Do you remember a time in Kindergarten or early grade school when you were asked by your teacher to draw a picture of your family or paint a picture of your pets? Even if you can't remember actually putting crayon to paper, I'll bet you know a day like that existed while some of you may even have a picture or two from your parents' shoebox-of-art collection to remind you. On the other hand, some of you may have been more moved by science. You may remember spending hours putting together a science experiment for no other reason than you wanted to "see what would happen."
I remember all of these scenarios. In those very early years, we drew or painted because it was fun, not because the finished painting needed to sell at an art gallery for a respectable price. We drew because we liked drawing, not because we were trying to impress an art critic - quite the opposite, in fact. In our younger years, we joined a science fair because it was fun and we wanted to share our discoveries with the world.
Then, for many of us, there came a time in our development when something new stepped into the artwork or the science experiment and things started to change - many of us started our projects led by our desire to win an art show or take home a science ribbon as opposed to being led by the sheer joy of the work. Hello there, Ego! That's not to say that great work can't and won't be recognized by the world. Often times, when we are living our passion it comes with many rewards. What I am saying is if the work is enjoyable and it fills the soul that it doesn't have to be recognized by anyone to be considered time well spent.
I'd like to think of our passions a little more personally than just things we do or things we make and I'd certainly like to think there is a lot of joy in their creation. For many artists, and quite frankly anyone who considers the work they do "their baby," they can relate to their work on a very personal level. Writers use the term "first born" to refer to their first novel while business owners may refer to their businesses as "their other love." If we can look at our creations through a more personal lens, we may find that it behooves us to live more passionately and choose to spend more of our time on things that fill us up - much like the way we choose our friends (assuming we like our friends).
Let me paint an embarrassingly simplistic picture just to beg my point. Let's imagine that Art or Atom are people and possible friends that we would like to have in our inner circle. Just like we do with all our friends, we need to ask ourselves why we want Art and Atom as our friends. Is it because they make us laugh and we enjoy hanging around them? Is it because they have great hearts and we know we can learn a lot from them? Is it because they are loving caring people that are worth knowing and spending time with? We know enough to know that we shouldn't choose them for shallow reasons. We know we shouldn't like them just because they can give us ego-based props like popularity or a boost to our self-esteem and certainly not because they give us cash or notoriety. We need to be clear that our intentions for spending so much time with Art and Atom are authentic and for the purpose of joy and not disingenuous and for the purpose of feeding the ego in some way. And if we can take the next step and apply all of these friend-selecting criteria to our creations we'll find ourselves further down our yellow brick road to living a fulfilled life with our ego in check.
For many of us, this notion of an ego taking center stage in our passions or our work may not have been obvious until just now while reading these words. Some of us may have known this for a while and are looking for ways to ease the ego backstage. Great. Awareness is key. So the next question is this - how do we move the ego out of the spotlight? It may help to know that there was a time in history where the ego was not front and center, so maybe we can borrow a page from our ancestors' book to build on.
Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that artistic inspiration was a collaboration between the artist and some other divine force. Many of us remember studying about Zeus and Mnemosyne and their nine daughters or Muses who were a celestial source of inspiration, not only for the arts but for sciences as well. Socrates claimed to have a divine spirit that guided him. Greek and Roman artists, scientists and philosophers didn't take sole credit for their life's work because it was common knowledge that there was always a collaboration with spirit. There was a collective agreement in the community that the credit (or the blame, for that matter) should not be heaped on the artist or the philosopher because it wasn't the sole work of the human being. It wasn't until the 14th century when we shifted into the Renaissance period where the muses and "divine inspiration" were ushered out and egocentric creativity was ushered in. Man and man alone would start taking the credit for his creativity. An example of this is that artists starting signing their paintings in the 14th century taking all the credit for the work on the canvas leaving behind any inklings of divine inspiration.
The idea of divine inspiration isn't an entirely crazy idea as many current and popular musicians, directors and writers will confess to having some pretty magical experiences within their own creative process that they credit to being inspired by something else - something beyond them. Paul McCartney was inspired to write the hit song "Yesterday" in a dream. "I was living in a little flat at the top of a house and I had a piano by my bed. I woke up one morning with a tune in my head and I thought, ‘Hey, I don’t know this tune — or do I?’ It was like a jazz melody.... I went to the piano and found the chords to it, made sure I remembered it and then hawked it round to all my friends, asking what it was: ‘Do you know this? It’s a good little tune, but I couldn’t have written it because I dreamt it." Director Christopher Nolan took the inspiration for his 2010 psychological thriller "Inception" from his own lucid dreams. Steven King's novel turned film, "The Dreamcatcher," was shaped in a dream. King has said that his dreams help him to portray events symbolically in his writing. Kenny Ortega, director, choreographer and friend to Michael Jackson quoted Michael saying, "But Kenny, God channels this through me at night. I can't sleep because I'm so super-charged." Kenny said, "But Michael, we have to finish. Can't God take a vacation?" Without missing a beat, Michael said, "You don't understand - if I'm not there to receive these ideas, God might give them to Prince." (Hearing this conversation between Kenny and Michael made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it.)
Arguably the hugest rock and roll band in history, The Beatles, took to meditation practices in India to reach a new level of creativity and went on to make some of the most beautiful music the world has ever heard.
Whether we call it God, Inspiration, Intuition, The Force, The Flow or some other reference, the message, for me, is the same. Why not recast our ego with a more inspired front man? Let's lead with our hearts and worry less about how the all the things that ego needs and do things for the pure joy of it. Imagine a life where everyone was earning a living doing what they love to do while bringing joy not only to themselves but to all those around them? Let's dance, sing, meditate, write, visualize, draw and create. Let's recognize our instinctual gifts and bring those to the world. Let's allow ourselves to get carried away in our creativity or find our calling. In short, let's put the Muse back in music.
-Dawn Culp. © Copyright, 2017, The Zen Room