What do you think the purpose of life is? Do you ever wonder why we’re here? Today I want to talk about some ideas of what we’re supposed to do with the one life that we have.
So while I normally talk about something that is directly a stoic teaching, I want to veer off in a different direction on something that has been rattling around in my head for a while. I hope you enjoy this weeks departure.
There are a lot of challenges in this life. Probably the hardest is to understand what is our purpose in life. I think from the earliest days of mankind, every human being has wondered, “Why am I here?” Every religion, mystic, philosophy, even science has tried to answer this question, and we still have no conclusive answer. There has been no divine being or alien visit to come down and tell us all why we are alive on this planet.
To be honest, I don’t know either. But the more I think about, the I’ve come to the conclusion that we are here to create.
To Create Is Human
“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way."
— Edward de Bono
From the dawn of time, human beings are driven to create. From a purely biological sense, we spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we can survive long enough to make it to adulthood and procreate. Besides breathing, eating, drinking, and sleeping, sex is one of the strongest biological drives we have. From the outset, next to survival, the first biological impulse is to create a new life.
Once we have the basics of life, we set out to create things. We build houses and roads, and towns and cities. When you think about it, all of our jobs are either to create something, to aid in the creation of something, or to help in the maintenance of something that has been created.
From there, we try to understand the world around us. We tell stories and draw things real and imagined. Write sonnets, songs, and symphonies. Build cars, bridges, skyscrapers, and spaceships. If we can imagine it, we try to create it.
It’s our willingness to try things that are silly and even stupid that help us to move forward as a species. It’s this ability to think of things that might be outrageous or ridiculous that lead us to pursue crazy ideas in physics, and other sciences that lead to amazing things. It is our creativity that leads us to try things that at first seem outrageous, but later prove to be incredible breakthroughs and advances for humanity.
Nature is Creation
Nature itself is all about creation. The fact that seeds form trees and plants with the right conditions to create forests and food, such a wide variety of animal and other organic life on this planet. I live in Oregon, where it seems like if there is some kind of land that is not cultivated, nature will fill it in with weeds, ivy, or blackberry bushes.
One of the first things I want to do is redefine what it means to be creative. One of the things that I find most interesting when I talk with people about being creative is that many people consider themselves to be uncreative people. And I think this is wrong. Everyone is creative in their own way. I think we need to redefine creativity from a narrow scope of artistic endeavors to a wider scope of anything that helps improve the world.
Planting and tending a garden is creation. Building out your company’s computer network or developing and inclusive HR policy can be itself a creative act. Being a good parent who raises resilient kids can be a creative act. Being a teacher that helps kids think and become the leaders of the future is a creative act.
"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while."
— Steve Jobs
Creation is not just about creating art, but about creating in everyday life. Ideas to help fix problems in the world are acts in creation. There are a lot of problems in the world, and in order to solve these problems, we need innovative solutions. We won’t be able to address the problems of tomorrow with the same solutions that we have had in the past or present. We’ll have to solve them by thinking in ever more creative ways that build upon or even possibly completely disregard previous knowledge, ideas, and solutions.
Now, the reason I think we should all try to create something artistic is that creating art can help us learn to think of things in different ways. It allows us to shift our perspectives and see things from different viewpoints that we might not have ever considered. It gives us practice of creating things that did not exist before. It stretches our minds to see things that are not obvious, to see details in things that we might have missed before. It helps us meld disparate ideas and technologies that we otherwise might not have tried if we just did things the way they have always been done.
Art and the Self
"Creativity is intelligence having fun."
— Albert Einstein
One of the most important reason why I think we need to create things, and specifically artistically, is that art is about expression of the self. It’s about figuring out who we are through other means. Each story, painting, song, sculpture, or dance is a way to discover something about ourselves. It’s a way to express a deeper part of ourselves, and about our humanity. In a world where so much pressure is put on being productive or creating wealth, taking time out to create in a way that is important for you is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.
Each week as I work on my podcast, I change my mind and my thinking just a little bit. As I work through the topic of the week, I learn something about my own view on something. I may even completely reverse my previous thinking on something. The more I work through the process of clarifying my ideas about something, the more expansive my thinking becomes.
This is why, for example, I don’t use AI to write my episodes. The time and energy I put into creating an episode is not just to have an end product, but to stretch my own thinking, to improve my cognitive skills and rational thinking.
The process of creation is just as important as what is created.
Creating something also can bring on tremendously powerful mental states. Often, when we work on something creative, we will hit flow states. When I play piano or when I sing, I will hit these state of almost joy where it feels like everything just works. Where melodies and chords just work. Where my voice just feels like I can hit any note I want, and I could sing for hours. It’s that feeling of something almost being channeled through me from some deeper source.
“Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual."
— Arthur Koestler
Whenever someone works to create something, there is always resistance. This can come in many forms. It can come from the obstacles that we have to overcome when creating something. It can be the self doubt that we have about our own skills or the ideas that we are trying to bring to life. We may worry about the opinions of others and that they will think what we are working on is dumb, a waste of time, or even dangerous. Whenever we attempt a creative act, there will always be something that makes it hard.
But just because we hit that resistance, doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth it. In fact, in many cases it means that we are on the right path. Each and every week when I sit down to work on my podcast, I find the usual culprits that make working on an episode challenging. Self-doubt, writers block, and distraction being among the usual suspects. Even so, it’s worth it to continue pushing through. Often I just type whatever comes to mind, knowing that even with a long and verbose and unpolished first, second, or third draft, I’ll find some gold that I can share with you.
"If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original."
— Ken Robinson
We can see that the urge to stifle creative thought will come from those with power who feel threatened by what those ideas can mean. From artists to writers, and physicists to astronomers, people who think creatively and try to push society forward have met resistance from those who want to keep things as they are. But the universe is not static. It is always in a constant state of change. This is why we should always be willing to question ideas that people like to propose as being absolutes or claim as how things must be.
When I was in the Mormon church there were dictates about what the leaders thought god wanted from us. First and foremost of which was obedience to the leaders of the church. We were often warned of books we shouldn’t read, movies we shouldn’t watch, and even music we shouldn’t listen to.
I remember feeling stifled in that I would feel guilty for wanting to learn and understand things that were considered taboo in the church. Challenging or offering different opinions on things the church set down as doctrine was usually frowned upon and in many cases not tolerated. Anything that went against the dictates of the leadership was seen as a threat to their power.
Throughout humanity, there are always those that will try to stifle art because it is through art that people are inspired to think differently about something. Whether it’s a painting or a song or a movie, anything that can move us emotionally, can change our opinions about the world around us.
Even if you feel you are not particularly creative in an artistic way, being someone that is supportive and helps others in creating can be a way to contribute to the creativeness of the world. All throughout history, great artists and inventors have had patrons who helped support them in their endeavors. These were people who recognized that even though they may not have a particular ability in some area, they were willing support others who did because it would help benefit humanity in the long run.
Another aspect to help move things creatively is to surround yourself with other people who are working on their own creativity. Last month I attended the SHIFT festival in Eastern Oregon that is put on by the Burning Man camp that I belong to. There’s tons of music ranging from rock to EDM to jazz. Performances ranging from circus clowns to aerialist and dancers. There were sculptures and paintings and intricate LED installations. There are theme camps ranging from a tea tent, to a full aerialist big top. It’s really a lot of fun with people coming from all over the Pacific Northwest and neighboring states.
Each year the art just keeps getting more and more amazing, especially some of the LED art pieces. And one night when I was walking back to my tent it occurred to me that with the technology we have in so many areas of our lives, we are able to be more and more creative in all kinds of ways. We’re able to take what others have created, the tools that have been invented, for example new kinds of musical and audio technology, 3D printing, or advances in LEDs, microchips, and code to make each new iteration of art more and more amazing.
Creativity is something that is inherent in all humans. Even in our youngest days of building sandcastles on the beach, building a car with Legos, or drawing the family dog for a school project, humans are inherently creative. I believe that we are driven to create, and that creating is one of the most human things we can do.
So what can you do to be more creative in your life? Is there an instrument that you’ve always wanted to learn or haven’t picked up since you were young? Maybe you’d like to learn to draw? Maybe gardening is more your speed. Whatever it is, I urge you to add to this world and share your creative energy. The world will be better off for it, and so will you.
Hello friends! Thank you for listening.
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