Creativity, creative thinking, and the creative process are all aspects of being human that I hold dear. Perhaps this is because I’m finally old enough to identify creativity as the thread that defines and brightens my life. The creative act is what I found most meaningful in third grade writing my first book of poetry. I didn’t realize it then because I didn’t have the words to articulate it. But I remember that feeling of contentment each time I wrote and added a poem to the collection. And I can recapture that contentment any time I choose.
It is not news to proclaim that creativity is undervalued in our culture. The arts’ place at the periphery of our society in general and in education in particular are, too, part of that undervaluing. Though there’s a hopeful upswing in general interest in creative thinking, thanks to the inspirational work by people like Sir Ken Robinson and Michael Michalko and books like _Robot Proof_ by Joseph E. Aoun. There are also the great theories and ideas about [creative] flow put forward by psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, beginning somewhere in the 1990s, which helped tune the contemporary world into the importance of creativity as a regular and fruitful human process and not just something odd artists do.
So finally we are at the point where we have more mindful opportunities to infuse creativity in our daily lives; it is present and encouraged. I say “mindful opportunities” because the truth is that we live creative lives daily, and I would argue that in the way most of America has structured itself since World War II, the majority of us are presented with choices to be creative daily: we cook. We communicate. We problem solve. All of these are creative acts. All of these require ingenuity and achieving an end that had not existed prior to a given moment. We simply might not see it that way.
For example, when I ask my students to write an essay for a composition class, I am asking them to create something that before that moment never existed. The moment they receive the assignment and begin just thinking about — well, I could write about X or maybe Y or Z–that thought process begins the creative process that will result in something entirely new and unique existing in this world. Any time we assign students to create something that didn’t exist before — a project, a speech, a presentation, we are asking them to create anew. But I’m not sure that we instructors always see it this way. I’m not sure that students see it this way either. There are many reasons why this is possible: the focus on the end — the grade, the evaluation, the assessment. There is also that penchant for being practical. Let’s face it: when it’s Thursday evening and I have to cook my son and me dinner after a long work and school week, I’m not thinking that I’m about to embark on a creative act; I’m thinking, “How do I get dinner done so I can relax a little and go to bed?” But the moment that I remind myself that cooking dinner is a creative opportunity, the pressure lessens. I can enjoy it more, or I can use the time doing something I’m familiar with (e.g. frying up some chicken) to have a little active meditation as I go through the process of preparation. Simply being mindful of what I’m about to do makes all the difference.
The more mindful I become of these small acts of creativity, the more I become aware of what constructs — social and personal — humans build to block and even devalue creativity: between habits and mindsets and the busy way we currently live, it’s very easy to not see this perspective: that the creative process is valuable not because of what it produces. It’s valuable because it’s a mindful practice, a practice that connects us firstly to ourselves. When we have that connection, we are preparing ourselves for living richer and more fulfilling lives. We are preparing ourselves to achieve success, simply by focusing on the process rather than the end results. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is so. If we go through any creative process mindfully, sooner or later the results will turn out satisfactory. If it’s later that we experience these results, then we also get a lesson in patience and perseverance.
In my next blog, I will examine the ways those ways–habits and mindsets (both individual and societal) that block creativity.