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Reflections on Perception & Creativity

August 24, 2009

The Endless Knot, from Wikipedia

The Endless Knot, from Wikipedia

Some of the great esoteric traditions—and even modern science—tell us that what we perceive is as much the result of our own structure, our own makeup, our own memory, as it is the result of the so-called objective world. At the psychosomatic level, the space and time that frame our experiences are part and parcel of our own mind and senses. And at the psychological level, our thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, and memories shape and color everything we experience. In a very real sense—perhaps more real than we have ever imagined—we create the world in our own image.

This fact has profound implications. Everything that we see, hear, sense, smell, thing, feel, intuit, and so on manifests in some way in relation to our own psychosomatic being. Whatever the so-called “objective world” may be in and for itself, we filter, translate, and create that world based on the structure of our senses and brain. The waves, or energies, that we “perceive” and call sound and sight represent only tiny cross-sections of the vast universe of waves and energies—a universe that we can measure without understanding what it is we are actually measuring. Other, non-human creatures see, smell, sense, taste, and experience waves and energies that we cannot perceive.

From a scientific standpoint, we see “objects” with our eyes because our eyes, themselves objects, are structured to respond to interferences resulting from electromagnetic vibrations of light interacting with the internal forces that bind atoms together. It is the brain, itself an object, that translates these interferences from the flat images that appear on our retina to three-dimensional images including depth and distance that we call objects. And we hear “sounds” with our ears because our ears, also objects, are structured to translate certain frequencies of the wave-like motion of molecules, themselves objects, in the air into nerve impulses that our brain interprets as sounds. In short, all perception depends in one way or another on the interaction of objects.

What’s more, the pure physiological act of perception is greatly influenced by experience, conditioning, and memory. The ability to discriminate between various objects—whether through sight, sound, taste, smell, or touch—manifests itself through trial and error as the senses and brain mature, and as our memories begin to retain various experiences, comparing them to previous experiences and categorizing them based on this comparison. But, as we all know, our memories, influenced by our desires, fears, and self-image, are in large part extremely subjective, often having little to do with what was actually occurring at any particular moment.

What’s more, the greatest strength of memory—its ability, to some degree, to bring the past experientially into the present—is also its greatest weakness. For it is memory that often cuts us off from truly living in the present, directly experiencing the unique miracle of each moment. We seldom see, touch, hear, think, or feel anything without our memories shaping these perceptions based on past experiences. Instead of memory being simply a functional tool at our disposal, it becomes a determining factor, shaping our perceptions and our responses to life.

This can be seen in a variety of ways. It is interesting to observe how we use memory in problem solving, for example. We often find that a particular train of thought or logic is quite effective in dealing with a certain kind of problem, and we automatically bring that solution to a problem that looks similar. But if just one element of the problem is different, which we sometimes don’t immediately see, its solution may require an entirely new approach. It is this “new approach,” that we call creativity.

Much has been written about the meaning of creativity, but one underlying tenet is the ability to look at and respond to a situation—whether it is a blank piece of paper, canvas, business problem, scientific problem, or personal problem—in an entirely new, more global way. The most creative moments are those in which memory loses its active hold on us and we are able to respond to a situation out of a total awareness of all the aspects of the situation. Memory of past experiences may be important in helping us to understand the situation, but they should not control our perception of it.

Real creativity, then, is a function of consciousness. But not consciousness as thought, as verbal manipulation. If consciousness means anything at all, it means to be aware now (it is always now) of the totality of one’s situation. It means to be open to, to sense and feel, the various levels of one’s physical, emotional, and mental life, not just the parts that comprise our self-image. This awareness, which somehow unites the seer with the seen in a moment of organic wholeness, is creative. It shows us new connections and meaning, not just in words, but in sensations, images, intuitions, impressions, and actions. It frees our mind, body, and feelings from the weight and pressure of our memories, habits, and conditioning. This allows us to experience and respond to the needs and conditions of the moment from the deepest levels of our intelligence.

A good way to explore the meaning of creativity in your own everyday life is to take a problem that has been bothering you and simply give up, at least for a time, trying to find a solution. Instead, let your out-breaths become long and quiet and put your energy into looking at the problem in a new way, from a new perspective, to see as many sides and levels as you can. As this occurs you’ll notice how memory enters in and begins to shape your understanding. Watch this process, take note of it, but don’t stop looking, don’t be satisfied with what memory offers up. Each time memory offers a supposed solution, simply note what it offers, give up searching for a solution, and let yourself become even more relaxed and quiet. This giving up, this relaxation of muscles, effort, and thought, will help you open to your own deepest intelligence—an intelligence that arises from more of the whole of your being.

As you explore the problem in this way, the energy that has been locked into old patterns, old knots, of thought, feeling, and muscular tension will eventually be released and will become available for pure (insofar as that is possible) perception. As Lao Tzu said: “The best knots are tied without rope.” It is pure perception, opening to openness, that untangles these knots and puts us into a truer, more creative relationship with ourselves and the world. It is pure perception that frees us, insofar as is possible, from a world created in our own narrow self-image.

Copyright 2009 by Dennis Lewis

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 17, 2009 6:03 pm

    this is an amazing article. eyes are black holes that pull in outside energy and never lets the light escape back into reality.

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