In this post, I want to present another example of the associative workings of the unconscious mind. Years of strenuous psychotherapy and much “soul searching” have made me sensitive to the meaningful little clues and useful responses the unconscious scatters through our lives. We all have these experiences, but many of us, not understanding their potential value just shrug them off. I recorded this simple incident in one of my notebooks. To set the scene, I should mention that I was living the hermit’s life in a forest shack on the edge of the Canadian wilderness at the time.
The human mind has two aspects, one of which can be a nag and the other a source of great wisdom. (Image: Gutenberg)
One of the most striking characteristics of the creative individual is their sensitivity to, and fondness for, particular feeling tones or subtle moods. Artists of all kinds strive to capture their favourite mood (or moods) in their work. The desire to accomplish this combined act of self-gratification and sharing is often a major motivating factor in why the artist chose to work in the arts. However, the preoccupation with mood can infiltrate all aspects of a creator’s life. The taste for a special mood often extends to the creator’s work habits. They not only want to produce the mood in their work, they must inhabit the mood while working. Many artists are so sensitive to feeling tone, so dependent on a particular subtle mood in order to access their creativity, that they quite literally cannot work should the needed feeling tone be absent.
Mood (or atmosphere) and a sense of place are intimately related. Writers who have a strong sense of place prefer to work in specific locations. (Image: public domain.)
Conceptualization is a skill. The process involves working out an idea or explanation and formulating it mentally. Everyone can and does conceptualize, but like all skills, some people are better at it than others. Speed matters for many of those who consider themselves intelligent. They demonstrate their erudition and big IQ numbers – and impress others – with their ability to come up with swift conceptualizations of just about anything that crosses their path. Or so they think. In reality, we are all familiar with the person who can snap out ideas and explanations that sound plausible at the time, but which soon prove incomplete, inadequate, or just plain wrong.
Solid conceptualization (putting the pieces together) needs time and all of the mind’s resources. The language portion of thinking must be supplemented by association, intuition, etc. (image: pixabay.com)
Over the course of my life, there have been a number of nights where I have dreamt of my own death. Psychologists claim that dreaming of your own demise is a sign that you are about to change. I believe this is at least partly true, but might argue for serious intentrather than actuality. The story I am about to recount occurred during a period when I was recovering from a nervous breakdown and in the midst of learning that I was a type one manic-depressive. The dream did precede the abrupt cessation of mystical behaviour that had tormented me for many years. However, the change did not stick.
It can be a rough ride, but gazing into crystal balls or consulting oracles will allow you to dialogue with your unconscious mind. (Image: public domain.)
In the dream, I died a sudden death in a train wreck when the locomotive engineer took a curve too swiftly, toppling the train from its tracks into a forty- or fifty-foot-deep ravine. Death came on impact with the ground below. Just before the fatal accident, I remember leaning from a coach window and seeing, not far ahead, the engineer doing the same at an opening in the diesel engine’s cab. He did not seem to be paying much attention to his driving duties, a reflection, I am sure, of my own shocking self-neglect and depressed indifference to my fate at that time.
Creative people are famously unstable, both emotionally and in their thinking; the artistic temperament is moody, and creators openly tolerate polarities in ideas and viewpoints that others reject, and then try to bury. Oscillations between two distinctly different modes of thinking may account for a lot of this instability and openness. Creators are more skilled in the combined use of two kinds of thought processes: linear thinking, which is verbal, logical, sequential, and analytic; and non-linear thinking, which is associative, more image oriented, non-sequential, and non-logical (but not irrational).
Janusian thinking is the combined use of logical and associative thinking. It can make a creative person appear unstable.
The common perception of intuition is that it is blindingly fast, an almost instantaneous comprehension of some problem, question, or situation. In fact, definitions of intuition often describe it in precisely this way. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary says, “… the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” In reality, when solving complex problems, intuition can be extremely slow. Sometimes, years may pass before the needed insight suddenly emerges into conscious awareness.
While it might end in a sudden epiphany, the lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke saw intuition as a years-long process. (Image: Wikipedia)
For all the blocked writers and troubled individuals out there, here is something useful from Susan Quinn’s biography of psychologist Karen Horney. The book is titled, A Mind of Her Own. Quinn writes, “Only guilt feelings toward repressed wishes have an inimical influence on life, restrictive, making for illness.” In other words, all other psychological (as opposed to medical) scenarios are not severe enough to generate mental illness. Anyone who enters psychoanalysis is feeling guilty about repressed wishes. Many people not in analysis have the same problem.
Trying to press on when you want to do something else can feel like battling a stiff headwind. You are waging war on yourself.
Once someone has entered analysis there are four key aspects to the procedure:
One of the most commonly talked about aspects of the creative process is the phenomenon of having sudden key insights after one has carefully considered the facts and, unable to find a solution, turned to other things – the famous “eureka” experience. There are many entertaining anecdotes revealing how famous creators experienced a sudden flash of insight, often while doing something quite ordinary. Because of three particularly well-known stories, one might call this the bed, bath, and bus scenario.
Rene Descartes had one of his greatest eureka moments while lying in bed idly watching a fly hover in the air. (Image: public domain.)
It all began in Greece. Archimedes supposedly had his eureka moment while relaxing in the public baths and ran home naked shouting “eureka” (I found it) thereby giving the experience its name. The bit about running au naturel through the streets is probably Roman hokum, but it does vividly capture the sense of intense excitement that accompanies the unexpected breakthrough. Henri Poincaré had his seminal insight into non-Euclidean geometry just as he boarded a bus. The idea seemed to come out of nowhere. The French mathematician attributed his insight to “unconscious work” and claimed an ability to ruminate on math problems while engaged in unrelated activities like chatting with a friend on a bus. Descartes suddenly envisioned his Cartesian co-ordinate system while lying in bed idly watching a fly hovering in the air. In all three cases, the insight followed considerable foundation-laying work that had as yet borne no fruit.
The human race depends on its ability to predict the future with reasonable accuracy. At the personal level, mind is the primary tool for “producing” future. (Photo: NASA)
French poet, essayist, and philosopher Paul Valéry said that the task of the mind is to produce future. That is to say, mind is essentially an anticipator, a generator of expectations. We all do this. Sports fans bet on hockey, baseball, football, or basketball scores, or simply on who will win the game. Bloggers guess the number of hits taking into account the day of the week and how good they think their post is. Investors anticipate stock market shifts. Business types estimate demand for their product or service. Workers gauge their energy reserves against what needs doing and pace themselves. Hunters calculate where the prey will run.