Looking up at a sky full of stars, standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or marveling at the vastness of the Greenland ice sheet, I have sometimes felt an overwhelming sense of expansion, of being a small part of something incomprehensibly big. In these moments of awe and reverence, I feel more alive, more humble, and more a part of it all.
A contribution to our societal disconnectedness from the consequences of our lifestyle is our disconnection from the natural world, and our absence of awe. The constricted way we orient in life to schedules, emails, and tasks is antithetical to a felt sense of participation on the world. When we cease to experience ourselves as a living part of the miraculous world, we can’t help but also feel less responsible to it. It’s the difference between a tourist looking at the Grand Canyon and saying “this canyon is beautiful,” and a Native American looking at it and saying “I AM the canyon.”
Our work as presence-based leaders and agents of positive change requires re-building this connectedness, so that the commitments we make and the actions that we take are grounded in a deeper awareness of our place in things.
Many are committed to helping us wake up to this connection. Brian Swimme, for example, invites us to go outside at dawn, and watch the appearance of the sun. While we commonly say, “the sun is rising,” that is an erroneous description. It’s more accurate to say, “we are standing on a giant ball that is slowly rotating towards the sun.” With this more accurate description, we actually experience the reality of it more directly.
Try it next time you’re up early. Feel yourself as an extension of the Earth, slowly rotating towards the sun as the day breaks. (It works at sunset, too!)
Okay, I get it. You’re busy. In fact, you are unlikely to even step outdoors early, or even find a starry sky. You’re certainly not going to go to Greenland right now, and don’t have much desire to suck wind at 26,000 feet.
Here’s an alternative. Click on this link, then open the “gigapixel view” of David Brashears’ stunning photo panorama of Mt. Everest, stitched together from hundreds of high resolution photos. You can use the controls to zoom way in, pan, and explore.
Experiment with different ways of seeing, of shifting perspective. (BTW, this is a fluidity of attention practice: it's fun. And, it develops nimbleness in your nervous system!)
• The analytical: How many climbers you can find? How many tents? How did they take this photo anyway?
• The aesthetic: Marvel at the sheer drama and stunning beauty of the mountains, glaciers and rock faces, and the forces that shaped them.
• The spiritual: Discover your insignificance. Zoom in to find the climbers (hint, look at the highest nearly smooth part of the Khumbu glacier, directly below the center (lowest) of the three summits.) Then, imagine yourself onto that glacier, zoom back out, and experience yourself disappearing in vastness.
• The temporal: Then, visit the home page and look at the changes in the Khumbu glacier over a few decades. This is a two frame time lapse movie. Use your imagination to extrapolate this in time, sensing the radical change taking place here. Then, in space, sensing the similar change taking place in glaciers all over the world.
• Have you been awed lately? By what? Or by whom?
• How are you different when you experience awe?
• How important is awe to you? What will you do about it?
For those of us in the field of somatics, it is not news that how we shape ourselves affects our mood, our attitude, and the actions that we can imagine and take. More than simply “body language” (meaning what the shape of our body communicates to others,) the emerging science shows us that we can actually change our neurological defaults.
When we engage in somatically based practices, we build a way of being that supports making and fulfilling on bold commitments in the world. We now understand that we actually are producing sustainable physiological changes.
This recent TED talk, by Amy Cuddy, presents some of the science behind somatics in a useful and engaging way. Pass it along; this is a must see!
- How have you responded creatively to a challenge recently?
- What opportunity do you have to respond more resourcefully to some current situation?
- What is your narrative about where creativity comes from?
A course in Barcelona two weeks ago gave me the opportunity to visit three UNESCO World Heritage Sites designed by Gaudí; I was astonished by his evocation of the natural world, incorporation of curves and unusual elements, and integration of multiple materials into sumptuous designs.
Click on photo to view a slide show
Like Beethoven, a composer whose music is deep in me, Gaudí took convention and broke it wide open, using his craft as a means for highly individualized and passionate expression of a creative and spiritual connection. I marvel at how some people so transcend the territory revealed by their training and role models!
Of course, there are examples closer to home. Walker, my wife, grew up with little support for creativity and exploration, yet emerged as an adult seeker and learner with a drive that still astounds me. At age 58, she will disappear into her studio and emerge, hours later, having created whole worlds from clay: evocative boxes for my chocolate stash, little Buddhas, mythic fish spewing stars into a waiting sky.
My mother was an accomplished musician and composer, whose creative impulse, like an underground stream, shifted to poetry later in her life. If she were still alive, I would be asking her-- What makes you tick? What urge do you follow, that cannot be denied?
There are many levels of response, each of which represents an interpretation that perhaps says more about the observer than the observed. For example, psychological: an overly constrained childhood created a denied impulse for freedom and differentiation. Scientific: the human organism is hard-wired for experimentation and creativity; the dominance of humans on the planet is simply evidence of the superiority of our design. Spiritual: the creative impulse is an impulse towards Divine, towards re-integration with the whole.
All of these interpretations offer partial truths. The deeper interpretation is that the impulse that these individuals follow is the foundational creativity of the Universe. It is in all of us; we may have more or less access to it than others, but it is deeper in us than we can possibly imagine. It is the same evolutionary force that, over a 13.7 billion year process of innovation, experimentation and creative emergence, gave rise to us.
The creativity that brought forth Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia cathedral gave rise to Gaudí himself, a fleeting constellation of 100 trillion individual cells that, in ways beyond understanding, sparked to consciousness before disintegrating back to dust. The experimental imperative that drove my mother to assemble words into poems never before heard also assembled atoms into molecules, stars into galaxies, rocks and dust into planets. Walker forms clay into fish that birth stars; the elements of the clay, and Walker herself, were themselves birthed, billions of years ago, in exploding stars. The life force expressed in Beethoven’s 9th symphony leads wolves to howl at the moon.
How can we believe we are separate? We are all products of the same impulse, animated by the sometimes urgent experimentation through which life insists we respond.
While we are not all Gaudí, we can’t NOT be creative as we live our lives. Our opportunity is to become more conscious in it. We have the awareness, for the first time in our 13.7 billion year story, to actually shape the evolutionary impulse that runs through us as authors, and not simply as subjects. We are the shapers and the shaped.
Exemplars are everywhere. You are one. Wake up.
You love their singing—the thrush, the orioles—
though they don’t perform for you. Theirs is a clan
song: My bugs, my bough, my mate, and:
See how bright the orange and black of my feathers.
Nor do they sing for blighted love the hard
blues of loss we would, or for joy,
but because they can’t help it, because song
blossoms from the stem of their being bird.
Human, you can’t help trying to understand
what stalk you flower from, what undertow
rises in the flutist to quicken with breath
the arcs and dips of prior minds, or mind
itself, playing with fugue, with E = MC2,
inventing wheel, organ, flute, B Minor Mass—
Buddha—the bomb. The song you bear buds
under your mind’s tongue like a first word.