the art of creative abundance
If you don’t believe in your own abundance, you believe on some level that every act depletes you. That your talent is finite. That you only have so many ideas, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.
You’re coming from a place of scarcity and fear.
The problem with fear is that it freezes you up. It literally hijacks your brain so that you’re not capable of creative thinking (since all your mental resources focus on simple survival).
I’ve learned that fear is parasitic and deceptive. It’s like a creeping ivy that grows through your sense of self. You start confusing it with who you actually are.
(Because you are not your fear.)
It masquerades as any number of reasons why you don’t need to do the work today. You can put it off until tomorrow. And then the next day. And the day after that.
Steven Pressfield calls this The Resistance.
The Resistance is anything that prevents us from doing the work, including our tendency to prepare and prepare and prepare, or to keep putting off the work because we don’t feel prepared enough.
The way to deal with the problem of feeling underprepared is to skip right over it.
Make some rudimentary notes, advises Pressfield. The entire outline of your novel should take up one page.
And then begin.
Trust the soup.
I love that phrase – trust the soup – which is another way of saying, Let go of your need to control, to know everything in advance. Control, after all, is the flipside of fear: when we’re frightened of something we clamp down on it that much harder and try to dictate every aspect.
But we’re using such a small part of ourselves: the so-called rational, conscious part that wants to believe all progress is linear.
Creative intelligence is more mysterious and expansive than that. If you believe in Howard Gardner’s ‘multiple intelligences’ theory – and I do – than you know that intelligence exists on a number of different levels, both verbal and nonverbal. Creativity draws on these levels simultaneously, so that your work comes to you in feelings and hunches as well as words and images, through your body as well as your mind. It’s an all-inclusive affair.
Elizabeth Gilbert gave an excellent TED speech in which she suggested that maybe the ancient Greeks were onto something. They believed that creativity flowed through you from an external source. You didn’t own it – or control it – you were just borrowing it for a while, or maybe letting it borrow you. Your job was to keep those avenues as open and inviting as possible.
You did this just by showing up.
And then getting down to it.
Sometimes the Muse came, and touched you with brilliance, and sometimes it didn’t. No worries. You just kept on with it, day after day after day, and did your part.
Trust the soup reminds me of that. In this case we’re not calling on the gods but the power of our own psyche, while acknowledging how mysterious the process is – and in some sense beyond our control.
You could think of the soup as having different layers to it:
Your unconscious. That great underground storehouse of memory and dream and the things you don’t know you know. The world bombards us with millions of bits of stimuli every moment, and in order to keep sane the conscious mind can only filter a fraction of a fraction of that. Everything else goes underground. That part of your mind mulls things over and dreams on them and evaluates them and arrives at its own conclusions, which it then floats up to your conscious mind in the form of a ‘decision’ that your conscious mind believes that it made (and makes up some reasons why).
The collective unconscious. This is the deep primal strata of myth and archetype, “the software of the mind”. This is a Jungian thing that I won’t go into here, but the basic idea is that we’re all encoded with the same ancient memories, which is why different versions of the same stories show up in cultures throughout the world.
Your conscious mind considers itself an isolated entity.
Your unconscious mind knows better.
Neuroscience is beginning to show us how deeply we wire into each other through empathy, “mirror neurons”, and networks of influence. Even when we don’t think we’re connected, we’re connected: you are currently being influenced by someone you’ve never even met, but has influenced someone who is influencing you in ways you don’t even realize.
If the study of the conscious mind highlights the importance of reason and analysis, study of the unconscious mind highlights the importance of passions and perception. If the outer mind highlights the power of the individual, the inner mind highlights the power of relationships and the invisible bonds between people. If the outer mind hungers for status, money, and applause, the inner mind hungers for harmony and connection – those moments when self-consciousness fades away and a person is lost in a challenge, a cause, the love of another or the love of God.
Or, as Pressfield might say, for the love of the soup. The irony is that when you travel inward, you draw from a level of consciousness that draws information from other minds as well as your own.
And the Soup is always there. You cannot deplete it. It will not run out.
In fact, it’s when you push yourself to the point of feeling completely drained and depleted that you come up with your best ideas.
This is known in brainstorming as the “third third”. Most people don’t brainstorm long or hard enough. It’s only when you empty your mind of every idea you think you have that the true thinking starts to take place.
The “third third” refers to that final segment of a brainstorming session in which you always get your greatest and most original ideas. It’s almost as if you have to pump the second-rate associations — all that is clichéd and hackneyed and familiar – from your head in order to create the vacuum that nature so famously abhors.
And then you can draw on The Soup.
So the more you give away, the richer your thinking becomes, the more original and interesting your ideas.
And when you feel empty and depleted, is the moment you are ready to begin.