Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Living Creatively

Originally posted on April 7, 2013

One of my life missions is the introduction of methods that people can use to live more creatively. The methods are adaptations of psychodrama or a type of improvised dramatic enactment. I’ve written about this in other contexts, such as a chapter in Jacob Gershoni’s edited book, Psychodrama in the 21st Century.

An imaginative application of improvisational enactment can be a tool for being creative in life and relationships. There are scores of associated ideas such as role, stage, the proper use of others, and so forth. The point is that these elements should be used to help ordinary people—not just “patients”—to live more richly and effectively. Repeating my point: It’s not just for the clinical context.

Using people-skills associated with a drama context is putting Shakespeare’s observation that “All the world’s a stage.” But we’re not merely players, as if our roles have been scripted! We are also the playwrights, and we are creative improvisers, and we can learn to do that well!

Most people don’t. Well, they do somewhat, unconsciously—there’s a fair amount of improvisation in a slight way in the roles they play, but the next step is to ramp this up, make it more conscious, broaden the role repertoire. It’s like going from humming almost tune-less-ly to
singing a song. So my mission is to promote the how-to implement spontaneity in life.

I’ll say again, everyone does it a little. And I am quite clear that if everyone did it 20 – 50% more it would change their lives and the world. This is the theme, and it turns out there are many tools for doing this!

Believing That Life Can Be More Creative

Just aiming a little higher, envisioning this as a possibility is a huge first step. Doing it a bit is easier if at the same time you’re learning ways to do it. The belief without the techniques doesn’t  really hold much psychic energy. People tend not to do things they don’t know how to do.

So mixed in with aspiration, aiming higher, expecting the best, is a growing awareness of how this may come about. The next step is this: We get more creative by engaging and messing around, improvising, trying this and that. But there’s a big “but.” To improvise requires a few other things too:

Set the situation up so that trying things out tends not to have overwhelming consequences. You don’t let a little kid practice on a real truck on a real highway. The setting, then, is called “play.” Grown-ups sometimes use a fancier term, “simulations.” (Someone observed that the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. Transcend the gender, here, and realize that astronauts—men and women—use incredibly expensive flight simulators, and doctors use highly technically elaborate mannequins. But ordinary people can use far simpler settings: Set it up as a role play.  Try different things. See what works better than what else. All this is play.

Another aid in improvisation is the presence of others—a small group—who offer encouragement, support, modeling (i.e., they show how they’d do it), an audience, and these elements of group dynamics are very powerful. The mind is more of a social organ than a logical processor, in spite of the culture that was excessively logocentric and hyper-individualized in the West in the 19th and 20th century. We’re beginning to turn back from those trends—they were sub-products of industrialization, in part—and we are recognizing more the psycho-social nature of human behavior.

Clinging to the Cultural Conserve

So just getting the spirit going in the direction of creativity is already a big change. There are also a number of subtle types of  resistance to this:

There is a strong lingering of excessive respect for the past. It’s not just that we respect that the creators of the past did make some meaningful contributions. That’s fine. Nor is it necessary to doubt they may have been well-meaning. It’s that this residue of the childish tendency to depend on our parents gets acted out in adulthood! We tend to think that what they came up with was not  just good for then, but that it’s good enough for now. Now that’s crazy. Everything, just about, has changed or is in the process of changing. Respect does not mean blind, uncritical acceptance.

Alas, for too many, it does: Any questioning of the way things have been done is taken as disrespect for those who did it, as an insult. Authorities who have bought into this complex then absorb this pride and take the questioning of what they “believe” as a personal affront. Well, it is, a little. I mean, any new idea does imply a challenge: “You mean you really believe what they taught you is the best way—and forever must be the best way—to do it?”

There’s no way around it except for those in authority roles to find a less ego-invested middle ground: This is what I’m used to using or thinking. If you have a better idea, bring it on. If it turns out to be a good idea, there’s no shame in my changing my mind.

Well, this is a two or three century change-over from really a residue of a conflict that has always been there. It was a big thing in the emergence of science several hundred years ago, and it has been a battleground as we’ve moved from monarchy and aristocracy to democracy. It’s still a huge theme in religion today. It represents an essential dullness and laziness of mind, covered by a blind belief, supported by allies whose status depends on this belief, that what was still is, or that what was declared to be true centuries or millennia ago is smarter than now.

So there’s a huge resistance to creativity. They allowed a little in the Renaissance but only in some seemingly harmless arenas like the arts. They fought viciously against the idea politically, and it must be admitted that many forms of creativity are really dumb and nasty. Just because it’s creative in some ways doesn’t make it any good. So those who claim to be conservative do have a point: Some new ideas are foolish; it is better to stick with the tried and true. On the other hand, it’s also a cover for simple lazy-minded clinging to status and money, so it’s a challenge to separate the good parts from those that aren’t so good.

What I’m advocating is a mixture: Get creative, then test it out, find out if it’s a good idea. More often than not, it needs revision. It might even be a bad idea, but it points to being creative again in another way. It’s a challenge even for the creative to then rise above their ego-attachments and let go of an idea that isn’t working in favor of another’s idea that is better.

It’s a complex process, requiring a shift to a more mature personal and ethical level to build towards creativity, but it must be done. That’s enough for now.

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