How Do I Work this Thing?

Now and then, when I’m writing (or when I’m thinking about the creative process), I realize that in the final analysis I have no idea how I actually do it. Writing (like any creative activity) involves a marvelous paradox — how to direct the process while at the same time staying out of the way.

Why do we need to stay out of the way? Mainly because the process itself, at its basis somewhere outside the conscious mind, seems to operate from a place of complete silence — even emptiness. This is not to say that we create out of nothing, of course, but the creations do seem to come from a place where things are simply not found. And by things, I must inevitably include thoughts.

I’ll be returning to this delightful mystery a lot, but for the present, try this experiment:

Take a good look at your left hand. Open it flat, palm up, and just look at it. Consider this: it’s your hand, not anyone else’s, and it’s entirely your responsibility. (I’m trusting that nobody will take issue with those statements.)

Now slowly close your hand and ball it up into a fist. Keep looking at it, and then slowly open it up flat again. If anyone asked, you’d say, “I closed my hand and then opened it.” (And again, I’m trusting that nobody would dispute that.)

But I ask you, and think very carefully before you answer, how did you do it?

Do it again if you like, and look inside at what you actually do to make it happen. What did you do, I’d like to know. Did you just intend for it to open? And then it just opened? If that’s your answer, isn’t that just a bit too convenient? Does it explain anything at all about how you made it happen?

Try this variation:

First, make a fist and think to yourself, “Now I’m going to open my hand.” Then, without hesitating, open it.

Second, make a fist and again think to yourself, “Now I’m going to open my hand.” Then without hesitating, don’t open it.

Can you detect a difference? Did you experience how your stated intention to open the hand preceded opening the first time, and then not opening it? Try to focus your insight on what you actually did when the hand opened, and then find where that “did” was missing when the hand didn’t open. Can you explain that?

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