Liberation through Limitation: The Benefits of Creative Constraints

It can seem counterintuitive to think that limitation can benefit creativity. We tend to associate creativity with freedom, open space and creating a calmness from which inspiration can flow. But that freedom can be fearsome, that calm open space can be surprisingly still and stagnant. Sometimes a blank page can be all we need to inspire us, but other times it can be the scariest thing for a writer or artist to see. As the artists and creators of our lives we can be overwhelmed by the endless options we are faced with day to day, paralysed by the paradox of choice. By giving ourselves creative limitations we can build ourselves a box to break out from.

As a young artist, Phil Hansen was fiercely dedicated to his pointillist style. When he developed a tremor that seemed to make this impossible he almost abandoned art completely. However in his Ted Talk he describes how he learnt to embrace first his physical limitation, before creating new ones such as creating a painting from karate chops or a piece of art from coffee cups. He says that “we need to first be limited in order to become limitless,” and to “treat the problems as possibilities”.

Oulipo (short for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle: “workshop of potential literature”) was a circle of French writers formed in the 1960s around the idea of “seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy.” Constraints used included writing in palindromes (a sequence that reads identically back to front), lipograms (excluding one or more letters) and snowballs (a poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer). Even Shakespeare’s sonnets (sixteen-line poems of a standardised rhyme and syllabic structure) emerged from self-imposed constraints to create some of the most beautiful and iconic verses in history.

Whatever your task or art form, creative limitations can sometimes be more inspiring than a blank canvas — and the same goes for food. In the last few months of 2016 we have found that setting ourselves creative challenges has been a great inspiration for learning new ingredients and recipes and enhancing our enjoyment of everyday eating. We will be creating and sharing new ideas in the future, but here are some that we have enjoyed recently (images from each can be found on our instagram):

The A-Zen of fruits

Inspired by a poster of an A-Zen of life tips from the Dalai Lama, K had the idea of the A-Zen of fruits; a challenge to eat a fruit or fruits every day over the course of a month beginning with each letter of the alphabet. It started off simple; apple, banana, cantaloupe (one of our favourite fruits), but later became more of a challenge that led us to more exotic fruits such as rambuten, starfruit and tamarind. Some days we had ideas for well in advance, while others were inspired or aided by discoveries by D through regular visits to the Asian supermarkets in town.

#FruitGameStrong

We discovered the amazing food delivery service myexoticfruit.com from which we ordered a mixed basket of fantastic foreign fruits (the basket itself since becoming our regular fruit bowl which we keep filled in the kitchen).

We often expanded to eat several fruits (and vegetables) a day beginning with the same letter to create tasty new salads and meals. Some days we struggled and had to find a compromise (any advances on Iceberg Lettuce for I anyone?), or carried over extra ideas from one letter to the next more difficult day, but overall the month provided us with great learning and exposure to some beautiful fruits we wouldn’t normally consider and gave us impetus for more “creative constraints” in future.

7 Day Chakra Challenge

Since beginning our spiritual journeys over the last few years we have both been hearing more about, and becoming more interested in the chakra system. For those who don’t know, the chakras are the main energy centres of the body that channel universal energy into our physical form. Each is associated with a different energetic frequency, colour, emotion and physical organ or system. From bottom to top the seven main chakras commonly referred to are; the red root chakra (associated with the survival instinct), the orange sacral chakra (associated with pleasure and flow), the yellow solar plexus chakra (associated with power and confidence), the green heart chakra (associated with love), the blue or teal throat chakra (associated with expression), the dark blue or indigo third eye chakra (associated with intellect and intuition) and the violet brow chakra (associated with spirit). Wanting to learn more about these and to improve the alignment of our own chakras and overall being, we came up with the 7 Day Chakra Challenge in which we spent a day of the week each focusing on a different chakra, working our way from the lower to the higher end of the energetic spectrum.

As well as eating foods associated with the chakra (e.g. grounding root vegetables for the root chakra, hydrating fruits for the flowing sacral chakra) or of the same colour, we spent as much time as we could each day reading and learning about the chakra (check out the book shown), practicing meditations and stretches and listening to frequencies corresponding to the chakra. Needless to say we learnt a lot and were able to attune ourselves more closely with our own energy. Indeed there was so much information available in relation to each chakra it was impossible to learn everything in a single day, but this gave us a great grounding in a subject matter we will continue to learn about. This is a creative challenge we will most likely look to repeat, expand or tweak in future.

Raw Advent Challenge

Aware of the usual tendency to wind down the winter months and settle into unhealthy habits, awaiting the New Year boost, we decided instead to end the year on a high and build positive momentum. Having last year enjoyed our first (and last) vegan chocolate calendar we decided this time around to count down to Christmas with a healthier and more exciting alternative advent.

*actually a used jar of coconut oil wrapped in Christmas ribbon

Ahead of the start of December we wrote down 24 of our favourite dishes and treats, most of which we only knew how to make cooked, and put them in our advent challenge jar*. Every day through the month we would draw out a dish at random and then create a raw version for dinner that evening. Having experimented with and shifting gradually towards more raw food over the last year (for D) or few (for K), but never maintaining it more than a week or so, this would be our longest period of raw eating and a dress rehearsal for the New Year and new rawsome THC lifestyle. In all honesty we did slip and incorporate a few cooked ingredients over the course of the month but we still enjoyed our longest cleanest period of eating to date and learnt a whole host of raw recipes that we will be coming back to and looking to master in future (again on instagram) such as rawsagna, raw pad thai and raw biryani. We had hoped that the advent challenge would improve our confidence and repertoire of recipes to go fully raw in the new year; in truth it did this and much more. The clean eating attuned us to our bodies even quicker than expected and, eating fruit and simple salads in the day, we became increasingly sensitive to some negative impacts of some of the more complex mixes (though still delicious) that we were having in the evening. We actually had to cut slightly short and tweak our original plan in the last few days of the challenge; opting instead to prepare our raw advent meals for lunch to give ourselves more time to digest them before bed than we had been giving and eating minimally for the remainder of the day. Once again, the creative challenge we had set led us to learn even more than we expected. Afterwards, we enjoyed a last short period of cooked food between Christmas and New Year, but in truth we had already found the appeal of such indulgence to have well and truly waned. Now we are at the start of 2017 expecting to be fully raw (though we don’t want to be too strict in labelling ourselves, or restrict ourselves to “golden opportunities” like experiencing inspiring new foods when travelling abroad) embarking on our THC journey and looking to share it with you, the world.

Creative limitations have been a great source of inspiration, learning and growth for us already and we strongly recommend trying out similar constraint approaches to anyone, in relation to food or any artistic challenge. The key to success, highlighted by these challenges but indeed always the case, is perspective. We all face limitations and challenges in life every day; it is up to us whether we see them as obstructions, as reasons to stay stuck, or as opportunities for innovation and development. Depending on where you are, going vegetarian, vegan or raw either for a set period of time or permanently can be challenge and inspiration enough (for D, going straight from carefree carnivore to cooking vegan dishes every day was plenty excitement before starting to explore raw food a year or so later), but the truth is we can all easily find ourselves settling into habits and losing a little of that spark. Creating new challenges, often ones that are limiting on the surface, can help break the routine and reignite the inspiration in our daily lives.

Feel free to try out your own versions of the challenges above, let us know your experiences and share with us your own suggestions for creative limitations. We will continue to be inspired by and share more of our ideas in future.

K & D

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