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Thinking Creatively: A Swami's Story

Updated on January 20, 2008

Creativity is Everywhere

In this modern age in which all of the roads have been built, all of the basic vehicles already designed, and all of the other basic structures of comfortable living are in existence, information is king. Yet what to do with so much information? Many people have different aims. Money, romance, home purchase, and travel are some of the top considerations. Yet to achieve one’s desires, we must get creative.

Creativity, unlike the narrow, common conception, is not merely about being able to produce a Van Gogh painting, a Tiffany lamp, or a Faberge Egg. Creativity can be a matter of how to make a great meal for a group of people on less than $10, where to take a woman on a first date, or simply how to get up the courage to ask the boss for a raise. Creativity can be a downright pedestrian skill that is used every day, yet it is also a skill most essential to an interesting or successful life. It can come in so many fashions and contexts that to make blanket statements about the characteristics of this skill can be somewhat elusive. However, let’s try, shall we?

To implement creativity, consider some of the following propositions and actions.

1. Creativity comes from taking careful note of people and life, so that one can understand how the rules of society and existence work. It is when these rules are understood that they can be bent, or even broken. This is a major aspect of creativity: going against the grain, doing what others have not.

2. Related to number 1, but different, is paying attention to what is said to you or to others. By understanding exactly what is asked for or expected, that is, the way another thinks, this will allow understanding of a given system or way of being, even if within the realm of interpersonal relations.

3. Learn what works and what does not, along with what is socially acceptable, and what is seen as vulgar or unacceptable. We have all done this since we were very young children, but the secret here is to keep a mental score and evaluate these concepts repeatedly.

4. Learn to “translate” similar social or artistic structures from one structure to the other. This is the nature of much invention, as when Rene Descartes saw a fly land on a tiled wall and from this conceived Cartesian graphs.

5. Don’t be afraid to think within abstraction. Much as this article has been somewhat vague, that each reader can “fill in” the answers for him or herself (a useful exercise in creativity), so too should one be able to create something from nothing. Leonardo Da Vinci, when he taught drawing, would often ask students to look at the natural marks and colored spots on wood floors or walls, and from these “see” faces of people, animals, or other subject matter, that the students were in turn expected to draw. Something from nothing is at the heart of creativity.

6. Be shocking where necessary. This speaks for itself, as shocking and unexpected are nearly always a matter of creativity, when shocking within reason. Murder, for instance, is shocking, but not creative (nor very constructive); thus it is also a matter of finesse and finding the right levels within the zone of human surprise.

Let me leave you with a story that my beloved Swami-ji Dharmananda told my class one time many years ago in Rishikesh, India, a town at the foothills of the Himalayas. I feel it expresses some of the ideas mentioned above, such as paying attention (coupled with quick thinking), along with being shocking, which jostles one out of the ordinary and into the realms of surprise and so, creativity.

The story goes that many hundreds of years ago, while the Moguls were ruling most of India, the Mogul king of the time was widely known and loved. This was for a few different reasons, such as his great tolerance of religions other than his own, Islam. In fact, his top advisor was a Hindu who also held the distinction of being the king’s closest friend, and so the two were known to play practical jokes on each other.

One day the king saw his vizier and said,

“My friend, how are you? I had a dream about you last night!”

“Really, my lord?” his faithful friend replied.

“Yes. There were two swimming pools. One was filled with honey, which I was swimming in, and the other was full of dung, which you were swimming through.”

The vizier, without missing a beat, replied in great surprise,

“My lord! I had the same dream!”

The king, taken by surprise at the turn of events inquired


“Why yes, it was exactly as you said: You were swimming in a golden pool of honey, and I in a pool of feces.”

The king was absolutely flabbergasted at this point.

“The only difference with my dream,” began the vizier, “is that after we finished swimming, we both left our respective pools, approached each other and embraced. And then, I began licking you and you began licking me!”

The king stared at his friend in disbelief, smiled, and bowed his head at his defeat.

As you see, Sometimes creativity can be as simple a matter as successfully razzing a friend.


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