Wednesday Afternoon at the Movies
February, 2011

            The other day I was meditating on creativity, rather than creatively meditating, the latter being frowned upon in some circles.  I guess silently gazing at a candle and clearing ones mind has its’ utility, but, alas, as my mind clears I often become obsessed with a question, “How long do I have to sit here before this candle goes out?”

             Every so often, as the candle flickers on, I find my meandering thoughts toying with the observation that creative activity is prevalent of in all human cultures that have ever existed.  I dreamily consider that archeologists use pottery designs, decorations on clothing and building techniques to identify and classify pre-literate cultures. Anthropologists begin to call their fossils “men” instead of “apes” when they start shaping stones to turn them into hand axes or scrappers. It seems an act of creativity is important enough to be a major turning point in the evolution of human beings.

             Sure, it is a long trip from hand axes and scrapers to automobiles, NASA rockets, laser surgery, 3D movies and television; and texting on hand held phones while driving, but the same process is involved.  Hey, give Homo erectus a break, all he had to work with was a bunch rocks to bang together. He did the best he could with what he had; and he had to think about it, make plans, select the rock, and remember how he accidentally made that hand ax, the day before yesterday.

            I don’t know about others, but I know I face similar problems when I write my monthly column: This proves to me that the urge to create has been a consistent characteristic, passed down from the original ‘man that was not an ape,’ through all the Homo miscellaneous in between, to us, we Homo sapiens.  And, we all have it, even those who have regressed to apelike behavior and have to remain caged in institutions.

            As my mind continues to wander around through meadows of flowers, butterflies, and small candles, looking for something to do; I begin to wonder just how important creativity is in the hierarchy of needs.  Once upon a time it was pretty important; it got us promoted from apes to humans. Throughout our existence creativity has been there, but just how influential a factor was it for human survival? 

            Oops, my mind just wandered to a related question; is ‘quality’ of products created a valid way to measure the influence of the objects created.  Perhaps, but ‘quality’ is a subjective judgment assigned by Homo sapiens, and therefore, not necessarily reliable.

             As an example I would like to use abstract paintings that seem to come and go, rise and fall in popularity.  I happen to like some abstracts and ignore others.  It is a more or less accurate statement that in recent history the galleries in New York, London and Paris determine which paintings are valuable pieces of abstract art, and which are not.  On a few occasions these galleries have shown paintings created by apes, chickens and other animals; and they quite often have shown paintings created by humans, that appear to have been created by apes, chickens and other animals.  Those showings of animal created paintings have never been followed by a wave of creativity within the animal species involved.  As a matter of fact, the animals that did the creating gave it up, and returned to feeding and breeding, which they found more satisfying.  Animal-like paintings done by humans receive a short term notoriety and interest, but for the most part they disappear.  I assume the artists either abandoned that mode, migrating to more “human” styles and subjects or, perhaps they just returned to feeding and breeding which they find more satisfying.

            These can be compared with the paintings in caves, done by Cro-Magnon man, which have had substantial effects on artists ever since the cave paintings were found. Many have found that type of representation to be enlightening and expansive; and who knows the effect it had on Cro-Magnon peoples at that time.

            One thing that is beyond dispute is that the populations of every historic culture discovered by anthropologists; and of every current culture studied by sociologists, spend some amount of time decorating the habitat, clothing, tools, pets, work animals, canoes, wagons, and themselves.  This type of activity is ubiquitous, interactive, and satisfying.  It seems to me that this fact is statement enough to support the importance and influence of creative activity.  It is a basic need and belongs in the list of basic needs, along side; air, water, food, protection from weather, a safe place to sleep, and sexual activity.  I would place it somewhere behind protection from weather and before sexual activity, most of the time, some of the time.

             Creativity is not limited to the fine arts and crafts; it is involved in almost everything we humans do, including basic biological activities. Creativity may be abandoned in emergencies where attention to air, water, food, warmth or safety is necessary for survival; but in non-emergency situations creative thinking and activity is often displayed in the process of any need satisfaction.  I recall, once upon at time, watching my two year old daughter eating a bowl of spaghetti.  I was watched and wondered why she was giggling and trying to put spaghetti up her nose, then in her ear.  She was unsuccessful.  I was appalled when she broke into loud laughter and put the bowl upside down on her head. There she was with reddish strands of spaghetti hanged down over her face and she was very pleased with herself.  Quickly recovering from my priggish manner, I put some spaghetti in my hair and continued eating.  We had a good time.

            I don’t recall seeing an ape or monkey or any other animal do something like that and have a hoot of a time in the process.  I have seen animals play with food, and do things by accident, but I have never seen an animal try to wear its’ food because it was fun. I think creative activity; innovation, the ability to visualize what something might be before we make changes, is uniquely human.

            Any one who has started a business, tried to organize 4 year olds on a playground, teach 14 year olds algebra or Latin, worked with a neighborhood improvement committee, got involved in politics, or had to explain to the police how the car got into the swimming pool and why you don’t have any clothes on, realizes that creativity is essential to accomplish goals or satisfy needs.

            Ah, creative meditation definitely contributes to enhanced mindfulness.

           Mindfulness,….has anyone seem my.., oh,… there it is: I thought I had lost my mind.  Now that I have it back maybe I can do some creative thinking, like “I wonder what happens if I hold this candle upside down for a minute”.  Oh, it went out.

               I feel so enlightened.


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