‘We are called upon to do something new, to confront a no man’s land, to push into a forest where there are no well-worn paths and from which no one has returned to guide us. This is what the existentialists call the anxiety of nothingness. To live into the future means to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize.’
The Courage to Create is not a new book but it is most certainly an extraordinary one. It was first published in 1975 though some of the chapters were developed from lectures given up to twenty years earlier. Rollo May, who died in 1994, was an American existential psychotherapist and an author of a number of books, such as Man’s Search for Himself and The Cry for Myth. In the prologue to The Courage to Create, May mentions his initial reluctance to publish this collection of lectures because they felt to him, incomplete. When he finally agreed to publish them it was because he realized that ‘this ‘unfinished’ quality is ‘part of the creative process itself’.
In this far ranging exploration of creativity, May identifies courage as the most essential ingredient of the creative act. What is courage? he asks in the title chapter. He then goes on to explore what it is not in order to bring our focus towards what it might be. No, it is not the opposite of despair nor the absence of despair but rather ‘the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair’. Courage, he says, ‘requires centeredness within our own being’. It is not rashness or bravado and neither is it a virtue or a personal value, but rather it is ‘the foundation that underlies and gives reality to all other virtues and personal values.’ May goes on to explain that the ‘word courage comes from the same stem as the French word coeur, meaning heart’. Continue reading →
There is a saying that in order to fly you must first be willing to fall. Some time ago I saw this illustrated first hand in a row of terrace houses just behind the castle ruins and the busy promenade in Aberystwyth. With the sun bright in the sky and the sounds of children splashing and squealing in the water it was hard to believe that a life and death drama was unfolding in the form of a fledgling crow learning how to fly. I have watched it flapping its wings awkwardly, only to find itself sliding down roofs, bouncing into bushes and eventually sleeping exhausted on the tops of parked cars, while mother and father crow shout their warnings from rooftops and fly down in quick forays to nudge their baby back into action. For a few days I was woken at 4am by harsh cries as the parents fought pitched battles with prowling neighbourhood cats that are always on the lookout for an easy catch. Then one morning all was quiet and when I looked out of my attic window I could see the fledgling crow perched proudly on a rooftop before lifting gracefully into the air, delighted by its new found skill.
There is an art, or rather a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.
Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Whether it is learning to fly or writing a novel, starting a business or choreographing a dance, the creative process demands risk and good timing, openness to discovery and a lot of hard work. As Stephen King wrote, ‘amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.’ He is right of course but inspiration is important too, the first step in a much longer process that requires a constant and often unconscious shifting back and forth between intuition and intellect, heart and head. Inspiration is the mystery behind the creative process, the spiritual element that is such an important balance to the practical slog of day-to-day work. It is a gift, the spark that sets our creative juices flowing, the moment when an idea descends and we know beyond doubt that we can bring it to fruition if only we could find the courage to step into the abyss and spread our wings. We must hold onto that moment because almost immediately the doubts will surface, niggling away at our confidence so that it can become a battle against ourselves just to begin, let alone to finish.
‘Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.’