Creativity, like love, requires a soft focus; an ongoing flirtation with the unknown and the irrational; a state of mind open to the serendipitous accident or the unexpected flight of fancy that can come along and lift you right out of the everyday. (from Zen and the Art of the Macintosh)
Continuing with our series of quotes from Zen and the Art of the Macintosh, this quote seemed most apropos.
I’m spending my spare time these days doing a renovation project for some customers. It’s a nice break from counselling. I’m putting a bathroom into a basement and also redoing the laundry room. I have to work around the structures already present in the basement — drain locations, duct work, wiring and walls.
The work is progressing. What I notice is how often what I think I’m going to do is altered by externals — for example, I was getting ready to install the shower base, and noticed the plumber had installed a drain pipe a quarter inch proud of the wall.
The concrete is poured, so there’s no fixing the pipe. So, I stood there and re-examined my options. Now, I could have blamed the plumber, had a fit, got angry, stormed off (all things that happen regularly in rocky relationships, by the bye) or otherwise delayed the inevitable.
What I did do was visualize a solution, which involved shims, nails and a dead zebra. (OK. I lied about the zebra…)
To play with our quote – a hard focus only sees the quarter inch pipe problem. Soft focus means one can see “through” the problem to the goal, and from there, to see a way around what seems to be an obstacle.
It is easy for people to get sucked into focusing only on the problem and thinking there are no options. Sort of like that pipe, set in concrete. And when we see a situation with hard eyes, we are well and truly stuck. Because, you see, such an approach demands resisting even the idea of finding another way.
I watched an 8 year old struggle with this principle. She was walking ahead of me, and got to a set of swinging doors. She pushed. Nothing happened. So she pushed harder. Nothing. Harder. Nothing. She actually started to whimper, and looked like she was going to cry. She leaned against the door in frustration as she contemplated being locked in the building forever.
Her mother said, “It opens in. Pull it.”
The kid was quite embarrassed, but pulled, and low and behold, the door opened.
Now, I know, you’re thinking, “Everyone knows that if a door doesn’t open out, one should try pulling it.”
That’s hardly the point. Instead, look at anything you regularly confront – a relationship, work, your approach to life, and notice how often your approach remains the same – you’re pushing a “pull” door. And you blame the situation. And in that, you stay stuck.
Many are the friends and clients who bring issues to me, and it’s always the same thing. The players or the issues change, but their response stays the same. And many are the friends and clients who annoy themselves when I point out that their issue has nothing to do with the pipe cemented in the wrong place. It has to do with the person’s unwillingness to change the focus from what’s broken to seeking options for what might actually work.
When I read the words, “ongoing flirtation,” I see a decidedly light touch practiced repeatedly. Flirtations are gentle, whimsical and decidedly fun. A delicate interplay, if you will. And notice that this interplay, in our quote, is with the unknown and the irrational. Scary words for rational westerners.
The word irrational means non-rational. We’ve taken it to mean “wrong” or crazy or “not thinking right,” as in “You’re being irrational,” said in the midst of a fight. Non-rational actually means “using a channel of understanding other than thinking.” We might think of intuition, a felt-sense, or using creativity.
It’s the expectation that serendipitous accidents are the norm, rather than an occasional event or something that only happens to other people
The unknown also seems to slow people down. We spend our lives wastefully trying to make things known and predictable, so as not to scare ourselves with the absolute unpredictability of life. We expect that just because something is some way, it’s always going to be that way. Like the kid and the door. It doesn’t open out, so I’m stuck here forever.
Letting go of the expectation of predictability frees us to try new things. Think about it. You were born, for all intents, lacking any experience. Each experience, then, was an unknown experience. And, if you are reading this, you’ve, so far, survived every single one of them!
The Port Elgin / EAP drama I’ve mentioned had an interesting semi-resolution. The lady I was talking with decided that all of my former clients really love me and ask for me and won’t see anyone else. So, the EAP decided I could keep seeing my old clients.
No new ones, though, until they figured out which ones to give me – ones I wouldn’t insult by expecting them to accept responsibility for their lives.
I said, “But that doesn’t make sense. All of my old clients, at one time, were new clients.”
She replied, after a pause for her brain to fart, “I’m just doing my job.” That was when I decided to leave Port and not work for EAPs.
How stupid. All experiences are new experiences, just as, in a sense, all clients are new clients.
There is no way to predict anything. All there is, is this situation, and then this situation, and the flexibility or rigidity of the response. One’s mind is either closed, and therefore stuck in one way of seeing things, or open, and therefore flexible and capable of choice.
Creativity is the flow of the unexpected, the non-rational, the instinctual and intuitive. It is learning to trust the cosmos to always leave a door open.
There is always a way out.
The problem comes when you refuse to admit that the choice is yours. The door was not keeping the kid stuck in the building. The door was just standing there “door-ing.”
Escapes requires soft eyes, a change of focus, and a willingness to let go of pre-conceived notions.
If the pipe won’t move, in other words, move the wall.