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The Courage to Create

The Courage to Create

Book Summary by Susie Pedigo
(email: sgpedigo@earthlink.net)

Society is in the midst of change.Change causes many to experience a sense of alienation and purposelessness. We have two choices: either to withdraw and panic, or to develop the courage to create a better society. The second choice requires courage, and of course, creativity.

Courage means to move ahead even when moving ahead seems hopeless. This courage must be centered in our own being; it is the courage of our convictions and underlies all other virtues and values. Without courage we could not exist or transform our society or ourselves. There are four types of courage.

      1) Physical courage that does not deal with muscles or violence, but with the body as a way of cultivating empathy and sympathy.

      2) Moral courage that takes a stand against violence of any type: physical, moral, spiritual, and psychological. The most frequently experienced form of cowardice is the statement, "I did not want to become involved."

      3) Social courage which includes risking oneself to achieve meaningful intimacy, to invest one's time, emotions, energy over time in order to develop relationships. It is the courage to withstand the fear of autonomy, abandonment and self-actualization. It is also the courage to stand up to the fear of being totally absorbed by the other.

      4) Creative courage, which includes both the discovery and the appreciation of new forms, ideas, patterns and symbols. It is the courage to defy death, not by denying physical death, but by reaching beyond it through the products of our creative acts. Creativity comes from the struggle and courage to confront death and to rebel against it. Courage means seeing death as an injustice and fighting it and all injustice.

A Jungian interpretation of the Adam and Eve myth makes it not a story of a fall and original sin, but one of realization and awareness. Man learns about good and evil, about making choices, about his own mortality and must develop the courage to move on. In a sense, man becomes at his best a co creator of the world. Both this myth and the myth of Prometheus present creativity as born from rebellion against the injustice of death.

Alfred Adler's compensatory of theory of creativity which suggests that men create science, art, and culture to compensate for weakness may be useful in explaining the direction that creative expression takes, but not in explaining the creative process. While creativity may be associated with neurosis in our society, there is no clear cause and effect relationship.

Creating merely decorative and pretty objects does not count as real creativity. The authentic artist is one who gives birth to a new reality. He expresses what it means to be and enlarges human perception and awareness. Such artists are healthy self-actualizers. Talent may be inborn, but whether or not the individual makes use of it is his choice. Creativity isn't in the person; it is in the act. However, the means used to communicate the creation is secondary.

The creative process is an encounter with an idea or inner vision. While psychologically related to the fight or flight syndrome, the creative process causes the artist to feel joy or a heightened consciousness that accompanies the fulfillment of potential. The quality of the encounter can be measured by its intensity and the degree of absorption the creator feels.

The term "Dionysian" is often used to describe the creative act. It means that the act is based on emotions, the unconscious or subconscious, and instinct. On the other hand, the term, "Apollonian" which refers to reasoning, structure and conscious thought is often denied a place in that process. Both are essential to the authentic artist. The creative act reveals the artist's spiritual and psychological relationship with his world. Therefore, genuine artists cannot be separated from their culture.

The subconscious is packed with potentialities of both awareness and action, but the individual cannot or will not actualize them voluntarily. However in the creative process it is one or more of these potentialities that causes the epiphany or moment of revelation, the breakthrough.

This kind of creativity has four characteristics:

    1) It breaks through in opposition to beliefs the artist already holds.

    2) Everything around the thinker becomes clearer and more vivid at the moment of the break through.

    3) It only appears in situations where the thinker is totally committed to the problem.

    4) It comes at the moment of transition between work and relaxation, because that is when our earlier beliefs are weakest.

This kind of breakthrough insight may not be the most accurate, or even the one that will work the best. It is just the one that will most charm this thinker at this moment.

While this kind of creativity is difficult to sustain in our technological world, it is the best hope for controlling religious, spiritual, and political dogmatists

The creative encounter always involves a human being with an objective reality. Something new results from this encounter. The person and the object encountered are opposite poles; subject-object, being -nonbeing, the person-the world waiting to be. The creative encounter is almost always described as an active verb of violence. It seeks to know the world not through explanation, demonstration or logic, but through direct sensation. The value of the creation is that it reveals the creator's reaction to the object experienced, not the object itself.

One problem with talking about creativity is that frequently the discussion centers on what biographical or psychological event is the source of the creation. While those events may influence a particular expression of creativity, they do not explain why the encounter occurred. In many ways each creative encounter is a re-enactment of the story of the creation of the universe.

Artists must be receptive, but not passive. The artist is open, sensitive, and ready to receive the idea. Like Giacometti as portrayed by James Lord, the artist may be afraid to begin, and even more anxious as he works. He may identify so much with his creation that he momentarily confuses his creation with the object that stimulated it. This anxiety may be self-doubt but it probably also has as one of its causes the gap between the ideal the artist is trying to create and the results of his creation. For Giacometti, the creative encounter is painful.

To treat Giacometti's pain as if it can be turned into happiness through behavior modification or therapeutic adjustments is a misunderstanding of who he is. He sees the whole purpose of human existence as the attempt to portray what it means to be human in the world he perceives. Success, fame and even easy happiness are "bitch goddesses" not worth seeking. Only finding reality below the surface and decoding its message drive such artists.

Sexual intercourse is the richest encounter possible, and out of this encounter a new being is created. The creative encounter is similar to sexual intercourse in its encounter, partial withdrawal pattern. The two opposites become united as in the creative encounter. It is this continuous experience of encounter and re-encounter that is significant in terms of creativity. The process is what is important. It brings change to both the subjective and the objective poles. The particular forms resulting from the creative process are symbol and myth, which reveal the relationship between conscious and unconscious experience.

After this examination, it is easy to see why the common psychoanalytic understanding of creativity as "regression in the service of ego" just doesn't work. It isn't just negative; it also doesn't completely explain the process. Creativity may seem like a regression process because it often draws on infantile, unconscious parts of the artist's mind. This step is only the rest step between hard labor and the break through.

The break through makes universal symbols or myths from the regressive material.

Symbols do call up infantile fears, and unconscious desires, but they also disclose a reality that never existed before. So while symbols do have a regressive side, they also have a progressive side. It is a progressive revelation of a universal structure that goes beyond the individual personal experience. It is that progressive side that the Freudian analysis of creativity omits.

The feeling that accompanies the breakthrough into symbol is ecstasy. Momentarily the artist has risen above the polarity of subject-object. Maslow's study of peak experience is an example of the psychological examination of creative ecstasy. The other dominant feeling of this process is anxiety. It is necessary to confront the anxiety in the process to reach the ecstasy. Fran Barron's studies of creative people show that they will select the complicated, the chaotic, the unsymmetrical, the anxiety causing in order to have the opportunity to form it into a meaningful structure and experience the ecstasy of that creation.

In the creative encounter between subject and object, anxiety is a natural byproduct. The relationship between the self and object is disturbed. The subject's sense of identity may be threatened; the world certainly isn't the same. Anxiety is a normal reaction. The creative person has the courage to suffer anxiety in his attempt to force meaning upon meaninglessness, being upon nonbeing.

High in the mountains of Greece, at Delphi, the ancient Greeks found counseling from Apollo to help them handle their anxiety. It was a formative, chaotic period of history when the Greeks were moving from an agricultural society to the city. Individuals began to recognize the role of choice in their lives. It was a period of great creativity and great anxiety.

Apollo was the god of reason, logic, proportion, balance, sunlight, enlightenment, and healing. These attributes had accrued to him by the collective unconscious process that creates myths. Thus he was a very appropriate counselor. The Greek who visited Delphi participated in his own healing by fixing his attention on the problem and anticipating the outcome. His conscious intention and commitment were necessary, for this was not an easy physical journey. .

It is at Delphi that Socrates found the famous maxim, "know thyself," which has become the first rule of good mental health. One way to heal oneself, to discover oneself, to create oneself is through the direction of myths, models, and metaphors. Becoming oneself is a continuous process. Thinking and self-creating are inseparable.

Myths' influence on the ancient Greek's development of self goes on today in modern man. The myth of reincarnation indicates man's awareness that each individual does have some responsibility for his choices. Sartre's point that we invent ourselves with every choice we make is at least partially true. Man is capable of hesitating between stimulus and response. The hesitation allows for choice. However, in order to choose, one must be aware of the opportunity and of oneself and of the hopes, images, imagined constructs, and ideals, which operate consciously and unconsciously.

The shrine of Apollo at Delphi embodied this process as myth, symbol and ritual. Frequently the statues of Apollo are shown with dilated eyes indicative of anxiety.

These statues also have a sense of controlled passion. Controlled passion is different from repressed passion, which only shows up later. While repressed passion denies the passion, controlled passion is chosen. The idea is that rather than the passion choosing the individual, the individual chooses the passion.

As a communal symbol it attracted preconscious and unconscious collective insights that individuals were not able to face alone. They are too frightening. Just as dreams allow an individual to say he hates his mother, so the Delphic oracle enabled the Greek culture to face threatening new truths.

The interpretation of the cryptic, symbolic divination required participation of the recipient. The prophecies were often ambiguous, so their value was not that they gave a correct answer, but that they opened up new areas of reality to examination.

The oracles were different from modern therapy in that the words of the priestess were the content of the dream rather than an interpretation of the dream, but the words of a therapist are dealing with the patient's dream. So while a priestess may be ambiguous, the therapist needs to leave ambiguity to the patient.

The words of the oracle were not advice, but stimulants to look inward. Both the oracle and modern therapy should force the individual to see new possibilities, or aspects of himself and his interpersonal relationships.

The symbol or myth is not a regressive projection, but rather the objective pole that calls forth wonder and imagination. It is a healthy reaction, not neurotic.

Limits in life are not only inevitable; they are valuable. Creativity needs limits.

Without limits there would be no struggle. Without struggle there would be no need to be creative.

One limitation is death. Sickness is another. There are also neurological limits. and metaphysical limits that must be recognized if they are to be dealt with. Where you were born, to whom you were born and when you were born are limiting to your development.

We owe consciousness itself to limits. We become conscious when we see the conflict between possibilities and limits. In the Adam and Eve myth, it is rebellion against the limit of eating of the tree of good and evil that brings awareness. Of course it also brings a sense of guilt and alienation. New limits and new possibilities result from that action. Psychologically, confronting limits usually turns out to be an expanding experience for the personality. Adler suggests that our physical limits necessitated the evolutionary development of our intelligence.

Art is the result of the conflict between spontaneity and limitations. In art form provides boundaries or structures. In drawing a line the artist limits the space and creates the content. The line tells the viewer what is inside and what is outside and creates the form of the picture. The tension between subject and object is also involved with limits. If the tension veers too far toward the subjective then the work becomes fantasy unrelated to the objective world.

If the tension goes too far in the other direction, then the result is a cold technological world that is oversimplified. Coleridge's organic form of poetry veers toward the subjective; his mechanical form, towards the objective. The tension between the two forms of poetry often causes the poet to create something deeper and more meaningful that if he allowed one form to dominate.

In times of transition, formalism and formality are often under attack. They must avoid conformity, and seek an inner organic life. Forms can never be escaped completely. The form of the language in which they are composed influences even spontaneous poems. This struggle between limits and spontaneity is another conflict between Apollonian and Dionysian forces.

Imagination is the mind's reaching into the preconscious and pulling out ideas, image, symbols, and impulses. It releases us from forms and boundaries and can set us adrift in isolation. If it is not controlled by boundaries, it cannot result in successful art, but if it infuses the forms it gives them new life and meaning. When imagination is cut off, the limits have to be clear and obvious because without imagination a limitless existence is perceived as dangerous.

The majority of psychiatric patients experience themselves as stifled by limits established by their parents. Entering psychoanalysis begins with the idea of overthrowing that rigidity. That desire is a hopeful condition for their becoming integrated. They need to recover lost parts of their personalities; parts that were repressed by limitations and inhibitions. On the other hand, patients who lose contact with boundaries become psychotic. Artists manage to be imaginative without being driven into psychosis and so, they are pioneers who can lead the rest of society into the unknown future.

The sense of joy or ecstasy that comes when the artist finds the form that fits the creation is the result of having participated in the creation myth by making order from chaos.

In our society, imagination has a negative connotation. It is connected with subjectivity and is considered unscientific. So imaginative art is considered frivolous, or even worse some sort of scam. The hypotheses in the final chapter are that imagination may be the foundation of human experience and that logic and science are derived from art and imagination. Psychotherapy faces the same negative connotation which can be answered with the same hypotheses.

Dreams of people undergoing analysis are attempts to make sense out of nonsense, meaning out of chaos. Using imagination dreams construct new forms, relationships, and worlds. Dreams are comparable to abstract paintings. In both, the lines of movement can portray attractions and rejections. The heights or planes can be symbolic of levels of consciousness.

By turning dreams into abstract paintings and removing the specific content, the analyst and patient are moving deeper than mere psychodynamics. They are examining the ground forms, which later become formulations. The content reveals symptoms; the deeper level symbolically reveals how the dreamer makes meaning of his world. Dreams are the kingdom of myth and symbol, which reveal some aspect of a universal truth.

One quality that is always part of a dream is a passion for form. Individually dreams have a beginning, an event, and a denouement. A series of dreams may have repeated motifs, which eventually become a meaningful whole.

Form is important because the body is always part of the world. Man automatically constructs form. Observing a mime, the audience imagines or constructs the missing parts: The invisible dog being walked, or the cage that can't be escaped. The instantaneous quality of our minds leaping to fill in the gaps indicates that we are driven to construct meaning and form. We may at times fill in the gaps incorrectly or even neurotically, but we always fill them in to make the world fit our needs and to experience ourselves as having significance.

The passion for form reveals a conflict-filled desire to make meaning from a crisis-riddled life. The intellect, the imagination, and the emotions all contribute to the creation of that world. They actually fashion images to which the world conforms. The preconscious contributes to creating this world through wish and intentionality. It is not that we engage in knowing the world.

We are reforming the world. We attempt to find meaning in life. Every experience that involves making meaning in the self-world relationship requires imagination and creativity. Individuals shape feelings, sensibilities, enjoyments, and hopes into a form that makes them aware of themselves. That form cannot take shape without relating to the objective world.

As seen in the therapy, the creative process has several steps. The statement of the problem, the experience of an insight usually through an image, and the making of decisions based upon the new insight. The new decisions are unpredictable because they are a living out of the new world created by the insight. So the creative process is a result of the passion for form. It is always a struggle against disintegration and toward a creation of a new kind of being that brings harmony and meaning.

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