Creativity: Finding your Flow


The creative's the unknown magic behind the world's greatest art, music, writing, poetry, and dance.  It's something that has baffled scientists and researchers for many decades.  It's an intangible quality that resides in some more than others.  Or does it?  What is creativity?  What makes someone creative?  Can it be measured?  Is it quantifiable? In our never-ending search for mental knowledge and answers as a species we sometimes try to study and define the undefinable.  Researchers throughout the 20th century, such as Robert Sternberg, J.P. Guilford, and Ellis Paul Torrance, among others, have attempted to define, place labels upon, categorize, and develop tests of the elusive quality known as "creativity."

Modern day researchers have linked creativity to constructs and domains such as giftedness, intelligence, reasoning abilities, and inventiveness.  Creativity has been defined by researchers such as Sternberg as "producing something original and worthwhile" or by Guilford as divergent thinking, the ability to generate a wide variety of possible novel solutions from an initial problem state.  Common Western ideas of creativity have also often traditionally included the idea of imagination or bursts of sudden insight, those "light bulb" moments so commonly talked of and so little often found.

These sorts of peak experiences have also been pinpointed by researchers as being something called a state of "flow."  Flow is a specific state of consciousness defined as being completely absorbed in a singular activity, focused on a state of pleasurable producing where a sense of time seems to disappear.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a primary happiness researcher, discovered that during these optimal "flow" experiences, people are activating their creative abilities and often feel "strong, alert, in effortless control, un-selfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities."

We generally tend to associate creativity only with famous artists, producers, or musicians, or those who work in traditionally creative fields, but the idea of "flow" and pleasurable production can apply to so many different fields and activities.  A snowboarder can activate a flow state on the slope as she finds the perfect pathway down the mountain.  A poker player can activate a flow state calculating his moves in the heat of the game.  A teacher can enter flow when landing on a topic of passion and educational importance.  And certainly a long-time meditation student can enter a flow state just by closing her eyes.


Perhaps now we need to broaden our scope of "creativity" and who can embody these states of being and activity.  Creation is the part of creativity that usually has us assume that something must be created or produced from this state, and certainly most of our definitions tend to include this aspect of the construct: problem solving, novel ideas, and production of works of art.  But can it not be said that a climber, a statistician, or a mother tending to her child are equally capable of activating this type of creative"flow" state in moments of heightened focus and pleasure in singular activity?

What is this creative force then?  Is it represented only in the finished product or outcome?  Or can we define it more as a state of being, an embodiment of an energy that when utilized is capable of producing amazing things but equally capable of generating a state of focused pleasure and a definable, memorable moment in time...

When broadened in this way, creativity feels less like a measurable attribute or ability and more like a destination, one that we've all been to at times and look upon with great fondness when we are away from it.  It's like a vacation home that fulfills all of our great longings for open spaces, stunning scenery, and peaceful or exciting interludes.  Some may have the good fortune to visit this vacation home more often, but this place exists within all of us (or rather this force flows through all of us), indiscriminate in who it touches, if only just probing for our level of openness and our willingness to be used as its vessel.

It's something that when forced or prodded feels more artificial than genuine and tends to ask of us not that we not seek it but allow ourselves to be found.  The greatest moments of insight, ingenuity, and imagination tend to occur not within intensive study or prolonged searching, but rather in moments of quiet, in the dead of night, or in the most mundane of moments.  An apple landing on a head from gravitational force, random strokes on a piano from which notes emerge, a dancer's limbs rhythmically falling in step to a beating drum.... Is it something within us creating these moments? Or something beyond us?

Does it matter?

Perhaps all that matters is the signal we send to the creative forces at play, to say we are available, we are here, and we are willing.