January 12, 2011
Guest author Michelle James offers 9 practices for cultivating your creativity.
1. Clearing. Give yourself space, time and attention. Consciously set aside some non-distracted time and attention. Like any healthy relationship you have, or creative project you engage, your Creative Self needs quality time to thrive. Make your creative self your most important client – even if that means setting official “creative self time” on your calendar. Just like (hopefully) you wouldn’t answer an email or tweet when with a client, give your creative self the same focused attention – it needs that to be seen, heard and known to be more active and reveal its riches.
2. Centering. Get centered. During your designated emergence time, getting centered allows you to be more present to what is calling to emerge within you. It is about having an intentionality, a clarity of focus and a presence, to be able to begin to hear and connect with deeper aspects of your creative self. Do this in whatever way feels comfortable…whether you do this via visualization, meditation, affirmation, embodiment, or however else you get centered. It can be any small ritual that serves as a pattern break out of your normal everyday consciousness and centers you. I do this with my clients at the onset every coaching session, and the rituals we use vary based on who they are. Find what works for you. This is your “sacred” time.
3. Asking. Ask yourself what is most alive for you NOW. It’s not about the entirety of your vision and all that you can imagine – just what feels most alive within you now. Listening to what’s alive now is like picking the lowest-hanging, ripest fruit from your tree of potential – it doesn’t have to be the complete vision. I often ask, “What’s calling to emerge for me now?” which helps take it out of future potential (all that can be) and into the realm of the immediately actionable (what is now and next).
4. Holding. Release the need for an immediate answer…or a familiar one. Hold the question before rushing to an answer or “the” answer. Instead of writing down a list with the same thoughts that you always carry in your left-brain, try engaging your whole brain first. The right brain processes much more quickly than the left brain – and is not inhibited by habitual thinking.
5. Listening. Listen with your whole self, and whole brain, not just the left brain language. Pay attention to images, feelings, thoughts, ideas, surprises, seeming disconnects that come out of nowhere, impulses that emerge. Pay attention to how it feels in your body. What feels most alive? What energizes you? Do not wait for it to make complete sense before you validate it (more passions are not realized because they are judged as ridiculous before they have a chance to evolve). A new emergence, like any new birth, can be messy when being born. Listen for incomplete and partial directions, not entirely clear and sensible answers. In a creative process they usually unfold through cultivation.
6. Cultivating. Use whole-brain creative processes – draw it, paint it, move with it, embody it, act it out, etc – to break habitual thinking patterns, open up the creative aliveness wellspring, and draw forth its insights and wisdom. It’s not about the entirety of your vision and all that you can imagine – it is about what is calling to emerge from within you now. By creatively cultivating it out, you access far deeper levels of information and insights about it than just by thinking about it alone. Use both left-brain linear practices with right-brain practices and whole-brain storytelling. Every emergence is a multi-dimensional story that fits into the context of who you are and expresses what’s unfolding.
7. Tending. Also pay attention to images, feelings, thoughts, ideas, impulses that emerge as you go about your days, outside of your “sacred” time. Record them. Ask the question to your creative source a lot, not just once. Let it marinate. As Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Live the question.” Deepen into it over time. Notice the patterns that emerge, the key themes. As we engage the process of cultivating what’s most alive for us now and in the near future, then the next level of the vision will emerge – like a rose which unfolds in layers, revealing one layer at a time.
That’s how an emergence works. Many dreams remain idle because there’s too big of a gap between all that can be in that vision, and what is simply next – and we can feel overwhelmed, or judge ourselves if not “on track” – and then we can shut down. By working with what is next day by day, the bigger vision becomes more and more clear over time…and accessible. Instead of a target to be hit, creative aliveness is more of a garden to be cultivated…and shaped into something tangible.
8. Creating. Once you have more clarity – you have diverged out and expanded the creative “playing field” of new, emergent gifts – then look at how to structure that aliveness into you work and life. The key, though, is to not skip over the cultivating and go right to the creating-it part as so many strategic plans have us do. With that approach you can get an action plan, strategy, or goal that is attainable…but may not give you the passion-infused life energy to see it through. It is the conventional way to stay motivated – through will and perseverance. This is still valuable for those times you do not feel like doing it. But once you have connected to your purposeful aliveness, it is the greatest motivator there is. Motivation is then embedded in the goal itself, and not just something we need to use to achieve it. It’s there within us to carry us forth even when we do not feel the energy of it.
9. Adapting. Let the vision be mutable and change over time. Balance planning with emergence. Have goals and hold them focused enough to guide the process AND loosely enough for new information, insights, and awareness’ in the moment to shift them into something more alive (and often unexpected) – something that you would not have known until you are in the midst of your process. Some goals shift. Some are released entirely. And some new ones show up along the way. By keeping the long term directed and flexible and focusing on what’s next, you have room to move, respond, adapt within the goals, making them more accessible…and energized. I heard a great term by Holacracy founder Brian Robertson that resonated with me for this concept: dynamic steering.
There is an improv principle: “Be changed by what is said or what happens” that I find also applies to cultivating passion-infused creativity. In engaging your creative self at deeper levels, you tend to grow and change as a person and meet up with the parts of ourselves that held back our creative flow. As we engage our creative aliveness, this often shifts our original goals into something else – often a more expansive version with some unexpected, emergent surprises. The key is not to get stuck when best-laid plans do not look as planned. They are often “evolutionary invitations” in disguise. Creators and pioneers throughout history have made some of their most profound discoveries and contributions via what was not planned en route to what was. Like John Lennon said: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
Like an improv scene (which is more what life is like than a formulaic, unwavering, static direction), know that your visions will probably not play out exactly as planned. It can be influenced by a variety of factors and conditions you can’t know ahead of time. It is a living, adaptive story that will morph and change over time with real-time feedback…and being present to your alive-feeling, creative impulses.
Unseen resources that we do not know when we begin our journey show up along the way as we are engaging the journey. In emergence, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts, and it often leads us to happenings far more alive, fun and meaningful than what our original vision can possibly give us. Life shows up most vividly in the cracks. Aliveness rewards letting go of over-controls. It’s important not to need to know the whole HOW before you begin, just a direction and what is most alive…and an entry point. Be kind to yourself in your not-knowings and have fun!
These practices are not necessarily in a linear order, and you might go back and forth between them. It’s not as much about a sequence as it is about engaging and responding in the moment: sometimes listening receptively; others times creating it out actively. By intentionally and consciously setting the “container” with the first three practices, you can be more present to adapting to the rest. Our right brain, by its non-linear nature, isn’t one to follow our pre-set linear path…that’s the domain of left brain. Any whole-brain creative process includes both linear and non-linear engagement. The right brain also loves to imagine and create new practices as we follow any existing method or approach. If you have an impulse along those lines, go for it. I experience all the time with my clients – as we get deeper into an emergence process, not only do new ideas and directions emerge, but new approaches for cultivating and discovering them emerge in the moment. There is an improvisational quality to each creative emergence – what keeps it so juicy and alive!
Michelle James is CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence and founder of the Capitol Creativity Network. Her mission is to integrate the worlds of creativity, service, meaning and commerce, and cultivate whole brain, whole-person engagement in the workplace. She is a business creativity consultant, facilitator and coach who has designed and delivered hundreds of programs for entrepreneurs, leaders, and organizations such as Deloitte, Microsoft, GEICO, NIH, World Bank, and Kaiser Permanente among others. Michelle performs full-length improvised plays with Precipice Improv, and she established Quantum Leap Business Improv to bring applied improvisation into the business world. In 2009 she produced a sold-out Creativity in Business Conference with the next one on October 23, 2011. She was recognized for Visionary Leadership in Fast Company’s blog, Leading Change, for “her commitment to bring creative expression into the work environment in a very deep and meaningful way.”
Image by tajmorton.
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