The advent of modern creativity means that everyone, not just those few inspired by the Muses, is invited to transform and shape the world. Each day, people connect ideas together, solve problems, and invent novel solutions. However, the explosion in individual innovation has also led to the proliferation of structured creativity — neatly compartmentalized pockets of creative exploration designed to achieve specific goals in a specific context.
In those well-defined spaces, creativity is decoupled from failure and stripped from its messier components. At work, we participate in a brainstorming session following predefined steps with our coworkers. Then, we join a “paint and sip” class in the evening with a friend. In both cases, we are guaranteed some form of creative output, and the boundaries between creativity and productivity are slowly dissolving.
Creative aliveness consists in reclaiming a larger creative canvas woven into the fabric of our lives. It starts by asking yourself: what makes you come alive creatively? And how can you inject more creativity into your daily life?
The flow of creativity
The definition of creativity has greatly evolved throughout the centuries and across the continents. In the Western world, creativity was for a very long time considered the realm of divinities. Whether they received their inspiration from the Muses in Ancient Greece or the “Creator” in Christianity, humans were considered incapable of creating — limited to imitating or following the rules set by a higher entity.
It wasn’t until the Enlightenment that the concept of individual creativity started to emerge. Instead of emanating from divine forces, creativity started to be considered a human ability, which led to many innovations in science and technology.
During that time, researchers Weihua Niu and Robert Sternberg explain that “creativity is also viewed as a property that belongs not only to a select few; everybody can exercise it. And its exercise can occur within the mundane experiences of life, not just in the formulation of significant scientific, artistic, or other achievements.”
On the other hand, the concept of “natural creativity” was prevalent for many centuries in the Eastern world. For instance, the Book of Changes states that yin-yang movements — how yin and yang mutually change from one to the other — create everything.
Individual creativity is nowadays also celebrated in Eastern culture, but the legacy of classical Eastern philosophy makes it slightly different from its Western counterpart. While Western creativity is based on the concept of novelty, Eastern creativity is based on the concept of change.
Thanks to the unity of nature and human thought, humanity can participate in the process of the development of the universe, and creativity is seen as a state of flow rather than a sudden burst of innovation.
In modern Western and Eastern cultures, creativity is now understood as deeply embedded in the fabric of daily life. From something that is exclusive to higher-level entities, whether deities or nature itself, it has evolved into an ability anyone can practice at various levels, whether it is to create art or to perform small acts of innovation as part of the everchanging movement of the world we inhabit. But, somehow, this creative aliveness is not what most of us experience in our daily lives.
Living a creative life
When we think about creativity, we often picture big “C” creativity: a musician composing a song, an artist drawing a portrait, an author writing a novel. However, as both Western and Eastern philosophies have converged towards, creativity is a fundamental element of human nature, an ability we use every time we come up with a new idea or find a solution to a novel problem. It goes hand in hand with being human. Put simply, creativity is imagination in action, and this action can take care virtually anywhere.
The biggest creative canvas is our own life. The possibilities are practically infinite, the tools at our disposal are many, and each person we connect with opens the door to a potential creative collaboration. However, life can get so busy we end up squeezing our creativity into a tiny canvas — small, pre-defined spaces such as an art class or a brainstorming session.
Instead of constraining our creativity to these bounded containers, creative aliveness elevates our day-to-day experiences by considering each moment as an opportunity for curiosity and innovation.
Whether it’s the way you approach a conversation with a person you just met, changing your itinerary to go to work, or composing a little poem in your head while in the shower — creativity can happen anywhere, at any time if you direct your mind to it.
So, what exactly makes a creative mind? There are three key pillars at the foundation of living a creative life. A creative mind is…
- Connected. Creative aliveness requires inspiration, which can take many forms. A creative mind is connected to people who stimulate their imagination, to networks that foster collaboration, and to sources of content that provide them with interesting information.
- Curious. Asking questions is one of the best ways to live a creative life, whether you ask these questions to yourself or to other people. Curious minds tend to question the obvious, to consider alternative answers, and to consistently dig one level deeper to get to the core of how things work.
- Courageous. Failure is the other side of the creativity coin. While creativity doesn’t have to be grandiose, it requires to step into the unknown, and sometimes to take bold risks with limited knowledge of the potential outcomes.
A creative mind is also a healthier mind. While research into the relationship between creativity and mental health has historically focused on case studies of psychopathology (the trope of the “mad genius”), recent meta-analytic studies suggest that engaging in creative activities can benefit physical and mental health. And the good news is: creative aliveness can be cultivated, without the need for complicated training or systems.
How to practice creative aliveness
Creativity can manifest itself in many different contexts and forms, and there are practically infinite ways to come alive creatively. Those three principles can help you get started in practicing creative aliveness and reclaiming more space for embedded, spontaneous creativity.
- Make space for unstructured creativity. You don’t need to create something useful or beautiful. You could doodle while watching your favorite TV show or imagine alternative endings to a novel you just read. In fact, you don’t need to produce anything at all. Dancing in your living room when you’re alone or dreaming about what the perfect city would look like — these are also acts of creativity. In addition to your more structured times for creativity, inject little acts of creativity into your daily life.
- Consider each interaction as a creative playground. Let creativity permeate each moment of your life, whether you interact with a person, a piece of content, or a problem you want to solve. How can you approach this interaction differently? How can you inject some randomness into the interaction? For example, you could skip the small talk and ask a new acquaintance a big question instead or create a drawing out of an article you’re reading.
- Write as an act of self-creation. Journaling allows you to not only document, but also to shape your mind and thus your life. It’s a powerful way to turn life into a creative adventure: by capturing what has happened and thinking about what you want to happen next, you are literally writing the story of your life.
As Flora Bowley wrote in her book The Art of Aliveness: “Creative adventures can be as messy or involved as you choose, but they don’t need to be fancy, groundbreaking, or even take a lot of time to be valid and effective. In fact, simple acts of creative expression and innovation woven into daily life have an incredible way of soothing, stirring, and reminding us what it feels like to be alive. In turn, flexing our creative muscles fortifies our ability to be more tuned in, observant, and adaptable in all parts of our life.”
Creative aliveness is a perpetual state of self-creation that allows us to shape our experiences and the world around us. By injecting creativity into the way we navigate the world, approach our tasks, and nurture our relationships, we can live a more fulfilled, exciting life.