The more I contemplate issues of purpose and meaning—and have contemplated them historically, as finding meaning was the quest that brought this blog into being—the more I seem to move definitively toward purposelessness. That is, the more I begin to understand that it’s the need for such a quest that’s the problem. And that struggling with feelings of purposelessness and meaninglessness represent a kind of collective soul sickness. An impoverishment of the spirit that affects all of us, I think, at some point in our lives.
But it really wasn’t until last weekend, as I was perched on a mountaintop immersing myself in the most extraordinary stillness, that I experienced what I would call a definitive shift in consciousness regarding these matters. I realized that as long as I am engaged in the practice (because I think today, more than ever, it must be a conscious practice) of being fully human, the need to make meaning disappears. That when I live deliberately and exercise all of my human capacities, even—and especially—the most rudimentary, the moments of my life become intrinsically full. I am then at one with nature and with my nature and no longer need to be weighed down by issues of meaning. I remember that I am wild, and the incessant need for purpose and meaning disappears.
It’s a funny thing, really, the way this recognition of my own wildness came about. As, in hindsight, it seems like a brand of awareness I’d been circumventing for months. But it is, to be sure, one thing to acknowledge one’s own animal nature and quite another to embody it. To know it. Beyond cognition. Beyond rationality. Beyond words. It strikes me also that there is a terrific irony embedded in this discovery. With all of the reading I’ve been doing, all of the self-examination and reflection—or, perhaps, in spite of these things—it was nature that taught me this great lesson. Hiking shoes on. Resting on a rock. And sweltering under the Carolina sun. As it usually is. Perhaps we’d all do our souls a little better to commune with natural sources of knowledge, to listen to the stillness, instead of always speaking out of turn.
It occurs to me, too, that this renewed consciousness of my own nature helps me bring together, to my satisfaction, some ideas I’ve been wrestling with on this blog for months. The relationship between creativity and full-humanness, in particular. It’s a phenomenon Maslow calls self-actualizing creativity: the propensity of fully-functioning people to perform everyday tasks creatively. Thoreau, too, talks about this creative faculty, or inheritance, in Walden:
Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? – Henry David Thoreau
We become the artists of our lives by emancipating our wildness and learning what it means to use that range of capacities to be responsible for our reality. And, perhaps, take some time to stop and listen to the birds sing. But, I must stop myself here. Because what I’m suggesting, of course, is that we all have a creative inheritance, that creativity is a core part of our nature. In the past, I tended to wince whenever I encountered the sentiment that we are all creative. I’d think, “Well, that’s bullshit.” Then again, I suppose that depends on which limits you choose to place on human creativity. We’re not all painters, musicians, poets, or inventors. And I don’t think we all can be. I also don’t think that the best way to encourage creativity in the average person is to suggest they take up a craft, like painting or writing. Because they might never be able to do it, at least not with enough ease, agility, and adeptness that the experience is enjoyable.
Do you know what I would say if someone asked me how to enhance, or awaken, their own creativity? If you want to be more creative, do something with your hands. Plant something. Or pick a handful of raspberries straight from the bush and eat them without sanitizing them first. Go the market, buy a chicken, and learn how to butcher it. Pick fresh herbs and eat them. Learn how to season your food with your hands—by instinct. Build a fire. Walk barefoot in the grass. Or strap on a pair of boots and learn what it means to make your way up a mountain or through a forest. Be human. Be physical with the world. If you want to awaken your ability to do everyday activities with the joy, with the lightheartedness of a child—to engage in creative play in all that you do—then you’ve got to learn how to use the abilities you’ve been given. This is the ultimate exercise in human creativity. And it’s something we can all do. And should do. Because this is a form of creative potential we’ve all inherited. And that it’s our distinctly human pleasure to discover. The rest is incidental.