Monday, June 25, 2012

IMAGINATION & the spirit (and the church)

Here’s a story:

In tenth century Scotland there lived a Princess with her mother & father, the Queen and King. When presented with  a bow and arrow by her father, she becomes herself, a regular “tomboy”, riding her horse, Angus, throughout the countryside. Still her mother has a traditional fate I mind for her: marriage to one of the buffoonish sons of the related clans. When they come calling, much chaos ensues. Merida runs off, breaking with her mother, meets up with a witch, and wishes her mother changed. Her wish is granted, but her mother is changed.. to a bear. Merida must try to help her mother return to human form, and the two must all the while deal with the truly evil bear that lurks in the forest, the elusive witch and will o the wisps which led to her, the three younger brothers who have also eaten the potion and become baby bears… well, it’s a mess!
You can find out what happens by going to theatre or waiting until this charming movie, called BRAVE, comes out on DVD.

It’s a film that does what all the PIXAR movies do: blends humor, enthralling animation,  original musical compositions, and details about human nature that capture the hearts and minds of any human, from 6 to 96. While Seth was gleefully following the journey of the wild crimson-haired lass and waiting for the impish red-headed triplets to reappear, I was immersed in what genius it took to weave into a kids’ movie a whole subplot about family systems: how you can’t separate yourself from family by geographical distance (cutoff) and another Jungian/symbolic plot about motherhood: the Queen Elinor had to accept her “bear” nature and with it many aspects of herself that ultimately left her a more complete and evolved woman.

Creating this sort of magic onscreen takes vast amounts of work. At Pixar, teams of technical, creative, and everything in-between humans meet daily for months, even years, going over every tiny detail of the film, often trashing entire sequences and even starting from scratch with a whole new concept when it becomes clear they have failed. Failure at PIXAR is nothing but motivation to keep going, it would seem. Steve Jobs said of TOY STORY 2, “WE killed ourselves to make it. It was tough; it was too tough. It took some people a year to recover.” Of course, we all know that although Steve Jobs did recover from TOY STORY 2 , he passed away too young after a remarkable life, one most of us couldn’t imagine.

Or could we?

In a recently published book, titled IMAGINE (not the most creative title!), the author deconstructs this aspect of humanity which sometimes seems as elusive as the will o the wisps that Princess Merida chases through the woods.

What is imagination? And, most importantly, how can we harness its power to enhance our spirits and our communities of spirit?

William James described the creative process as a “seething cauldron of ideas, where everything is fizzling and bobbing about in a state of bewildering activity.”

But for eons, even though humans were obviously having these seemingly miraculous interactions between the brain and their surroundings (which of course is the essence of imagination)…. Creativity was attributed to something supernatural: the muses, the mystery. (Inspire) Even today, most people believe that only a select few are truly creative.

But I would side with Picasso, who once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

I truly believe that our humanity gives us a sheet of paper with many blanks spaces upon which we write our own story. So many of what we perceive of as constraints or setbacks are actually materials for our imagination and growth if we but understand them.  I know this is true because I have seen it work in unremarkable human beings time and again, humans who have made a master-work of their lives, even if they never become Steve Jobs.

We now know that certain parts of the brain are responsible for this activity, even though we don’t fully comprehend it; and we know a great deal about what brings it on and what inhibits it. The piece that still strikes us as miraculous is the moment of inspiration, the moment when we just “know” what to do, see the path clearly, understand ourselves and others, and have a clearer notion of what lies ahead, perhaps a whole new vision for our lives and our beings.
For example:
·    Every creative journey begins with a problem.
·    Most creative geniuses are familiar with sadness (80% writers~~ depression) As Keats wrote, “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” Yet it is when happy that creativity flows! So we need both.
·    Creativity is a delightful product of the combination of a relaxed mind and focused attention. Einstein said: Creativity is the residue of time wasted.
·    The act of invention is really an act of recombination. (philosopher David Hume, in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, described this talent as the essence of the imagination:   All this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience. When we think of a golden mountain, we only join two consistent ideas, gold, and mountain, with which we were formerly acquainted).
·    Constraint kills imagination! “The lesson of letting go is that we constrain our own creativity. We are so worried about playing the wrong note or saying the wrong thing that we end up with nothing at all, the silence of the scared imagination.” 
·    COLLABORATION is key~~ 

It’s not hard to see how we have both succeeded and failed to utilize imagination as we have crafted our lives thus far. A spiritual moment is one when we say, These are the time I did create something positive, focus upon those with joy and gratitude, and endeavor to have more of the same, be they moments or  decades.

So.. what of organizations? I actually think it’s easy to apply the same general principles to liberal/progressive (or, it turns out rather regressive with progressive beliefs) organizations, and these are the only sort I have been deeply involved in. The failure of most organizations to grow, thrive, and succeed as a business like Pixar or an artist like Picasso does is not due to the recession or the ennui of its members!
What we have here, friends, is not so much a failure to communicate as it is a failure of imagination.

Let’s just talk about churches, since that’s what I know best: We do some bits of the imagination/creativity dance very badly. BUT, we also have right at hand so many of the essential elements that it is indeed an exciting moment.

NOT SO GOOD for creativity?
·    Too much brainstorming-type collaboration. MYTH of consensus.
·    NOT ENOUGH RISK! (“chutzpah”)
·    Not enough “outliers” esp. YOUNG
·    Not enough REM time/play
·    Don’t allow for sadness
·    WE often CENSOR imaginative ideas because of the TRADITION
·    CHAOS! We have it. But we need the discipline to channel it.
·    “third” place, like coffeehouses, bistros, etc. Great potential. PLACE
·    Different ideas. DIVERSE
·    TALENTS: “There is talent everywhere. The only question is whether or not we are taking advantage of it.”

Lehrer ends his book IMAGINE by talking about cities and how, although they ought to have been the most horrible places for creativity and imagination, they have been the best. There are many reasons for this, but among them is what he calls the ballet of the city: many different people, forced to cross paths, many stimulants for ideas and the senses, many interactions per day.

But not every city is teeming with imagination! He actually mentions my former home, Riverside, CA, which is one of the fastest growing (spreading…) but least productive cities, along with Phoenix. Why? What’s needed is not suburban sprawl, anonymity, but diversity, chaos, the jangle and messiness of the urban ballet.
What’s interesting is that this urban dance cannot be choreographed in advance or controlled from above. Instead, the creativity of the metropolis is inseparable from its freedom, from the natural chaos of a densely  populated ZipCode.

I ask: Can we realize this freedom and refrain from taming the chaos just enough to be truly imaginative about our future, as an organization, and as human beings, each on a path filled with potential and pitfalls, to wholeness??

(Quotes from Jonathan Lehrer, Imagine, 2012)