The Concept of Rest

The Concept of Rest

 

As I write this, it has been over 30 days since my last post.  In the process of researching the Psalms, the topic of this series, I came upon the concept of ‘selah”.  We will discuss this more in greater depth but basically selah is another term for the word “rest”.  So, in the spirit of good research, I took a rest from this blog.

 

Tonight I will post another article, this time a video of sorts.  The basic outline for the rest of this series will be a short video each day instead of just prose and then a longer article on Sunday.  I am excited about this design change and hope to get your feedback on it.

 

Thank you and now, on this proverbial day of rest for many, I bid you “Good rest!”

Key to Success

Key to Success

2018.09.26

The Creative Soul

 

I remember applying for a job once to teach the general population about better parenting.  The interview went along as I had expected.  I was asked about my training, my work experience, and then I was asked how I would market the program.  As I sought to quickly gather my thoughts to respond, the interviewer smiled and handed me three blank sheets of paper.  “Here is some paper.  Develop a marketing outline and then draw up a brochure.  We’ll be back.”  Never has a blank piece of paper – the semblance of nothing – seemed so threatening.

 

Albert Einstein felt the key to his success was imagination:  “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”  Most writers know the terror of facing a blank piece of paper but so do others in the artistic community, whether it is a blank canvas, a blank piece of sheet music, an empty stage, or a simple block of stone or clay.  Is it possible to teach ourselves how to be creative or is it simply something we are born with, that thing that keeps our mental state from staying focused on the mundane?

 

Research shows that children encouraged by their parents to participate in pretend games and role playing tend to have higher levels of fantasy as adults.  Are they the only ones who can become great artists?  Is it possible to train creativity or encourage a creative imagination?  The answer to those questions depends on what you are calling creativity but basically, the answer is yes. 

 

Research seems to imply that our environment can boost creativity and, like many old adages say, hard work can also pay off in becoming more creative.  Behavior is also contagious and when we engage with creative content or watch someone else be highly creative, it can rub off on us and we ourselves increase our own creativity.

 

Research has shown that there are two phases to creative thinking – divergent thinking and convergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is the ability to think of a wide variety of options or ideas, all connected to a main problem or topic.  Such thinking is supported by intuitive thinking, a fast, automatic mental response to a problem or dilemma.  Convergent thinking then helps us evaluate those ideas or options for their usefulness, feasibility, etc.  This involves analytical thinking, a deliberate, focused thought process which ultimately and hopefully allows us to select the correct option or idea to employ.

 

We all use creativity every day in solving routine problems.  For instance, you are making a vegetable soup out of left-overs and suddenly your sibling drops in to surprise everyone.  You can add some broth or water to the soup to have more servings.  This is a creative response.  OR you get all dressed up for a fall day in a nice button-down cardigan, shirt, and slacks when someone on your commute bumps into you, spilling your coffee on your shirt.  You stop by the restroom on the way to your office and remove your shirt, buttoning up the cardigan and wearing it as a sweater top instead of just a jacket.  This is another creative solution.

 

Not all creative imagination needs to compose an opera or paint the ceiling of a grand cathedral.  Research indicates that the first thing we can do in becoming a grand master of creative output is to immerse ourselves in creative experiences.  Exposure to the arts and putting out some effort are important first steps to creative success.  Sadly, it is less about having a muse and more about putting in the effort.  Famed scientist Louis Pasteur knew the answer when he said “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

 

We have spoken about this before but I think it bears repeating.  Anyone can be an artist.  Not everyone can be a Michelangelo or Andrew Lloyd Webber but we all have the potential to be an artist.  The process is vital in becoming creative and should be emphasized rather than just concentrating on the end result – the goal of a masterpiece.  The journey you travel in becoming creative is far more important – the play, the practice, the exposure; these are all the keys to successful creativity and enjoying the creative life.

 

Your Turn – 4

Your Turn – 4

2018.09.23

The Creative Soul

 

I will post my response to last week’s challenge on Monday, Sept 24.  Until then, this week’s challenge involves tea time – or rather the implements of tea time.

 

Using a cup and a saucer and a spoon plus a pen(s) and paper, draw something or some things.  Then write a paragraph about your artwork and … then write a brief lyric about your drawing, to be sung to the tune of a children’s song.

 

This challenge will include next Sunday as well.  Enjoy!

Whistle a Happy Tune

Whistle a Happy Tune

2018.09.15

The Creative Soul

 

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  We now know after hundreds of studies that Plato spoke the truth when he said those words about the fine art of music.  Jae-Sang Park, better known as Psy, said it in a different way:  “The world’s most famous and popular language is music.”  Indeed, when a space probe was sent into deep space to make contact with any beings that might inhabit the outer parts of our galaxy, music was the language used to communicate.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow agreed with Psy:  ““Music is the universal language of mankind.”

 

In a 2013 article from Medical News Today, Sarah Glynn reported that playing and listening to music benefits both mental and physical health.  A large-scale review of over four hundred research papers regarding the neurochemistry of music found that music improves the body’s immune system and reduces stress levels.  A 2011 report centered on the anxiety of cancer patients revealed “compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics,” stated researcher, cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Levitin.  “But even more importantly, we were able to document the neurochemical mechanisms by which music has an effect in four domains: management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding.”  Their research also showed that music increases an antibody that plays an important role in immunity of the mucous system, known as immunoglobulin A, as well as natural killer cell counts, the cells that attack germs and bacteria invading the body.

 

Listening to and playing music can also lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and, when combined with standard care, music therapy has been proven an effective treatment for depression.  “Auditory biology is not frozen in time. It’s a moving target. And music education really does seem to enhance communication by strengthening language skills” stated Nina Kraus, the Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences, Neurobiology & Physiology, and Otolaryngology at Northwestern University as well as the principal investigator at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

 

Music and its effect on memory has been a heated debate in the scientific world, but researchers now have evidence that the processing of music and language, specifically memorizing information, rely on some of the same brain systems.  Even for those who once studied/played an instrument, the benefits remain.  Many use music during a workout to help keep them motivation but music is of use to us all.  Listening to music releases endorphins in the brain. Endorphins give us a heightened feeling of excitement. In addition to feeling euphoric, endorphins quell anxiety, ease pain and stabilize the immune system. With high endorphin levels, we have fewer negative effects of stress.

 

A study from Austria’s General Hospital of Salzburg found that patients recovering from back surgery had increased rates of healing and reported less pain when music was incorporated into the standard rehabilitation process.  “Music is an important part of our physical and emotional well-being, ever since we were babies in our mother’s womb listening to her heartbeat and breathing rhythms,” recounted clinical psychologist of Austria General, Franz Wendtner.  With brain-imaging techniques, such as functional MRIs, music is increasingly being used in therapy for brain-related injuries and diseases. Brain scans have proven that music and motor control share circuits, so music can improve movement for those with Parkinson’s disease and for individuals recovering from a stroke. Neurologic music therapy should become part of rehabilitative care, according to the Finnish researchers. They believe that future findings may well indicate that music should be included on the list of therapies and rehabilitation for many disorders.

 

Just like listening to slow music to calm the body, music can also have a relaxing effect on the mind. Researchers at Stanford University found that listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication. Since music is so widely available and inexpensive, it’s an easy stress reduction option.  In one meta-analysis of 10 randomized studies, researchers tracked 557 participants with chronic sleep disorders. They found that sleep quality was improved significantly with music and concluded that “music can assist in improving sleep quality of patients with acute and chronic sleep disorders.”

 

Musical entrainment creates connection both internally and externally which can be seen when watching a whole crowd dance to a live band, or the people around you sobbing at an opera. Science explains this as an aspect of mirror neurons, which are a form of mimicking that can happen emotionally and physically. Maybe a song will give you chills, make you cry, or spontaneously start jamming on an air guitar, or dancing uncontrollably. In the study, The Neuroscience of Music, published by the Department of Psychology at McGill University, Montreal, researchers found preliminary scientific evidence supporting claims that music influences health through neurochemical changes in four domains: reward, motivation and pleasure; stress and arousal; immunity; and social affiliation.

 

Three years ago a family member was involved in a horrible automobile accident through no fault of their own.  Their car rolled over and over for almost four hundred yards and when it stopped said family member was immediately removed from the car, being cut out of the seat belt, by a nurse who luckily was on site.  CPR was administered immediately and within ten minutes the family member arrived at a major trauma center, unresponsive, unconscious, and unable to breath unassisted.  A four-month coma followed as did seven months of in-house intensive rehabilitation.  Traumatic brain injury was extensive and family member not only had to learn to speak and walk all over again, they had to learn their own name. 

 

Music therapy had been initiated within the first ten days of the accident while family member was still in the coma.  Upon awakening from the coma it was apparent memory was gone.  What was remembered was “Every good boy does fine” and “All cows eat grass.”  These are the two mnemonic devices used to teach children how to read a musical staff.  Said family member had taken band through senior high school but never really studied deeply.  Yet, when everything else was lost from family member’s memory, the ability to read music remained.  Slowly music became the key to connecting a forgotten past with the present. 

 

There is still much to do in the recovery journey of my family member but the importance music played cannot be overstated.  Hans Christian Andersen said it most succinctly:  “When words fail, music speaks.”

 

 

Your Turn – 2

Your Turn – 2

2018.09.09

The Creative Soul

 

 Last Sunday’s challenge involved a piece of paper, a rubber band, and a pencil.  So how did you do?  I once asked a class of third graders top do this very creative exercise.  They all made some sort of a string bass, using the pencil as the instrument’s body, the rubber band as the string(s), and the paper as something vibrate, in the region of where the bridge on a guitar would be.  Regretfully, technical difficulties are not letting me post a picture of my creation but it was very similar to those my students made.

 

 

By the way, if you are interested in making other paper instruments, check out this link:

https://howtoadult.com/children-make-homemade-woodwind-instrument-7219159.html

 It may sound silly to be making an oboe straw and yes, even sillier to play one, but there are health benefits.  This coming week we will discuss them.  In the meantime, this week’s challenge involves fibers or yarns.  You can use any type of yarn and only two other items (of your choice) in creating your art.  Enjoy! 

To Be Creative

To Be Creative

2018.09.07-08

 

Albert Einstein once credited his intelligence to his creative spirit.  What exactly do we mean when we say someone is creative?  Are they overly imaginative?  Do they think “outside the box”?  In an online journal, “The Journal of Effective Teaching”, Jose Gomez discussed the various connotations and definitions of the term “creativity”.  Designed to assist educators in developing a student’s creativity, Gomez’s abstract brings up some very interesting correlations between intelligence, divergent thinking, convergent thinking, reflective thinking, and the different ways we accept or reject creativity.

 

It is nearly impossible to find an all-inclusive definition of the word “creativity”.  New World Encyclopedia defines it as a process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts, and their substantiation into a product that has novelty and originality. From a scientific point of view, the products of creative thought (sometimes referred to as divergent thought) are usually considered to have both “originality” and “appropriateness.”  Wikipedia states it more simply: Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.

 

We must also include the fact that creativity is considered differently based upon the situation or discipline in which it is found.  In education creativity is considered to be innovative while in business it is referred to as entrepreneurship.  In mathematics it is simply problem-solving but in music it is either performance or composition.  The World Conference on Higher Education proclaimed Creativity as “an innovative education approach” in their statement of Missions and Functions in Higher Education. 

 

In his article Gomez refers to the fact that the literature on creativity is sparse, but it is becoming apparent that there may be several kinds of creativity. Donald N. MacKinnon outlined three different kinds of creativity used as a basis for research at the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research Laboratory (IPAR), Berkeley, California. The first is artistic creativity, which reflects the creator’s inner needs, perceptions and motivations. The second type is scientific and technological creativity, which deals with some problem of the environment and results in novel solutions but exhibits little of the inventor’s personality. The third type is hybrid creativity, found in such fields as architecture that exhibits both a novel problem solution and the personality of the creator.

 

In studying creativity, the IPAR group, along with most other research groups that have investigated this process, have assumed that all kinds of creativity share common characteristics, and these assumptions seem to be true. It appears that most creative persons are relatively uninterested in small details or facts for their own sake; that they are more concerned with meaning and implications. Creative people have considerable cognitive flexibility, communicate easily, are intellectually curious, and tend to let their impulses flow freely.

 

It was generally assumed that creativity and intelligence were closely related.  However, the incidence of highly creative individuals, such as Edison, Churchill and Einstein, who at some time experienced difficulty in school, led to a closer examination of the issue during the 1960s. One of the most widely publicized studies was done by Getzels and Jackson (1992), who produced evidence that creativity and intelligence were largely independent traits.  On the other hand, just a few years later Hasan and Butcher(1996) found creativity and intelligence so highly correlated that they were almost indistinguishable.  The subject remains controversial today.  Perhaps the most prevailing view today is that beyond a minimum level of intelligence necessary for mastery in a given field, additional intelligence offers no guarantee of a corresponding increase in creativity.  OF course, since most intelligence tests only test for convergent thinking, we may never really know the relationship between intelligence and creativity.  Usually, there is only one correct answer, and correctness is determined on the basis of logic, rules, or laws. However, even the best known creativity tests are somewhat invalid because of the subjective nature of the elements they measure and the lack of any predetermined right answer.

 

What exactly is convergent thinking?   Convergent thinking emphasizes reproduction of existing data and adaptation of old responses to new situations in a more or less logical manner while divergent thinking is characterized by flexibility and originality in the production of new ideas. Convergent thinking is characterized by the reproduction of known concepts and the adoption of known responses to new situations. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, involves fluency, flexibility, and originality, and is essentially concerned with production of large numbers of new ideas.

 

Perhaps Einstein, Churchill and others had difficulty in school because institutional classrooms seldom allow for flexibility or creative approaches.  The teacher gives a test and said test is graded based upon the answer key with only one set of choices for the correct answers.   An idea is creative when it brings a new insight to a given situation. The process of creativity includes the ability to change one’s approach to a problem, to produce ideas that are both relevant and unusual, to see beyond the immediate situation, and to redefine the problem or some aspect of it.  The standard test does not allow for a creative response.  In addition, there is the myth that to the truly creative and talented, their skill comes naturally, and the creative works they produce come with ease. However, the evidence shows that the creative experience only comes after considerable effort and time has been put into the creative work.

 

Reflective thinking and evaluation of thoughts are, as we mentioned yesterday in the two creative process models discussed, basic to the process of creativity.  Ideas are best when evaluated for the purpose of facilitating the problem-solving process at every step.  However, continuous evaluation limits the generation of ideas. A suspension of judgment enables one to further examine seemingly wild or impossible ideas.  Wrong ideas may be right in the final analysis. Emphasis shifts from the validity of a particular point to its usefulness in producing new arrangements or patterns.

 

Gomez lists basic attributes of the creative person but I think they could also be considered steps in the creative process.  They include originality, persistence, independence, involvement and detachment, deferment and immediacy, incubation, verification, discovery of problems, generation of alternatives, the challenging of basic assumptions, and minimizing labels and/or categories.

 

Gomez also lists strategies for encouraging creative thinking.  They include the most obvious – make a start.  He also lists taking notes as not only effective but also necessary for not only observing the world around you but also making note of various ideas as they come.  A surprising strategy involves making deadlines.  Deadlines are often considered the killer of a creative spirit but Gomez feels the creative soul should use them to do the necessary daily routines we all have more efficiently.  That in turn frees up more time for creativity and encourages the self-discipline needed in accomplishing goals.  To this end Gomez also advises to “fix a time and place” to lure one’s muse out.  While this may sound far-fetched it is very similar to the bedtime routines we employ to tell our brain it is time to turn off and go to sleep.  One cannot schedule a masterpiece of thought to happen, perhaps, but we can create an environment that encourages creative thought, relaxation and a safe environment for exploration of said creativity.

 

Linda Naiman, founder of Creativity at Work sums it up best:  “If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.”  In their 1999 annual report the Hewlett Packard Company established their basic rules for a culture of creativity and innovation:  “Believe you can change the world.  Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.  Know when to work alone and when to work together.  Share – tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.  No politics. No bureaucracy.  The customer defines a job well done.  Radical ideas are not bad ideas.  Invent different ways of working.  Make a contribution every day.  Believe that together we can do anything.  Invent.”

 

I firmly believe that when we throw the labels and criticism of the past away, anyone can develop their creative side.  Someday science will determine the genes that are creative and we will discover that we all have the ability to be creative if we will just take the time and have the courage to develop it. 

 

 

Huh…Now what?

Huh…Now what?

2018.09.03-04

The Creative Soul

 

We have all, as artists, been faced with the blank page syndrome.    There we are sitting in front of a blank page and realize we also have a blank brain.  Many of us admit to being creative and yet… that blank page seems to mock us.  How on earth will we ever start?  With courage few recognize we pick up the pen, brush, put our feet into position or pick up an instrument and then the panic sets in:  “Huh….Now what?”

 

Brussels professor Liana Gabora defines creativity as the cognitive process that produces new ideas or transforms old ideas into updated concepts.  Jacques Hadamard and Henri Poincare are two scientists who have contributed to the Creative Process Model in an attempt to explain how random thoughts become a creative solution.

 

Step One in Hadamard and Poincare’s Creative Process Model is entitled “Preparation”.  In this stage, a person becomes curious upon being given a problem.  Preparation may involve research, establishing goals, organizations of thoughts, or brainstorming ideas.  For me, preparation for writing something nonfiction often comes from coloring or painting.  Writing fiction, however, comes from doing fiber arts.  Music prepares me for dealing with unpleasant people and dance, dance reminds me I am alive and prepares me for another day.

 

Step Two is called “Incubation”.  Gabora explains that ideas are taken a step further than mere consideration or brainstorming.  The imagination begins to play a type of “What if?” game as thoughts are considered and sometimes rejected.  Many writers recommend to new writers to keep a file of their rejected prose, those phrases and sentences that you just love but do not fit in the current project.

 

Step Three often comes unexpectedly, no matter how great you are at keeping on a schedule or how positive you are that you know what will be the ending before you start the beginning.  “Illumination” is often an epiphany during which various ideas come together in a possible solution.  The clarification of this step leads to the next.

 

Step Four, the “Evaluation” is where the creative process becomes real.  Based upon in-depth thought, various options are considered and changes are not uncommon.  It is at this stage that collaboration occurs.  We often think that the creative process is a solitary one but every piece of art needs an audience.  After all, art is a dialogue, a communication of a moment, a sense, a feeling. 

 

The Fifth and final step is known as “implementation”.  Thoughts and ideas become reality and again, changes and new starts often occur.  I think it is at this step that many of us become the most frustrated and hyper-critical of ourselves.  We’ve made it through the other four steps only to accept defeat three steps before reaching the finish line.

 

Charlie Gilkey, noted teacher, author, and developer of the website ProductiveFlourishing.com uses a four-step method, omitting parts of the evaluation step mentioned above.  Gilkey is a firm believer that everyone is capable of creative thought and originality.  He feels people often short-circuit their creativity being impatient with the incubation process and by trying to make the preparation process a solo event.  He is a firm advocate of the need to balance creating, connecting, and consuming.

 

Both of these creative models are good but they omit two important steps, in my humble opinion.  The first is failure.  We fear failure but it is a necessary element in the creative process I believe.  Every creative person has bombed at some point.  Every writer has a full wastebasket (or trash/delete file) and often a file cabinet drawer of rejection slips.  Every artist has canvases that have been painted over.  Even musicians have that one measure they never got quite right on their instrument or the harmony that their composition never found. 

 

The second step not in these creative models is perseverance.  One is being creative whenever one is creating or making something uniquely theirs.  It may not be for the world’s acclaim but it still is creative even when we are the only audience.  The acclaim is nice but, as Gilkey states: “One of the chief goals of living the creative life is to do it for the long-term.  There’s a time and place for sprints, but without careful integration, sprints often make your work incoherent and deplete you at the same time.”

 

This brings us back to perseverance.  The great thing about the creative process is that it is all correct.  Even when we do not like what we have done, we have still created something.  Everything we create is … created.  It may not be great or maybe even good enough but it is ours to own and we did create it.  Sylvia Plath once said “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  I hope you have embarked upon Sunday’s challenge and created something.  It does not have to be spectacular.  It just needs to be created.