Dancing is very like poetry. It’s like poetic lyricism, sometimes, it’s like the rawness of dramatic poetry, it’s like the terror — or it can be like a terrible revelation of meaning. Because when you light on a word it strikes you to your heart.
That’s a quote from the American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham in the 1985 New York Times interview “Martha Graham Reflects on Her Art and a Life in Dance” (31 March 1985); found in the book The New York Times Guide to the Arts of the 20th Century.
I’m John Fanning and this is the Create with John Fanning podcast.
How’s it goin out there. Hope all is well.
This is Episode 17 of my series of episodes on Imagination creativity, based around my book Create.
Last time I spoke about Rejection and Failure. Today I’m going to talk about the Dancer and the Dance and doing what you love.
W. B. Yeats asks this question in one of his poems: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
About ten years ago, a Nigerian dancer came to La Muse. She made me think more about Yeats’ idea. When you saw this woman dance you thought, this is what she is, a dancer. She’s in the dance, she becomes the dance, and the dance becomes her. She’s free.
But when you ask her about her life you find out she’s a medical doctor. She also writes poems. She calls the dances she creates “dance poems”, and the poems she writes “dance poems”. When she’s poetic, she’s dancing, and when she’s writing she’s dancing. She’s free — you can see the freedom when she dances, you can feel the freedom from the words she writes.
“I have no free time.” I’ve a friend that hates that sentence. He says that’s your mind, not you. The “I” in that sentence is your mind, your ego, but you are not your mind/ego. You are you.
“Free time” is a mind construct — as is time itself. We “choose” what to do with the time we have in a day, a life. “Freedom” comes in knowing we are choosing. I have no “free time”. Yes, life is full of distractions but we have to create freedom. We have to create time. To do this we create disciplines, rituals, and show up to work.
When you are free you create your own new systems, whether it’s an organic garden, a community of writers or workers, a new political movement. This form of creation frees you from economic, dogmatic restrictions. It is truly counter-cultural.
Yes, accepting freedom into your life can lead to anxiety. As Kierkegaard said, freedom can lead to dizziness. But it’s natural. So embrace the dizziness, the excitement of it. Better to be excited about change than frightened by it. It’s a step further towards creative freedom. Accept “dizziness” as a natural part of creative freedom. We are free, free to create.
When I write, like the dancer with her dancing, I get lost in the writing. I am literally in the writing. I become the writing. Time disappears. All of a sudden, three hours have passed, and I realize I haven’t eaten.
Every creator I’ve ever met, on retreats, friends, enjoys this feeling: to get lost in the work. The act of creation, becomes a joyful, euphoric, meditative experience. This feeling feeds into everything you do in your life. It makes you feel good because you satisfied an important need, to get lost in creation. It changes the way you think, or how you were taught to think when you’re creating something. When you’re in it, you’re different, because you’re focused, because life around you recedes when you’re in the flow of creation.
You don’t have to be a dancer to dance. Just like you don’t have to be a golf pro to love playing golf. Why? Because it’s an act. You golf. You dance. In that moment you’re the golfer, the dancer. You become the creation when you’re creating, when you dance, when you hit the ball down the fairway, when you’re “in it” you become part of that action. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about this in his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”; you enter what he calls “the flow state”. You are lost to the dance, and it’s a joyful feeling.
You don’t have to be the best to get lost in the dance, in “flow”. We go against our natures when we reject the dancer, reject flow, and when we go against our natures, well, we’re not being true to ourselves, or the natural, joyful act of being alive.
And the best way to get into a flow state of creation – Do what you love!
I talked a bit about this before in the second episode when I talk about my experience managing the Good Mixer in the London of the Brit Pop 90s, how all those creators coming in taught me the lesson, do what you love, irrespective if whether you get rich or famous, because doing what you love, creating what you love makes you happy, and lets fun an joy into your life.
Yes, a lot of people don’t and can’t do what they love, all the time. Because of access, to culture, to money, to education, to so many things, we’re not all given the same opportunities. Johann Hari, in his book Lost Connections, and in an interview talks about this, referring to research about how people feel about their work done by the opinion poll company, Gallup. They found only 13% of us like our jobs most of the time. 63% “sleep work” we don’t like it, we don’t hate it, we just kind of tolerate it. Then there’s 24% of us who hate and fear our jobs. Pretty enlightening stuff, no? That means 87% of people don’t like the thing they’re doing most each week. And of course, depending on where you are, depdngin on how capitalistic or authoritarian the society this is only cutting into more and more of a person’s day.
OK. Yes, this is a fact. But, yes there’s a but, if we think creatively we can create windows through these walls, and create the time to invest in doing what we love, what we love to create. Yes, not all of us can start cooperatives and create meaningful fulfilling work for whatever reason or reasons. But we can create windows into the things we love. We can start small and be consistent, focused about being consistent no matter how many times you ego tries to sabotage your efforts to tell you you’re wasting your time etc.
When we started off La Muse we had no conventional business approach. No business plan. We just kept making mistakes. You keep smiling, even when you’re kicked to the ground, again. To smile is to create. It frees you from somber, bleak realities.
Know why you are doing what you want to do. Then thinking disappears. Creating takes over. Time disappears, because you’re doing what you love.
When I ran the retreat I’d be in my office for four or five hours not realizing it’s half an hour past dinner time. One of my boys or my daughter knocks on my door. It’s only then that I realize fours hours have gone by. It felt like minutes. I was in the moment, alive, lost in the process, disconnected from time.
The opposite is true too. If you’re doing something you don’t love, then four or five hours feels like twice that time. If you love taking cars apart, if it makes you joyful, then you’re creating. It matters to you. It may not matter to other people so much, but it matters to them if you come back into the house joyful.
What do you love? What do you enjoy? “Enjoy” is what gives you joy, literally, what creates joy ‘in’ you. If you enjoy doing something then that’s probably your form of creation, your field.What brings you joy? Why? Because if you love what you do, you don’t care how much you’re getting paid. When you’re in it, when you’re creating what you love, you’re alive, completely alive. You can’t buy that. That’s joy, that’s fun, that’s real purpose. So many people lack purpose in life then medicate themselves, because they’re not doing what they love. When you discover what you love, it’s an epiphany, a joy.
Neil deGrasse Tyson was once asked what it means to be brilliant, to be visionary. He responded by saying he was just doing what he loves. He said if everyone did what they loved then everyone would be visionary, brilliant. The man doesn’t understand the word vacation because what he does is already a vacation.
What are your dreams? Work from there. Write them down. Research them. Start off messy. Be explorative. How did others turn the same kinds of dreams into realities, creations? Who influenced them? Who inspired them?
You create your life. It’s the greatest creation. If you stay in the same lifestyle and are dissatisfied, it’s probably because you feel stuck. Nobody has it easy. It’s hard to create a life. It takes a lot of focus.
But, you have a choice to create the life you want, by creating what you love. You construct the house of your life around what you love, from the foundation up. Walls are no good without a foundation. Windows are useless without the walls to put them in. If you don’t get the basic tools to create what you love then how will you ever put in a beautiful bay window with a view of the forest?
How are you going to get a computer to write that novel? How are you going to buy the land to build the foundations of what will eventually be your end goal, a finished house you will live in?
A wall appears: “But I’m only starting out?” We’re all only starting out. This is my first non-fiction book. I’m an amateur too.
The word “amateur” is French. It means someone who loves something. I love encouraging people to create because I’ve been talking about it to people for nearly two decades. I love talking about it.
Be an amateur, it takes a lot of pressure off. We’re all amateurs, because if you really love what you’re creating then you’ll always be falling in love with it again and again, always being curious about how it works.
Will I get everything I want to into this book? No. Why? Nothing’s perfect and there’s always more to learn, more to love about my field.
It doesn’t matter what you create. If it makes you joyful, then it’s worth doing. To most everyone else it’s about the finished book, painting, building, car. To you, it’s about the process, the fun of doing it. It doesn’t matter if other people care about what you create. What matters is that you care about what you create.
So thanks for listening. I started with a quote from an American dancer and choreographer and as usual I’m going to end with an Irish proverb. This one means:
You’ll never plough a field turning it over in your mind.
Ní dhéanfaidh smaoineamh an treabhadh duit.
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Slán libh agus go n-éirí an bóthar libh.