This post is formatted to reflect an original journal entry.
Woke up and took care of the caterpillars. How striking they are to look at. Such vibrant stripes of yellow, white, and green. It’s amazing how they’ve grown in the past four days, since I first discovered eight—now fourteen—little ones on a dill plant that’s since been surrounded by protective netting. Although the caterpillars can leave whenever they want to (or whenever they run out of dill). I read that Eastern black swallowtails are notorious for building their chrysalises away from their main food source, a good 20 or 30 feet sometimes. Won’t be long now. But I hope at least one or two stick around and make their transformations inside the butterfly house.
Anyway. Been considering writing a post on holistic thinking and its relationship to creativity. The idea first came to mind after a thought-provoking conversation with João-Maria. We were talking about ways in which creative people think differently. Including the trials, tribulations, and agonies of trying to turn ourselves into better abstract thinkers, debaters, analyzers, and logicians. Real intellectuals. And failing. Again and again. I thought: I should write about this. I’ll bet almost all creative people have had the experience of feeling stupid in the classroom. Or the workplace. Or any environment that’s equally restrictive. Because I was convinced this phenomenon we were discussing was linked to creativity. And sometimes, it seems, we creatives make clumsy intellectuals. At least I know I do.
In my mind, I call it material thinking, but what I’m referring to is a kind of visceral or sense-driven thinking. And in many ways is tantamount to thinking with the whole person (or at least more of the person). The result: always a blending of emotions, aesthetics, non-linear or intuitive insights, often without the intervention of rational awareness. The kind of thinking that results in the construction of beautiful and effective metaphors. But that also means our work is generally of a different character than our peers’ and colleagues’ and probably made us wonder why, as students, we felt we were going right when everyone else was always going left. And we could never do what we were told to do without radically changing the assignment.
It’s a kind of thinking that’s never one-dimensional or dehumanizing—in fact, I think the result is quite the opposite. An infusion of humanity into what may be otherwise dry, rote, abstract conversation.
Made an important observation about this yesterday. I was having some trouble writing and said to myself, I know. I’ll go for a swim. Because I always think better when I’m moving. Whether it’s swimming, walking, hiking, or yoga. And it gives me the distinct impression I am thinking with my body. A kind of moving meditation. And am not a very effective or original thinker when I’m just sitting at a desk trying to use my head (always an exercise in futility).
This may be an odd (and silly-sounding) thing to say, but I’m going to say it anyway: I don’t think well with my head. Best if the rest of my being is involved. If I’m moving. Even better if I’m moving outdoors. Fully, sensorially aware, engaged and alive. Sights, smells, sounds of nature. If I’m working with my hands, feeling dirt beneath my fingertips in the garden, chopping vegetables, or even just hanging out in tree pose, honing my sense of balance and focusing on the rhythms of my own breath.
It’s like a kind of aesthetic/kinesthetic/all-over intelligence. A non-linear, non-compartmentalized thinking that I imagine is far more common in creative people. But of which we are all, certainly, capable. And seems to hinge on the development of the whole person.
The mainspring of creativity appears to be the same tendency which we discover so deeply as the curative force in psychotherapy—man’s tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities. By this I mean the directional trend which is evident in all organic and human life—the urge to expand, extend, develop, mature—the tendency to express and activate all the capacities of the organism, or the self. – Carl R. Rogers
I couldn’t agree more. Creativity is the language of the whole person in action.
I am suddenly struck by a thought: I know some psychologists consider divergent thinking a genesis of creative activity. But my inner experiences and observations tell me that’s only partially right. And that divergent thinking is one of the last stages of a very long, slow, arduous process. One that begins when the whole person encounters the world. Physically, emotionally, sensorially. Especially sensorially. And the resulting amalgam of thoughts and sense impressions that are slow to come. And even slower to come together. I imagine many of you reading this are slow thinkers just like I am. But when the moment of inspiration comes, it’s as if the proverbial flood gates have opened. In those moments of heightened mental energy, clarity, ecstasy. The wild and colorful proliferation of visions and ideas. When all the world is teeming with possibility. The moments we wait for. And the moments that make all the creative waiting, as Rollo May calls it, worthwhile. I laugh to myself. It’s a lot like raising butterflies, really.
Images From the Butterfly House