"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Time Magazine and Creativity

Last week Time Magazine’s cover story was entitled Creativity in America: The Science of Innovation and How to Reignite Our Imaginations. The premise: that creative thought is on the decline in the US – especially among children.

I happen to be in my fourth week of a Reading Class (partial fulfillment of the requirements needed to complete a Creativity Coaching Certificate.) The classic books I’ve read so far haven’t grabbed me, but I’ve been at a loss as to why. I thought maybe it was just summertime, or the stress of being on the road with a heavy teaching schedule.

But the Time article included a rather shocking observation concerning my reading material: Not only does the classic creative strategy brainstorming not work, but “according to University of Oklahoma professor Michael Mumford, half of the commonly used techniques intended to spur creativity don’t work, or even have a negative impact. As for most commercially available creativity training, Mumford doesn’t mince words: it’s garbage.”

He added, “Whether for adults or kids, the worst of these programs …pander to an easy, unchallenging notion that all you have to do is let your natural creativity out of its shell.”

Ha! Just as I’ve suspected. Creativity requires intentional effort. It isn’t just going to spring bubbling from my inner well, or burst from the top of my head. Maybe that’s why the books weren’t resonating. The approach was too formulaic. Especially the chapters that proposed methods for tapping the intuitive, serendipitous Self.

It hasn’t been my experience that it’s possible to command serendipity. I may notice intuition at play and practice noticing. I may become better aware of intuitive hits when I get them. But I don’t think calling forth serendipity or intuitive resonance is a command performance.

In defense of the books, which shall remain nameless, each was written more than twenty years ago. As with all things, observations and experience of the creative process continue to evolve. Perhaps those books are losing their relevance. Wouldn’t that be good? It would indicate progress in the field.

The Time article suggested quantifiable activities that have been proven to enhance the quest for your Best Creative Self. Here’s the short list:

1. Never tell someone to be creative or to “think creatively.” Saying it out loud almost always shuts down anything good that was happening. Sort of like demanding great sex instead of letting it unfold. Some things just aren’t available on demand.

2. Quit watching so much TV. Not only does it sap time that could be used creatively, it also saps interest in being creative.

3. Get moving. Every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise and this is true of creativity, too. The type of exercise doesn’t matter and the boost lasts for at least two hours.

4. Take a break. I wrote about this a few weeks ago. Not happening creatively? Set the project aside for a while and don’t pursue that interest. Your back burner (the unconscious) will busily work on your behalf. Professors who set aside a writing project when they’re stuck get more papers published than those who labor over one precious document.

5. Explore something new. A new cuisine, a new culture? It doesn’t matter. The effect is the same. The curiosity around something new filters into your creative thinking sphere – and heats it up too.

6. Passion, passion, passion. Studies have proved that kids do best when they are encouraged to pursue a passion. Passion gives meaning and substance to existence. Have you got one? If not, maybe this is a good time to start looking.

As for the coursework I am pursuing? I’m going to stick with it. I know I have some strategies that work when my students need help accessing their best creative selves. And I've seen results. Maybe I’ve got a few ideas that will contribute to the field.

I’ll share my strategies next time.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What's Trite? What's Not?

Last week a reader commented that one of my observations was “trite, but true.” Her comment didn’t bother me; instead it inspired me to wonder what the exact meaning of trite was, so I looked it up in the dictionary.

Here’s what I found:
Boring, not fresh or original.
Synonym: stereotyped, lacking the freshness that evokes attention or interest. Worn out by overuse so as to become dull and meaningless.

Life is so packed with paradox. I get what trite means in the dictionary sense. Overused phrases, tired sitcom themes, saccharin color schemes that remind me of social occasions - like holidays. Let’s not even get started on the downward spiral holiday memories are capable of evoking. Nothing about that little piece of collective unconscious is fresh or original.

But where does daily practice fit? I’ve spent ten years trying to stay in present time. Chopping wood. Carrying water. Keeping it simple. Living in the moment. Not jumping. What an interesting list of trite phrases. You might begin to think my life is boring. Not fresh or original.

And there’s the paradox. The activities that keep me centered, authentic, and real could easily be dismissed as trite. It’s all phrasing and context. How much outside influence have you bought into lately?

I propose that trite is a word so imbued with fear-based power it actually keeps us from engaging authentically with ideas, and by association, with right living. Heaven forbid something I think or write be dismissed as trite. Or that my life be judged uninteresting or boring. Not fresh or original.

What about the phrase new age? Remember how fresh and original new age used to be? On the brink of something. Open to creative thinking and an engaged approach to spirit. But somewhere along the line the meaning of new age shifted. No more fresh possibility. Only disdain for a phrase now considered the epitome of trite.

Which is why a healthy dose of skepticism is a valuable asset. When we hear words but never stop to think about them, we buy into a collective branding of our unique take on reality. When a whole set of deceptively simple ideas is dismissed as trite because advertising has the nerve to co-opt the veneer of a deep idea and drop it into a TV commercial, then we lose an important connection to the original profound thought.

It’s a challenge to stay in present time and keep analyzing the world and words around us. You have to embrace a little bit of rebel archetype - someone who is never afraid to say, “Oh yeah?”

And that’s what I’m choosing to do. Live my simple life and keep working on my authentic self – trite as it may sound. If I can live through the paradoxes of my own life then I can decide for myself what trite is. I don’t want to take thinking for granted. That’s the best trite-avoidance behavior I can engage in. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hand/Eye Magazine

Hand/Eye is a gem of an on-line magazine and it was an honor when they decided to use an essay I've written on Art Cloth in the latest edition. Check out the essay, but also the wonderful images and other articles included in the July issue.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Recipes to Spice Up Your Life

These were my inventions yesterday. The spice heats you up, so you don't notice how warm the day has gotten!

Pico de Gallo Baked Beans

1 can baked beans – your favorite brand
2 T. catsup
2 T. brown sugar
½ cup fresh pico de gallo (or make your own)

Combine all ingredients and heat over medium heat until slightly bubbly.

Pico de Gallo
Means Bite of the Rooster in Spanish
Great with chips or added to the above recipe

1 chopped tomato – very ripe
1 chopped small red onion
1 bunch of cilantro – washed and chopped (stems removed)
juice of one lime
½ - 1 whole seeded and chopped jalapeno pepper
optional: ½ c. chopped fresh pineapple or mango

Brownies Caliente

1 box of your favorite brownie mix + eggs or water if needed
1 T. cinnamon
1 t. cayenne pepper (more if you like it hot)

1 can chocolate frosting

Make the brownies according to the package directions and add the cinnamon and cayenne pepper.
Bake according to package directions. Cool.
Frost with chocolate frosting.
Optional: add 1 t. cinnamon to frosting prior to frosting the brownies.

You could make these from scratch but it's easier to use a mix on a hot day!

White Sangria with Cucumber and Mint

1 seeded and peeled cucumber
1 bunch of fresh mint, stems removed and washed
2 c. sparkling apple or peach soda
3 c. Pinot Grigio

Put cucumber, mint and ½ c. wine in the blender and blend on high until smooth.
Press the solids through a sieve to separate the juice.
Combine cucumber/mint juice with wine and sparkling soda. Serve over ice with a mint sprig garnish.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Power of Memes

Today let’s talk about memes. Richard Dawkins coined the word meme (it rhymes with cream) in 1976, and chose the word deliberately because it sounded like gene. He defined a meme as a cultural idea, symbol or practice passed from one person to another through writing, conversation, ritual and/or gesture. (If you’re interested in etymology, the word springs from a Greek term meaning “something imitated.”)

Memes are like genes in the sense that they evolve by being passed from one human generation to the next. We inherit memes just as we inherit genes. But memes are not like genes where it really counts. Your genetic code isn’t easily altered. Your memetic code, on the other hand, can be rejected or accepted. Taking a look at your personal memes can reveal surprising realities about how you think and respond to the world, because as theorists point out, “The memes that replicate effectively spread the farthest and fastest, and some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.”

Detrimental to the welfare of their hosts! In case anyone is wondering, that means some of the ideas you grew up with are bad for you. I have a feeling an inventory of memes related to creativity would read something like this:

I don’t have a creative bone in my body.
I was never any good at (fill in the blank) drawing, painting, singing, writing...
I’m not really an artist.
Men are better artists than women.
I just play around; I don’t really make art.
Artists can’t make a living in this society/city/world.
Quilting isn’t really art; it’s a craft.
Art is more important than craft.
Musicians never make any money.
I am not that creative; anyone could do this.

Sound familiar or do you have your own personalized versions of creativity memes?

You may not be able to change your genetic make-up. But you can recognize the negative energy embedded in the above list of cultural memes and rebuke them. Christiane Northrup calls for an open conversation and confrontation of memes – and suggests that talking about hurtful, limiting memes is the equivalent of vaccinating participants against them. Naming is power. Recognizing a meme as the psychological limitation it represents is the first step in dismantling it.

So I am calling for an open conversation and confrontation of the memes that play out in our sacred creative spaces. An inventory of your outdated, subliminal, and hurtful memes is in order! Make a list and dismiss any idea that doesn’t serve your creative growth. Just because you thought it doesn’t make it true. Get a fresh take and breathe some new creative air. Clarity is good.