of ideas. The slow hum, the ticker tape of images, the near-constant processing, the string of thoughts, sometimes in wild and peculiar combination. And, it doesn’t operate in a way that’s unpleasant or entirely distracting. Doesn’t render me otherwise non-functional, make me anxious, impede my daily activities, etc., but rather adds to them. Gives them a splash of color. Like background music. Side B. The lo buzz. The little proliferations of life.
But, that’s how I see them. As treasures. The best lines, the best images, those little logical leaps, the gaps between forms, ideas, and language, that it seems only the subconscious can bridge. There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have believed that. When I would have viewed this embracing of the irrational, unconscious, or subconscious aspects of creativity as tantamount to an almost magical kind of thinking. There may be several reasons for this. But, the most important, I imagine, is that I didn’t really experience this funky lo buzz of ideas—the intensely poetic aspects of my own wakefulness (a matter of perception, maybe?) or wildly productive dreaming—until recently. Within the last few years. Never was quite such an intensely visual or metaphorical thinker, either. At least not that I recognized.
I mention this because it shapes the lens through which I’ve come to view creativity and self-development and their interrelatedness. Evolutions in creativity, its changing-ness over time. Which I believe can be linked to other significant, more global changes in consciousness, personality. In line with both Carl Rogers and A. H. Maslow (generally, though there are marked differences in their theories of creativity):
My definition, then, of the creative process is that it is the emergence in action of a novel relational product, growing out of the uniqueness of the individual on the one hand, and the materials, events, people, or circumstances of his life on the other. – Carl R. Rogers
Why I gravitate to holistic theories. And holistic education. They fit. Nurturing the whole person, cultivating a strong and deep sense of self can lead to all kinds of surprising developments. Also why I’ve really come to embrace stream-of-consciousness style essay writing (like this). Helps me explore myself. Relationships between ideas, insights I might not have otherwise discovered if my writing was too controlled. A thought: this is a matter of trust. At some point, did I come to trust that my creativity arises from unconscious mental activity every bit as much as (if not more than) it relies on deliberate exercises in consciousness? Yes. And I trust in my ability to use those functions together. I trust my mind—my whole mind—to do its job. I’d be lying if I said I did not experience a twinge of anxiety as I wrote that last sentence. Creativity is always a leap of faith.
A related observation: meditation kills the lo buzz. I can’t write directly after meditating. My mind is too quiet. My entire being too still. The slow hum of ideas stops. I recall Rollo May making an identical observation about his creative process (He was also a visual artist and worked full-time as a writer before becoming a psychologist. As a professional psychologist, he published prolifically.):
I found that after meditating I would go down to my desk in my studio and sit there to write. And nothing would come. Everything was so peaceful, so harmonious; I was blissed out. And I had to realize through harsh experience that the secret of being a writer is to go to your desk with your mind full of chaos, full of formlessness—formlessness of the night before, formlessness which threatens you, changes you. – Rollo May
I am struck by a thought: is the lo buzz of ideas and images I find so colorful, endearing, animating—such an essential additive to my daily experience—nothing more than an incessant need to make form out of chaos? An agitation, a wrangling, a discontentment with the mundane, the constant searching out of form—an insatiable lust for ever more novel and original modes of self-expression—however pleasant, necessary, and thrilling its sensations? No different from the pursuit of becoming oneself. Which, as far as I’m concerned, moves to precisely the same tune.
to msjadeli from Tao Talk for nominating The Used Life for The Sunshine Blogger Award. I would encourage everyone to check out her content. And thank you all, again, for your continued support and for being a part of this project!