Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How Altruism Enhances Creativity

From Karen Armstrong's The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness

“Insight does not always come to order, and there will certainly be no renaissance if you are merely trying to ‘get' something for yourself. As soon as I stopped trying to exploit my literary skills to advance my career or enhance my reputation, I found that I was opening myself to the text, could lose myself in the beauty of the words and in the wisdom of the writer. It was a kind of ekstasis…a going beyond the self.”

I ran across the quote in Gaining: The Truth about Life after Eating Disorders by Aimee Liu.

It dovetails with the philosophy of a book I co-wrote a few years ago with Allan Luks: The Healing Power of Doing Good.

I never thought until now about how that principle of expanding my focus beyond myself could lead to better reading and writing, as well as better physical and mental health.

Writing simply to say what needs to be said can lift the heavy restrictions of self-consciousness.


Debra Whaley said...

Peggy, what an interesting quote. Do you feel that some of your previous work might have been written with a more self-conscious edge because of restrictions that you placed upon yourself, or because of limits that were put upon you from the outside? I think that some of this might go back to that "boundary" conversation that we had a couple of weeks ago. Could some of the self-imposed boundaries that you had set for yourself caused you to feel stifled?

I think that as we get older, we realize that some of the "voices" that we once used, were voices that we created for ourselves so that we would fit nicely into a certain expectation. As we progress, we can either continue to hold on to those limits and stay kind of safe and stagnant, or we can explore other "voices" and ideas that will allow us to evolve and move forward. Sometimes, solidifying the boundaries that we create for others in our lives so that we don't feel unheard, coordinate with softening the boundaries that we have set, so firmly, for ourselves.

I think that you got it exactly right when you said that "writing simply what needs to be said can lift the heavy restrictions of self-consciousness."

Okay, now my head hurts from thinking too hard! To top that, I am on my way to go watch my oldest daughter preform in The Tempest at college tonight. Shakespeare sometimes hurts my head, and I'm not afraid to admit that!

Peggy said...

Just as you said this is starting to make my head hurt, I'd start to sink in my own morass of logic. It's complicated indeed.

I guess for me: I've built inner restrictions in response to perceived outer restrictions.

That sounds like a fairly dumb thing to do, when it's stated baldface.

I hope the Tempest was fun for all.

Debra Whaley said...

"Perceived" is the key word, but I definitely wouldn't say that it sounds dumb. I think that we all project the things that we perceive others to place on us, onto ourselves. It is only when we really look at those restrictions(sometimes until our heads hurt), that we can admit that many of them aren't necessarily real, but conjured up because of our own fears.

I think that your admission is very courageous! And I agree that all of this can get very, very complicated...

The Tempest was very good, although I sometimes have a hard time following Shakespeare. My daughter did a fine job, as did the rest of the cast. Interestingly enough, one of her professors played the lead. I didn't realize that they did that in college productions, but I was told that it is quite common. With 9 more nights of the play, I am sure that I will be seeing it again. I am sure that I will understand it more next time I go.

Peggy said...

Yesterday I read Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face, about her life after a third of her jaw was removed at nine years old. In her twenties she was quite popular, had lovers, a couple of long-term relationships, was viewed by many as an entrancing person. She still perceived herself as ugly.

Hard to shake an idea once we get it installed.

Debra Whaley said...

I read Lucy Grealy's book, as well, and so I can understand what you are saying. Although there was a lot of positive in her life, there was much negative attention, too.(And yes, much of it was fed by her own perception of herself.)

Have you ever heard the little Buddhist story about the two dogs that live within our minds? One is a bad dog that is vicious and cruel. The other one is kind and loving. The question is "Which dog do you want to feed?"

I think about that a lot when I am on the verge of making an assumption about myself. It seems to help when you ask yourself that question. It is VERY difficult to shake an idea once we get it instilled, but the question is, "Which dog do you want to feed?"

Just something to consider...

Peggy said...

GREAT story!

And it's possible to change the names of the two dogs to suit a particular moment.

For example: seething, wimp dog and assertive dog.

That's the one I'm working on right now.

Debra Whaley said...

Peggy, that is true. You can change the names of the dogs in order to suit the situation.

Seething, wimp dog vs. assertive. Those are some good ones! I also struggle with this one, but at times, the "assertive" dog can become angry dog when she realizes that she is not only being wimpy dog, but she is allowing her "yard" to be tromped all over. Balance is such a fine line.

Peggy said...

Yeah, Grieving Dog and Depressed Dog can be hard to tell apart, too. There are a bunch of those.