Working in Service (Part 2) - On Creativity

As mentioned in the previous post on the subject, I am currently working on several rites which in return triggered this small blog-series. Before we continue, however, let me point something out. This second part in particular was equally inspired by a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on the subject of Creativity.

Surprisingly it is under the top 10 most watched TED videos ever - despite the fact of talking about Greek daimones and Roman genii. Personally, nonetheless, I believe Mrs. Gilbert is getting the point as wrong as she possibly could. She is actually making things worse than before. Now I know, claiming this might be a bold move given the video has been watched 4,483,619 times as of today...

So let me take you on a journey and try to explain.  

NOTE: Feel free to skip the video if you are short on time.

From the first colored handprint in a cave through all the millennia to the recreation of the very same images in the virtual world of computer games some things remain the same. They stay the same because time outside of our own limited lives flows endlessly slower than we often imagine. It flows in the slow rhythm of the earth. We can trace it back in the rising and sinking of mountains, of volcanos and valleys, one huge breath in, one huge breath out, millennia in between...

These things that remain the same are intricately connected to who we are as human beings and to our relationship to the world we are embedded into. Like a seed into soil, mutually enriching each other. I believe it is in context of this huge, still mainly white canvas that we should talk about Creativity with a capital C - and what truly defines it.

Click to enlarge. -- Between these two images - one taken from an actual cave, the other from a recent computer game - lie up to 50000 years of human creativity.

Let's think back to our ancestors in the  cave as they placed their hands on the skin of the mountain, colored in a mixture of blood and resins and clay, with burning eyes from the smoke of the fire, the fur on their bodies only recently receding...

Their colored handprints are the marks of an elusive experience caught in stone. They are an expression of the strong value they placed on this experience - so they captured it in symbols in order to remember it. Just like their ancestors would, and the spirits living in the cave with them, and - most importantly - the sleeping conscious of the mountain. What this experience exactly was about, we do not know and anthropologists and archeologists will continue to search in vain for its long lost meaning. If marks of this memory are left anywhere other than on the skin of the mountain than they will be found in the Inner Library, in the surrounding desert, in the inner lands that carry the echoes of our deeds and actions so much longer than the physical world.

But what really matters for us is not at all the meaning our ancestors once associated with the handprints they left in the cave. Instead we can learn a basic fact about genuine creativity from them: Creativity used to be the expression of an encounter of which the artist only formed one half. The whole reason for being creative - outside of creating tools and practical devices that ensured better survival - was to leave a mark behind of an encounter, that otherwise could have been forgotten. The artist aimed to leave behind a record of what seemed too important, too unique to be forgotten. And in doing so whatever had been created pointed away from the artist and towards the Other that had come forward to be experienced. Genuine creativity, one could argue, thus resembles an arrow that always points away from the creator. It is a space that is confined by the artist, in sometimes simple and sometimes the most complicated ways, yet always waiting to be filled by something other than themselves alone.

Let's think of an architect. If you ever get to scout for your own architect here is some practical advice. A perfect recipe for disaster is an architect who aims to express himself in your design. An approach equally doomed to fail is the architect who tries to bring to life a vision of a house like no other. The only reasonable approach for any architect - and yes, it is that simple - is to provide the perfect shell for what is supposed to happen inside the house once it is finished. The work of the architect shouldn't be geared towards himself, nor towards the abstract art of construction. It should be geared towards life. Only in doing so will their creation become an expression of all the encounters that are about to happen, all the life that will take place in the space they created. 

It is no different for our practice as magicians. In fact it is much easier for us than for any architect or musician or poet or author or anyone else trying to found their living on Creativity. The reason it is so much simpler for us to get it right, is that no one cares about what we produce as magicians - other than ourselves and the beings who will dwell in these places together with us. We can go all the way back to our ancestors in the smoke filled cave in a single heartbeat. Just switch off the lights in your temple, light a candle and sit down... The artificial divide between Creativity and Service will fade so swiftly if we only allow it to. There are myriads of beings waiting for us to take action, to shape, to form, to mould the world around us. We are the only species on this planet who can do this: to work simultaneously In the inner and outer real, to simultaneously affect change on the spiritual and physical level. That is the unique gift we have been given. And that is the unique gift we will waste for all of our lives if we decide to do so. Just like the caveman could have wasted his colored clay and just like the architect could have wasted wood and concrete and steel if they had not tried to express something more than just themselves.  

Don't get me wrong. I don't promote a utilitarian approach to creativity at all. Being able to get fully absorbed in the act of creation, forgetting about the 'Why?' in the act of bringing forth something new is a deeply humbling and powerful state of consciousness I admire in many artists. What I am describing above often is an unconscious process. Actually, it really isn't a question of consciousness at all; it is a matter of intend. The arrow that aims towards the experience expressed in a creative act rarely is released by our minds. Much more often the string is pulled by intuition, by the knowledge of our hearts or by faith. 

That is also where the artificial line between Creativity and Service finally starts to fade away.

Allow me one more example: Think of an opera singer who sings with equal passion in rehearsal and on premier night. In fact rehearsal is the full stage play, except for there is no audience. Yet the audience doesn't matter. It is the intend of the singer that matters: Wether they sing to make it on the front page - or wether they sing in service of the character they express, in service of the melodies someone placed in their chests, in service of the cast that surrounds them. It even matters if they sing in service of this vast dark space beyond the stage lights. This space that lies silently and listens and listens and never stops to listens. It matters wether they sing in service of this perfect moment that they all can achieve to create - and that will be left without a mark, that will disappear without a trace except for the memory sleeping in the curtains and balconies and in the cushioned seats and low lights of the theater, in the orchestra pit and maybe, only maybe in the audience as well.

When we think of creativity as an arrow that points away from the artists and towards something else - what difference is then left to working in service? Wether we work in magical circles, in operas, in houses or in caves some things will always remain the same. One of these is the beauty and power that flows from any act that is done while being free from ourselves.

Oh. I guess I forgot to mention Elizabeth Gilbert again - and why I believe she is so terribly wrong in her famous TED talk?

Well, it is quite simple to explain now: as a magician it is not for us to blame our genius for 'not showing up and inspiring us any better'. Working with daimones and genii hopefully isn't a space where topics like performance, competition or personal reputation are mixed into the actual experience... I feel Mrs. Gilbert holds a pretty strange perception of the Divine - if she ultimately believes it exits to help her please the audience? In fact, I would argue if being an author is such an awful hard job for her, why doesn't she simply quit writing and moves into a profession that is more fun on an everyday basis?

If whatever we are doing, we are doing to gain our 15 minutes of fame - or 30 or 50 or an entire life - it might just be an incredible waste of time.