Creativity and Obstacles
Play & Interplay
Whenever we have a creative impulse, we set foot on the path of adventure, and our path will have mythic resonance, obstacles and allies. Always there are obstacles – at the beginning, in getting started, obstacles midway. There are obstacles at each phase.
Say you have friends coming over for dinner, and you want to bake a cake. Midway into the process of mixing, you find you are out of eggs, or butter, walnuts, or oil. You go next door to borrow some, and get into a conversation with the neighbor, who is so needy and lonely that you wind up inviting her to come, but then you worry about it. Or you go to the store, and get a flat tire on the way. The simplest initiative to accomplish an action can turn into an ordeal.
A creative impulse can be anything – a picture in our minds of some action to do in the outer world. An impulse to speak while in a company meeting or committee. The urge to make something with your hands. The desire to go over and hug someone. The thought to make a certain phone call. The more this action will put your life force into action, the more intense it may feel. Some impulses feel like they will change our lives a lot, and just thinking about acting on them can invoke weird sensations in the body.
Our bodies, that are channeling the creative energy (or not) give us sensations. We feel tense, or heavy, energized or drained, we may want to hit out or run away, reach out or hide.
In ordinary lie, we attempt to get rid of excess tension by having fights with our spouse or co-workers, or smoking, or drinking, or sports. At night when we sleep, the brain creates and lives through dreams, which attempt to release the tension by seeing a mental movie.
When we meditate, we go into a realm that is similar to sleep in some ways, and more intense: we are awake and paying attention, and deeper into rest than sleep. So we get hit with all the imagery and sensations than ordinarily we shuck off to sleep. If you don't meditate, then the tendency is for the conscious mind to sweep everything it can't deal with under the carpet, and leave it there for sleep and dreams to clean it up. Meditators just go right in and take it on.
The interplay of creative impulses and obstacles shows up in meditation in the form of mental movies, internal conversations, nerve impulses that subtly activate the muscles and joints, and sensations in the body.
Another way of putting it is that the energy and interplay of creativity and resistance can be senses as images, emotions, and sensations.
The obstacles we are encountering in daily life can give rise to weird sensations in the body and strange moods, that we feel very intensely when we meditate.
Everyday life is intense – that is why we need movies, theater, dance, novels, history, poetry, and music. All these are common, everyday sensations that people engaged in their normal lives have to deal with:
Sensations are varied:
“I am being stabbed.
"I feel slammed.
“Rug is being pulled out from under me.
“I am in free fall.
“I feel like a balloon that was punctured, the breath is gone, deflated.
“I’m boxed in.
“I feel like I am in darkness. I can’t see.
“I have a bad feeling in pit of stomach.”
“ I feel like I’m walking in molasses.”
It's startling to note that these are everyday experiences.
What are your versions of these?
Take a minute, see if you can name some of your favorites.
Tips on working with sensations
1. Acknowledge what the sensation is.
2. Scan the body and notice where it is.
3. If appropriate, allow the sensation to intensify until it changes into its opposite.
4. Switch to a different sense, such as vision, and explore mental imagery. Then start to make changes in the image. You can do this just by giving yourself permission to introduce any change, such as perspective, color, depth, speed of motion, any change at all. These can be tiny, microscopic changes. If there is a knife, see yourself stepping aside so it passes by.
When we are in the midst of a challenging life situation, the sensations can require our full attention during meditation, for days or weeks or more. In other words, it’s all we can do to just add a LITTLE support, or breath, or gravity, or space, or peace to the sensations. Attention is full of all qualities, so when we tend to the sensations, we have the ability to give them space or light or containment or protection. We can offer coolness or warmth.
Remember always that in meditation, life has only one purpose with you – life wants you to adapt and thrive. This may not be comfortable – you may need to see things in new ways, face your fears, release painful emotions, remember something you have forgotten. If you have been avoiding doing some necessary step that is needed, then your body will tend to rehearse the motions of that activity over and over during meditation, until you finally are ready to just go do it. This is not "mental noise" to be blocked out. It is your life calling you.
These images and sensations have more power when they are unconscious. They are underground. If you give into it, and let yourself "die," as in shavasana, generally it will turn into its opposite.
If you give in to the feeling of being in freefall, then there is a sensation of letting go that may turn into flying.
If the rug is pulled out from under you, then perhaps later you will find you are lying down on the earth; sooner or later you are going to become aware that the ground is under you.
If you give into the feeling of being deflated, all the breath out, no buoyancy, then that is a complete exhalation, and sooner or later you will get interested in the inhalation, and begin to sense that something is being renewed.
Notice the delicacy of the language here. I said that eventually you will become attracted to, or interested in the inhalation. This is a totally different technique than "trying to concentrate on the breath and block out distractions."
If you feel that an opportunity is lost, then find a way to support yourself for havin followed the impulses you were going by. There was a value you were working with, that led you to take course B instead of course A or C. Honor the value and the desire you have been following and using as your guiding star. Note that star and then inquire if there is a different star you should be following.
The Inner Conversation – or is it a shouting match?
In meditation, allow all the various impulses to talk to each other. This usually feels painful and noisy, but it is necessary and useful. For example, your self-protective instinct may be arguing with your instinct for adventure. Your migration impulse may be saying, “The grass is greener in that valley over there! Let’s go!” while your homing instinct is saying, “No, let’s stay here where it is safe.”
Your brain will feel very noisy at times when this is going on. Like a party that has degenerated into a shouting match, with each side shouting at each other. Don’t worry that you are doing it wrong, or failing to meditate. Just listen and feel. You job is to add the magic of attention wherever you can. It is sometimes all you can do to just feel a few sensations here and there.
In me, because I am always doing gonzo creative things, the tension is often unendurable. I am usually neglecting either my fiction writer, or the meditation teacher, or the surfer, or the scientist, or the guy who just likes to walk down the beach, breathing salt air. When I face the intolerable sensations of conflict, there is often a crescendo of uncomfortableness, and then just when I think I can’t take it anymore, I break through into peace and sometimes free-flowing, joyous energy. All in half an hour of meditation.
The Primal Syzygy
Often the instincts will line up in a primal syzygy:
Being ∞ Doing
Stay ∞ Go
Nest ∞ Adventure
Bond ∞ Boundaries
Quiet vibration of resting ∞ Excited dynamic vibration of action
There is always tension between the opposites. The job of meditation – or more precisely, the job of attention during meditation – is to tolerate the transmutation of tension into magnetism. Electricity and power flow between the poles, + and -. Without polarity, there is no juice, no vitality. In meditation, we allow our attention to be called to what seems like the unsolvable problem of the opposites, and in the vortex, everything gets shaken up.
While meditating, you will often experience your body and mind fluctuating through these continuums, and again and again you'll experience the opposites playing with each other, supporting each other, enriching each other. Resting and acting seem like opposites, but the more you explore them and go deeply into each, the more friendly they are: resting well leads to feeling really awake and energized. And nothing will make you sleep better than many hours of being active in pursuit of your goals.
By continuum, I mean the whole incremental range from one end of the polarity to the other. You will find yourself resting deeply in meditation, and then feel just a tickle of a thought about an action you'd like to take. Then you may feel your body tingle a little as you mentally choreograph taking that action. Seeing that mental movie, with corresponding nerve and muscle impulses, may give you a feeling of excitement or fear as you explore the emotional implications of your action. This is because when you imagine doing an action, your body sends quiet impulses to the muscles – not enough to actually move, but it rehearses the moves.
In essence what the body-mind system wants to do is have full access to all instincts, all impulses, the full vocabulary of life.
Forty-five minutes of meditation is about the longest you should ever go, especially when in the midst of syzygies. It is better, usually, to get up after half an hour and do something physical – take a walk, go swimming, dance, do Tai Chi movements, take a bath, get a massage, make love, write in a journal, do a set of yoga asanas. Paint something. Move your energies, and then later, return to feel the sensations.
Don't Botox Your Brain
These techniques for inner alchemy go back to the most ancient meditation traditions, but have been mostly lost in what we have available today in “meditation.” Old-school meditation systems were an attempt to try to get all inner voices to shut up, permanently, and in that sense were a kind of software lobotomy. Botox for your brain.
The idea that your mind should be blank is one of the worst, most soul-killing concepts ever. In the old days, when meditation was only for male monks who had taken oaths of total unquestioning obedience, total poverty, total celibacy, and total abstention from creativity – there were no choices. They could just block all this out. Or try to. So their teachings over-emphasize the value of denial, dissociation, blockage, and repression as a way to deal with the dynamic energies of life. Therefore be wary of applying any ancient teachings on yourself.
Rest, Recharge, then Leap into Action
When I use the instinctive meditation techniques – and I need to, because my life is full of opposites – I often leap up out of meditation shimmering with creative urgency and joy and eagerness to get to work. Sometimes it's like being shot out of a cannon. I cherish this dynamic quality, which is a real gift of meditation.
The Skills of Attention
The skills of paying attention to bodily sensations and inner imagery were rediscovered in the early to middle 20th century by many explorers:
C.G. Jung, who broke off from Freud and developed his own form of psychoanalysis, now called Jungian analysis.
Fritz Perls, who called his work Gestalt Therapy.
Roberto Assagioli (who developed Psychosynthesis).
Wilhelm Reich, who developed body-based methods of "breaking the character armor."
Each of these approaches was innovative and genius in a different way.
Starting in the 1960's, Esalen Institute became a center for studying and evolving body-based awareness work. When I started going to Esalen in 1969, it was already a thriving university of brilliant insights and research. What I learned there helped me to thrive in meditation – and it alerted me to be able to find the instinctive dynamics that are already there in yoga/meditation teachings, but have been misunderstood or neglected.
Many others have explored body-based meditation:
Emilie Conrad developed a movement meditation approach she termed, Continuum.
Emilie's partner Susan Harper has her own approach to Continuum.
Anna Halprin developed these principles in dance therapy.
Acting coaches such as Grotowski have developed them. Grotowski was at University of California at Irvine while I was there in the 80's, and I could see from the auras and bodily poise in the actors he was training that they were doing something similar to body-based meditation. Years later I read several of his books and was struck by the freshness and authenticity of the language he developed to talk about the body.
These techniques are all over the place if you look.
Camille has been developing these methods since the early 1970's, with her own fusion of dance, yoga, meditation and theater.