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Being Creative

by Hal Isen

From The Graduate Review, November 1977

Hal Isen is an est trainer who has taught art and has lectured at the Smithsonian Institution on such diverse subjects as visual perception, film, and creativity. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress and the National Collection of Fine Arts.

Before I took the est training I taught at the University of Maryland and was also a professional artist and illustrator. On one occasion, about 10 years ago, I was sent by The Washington Post to an institution in Virginia to make drawings of the people there. I had a direct experience of the people and didn’t make a single drawing while I was at the institution. In fact I didn’t draw anything until the evening of my third day back at home, when I jumped up from the living room sofa and said to my wife, Anita, “I’m going upstairs.”

I pulled out a big piece of paper and put it on the easel, and the drawings began to occur. I’m saying it that way because they were just happening; there wasn’t a separation between the person drawing them and the drawings. It was all one thing. I called downstairs, “Anita, come up and watch this thing with me.” The drawing was being created whole at each moment, and I did four or five illustrations that way. When it was all over, I tried to figure out what I had done. “Boy, that was really magical. That wasn’t me doing it.”

What I didn’t get was that that was me. That was a direct experience of myself rather than my mind trying to figure myself out.

There are moments in your life when there is magic – you may be walking up the steps, or in a relationship with someone – when the thing is complete as it has never happened before quite like that. If you are in the arts, it may be the sense of being one with what you are doing. If you are in business, it may be the sense of being able to look at problems in such a way that, instead of being stops for you, they become opportunities.

People tend to think that being creative is something that only the specially gifted are capable of, or that it has something to do with what one does. It does not. Creativity has to do with being, with bringing something out of nothing. Nothing (or Everything) is the space or context from which things (form, concepts, content) come – the context of all contexts. That is what the Self is, and it manifests itself at the levels of individuality, relationship, group, society, and ultimately itself again. All context gives rise to process, which devolves into content or concepts or thingness – the “stuff” of the universe.

The full expression of the experience of Self in the world – of Self as creator – is at the level of experience that Werner refers to in the training as “sourcing,” which is “experiencing that you are creating your experience as you are experiencing it.” That is what true creativity is about. You are creating moment by moment by moment, so it is always fresh and new for you, rather than the old way it was before.

It is the discovery of who we are – which people get in touch with in the training – that allows us to continually and consciously manifest that ability in our lives, and to take it out into the world where we can really make a contribution.

If creativity is innate in all of us, then expressing it must be a function of accepting it, of allowing it, of letting it happen. Once we let go of our beliefs and considerations, we can allow ourselves to be magicians, and we can do things far beyond what our system says we are able to do.

My mother, who is 63 years old, took the training in Washington, D.C., last November. She was very excited about doing it. My father, 69 years old, had heard about the long hours and so forth and, being concerned, decided to stay with her at the hotel. He imagined that he would be waiting for her and, some time early in the morning, rescue her as she dragged herself through the door. He waited until 12:00, then 12:30, then 1:00AM trying to keep his eyes open, waiting for a weak knock at the door. Suddenly the door opened and my mother burst in, full of energy. She definitely was creating her experience and going far beyond what my father had believed she could do.

In an article in The Graduate Review (July 1976), John Curry, the 1976 men’s Olympic and world figure skating champion, said that in winning those titles there wasn’t any separation between himself, the ice, the skates, the music. It was one thing flowing, a thing he was creating each moment – creating it, creating it, creating it, creating it – as if there was nothing to do. He was skating when he was skating. The skating wasn’t about trying not to fall down, or trying to overcome something, or trying to move something out of the way. Every moment was completely whole and completely satisfying.

Creativity is the art of creating each moment being perfect. You have a direct experience of being the one who creates your experience of your life, of being the one who creates satisfaction in your life. You are in fact the space or context out of which your life is generated, and when you can begin to come out of the experience of creating your life moment to moment, of “this is it,” that is really what creativity is.