"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.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thoughts on Focusing

The question of how to focus comes up in almost every discussion I lead on the creative process. I think when people talk about focusing what they’re really wondering is whether their work would improve – be stronger, better or more satisfying – if it wasn’t going so many directions. The wealth of available materials and processes is seductive! I’ve been writing about the power of limits in my personal work, so it’s not surprising that I get letters from readers who want to know what they should do to bring some focus to their work, too.

Which led me to this evaluation of the various styles Artists employ when they are making. Where do you fit? If you can’t decide, ask a friend. She’ll be able to tell you!

The Six Approaches to Making

Spontaneous: Throw anything at it and see what happens.

Tentative: Tries something out but can’t decide. Lives with it awhile and one of two things happens: Likes it so far; and continues, Or can’t decide; so it collects dust.

The Planner: Regularly diagrams, journals and plans. Thinks about color, makes lists. The planning is more fun than the execution, so no piece ever gets made. But some great journals come out of the process…

The Pragmatist: Uses what she has, right or wrong. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least she finishes things and stays within her budget.

The Collector: Constantly shopping and/or acquiring. Sees Big Ideas when she’s in the middle of a purchase, but nothing ever resolves. Loads of stuff in closets and under the bed.

The Worker Bee: Never didn’t finish anything. What starts as a sample must become a vest or a pillow. Everyone is in awe of how she gets it all done. The downfall? She never moves beyond samples into deeper work.

I bet you’ll see a bit of yourself in at least one of these descriptions. I’ve got bits and pieces of each of them in me, depending on my mood.

But no matter where you fall out on the above list, sooner or later, it begins to wear on you. You tire of the collections, or wish you could do differently, or better. Maybe you begin to realize it could feel great to buckle down and make something you’d be really proud of.

Which leads back to focusing.

I think focusing loses its appeal because we make the mistake of believing that if we decide to focus our efforts, we’ll leave something else wonderful behind. That somehow we’re choosing forever.

Not true! Focusing doesn’t mean you can’t do everything you find appealing. It just means that for some pre-determined period of time you are going to choose INTENTIONALLY to work with some limits. Picture the old mother in the shoe, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do. Every mother knows that each child requires at least a few minutes of individual attention every day in order to blossom into a human being with healthy self-esteem.

So this is your approach – and the first assignment (of which the next blog entries will suggest several…)

Don’t be the old woman in the shoe – with so many projects you don’t know what to do.
Think about each project, technique or how-to book that interests you. DO make some notes about what appeals and then do a little mental ranking. What do you want to do MOST right now – in this space of time? Think about concentrating your efforts on one interest – either for a specific period of time, or until you complete a certain number of works employing the technique, OR until you feel you have mastered it.

When you feel really good about the project or process from one of those angles, you’ll feel equally good about moving on to something new. OR perhaps, about sticking with it even longer – because you have discovered how much more there is to explore.

It’s a win – win proposition.


  1. Excellent! I am finishing a loooong project(which turned out beautifully by the way) and am ready to begin something new. Perfect timing. This is usually a difficult time for me, as any new stage is, and I fritter away a lot of time. I am eager to begin! Thank you!!!

  2. I saw parts of myself in all of the "choices"...thanks for this!

  3. definitely a pragmatist here. and a believer in the 10,000 hour/times theory. it's just what works for me. a good topic- i see lots of people struggle with this and you have laid it out here in your six approaches-nice!

  4. I try to plan ahead for a series of 6 or so, and to make a note of other possibilities (so there are ideas stored up for a rainy day) but then sometimes nothing feels like anything! And then I think you have to read...and look at great art. And hope you're not going to be intimidated!

  5. I can feel the little flutter of not only recognition, but trepidation. The inner parts that do not set parameters are aquiver at being "limited". Which absolutely means this is what I need to choose for a time.
    Perfect timing for me also. Thanks.

  6. Absolutely wonderful and perfect timing with the new year around the corner.

  7. I like your perspective on the not choosing 'forever'. Thanks for the Focusing idea. Make it Work!

    from a Tentative/Planner/Collector :)