Last month, I was invited to give a keynote address at the national meeting of a natural products trade association. The presentation, entitled "Three Keys to Inspired Leadership," was seen as so controversial by members of the trade association that they banned the video of the talk from their website and only allowed me to post a censored version that deleted any references to their organization or its members. One of the interesting ironies is that the board of directors had a chance to review and edit my slides prior to the conference. So, nobody was caught off-guard by what I had to say. Nonetheless, it seemed to push some buttons.
Before all evidence of my talk is erased from the trade association's website, I want to share this photograph showing that I was in fact invited to give this keynote address:
What was so controversial about a talk focused on inspiration-based leadership skills? Having received no specific feedback from the trade association, I can only guess: In my presentation, I drew a comparison between creative expression and love play, pointing out the role of passion and sensuality in creative inspiration. Although I never mentioned anything overtly sexual (the closest I came was showing a tasteful photograph of a breast-feeding mother), just the mention of connecting with the body in a sensuous manner may have been considered so risqué that the director of the alliance called my keynote a violation of its "community culture."
Now, for the first time, you have a chance to watch the video of this controversial banned speech by clicking the PLAY button below. Please let me know what you think. I welcome your feedback. What did you like best? Was there anything that you found thought-provoking or surprising? What, if anything, did you find shocking or offensive? I'd really like to know. This was not the reception I expected for my keynote address, and I am just trying to understand what might have triggered the individuals who found it so disturbing. Looking forward to your comments.
(photo courtesy of Jade Beall Photography)
Creative energy is sexual energy. Great artists know they are engaged in love play. When describing their passion for their art, they use the language of lovers. For example, Russian painter Ilya Repin said, “I love art more than virtue, more than people, more than family, more than friends, more than any happiness or joy in life. I love it secretly, jealously as an old drunkard.”
A creative revolution is taking shape. We are beginning to reject the view of creativity as an intellectual capacity like thinking and problem-solving. That view has led to the false narrative that you have to be some kind of high-IQ genius to come up with creative breakthroughs or artistic masterpieces. You do not!
Did you know that the correlation between creativity and intelligence is pretty weak? Or that some dementia patients show an increase in creative ability as they lose brain function? There’s a reason that Albert Einstein, one of the most admired intellects in human history, said, “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery.” He understood the creative process to be passionate and playful. Einstein came up with his theory of relativity not by doing calculations but by taking an imaginary ride on a beam of light!
In over three decades as a creativity researcher, I have interviewed and studied thousands of artists and other individuals immersed in creative pursuits. For the vast majority of them, creative expression is not an intellectual pursuit but a form of love play akin to sexual union, childbirth, or breastfeeding. There is a flow of essence between the artist and the art much like the exchange that happens between lover and beloved.
When two lovers come together in the moment of conception, they share with each other the very essence of life—their last great hope for the future of their family lineages. Essence can take myriad forms: the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe. All that is essential to our existence at this moment, including whatever makes life worth living, can be considered essence.
Creative expression makes essence flow in the form of images, words, movements, sounds, brush strokes, gestures, shapes and curves, scents and tastes, sensations and emotions. And you know what drives that expression: love, joy, desire, bliss, ecstasy, and delight. Such passion energizes the creative process as it does any form of love play.
In recent posts, I have been sharing my thoughts about the playful practice of Inspiring. This practice elevates your creative expression to the heights of wholeness and holiness. At its heart, Inspiring involves the movement of creative energy, which is sexual energy.
To get that energy flowing, try the following:
To help with your visualization, look at the following animation. See yourself at the center of this energy field, acting as a fountain of essence and creative energy. After doing this practice a few times (give it at least a week), please drop me a line and share your experiences and impressions. Enjoy!
Inspiring is an art. This art draws you into the powerful, transformative experience of creative inspiration, where you can create as nature creates, from a place of wholeness where anything is possible.
Like any other art, inspiring has no hard-and-fast rules. There are a few guidelines that you can try for yourself, though. These are based on the wisdom and experience of those who have come before you.
In 34 years of exploring creative inspiration, I have seen what works for artists, inventors, writers, athletes, poets and others familiar with the experience of inspiration. Here is the closest thing I have seen to a solid rule for the art of Inspiring:
Sounds simple enough, right? Yet it turns out to be surprisingly hard. If you tune into the news, your mind may be filled with worry. You know what I mean: pandemics, war, natural disasters, political turmoil, and so much more.
At the same time, you may be dealing with physical and psycho-emotional pain on a daily basis. How can you enjoy life under such traumatic conditions? That is an extremely valid question. Letting go of suffering can seem like a monumental task. Yet, you can take a break from suffering at least for a short while. That is a good place to start.
Some of the most eminent creators in history had unhappy lives. Vincent Van Gogh had paralyzing anxiety and depression that led him to take his own life. Sylvia Plath killed herself by putting her head in an oven. Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. None of them lived to see 40.
Yet, each of them had their moments of astonishing, earth-shattering inspiration. The art of Inspiring has many levels. Start with a single profound experience of inspiration and build from there.
Find something that brings you intense joy. That is how it all begins. Every moment holds the opportunity for play. Immersing yourself in that play with all of your focus and energy leads to inspiration. If your play is a form of creative expression, then you are on your way to creating inspired art. Whatever form of play you choose, concern yourself only with what you are doing and experiencing right now, at this moment. Forget about goals and results. They NEVER matter to the individual absorbed in inspiration. If you are evaluating what and how you are doing, you are no longer Inspiring.
Take a moment to enjoy life, giving yourself fully to the feelings and sensations that are yours to be had, here and now. In next week’s blog, I’ll show you how to turn that experience into Nature’s love play. That is where it gets super juicy and wonderful. Stay tuned!
I am thrilled to announce that my life's work has taken me in an exciting new direction! The playful creative practice to which I have devoted myself for over three decades now has a new name: Inspiring. That will also be the name of a newsletter that launches in November, as well as a series of videos and podcast episodes.
Creative inspiration is an experience of wholeness as powerful as any other peak experience (mystical union, trance, being high, orgasm, etc). What makes inspiration unique is that it is conducive to creative expression, to the flow of ideas, movements, sensations, and energy. This flow is the essence of life! Here is where passion, sensuality, and transcendence meet.
Finding out how to live in this flow has been my lifelong focus and obsession. I went straight to the source, interviewing the people who knew the most about inspiration, as well as digging through historical archives, reading voraciously, and testing hypotheses in the lab. Most importantly, I delved into different practices, disciplines, and techniques first-hand. That is how I ended up apprenticing with a Mexican shaman, as described in The Chanter's Guide; traveling to India to unravel The Way of Play; developing and testing the simple and potent practice of Repose; and laying out the ten basic tenets of Deep Creativity.
Now, it's time to get very practical. I am ready to share the playful art and artful play of Inspiring with those who are ready to embark on this wonderful, gratifying adventure with me. If you want to take your creativity to new heights, that is a good reason to explore this practice. And if you want to experience wholeness on a daily basis, tapping into the flow of essence from which all creative expression emerges, that is the best reason I can think of to master the art of Inspiring.
Living in a results-oriented society, we tend to focus on creative products as opposed to creative experiences. When you immerse yourself in the playful art of Inspiring, you will discover, as I have, that you just have to focus on the experience--on the here and now--and the outcomes will take care of themselves. This is a fundamental principle of creative inspiration. As the great art teacher Robert Henri would tell his students, "The object isn't to make art. It's to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable."
Here is what you can do right now to get started. Join my Inspiring mailing list! I will be putting out a monthly online newsletter with some of my favorite tips and play activities. And stay tuned to this blog for some big announcements in the weeks ahead!
There are so many things you and I cannot control. COVID-19 has been a humbling reminder of that. But we do have control over how we feel. No matter what is happening around us, we get to determine the kind of relationship we have to life itself.
You can choose, as I have, to be inspired by life on a daily basis, to find passion and joy in the great gifts that come your way. Every day, as part of your morning practice, make the following proclamation: "I LOVE BEING ALIVE!" And don't just go through the motions. Put your heart into it. Say it like you mean it.
But maybe you don't really mean it. What if you feel that your life sucks? That is your right and your decision to make. Nobody's life goes as planned. We all face hard times. The human experience includes grief, failure, and disappointment. Very often, our sense of loss comes from the expectation of something more than what we have: more time with those we love, more freedom to do the things that bring us joy, or greater recognition and appreciation of our worth and talents.
Our expectations can be a destructive force. They cause us to make unreasonable demands rather than accepting life on its own terms. It's easy to love life when everything is going your way. But if you abandon that love when life fails to meet your highest standards, what kind of love is that?
We hear so much about unconditional love, which is a noble aspiration. You may believe, as I once did, that such love is an unrealistic and unattainable ideal. And for good reason. Most of us have never encountered or experienced it for ourselves. "True love is like ghosts," wrote Baron La Rochefoucauld, "which everyone talks about and few have seen."
As I described in my first book, The Chanter's Guide, in midlife I came to the stark realization that I had never really loved anyone fully or unconditionally in my whole life. I had a tendency to pick and choose the things I loved about people. Rather than immersing myself completely in the experience of life, I held back to some degree and sat in judgment of even the people I loved the most.
Then, I met a few wise individuals like Ammachi who served as role models of unconditional love. The first time I saw Ammachi, I watched the way she welcomed every person she met with open arms and an open heart. And that changed everything for me! Suddenly I knew that unconditional love was not an abstraction or a distant dream for me. It's my birthright, as it is for you.
All these years later, my daily practice of unconditional love begins with life itself. I choose to LOVE LIFE UNCONDITIONALLY and invite you to do the same. That means welcoming life and whatever it may bring. Even if you hit upon challenges, obstacles, and even the most seemingly tragic losses, keep your heart open. Everything can change in a heartbeat and often does. As author Marisha Pessl has observed, “Life hinges on a couple seconds you never see coming.”
Here lies the secret to inspired living: Love life with no conditions and no limits. You can do this and still aim high. Aspire to more while accepting what you have because what you have is a gift and a blessing. We don't know exactly how we got here or where we will end up. This life is a wild adventure, a thrilling ride filled with twists and turns galore. And it's all over much too soon. That being the case, you might as well enjoy the ride.
You know those moments that make you go "WOW!"? I live for those moments. Don't you? They are filled with wonder, astonishment and delight. They can also open doors to extraordinary creativity and personal transformation.
On Friday, February 19, at 5:30 pm Arizona time, I will be sharing my insights into these "WOW!" experiences, in a presentation entitled, "The Power of 'WOW!': Plugging into Your True Creative Nature." This presentation is an interactive Zoom event (including a little chanting) hosted by the Caritas Consciousness Project. Here is a description of what we will be doing:
Creative breakthroughs emerge from profoundly transformative experiences, which often start with a moment of “Wow!” For over three decades, Victor Shamas has devoted his life to the exploration and study of creative experiences. Besides offering insights into the nature of the creative process, these experiences have the potential to revolutionize our basic assumptions about human nature. In this presentation, Victor will take you on a journey into the heart of creative inspiration. Learn how to draw upon your “Wow!” moments to plug into the extraordinary creative genius that lives in your body. We will touch upon a number of topics, including fractals, the Cuban Spirit, Nature, spirals, the Pixar film Soul, and moments that make you go “Wow!”
You can register by clicking on this image:
Please note that Caritas is requesting a $10-15 donation to help cover costs. However, nobody will be turned away for lack of funds. If you want to attend but cannot afford the cost, please email me and I will send you the Zoom invite. I am looking forward to sharing a fun and memorable evening with you!
Deep Creativity has 10 Tenets. The second Tenet is that: All creating is becoming. In 2021, we have an extraordinary chance to create the kind of world in which we aspire to live. Envisioning that world is important, but just as important is right action. So, in honor of this important NEW YEAR, I offer the following call to action, which I have written for myself. If you choose to take these words to heart, so much the better:
To create love, becoming more loving.
To create generosity, become more generous.
To create kindness, become kinder.
To create peace, become more peaceful.
To create respect, become more respectful.
To create compassion, become more compassionate.
To create freedom, become freer.
To create sustainability, become more sustainable.
To create cooperation, become more cooperative.
To create justice, become more just.
To create awareness, become more aware.
To create balance, become more balanced.
On Christmas day, Maria and I watched Pixar’s new film, Soul, with great anticipation. For one thing, we were excited to see the work of Maria’s eldest son, Aaron Koressel, who animated important sequences of the film and helped develop software tools used by the animation team. I had also encountered reviews describing the film as a masterpiece, partly because of its portrayal of creative inspiration.
As someone who has devoted his life to exploring creative inspiration (as described in my book, Deep Creativity, and my TEDx talk, “The Art of Creative Inspiration”), I was eager to see what Pixar would do with this topic. Although Soul has its moments, I found the film’s portrayal of inspiration to be less than inspiring.
SPOILER ALERT: What follows may give away parts of the movie for those of you who have not yet seen it.
Soul tells the story of Joe Gardner, a middle-school music teacher who is about to get his big break as a jazz musician when he has an accident that lands him in a coma and separates his soul from his body. At this point, Joe finds himself in the astral plane, where he seeks to reconnect with his body. In order to do that, Joe has to mentor a new soul, which means helping that soul find its spark.
The scenes taking place in New York City really sparkle. Joe's passion for jazz comes through strongly. But once he enters the astral plane, the premise of Soul begins to go off the rails for me. This realm, as portrayed in the film, is an odd place filled with inconsistencies. For some reason, Pixar has chosen to embrace a dualistic view of the universe, where the physical and spiritual realms are distinct--at least, sort of. In the astral plane, Joe can’t smell or taste anything, and yet he flinches when one of the new souls bites him on the arm.
The astral plane is run by entities described as the “coming together of all the quantized fields of the universe.” Although the concept is intriguing, these entities come off as uninspired bureaucrats and bean counters. Such characters could have provided an important link to a more modern and holistic view of reality. Instead of integrating consciousness with the body and the material universe, the filmmakers chose to perpetuate a cosmology that has helped alienate and disconnect humanity from nature and from the wonders of the physical body.
One of the underlying themes of Soul has to do with the importance of finding one’s “spark,” which the film clearly links to inspiration. One place where new souls go to search for their spark is the Hall of Everything, where “literally anything on Earth” can serve to inspire them. Oddly, this hall is largely devoid of the natural world, and although it includes foods like pizza, disembodied souls lack all sensation, including the capacity for taste. This poses a serious problem: How are new souls supposed to find inspiration in something they cannot experience for themselves?
I strongly maintain that inspiration is an embodied experience. You feel it in this b0dy, in this moment—passionately, deeply, and intensely. To a certain extent, the filmmakers agree with me. Soul offers examples of individuals finding inspiration in music, food, movement, and touch. And yet, the film’s key depiction of creative inspiration, in a realm called The Zone, strays in an entirely different and, in my opinion, misguided direction.
In Soul, The Zone is described as “the space between the physical and the material.” Actors, musicians, and other artists share this space with lost souls whose obsessions and anxieties leave them disconnected from life. In fact, the film equates the two groups: lost souls and artists immersed in the experience of inspiration.
What a disservice this is to aspiring young artists! As someone who has had the privilege to live in the experience of inspiration and to observe and talk with countless others who share deep personal knowledge of that experience, I can say that The Zone is an interface and not a void. In other words, when you're in it, you gain access to an entire universe of possibilities. Consider what opens up to your imagination during moments of inspiration: colors, sounds, textures, scents, movements, flavors, energy, and rhythm. You catch glimpses of nature’s splendor, which ranges from the infinite to the infinitesimal.
In moments of inspiration, you feel more alive, not less. The landscape of The Zone as portrayed in Soul is much too dark and creepy a place, populated by lost souls filled with despair and anguish. I understand the filmmakers’ point that the kind of obsession displayed by Joe Gardner in his passion for jazz can become so extreme that it may cause the individual to miss out: on the precious little things; the here and now; and the myriad others sources of joy and delight to be found in life. Yet the spark of inspiration that can drive the artist to obsession is the same one that draws you into the fullest experience of being alive. It is all simply a matter of balance.
In fairness, there is much to love about Soul. The film captures elements of beauty and wonder. It is filled with memorable scenes, images, and sounds. I appreciate that it seeks to tackle such a big and important topic as inspiration. Although the film may have missed the mark, at least for me, I commend the filmmakers for the courageous way they tackled an artistic endeavor of this magnitude.
Two weeks ago, I posed this question to many of you: “Name at least one feature of the kind of world you aspire to live in.” I found your answers to be inspiring. For one thing, there was so much consistency. Here are the seven most popular responses, in order:
Creativity and Play
In 24 hours, I received 100 responses. What you described for me is your vision of utopia. When Thomas More came up with this term, utopia, he meant it as a pun because it could be derived from one of two Greek words meaning either a “good place” or “no place.” Our ideal society may exist only in our imagination, but that is where all human creations begin. If we cannot envision it, we most certainly cannot create it.
The good news is that we can come up with a fairly cohesive vision of the kind of society and world we want to create. It took a day for all of you who took part in my informal survey to paint a picture of this ideal place. I believe that if we assembled a global council charged with the task of generating a utopian vision for our planet, we would arrive at consensus about its basic qualities, which would include most if not all of the features you identified in your responses.
The bad news is that this utopian vision seems unattainable to most of us. In a separate survey, I asked for your take on the following statement made by comedian George Carlin a few months before his death: “It’s circle-the-drain time for humans.” The vast majority of you agree with Carlin’s position that the demise of our species is inevitable.
Why is that? The problem is that we don’t know how to get from Point A to Point B. It is one thing to envision utopia and another thing entirely to create it. The forces that have to be overcome appear insurmountable. These include runaway greed, intolerance, short-sightedness, and a seemingly insatiable lust for power.
But the quest for utopia is not a fool’s errand. In fact, I would argue that we have no choice in this pursuit. It is built into our biology. Our basic instinct as parents is to seek a better life for our children. Only the most selfish and dysfunctional parents lack this drive.
We have a parental duty to future generations. All the children of the world, present and future, are our children. We must make sure that the world they inherit from us is richer not poorer; more beautiful; more peaceful; teeming with life; and guided by love, kindness, compassion and respect.
If we give ourselves completely to the task of creating a better world for the next generation, we will succeed, but only if we have the right tools at our disposal. Such tools will allow us to magnify our vital creative energy and direct it with precision towards the realization of our common vision.
Here is what I have learned about these creative tools after three decades of research and exploration: They have to engage the entire body and not just the mind. In fact, the mind can be an enormous obstacle to creativity. My TEDx talk, “The Art of Creative Inspiration,” focuses on a body-centered approach to major creative breakthroughs. That approach is generally undervalued by those who study, write and teach about creativity, which is why the video of this TEDx talk has been gaining momentum recently, with 1000 new views in the past month.
When you learn to channel the creative power of your body, you can create an entire universe. This is not hyperbole. I know what it feels like to have all of creation emerge from deep inside of me during moments of inspiration. At such moments my imagination is free to go anywhere or to create anything. And my intuition allows me to absorb and internalize any or all of it.
One of the secrets to realizing a utopian vision is to use this vision as a filter. Although the bodies we inhabit can give birth to a whole universe, there are only certain parts of that universe we want to keep. Virtually every artist knows that creativity is in large part a process of omission. French sculptor Auguste Rodin observed, “I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.”
This is where the mind and body come together in the act of creating. First you allow all possibilities to flow through your body, and then you use your mind’s capacity for discernment to capture those elements that serve your vision while surrendering those that don’t.
As I have noted elsewhere, a creative revolution is coming. Why? Our species is in dire need, and as Plato noted, “Our need will be the real creator.” We can create utopia together. It’s a matter of sacrifice, determination, and mastery of the skills needed to usher in a positive new era. Who's in?
During a recent visit to the White Mountains of Northern Arizona, Maria and I walked by a mansion proudly displaying a sign with the following message, “KEEP AMERICA GREAT.” In three words, this sign captured the essence of conservatism, which is: Everything is fine the way it is. Leave it alone!
Conservatives maintain that existing institutions and policies must be preserved in the name of social stability and continuity. There are certainly times when this position makes sense. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But the summer of 2020 is not one of those times.
As I write this, the United States has recorded over six million cases of COVID-19, with nearly 200,000 fatalities. Unemployment has reached its highest levels in over 60 years. Major American cities face violence and unrest in response to a tidal wave of police brutality and systemic racism. Political divisiveness is tearing apart our families and communities. Climate change is taking its toll on our country, with raging forest fires in California; one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded striking the Gulf Coast; and record-breaking heat waves producing temperatures as high as 130 degrees in Death Valley.
At a time of unprecedented crisis, we must take our cues from Nature. As evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris points out, “Nature is conservative with what works well and is radically creative when crisis strikes.” We see evidence of rapid adaptation and change throughout the natural world. For example, mussels and other sea creatures have already adapted to live in the more acidic ocean conditions caused by climate change.
Other species have done more than just adapt to less tolerable conditions. They have actually altered those conditions in ways that have made the planet more livable. According to Sahtouris, there was a time, approximately two billion years ago, when only single-celled bacteria populated the Earth. These bacteria were so prolific that they caused worldwide crises of hunger and pollution. The problem was that they were all competing for the same food sources and producing the same waste products. In short order, they evolved specialization so that the waste product of one organism would be the food source for another. These bacteria were also able to harness solar energy, invent breathing, and establish elaborate communications networks. Perhaps most importantly, they came together to form cooperative communities, which are the precursors of the nucleated cells found in our own bodies today. And they did it all without the benefit of a brain.
Now, imagine what we humans can do with our extraordinary creativity. The first challenge is to put conservatism on hold for now so that you can embrace change. Whether you like it or not, major change is coming. Scholars and sages have long understood that every crisis represents an opportunity—and a choice. If you choose to hold onto the past, you will be crushed by the enormous forces that are being unleashed right now. It would be like trying to stand up to a giant ocean wave.
On the other hand, you can seize the chance to harness that energy in productive ways. The crisis we now face is actually a set of converging crises, all of which stem from our own alienation. We perceive ourselves as individual entities: alone, isolated, and self-contained. Our sense of disconnection—from other people, other species, and the Earth itself—have led to the unsustainable behaviors we see modeled on a daily basis in our leaders and institutions: aggression, conquest, divisiveness, greed, hostility, intolerance, jealousy, racism, and selfishness.
Now is the time for what Sahtouris calls “creative cooperation.” We have now entered into an age of global cataclysmic change. The current pandemic is just a taste of the disturbances that are going to impact our lives on a daily basis. If some of the experts I’ve interviewed on the Nature Am I podcast are right, here is some of what we can expect to deal with in the next decade: food shortages, runaway inflation, energy rationing, massive unemployment, drought, and the health effects of an increasingly toxic environment.
The only way we get through these challenges is by looking beyond our perceived differences and pulling together as one. “Life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence,” wrote psychologist Erik Erikson. “We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.”
One important way we can practice creative cooperation is by developing a resilience plan for our local community. Such a plan would prepare our community to withstand major disturbances and disruptions to global supply chains, which provide basic necessities like food, shelter, water, and energy.
To learn more about what you can do to build community resilience, please check out this interview with Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute:
I want to hear from you! Please share your questions and comments. And sign up for my newsletter, where I will pass along the insights, ideas, and inspiration that come my way.