Updated: Sep 12
The creative force that gave birth to the Universe, to all that is seen and unseen, animates each of us. We are part of something vast and unknown. The power that wove time and space, gravity, matter and anti-matter, quarks and planets also fashioned fingers and spinal columns and gut flora. That power- whatever it is- dances behind the movement of the eyes, keeps the skin supple, the heart beating, and the body warm.
In one epoch, thunder lizards stomped the Earth- itself pulsing with extremophiles and fantastical microorganisms. In another epoch, two-leggeds extend this innate creativity and invent Pokemon, the Iliad, mathematical formulas, souffles, financial instruments, 747s, wars, the Mona Lisa, their own melodramas, and countless other creations- like schools, derivatives, communism, capitalism, alphabets, spear tips, satellites, and blogs like this one.
From this line of thought (thought itself emerging from this mystery), comes the premise that we are inherently creative. We create a personal, seemingly separate experience of “I am” woven thought by thought and sustained moment by moment. To think, “I am not creative,” is itself a creative act. The power that created Black Holes and galaxies also created neurons and the synaptic connections that facilitate thought- even inaccurate ones that distort truth. We cannot help being creative. Some of us create with music or art, some create with things, some create experiences and memories for others. Even a bland, unimaginative life or an unsatisfying one pocked with daily insults must be created into being.
To think that 99% of human biomass is made up of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus arranged in such a way that it can read, laugh, take apart an engine, sing, smelt iron from ore, or marvel at a sunset is the most wondrous creation of all.
ēducāre is the root word of education, meaning to lead or draw out. When education draws out a child’s innate creativity, possibilities flow. So many potentials exist within each child. The mind of a child is open, flexible and curious. My job as a drawer-outer is to celebrate and cultivate the qualities we were given- creativity being one. I teach by example. I don't just believe I am modeled after the Creator of quarks and butterfly wings and exoplanets and extremophiles, I create with confidence and abandon. As a child, I sketched with pencil and paper. When I was older, I began experimenting with acrylics, wood burning, carving.
As my confidence and experience grew, I began to dabble with 3D modeling- printing functional, beautiful pieces like a hatch cover for my kayak or a lens cap for a video camera. Need was the mother of invention. If I needed a piece of furniture, I'd build it. If I saw an instrument I wanted, but could not afford (like the cajon, an Afro-Peruvian drum), I'd create it myself. When I needed a wall built to partition a room and a contractor handed me a quote for $5,500, I shrugged it off and built one myself for $600 (which included the French doors).
Now, I'm using vector art to create a children's book on cars.
Interestingly, I contacted each of the auto manufacturers to request permissions to use their brand. Umberto Palermo, designer of the Mole Almas, contacted me from Italy. He creates with metals and motors.
Anything can be a medium. I write programs, creating with code. I create my own music. I build my own instruments. I can transform a barren plot of land into a vegetable garden and take what I've grown and create nutrient dense, delicious meals. With my hunger satisfied, I can use that energy to build a stronger physique.
I create environments. When I began my teaching career, I'd write grants and used the funds to build a hi-tech learning environment to inspire kids to create their own videos, animations, games, illustrations, robots, ebooks, t-shirts etc.
Much of the innovation and programming was inspired by children. I don’t teach them to be imaginative, creative or playful. It’s there. I extract. I create the conditions so that imagination can flourish. Second graders were advocating for Minecraft, for example. Minecraft is a 3D sandbox children create virtual worlds in. I launched a Spanish/technology hybrid. The class integrated Spanish, technology, 3D modeling, architecture, and community planning. The children created worlds, projecting thoughts outward into form.
I introduced the vocabulary they would need to build una casa, but kept the parameters open so as not to constrict their creativity to fit my limitations of what a house should be. Innovation can be dimmed by the kind of limited thinking that poses as knowing. The dont-know mind of a child is far more creative and free. What they proposed was imaginative as evidenced by their questions and comments: “Can it be a houseboat?” Yes. “Can I build it underground?” Sure. “Can it be underwater?” What a great idea! “I’m building mine into a mountain.” I can’t wait to see it.
So long as the house had dos dormitorios (bedrooms), un baño (bathroom), una sala (living room), un comedor (dining room) y cocina (kitchen) anything they imagined was acceptable- including a house with walls of pink wool, an old West styled home with swinging saloon doors and an underground rail system to connect neighbors, and a floating house cloud made of diamonds with a portal that transports visitors to other dimensions. The children collaborated on their projects, creativity feeding on itself. A suggestion from a classmate would open up possibilities and inspire the team. There were no building codes, zoning laws, or regulations in this virtual world. Inspectors would never get past the moat of molten lava anyway.
Through play, they train for real life. I invite them to reimagine the world they've inherited. To rethink systems, institutions, economies. What would a just, verdant world look like?
In middle school, I launched a digital music course and invited students to rethink music starting with the 12 tone chromatic scale. Why 12, when we can go microtonal and have a scale with more color, range and possibilities? Don’t-know mind wonders: What would a song built on a 24 tone scale sound like? What would the music theory behind a 48 tone scale look like? What relationships might these notes have to one another?
We reimagine instruments. We can program virtual instruments with trolls or unicorns for keys that, when moused over, not only generate a note, but beam rainbows. Or how about a hands-free instrument, a 3D printed one, or a sketch drawn in graphite that conducts electricity as part of a circuit that generates music when touched? Art meets music meets electronics meets imagination.
We re-engineer sounds. A door closing can be the kick of a drum, a piano note can be filtered to mimic the call of a whale. Students learn to create their own synth sounds and can build libraries of unique patches. Ambient sounds can be recorded and repurposed for music’s sake. What is sound anyway? What is it to be alive anyway? I wonder with the beginner’s mind of a child, the source of curiosity, wonder, innovation and play.
You were a child once. You are creative. Maybe you can't draw, sing, paint, or write poems, but you create with thought. You create the inner conditions of your life and co-create the outer ones. Some create with tangible things: seeds to create gardens, vegetables to create meals, metals to create engines, wood and nails to create buildings, fabric and thread to create clothing, cameras and lenses to create images. Some create with more abstract things: spreadsheets to create inventories, laws to create governments, contracts to create employment, talent to create organizations, portfolios to create wealth, properties to create income streams, loans to create businesses. Some create with intangibles: words of encouragement to create peace, prayer to create harmony, emotions to create beautiful memories, love to create connection. Our very lives are a canvas. Some of us paint with vibrant colors of love; some paint with dark colors of fear. Most have these contrasts of darkness and light.
Meditation helps settle the mind so that we can create more consciously. Using the chisel of meditation, we can carve out inner peace, equanimity, love, joy. Meditation connects us with the power that created itself- that power which causes the subatomic particles to form atoms that form molecules that form cells that form structures like bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, fingers, eyes, rods and cones, optic nerves, brain cells that bring language to form, mathematics to form, programming to form, laptops to form, the internet to form, websites to form, all that surrounds you into material form. It all began in thought. Whether you accept this or not, acknowledge it or not, you are inherently creative! You co-create your experiences. Together, we can create a more beautiful world.
Lutz, et al. defines meditation as "a family of regulatory strategies designed for various ends." Ends might include calm, enhanced well-being, equanimity, compassion, interoceptive awareness, and emotional balance among many others. For me, benefits also include a clear mind, creative flow, and interconnectedness. The ends we cultivate are both practical and utilitarian.
A clear, concentrated mind- disciplined and equanimous- is an asset. The mind- free from doubt or fear- is a powerful, creative tool. In the quiet of meditation, an idea may bubble to the surface. The practice is to neither entertain nor reject them, but I don't always adhere to the discipline. The idea to build an electric bicycle for my boys surfaced recently. I shooed it away and returned to the breathing. But the idea kept buzzing around this meditator like a fly. I sat with it. After meditation, I gave it more attention. It had merit.
So, I bought a used bicycle, a motor kit, battery, and parts. We began assembly. Some of the components were not compatible, so we ended up customizing the build.
My boys are young and not intimidated by what they don't know. They are open to instruction and willing to learn. My adult mind is not as humble. So, I use meditation to reconnect to my inner child and inherent creativity. This child-like quality plays a central role in the creative process. This power, which abides in you, is that which took you from a single cell and formed the complexity that sits and reads and thinks. It's the power that organized atoms to form molecules that formed amino acids and proteins and cells and structures of bone, fascia, nerves, and flesh. Your beingness is inherently creative... and confident. There was no doubt as it cobbled the cells together to form the complexity that is you.
This creative force- dancing within us now- is spacious and allows for smallness and doubt to mask its radiance. But I like to build to affirm our creative potential. Paradoxically, I approach with a child's don't-know mind. This allows curiosity to push us forward with the unassuming confidence of the inquisitive child. Like the infant learning to walk, we fall and fall and fall again, but without the certitude of self-criticism that tallies failure after failure after failure.
We tested our new bike and cycled 50 miles north to Boston. We also tested ourselves physically. I've cycled continents, but this was my son's first distance ride. Many cultures have rites of passage. This was a passage of sorts for him literally and metaphorically. He did not impose any limits on himself, nor did he doubt that he could complete it.
We've challenged ourselves intellectually to build another one. The bicycle functioned well, but, about 40 miles in, the battery needed charging. With a child's don't know mind, we imagined a solar celled frame or a perovskite skin that converts solar to electrical energy. It may not be feasible now, but will be in the near future.
The more we drill down, the more there is to learn: welding, mechanics, plastics, carbon fiber fabrication, engineering, electronics, photovoltaics, the biomechanics of cycling, computer aided design, etc. Interconnectedness is the third quality we cultivate. Cycling is a greener way to commute. The bicycle was this nerd's primary mode of transportation for years. I stopped riding as regularly after becoming a father. But, now that my children are old enough to ride a bicycle, but not yet old enough to keep up, attaching a motor gives them an assist which now challenges me to keep up. It is a greener way to travel and can be a portal to deeper learning and innovation.