In this issue ~~
I've been a fan of Alan Alda's since I was a teenager, when I saw him in The Apple Tree at the Mineola Theatre on Long Island. I loved his TV show, M*A*S*H, and always admired his activism on behalf of women. My admiration grew further after reading his latest book, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. Along with his humor – which is evident from his book titles – Mr. Alda shares wisdom gleaned from many years of richly living life and learning from his triumphs and tribulations.
This new book includes the texts of several commencement addresses that Mr. Alda gave at various colleges over the years. In one, he encourages the graduates to contribute their creativity to the world and to allow themselves to be "uncertainly creative." What an intriguing phrase! When you think about it, doesn't true creativity include an aspect of stepping into the unknown, not knowing what will emerge?
Years ago, I had the opportunity to edit a book on film acting. As a theatre actress, I rarely went on the stage without at least some rehearsal of my role. I was shocked to find out that film actors generally don't "set" their performances. They do their homework on the role, learn their lines and then allow the scene to emerge organically, as they interact with their fellow actors. What courage that takes! And what exciting work comes out of it!
Being creative means having the audacity to face that blank canvas or page or stage and to plunge in, even when you have no idea where it will go. It means being open and trusting enough to get in the flow and allow it to take you in uncharted directions that can be both exhilarating and scary.
And here's the kicker: You don't want to know what's going to happen, whether in life or in art! Creativity happens in the surprises, the paths you go down, not knowing where they will lead. Having everything be certain and predictable might give you a sense of peace for awhile, but wouldn't it eventually become stagnant and boring?
New forms don't come from following the tried-and-true path. Being uncertainly creative means allowing the wild ideas to come forth and putting them out into the world. Our greatest artists and inventors had the courage to face rejection and ridicule, to honor their creative impulses and introduce once-radical ideas that have brought more beauty or comfort into the world.
We need to get comfortable walking into the unknown. Lench Archuleta, a Yaqui Indian spiritual teacher, tells about the times he would put his kids in the car, and they would set out to get lost, spontaneously taking whatever turn appealed to them in the moment. The adventure was in finding their way back.
Even in writing this article, I started with a phrase that inspired me, but I had no idea where it was going to go. As I lived with the question, "What does it mean to be uncertainly creative?", ideas began to show up, either spontaneously or sparked by things I came across in my environment.
To be truly creative, we need to actively and courageously invite uncertainty into the process, to learn to be comfortable with not knowing where our creativity will lead us. Alan Alda has boldly walked into many challenges. Starting from childhood, he was encouraged to explore, which, he says, "gave me the nerve to go places that scare me, but where I find excitement and adventure."
It is by intentionally going to those scary places that we create art, and lives, that are exhilarating and that enable us to fulfill our purpose: to contribute our unique talents and ideas to a world that is longing for them.
What are the places that scare you most? Pick one that you're willing to venture into. List 5 steps you can take to move in that direction in the next month.
"If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties."
"There is a time for departure even when there's no certain place to go."
"Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don't let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity."
"The more of it [our vision] we can describe, the clearer we also become about the vision's unknown aspects. Our intuitive drive to fill these blanks or unknown aspects will eventually take over and become a powerful force to guide us with a remarkable sense of certainty into an uncharted future."
(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)
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