The miracle of the first turtle…

I’ve always been interested on the creative process itself as much as artistic outcomes. It’s the magic of something from nothing. The mystery of that. The spark of inspiration that calls us to follow where it leads – one trusting step after another. The unpacking and unfolding the tender seed of an idea.

In this process we can only hope that whatever’s guiding our hand and mind and feeling knows where it’s going! And so I’ve found that the tools of the trade are the ability to listen, trust and follow. Receptivity is therefore the name of the game.

It’s a funny old game really. Because it turns out there’s not really much of ‘me‘ in it.

I don’t know if it’s relevant here, but I love the story of the god Ganesha who was the scribe of the sage Vyasa. As Ganesha was transcribing the sage’s words his pen broke. Without skipping a beat the elephant-headed god broke off his tusk and continued to write with it.

It’s like that with creativity. Can we be like Ganesha, faithful and committed to the gift of inspiration and stay in flowing stream of creativity when it comes?

The root of the word ‘inspiration’ means both breath and spirit. To be inspired is to be filled with the breath of the divine. So creativity is, or at least can be, a spiritual act.

The creative process can offer a window into the nature of reality itself. I guess that’s why there are plenty of mystically-inclined artists. And since art is a microcosm of life we get to witness and participate in the mystery and miracle of ideation and creation.

The great question of “why is there something rather than nothing?” or “how can something come from nothing?” cannot, at the deepest analysis, be answered by some mechanistic explanation. Such answers lead to infinite regression in search of a Prime Mover.

There’s another story about a man who asks a philosopher about the nature of the world. Believing the world to be flat he asks, “upon what does this vast world stand?” The philosopher answers that it rests on the back of a great elephant.

The man then asks, “but on what does the elephant stand?” The philosopher answers that the elephant stands on the back of a giant turtle.

Finally the man asks, “but what does the turtle stand on?” To which the philosopher states, “isn’t it obvious? It’s turtles all the way down!”

But at the bottom of the stack isn’t more turtles. Just the glaring miracle of the first turtle, born from the void.

Like that, the artist, the writer, et al are alert to the arrival of the ‘first turtle’ in their awareness. That is, the thought, word, impulse that comes from nowhere. The idea is the gift received. But from whom, what, where, how?

And so the whole edifice of creation rests on emptiness and spontaneity. The forms that we see, are, and ‘create’ are formed from the formless.

The revelation of the mystics and sages and the intuitions of the artists is that we are that formless no-thing-ness from which all things come. Our essence and true identity is this silent source of all that is.

And so the creative process is so much like spiritual practice and inquiry. Both aim to take recourse to our deepest nature and from there discover and participate in the great mystery of being.

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