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Creative soil: finding fertile flow

A friend once told me that she wanted to do something creative, but she didn’t have any ideas. She said she remembered a time when she always had inspiration for new drawings or paintings, or even entire series of works that she’d give away to people she knew. But now, when she looked for an idea for a new piece, her mind became blank.

I’d been in a similar situation, too: for several years, I struggled to write songs, constantly feeling that my ideas weren’t good enough. On the rare occasions that I had found an idea I liked, I would quickly become dissatisfied with my execution, frustrated with the way the melodies or words came out. 

I was studying music seriously then, trying to find out what made the music I admired so good. I desperately wanted to make something that I felt measured up to my heroes’ creations. 

At some point, I decided to give up a sliver of my perfectionism and commit to making something every day. I started by putting three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing on paper every morning. These led to writing how I experienced objects through my senses, then to small poems, then songs I began to be proud of.

After a few years of daily creative work, I find myself able to access a creative flow of ideas easily, and am able to appreciate the flow as valuable. The difficulty is not in finding ideas, it’s in choosing which ones to develop. 

I told my friend that for me, ideas are like dirt. Ideas are everywhere. They’re abundant. At times, I feel overwhelmed with ideas. There are far too many to think about, let alone express in a way that others can understand. New ideas are accessible any time we’re paying attention. 

Something didn’t feel right about that statement comparing ideas to dirt, though. When I reconsidered, I realized that ideas are more like seeds. They grow in the soil of the mind. They need the scarce resource of our attention and energy to nurture them as they grow into their fully realized forms.

Childlike creativity

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” — Pablo Picasso

As children, our ideas are bright and vivid, interesting and shiny. We enjoy their flow through our minds. Our expressive skills may not be able to communicate our ideas accurately to others, but we’re not aware of the inaccuracies in our expression, so we let our ideas flow into the world with beautiful simplicity. 

As we get older, we become accustomed to the flow of ideas and it becomes less interesting to us. We see some ideas recur and stop paying attention to them. Because our creative flow is constant and familiar, we begin to value it less. 

We become aware of other peoples’ opinions and begin to identify with them. Sometimes we let criticism block us. Some people advise us to stay safe and avoid creating to stay safe from getting hurt. Others are uncomfortable when they encounter creative expression because they have blocked their own creative flow. They might be quick to point out flaws in an effort to diminish a creator’s worth and save their own.

We’re told that our creativity isn’t worth sharing, or it’s dangerous to share, and we stop. We put a filter on our creative well, a tight covering. Ashamed, we stop looking. We assume that our creativity doesn’t matter, that it’s useless, that it distracts us from things that are more important, like knowledge already certified as useful by our parents, teachers, bosses, society at large. In time, we doubt that our creativity really exists.

As we explore and study the world, we encounter and appreciate other peoples’ creative ideas. We watch, listen to and read the work others share. It’s easy to place other creators on a pedestal, to think that their ideas are special and unreachable. We hold their achievements as models to strive for. We wish that their ideas were our own. We begin to think our ideas are not as valuable. It takes courage to consider that our own ideas are worth admiring.

By the time we reach adulthood, many of us have forgotten about our creative flow. We choose to ignore it, always looking out at the external world. We distract ourselves with our struggle to try to make sense of it, to fit into its structures, to bend it to our desires. 

Finding flow

Creativity is an essential part of being human. As hard as we may try to stifle or ignore the creative flow, we can’t turn it off. We can only turn away. If we pay attention, we have access to a potentially unlimited flow of thoughts.

Anyone who has started to practice meditation knows how difficult it is to stop our mind from thinking. If you haven’t tried anything like it, try to count ten breaths in which you focus entirely on the sensation of breathing. Start over if you notice a thought. 

Our minds evolved to be always alert, always synthesizing information and generating thoughts and ideas. Every one of these thoughts has a core of images, concepts and emotions. Each one is the seed of an idea that could be nurtured into a new song, a business, a vision for living and relating to others with balance and respect.

Once we notice our creative flow, we can begin to make our ideas manifest in the world. We need to capture and refine them, choosing the best ones and giving them the attention they need to grow. 

We can develop skills to give structure to our creative flow so we have a better chance of remembering the best ideas. We can develop our expressive skills in our chosen media to share our ideas in a way that makes sense to others. 

A garden of ideas

The mind is like dirt: fertile ground that can naturally support the fruitful growth of ideas. The winds of consciousness carry idea seeds that can land, take root and grow. Creativity is the tilling of the mind’s soil, the preparation for ideas to come, and the careful nurturing of those ideas as they grow toward their true forms: faithful original inspiration, expressing themselves to the world. 

The first step toward growing a creative garden that others delight in is recognizing the fertility of the mind. Then comes the work of tilling, planting, weeding, nurturing the fruit until it’s ready to share.

A colleague once told me that she wanted to do something creative, but she didn’t have any ideas. She said she remembered a time when she always had inspiration for new drawings or paintings, or even entire series of works that she’d give away to people she knew. But now, when she looked for an idea for a new piece, her mind became blank.

I’d been in a similar situation, too: for several years, I struggled to write songs, constantly feeling that my ideas weren’t good enough. On the rare occasions that I had found an idea I liked, I would quickly become dissatisfied with my execution, frustrated with the way the melodies or words came out. 

I was studying music seriously then, trying to find out what made the music I admired so good. I desperately wanted to make something that I felt measured up to my heroes’ creations. 

At some point, I decided to give up a sliver of my perfectionism and commit to making something every day. I started by putting three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing on paper every morning. These led to writing how I experienced objects through my senses, then to small poems, then songs I began to be proud of.

After a few years of daily creative work, I find myself able to access a creative flow of ideas easily, and am able to appreciate the flow as valuable. The difficulty is not in finding ideas, it’s in choosing which ones to develop. 

I told my colleague that for me, ideas are like dirt. Ideas are everywhere. They’re abundant. At times, I feel overwhelmed with ideas. There are far too many to think about, let alone express in a way that others can understand. New ideas are accessible any time we’re paying attention. 

Something didn’t feel right about that statement comparing ideas to dirt, though. When I reconsidered, I realized that ideas are more like seeds. They grow in the soil of the mind. They need the scarce resource of our attention and energy to nurture them as they grow into their fully realized forms.

Childlike creativity

Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” 

As children, our ideas are bright and vivid, interesting and shiny. We enjoy their flow through our minds. Our expressive skills may not be able to communicate our ideas accurately to others, but we’re not aware of the inaccuracies in our expression, so we let our ideas flow into the world with beautiful simplicity. 

As we get older, we become accustomed to the flow of ideas and it becomes less interesting to us. We see some ideas recur and stop paying attention to them. Because our creative flow is constant and familiar, we begin to value it less. 

We become aware of other peoples’ opinions and begin to identify with them. Sometimes we let criticism block us. Some people advise us to stay safe and avoid creating to stay safe from getting hurt. Others are uncomfortable when they encounter creative expression because they have blocked their own creative flow. They might be quick to point out flaws in an effort to diminish a creator’s worth and save their own.

We’re told that our creativity isn’t worth sharing, or it’s dangerous to share, and we stop. We put a filter on our creative well, a tight covering. Ashamed, we stop looking. We assume that our creativity doesn’t matter, that it’s useless, that it distracts us from things that are more important, like knowledge already certified as useful by our parents, teachers, bosses, society at large. In time, we doubt that our creativity really exists.

As we explore and study the world, we encounter and appreciate other peoples’ creative ideas. We watch, listen to and read the work others share. It’s easy to place other creators on a pedestal, to think that their ideas are special and unreachable. We hold their achievements as models to strive for. We wish that their ideas were our own. We begin to think our ideas are not as valuable. It takes courage to consider that our own ideas are worth admiring.

By the time we reach adulthood, many of us have forgotten about our creative flow. We choose to ignore it, always looking out at the external world. We distract ourselves with our struggle to try to make sense of it, to fit into its structures, to bend it to our desires. 

Finding flow

Creativity is an essential part of being human. As hard as we may try to stifle or ignore the creative flow, we can’t turn it off. We can only turn away. If we pay attention, we have access to a potentially unlimited flow of thoughts.

Anyone who has started to practice meditation knows how difficult it is to stop our mind from thinking. If you haven’t tried anything like it, try to count ten breaths in which you focus entirely on the sensation of breathing. Start over if you notice a thought. 

Our minds evolved to be always alert, always synthesizing information and generating thoughts and ideas. Every one of these thoughts has a core of images, concepts and emotions. Each one is the seed of an idea that could be nurtured into a new song, a business, a vision for living and relating to others with balance and respect.

Once we notice our creative flow, we can begin to make our ideas manifest in the world. We need to capture and refine them, choosing the best ones and giving them the attention they need to grow. 

We can develop skills to give structure to our creative flow so we have a better chance of remembering the best ideas. We can develop our expressive skills in our chosen media to share our ideas in a way that makes sense to others. 

A garden of ideas

The mind is like dirt: fertile ground that can naturally support the fruitful growth of ideas. The winds of consciousness carry idea seeds that can land, take root and grow. Creativity is the tilling of the mind’s soil, the preparation for ideas to come, and the careful nurturing of those ideas as they grow toward their true forms: faithful original inspiration, expressing themselves to the world. 

The first step toward growing a creative garden that others delight in is recognizing the fertility of the mind. Then comes the work of tilling, planting, weeding, nurturing the fruit until it’s ready to share.