What is creativity and why are creators so neurotic?

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    Ciprian Begu

    I’ve always wondered what is creativity and what is its relation to inspiration? I’ve met many people (myself included) who have a very weird relationship with their own creativity. It feels like there is constantly a battle inside the mind, to get out those ideas, images, expressions etc — to overcome the so called Creative Block. There is even a famous book by Steven Pressfield called The War of Art. In it, the author, after decades and decades of trying to write his first novel, decides to seclude himself in a cabin in the woods and either finish the novel or kill himself.
    Why it is so existentially important for people to express themselves creatively to the point where they become neurotic, hate themselves and become self-destructive in the process? Is it because they depend on an inspiration that is never guaranteed? What is that inspiration? Is it because there is something inherrently or morally wrong in trying to create separately from God’s creativity? A sympthom of our own estrangement from God? How can all this be explained in terms of Vedic ideas?

    Ashish Dalela

    This question got me started writing about Vedic philosophy. I was living in Calcutta at that time and desperately wanting to do something, but circumstances did not allow it. In that desperation, I turned the question upside-down and started asking myself: Why do I want to do anything? What is the reason for this creative urge? Why am I so unhappy without it?

    The answer I came up with was similar to the answer that Karl Marx had given earlier, namely, that we create to know ourselves. Through creativity, we externalize our persona, and then we identify with that creation as a symbol of our personality. Creation may be many things–a story, an emotion, a picture of some reality, or a theory about the world. But it is fundamentally our creation which means that in addition to being a symbol of all those things, it is also our symbol. Through the creation, the creator knows himself or herself. If you cannot create, then you cannot know yourself, and you cannot bear not knowing who you are.

    Through that realization, I developed a theory of the creation of the universe, which was essentially the idea that God creates to know Himself. The creation is His artwork, poetry, literature, music, and science. What we call ‘matter’ is the canvas or medium in which God creates. But ultimately, this creativity is God’s play with Himself, in His attempt to know who He is. This theory of creation as God’s creativity became my first book entitled Vedic Creationism. It is no longer in publication because I extracted the key ideas into a smaller book called Six Causes.

    Of these six causes, the Efficient Cause of creation is the need for creativity, and it proceeds through different levels like thinking, feeling, willing, knowing, and expressing.

    The first important step is thinking or an idea. This is not just an arbitrary idea; it is an idea about yourself or who you are or what you want to be. All great creators have a strong, succinct, and clear idea about themselves, or who they are. Whether you are writing a story, making a painting, creating some music, or doing philosophy, you have to have an idea about who you are. In short, you must know yourself. The second important thing is that you must like this idea about yourself, which constitutes your feeling of the idea. If you don’t like the idea you have about yourself, you cannot create, because you will disdain that idea. The third important thing is that you must have a strong need to express this idea about yourself; this is called willing and some people call this the ‘creative urge’ in the person. Not everybody has a strong creative urge, especially if they disdain their idea of themselves. Since they don’t like what they are, they are unwilling to reveal or externalize themselves into a symbol. Once you have a clear idea, you like the idea, and you have an urge to express it, then you must have the know-how to express it. This can just mean the skills for a particular art like music, painting, writing, science, etc. Finally, these skills must be employed in the actual activity creating the symbol.

    I struggled with my creativity for more than 10 years in which I could not produce anything. I agonized, spent sleepless nights, and remained a loner. It is said that Maha-Vishnu also undergoes an agonizing process of creation where He performs Tapasya or austerity; this austerity causes sweating which surrounds Him as the Karana-ocean and in that ocean, He then injects the soul, which is the ‘seed’ that then flowers into different types of products. Similarly, Lord Brahma performs Tapasya before creation after trying to find his origin and failing to do. This Tapasya is the effort to understand the unique type of person you are. Once you have solved the riddle of who you are, then the rest of the process of creativity is easy.

    Now, it is possible that someone isn’t interested in Tapasya of self-discovery. So, they can hastily come up with some idea about themselves by looking at others: why can’t I be just like somebody else? When the austerity is avoided, then one comes up with some faint and unconvincing notion about the self, which is not truly liked, and hence there is little conviction to express it. Even if you have the skills of art, music, or poetry, you don’t have a unique idea to express. Then your expression or art just becomes superficial complexity without an underlying idea. Some people who are similarly superficial and don’t have a deep sense of themselves will take to it easily. But this fountain of creativity will dry up, and you struggle with your creativity.

    In other cases, you can start with a relatively clear idea, but over time exhaust it through your expression. You then have to go back searching into who you are, and find a new understanding, before you emerge again with the process of self-expression. This fundamental dynamic of expanding and contracting can be viewed as the reason for repeated creation and annihilation of the universe. One withdraws from the process of creation because the ideas have been fully expressed and some new idea has to be discovered. So you go back into a meditative mood finding who you are before you emerge again with the process of creativity.

    Ultimately, therefore, external creativity doesn’t have an external cause. It comes from within and begins with an idea about yourself. But once you have an idea, then the entire process unfolds rapidly almost like an explosion. So, back to the main point: to create something unique and interesting, we need to have a unique and interesting idea about who we are.

    Ciprian Begu

    Thank you for an amazingly edifying answer. It really helped clear some cobwebs in my creative life.
    On a related note, I know there are many people who want to follow a spiritual path and express themselves creatively in writing, music, arts, even science and philosophy. Are there any principles that could guide one in such a difficult task, of integrating creativity and being philosophically sound? What are the pitfalls and how can we avoid falling into them, while still feeling that we have created something?

    Harsha Matadhikari

    Very thought provoking and inspiring message Ashish.

    Ashish Dalela

    Creativity is a dangerous business because we have the tendency to invent and that process of inventing can be contaminated by wrong ideas. Then again, once we do this creation we are likely to become proud that we are the creators; most of the creators are arrogant.

    Let’s take these issues one by one. Our creativity is an offer to Krishna, which means its success is to be measured not by how much this creation is appreciated by others like us, but whether Krishna likes this offer. If we are pleasing Krishna then we will naturally develop a greater attraction to chanting and hearing. If we get appreciated by others without improvement in chanting and hearing, then creativity is a waste. We can measure by the result.

    Then because my creativity is an offer to God, it has to be offered lovingly and with humility. The mood should be that I’m unqualified to make something that is going to appeal to God, but still I am making something. Krishna is bhava-grahi janardana. He accepts that bhava underlying that activity, and anything done with pride and arrogance is rejected. What can you offer to someone Who already owns everything? We can offer our bhava or feeling.

    Finally, we have to remember that whatever we offer has two things — form and content. The content is a representation of God and the form is our contribution. For example, in the case of Indian classical music, there are a number of ragas and you can sing in any raga but you must sing the glories of God. In that process, the content is God, but the form of presentation — i.e. raga — is your contribution. Our creativity should not extend to content but remain confined to the form. If you are presenting philosophy, the forms can be stories, dialogues, narrations, poetry, etc. That’s acceptable as long as the content in that form is not being altered by creativity. So, the creative license doesn’t extend to the content; it can only be extended to the form.

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