Voyage to the Land Below Thought
Familiarize yourself with your innermost vitality and creative source.
Posted Jul 01, 2019
In this blog, I describe a little procedure that may be helpful for tapping into your innermost being, the creative fountainhead of your unique essential self. I do not write this wearing my scientist or "research scholar" hat, for I believe that science should lay out all the steps from A to B without requiring any kind of intuitive leap of faith. However, I believe there are many paths to truth, and by taking the scientist hat off now and then (as I do also when I write fiction) you give the scientist in you more to work with and become a richer, more fully developed human being.
So, back to the procedure for tapping into your innermost self. First, find a task just beyond your current ability. Something that you have tried a couple of times and don’t get, but you have the feeling that if you worked at it for another hour or two you would.
This may be starting to remind you of an Intro Psych course (the concept of the "zone of proximal development"), or if you’ve taken a Psych of Creativity course, Torrance’s concept of the "gap." But while those discussions were focused on creative or learning outcomes, and the processes by which they are obtained, here all that is only incidental. Our focus is not on the outcome or even the process of obtaining it, but on familiarizing yourself with the source of your creative vitality, the part of you that is deeper than words or thoughts.
An example of such a task for me was figuring out how to simultaneously play the bass line and melody of the song "I feel love" by Donna Summer on the piano. If you’ve any skill at playing by ear, it’s easy to figure out the notes; the tricky part is that the timing of the bass line (played by the left hand) is offset from that of the melody (played by the right hand). This task is just an example; it was perfect for me as an amateur piano player, but it may be too easy for a professional pianist or too difficult someone who does not play the piano at all. If you would like to use this as your task, you may find helpful this link to the bass line, melody line, and the two together. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the right key or even resembles the original at all; you may want to compose your own piece of music for this task or, more likely, find an entirely different task. The trick is to find a task that is perfect for you in terms of being just out of reach, slightly beyond your current means, something that gives you a little thrill of excitement so that you sense yourself "rising to the occasion."
Next, work at this task for a few minutes, just long enough for your "inner self" to know what the task is and get a sense of what would be needed to accomplish it. Don’t work at it for so long that you do accomplish it or even almost accomplish it. Just get to the point where you’re confident that if you tried it 50 more times, you could nail it. Inside you lies a magician who can master it without having to do it 50 more times, and you’re going to get to know that magician intimately.
The next thing you do is: Sleep on it. Consciously think about it before you fall asleep that night. These thoughts will drift down through the layers of your being and impact your preconscious self. For me, I can tell this is happening for a piano task when I become aware that my fingers are moving as if they were on a keyboard, and my mind is silently humming the song.
When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you do before anything else is: Go back to the task. If you chose your task well, you will be amazed at how much easier it is than the day before. If you aren’t able to do the task at all, it just means you need to try again with an easier task. You’ll know that you found a good task if you went from not being able to do it the day before to being more or less able to do it the next day, after just one night’s sleep. It's not important if you do it absolutely perfectly; the outcome isn’t what matters here. What matters is to relish the feeling of accomplishment and tap into what was behind it. A part of you that is deeper than your conscious self met the challenge that your conscious self set for it.
So far, so good: You’ve probably done all this before in the normal course of your life. But now for the new part: Really hang with that part of you that was behind this little accomplishment. This may seem reminiscent of meditation, but it’s different, because right after accomplishing a task you couldn’t do the day before, you will be in a slightly altered state in which a certain part of you is in the forefront. It’s not so different from how certain life experiences, such as being in a life-or-death situation, or falling in love, or getting pregnant, cause parts of your DNA to be transcribed that have not been transcribed before. And that, in turn, can make you experience new emotions or aspects of yourself that you had not known existed. Similarly, the transition from not being able to do something to being more or less able to do it as the result of a single night’s sleep can bring a deep, essential part of yourself into the foreground. It may feel like a certain frequency of vitality and aliveness that is distinctively you.
In other words, this exercise is conducive to coming face to face with a part of you that lies at your core. Zero in on the part of yourself that is alive right now in this moment. Get to know it. Words and thoughts and concepts are not helpful here, and may not even make sense the way they normally do; for example, you may simultaneously sense both strength and vulnerability, or feel both agitation and calm, or joy and despair. Or you may sense nothing at all, in which case go deeper into that void of nothingness, bathe in it, dwell in it. You are tuning into a part of you that lies beyond your conscious self, that has wisdom and abilities that are yours to tap into. You’ve just witnessed the magic it can call forth after only one night’s sleep.
It can be a good idea to repeat this exercise all over again on different days with a number of different tasks in different domains (for example, not just piano music, but also a sports move, or math problem, or even a household repair job) in order to get to know the different nuances of this deepest part of you. And even though I said that this is about encountering a part of yourself that goes deeper than words, the task you choose can involve words. The part of you below the words will still be involved; the words may appear in your conscious mind like the tips of a submerged iceberg, little pointers to what lies below.
In doing this exercise you may encounter emotional pain, but we are not going to delve back into your past and trace out the source of that pain. In a subsequent post, I hope to discuss the process of transforming such pain into fuel for your inner vitality (using, for example, spontaneous song or dance). But for now, just hang with it, watch it ebb and flow, come and go. What you are in contact with now is the source of your unique contribution to this world. If this sounds corny and out of touch, consider this: That life-source is what all great geniuses have tapped into. It lies behind the masterpieces that have revolutionized art, science, music, and technology and changed the course of history. Given what it brought about after just one night’s sleep, imagine what it can accomplish when you tap into it reiteratively, using the fruits of one night’s sleep as ingredients for the next day’s conscious processing, day after day, night after night, perfecting a complex idea or creative project. Life can be lived in such a way as to be on the lookout for opportunities for the vitality of this inner self to shine through and have an impact (however big or small) on the world.
Given that it is Canada Day, I considered writing a blog about the role of nationalistic fervor in an era when we know so much about the brutal history of how aboriginal peoples were treated, an era when radioactive cesium from Fukushima is showing up along the Pacific West Coast, and boatloads of Canadian trash wind their way to (and from) the Philippines. We all share this fragile little blue marble. In the grand scheme of things, these partitions we call countries may be fleeting and relatively inconsequential; it’s time to focus not on the planet’s divisions, but on its interconnections. But I think that being able to access our innermost selves is an important step toward resolving seemingly conflicting goals and ultimately to seeing and being and acting in harmony with the Earth itself.
So, for what it’s worth, Happy Canada Day. And also, happy travels to a realm that lies beyond such divisions as country borders, a realm beyond thoughts and words, where your inner radiance dwells waiting to be recruited.
To be (if I get around to it) continued.