The Book of Doing and Being
When I was growing up in Canada, my dad was a butcher and my mom was a housewife. Around the dinner table, the conversation would often include talk about customers at my dad’s shop, neighbors, friends, and others in our community. On occasion, the conversation would turn to Grégoire, a wedding photographer and quite a good painter with a small studio in town. The scent of photo-developing chemicals and espresso followed Grégoire wherever he went. With his scarves, long hair, and French accent, he had a romantic mystique about him. My parents always referred to him as a “freelancer”—a word that packed a lot of meaning. Most important, it meant that he had no reliable income, therefore, no safety. It was both terrifying and exciting to hear about Grégoire and how he couldn’t rely on the world for money, validation, or a certain future.
Nothing about the way I was raised had any rapport with the freewheeling idea of being a freelancer, and yet I have become one. I have created a blueprint that is sufficiently differentiated from the framework of my beginnings—I created it, in part, by stepping beyond the bounds of structured imagining, which is something I’ll teach you how to do in this book. And while I know there are no guarantees—no promise of assured good outcomes in my career, finances, health, love, or anything else—there is also no turning back. Even if I wanted to turn back, the line to the anchor has been cut. I’m too far from the shore, and there is no safe harbor to return to. I have to create safety, trusting that safety found within myself will show up in my experience of the world. Most of the time, I am on tranquil seas, and yet sometimes it gets stormy, tempestuous. I hit moments of stress and fear that call me to return to
the trance, but I can’t do it. I can only live on magic, fueled by my passion and commitment to the creative life.
When you seek out and explore creativity, as you will do by working with the exercises and practices in this book, it leads to an individualization from your original blueprint, which can be both exhilarating and unnerving at the same time. Instead of reacting to or rebelling against a framework that has been preset by others, you get to harvest what works of it and set about consciously creating the life you desire.
No matter what your vocation, you come to realize that life is a freelance affair and you no longer take anything for granted, whether it’s a paycheck, a marriage vow, or your health and well-being. You discover that none of these is outside of you. You can’t put them in a vault to accumulate interest and guarantee a particular future. Everything that matters to you comes from an inner reservoir that is always available in the present moment.
When you know that your whole life is a creative act, you begin to take responsibility for every piece of it. And claiming 100 percent responsibility makes everything crystal clear. You can see that each one of us is a freelancer, regardless of job title. You know that each of us is the writer and director of our own unforgettable life story.
That knowing is a fundamental shift in perception—a transformation. It happens when you are intimate enough with your past to be able to create an original framework that is yours alone, one that is as distinctive to you as your fingerprints. Living from the inside out, every facet of your life is freelance, designed by your own hand. You are a free agent. You are free.
THE PRESENT IS NOT THE RESULT OF THE PAST
Every act is a creative act. A relationship, a business, a screenplay, a dance, an art form, a reality—everything we know and everything we love is a constellation of creative acts.
Ensconced in our favorite corner of a restaurant where we frequently meet, my friend Barbara and I were fully engaged in a conversation about the creative life. We asked each other, What is a creative life? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How is it expressed? We were overflowing with ideas, many of which had made their way onto the large piece of white paper that covered the tablecloth, creating a mind-map of our thoughts. I’m grateful we did that because I have since referred to my piece of the map many times, drawing great inspiration from it and even adding new threads as they come to me.
At the center of our conversation was the idea that we are always evolving, individually and collectively. And if we are willing to be surprised by the next thing—the next creative impulse, the next idea that excites us, the next experience that moves us—then we are living a creative life. This dynamic is true for everyone, whether a stay-at-home parent, a CEO, a musician, a retail salesperson, an actor, a social media manager, or a monk. It cannot be otherwise.
The present does not have to be a continuation of the past.
Creatively redefining and reimagining our lives is an ongoing and perhaps inevitable conversation for Barbara and me to have. Barbara is Barbara Marx Hubbard, the celebrated futurist and eloquent communicator of evolutionary potential. I am a screenwriter and film producer. So she and I are both storytellers who share a passion for chronicling and understanding the unfolding human drama in which each of us has a vital role to play.
Over the past thirty-five years, my career has followed a particular trajectory that made itself clear early on. Reflected in the movies What Dreams May Come, Homeless to Harvard, The Celestine Prophecy, and others, that focus has to do with the mechanics of creativity itself, especially its connection to consciousness. Creativity is a relationship you nurture—must nurture, or life ceases to delight and surprise. If you offer yourself to creativity, it will seize you; shower you with wonders. For several years, I have spoken of this on film sets, in workshops, and at events around the country. But as we sat together that afternoon,
Barbara said, “People have wonderful things to share, but most of us don’t realize that we are actors on the stage of history—and every actor needs a coach at some point.”
Right there, as she spoke those words, I knew the time was right for this book. Although my passion for creating films continues unabated, I realized in that moment that my larger role is that of attuning others to their part of the play, their part of the story that life is telling on a grand scale.
But in this great play, none of us has a script. We make up our parts as we go. So, in order to know what we want to create and why, we need a deeper understanding of ourselves.
CREATIVITY AS A STATE OF MIND
When we say, “I want to create something,” what we are really saying is, “I want to change things. I want to make something more beautiful . . . or more safe or more efficient or more sustainable.” All creativity starts with that desire to have impact, and the ownership of that desire is everything. In that sense, conscious creativity, perhaps more than anything else, requires an admission of a particular state of mind.
There is a little movie-set parable that says it all.
The tour guide stops his trolley on the Universal Studios back lot. Three craftsmen are hammering and sawing and painting away. The guide says, “Hey, what are you all doing?” The first one says, “What do you think? I’m painting a wall.” The second one says, “I’m doing okay; I’m making a living.” Then, covered from head to toe in paint, the third one looks up, and she says, “I am making our summer blockbuster.” She was the one who had a sense of the bigger picture and fully owned her part as a creator.
Over my desk hangs a hand-painted card by the writer J. Stone that says, “The most visible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself. They neither paint nor sculpt. Their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life.”
That is the potential this book can serve to unlock or amplify, tapping great reservoirs of positive energy that you can use all kinds of ways, whether toward the completion of a creative project or in the way you approach your next conversation. Whatever you choose to create, at the root is always the opportunity to become the artist of being alive.
THE CALL OF YOUR REAL WORK
I had a wonderful dog for many years whose name was Siri. When Siri would drag me around on our walks, he would focus all his senses on these invisible trails, like ley lines emanating from the earth, signaling new and exhilarating possibilities just around the next bend. With his nose to the ground, he would eagerly chase these mysterious trails. As I watched him, Siri seemed an expression of pure creative force—entirely unconscious, of course; instinctive but with his nose to the call, ever alert to the grand evolutionary creative turning of things. Here was this beautiful little dog who was, in his own four-legged way, on a hero’s journey. Locked on to the trail with no guarantee as to where he would end up, but ready to be transformed by life.
When I am fully engaged in creative work, when my nose is to the trail and I am locked on to the call, I can feel it. And when I lose connection with that impulse and go off course, I feel that, too.
This book is designed to help you find your trails and to follow them. These are the trails that lead to your deepest fulfillment as a creator. You have a purpose, a mission, and a calling that is uniquely your own. The Sufi poet Rumi goes directly to the heart of the matter in his discourse on finding and claiming your real work:
There is one thing in this world that must never be forgotten. If you were to forget all else, but did not forget that, then you would have no reason to worry. But if you performed and remembered everything else, yet forgot that one thing, then you would have done nothing whatsoever.
It’s as if a king sent you to the country to carry out a specific task. If you go and accomplish a hundred other tasks, but do not perform that particular task, then it is as though you performed nothing at all. So everyone comes into this world for a particular task, and that is their purpose. If they do not perform it, then they will have done nothing.
It is as if you were given a sword of priceless Indian steel, and you were to treat it as a butcher’s knife for cutting up putrid meat. . . . Or it is like taking a solid gold bowl to cook turnips in, when a single grain of that gold could buy a hundred pots. Or it is as if you took a Damascene dagger of the finest temper to hang a broken gourd from, saying, “I am making good use of it . . . I am not letting this dagger go to waste.”
From Discourses of Rumi, Discourse Four, original translation by A. J. Arberry
Your real work, of course, isn’t confined to your job title or description alone. It might include your professional vocation, but it does not start or stop there.
If you are unclear at the moment as to what your real work is or if you feel that the signals of your creative impulses are scrambled, the principles and practices in this book will assist you in gaining clarity. And if you feel creatively blocked, stalled along the shoulder of the creative highway, it will help you to jump-start your creative engine.
Your creative capacity is greater than you know. Even if you are already prolific and productive, you can become even more so. You will find your real work in your values and what matters most to you; in your creative ambitions; in your skills and abilities; and, of course, in your strengths, talents, and gifts. As you clarify these facets of your creativity throughout the book, simultaneously you will be building the courage and commitment to express them.
THE EMOTIONAL POWER THAT FUELS CREATIVITY
What does it take to tend to every part of your life more creatively? To lock on to the creative call? To harness a personal creativity that can touch the whole world? It requires becoming connected to your passion, to your excitement, and to your enthusiasm. From that connection comes the desire to contribute and to make change.
It also requires that you check under the hood, explore the subtle nature of creativity. Energy is more powerful than the thing being created, no matter what that “artifact” might be. Whether the creation is a nonprofit organization, a book of poetry, a friendship, or a new perception, it is the resonance of that creation that we are really seeking—the frequency, which comes from what we think, what we feel, and what we express through our emotions. In the pages of this book, you will learn how to tune in to your emotions with ease and creatively shift frequencies at will, not as a reaction to extrinsic factors but intentionally, from the inside out.
HOW TO WORK WITH THIS BOOK
The more inspired and innovative you are, the better off the world is. I offer this book as both a practical support structure and a reminder that your creative dreams matter—whatever they may be. If you already know what those dreams are, this book will help you to fulfill them. And if you aren’t clear about your creative dreams right now, you will be soon.
The framework of the book is a diverse selection of exercises—techniques, processes, rituals, and creative tools. In addition to the exercises in each chapter, you will also find others in the spaces between certain chapters. Each one can augment the power of your discovery process. Together, these exercises form the latticework on which your creativity can grow and flourish. Whether you like big, blank pages or the architecture of lines, I recommend getting your favorite kind of notebook for this exploration—your journal of doing and being.
Starting in the first chapter, you will find that all the exercises are designed to activate creativity by jostling the connections of your subconscious and conscious minds. They jiggle the strings of your usual ways of thinking, feeling, and perceiving so that something new can occur. This is important because our conscious mind is always looking to string things together. We are devoted to the straight line, with logical and reasonable connections and explanations, but creativity comes from a “place” that is entirely unconstrained by any lines—that is where we are going.
Imagine there are two kinds of lives: the life we are given and the life we create. The life we are given is the one that is shown to us by our parents and caregivers. They demonstrate how to live, love, and relate to the world. They make the distinctions that determine the boundaries between what is practical and realistic versus what is quixotic and dreamy. We are not specifically schooled in these. We adopt them automatically.
For my parents’ generation, life was laid out. You got a job, raised a family, received the gold watch, and retired. That linear trajectory is not the life that most of us lead today. Cause does not lead to effect the same way it did in the past. Nowadays, we frequently find ourselves in unpredictable chaos, moving with both excitement and trepidation through various jobs, vocations, and relationships. While we enjoy the ability to reinvent ourselves at will, most of us occasionally long for the kind of predictability our parents had.
Nevertheless, we can venture beyond the life we are given to a life we create, unbound by hand-me-down conventions modeled for us by others. A created life looks different. Friends and colleagues who work with these practices maintain longevity and aliveness no matter what their chronological age is. They focus more on where they are going than where they have been, and they always seem to have all the luck—though luck has nothing to do with it.
The Power of Practice
As you use these exercises with consistency, you establish a creativity practice. Practice is like the guardrails on the side of the highway that keep you on the road. Practice keeps you focused and heading toward your desired destination. The attention and commitment to practice allows your creativity to persist and not to dissipate. Without practice, our creative thoughts, insights, and ambitions seem to float away like tumbleweed in the wind—nice ideas that never go anywhere. Practice grounds us; it allows our ideas and ambitions to take root and grow.
Making Time for Creativity
Set a formal practice time every day. When you wake up in the morning you brush your teeth and comb your hair; that is a practice. Without that practice, your teeth would fall quickly into a bad state. Apply the same diligence and commitment to your creativity practice. Find your own timing and cadence, but know that it is imperative that you honor your creativity in the same way that you honor your health and grooming.
Beyond simply setting aside time, you have to create time. Time does not exist unless you create it. Whenever we pursue a creative goal or endeavor with intentionality, with a closeness that generates a different kind of rapport with our experience, magic happens. We create time through the power of our intention and presence. Our grandmothers knew this when they used to say, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” They understood that busy people are passionate people. “Losing track of time” is a hallmark of passionate action. Time is an ally that can be as slow or fast as you need it to be.
When has this happened to you? You are passionate about putting in your tulips, or writing copy for your new website. When you look up from your passion, hours have flown by. You have temporarily suspended your relationship to the clock, and productivity is the result.
Your relationship with time is much more fluid and dynamic than
you think it is. You can consciously develop a new kind of partnership with the clock through intention and presence born of passion.
Your Creative Workspace
What separates the real creator from the wannabe? Commitment. Set up your creative workspace so that it reminds you of your commitment every time you step into it. Simple additions and attention to detail can put you in the mood to create. Here are some ideas to consider:
■ Play music you love.
■ Light a candle.
■ Add flowers or a living plant.
■ Declutter and organize your space.
■ Open a window to let some fresh air move through.
■ Add a new lamp to shed a warm light on your creative work.
■ Choose an object for your creative space that represents your commitment to your creativity, something personally meaningful to you. It could be a stone, a crystal, a piece of art, or a photo of someone who inspires your creativity.
Your Creative Helpmate
Treat this book as a helpmate and resource. You can read it cover to cover or drop in on any page for a boost, like a creative I Ching, the classic Chinese text for gaining clarity through intuitive investigations. These pages are a distillation of everything I know about creativity; together they comprise an expansive tool kit of creativity principles and techniques.
I cannot claim every one of the tools in this kit as my own, although they have added immeasurably to my creative life. I have learned from many fabulous teachers along the way. For those tools and techniques derived from people whose names are mentioned and for those whose source I no longer remember, I am grateful.
I hope that, by working with this material, you will find your own creative process less mysterious than you thought it was and more productive and fulfilling than you ever imagined.