Individuality and creativity

A few things occur. (I just wrote ‘…to me.’ at the end of the last sentence and then deleted those two words. ‘I’ had nothing to do with the ideas that popped into this head, they just appeared)

All ideas are the result of what we call creativity. Therefore all philosopher’s ideas are the result of a creative process. Stephen Bachelor has talked of the process of Gautama’s awakening and spreading the word of his revelation as being similar to creative imagination. Indeed the story reads like a textbook example of creativity. A man is dissatisfied with the ways to live he sees around him – problem identification. He explores various alternatives – carries out extensive research. Thinks intensely about the problem – saturation. Sits down and resolves not to get up until he finds the solution – incubation. Has a moment of inspiration – insight. He then takes the idea to others to turn it into reality – realisation. And lives the idea – verification.

Looked at this way and following Stephen’s thread that in spreading the word of his insight Gautama is following a creative process. As well as encouraging his followers to live a questioning life is he also suggesting they follow a creative life? Apparently most African languages don’t have a word for creativity, perhaps an explanation is that what we call being creative is so all pervasive, so common, that it is implicit in life and does not require articulation. Like African languages, perhaps Gautama didn’t call what he was describing as living creatively simply because there was no word for creativity in Pali. It does seem from what Stephen is suggesting that Gautama was advocating living a creative life. One of Stephen’s questions to us on the ABB course was “what is Buddha nature?” Perhaps Buddha nature is a synonym for living creatively? Perhaps rather than just trying to interpret, understand and follow the thoughts and pronouncements that stemmed from Gautam’s insight we should focus on the underlying process of creativity that brought about these thoughts in the first place.

A key question that follows from this and one that has the potential to expand the concept of creativity, is what does it mean to be a creative person? There is a tendency in our culture to focus on creative outcomes, particularly in the arts, and to label the individuals who made them creative. This reverse engineering approach tends to emphasise both the exceptional nature of creativity and extol the individuals who produce creative output. If the earlier explanation of why some languages don’t have a word for creatively has some validity, then perhaps what we should be focusing on is not tangible product but intangible process and reflecting on whether that process is exclusive to the gifted few or is indeed ubiquitous. 

Going back to the deletion of the words ‘to me’ I mentioned in the first sentence above. This seems like a key element in the process of creativity. We talk about individuals having ideas. Socrates, Guatama, Keats, Leonardo etc. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the ideas came through them rather than the individual being in some way responsible for the idea. We can only set up the conditions for ideas to emerge, we can’t make ideas in the way  we can follow a set of instructions to make a chair.

In the world we live in we recognise the individual as being significant, central and indeed pretty much what we are – individuals. But when did this happen? At what stage in our lives did we become individuals? My daughter is 8 months pregnant with what will be, we hope, our first grandchild. The unborn child is referred to as ‘Toots’ (an early scan looked like Carla Miranda with a bunch of fruit on its head, hence ‘Tooty fruity’) So Toots already has an individuality and even nascent personality (all the pre-birth gifts were fruit orientated.) This individuality though is a projection created by us, it is not embodied in the infant. 

Donald Winnicott, was a pediatrician and psychoanalysis who explored the nature of being of infants and children. One of his interests was what is the world-view of babies and how does it change over time? He surmised from his observations that babies do not identify as individuals separate from the world but they simply experience being, and that experience over time includes an increasing number of things but does not initially have a hierarchy or delineation of self and other, things just are. As children grow they develop a sense of a subject/object structure to reality and from this grows a sense of self separate from the other. From my own childhood I have a memory of a time before I became an individual and can recall some of the first times I was told to respond to others as separate individuals rather than as things in experience. For me school was the most decisive and divisive factor. School required responsible individuals, not beings having experiences, and so over time the being was separated from its experience of being in the world and became the individual Rupert.

Winnicott also wrote about the importance of childhood play, he considered play nascent creativity. This theory supports the idea of creativity as being ubiquitous. If all babies and children play and play is the seed of creativity then all children have the potential to grow into creative adults. But here, like play, creativity would not be defined by outcome, we don’t categorize childhood play by what is achieved, by what the outcomes of play are. We consider play important and worthwhile in itself perhaps we can apply the same principle to adult creativity? 

This relates back to Gautama’s idea of non-self. Non-self could be seen to be a key to creativity. If we can regain the early experience of non duality and lose the trappings of individuality, ego, self, we can reclaim playfulness and develop our creativity. 

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