The Elusive Source of Creativity 2

The subject of inspiration fascinates me and I can’t let it go yet . . .


The distracting surface of the sea tells you nothing of its depths.

Inspiration generally means stimulus, that which drives one to create. But that makes me passive, subject to an external force; as if a subatomic particle whooshing through space pinged into my brain and set off a chain reaction. I do not believe in this idea of random particle strike, even if it is only a metaphor. Inspiration is largely internal not external. Yes you have to wait for it, but you have to do this inside your own head.

Then the question becomes, to what degree can I be active in the process? Do I have any control over what is happening? Could Bob Dylan have written ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ rather than ‘The Masters of War’? Of course not: both were specific to their time and place, and to the character of the author. Dylan also spoke later in life about how he had no idea where the words came from for his earlier writing — he certainly could not do it now. So the artist sits at the intersection of the personal and the continuum of time/space. This is a horizontal intersection.

But there is also a vertical intersection and this is where it gets interesting. The vertical is between the conscious and the subconscious — or should that be the unconscious? I am sure it is perfectly possible to live your life and pay no heed to your subconscious, to be fully unaware of it. You get up in the morning, pack the kids off to school, rush to work, solve problems, laugh at jokes over lunch, buy food for dinner, cook and eat it before crashing out in front of the TV.

This is like being on the ocean and only ever seeing the surface. Sure, it is utterly beguiling with its constant motion. The same place can change mood every day with the weather, sometimes joyous and colourful, other times dull and grey. The glitter of light on its restless waves ensure that you can never see past that surface. You can travel the world like this.

But just for a moment stop thrashing around and relax. Breathe deeply, exhale and sink. Instantly everything changes. The surface that just a moment ago felt so all-encompassing, now seems so superficial. Beams of light shaft down to a deep vanishing point in blue space. Sound is stilled and enveloping so that you are aware of the pulse of your heartbeat. But that is not the only pulse down here: there are other rhythms, low frequency waves coming from far far off, rippling through space. Here you can tune in to an infinite number of such ‘radio stations’.

This world is your subconscious, your below-surface and here you can make connections. Here you might even find something: what is that deep down in the shadows? Is it a movement, is something there? Lunge after it and it will vanish in a flash. Even stare too hard and it will fade. You have to feign indifference and drift casually down. For this is a ‘timorous beastie’ and you have to be wily.

What you are aware of is not part of your imagination, but nor is it separate from you. We are inside your subconscious, but in this deeper realm we are also more widely connected. You have noticed a kink in the dimensions, a metaphoric visual distortion that allows you a glimpse from a new angle. You are free of your usual safety moorings that show you only what you expect and can cope with. You don’t know what it is, you can’t pin it down, but neither can you let it go. In cupped hands you carry it carefully back to the surface.

This is where the work begins. The nebulous growth that you brought with you becomes a nagging feeling. You have to nurture it, find a form for it and painstakingly bring it to life. Every step of the way you risk losing its mystery, of it becoming banal like the world around you, if you are not true to it and to yourself — which are the same thing in effect.

This process allows you to bring something quite new into the world. It comes from a unique intersection point between you and the time/space continuum. Others may make similar discoveries, but remaining true to yourself, and by not being deflected on the surface by its distracting ripples, yours will be wholly original and maybe even inspirational.

(With thanks to William Trubridge and his [TEDx talk on freediving.]{})

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