Have you ever wondered what the source of sudden bursts of inspiration/ beauty/ magic and creative ideas is? Many people often feel that ideas come as if from an outside source, and not from within themselves. Sometimes we almost feel like the vehicle for a creative work, that it comes through us, and not from us. But what is this magical source of creativity?
Background on the theories:
I’ve been brushing up on theories of story structures as I’ve begun work on a new project (an indie adventure game), and in the process of that, I came across a video that explains Joseph Campbell’s theory of The Hero’s Journey.
Wikipedia describes this as “In narratology and comparative mythology, the monomyth, or the hero’s journey, is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.”
The video explains Don Harmon’s interpretation of this structure. (link to the video ) He divides the journey into 8 parts around a circle, involving variations of the steps described in the hero’s journey:
The part that we’re interested in here though, is this distinction of the (same circle) worlds as described in the video. The top half of the circle is where the story begins, and comes to an end. The bottom part of the circle is where the hero’s growth/ change happens. The top half is the normal world, the bottom is the special world. (That sentence itself holds so much power, doesn’t it?)
Don Harmon writes “Your mind is a home, with an upstairs and a downstairs.
Upstairs, in your consciousness, things are well-lit and regularly swept. Friends visit. Scrabble is played, hot cocoa is brewing. It is a pleasant, familiar place. Downstairs, it is older, darker and much, much freakier. We call this basement the unconscious mind.
The unconscious is exactly what it sounds like: It’s the stuff you don’t, won’t and/or can’t think about.”
“The point is: Occasional ventures by the ego into the unconscious, through therapy, meditation, confession, violence, or a good story, keep the consciousness in working order.”
On entering the Special World in our own lives:
Now in a story, according to the 8 step structure, when the character crosses from the upper half to the lower half, or from point 2 (the character needs something) to 4 (the search for what they need), the character enters the special world: Either the character enters a new place, or a new situation, and struggles to adapt. It’s the difference between Neo living in the Matrix (normal world), and being in the “Real World” (special world). Or Frodo in the Shire (Normal) vs all the places he’s in during the journey (special). Or Harry Potter’s story before and during Hogwarts. And then of course, the character, having changed, returns to the normal world to end the story.
The video and the theory talk about how this structure is used by all stories that we write, explaining it in detail. What we’re interested in though, is how this is also applicable to us in our creative lives. My point here is, that when we watch a movie/ experience a story, we obviously journey with the protagonist as well. This means that the hero also takes us to the special world with him. And it is because of this that we feel inspired through other art. Creativity then, comes from that “special world” as described above. I’ll come back to all this in a bit.
The significance of this Special World:
Now what sparked this thought was a very interesting comment on the video by a Youtube user named “Maitrī xp”. Parts of what he said are–
“I think this structure is the basis of our consciousness, becoming aware of death means becoming aware of life, diving in the unconscious means coming back more creative with newly organized ideas”
“This cycle I first encountered, more profoundly, on psychedelic experiences.”
“For me it’s more an inheritance of the cycle of season per say, or day and night, with which we have become so intricately connected”
“Then the sun becomes the bringer of consciousness over the unconscious when he rises, then the night becomes dissolution of boundaries and frontiers”
“When the nights comes and we can only see what is far we dreams, we see everything merging with each other and dancing like shadows”
The main take away I got from his comments is that the cycle as described in the video, particularly the distinction of the two worlds, exists within us, and is also a part of how the universe works, as the universe is creation itself. But more importantly, it is the special world from which we get our creative ideas.
Entering the special world:
The special world exists in the late nights, in dark corners where things are unclear, where nothing is certain, in fog and mystery, and especially in dreams. Dreams are probably when our minds are at their most effortlessly creative self. The day brings with it clarity, normalcy and schedule. Spend all your time only pursuing the normal world – like activities, and creativity might suffer.
The Youtube comment guy may have experienced this through psychedelic substances, but it can be safely said that there are many different triggers or doors to the special world. David Lynch is a big practitioner of transcendental meditation and now it should be easy to see why. The Twin Peaks director is well known for his unusual, weird, dreamlike and extremely creative works, and his works almost directly showcase the special world itself.
I personally like to work in the evenings with the lights dimmed, incense sticks burning and a water fountain on in the background. It takes me out of the bright, normal world and basically helps me in knocking on the door of the special world (although that door doesn’t always open despite my best attempts.)
Some triggers to opening that door for me are video games [they literally help you experience a completely different, (usually) unrealistic, fantastical world] music and films.
Also as I stated before, if stories take you on a journey with the character, maybe this is why they inspire us and spark creative ideas – It is because with the character, we too have entered the special world, where ideas reside. Maybe this is why “art inspires art”
Protecting your Special World:
Because of this, I’d say beware of the mundane that can push the door to the special world far away into obscurity, of the trials of everyday life that can chain you to the normal world. If you spend every moment of your day thinking about work, bills, groceries, running a home, money, relationships, social life and all normal world concerns, even on the bed at night, it is obvious that the door to the special world might be lost.
Instead, remove some time and create a sanctum, a place, time and an activity that allows your mind to dwell on obscurity – on things different from the normal world. Meditate, draw, write, look at the stars, watch the clouds, take a walk in the woods, travel – there are tons of options, just make sure it’s different from the normal world, and make sure you’re conscious and aware of the magic of that moment and activity. if you’re not careful, the demands of everyday life can snatch it away from you
I also feel that this is why you should avoid doing things like watching too many sitcoms, news, indulging in mainstream popular music, things that instantly gratify us, numb us and elevate our moods for a short span of time, and keep your mind stuck within the normal world. Instead, let your thoughts descend into the darker, more unfamiliar areas.
Maybe, now having understood this, it might be a good idea to watch a film and stop it in between – when the character is still in the special world – and use that energy to do creative work, and then finish off the movie later on when I’m done with that work? It sure is worth a try!
What do you think? Do you feel this describes how you feel about creativity, art and beauty? And what are your methods to gain access to the special world, or to get inspired?