How to get creative ideas — and manifest them into reality
Every Dussehra, Patna would bustle with artists from all over India for two days of cultural fiesta. It was in the late sixties that I went to one such concert recital by the Sitar maestro Vilayat Khan. People said whenever he was elated with the audience’s response, or with the piece he had just played, he’d share rare gems of wisdom about his creative process. Fortunately, this was one of those days!
He had just exquisitely executed a complex taan in the “maseetkhani gat” of Raag Bhairvi and then suddenly, with childlike enthusiasm and earnestness, he explained to his mesmerized audience: “Swar ko hawaa se pakarna parta hai. Lekin aasaani se nahi aata, bohot shiddat lagti hai.”
I didn’t quite understand the implication of his statement at that time but his words have stayed in my mind.
Over the years, I have come to suspect that the mystical process he alluded to that night applies not just to music, but to all forms of creative expression.
Recently, I found a surprising resonance of this notion when I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, a book I recommend to every creative person. Elizabeth, whose wisdom shone so clearly in Eat, Pray, Love, shared her own unusual theory about creativity:
“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us — albeit strangely…Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”
Imagine my surprise when Elizabeth Gilbert echoed Vilayat Khan’s words! I was zapped by this serendipity between two people separated by years, miles and culture (and now life and death).
How to get game-changing ideas
Human creativity often defies logic. There is much that we still don’t know about where ideas come from. In the absence of scientific facts, we evolve theories… And the theory of creativity presented by Vilayat Khan Saheb and Elizabeth Gilbert (two extremely gifted artists in completely different domains) is good enough for me!
As fantastical as it may sound, yet again and again, creative people attribute their ideas to the air, the ether, the Universe.
Through my own experience, I too have found that sometimes the greatest ideas actually do come out of “thin air.” This Universe is teeming with infinite, vibrant ideas. Bursts of inspiration are floating around us, waiting to catch us in a moment when our guard is down so that they can download themselves into our brain.
So how do you actually catch these invisible ideas from the “ether”?
Several visionaries — from the great mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan to the Beatles — have noted that game-changing ideas often come in relaxed states, in times of waking up and going to sleep, in dreams (where our subconscious continues to work on a problem that our conscious mind has given up on), in the shower or perhaps on a journey (a billion dollar idea walked into JK Rowling’s mind as she sat in a train carrying her from Manchester to London!)
The two-part equation for creative brilliance
In over three decades of government service, I have observed thousands of “doers”, “almost-doers” and “never doers.”
Nearly every “doer” and creatively active person I’ve met has shared a similar story: “I don’t know where the idea came from. It came out of thin air, but once it did, I did not let it go until I had manifested it into reality. “
Yet, no matter who you are, once you recognize the brilliance of an idea, you actually have to grab on to it with all the focus, determination and energy in your being.
I often encounter two kinds of complaints:
The “never doers” complain: I never get any ideas! And the “almost-doers” complain: I have a lot of ideas but I don’t know how to transform them into reality!
My proposition is simple:
People who never get any creative inspiration aren’t relaxing enough. And people who can’t manifest ideas into reality aren’t working hard enough.
Both these seemingly antithetical sides of the equation — relaxation and furious work — are crucial for success. In order to achieve creative brilliance, you need the perfect balance of intentional inaction and focused action.
What the greatest creative minds of our lifetime know…
Ideas abound in the Universe, we only have to learn how to tune into them and “pull them out of the ether.” The greatest creative minds of our lifetime know how to do this — often by doing “nothing.”
But once the idea comes to them from the universal creative energy, these people also know how to shut themselves off from the mundane world, push themselves into a vortex of action and never let up until that idea is executed in whatever form and substance they desire.
This delicate dance of rest and hyperactivity is what I strive for as well.
And that brings me to my message for all creatively inclined people everywhere:
Focus on rejuvenating yourself until the inspiration strikes, but once it does, recognize it and work with dogged determination to manifest it into reality.
This is the way shown by some of the most creative minds throughout history — and I hope that the rest of us can follow them down this road to brilliant ideas too.
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