As the sun sets on a three-day conference centred around the theme of Creativity and Insight, I watch the lengthening shadows and hear the twitter of the birds at dusk. Did some dying embers catch fire again? Did an incubating seed begin to germinate within? What were the questions the conference threw open? What were the insights, if any, that it offered?
I wish to address this from an individual standpoint, for I am sure each person’s experience at the conference was unique. The challenge that this conference threw to those of us who were organizing it was, in fact, centred around its theme. How, we asked ourselves, do we refrain from getting caught in the mundane and yet address every detail? How do we stay in touch with stillness amidst a constant encounter with movement? How do we centre ourselves in the theme, even while attending to routine tasks?
In fact, these are the challenges we face daily while working in our schools. To face the day’s ‘routine’ without a sense of inner or outer monotony, to sing the same tune with a fresh quality, to teach the same lesson with a new insight …‘“Insight” is a state of mind in which there is no memory, no remembrance; there is no conclusion; there is no sense of anticipation; there is no quality of reaction. Insight is much more than all that.’ (From ‘The Mind of Krishnamurti’ in Fire in the Mind by Pupul Jayakar)
Insight cannot be willed. It happens.
In his talk on Creativity and Insight, Dr. Shirali spoke of the great mathematician Poincaré’s analysis of the four stages of creativity. In the first stage, all known methods of dealing with the current challenge are tried, until there is no known technique that has not been used. Finally, the person gives up, and enters the second stage of ‘incubation’. In order to ‘give up’, then, one must have exhausted all known possibilities. One must perforce enter the realm of the unknown.
It is in this exciting world of the unknown that the second phase occurs. The challenge that the person wishes to meet ‘incubates’ during this phase, without interference of memory or conclusion. Then follows the third phase— illumination. An answer appears of itself to the mind, seeming to ‘create’ itself from desertland. The fourth phase begins when the seeker tests out and verifies for himself or herself the truth and utility of the illumination.
An important question that was raised during Dr. Shirali’s talk was: How can we live life creatively? A question that follows is: Why don’t we? What prevents us from living life creatively? In meeting the challenges that day-to-day life offers, the human mind seems to have become a very efficient ‘search engine’. No sooner does a challenge present itself than the mind surfs its internal Net, types the keyword in its ‘search engine’ window, and a whole host of ‘links’ and web sites unfurl across the inner screen. ‘Try this’ says the mind, ‘or how about trying that?’ And so the mind quickly runs down the list of known techniques before it settles on a solution. The challenge is ‘met’, and it is time to move on. Rarely, if ever, does the mind give up. One hardly ever moves to the incubation phase, much less experience illumination! We wonder then, why there is no insight, no freshness? In our own lives... our minds seldom allow us to say, ‘I don’t know.’
The answer seems to lie in ‘doubt’. Do we doubt the clever solutions our mind so rapidly offers? Do we scan, turn over, toy with and deliberate? Or do we simply rush to act? Depending upon the exigency of the situation, one is too impatient to allow incubation. It is no wonder that the seed seldom sprouts. The soil is untilled and overgrown with weeds. As educators, we are acutely aware of the importance of acknowledging ‘I don’t know’ before the student, to learn together, to participate in the whole process of learning with the child. In our own lives, however, our minds seldom allow us to say, ‘I don’t know.’ The mind does not accept defeat easily. It must always be on top of the situation.
Great minds that saw challenges where none were apparent, and that drew forth mighty discoveries and expressions of talent, were surely not on any well-defined road. Neither their path nor their destination was of concern to them. They simply saw, unfettered by the urge for results or the need to be reasonable. In her description of the first lesson in learning abstract words, Helen Keller describes with touching beauty how her teacher explained the meaning of the word ‘love’—to a pupil who could not see, speak or hear. Arguably, Helen Keller truly didn’t know; there were no links or possible connections for her to make in her mind. For teachers of language, this is a dramatic illustration of a seemingly impossible lesson becoming an easy, crystal clear exposition. All that Helen’s teacher did was to point out to her, while she was deep in thought, that the process going on in her head had a name: ‘think’. When this word was written into Helen’s palm, the child had a moment of insight or illumination, and suddenly was able to connect it to an unexplained word of an earlier lesson: ‘love’. The world of abstract words threw its door wide open to a child who felt as deeply as any with sight, speech and hearing.
The conference is over. The questions that it raised remain. Every day brings with it many challenges: some familiar, some totally new. To meet each of these creatively is something the mind, by its very nature, does not allow. When the mind acknowledges its own ineptitude, and gives up, a ray of hope slants into the dark recesses...
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
He Wishes for the Clothes of Heaven
[W. B. Yeats]
No small art is it to sleep: it is necessary to keep awake all day for that purpose.