By Neal Lemery
I can be a very rigid thinker, following the rules, the expectations others have for me, and the expectations and boundaries I set for myself. If I am, instead, open and not following pre-set boundaries, I actually do better in life. By being independent, willing to look at different paths, different and unexpected approaches to problems and thinking, I find new possibilities.
Not that I don’t think that structure and framework are important for a purposeful, successful life. Being organized and focused is very often essential in getting the work done that needs to be done. In me, that need for structure and “rules of engagement” can often come before that additional element of doing the work, that of being spontaneous and open to the Muse and the creative process.
Others have weighed in on this dichotomy of rule-driven motivation and discipline, and spontaneous creativity.
“Men like us often had a lifestyle guided by either/or logic. We think we must either conquer the challenge we see before us or we will be failures. We think loved ones must either meet our needs or they do not love us. We think we must either be perfect, or we are unacceptable.
“Let us now step back from the rigidity of such unhealthy logic. Most of human experience and many answers to our problems don’t come in neatly tied packages. As we learn to think and feel in more flexible ways, we find life gets better. Using our intuition at times, rather than always following rigid rules for life, improves the recipe. The arrogance of our thought processes has sometimes told us we had the answer, but it closed us to growth which only comes by trusting our feelings. If we make mistakes, we can learn from them and go on. Many of the most ingenious inventions came not by rigidly following rules but by following an inner feeling.”
—Touchstones: Daily Mediations for Men, May 28
In getting out of my ruts, my “tried and true” ways of approaching a problem or a situation, I learn more about myself, and I find myself opening up, becoming the artist I want to be.
I’ve been working on a painting, trying to be spontaneous and fresh. Yet, my rules and set formulas weighed heavily on my process and my work felt heavy and cumbersome. I struggled against myself and my old patterns, trying to break away and be bold and fresh.
I decided to act “outside of the box” and try new methods. I started the painting with acrylic paint, and then, the next day, “overpainting” with oil, thinning down the colors with additional oil, and moving my brush across the canvas boldly, spontaneously mixing colors and oil with abandon, playing with the light.
The carefree voice said “Oh, give it a try.”
“What if I screw up?” the critic in my head kept saying.
I might, and I probably am. I can fix my “mistake” with a paper towel, or a dry brush, removing some paint, or rearranging what I had just painted. Besides, I thought, maybe my “mistake” is the gift of creativity and spontaneity I had been looking for in this work. Let me be bold and innovative here.
I heard a poet say the other day, as they were struggling with their poem, “Let the poem form emerge and lead you.”
Ah, let the work lead you and reveal itself to you. The creative work will find its form and will express itself. I need to give myself permission to let go and let the creation find itself and become itself – unique and a creation in and of itself. It is OK to be gentle with myself and my creative spirit.
Creating art is always a lesson in letting go, of not being in control, letting things flow and come into themselves. I can be both an observer and an instrument of the creative process, and not the final authority on what is being made here. I can give up being in control. Creating art is a meditative practice of cutting ties, going beyond boundaries and letting myself and what I am creating be unfettered by my preconceived and “absolute” limits.
When I am in that “zone” and shut down the voices of limits and rules and earlier expectations, then I really become free and move toward the artist, the whole healthy person that I am seeking to become.
These acts of creation often become powerful metaphors for me in the rest of daily life. In these acts of creation, I am learning not only about the world and the creative work that is emerging, but more important, I am learning about myself. I am learning not to be afraid of letting go and more towards becoming.