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Embrace Tension

 

One of my favorite books is Five Star Mind, which has a somewhat arrogant title for such a humble book. The subtitle is "Games and Puzzles to Stimulate Your Creativity and Imagination," but that completes misses the point of the book. Released in 1995, it was a pre-cursor to Aha! and A Whack on the Side on the Head. It's a book on how to approach life from new angles and arrive at new creative vistas. It's engaging and fun to read.

Tom Wujec, the author, says this about creative tension.

To be creative is to take a risk. Every new beginning - it could be an essay, a symphony, a computer program, a business plan - is as hard and as chancy as every other beginning. Starting a creative endeavor calls upon our courage to put something of ourselves on the line. For some people, the spontaneous drawing exercise is very challenging. They can't get used to the feeling of not knowing what they are going to do before they do it. And for other people, the exercise is liberating and exciting - it's a chance to let ideas flow out of the without inhibition.

Because we experience a chorus of moods throughout any given day, there will be times when we confront uncertainty, anxiety, and the dragon of fear. Great creative individuals don't have any less fear when they stare at the blank canvas or catch a glimpse of the audience before the performance. In fact, they probably feel more. But what distinguishes them is that they consistently engage their fear, put it aside for a while, or step boldly into the heart of it, turning anxiety into energy. Action transforms fear into vitality.

The feeling of doing something without knowing where it may lead you is something a creative person learns to tolerate, appreciate, and love. The seasoned creative individual can be uncertain of where he or she is going while at the same time be certain that the destination - wherever it may be - will be interesting. [Emphasis mine.] The less seasoned creative individual feels lost and disoriented in creative tension. With a need for quick resolve and closure, they lose sight of the need for the periodic mucking about in the dark to produce something of value.

Marvin Minsky from the M.I.T. artificial intelligence lab believes that tolerating displeasure is not only an integral part of the creative process, but central to learning it. He writes, "In the early stages of acquiring any really new skill, a person must adopt at least a partly antipleasure attitude.: 'Good, this is a chance to experience awkwardness and to discover new kinds of mistakes!' It is the same for doing mathematics, climbing freezing mountain peaks, or playing pipe organs with one's feet. Some parts of the mind find it horrible, while other parts enjoy forcing those first parts to work for them. We seem to have no words for processes like these, though they must be among our most important ways to grow."

Creative individuals tolerate and even thrive on this creative tension. I've seen people addicted to creative anxiety, who live in a perpetual state of turmoil, feeling continually restless, deprived, empty, and unbearably frustrated until they express their inner life in some creative way. Out of this chaos emerges something new and exhilarating.

Can we learn to enjoy feelings of tension and confusion? Certainly, in moderation. To believe fully in your ability to get things done, and at the same moment, to have doubts, isn't necessarily a contradiction. It is a way of walking through the creative uncertainties and managing your creative flame. Your confidence builds with every success. The more you solve problems, find ways out of dead ends and discover inspiration when you thought you had exhausted all possibilities, the more you encourage creative anxiety to stir up ideas rather than char them.

I highlighted the one section because I relate to that. I've said before, but it's true: every time I approach a painting I never feel as though I'm ready for it. I have some fear around it, particularly if it's going where I want it to go. The further I get into it and the more I have success, the more I'm afraid that I'll screw it up. But I have to be okay with that fear. In fact, we all do. Life is like that.

So are relationships. Our friendships in life take us by the hand and we have no idea where they will lead us. We explore, we learn, we grow through the experience. Think about this in terms of friendships:

[We] can be uncertain of where [we are] going while at the same time be certain that the destination - wherever it may be - will be interesting.
Do we "tolerate, appreciate, and love" embracing others in our lives and enjoy the moments that we have with them freely? Or do we throw expectations at them and then get mad when our expectations don't come to pass?

I think there is tension, to some degree, in all relationships. The more that we want from someone, the higher the tension. That tension is relaxed as the other person either agrees to and meets our expectations or as we let go of these expectations.

I think the best friendships have another kind of creative tension. We push each other and see life from the perspective of another in the most honest way and that tension pulls us to be more than we are. Beautiful moments can come out of that. Do we dare?

 


by Brett Rogers, 8/27/2006 2:36:12 PM
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