I think often, and occasionally pontificate, on the spiritual practice of creativity; the places they mutually inform and intersect, the artesian possibilities of art-making. It has been for me a means of keeping a few useful items on my mental table, known to topple over from time to time. It means reading. Lots of reading. Further, it means writing about and because of what I read.
Some of the best stuff gets a chance to percolate, and then regurgitate back onto the page. In the process, some of that wordy goodness forces its way into me. Into who I am becoming. Why I am becoming. And for whom.
Two prevalent ideas in American society are mutually exclusive: spirituality and capitalism. They are the philosophical bed-mates of spirituality and profitability (otherwise known as the New Age Movement or the Christian publishing industry), or sex and time management (although it would be fun to explore the correlation).
Even as one who writes about this stuff quite regularly, when the best considerations come along, it behooves me to sit back and let them have at it. Besides, what follows provides much of my reading fare these days and finds its way into my own words anyway. Part of that fare is a weekly email from a website called Brain Pickings. It is dedicated to those things that titillate, inspire, educate, and sometimes enrage.
Today’s offering, excerpted from Ursula K. Le Guin’s book, Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016, with a Journal of a Writers Week contains a stimulating quote that makes this point.
In America, the imagination is generally looked on as something that might be useful when the TV is out of order. Poetry and plays have no relation to practical politics. Novels are for students, housewives, and other people who don’t work. Fantasy is for children and primitive peoples. Literacy is so you can read the operating instructions. I think the imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination.
I hear voices agreeing with me. “Yes, yes!” they cry. “The creative imagination is a tremendous plus in business! We value creativity, we reward it!” In the marketplace, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits. This reduction has gone on so long that the word creative can hardly be degraded further. I don’t use it any more, yielding it to capitalists and academics to abuse as they like. But they can’t have imagination.
Imagination is not a means of making money. It has no place in the vocabulary of profit-making. It is not a weapon, though all weapons originate from it, and their use, or non-use, depends on it, as with all tools and their uses. The imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human.
Good stuff, right?
Because I knew some excess debt-stress would be great for my spiritual development I took a master’s degree. In Spiritual Formation and Leadership. You know, ’cause…why not, right? It was the altruistic alternative to nautical knot-tying or selling chain-link fence. In truth, it was three of the best years of my adult life. But, already, I digress.
One of the courses necessary for graduation (the only one with the word leadership even attached), offered no small consternation for me. The required texts were bent on forcing spiritual practice onto corporate America like pole dancer nipple pasties (yes, I note that collective groan). I swore to the nipple gods that, should I read one more shitty leadership book that culls its guiding principles from some guy who made millions building chairs, I’d learn pole-dancing myself while reading it aloud in the village square.
For leadership, give me Desmond Tutu, Ernest Shackleton, Rosa Parks, Ghandi, Maya Angelou, or Martin Luther King, Jr. any day over these assholes. For imagination, give me the spiritual practice of creativity, art-making divorced from some lesser ideal. Teach me the riches of poetry for its own sake. Take me to the canvas because, in its pulsating emptiness, I find my fullness. Stuff words in my mouth and place me on a stage where I can act out my inadequacies. Drop me on a dance floor so I can shake out my sins and sweat out my aggression. Let our imagination provide the deus ex machina to our profit-lust, the perceived non sequitir of truth and beauty over pragmatism and effectiveness.
Lead me to beauty because the water’s good, not because it enhances my time management skills.