The Key to Creativity: Constraints
We do yoga to set ourselves free, right? That’s the message we get, anyway: the purpose of our practice is to liberate ourselves from sticky things like our bodies, desires, and relationships. From the goddess-worshiping Shakta Tantra point of view, however, the equation is reversed: we are not bound beings trying to get free, we are free beings trying to get bound.
In this worldview, freedom is our fundamental nature. We were free before we were born, and we’ll be free again when we die. Our practices are about figuring out what we want to tie ourselves to while we are between those two points. Within the short gift of having a body and consciousness, what commitments, responsibilities, and relationships will enrich us and help us grow?
The idea of creativity is often couched in the rhetoric of freedom—that what we need is to release the flow of words, images or ideas from some locked place inside our minds. Freedom isn’t, however, particularly conducive to creativity: when we could go in any direction with no consequences, how could we possibly decide which way to turn? Being free of boundaries can be paradoxically quite paralyzing
Here, I often think of the image of a river. A river can flow powerfully precisely because it has banks. A river without banks is simply a puddle. When we give our creativity boundaries, we give it a direction within which to flow.
So we start with those things we have chosen to bind ourselves to. Generally, these will represent your values, intentions, and responsibilities. What’s important to you? What is it, exactly, you are trying to create? And why?
It may seem strange to do this, but the next step is to think about what’s not possible. When you can identify what won’t work, it’s easier to see where there’s flexibility. You know you can’t build up or down, for example: can you build sideways?
When I’m sitting down to write, I rarely simply start. I need at least an idea, topic, or point to anchor to. I start with structure: what points do I want to make and in what order? Creating the boundaries for a piece is always the hardest part. Once the words know their parameters, they happily flow out of me.
I also find it useful to set up routines around my creative tasks. The key is figuring out a place to start. You might, for example, set aside one hour every day first thing in the morning to work on your project. Break the time down into small tasks and go in order: start with a topic and list the major points you want to make. Writing prompts are helpful for just this reason—they create a starting point for your writing to flow from. Rachel McKibbens is one of my favorite poets who has some excellent prompts on her website.
It might sound boring and unromantic to be focusing so much energy on routines, constraints, and commitments. But it is truly what we choose to bind ourselves to that provides the richest sources of meaning in our lives. Even if we are not focused on artistic projects, mindfully choosing our daily bondage can help us stay connected to the reason behind our routines. Even the hard stuff is a lot more fun when we know why we are doing it. If creativity is important to you, commit to it. Once we have set down the riverbanks, the ideas can truly begin to flow.