The Power of Doing


by: F. David Peat

W e are all creative. Each one of us. We are creative when asleep and dreaming. We are creative the moment we open our eyes and look at the World. We are creative when we speak. Indeed, we have been immersed in creativity from the moment of birth. Creativity nurtured us when we took our first steps and spoke our first words. And creativity will continue to embrace us until the end of our lives.

Creativity permeates the cosmos. It is the driving force that sustains the elementary particles, the stars and galaxies, and even time itself. Creativity is the stuff of our bones. It surges though the body with each and every beat of the heart. It is that compelling power that directs salmon from the sea on hazardous journeys to spawn upriver. It is also the force that drives the plant and the flower It is so much a part of us that we can be forgiven for sometimes forgetting its constant existence.

We all have access to creativity. At times, we summon it to use it in our work and l daily lives. But at other times, creativity is a blind, amoral power that makes us of us as its vehicle. Creativity can arrive in a dream. Or it may result from a long struggle. It can appear as a sudden, dramatic insight or as the product of the years of hard work, needed to perfect a scientific theory, a novel, or a piece of sculpture. One thing is certain: Creativity is ever present. It is a force to be enjoyed or endured, bu t above all enjoyed. Creativity is free, alive, and spontaneous. Yet the essence of creativity need not always lie in processes and change. It can also be found in silence and absence.

It is easy to fall in to the trap of believing that we are all truly creative, then we must always be involved in some sort of activity: that we must be planning, controlling, working, and producing. We tend to think that we’re being most productive when making something or putting some sorta plan into action. However, we can also be incredibly creative when we are silent, doing nothing, and suspending all action.

To illustrate the point, I”d like to relate a personal anecdote. Five or six years ago, I felt that I could no longer come up with any new ideas. The work I do and the various avenues I explore are all supported by royalties from the books I write. My bank overdraft told me that t was time to work on a new book, but I simply could not think of anything to write about.

Around that time, my wife and I decided to sell our house in Canada and move, for a time, to Europe. The result was that we took a three-month break in Italy, staying in a small, medieval, hilltop village. We arrived n the heat of September, and for the next three months, , I spent most of my time sitting in a chair outside the house and just overlooking the hills. Sometime, I’d get up and go for a walk, but most of the time, I’d just sit and look.

Later, when I met old friends, they’d ask me, “What did you do in Italy? “Nothing,” I’d reply. “Yes, sure,” was their answer. “But what did you really do?

“Did you read a lot/” “Did you do any writing/” “Were you painting?” “What on earth did you do for three months?”

No one seemed to believe that I did nothing. Of course, at times, it was very hard to resist the impulse to begin writing things down on paper or to go into Siena and buy some books to read. But apart from a few lapses, I mainly spent those three months just sitting and looking. I suppose I must have been a little like a woman in her last three weeks of pregnancy. I really had no idea why I was doing nothing, but something deep inside me, something I really trusted, told me that it was the right thing to do at that time

When the break was over, we moved to London fo ra year, and suddenly I found that all sorts of ideas were beginning to surface , half formed. Now, five years later, I’m wiring this present book in the same village where I spent that three months of withdrawal. I’m writing every day, yet keep having to take time out to pursue other ideas and projects. I’ve got so many ideas to explore that I simply don’t have time for all of them. Everything that is happening now grew out of that period of silence and inactivity.

By this, I don’t necessary mean that the ideas themselves were present as seeds during that fallow period and that they had simply needed some space in which to germinate. NO! I did joke to myself that at the time I was making compost. I was a sitting, walking compost pile. During that period, I was making the fertile soil that would nurture the seeds that were to come. Then, in the following years, as the seeds fell on the soil, those gifts from the universe had somewhere to grow and become filled with energy. The power of doing nothing is the power of silence. It is the untouched marble that, to the sculptor, represents pure potential. It is the moment of silence in a piece of music that contains, enfolded, the whole work . It is that void seen by the mystics and the state of total absence in quantum physics that is paradoxically the most full.

Void in art and music

The total absence—the negation that, at the same time, is a plenum and an absolute fullness—is found in the writings of mystics. It is also the vision expressed by all artists and musicians alike. All that exists outside the void and in the domain of time is, to some extent conditioned. For the Buddhist and physicist alike, to be tied to the wheel of time is to he caught up in the eternal web of cause and effect. The void, the negation of all, lies beyond this causality . It is unconditioned, pure potential.

That which exists in the manifest world and within the domain of time can be defined and named. Within the mind, a boundary can be drawn around it so that it can be gathered together as a concept or idea. But the void lies beyond all names and all definitions.

From ancient China comes the notion of Tao, or ‘The Way.” The tao is that which has no name, that which lies beyond naming.

          The Tho that can be spoken is not the true Tao;

          The Name that can be named is not the constant Name.

          The Tao without name——that which is non-Being——

          was the beginning of Heaven and Earth.

          That which can he named—that which is Being—

          is the mother of the ten thousand things.

                                                             ( author’s translation of a passage from

                                                             Tao Te Ching or Book of Changes)

To the thirteenth—century theologian Nleister Fckhart, that which could he named and spoken of was not God, but only our human image of God. For many mystics, God was seen as a radiance and divine light. But for an uncompromising intellect like Eckhart, the divine had to be approached through the via negativa. By saying

what God is not, we gradually strip away concepts, all definitions, all mental im-ages, and all attempts to name, contain, and reduce. Finally, when everything has vanished, we are left with the void. We are left with nothingness, with that that lies beyond all definition. In a Zenlike paradox, the mind is left with the ungraspable, with the unthinkable, with that which is neither a noun nor a verb, or any other part of speech. It is a state without image or reference, a state of mind beyond thought and beyond thinking. And if an image is required, then it is that of absolute black-ness, an absolute absence that is, at the same time, a plenitude of radiant light.

Creativity is ever present. It streams through the firmaments. It envelops and nurtures each moment of time, and if we will but allow it to enter, it will flow through our lives and embrace us. But, like any gift freely given, it will also foster an obligation within us, for gifts should be exchanged. And so, we must take that creativity that is offered to us, in whatever form it comes, and try to use it wisely. We must be sure to use it with kindness, compassion, and engagement. In this way, its fruits will grow and multiply, and so we can return them to society, nature, and the cosmos.


                                                                                  Perseus Publishing

                                                                        The Blackwinged Night

                                                                                            by: F. David Peat

                                                                                            available from DeVorss

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