Chasing the Source: Ien Nivens
Creativity happens. It is a fact of nature, and you, as another natural fact, participate in it whether you will it or not, whether you witness it or not, whether you write, paint, sing, dance or sit idle. Creativity flows ceaselessly through us in the form of unbidden dreams, spontaneous thoughts, ambitions, intuitions and paranoid ideations. We invent ourselves and the world we inhabit moment by moment without pausing for inspiration.
We often speak of The Source as if it were a synonym for God (or a code word, maybe, for Goddess) and we seek to align ourselves with Its Purpose, as if it were an entity apart from us, a higher form of sentience from which we find ourselves somehow separated against our individual wills whenever we don’t feel like writing, painting, singing, dancing. While this view is not entirely baseless (we are able, after all, to see ourselves individually as a part of the whole of creation and therefore both less than the whole and distinguishable from the rest of it) the concept is misleading nevertheless in that it continues to misrepresent the whole as a hierarchical system that flows from a single, grand, unified Source. We like to have something to worship. We like to feel awe. And we get nervous when we begin to suspect that we are not only the adorers but also the adored.
If we think of ourselves as channels through which creativity flows and if we look for the source of that flow, we might imagine a spring bubbling up through the ground. We want to encourage that flow, naturally, and so we try to be pleasing to it in order to curry favor with it. Or, if we are New Age in our thinking, we seek to align ourselves with the spring in order to invite its flow into our lives. This is propitiation, whether it is dressed in Christian, Bhuddist or Wiccan robes, and I do not say that it has no effect. It works. At least sometimes, for some of us.
But the spring is not, in fact, the source of anything. It is just another conduit that links us to a deeper channel or repository where the flow has collected, as in an aquifer or an underground stream, and has now moved to the surface. We have been fooled by appearances. It is tempting then to imagine that deep space underground as the source of inspiration and to try to get in touch with it through dreams and trances, tapping into the unconscious as one drives a well in order to maintain access to the flow. This, too, works. Sometimes. For some of us.
But the flow does not originate in the unconscious, either. It is not created out of nothing. It does not issue from the void. We realize, when we stop to think about it, that we have confused a repository for a source. We know that, just as rain falls and soaks into the ground to nourish the soil and trickles its way under or over the ground to join with other tricklings to form little streams that run into larger and larger ones, so inspiration seems to fall into our laps like grace from above, and we cast our eyes to the heavens, seeking faith in something higher, better, nobler than ourselves. We walk with our heads in the clouds, thinking that at last we have seen clearly that the source of inspiration is to found in the formlessness of visions bestowed upon us from above.
Then the skies clear, the bright sun beats down, the stream dwindles and leaves a bed of caked mud, and our tongues turn to dust again, because heaven–even heaven–it turns out, is not the source we thought it was but only another vaporous form that inspiration takes sometimes, for some of us.
So we look to the sea, to the vast terminus of life. We imagine that death must represent the ultimate source of invention, that our mortality is the cause of all our explorations, after all, the force that drives us to create, to leave behind us something of value.
But we know better, even, than that. Death is, in fact, just another impermanent change of state, like water to ice and back to water again, another expression of the onward flow of life. Creativity does not cease. We come to the conclusion, sooner or later, that there is no source. And yet, true to the cyclical nature of all that is, even that hard-won conclusion unravels.
We see that everything is source material. It works to go deep, and it works to stay on the surface, to pay religious attention to detail, and it works to look high and low and to feel the pressures of time and change and to know that death stalks us, and it works to align ourselves with a higher sense of purpose. But no one thing, no single approach works for all of us in the same way every day or under all circumstances. And so we have to supply our own consistency, and that consistency is to work.
The flow is always there. It exists in the way a drop of sweat glistens on the back of a mans’ neck. It soaks into the crew collar of his red pocket tee and it leaves a rime of salt behind as it evaporates. It is in the dream he had last night of a woman not his wife but with the same kind eyes and the same way of leaning on a door into the light of day. It’s in his parched waking from that dream, in his thirst and his need, at the same time, to relieve himself.
Inspiration is in everything we do, and if we want it to take the form of writing, then we have to take it where we find it, in the images that flow ceaselessly and without source or meaning or the validity that we seek in them unless and until we invest in them the equity of our time spent dragging ass to chair and pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, understanding that we do not, cannot, never will command the flow of inspiration until we realize, as we live and breathe, that we are it.