To act creatively in all situations is surely the hallmark of a useful happy life. One characteristic of highly developed men and woman is that they are always creative and inspired. Consider Leonardo da Vinci, he carried notebooks wherever he went and filled them with diagrams, inventions, sketches, and ideas on myriads of diverse subjects. He was inspired by everything and saw possibilities for discovery everywhere. His paintings are among the world's master pieces, his inventions defy description. He envisaged cars and flying machines in the 14th century, complete with plans and diagrams! For Leonardo, art and science were not separate principles, but two sides of truth, equally fascinating. Such diverse and dynamic creativity is the sign of true genius and a characteristic of a self realized being. Let us make a journey into the brain of such a man and propose a mechanism for creativity.
Psychologists tell us that the right hemisphere of the brain is mainly concerned with what are termed primary processes. The mode of operation of this sphere is essentially extra-logical and non-verbal. This is the realm of the subconscious and unconscious mind, functioning independently of normal rules of causality without spatial or temporal sequence. Right hemisphere function is important in our normal waking conscious state as well as in dreaming states. It allows us to fantasize and to daydream, and is responsible for intuition and the ability to symbolize. These are all essential ingredients of our normal thought process. In the right hemisphere thought is in the form of multi-modal images, rather than in word forms. Image formation is a much more potent and economical means of mental function than are ideas expressed in words. It would take thousands of words to record all the information conveyed by a single image in the mind. Images can convey immense power, exquisite beauty or sheer terror far more efficiently than words can ever do.
The right hemisphere functions essentially non-rationally, using a matrix of images which are the products of the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind can be envisaged as a vast ocean knowledge, recorded in symbolical form. It is thought by many people that this vast ocean within every human mind contains a record of the history of our human race, knowledge of our past and also of our potential. It lies largely untapped, waiting to be uncovered. C. G. Jung called it the collective unconscious of man. It corresponds to the akashic records of the human race, surely a very potent source of ideas and creative power. Yet psychologists maintain that the average human being utilizes only a tiny fraction perhaps 10% of this wealth of recorded knowledge. We are functioning at less than 10% productivity. No nation or country could ever afford to operate so inefficiently; they would go bankrupt within a few months. The tragedy is that we are functioning at such a low level. What Leonardo possessed lies dormant within each of us.
Now let us consider the left hemisphere of the brain. This is responsible for the active side of man's nature: the waking conscious state, the ability to think sequentially and logically, to solve problems and to mobilise the body in response to inner drives and external environment. This is the realm of the conscious mind by which we are awake to the outside world. Eating, walking, and artistic ability, satisfying our desires through interacting with the world and other human beings - these are all primarily the left hemisphere functions.
Psychologists have classified these functions as secondary processes, not to say that they are less important than the primary processes of the right hemisphere, but rather to indicate that they serve to integrate our primary subconscious and unconscious processes into conscious awareness. Via secondary processes we bring to the surface and manage the primary material, logically analysing, verbalizing, and acting on the primary data. These activities are also performed very inefficiently by the average human being, again using only about 10% of the dormant potential of the left hemisphere. That is, the average man or woman is only 10% awake in performing his daily activities. He is aware of less than 10% of what is coming from his unconscious mind and less than 10% of what is happening in his immediate environment at any time. Isn't it tragic that we live out our lives 90% asleep to what is actually happening within us and around about us, when we each have the neuronal potential in our brains to be 100% awake and efficient? The stream of our consciousness could be more adequately described as a dribbling tap!
Creativity not only implies doing something, but doing it well, in such a way that it is both efficient and inspired. To be creative requires a perfect balance between the functions of the two hemispheres. American psychiatrist Arieti has defined creative expression as the tertiary process whereby the primary unconscious processes are perfectly balanced and integrated through the secondary process of conscious awareness, producing a work of art, science or creative living.*1
Dr Alyce Green of the Menninger Foundation, USA has carried out research into the process of tapping the unconscious realms of the mind. She has made studies of college students, recording the imagery which comes up from sleep states, as well as in states of meditation or reverie. When you have already lost awareness of the room, but you are not yet asleep, a picture or a sound can just pop into your mind from nowhere or, as we say, emerge from the unconscious into the conscious. Regarding this phenomenon Dr Green states:
"I know from my studies in creativity that the solution to problems or new creative ideas often come to people in this kind of mental state. Some have called it the 'fringe of consciousness', some hare called it the 'transliminal mind', that is, the mind domain between conscious and unconscious. In this kind of state, imagery can arise which quite often provides creative solutions to problems."*2
Many people throughout history have recorded that their inspiration arose in this way. Poincare, the French mathematician had been unable to solve a particular type of equation for some time. One night as he lay in bed awaiting sleep, he became aware that scientific symbols were floating in front of his eyes and he could watch them. Then they fell into the shape of an equation which he immediately recognized as the form he had been looking for.
Enid Blyton, writer of children's stories and creator of Noddy and Big-Ears, utilized this process most deliberately. She sat down with a clean sheet of paper in her typewriter, closed her eyes, removed all diverting thoughts and made her mind blank. Then she would begin to see characters acting out things and talking. The character would do and say such funny things that she often burst into laughter thinking, 'I wouldn't have thought of that in a hundred years'. Only to realize, 'If I didn't think of it then who did?'
The chemist Kekule told of how he came upon the benzene ring, one of the most basic structures of organic chemistry. He also used this method very deliberately and called it his 'reverie'. One night in 1865 while dozing in front of a fire, Kekule contemplated atoms juggling into snake-like forms. Suddenly one of the snakes got hold of its tail and Kekule awoke with the notion of the benzene ring structure!
Creativity can take many forms: works of art, scientific exploration, improvements in social conditions, alleviation of suffering, beautiful music, improved farming techniques, more efficient sources of power, better teaching methods; the list is endless. Creativity is the property of us all; it is a new way of thinking and acting. The housewife need no longer complain of a shortage of time with children to care for and meals to cook. It is not time she lacks it is inspiration! Preparation of food can be a highly creative, a celebration of life. Providing the loving unfettered situation in which a child's awareness can unfold towards maturity can surely be a highly creative process.
You do not have to enrol in a pottery course to become creative; it is much closer than that. Creativity is performing normal duties with inspiration. There is ample opportunity in day to day life for us all to enhance our creativity. Every man and woman yearns for the satisfaction and peace of mind which comes with performing creative actions. To strive, to improve, to create... this if what makes us human. In the absence of creative activity, we are forced to channel mental energy negatively. Many problems we face at individuals and communities result from misapplication of creative energy, leading to frustration and unhappiness. Obesity, boredom, alcoholism, drug abuse, psychosomatic diseases, anxiety, neuroses, depression, suicide, violence, juvenile delinquency - all these and many more are the results of frustrated creativity.
For a self-realized person every event and action if equally important. There if no personal preference, for creativity manifests in every action, big or small. Once the dormant potential of the mind has awakened, the stream of conscious awareness is forever turned on. Creativity is but efficient use of the mental apparatus we all possess. And once that creativity is awakened, it is awake full time, in every action we perform.
There is a story about Rabbi Nachmann, a mystic who lived in Poland. From all over Europe pilgrims came to hear his inspiring teachings. One pilgrim, however, made the journey only to watch the Rabbi tying his shoelaces. He could learn just as well from witnessing such a seemingly mundane task for the Rabbi could inspire with every action.
No one should claim that his life if devoid of the opportunity for creative expression. We can all be highly creative if we unearth and fruitfully use what we already possess. In this ashram the recipe for perfecting the pathway to creativity is simple. There are two ingredients. Firstly, meditation puts us in touch with the subconscious mind where inspiration lies dormant. In meditation the conscious awareness is directed internally into the subconscious realm of our being, the goldmine of inspiration in the domain of the right hemisphere. With practice, one can emerge from meditation refreshed and inspired.
Secondly, we practice karma yoga, selfless service. Thus in the field of our work and duties, we are able to practice and apply the inspiration gained in meditation. The karma yogi becomes highly efficient and very aware of his surroundings. As his left hemisphere awakens, his memory improves, he develops a strong personality and becomes very dynamic. Through strength of will and increasing awareness, he transforms the inspiration received in meditation into concrete reality in the world. With continuous practice of meditation and karma yoga, the efficiency continues to improve with progressive opening up of the dormant 9/10ths of the brain. Creativity begins to manifest gradually in every activity to which the karma yogi applies himself. He is, in effect, evolving himself with every action.
The result is ever increasing dynamic creativity by which the full potential of the individual ii gradually realised. The state of profound creativity and individual fulfillment corresponds to the awakening of the sushumna nadi, the psychic channel through which kundalini, the dormant evolutionary energy in man, awakens. Perhaps when Pythagoras wrote about the music of the spheres, he was referring to the sweet sound of living which accompanies the balancing of the two hemispheres of our brain!
Just as creativity results from balance of the right and left hemispheres, mental illness can be attributed to imbalance in the hemispheres. With a mental imbalance favouring the right (unconscious) hemisphere, the individual can become lost in a world of day dreams and fantasies. This is the ‘dreamer’ who is always off in the clouds never bringing his inspirations down to earth with conscious action in the world. Such a person is excessively introverted, the extreme situation being that of the catatonic schizophrenic who becomes to deeply lost in the subconscious mind that he neglects to eat and care for himself, rarely even moving his body. He is barely in touch with the outside world and cannot look after himself or provide for his baste needs. In yogic terms, there is an excess of tamo guna or the inactive principle, and the prana is flowing almost exclusively in ida nadi, the moon nerve.
Contrast this person with the individual whose left (conscious) hemisphere dominates. He has all but lost touch with the higher possibilities and inspirations of the mystical dimension of the unconscious mind. His is a very uninspiring life tied to mundane awareness; for this person, a spade is always a spade. He has little appreciation for beauty, form or music. His awareness is a mechanical rather than an inspired faculty. This extreme is dose to the animal state of consciousness in which life only serves to fulfil basic instincts. In yogic terms there is an excess of rajo guna, the active principle characterized by passion, greed and acquisition. The prana flows predominantly in pingala nadi, the sun nerve, and the higher qualities of human heart and mind find little expression.
It is only with the balance of the hemispheres that music is produced. When sushumna nadi the spiritual nerve flows, sattwa guna the pure and tranquil principle dominates, and creativity manifest. Then the individual is traveling the royal road of spiritual life.
*1. Arieti, S. Handbook of Psychiatry, Vol.3, pg.719, 1966, New York.
*2. Alvee Green interviewed in Beyond the Mechanical Mind by P. Fry and M. Long, Australian Broadcasting, Commission, 1977.