Creativity: A 10-Step Process

This post is a summary of the content from my workshop at the 84th A.R.E. Congress in June of 2015.

Oneness:

Edgar Cayce stresses our oneness with the universal Field of All Possibilities: “An entity, or a soul, is a spark—or a portion—of the Whole, the First Cause; and thus is a co-worker with the First Cause, or Purpose, which is the creative influence or force that is manifested in materiality.” (2079-1). He calls this field “The Creative Forces”: “For the Creative Forces are more even than companionship; for the heritage of each soul is to know itself to be itself yet one with that Creative Force” (1210-1).

Creative Synergy:

My book Creative Synergy (2015, Fourth Dimension Press) discusses various means of cooperating with “The Creative Forces.” Chapter 3 outlines the ten-step process that you can use to actualize a creative idea. You immerse yourself in the formulas of your craft, then activate the flow state, center your awareness, relate to the center of what is trying to happen through you, and let the inspiration flow. You also allow for incubation, synchronicity, and feedback to support the process. For this method I am deeply indebted to Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda.

Activating the Method:

This “centering” technique is primarily a tool for artistic expression, but it may be applied to any creative idea we wish to actualize. In this case the “preparation” is not familiarizing ourselves with the formulas of a craft but immersing ourselves in any problem requiring a creative solution.

Some Quotes on the Creative Process from Chapter 3 of Creative Synergy

 

  1. Immerse yourself in the formulas of your craft.

A major characteristic of world-class creators is that they engage in “deliberate practice.”[1] Jazz musicians improvise so skillfully because their repertoire is full of formulas derived from imitating recordings.[2] Concert pianists repeat, hour after hour, the scales and exercises that most of us would abandon as tedious and boring.

  1. Before beginning a session, cultivate the Flow State.

Flow:

On the Flow State (defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

During “flow” you are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that you will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”[3] Here are some of his thoughts about “flow”:

  • It creates happiness.
  • It is achieved by focusing your attention on some task and staying in the present, without regard for future rewards. You have learned “to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer.”[4]
  • The enjoyment created by “flow” occurs when
    • your task is likely to be completed;
    • you are concentrating;
    • the task “has clear goals and provides immediate feedback”;
    • you are immersed in the task and removed from “the worries and frustrations of everyday life”;
    • you have a sense of control;
    • “concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger” afterward;
    • “duration of time is altered.”[5]
  1. Center your awareness.

For this method I am deeply indebted to Swami Kriyananda, a.k.a. Donald Walters. He explains, “The most important thing at all times, when expressing oneself artistically, is to hold mentally before oneself the thought, or feeling, that one is trying to express.” Then one “should refer back again and again to this concept” during the act of creation.[6]

  1. Relate to the center of what is trying to happen through you.

In his lectures on creativity, Swami Kriyananda gives the following instructions: go to your center; then relate to the center of what you want to know or express. If the concentration is complete, the right answers will come.

He explains how he used this process to write a song about St. Francis. He held the thought of the saint in his mind and received the notes of a melody. He later discovered that the first several notes were 1ike the theme song from Franco Zeffirelli’s film about St. Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Kriyananda has also written Renaissance and Celtic tunes without knowing those types of music.[7]   He testifies,

I don’t know where the melodies come from. But I do know when they are right. For example, I wanted to write a melody for The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which would, of course, need a Persian melody. I was thinking about it, and I woke up with a beautiful melody in my mind. A few years ago I sang it to somebody from Iran, and he said, “Oh, but that’s Persian.” I hadn’t heard Persian music before, but I knew he was right. It’s as though melodies are given to me—I don’t create them, but I listen and hear them.[8]

Harpist Derek Bell says that Kriyananda’s music is intuitive:

He more or less hints at that when he makes that wonderful statement about “Deirdre of the Sorrows.” He says, “I didn’t know what I should write for her, so I sat down and let her sing it to me.”[9]

Kriyananda also makes a remark applicable to engineers, scientists, and business executives:

Clarity begins with asking the right questions. It comes with knowing exactly what the problem is, and then, offering that problem up into the creative flow, in the full expectation of receiving a solution.[10]

  1. Get out of the way and let the inspiration flow.

If you have practiced the first four steps, the next one should be simple. Keep your ego out of the way, and be receptive to the flow. Swami Kriyananda says, “Once this clarity comes, inspiration flows.”[11] He also warns, however,

The ego is an energy-stopper for creative activity of all kinds. The simple thought, “I am painting a tree,” is enough to hinder the clear flow of inspiration. The greater the flow of creative energy, moreover, the greater the stoppage of energy in the thought of “I.” [12]

When artists become preoccupied with their own self-expression, they can lose the thread that binds them to the source of inspiration. When they are inspired like Kriyananda, works can come quickly.

Buddhist author Mark Epstein uses the metaphor of Thoughts without a Thinker: “‘Thoughts exist without a thinker,’ taught the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion. Insight arises best, he said, when the ‘thinker’s’ existence is no longer necessary.”[13]

  1. If you lose the felt sense of what is trying to happen, repeat stage 3 and/or 4.

It is common, after you’ve been working awhile, to feel a loss of contact with the Unified Field. You will notice when it happens: the flow will sputter into spurts, and you yourself, the small ego or I, will intervene to help, making up the words, advising the forms or colors, suggesting an additional chord or note. When this happens, as it will, stop what you are doing. Close your eyes and reconnect with the form.

Swami Kriyananda relates an experience of revising a paragraph, again and again, without being able to get the words right. He stopped to meditate, and the correct words came in a flash to him: words entirely different than the ones he had been trying to manipulate when he was less connected.

In Crystal Clarity: The Artist as Channel, he explains how he has written music that expresses the spirit of a certain place, such as the Holy Land:

If my mental definition was sufficiently clear, the melody has come, usually instantly, and has seemed completely appropriate not only to me, but to others who had visited those places with me.

If, on the other hand, the melody wouldn’t come to me, then instead of worrying at it from the musical end, I would work at clarifying my mental image. Once the image has been crystal clear, the melody has come of itself.

I have never known this method to fail. It is why I insist with so much faith that one tune in, artistically, to the reality to which one wants to relate, whatever that reality, and then give it meaningful expression.[14]

You “hold” your idea “mentally before” yourself and keep returning to it as your act of creation “progresses.” [15] You ask yourself, “What is trying to happen here?” “What is trying to express itself here?” and “What is the center of it?”[16] You have clarity when you have “one-pointed concentration,” but “Nothing can be accomplished in the arts without complete attention, any more than a camera will take clear pictures if the lens is out of focus.”[17]

  1. Take a break.

The value of incubation is touted in most theories of the creative process. Often cited is the observation by Poincaré that “sudden illumination” is “a manifest sign of long, unconscious prior work” and that it appears only “after some days of voluntary effort which has appeared absolutely fruitless.”[18] He recommends taking a break to facilitate this process.   Crick, who shared the Nobel Prize with his coworker Watson for deciphering the form of DNA, credits incubation as a major key to their success.

Harpist Derek Bell, when asked how to court inspiration, replied in an interview,

“Buddha gave the correct answer to this question in my opinion. He said if you want to know anything, humbly sit down and ask the great void. Ask for help, ask for what you need, and maybe next morning, when the morning light comes in, something will be given to you if you are fit to have it. . . . The less you are thinking about it, the better it comes.”[19]

  1. Watch for synchronicity to help you.

Synchronicity is the message from the universe that you are not alone, that there are forces waiting to help you if you are focused enough, full of concentration and will power, engaged in a task that will benefit the whole. Synchronicity, as defined by Jung, is a meaningful coincidence: “‘the simultaneous occurrence of two meaningfully but not causally connected events’; or alternatively as ‘a coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events.’” Combs and Holland call such events

“. . . the uncanny intrusion of the unexpected into the flow of commonplace happenstance, an intrusion that hints at an undisclosed realm of meaning, a disparate landscape of reality that momentarily intersects with our own.”[20]

They add that, according to Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, when you follow your bliss, “there is often a sense of ‘hidden hands,’ of unexpected opportunities and unanticipated resources.”[21]   When we are cooperating with a greater energy, there exists “an attitude of synergy by which a state of cooperation exists between the individual and the world.”[22] Look for such opportunities, and make use of them.

  1. Try it out in the material world.

            Take your project to someone you trust and ask for feedback. Try to get your ego out of the way and listen, dispassionately, for ways your work can be improved.

  1. Make adjustments.

            Despite the example of Kriyananda, few works are created whole in a single burst of inspiration. The development of the fax machine began with a patent in 1843. The technology engaged Edison for a while and utilized the telegraph infrastructure for many years because AT&T, a monopoly, wasn’t interested. Widespread use of the fax couldn’t occur until deregulation of the telephone industry.[23] The search to discover longitude spanned many years and engaged many seekers. Walt Whitman spent his period of creative maturity rewriting Leaves of Grass.

Edgar Cayce stresses “patience” as one of the three dimensions in which The Divine works: “Time, Space, Patience!” (262-114). Ghiselin says, “Among the conditions to which every inventor must submit is the necessity for patience. The development desired may have to be waited for, even though its character may be clearly intimated.” [24] When you’ve taken a break and received feedback, make the necessary adjustments and begin again—either on this project or on another. You may have to wait if the time is not yet right.

[1] Robert W. Weisberg, “Creativity and Knowledge: A Challenge to Theories,” in Handbook of Creativity, edited by Robert J. Sternberg, (Cambirdge: University Press, 1999),233.

[2] Ibid., 236-37.

[3] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper and Row, 1990), 4.

[4] Ibid., 31.

[5] Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, 49.

[6] Kriyananda, Crystal Clarity: the Artist as Channel (Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 1997), 85.

[7] See Kriyananda, Art as a Hidden Message: A Guide to Self-Realization (Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 1987),99-105 for several examples.

[8] Kriyananda, “Creativity, Music, and the Mystical Experience,” excerpted from a talk given March, 1996. Interview. Clarity Magazine, Number 2 (1999), 5.

[9] Derek Bell, “The Divine Gift of Melody,” interview, Clarity Magazine, Number 2 (1999), 10.

[10] Kriyananda, Art as a Hidden Message,108.

[11] Kriyananda, Art as a Hidden Message, 108.

[12] Kriyananda, Crystal Clarity, 61.

[13] Mark Epstein, Thoughts without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 222. Epstein is discussing meditation and psychotherapy, but his remark is applicable to the creative process as well.

[14] Kriyananda, Crystal Clarity, 78.

[15] Ibid., 85.

[16] Kriyananda, Crystal Clarity, 59, 74-75.

[17] Kriyananda, Art as a Hidden Message,108.

[18] Poincaré, “Mathematic Creation,” in The Creative Process: Reflections on the Invention in the Arts and Sciences, edited by Brewster Ghiselin (New York: Mentor Books, New American Library, 1952), 38.

[19] Bell, “The Divine Gift of Melody,” 9.

[20] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity: Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 81.

[21] Ibid., 125.

[22] Ibid., 131-132.

[23] Petroski, Invention by Design: How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing( Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996 ), 105-110.

[24] Ghiselin, “Introduction,” in The Creative Process: Reflections on the Invention in the Arts and Sciences, edited by Brewster Ghiselin (New York: Mentor Books, New American Library, 1952), 26.

One comment on “Creativity: A 10-Step Process

  1. I have just read “Creativity: A 10-Step Process”. I am so moved by this writing having had similar experiences of several of these steps. These statements encourage me to use these steps in writing and in listening to the “answers” provided me at times in the “flow”. I have written poems that were told to me while in the “flow”.

    I am a clinical social worker and not usually creative, however when I do as suggested above, the creativity does happen. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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