In Sanskrit they call it lîla. The word means play. Yet not in the limited sense of our word. Lîla is free play, deep play, wild play carried out in a timeless NOW. It speaks of divine play. It’s the kind of play that sets us free to be who, in essence, we already are, even though we may not yet know it. Lîla is also the kind of creative play that brings new worlds into existence.
FROM CHILDLIKE TO GENIUS
In its simplest form, lîla describes the spontaneous activity of children so absorbed in what they do that they don’t even hear you when you speak to them. One morning my three-year-old friend Marina came to visit. Scrambling onto the four-poster bed where I was writing in a state of intense concentration, she told me the story of how she had climbed to the very top of a pirate’s ship as high as the stars. Like all still-innocent children, Marina entered into her imaginal world with ease—a magical realm in which creative sparks can be seeded then begin to grow. The imaginal world is a place most of us adults have lost touch with—a powerful realm in which the joys and fruits of lîla reign supreme.
At a deeper level, lîla speaks of the all-encompassing absorption out of which Beethoven, then dangerously ill and nearing the end of his life, nonetheless created the most remarkable music of the 19th century: The Late Quartets. Or the obsession of Van Gogh, which led to his having painted 900 pictures and turned out 1100 drawings pictures during a lifetime. This kind of lîla is far more complex and committed than child’s play. It can produce achievements that enrich the way we look at life, that connect us to the deepest levels of our own being. Some fruits of mature lîla even transform the world. A big deal? You bet. This is play of the highest order—nothing less than an outpouring of the most intimate and essential nature of each unique human being.
Living your creativity as fully as you can while you walk the earth, in whatever way most satisfies your unique nature, is the most exciting and enriching process any individual human being can experience. It brings a sense of meaning and purpose to your own life that nothing else can.
Creativity is not a problem to be solved or a subject to be picked apart in psychologists’ laboratories. Those who try end up wandering in an endless maze of moribund words and phrases which miss the point. Meanwhile, the wrinkled fiddler on the city street plays on—smiling. He is lost in the excitement of improvisation, magically blending movement, feeling and sound—making music never heard before, that touches his heart and awakens the senses of all with ears to hear.
We have grown up with some weird ideas about creative power. We’ve been taught that creativity belongs to a few select human beings whom history labels as genius. Nothing could be further from the truth. Creating is not a rare privilege—it is a right, even a necessity for all of us, if we are to live a fulfilling life. Creating anything, from cooking a healthful meal to writing poetry or playing games with children reminds us all what life is about. From this place we learn to live and work, to imagine, invent, and finally give birth—not only to things that have never been seen, heard, felt or touched before, but to a way of living more wondrous and exciting than most of us would ever have imagined.
A passion to be lived, a lîla to be danced, the wild creative power within us urges us to tell the truth and shame the devil. It demands that we express our love, our obsessions, and the fascinations which pursue us. It asks that we live out life from the very core of our being. “Genius,” as late American writer John Gardner used to remind his students, “is as common as old shoes. Everybody has it.”
A few years ago, I began to explore not only the power and dimensions of creativity in you, me, and all of us. I wanted to discover how each of us can gain greater access to it, and how best we can live out our own creative power in our day to day lives as scientists, professional artists, musicians, writers, dancers, actors or as businesspeople, parents, teachers, lovers, gardeners, healers, craftsmen and thinkers. I was sure that on a larger scale, the way we as a group choose to use our collective creativity determines whether or not we will be able—in the wake of having laid waste to so much of our planet—to emerge as a sustainable species in a sustainable world. A lîla of enormous proportions; what could feel more powerful or more daunting? Yet the creative power on which it depends springs from the same source within each person as Marina’s imaginative play.
Mysterious, enigmatic, spontaneous, occasionally even frightening, in essence creative power is the power of life itself. It is the force that gave us birth which continues to give birth to universes. It is what created us and brought each of us our own lives. It originates from a place within each one of us where we can touch and tap into the numinous energy of the Cosmos: God, Being—call it what you will. No words can adequately describe it. In truth, it is far more an experience of aliveness than a place at all. And, although we may never describe it adequately, we are perfectly equipped to enter this locus of creative power within us and find out how to live ever more of our lives from it.
For the majority of artists, creativity pours forth most easily when they have intimate support for it. Shakespeare had his actors and a Globe Theatre eager for his plays, Virginia Woolf entered a room of her own and there wove tapestries of words. Emily Dickinson wrote out of the intimate community of a family who adored her, admired her and made sure she was given the space and time to carry out her imaginative work. For others who are highly creative, there is no such intimate support. Many have suffered childhood abuse, loss, illness or intense suffering. The creativity of such people can be monumental. Each man or woman is brought to the exploration and expressions of their creative power through suffering in just the same way that, so often, we discover what is most important to us by having what we believe to be of greatest value—a loved one, a job, a title—taken from us. Painful as such experiences are, often they turn out to be great gifts when it comes to freeing our creative power.
Caught up in our lives of work, children, and householder duties, few of us live in such fortunate circumstances as Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson. But that does not matter. What has not been given us we can make for ourselves. Art is not the province of the privileged few. It belongs to all people—those of us who spend our days in front of computers, cooking, sweeping streets, running errands, caring for children, handling the stupidities of bureaucracy, and living our constantly changing lives in a world that is ever less secure.
THE WAY AHEAD
We are alive at a moment in history where one age is dying, yet another has not yet been born. We are, each one of us, faced with a choice: As we sense the foundations of our world shaking, do we withdraw in anxiety, trying in desperation to hang on to what we once believed to be “true”? Do we become paralyzed, and try to cover our fear with apathy? Or do we summon the courage offered us by a Universe in flux, honor our personal sensitivity and consciousness, then choose to face the challenge of entering the realm of creative power within? Then, trusting our individual capacity for lîla, do we begin to play in ways that may help bring forth a new world for all?
Regardless or age, background, or limiting notions about what’s possible, each one of us has a choice to make. It’s a choice between continuing to conform to established belief systems that stifle the human spirit, or trusting in ourselves. Are you willing courageously to explore your intrinsic creative gifts and make use of them?
“That which we give birth to from our depths is that which lives on after us. That which is inborn in us constitutes our most intimate moments—intimate with self,” says Theologian Mathew Fox, “intimate with God the Creative Spirit, and intimate with others. To speak of creativity is to speak of profound intimacy. It is also to speak of our connecting to the Divine in us and of our bringing the Divine back to the community.”
Personally, I urge you to begin connecting ever more deeply with your own brand of creativity. Discover new ways of living. Leave automatic assumptions about who you think you are and learn to respond to each moment and each day of your life with new eyes and an open heart. The more you do, the richer your life can become. Such is the joy of lîla. Such is the power of lîla. If you have not yet explored it, you have an exhilarating, wondrous adventure ahead of you. Take it. Trust it. It’s the adventure of a lifetime.