My Experience of Creativity

January 1st, 2007 by Steve Pavlina

The act of creating something, whether it be an article, a poem, a website, a computer program, or some other creative human expression, is one of my most cherished activities.

It usually takes a while for me to fully enter the highly creative flow state, but once I’m there I lose awareness of everything but the present moment and the ideas flowing through me.  I forget who I am.  I lose all sense of time.  I don’t even perceive my fingers typing.

When I’m in this state of mind, I experience massive internal resistance to anything that attempts to knock me out of it.  I lock my office door.  I ignore the telephone.  If someone knocks on my door, I’ll shout, “Begone!”  My defensive reactions are subconscious and automatic — I’m rarely consciously aware of them.  Usually I don’t even recall the interruptions.  Erin could pop into my office and say something to me, and I wouldn’t even remember she came in.

I often refer to these creative periods as “going to my cave.”  I tell my family that a bear guards the cave and that it would be unwise to attempt entry.  I actually have several bears in my office (wood, paper, wall art, etc.), so it would be hard to enter my office without noticing at least one.  I even have a small stuffed bear that growls if I squeeze it — a useful warning for any would-be intruders.  If you’re familiar with animal totems, you could say that Bear is one of my totems, and his purpose is to stand guard whenever I’m in my creative cave.  If that’s too new agey for you, then you could say this “bear” persona takes over as my subconscious autopilot during creative periods.

Once I’m immersed in creating something, I usually maintain the state until I complete a meaningful chunk of work such as finishing an article, I run out of time due to a pending appointment, or I’m overwhelmed by a physical sensation like hunger or exhaustion.

As an example I began writing my last article on Setting Your Primary Focus at 6pm one evening.  I worked on the article six hours straight from concept to completion and posted it just after midnight.  I remember seeing 7pm on the clock at one point, but after that I lost all sense of time.  For those last five hours I never got out of my chair, not even to use the bathroom.  I forgot to eat dinner.  I didn’t notice that the rest of the family went to bed at some point.  I went to sleep at 12:30am and awoke just before 5am feeling totally refreshed.

For some reason these periods of intense concentration tend to reduce my need for sleep, much like doing an extended meditation.  The more creative work I do, the less sleep I seem to need.

I’ve never been into drugs, but I have to imagine there are drugs that could induce something similar to this state of being.  In many ways it feels like my conscious mind goes on a trip.  I lose awareness of my physical senses and become lodged in a reality somewhere beyond the physical universe, a world of pure thought and ideas.

I don’t normally feel like I’m channeling creative work — I’ve experimented with channeling on occasion, and that’s a completely different sensation.  But most of the time I don’t feel like I’m consciously cranking out my work either.  There is mental activity, but it flows effortlessly.  If I think about the state from the outside looking in, it seems like work.  I think, “It’s time to write another article.  I’ll need a few hours for that.”  And it seems like it will be an effortful event.  But when I’m in the creative flow state, it doesn’t feel like work at all.  I don’t care whether it takes two hours or six — the duration seems irrelevant when I can’t perceive time.

As my ego dissolves during a creative endeavor, I enter a state of oneness with the ideas I’m exploring.  If I write an article on productivity, I feel as if I am productivity.  If I write about courage, I feel completely fearless.  If I write about emotions like love or joy, I sometimes experience them so intensely that tears stream down my face, but I’m only aware of the tears to the degree they cause my eyesight to blur or tickle my cheeks.  During an act of creation, I temporarily become whatever I’m creating.

When I do creative work, I don’t worry about being right or wrong.  I simply allow the ideas to express themselves.  Creation is an exploratory walk through idea space, and the final creative work is but one of many paths through that space.  Every path provides a unique perspective on the whole of the space, so all paths are valid and worthy of consideration.  The more paths that are explored, the better the space is understood.

Sometimes when I re-read an old article of mine, especially one from several years ago, I no longer resonate with the mindset I experienced during its creation.  I’ve since explored other paths and broadened my perspective.  Consequently, I never fully identify with anything I’ve written.  The ideas flow through me but do not define me.  I’m only a conduit.

When I create something, I aim to explore the interesting paths surrounding an idea.  As I begin exploring the idea space, I encounter branches upon branches upon branches.  To produce a creative work is to explore an interesting subset of those many branches.  But the branches of even a single idea are endless, so our creative potential is effectively infinite.  What stifles creativity is when we cling to a particular branch and lose awareness of the others.  The more branches you resist exploring, the less creative you become.

When I return to a state of beta consciousness, I regain my sense of discernment and can consciously choose which perspectives I find most empowering for any practical situation.  When I’m presented with a problem to solve, I evaluate which perspectives seem most helpful under the circumstances.  For example, if I want to improve my physical fitness, the path of self-discipline appears more useful to me than the path of laziness.

Some of my best personal growth experiences have come from the creative exploration of opposing ideas.  To truly understand one perspective, you must understand its alternatives.  For example, you cannot know abundance unless you understand scarcity.  You cannot know courage unless you understand fear. 

Creativity is an adventurous exploration of ideas.  Some paths run in circles.  Some are dead ends.  Some lead to wonderful treasures.  No single path has all the answers though.  It’s the creative journey itself that matters.

When you attempt a creative act, do not be concerned with producing something good or bad.  Simply experience your own path through the world of ideas.  Some paths may seem more valuable than others, but all paths are uniquely beautiful.



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