Last week, I described some of my dissonance with the term “laws.” As I identified, some have to do with my hardware (personality) and some with my software (family/culture of origin). But another factor influencing it has to do with my passion to be creative. I love thinking of innovative solutions to challenges we face.
For instance, we are all aware that the quality of the air we breathe is getting worse. Deforestation, global warming, and cow flatulating are among three of the many reasons that I have read about. But I woke up in the night wondering if the world’s population could have an impact. There were 3 billion people on the earth in 1960; today, there are over 8 billion. Considering that humans continually inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide 24 hours a day, it doesn’t take an environmental scientist or a lot of math to understand the strain this would put on even a healthy atmosphere. I like thinking “out of the box,” which I think causes me to bristle when someone tells me I must stay “in the box.”
In his biography on Einstein, Walter Isaacson writes that Einstein struggled to conform to other’s ‘laws’: “This wariness of authority reflected the most fundamental of all of Einstein’s moral principles: Freedom and individualism are necessary for creativity and imagination to flourish.”
In Christianity, we often teach followers of Christ to simply “obey” the teachings of Christ without teaching them to think deeply about the teachings of Christ. Requiring people to simply follow rules (which may be culturally influenced) without learning to process the wisdom of the New Testament breeds people who are like dead people walking. They lose their ability to be creative and flourish. They lose their agency to be morally formed individuals.
In the beginning, God created…and he instilled within us the agency to create as well. We are not drones programmed to carry out an assignment or to obey blindly but rather created individuals given the freedom to use our unique abilities to create and interact with our Creator. This is what is meant by God creating us as free moral agents.
Is it possible that part of my creativity flows out of my dislike of laws? Because I want to do things differently and not just follow rules, I am freed up to approach life creatively. However, as I look around me, I see dead Christians walking. They have little freedom to be the unique person God intended for them to be. There is little moral agency where they are using their minds, emotions, and wills to grow into their own creative agency.
Given the pace of life we live, this is no surprise. As I look at my life, when I am running from one task to another or one appointment to another, I feel productive and impactful. However, after living in an extended season like this, I sense something drying up deep inside of me. I have gone through many seasons like this where I am a functionary. Surely, I am a productive functionary at that, but there is little sense in my life that I am fulfilling my unique calling.
Let me suggest, we must have margin to be creative. To be creative requires time to disengage your mind and let it wander. Einstein was known to go sailing for hours in the middle of the day. His home at Princeton was on a lake, so he could take time to not think about physics or the unified theory, but to think about the wind and water; all the while, his mind was unconsciously at work when he wasn’t intentionally thinking about it.
Daniel Goleman shares from his research:
…a mind adrift lets our creative juices flow. While our minds wander, we become better at anything that depends on a flash of insight, from coming up with imaginative wordplay to inventions and original thinking. In fact, people who are extremely adept at mental tasks that demand cognitive control and a roaring working memory—like solving complex math problems—can struggle with creative insights if they have trouble switching off their fully concentrated focus.
Among other positive functions of mind wandering are generating scenarios for the future, self-reflection, navigating a complex social world, incubation of creative ideas, flexibility in focus, pondering what we’re learning, organizing our memories, just mulling life—and giving our circuitry for more intensive focusing a refreshing break.*
Goleman nor I am suggesting that you be unengaged with people or lives around you. But being creative requires spending focused time thinking deeply about issues in our lives and interacting in the lives of others. Then, intentionally allow your mind to disengage through some activity that requires little intentional thought. This could be playing a sport, walking through God’s creation, sailing, skiing, daydreaming, or just relaxing in the sun. No talking is needed.
When I started writing this blog almost two years ago, I was afraid I would run out of things to write about. It is called writer’s block. But, as I have scaled back my calendar to include more margin to allow my mind to wander, so far, I have little problem coming up with new things to process.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most creative people in the world often don’t seem to be in a hurry. They create wide swaths of margin in their lives…and they don’t like rules.
Maybe we can learn something from them.
*Goleman, Daniel. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (pp. 40-41). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.