Candy to the Creative Child

Et nysgjerrig esel på den karibiske øyen Bonaire.

Some days I am flowing over with creative energy. There is no end to my cornucopia; it’s like an endless stream of ideas flowing through me combined with an unstoppable desire to create. I can go on and on and on. Other days my mind is completely empty, I feel drained and I don’t even want to think about creative work, let alone attempting to do such futilities. I just want to shut myself down, crawl up in good chair and read a completely unchallenging book.

How do I go about those days? Well, sometimes I do exactly that, shut down and do something utterly mindless. But in the long run that is no solution at all. I risk never getting up of that chair, figuratively speaking, because most times I feel creatively drained not because I am really creatively exhausted, but because being creative is scary as hell. It’s not for no reason that the American existential psychologist Rollo May talks about the courage to create—because it does take courage. It’s a daring path to choose. Or as George Bernard Shaw once stated in a letter to the violinist Jascha Heifetz; it’s an active battle with the gods—and with oneself I would like to add for my part. The courage to create is something I have already written about in a previous post, so I won’t dwell far and wide about it now.

The question is what do we do when we get into that stage of inertia and creative apathy? As far as I see it, there are four ways around it. We can do nothing, find that brainless book and hide from ourselves. I have already made my point about that solution.

A second solution—which is not a bad solution at all—is to rest your creative mind, not by withdrawing, but by filling it with inputs and new impressions. It’s what I called replenishing the creative well in one of my other, previous posts. Replenishing the creative well (by the way an expression I have taken from Julia Cameron) could be visiting an exhibition, it could be gathering some creative friends and discussing each other’s work, it could be as simple as going to a coffee shop and have a nice espresso or a long walk in Mother Nature.

Another way out of the misery is simply to force ourselves into a creative mood. Is that possible you might ask? Yes, and no. I think it depends on the situation. Sometimes the creative work you are pursuing will not come alive with pure force of mind. Other times it’s all it takes. I know for sure when it comes to myself, that for instance when I have been travelling and shooting on the streets for some time, at some point I run into a wall. Suddenly I feel drained, I can’t face the street again with a camera in my hand, and I just want to spend the day in a nice hotel room or even better in a nice bar somewhere. But then I know if I just make that first step into the street again, with camera in hand and start shooting, albeit it will be lousy pictures in the beginning, at some point the energy comes back again, and I am suddenly back on my creative path again.

The last way out of the creative inertia is by luring. My creative self is in many ways like a child. And just like a child it needs nurturing. So what do you do when a child has decided to put both feet on the ground? You promise it something nice and alluring, something it cannot say no to—if it only starts moving again. It’s simple psychology. If it takes a candy to get the child over the hill, then give the child a candy! So it is with my creative child. If I am only willing to walk down one more street and take scores of photos along the way, I promise my creative child a new camera! That is something that can get me going. Well, I guess I would quickly become a poor photographer if I really did that. But I think you get my point. The point being, you need to find something that you can give yourself to keep going down that creative path you don’t really feel like walking. It’s about motivating ourselves. If not a new camera, maybe I will buy myself that photo book I have long been drooling for. Or maybe that nice bar—but at the end of the day. Give it as a present to myself when I have done my dead, instead of sneaking in with a bad conscious before I have accomplished anything all. Again it comes down to motivation and luring that child to keep going. Just give that creative child a candy!—Or a carrot to the donkey…

Creative Destruction

Sometimes we who do creative work come to a standstill. It’s like we don’t see a road that could take us any further in our creative endeavours. We have maybe reached a certain level, both when it comes to craftsmanship and creativity. Maybe it’s just as far as we get. Or, so we think.

We might feel tired or indifferent. We might be frustrated or bored with what we do; we might not even know why we do what we do any longer. Moreover—the result, our photos, paintings, writings or whatever we do creatively—might seem boring and uninspiring. Mind you, I am not talking about a creative block, but rather a deeper and more fundamental fatigue.

Don’t despair. It’s just a sign that it’s time to move on. It’s time to expand and let go of your control. Take chances, let the unknown take you by surprise and lead you on to a road you didn’t even know existed. Make the decision to move on. But before doing so, remember that some projects and some creative endeavours take time and patience to complete. Don’t use moving on as an excuse for lack of patience.

But when it’s time to move on it’s time. Of course, that raises the question how do you move on? When moving on sounds right maybe you don’t know exactly what to do next, and that’s part of the fatigue. The American photographer Harold Davis suggests that we can play with what he calls creative destruction. He points out that many of the world’s great innovations and works of art have been born out of creative destruction.

Creative destruction is perhaps most familiar in a business context: A company innovates a new product because its old business is slowly diminishing, and with the new product line further cannibalizes the old business. The scenario is extremely fruitful as a model for artistic creation. You cannot create anything unique while stuck in a rut, but getting out of the ruts often involves change, destruction, and effort.

You can often witness creative destruction in children’s play, where, for example, a train track is decimated by an outer space alien invasion amid cries of glee, leading to more involved and intricate subsequent play space and structure once building starts again. For a photographer—as in any creative arts—creative destruction is a very useful technique with many possibilities. For example, shining a harsh light from behind a glass straight at the camera destroys any chance of delicately rendering the glass. But harsh light directed this way creates new possibilities in the spirit of creative destruction.

In the field, you can stop and decide to “destroy” the image you are working on by moving on. A simple technique for encouraging creative destruction is to rotate, and photograph whatever is behind you, whether or not it seems like a valid subject for a photo.

Closely related to creative destruction is the concept of allowing yourself to fail. I have written about this before. Don’t worry about making mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. If you make a mistake, it shows that you are human and that you are trying to do something new. When I see the imagines of a participant on one of my workshops that are without mistakes, I see someone who isn’t willing to take risks and get out of the comfort zon.

In other words, always be willing to get messy, take chances and make mistakes. Truly inspirational work comes from the creative destruction that this kind of thinking out of the box implies. If you are willing to try something different and to risk failure, you may be amazed at what you accomplish and succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

Above, I have come with two examples of creative destruction. Do you want to suggest how you could apply this principle in a practical way? Maybe we can create a list of concrete ideas to creative destruction? Put your thoughts and ideas in a comment beneath.

Don’t Ever Give Up

It takes grit to pursue creativity. Being creative means fighting against all odds—most of all ourselves. However, the creative fight is less a battle for glory than a pursuit of personal spirit and finding a way to express it without fear. It’s not a gladiator’s brawl, but rather a solitary struggle with ourselves.

In previous post over the years I have used our playful relationship with water (at least before we grow too old) as a metaphor for creativity. Extending this metaphor, the creative fight is not Michael Phelps competing for Olympic gold but more like swimming to an inviting island off the coast somewhere. The Olympic Games are hyped up, and they are loud. When we swim to go somewhere, it’s discreet. We use ingenuity, agility and guts to accomplish our goal. Phelps swim against others, but swimming to reach that island is a fight within.

I think that we create with such a drive in mind. At least for me, I create for the sheer joy of making something for myself. Yes, I would like to get recognition, but that is not what is driving me. As when I have swum out to that island, there is great gratification to be had when I can enjoy the view from the island that I have earned.

The creative fight doesn’t gloat and it doesn’t crush. Yet the creative person isn’t some pushover that’s afraid of a difficult task.

One characteristic that makes someone a good swimmer is grit. Grit can be defined different ways. It can be thought of as tiny particles of crushed rock. Taking this perspective a bit further, the oyster reminds us that without grit, there is no pearl. Grit is a character that is a mixture of courage, resolve and strength. Like small granite rocks, grit is strength that won’t give up. Those who are gritty have a passion to pursue a goal over an extended amount of time. No one is born with grit. It’s grown into us through difficulties of life.

Earlier this year, I ran my head into a wall. Not literally, but in pursuit of a creative job. I was shooting an assignment for a magazine here in Norway. It was about a couple who had moved to an island to live off the grid, to support themselves as sheep farmers and of fisheries. They had been looking for a harmony missing in contemporary life—and had found their private Eden on the island. It was a fun assignment, offering plenty of creative possibilities. I didn’t have to swim to their island, but it still took some organizing to get there since there was only one regular boat transport a week. The shooting was really fun and I felt it went very well. However, when I got back and prepared to upload the photos, I discovered that the memory card was corrupted. It was a first for me, but nevertheless devastating.

I could have given up. Called the magazine and explained that I wasn’t able to deliver on time, knowing I would have to wait a week for the next regular boat to take me back to the island. Instead, I refused to give up. That evening I called all friends I knew had boats nearby the island and asked if anyone would be willing to take me back. One of the last on my list, agreed to do it. Early next morning I was back with the couple.

I don’t know if you have had to do a reshoot of something you thought went pretty good the first time. Mentally, it feels like having to clean up your own mess. Not fun and definitely not the best starting point for a creative quest. I pushed my worries and frustrations away, forcing myself to be present in the moment and not thinking at all about what I did the first time I visited the couple. It worked. In the end I think I returned with even better photos than the first time. The editor surely was pleased.

Grit isn’t easy to learn—there aren’t any classes offered in schools. Long time ago I asked a friend of mine who is a triathlon athlete if grit can be taught. He said: “The only way to learn grit is to get out there and get your ass kicked. You have to suffer and you have to fail.” My friend does Ironman triathlons. That is biking 181 km, running a full marathon of 42.2 km on top on swimming 3.9 km. He knows what he is talking about.

Grit isn’t something that you will find on an online course. It’s gained while in pursuit of something big. Grit requires belief that it can be done. It means don’t give up when the going gets tough.

Break the Block

We all experience it; the drought, not having ideas, the feeling of being detached from our creative source, the lack of inspiration. Those down times are part of being creative. You just can’t keep flying high and be in constant flow. Sometimes you will have to land and just accept that you need some time to ground yourself again.

Yes, it is frustrating when you hit a creative block. Particularly if it lasts a long time. However, the more you experience it—and the more you create the more you will experience it—the more likely you will know that it’s a temporary state of mind. It seems like the muses have left you, but they will be back again. Maybe not today or maybe not even in a couple of months, but they will. So don’t lose faith. Don’t give up when it happens.

What you definitely should not do, is stop doing something. Just because whatever you do isn’t worth the energy you put into it—in your eyes, at least—it still important to trick the muses to show up again, and you do that with keep working, even if the result is pure rubbish. That’s how you get them back again. I promise.

If you can’t find anything you want to do in your usual endeavour, do something different. Just find something to do—anything, even a different sort of creative work—just to take your mind off your anxiety and pressure. I write a lot; articles, chronicles, blog posts as you see here and even novels, and every so often I do get stopped by a writer’s block. Then I leave my computer, and start doing something else. I might draw something, even if I am not good at it, I might start to construct a new part of a deck or repair something on the house—I will do something, whatever it is. For me, I find practical work to be a good block breaker. Eventually with enough energy put into this other whatever it is the writing starts to flow again.

Albert Einstein called this tactic “combinatory play”—the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another. This is why he would often play the violin when he was having difficulty solving a mathematical puzzle; after a few hours of sonatas, he could usually find the answer he needed.

Part of the trick of combinatory play, I think, is that it quiets your ego and your fears by lowering the stakes. The Australian writer, poet and critic Clive James lost his flow and stopped writing. But after a long spell of this funk he managed to trick himself back to work—or more correctly, his daughter did. He lost it all after a play he wrote became an enormous failure. After that he thought he would never be able to write again. He almost ruined his family financially, lost friends and fell into a deep depression. It was only when his daughter much later more or less pushed him into painting her bicycle that things started to change. Not immediately—in the beginning he was rather reluctant even to start the painting—but after some time he found pleasure in colouring the daughter’s bicycle in new and imaginative ways. Finally he began to add hundreds of silver and gold stars all over the bicycle. Although his daughter first was a little embarrassed by the artwork, it didn’t take long before a friend of her asked Clive James to do her bicycle as well. Soon he had painted the whole neighbourhood’s bikes. Painting thousands and thousands of stars was a healing process for him. Finally he realized that one day he would write about this. He had found a way back to writing.

In other words: If you can’t do what you long to do, go do something else. Or, to phrase the famous Stephen Stills song: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”.

Go walk the dog, go pick every bit of trash on the street outside your home, go walk the dog again, buy a colouring book and colour, go bake a peach cobbler, go paint some pebbles with bright colours and put them in a pile. You may think it’s procrastination, but—with the right intention—it isn’t, it’s motion. And any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion.

So wave you arms. Make something. Do something. Do anything.

Are You Lucky?

Vision comes from within. That is sometimes easy to forget when we who create, fight against bad luck. Because we have all fought and been discourage by lack of luck. I know I have, and I know all my creative peers, friends and colleagues have. Some get over it and some don’t.

Most of us believe that luck is random and arbitrary. But the fact is, we are all in position to channel good luck. Studies and stories of people how have turned the dime to their advantage, are many. We all have the ability to amplify or diminish how luck strikes us.

Study after study reveal that lucky people have a special quality about themselves and how they see the world. They are like metal detectors that are always turned on. One who has studied luck is Richard Wiseman, head of the psychology department at the University of Hertfordshire. According to him, lucky people generate their own good fortune by following four basic principles. They create and notice chance opportunities. They make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition. They create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations. Finally, they adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

This may all sound very good. However, when you stand in the middle of period when nothing seems to work out, it’s not easy to keep expecting things to change to the better. It’s much easier to give up. I know, I have been there myself. Some time ago, I had put in a lot of effort, money and time into preparing a project that everybody told me was going to be a success. I was selling the idea for the project to a big national institution in hope they would finance it, in fact they had asked me to propose the project. The people at the institution were all positive and made me feel like it was only a formality before the project would be accepted. But, when it came down to the final decision, my project was turned down. Instead, money was given to another project that seemed to have nothing about it at all. Later on, I heard that it came down to connections. The person behind the project that “won” knew the people on the board of the institution. It was a devastating blow to my self-esteem. I was about to give up.

When you are there, it’s not easy to be enthusiastic about anything. Nevertheless, enthusiasm is really what makes things change and creates luck. Enthusiasm is raw energy for life. It’s a powerful force. It draws luck like a magnet. When you do something out of passion and enthusiasm, out of yourself, things will start to change. You start to create luck and those self-fulfilling prophecies that Wiseman points to. Making luck happening is not about fate, really, it’s about finding your life’s call, or to put it less pretentious, to do what you love. If you take the chance on what you believe in, and don’t give up, good things will start to happen. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way: “Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success”.

Your unique view of the world is your most valuable asset, regardless of what you do. “Don’t ask yourself what the world need. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who come alive.” That’s according to the African-American author, Howard Thurman.

So maybe luck has less to do with chance and more to do with how we live? In the international best-selling book The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho crafts an allegorical narrative around this idea. The main character in the story, a young man named Santiago, works as a shepherd until he has a dream that awakens him to a deeper calling for his life. Fear holds him back from responding to the call, but the dream persists. Eventually, Santiago musters up the courage to follow the path for which he was meant. Leaving his comfortable life behind, he journeys into the unknown and is invigorated with the possibilities of this new path. Following his path seems to have some generative power, almost like a gift that fills him with strength, enthusiasm, and good luck.

Into the Unknown

When we start our journey into the creative realm, we venture into unknown territory. We need to. As a matter of fact being creative means embracing what until the moment of creation was completely unknown to us, otherwise we wouldn’t be creative. After all; to create means to originate or to bring into being from nothing. It means bringing into life something completely new. We—figuratively speaking—take on a journey into new territory. We cannot make this travel without facing the unknown. When we do we are creative discoverers.

For many people, though, the unknown creates a sense of conflict, disorientation, and discomfort. People often attempt to reduce this experience by pretending to know what they actually do not know. But in doing so, they disconnect themselves from the creative source. In order to reduce their discomfort, they manufacture explanations, engage in speculations, and make up theories. They try to make the unknown known through speculations and inaccurate descriptions, and if they aren’t able to, they turn away from the unknown and stay with what they already know. Doing so, though, is detrimental to the creative process.

We grow up in a society that values knowledge, so that we may adopt the premise that we should know what’s happening. This is a value fostered by traditional education, where we are rewarded for knowing and penalized for not knowing. When we create we need to open up for not knowing, be willing to let the journey go wherever it takes us – without knowing.

Thus, an important ability for all who create is being able to live with the unknown, the unresolved, the incongruent, and the contradictory. This contradicts the popular myth that creative people are those who generate fantastic ideas and always have the answer. The truth is that creative people often do not have the answers and are quite aware of the spaces.

It’s like when I go out and shoot on the streets. I literally venture into spaces of unknown. It’s often places I haven’t been to before, but I am curious and open to where the unknown will take me. It’s also a journey in a figuratively sense. I don’t know who I will meet on the street, I don’t know how they will react to me, I don’t know if the will want to meet me at all, I don’t know what these encounters will bring—maybe new friendship, or maybe new knowledge, or maybe hostility or disapproval. Sometimes I do not dare face the unknown on the street, but when I do, my life is always enriched beyond anything I had thought beforehand. And I come home with new and inspiring photographs. I am creating

The Picture Critique is still open, but only for another week or so. By the end of the month I will close this offer to give some feedback if you have a picture you would like to get an outsider’s opinion about. If you are interested, please don’t hesitate to submit a link to a photo on my Picture Critique-page. Remember, it’s not about submitting excellent photos, but about photos you feel uncertain about or photos you would like to get an outsider’s opinion about.

Slow Down

One of the curses of digital photography is that it’s so easy. It’s so easy to shoot anything and everywhere. We end up shooting too fast and too much. In photography fast is not always better. We may do better by slowing down, be more deliberate in our approach.

In the days of analogue film, it cost somewhere around 25 cents for each click. That cost would make expenses rise quickly if you weren’t careful. It motivated photographers to learn their craft and to focus, concentrate, and compose in a more mindful way. Back then, you couldn’t just hold down the shutter and hope, not even on assignment with a comfortable budget.

Pushing a button is easy, but crafting a good photograph is hard. Lake paddling across the sea, it takes consistent work. If you have a long way to paddle you will quickly tire out if you go out too fast. In the long run slow is fast. The same in photography. If you want to create lasting images, don’t just shoot anything and everywhere. Don’t just hold down the shutter button. Rather be mindful and slow. As Chris Owen, photographer, teacher and best-selling author, says: “In the era of instant, it’s the permanent that stands out from the crowd.”

By slowing down you may actually accomplish more. Creating photographs that stand the test of time isn’t an easy thing to do. And I believe most people can’t make images that last, because they are moving too fast. We worry about moments missed, and we take pictures in a furious pace. In photo circles it’s called “spray and pray”—that is to say holding down the shutter and hope.

I notice it in myself particularly when I do street photography. In the beginning of a session, I run around searching for something, anything that is worth capturing. I am afraid I might miss a moment, I believe maybe around the corner is a better vantage point with more activity on the street. I end up shooting a lot of photos, but nothing worth keeping. It’s when I take a deep breath, slow down and decide to stay in one place, wait and let things happen in their own time and pace, that I slowly start to get images that might be worth keeping.

Making good photos requires effort from us. So we shoot a lot of photos to make up for our lack of skill. However, just because you can shoot a lot doesn’t mean you should. But we still do. Why? Because less takes more time. We don’t have—or don’t take—the time to take better photographs, so we end up settling for good or even inferior. We work quickly and hope for the best.

Creating photographs that last means, we need to change our pace. Even Ansel Adams used to say, “twelve significant photographs in a year is a good crop.” When you slow down and lower your expected output, you can become an artisan in your craft. The constrains of a slower pace beckons you to photograph in a more thoughtful way.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Fujifilm X10 with the lens set at 20 mm (the equivalent of a 80 mm for a full frame camera). Shutter speed: 1/800 s. Aperture: f/7,1. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Do you need some ideas to improve your photography and not having to spend a lot of money on new equipment? My eBook 10 Great Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Point-and-Shoot Camera might be what you are looking for. It’s an inexpensive eBook full of inspiration, and it’s available on my website http://www.munchow.no.

Leap of Faith

Throwing yourself into the creative process is a leap of faith. You don’t know where the flow will take you, you don’t know where you are going to end up, you don’t even know if you will make it to the end. It’s like throwing yourself into a stream and see what happens. And trust the process. In the beginning, we dare let the stream be only so forceful—probably not much power at all, to be honest, but as we gain more confidence in the process, we take more risks and let ourselves be carried away by stronger currents.

Creativity is about letting go of control, not knowing what will happen. Any creative progress is made by leaps of faith, some small and some large. At first, we may want faith to take the first photo course, the first step toward learning a new media. Later, we may want faith and funds for further classes, seminars, a workspace or maybe even a year’s sabbatical. Later still, we may conceive an idea for a large project, a book or maybe putting our work in a gallery. As each idea comes to us, we must in good faith clear our inner barriers to act on it and then, on an outer level, take the concrete steps necessary to trigger the process; not knowing where it will takes us or whether or not we will succeed. When you start writing a novel, for instance, you don’t know whether or not it eventually will be published, at least not if you don’t already have a name.

The more we let go and the more chances we take, the more possibilities will open up for us. We find that we change ourselves and become more susceptible to the process and own development. We more clearly see that our moods, views and insights are transitory. We accept changes as something positive. We acquire a sense of movement, a current of change in our lives. This current, or river, is a flow of grace moving us to our right livelihood, companions, destiny and opens up our creativity.

Creativity is the process of finding the river and saying yes to its flow, rapids and all. We start to say yes instead of no to opportunities, maybe startling ourselves in doing so. As we begin to pry ourselves loose from our old self-concepts, we find that our new, emerging self may enjoy all sorts of bizarre adventures. By replacing “no way” with “maybe”, we open the door to mystery and magic.

Many a time in my street photography workshops I have experienced participants not seeing themselves taking close-ups of people in the street, not daring to approach strangers. Not a few times participants have cried because they didn’t see how they could dare doing it. And then suddenly they just jump into it. Not long after they can’t believe how much they enjoy it. In my last photo workshop in Cuba there was a woman, who was very reluctant to approach strangers on the street. By the end of the workshop she was going inside homes and house, photographing people up close, that for must people takes years to be able to accomplish. She took the leap of faith, jumped into the river and was washed away in a way she hadn’t anticipated.

Creativity is a leap of faith. And as we get more comfortable with the slow stream of the creative process, we will soon find ourselves washed down a river of unimaginable creative power. It all starts with letting go of our control. Do you dare?

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Panasonic TZ5 with the lens set at 13.1 mm (the equivalent of a 77 mm for a full format canera). Shutter speed: 1/320 s. Aperture: f/4.6. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Breath of Life

På toppen av Navaho Pass med utsyn mot Mount Stuart

Choosing a creative path isn’t always an easy course to travel. It’s a path of much struggle. At the same time, though, it’s also a path of much joy and fulfilment. For me creativity is a healing path. Part of the struggle is because when we open ourselves up to creativity, we open up to our vulnerability. We learn about ourselves and we see ourselves in a different perspective, cannot hide all that we so often try to ignore about and in ourselves. Being creative means opening up—and that can be very challenging.

I think every human being has creativity in her- or himself. We are all creative beings. Life itself is but creative. Every creature (and just the word itself gives away the fact) is part of the natural order of creativity. We are ourselves creations. And the natural order for us is to continue the creation through our own creativity. But along the way to adapt to life’s demands many of us lose sight of our natural creativity.

To get back on the creative track, particularly for those of us who have been away for a long time, can be a roller-coaster experience. It can be painful, full of doubts and mountains of frustrations. However, as long as we don’t give in, we will eventually experience the fruits of becoming creative again. The fulfilment. Feeling whole. Feeling connected. The creative joy. Yes, creating.

Being creative, means to live. As the poet Alain Arias-Misson once said; «The purpose of art is not a rarefied, intellectual distillate—it is life, intensified, brilliant life.»

When you begin down the path of creativity, you will encounter challenges and moments of insight and growth, each time at a different level. There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. You will always experience downturns as well as highs. As the writer, director and producer Julia Cameron writes in her book The Artist’s Way. «Frustration and rewards exists at all levels on the path. Our aim is to find the trail, establish our footing, and begin the climb. The creative vistas that open will quickly excite you.»

The peaks-and-valleys that are part of the growth along the creative path are like a series of expansions and contractions. It’s like breath of life. We breathe, in and out. Expansions and contractions. We create, in and out. Thus, become alive.

So at times when you feel lost, don’t feel creative at all, when everything seems like at a standstill; know that it’s just a time of contraction. It’s necessary in order to be able to expand again. Don’t get discouraged. We are all in this cycle of expansions and contractions. We all have times when we can’t get out of the box, feel discouraged, but then suddenly the box fall to pieces, we feel free again, free to create.

If you have followed my blog for some time, you may remember that I was in a deep contraction just before Christmas. Now I am in an expansive uphill. Things begin to open up again. And I enjoy being creative, see things that I otherwise would ignore, feel like I am paying attention to life’s details as I wrote about in the post Pay Attention, two weeks ago. It’s a joyous place to be. But I also know, as certain as rain follow sun in my part of the world, that before I can blink I will be moving into a contraction again. Being alive means constantly alternating between expansions and contractions. Each time I enter an expansive mode, I see new vistas, I learn to appreciate all creation with different eyes—yes, I expand.

Riding the Waves

munchow_1813-202_e

The road to success isn’t paved with gold—or, navigating only through calm waters, to use the analogue I like to think of when talking about creativity; the interaction between man and sea. The path to success is navigating through foul weather, risky straits and choppy waves as well.

Not long ago, my partner and I planned to kayak along the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington, USA. As often is the case along that coastline, the weather was windy and cold, and the waves were rolling big onto the beaches. Not conditions for launching any kayak trips.

We had a good time anyway, enjoying the strength of the gale in our hair and feeling very alive when the wind gusts battered down on us. Not kayaking but hiking along the shoreline. Still, we had brought kayaks and at some point, we decided we could use the heavy waves to practise paddling under less than perfect conditions, safely and close to the beach.

With wet suits, life jackets and all the necessary safety equipment we felt safe indeed, as long as we didn’t go far out. Of course, the waves are also the worst exactly where they break onto the beach. For that very reason, it would be good practise.

It took some juggling to get the kayaks launched, but as soon as we were out, it felt pretty good. We paddled through a couple of waves and felt in control. Then we turned in an attempt to surf back in again. That’s when we lost control, both of us. The first wave took us around.

As we had foreseen, we would keep warm with the wet suit and stay afloat with the life jackets. However, what I hadn’t foreseen was that we had already kayaked too far from the beach. I could not reach the bottom. Moreover, there was no way neither of us could get back up in the kayaks. Thus, I started to swim back in with the kayak in one hand.

I quickly realized that this was much heavier than I had anticipated. After some time I wasn’t sure at all if I got closer to the beach. Instead I started wondering if there was a tide taking my out rather than in. I did not feel very comfortable any more, not the least because I could feel my stamina started to dwindle too quickly. In addition, my partner and I had drifted apart. At least she was much closer to the beach. Of course, I could let go of the kayak, but that wasn’t an option, not yet. That uncertainty, though, about which direction I was going, was anything but calming.

To make a long story short, I finally made it onto the beach, with my kayak and everything. We both did. By then I was completely exhausted, had to rest in the breaking waves before I could pull myself and my kayak onto dry land.

It was a valuable lesson. I learned where my limit is and I learned that I have to practise much more navigating foul weathers. Of course, I would never launch a real kayak trip under such conditions, but you never know if or when the weather suddenly changes faster than you have anticipated.

The mistakes we do underway are what build strength for later successes.

The path to success usually goes through choppy waters, for then to experience some calm and beautiful sea—for a little while. The path to success starts out with interest, passion and ideas. Next come the hard work and the fight to get closer to where we want to be. Then some mild success, and next some failures as well. And eventually—and hopefully—we will hit the big wave taking us far and away.

Creating your life’s best work and living the life you imagined requires having a deep drive to reach the top, but also a strategy for making it back home. It isn’t very creative to sail the biggest waves only to crush onto your doom. True creativity requires a more holistic view that includes both the up and the down.

Personally, I have had my share of success—in my eyes, that is, which is what is important in the end—but these days I am once again fighting my way out of a trough, as those of you who follow my blog know. It’s part of the creative path, and I know as long as I keep swimming and learning how to navigate back onto shore again, I will soon enough be riding confidently the big waves.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 105 mm. Shutter speed: 1/500 of a second. Aperture: f/22. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop and finally a Bleach Bypass filter added from Nik Color Efex.