Creative Pain..


“Creative work is often driven by pain. It may be that if you don’t have something in the back of your head driving you nuts, you may not do anything. It’s not a good arrangement. If I were God, I wouldn’t have done it that way.” ― Cormac McCarthy

The well-known American author Cormac McCarthy mentioned this in his interview to Wall Street Journal in 2009, when quizzed about his writing work and sources from where he draws his inspiration. There has been an ongoing debate forever now, on the co-relation between pain and creativity and many believe that they – suffering and art – are directly co-related. In a sense, the greater the pain one suffers in life at some point of time leads to higher manifestations of those painful emotions into creative works of art.

As crazy as it may sound, it is true for a large number of musical geniuses of the world too. If you’re a music aficionado like me, you’ve definitely heard of the 27 Club – greatest musicians of the world who died only at the age of 27, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, to name a few. Of course many of these were accidental deaths, though basically led by disturbed mental condition or substance abuse habits.

For the record, I believe in wishful thinking and consider myself a shameless optimist. And not to take any credit away from those creative artists and people who have their creative juices flowing even in a happy state of mind and produce amazing results. I am myself in a creative writing and designing job, and I am not a drug addict, not yet!! But I also think it is kind of sad that so much of exemplary creative work -art, music, writings and poetry- in the world is a result of the pain and suffering, endured by these talented artistic souls.

I asked “What about my eyes?”

God said “Keep them on the road”.

I asked “What about my passion?”

God said, “Keep it burning.”

I asked “What about my heart?”

God said, “Tell me what you hold inside it?

I replied “Pain and sorrow.”

He said, “Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ― Rumi

Centuries before McCarthy gave that interview to Wall Street Journal and was even alive, Rumi the Persian poet wrote the above lines. May be it might be that true wisdom comes from pain and suffering and hence, the creativity that emerges from that wisdom is pure, honest and inspiring!


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I Failed..?

As a kid, I was never really among those who would suffer from stage fright or public speaking. Rather, I was one of those who would go to the microphone and bare my heart out, speak really fast and in a pitch as high as possible. (That’s when I was advised to stand a few meters away from the mike 😉 ) As I grew older with a sense of self-awareness, I became more confident about my public speaking skills and really looked forward to such opportunities in school. A trait that came in very handy during my business management (MBA) days in countless presentations and till today.

Notwithstanding, even I have had my share of embarrassments and bad days in oration and elocution. At one of such instances, I had prepared well in advance for a debate contest in school. I had gone through my points and remembered my lines by heart. All my supporters – friends and some teachers – were rooting for me (Yeah! I was quite popular back then). There was no way that I could let them down and more importantly, it was a matter of pride for myself, as well. On the big day, I found myself unusually nervous about the whole thing, given the fact that it was not my first time and I had faced such occasions multiple times. I thought may be the pressure is more because of the expectations and the big event. Now when I look back at the incident, I think that I expected a lot from myself at that time. The final day came and I found myself forgetting my points and fumbling while practicing my lines, and the last take was an absolute disaster. In front of the mike, I totally freaked out seeing the huge crowd, forgot my lines, stood for nearly five minutes totally blank and just could not believe this was happening to me because I had worked too hard on it. Somehow I finished my speech and came back. Suddenly, to me it seemed like the whole world was crashing upon me. That was one of my first rendezvous with FAILURE.. and I knew what failure tasted like.

Few weeks back I was reading an article titled “The Art of Failure” in the Newyorker by the very famous Malcolm Gladwell, wherein he describes two types of failure.

Choking is a type of failure caused when pressure and situation gets the better off a person and he/she simply freaks out on account of worrying too much about his/her performance. This generally happens to people who are a pro at what they do or atleast have enough experience to know the basic rules of the game, and the particular situation is considered a big one by the performer. For instance, sporting events where huge crowds gather to witness the matches and watch every movement of their favorite players. Many performing players can just freak out due to pressure and underperform.

Panic is something else altogether. Panic is when an individual fails to perform under a given situation due to lack of sufficient prior experience of such instances. Such a person may be aware of all the rules but fails to apply them due to lack of experience.

Choking is a central part of the drama of athletic competition, because the spectators have to be there—and the ability to overcome the pressure of the spectators is part of what it means to be a champion . But the same ruthless inflexibility need not govern the rest of our lives. We have to learn that sometimes a poor performance reflects not the innate ability of the performer but the complexion of the audience; and that sometimes a poor test score is the sign not of a poor student but of a good one.

Panic, in this sense, is the opposite of choking. Choking is about thinking too much . Panic is about thinking too little. Choking is about loss of instinct Panic is reversion to instinct. They may look the same, but they are worlds apart. People who choke fail because they are good at what they do: only those who care about how well they perform ever feel the pressure of stereotype threat. ~ Malcolm Gladwell

As they say, “Nothing is impossible” and it requires strong willpower and determination to over come any type of failure – choking or panicking. In the movie Top Gun a choking-like situation occurs with Tom Cruise’s character “Maverick” after he loses his co-pilot and best friend in an accident and succumbs to pressure everytime he flies again afterwards due to the guilt of not being able to save his friend. It takes him quite a while to regain and restore his self-confidence. Even in day-to-day news we encounter choking-like instances of sportsperson who would just buckle under pressure of the event, scared due to the crowd.

In one of his recent best selling books “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell describes how even the extraneous factors – like place of birth, decade of birth, surrounding situations and people, etc. – are sometimes responsible for the success or failure of a person. A very simple and plain example to clarify this point – students all around the world finishing their graduation or post graduation before the recession (i.e. the boom years 2005-2008) had better chances of getting jobs than those finishing their courses post recession (2009-2010). At times no matter howsoever hard you work, failure becomes simply inevitable due to the uncontrollable forces.

Not undermining the significance of hard work but the next time you think of someone as a loser and yourself as more successful, do keep in mind whether the situations around that person are to blame, or just that you have been plain lucky!

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Constructive Conflict

All the time in our daily lives, we come across people arguing with each other. At times, it just makes you wonder why can’t people agree with each other for a change. Whether its your local groceries store, while traveling in a bus, discussion with friends or a boardroom meeting, arguments and debates are happening everywhere.

In this modern era of knowledge economies and the information revolution going all around us, everyone has access to facts and as they say everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. As a consequence, the number of opinions are equal to the number of minds inside a room.

But in an argument whenever you say “I am entitled to my opinion”, have you ever tried to give a thought that so is the person at the front. And hence, instead of arguing with one another to prove yourself correct, try giving a lending ear to your opponent. Analyzing your opponent’s thoughts might prove to be quite an educating experience for you as you start viewing the things from other side of the fence. As you put yourself in your opponent’s shoes your empathetic towards your rival and hence, strong negative emotions suddenly start disappearing and you are able think more clearly. Result..a healthy debate or as they term it in management and corporate culture a “Constructive Conflict” ensues.

Unfortunately, not many cultures around the world give much of significance to listening. Japanese for one, have a different style of communicating and place a great deal of attention to what is being communicated to them. They are adept listeners and observe minute details, like body language and tone of the speaker, while the conversation happens.

While a constructive conflict sounds very much like an ideal case scenario, the practical situation as we had learned way back in our science classes, is quite different from the theory. In real world, there are heated debates, aggressive arguments and lot of negative emotions and live drama is involved.

Sadly, none of the solutions discussed in our conflict management classes are utilized in pragmatic situations in life. This is mainly because rarely people have the level of patience and a balanced sense of understanding while they are engrossed in a fiery exchange of words. Clearly, high level of self awareness is an exceptional trait.

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Unconscious Reality

“My unconscious knows more about the consciousness of the psychologist than his consciousness knows about my unconscious” – Karl Kraus quotes

A well framed thought that aptly describes the strength of our unconscious mind. The human unconscious mind is the most powerful creation of nature and can be quite dangerous and destructive too.

Have you ever wondered how your mind can create such clear scenes in your dreams with background, costume, storyline, sequence, actions and sounds everything in place and just the way it should be. I keep wondering all the time. Few days back, I dreamt of a huge aeroplane bursting in flames up in the sky, in front of my eyes in the dream sequence, and bingo..everything was like a sci-fi or star wars movie. At times, I do not even remember my dreams but when I go back to sleep sometimes they start from just where I left them. Its just for a fraction of seconds after I wake up, that I realize what I saw and then the memory starts fading.

Unconscious mind is a huge collection of mental phenomena inside a person’s mind to which the person is unaware of at the time of their occurrence. These can be unconscious feelings, skills, unnoticed perceptions, thoughts, habits, obvious but unnoticed reactions, complexes, hidden phobias and concealed desires. The unconscious mind or brain is also the source of dreams and automatic random thoughts. Its like a repository of memories that might be very well forgotten by the conscious.

Its also a center of all the routine things that we have been taught to do since childhood and still practice without much thought. Routine activities like riding a bicyle, tying shoe lace are kind of stored in unconscious mind as implicit memory.

Having said all of the above, the unconscious mind may also be the biggest enemy of a person. Remember all those times when you wanted to do/try something new in life and some inherent and latent force inside pulled you back. You wanted to badly learn to ride a bicycle when you were young and used to watch the older teenagers speeding in their bikes, only wishing you could be as much faster. However, you were scared because there was a fear of the unknown, of course, till you conquered that. Not quite often do we realize that our subconscious mind may be the biggest hindrance or inhibitor to the greatest of our desires in times the single most reason of our existence.

The subconscious mind might be powerful with unlimited storage space but it is like a lazy school kid who never wants to go to school and learn new things. Its repulsive towards any sort of change. That precisely explains the fear of change in the human nature. And comfort zone, might be an euphemism that we use for this kind of human tendency.

Subconscious brain is classically conditioned to perform activities and store information and any kind of change in the pattern is not acceptable to it. Ever wondered, why old habits die hard!! Now you know. That’s why moving out of comfort zone and taking the road less traveled is a big deal.

What’s ironically sad is the fact that we always blame situations or people for our miseries in life. When the biggest opposition to our capabilities is not the immediate rival at work, instead it rests peacefully inside us.

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