You will no doubt be aware of the fable of the princess who professed to loving her father as much as she loved, not gold or diamonds, but simple salt. Only having banished his youngest child and having experienced a life without the flavour-enhancing qualities of salt in food – and existence without the life-enhancing qualities of love – did the king understand the error of his ways.
I have heard and read a number of people comment on how hard it has been to remain creative during lockdown (quarantine) – and during the subsequent time period of controlled movement. Sometimes this is due to being overtaken by circumstances of loss, often it is due to the stress and uncertainty of the situation. To me, the challenge relates also to the loss of variety, of salt, spice.
Yes, inevitably here I will pause in order to quote 18th-century poet William Cowper’s lines: ‘Variety is the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour’ (The Task, 1785), the origin of today’s popular saying.
In the same vein, Life coach Tony Robbins proposed six Human Psychological Needs, based on studying ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’. These are
3. Significance (feeling of one is of value)
6. Contribution (supporting others)
As Maslow’s hierarchy suggests, we are in a fortunate position if our essential needs of food, water, warmth, and safety are satisfied, and when we have love and companionship. These basics in place, we are able to turn to meeting the higher-level requirements of esteem and self-realisation. For those of us this position, we seek such fulfilment – through expanding our experiences, minds, learning, creativity.
Generally, I am not a big fan of life coaches (a different topic), but Robbins’s six factors, above, seem relatable enough. The first two elements on the list, Certainty and Uncertainty, do appear somewhat contradictory. However, I guess the answer is that we need them both but in different ways – e.g. have a basis of certainty, of predictability, from which we can venture into the world, such as a secure and consistent home life. We also need these qualities at different times. At the start of lockdown, for example, it was all about creating new routines, hanging on to the familiar, looking for assurances. Now many of us are butting at the barn door. Because ultimately, as with so many things, it’s a question of balance.
So back to creativity. Creativity, that is, in a broad sense, using the mind, the imagination to make something new (it doesn’t have to be original), to be absorbed in and fulfilled by a productive activity – writing, painting, knitting, cooking…
The relationship between creativity and variety is a close one. There is the need to stay curious, to enquire, research, to develop a new skill and apply fresh knowledge. New experiences, fresh perspectives, stimulate us. Another psychologist, and a pioneer of the psychological study of creativity, Howard Gruber, studied the lives of famous innovators, to discover what made them tick. He found engagement in a variety of activities to be one of the key characteristics these inventive types had in common (alongside sense of purpose; emotional attachment to their work; and ability to take a ‘big picture’ approach to problems – which I think means not getting bogged down in details).
Personally, I have not been bored these past three months – too busy for that, but there a certain… ennui has descended. A creeping lethargy when it comes to tackling creative tasks, which I think must come from lack of variability in routine, a restriction of experience to this house and the ‘walking-distance locale’ around it. Reading has helped; that can broaden the mind, take us to places new. Finding inspiration in the smaller things around us, the things we’re often too busy to notice, is helpful, too, as I have noted in previous posts (e.g. Extraordinary ordinary; Small world, big picture). But there is an itch now, a restlessness for something new.
It would be churlish to complain about being in lockdown when I have moved through it without harm and without loss. If blandness is my worst problem, then I have been fortunate indeed.
However, I do not mean that this change, this diversity in experience, has to be great. I am happy to be able just to creep out of this shell again to look around again and welcome simple differences. Currently, I am waiting to see if we’re able to go on the holiday we booked to Scotland late July, just for a few days. We have optimistically booked in for several nights camping in August. None of it travelling far, no ‘planes, no faraway lands or castles. Lovely places, though, close to nature, where I can practise a new appreciation for those things I risked taking for granted. Perhaps it will even help regain a sense of creativity…
Some related TED Talks
Tony Robbins: Why we do what we do? https://www.ted.com/talks/tony_robbins_why_we_do_what_we_do?language=en
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The secret to happiness