IMAGINATION, INSPIRATION, INTUITION - Three Sources of Creativity
Image: A Season To Dance by Beverly Ash Gilbert
Creativity and its source in spirit
Spirit permeates the world, the whole cosmos. That is, everything is spirit, and in the countless physical/material forms we perceive spirit embodied. Because of our unique human consciousness, humans can come to experience, know and ‘test the spirits’.
There are three processes through which we can apprehend the spirit at work in our soul and in the world around us. They help us to choose what is beneficial and what is detrimental to our higher self.
In my book on the arts and spirit , I explore these processes in connection with artistic activity, firstly because a genuinely creative artist inevitably works with the spirit in ways that enrich and transform and secondly because imagination, inspiration and intuition are reflected in the varieties of artistic expression. Yet these virtues are relevant to all who approach life in a truly creative way.
IMAGINATION is essentially the opening of the inner eye to ‘see the picture’ of spirit underlying things. It is clairvoyance. We enjoy looking at visual images; seeing is important to us. Imagination involves allowing vision to move beyond this kind of sense seeing, but to try to form images without sensory objects as the doorway isn’t truly imagination. That will produce fantasies and ‘mind bubbles’. To facilitate creativity, imagination really needs knowledge of worldly existence as a starting point.
Visual artists work with imagination when they amplify, enliven and even abstract what exists in the world to draw out the inner meaning. Van Gogh closely observed the world he wanted to paint. He worked hard at his art, spending long days from dawn until dark out painting, repeating, trying to capture the essence of what he saw. In the finality he only succeeded through receptivity to the image he found alive in his imagination, as he wrote, ‘because the thing has already taken form in my mind before I start on it’.
Through sensitivity, intention and with clarity of focus, our imagination can awaken and give us the ability to come to the greater reality permeating the physical. We may perceive, perhaps in a look or something said, behind the persona of another to their essential being. Or we might tap into nature’s eternal quality, its ongoing transformations as spiritual forms take the place of familiar physical ones, rather than simply an external change from life to decay. I’ll quote the poet Wordsworth because he expresses imaginative perception so well:
There was a time when meadow grove and stream
The earth and every common sight,
To me did seem apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and freshness of a dream.
INSPIRATION is an inner intimation of a wider reality which emerges from unconsciousness to consciousness at auspicious moments. This is like a light coming on. It is why we commonly say, ‘I had a flash of inspiration’, although inspiration tends to arrive like awakening to the day rather than a flashlight. No wonder poetic inspiration is depicted as taking long draughts from the Hippocrene Spring watched over by the Muses.
There’s a reality behind this metaphor. Those long draughts are like a deep, totally absorbed listening, when you are taken beyond everyday thoughts. From the level of the macrocosm this kind of absorption is hearing the spiritual Word resound in our soul.
‘Resound’ suggests music and there is an affinity between inspiration and music, which exists beyond everyday thinking. Ancient poets always sang their words so they could tap into the relatedness of life on a transcendent level as a kind of stream of consciousness. Inspiration is attuning to the divine harmonic order, the interactions that go on at the soul level of things.
The Renaissance philosopher Marcilio Ficino wrote of two types of music: divine music related to order and harmony of the Logos, which is also imprinted on the human soul, and the music we compose, play or sing. When the second music is attuned to the first, it is because the musician has ‘heard’ those spiritual harmonies.
It’s no accident that calming music so often accompanies meditation when one must quieten the mind for inspiration to arise. Even better is to allow times to become free of all external sounds, and in the mind’s stillness and silence respond to the music that already lives in the soul. This can take place even when we are interacting if the mind is stilled of ‘chatter’. Then inspiration will emerge into thought like beautiful music.
INTUITION is a heightened state of consciousness and openness that enables us to participate in the metaphysical dimensions of existence. What we usually call intuition is the briefest experience of something with far more potential.
My spiritual teacher Mario Schoenmaker connected the development of the ‘I’ with intuition, except that...
'Often people confuse intuition with feelings, but feelings have no role in intuition ... [it] is the still, small voice that speaks when all is calm like the deep waters of the ocean. For the emotions need to be stilled and all needs to be quiet and at peace before the flow of spirit can be discerned ... intuition then is actually the voice of spirit, and it becomes a very mighty, powerful tool.'
Spirit communes with spirit, so through intuition we are truly in communication with the spiritual as it pervades all. Intuition consists of merging with the whole so that the cosmos can think and speak through us. It involves communication but in a particular way related to direct knowledge, a thinking mode free of the mental habits, memories and influences that make for a subjective viewpoint. This is only possible when we release the dependent self, while not losing the core of self, and engage with anything ‘other’ from that starting point. Through intuition we both become the other and yet paradoxically remain who we are. In that moment the cosmos as Logos speaks in us.
Poetry was once known as the highest art form because the poet’s words arose from direct communication with the spiritual world, which they found not only in ‘heaven’ but through recognizing and speaking of the finest qualities in a beloved, in noble deeds, of a special place or the beauties of nature.
If an intuition comes to us it may seem like a thought that comes into our mind from ‘out of the blue’. Nevertheless, it will have a foundation in personal experience born out of empathy in which the wonder, the suffering, the yearning and also the inner beauty of all that is outside us is revealed. Through intuition we can speak as the poets once spoke and sacredness will be revealed in our words.
These are the kinds of seeing, hearing and communication that lead to true creativity in any area of life. But our contemporary world is fraught with obstacles. It is a world we have enabled through allowing retrogressive forces to occupy our consciousness. Spirit is not always ‘heavenly’. As light creates shadows, so spiritual light is always accompanied by its shadow spirit. And often we seek our home in the shadows that keep us ‘in the dark’.
It can feel comfortable there, and sort of safe, yet without an active creative will we become subject to externalities – to inundation with visual images in advertising, the media and countless electronic illusions; to the walls of indiscriminate music in every shop and entertainment venue, and the constant song stream from the earphones that block out the living world. Our soul is deadened when little space is left to form our own visual images or hear the inner harmonies.
In that shadow realm we do become hungry for connection, and it is readily available right at our fingertips in areas deficient in spiritual potency, in escapist and ‘success in love’ enticements, in pornography, in online chat that reinforces our small selves. We become dependent, even addicted with longings that are never fulfilled.
The value of walking creatively with spirit is to gain the soul wisdom, the freeing clarity of thinking, feeling and willing so that we can work in the material world, but not be trapped by this world. In this sense practitioners in the different art forms who embrace the three attributes can bring others with them towards the future.
In the free conscious individual, we’ll observe certain characteristics. One will be that they are not bound by the past, whether cultural, religious, racial, political, material or economic. They will not fear the breaking apart of these familiar things. They will not be afraid to risk change, to embrace the unknown. True conscious action involves an outward movement of spirit in order to perceive spirit in others – no matter who and what they are. It begins with compassion and empathy and an open receptivity. When we work to apply the spiritual attributes of imagination, inspiration and intuition, in the resulting heightened consciousness we will be able to reach beyond our ego limits to perceive the whole world in terms of glorious and purposeful spiritual activity.