How the Ego Kills Creativity
“It is never too late to give up your prejudices.”
— Henry David Thoreau
It’s both easy, and hard, to imagine that once upon a time, not that long ago in the earth’s story, humans believed that the earth was the center of the universe. [crickets] It’s true; we put people to death for challenging this “truth.”
Given how self-centered we can be, it makes sense that based on our very basic understanding of astronomy, we would interpret our species’ existence as the most profoundly important event that had ever happened in the known universe.
But things changed when a man by the name of Galileo Galilei discovered — and then suggested — a new, radical truth: that earth was not, in fact, the center of the universe, but rather that earth revolved around the sun. This “theory” was called heliocentricism, though now it’s not a theory, but truth.
Galileo’s (aka The Big G) findings pissed off a lot of people, as you probably know. And, as the story goes, Pope Urban VIII got wind of his bold-faced-lies . . . I mean, “science-shenanigans,” and Galileo was charged with heresy. He had the audacity to challenge the powers-that-be/were about what we knew as TRUTH about the world, and they called his bluff.
The Big G was tried for heresy in front of a court, and was (naturally) found guilty.
This left him with one of two options.
1. Recant. Take everything back. Pretend it was a joke and go back home as if nothing happened (sort of). “Heyyyy, Pope Urban! JK LOLZ, right? See you Sunday!”
2. Be put to death.
Fortunately for humanity going forward, he recanted. I haven’t read the trial transcripts, but I imagine it went something like:
“I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can’t prove anything.” . . . or was that Bart Simpson?
All joking aside, whatever Galileo said in the court at his trial convinced the Vatican to let him live, and that none of his findings were either true, or worth dying over. The court sentenced him to spend the rest of his life (another 27 years!!) under house arrest, and it was then that he explored some of our most fundamentally important scientific research about astronomy and our place in the cosmos. It was also during this time that he earned the unofficial titles of “The Father of Modern Physics,” and “The Father of Observational Astronomy.”
It would have totally sucked if he was full of himself, his ego, and his pride, and held so steadfast to his truths that he was put to death. Who knows how far back that might have put us in history?
While this might seem like a random story, I assure you, it’s not. I’m telling it to you because if highlights the importance of our devotion to our passion . . . even if the world is booing, hissing, throwing tomatoes or insults, or publicly shaming us.
Galileo was a devoted man. He dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, and when he was challenged — when he had to choose between his life or his passion, he chose his life.
Do you know why this is such a profound lesson?
Because Galileo did not see his passion for truth and his life as separate. He knew that if he were to die, that his vision, his work, his creative experience would die with him. He sucked up his pride, was cast out of society as an heretic, and placed in a box (his home, but still) until his death — a choice he gladly embraced because it allowed him to keep creating, to keep exploring, and to keep living.
Too often, I see us sacrificing our lives on the altar of our art — we can be such martyrs! But what we don’t realize is that if we were to weave the two together instead of sacrifice one for the other, we could see that sacrificing our lives actually kills the art and the creative impulse to make it.
What if, instead, we could see that our vitality was just as important as our art or our writing, and that without the awareness of our life force, the pulse of our art would flat-line? This is a radical concept for many of us, myself included, who are constrained by the very real pressures to make-make-make, and often at the expense of the natural ebb and flow of life and art. But they are inextricable, even if we don’t always see it.
But it can change today. I urge you, just as I stand up and lightheartedly declare it myself, to prioritize joy and fun and pleasure, and let that bleed into and fill up your art, your writing, your voice. Because, just as Galileo discovered, the sun is the center of our solar system, not us. When we can rely on the abundant flow of energy from life to feed us our creative energies, and when we are devoted to that, it becomes as natural as breath to let the art, the writing, and the love pour out when it’s ready.
Be gentle with your drive to charge forward if your reserves are low. We need you to keep writing, to keep making your art, to bring your gifts to the world, just as we needed Galileo to swallow his human pride and stay alive long enough to make the kinds of discoveries that changed the world.
Here’s the MORAL of this story.
You matter. What you write, what you make, and how you think — it matters. Give yourself a break, recharge your batteries, and look for the ways your creative impulse is intimately connected to your life force.
But touch the pulse of it. What are you making today, and how is your life force in that experience? Whether it’s a tuna sandwich for your kids’ school lunch, or 15 minutes at your computer as you prep for tax season, or if you’re making your bed, lean in to how even that can be a creative and generative artistic experience.
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