I’ve recently had the revelation that many times throughout my life, I could have achieved something great. I could have been the dancer with the perfect score, I could have been a great writer, I could have achieved so much more in college, but something always held me back.
I always blamed these shortcomings on myself, as anyone would, however, my recent discovery of Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2009 TED talk, has opened my eyes into a new possibility. It’s a wonderful and enlightening talk, and I highly recommend taking the 20 minutes to watch it if you haven’t already. It plays with creativity and the ancient belief that creativity was sent from another form of being, and given to us. It takes the pressure we have to create, and pulls it away from us. It’s something that can take us away from the anxiety of writer’s block and shifts the blame of sub-par pieces of work onto someone other than the one who completed it, and keeps us from taking all of the credit for something amazing we have created.
I’ll use the example of an experience I had as a young, very competitive Irish dancer. Yes. Irish dance. It’s a whole world that many are completely unaware of, but it is actually extremely competitive, even as much so as gymnastics. It’s a sport that takes a lot of commitment, concentration, and perseverance. I was never as good as the best dancer in our class. There were always many dancers who were better than me, but I was told I always had the potential to be extraordinary. It was a natural talent that came to me, but I never really had the push it took to reach that potential. I was only slightly above average. Always reaching so close to being the best.
In Gilbert’s talk, she mentions ancient sacred moonlight dances, where an average dancer would become transcendent, and he would suddenly be almost inhuman with a certain energy and light surrounding him and inside him. “Everything aligned.” Back then the people would recognize this godliness and they would chant “Allah, Allah, Allah,” for they knew he was being taken over by another being.
This is a crazy concept, and I’m not saying I was taken over by a god, but it’s curious to think about and explore. There was one notable experience I had as a dancer where I felt as though I was floating, light as a feather. I didn’t feel connected to the ground. My jumps and leaps came with such ease, I felt I could almost fly. Everything was aligned and perfect and I could feel the whole room staring at me in awe.
It must be known that Irish dance is very calculated and requires a sequence of “steps” and fast and fancy footwork and somehow my body was doing it for me without me even comprehending it, it simply flowed out of me. I vividly remember thinking to myself, how is this happening, what is going on? What step am I even on? As soon as I began to overthink it, I began to panic a little. My brain was not caught up with my body movement. I didn’t know where I was in time with the music, and I ended my set…prematurely. The music was still playing and my competitor next to me was still going. I stopped too soon. I knew I messed up because as soon as I stopped, one of the three judges threw his hands up and chucked his pen across the room. I easily had a perfect score, and he knew it, but my snap back into reality and my overthinking ruined me. Stopping during your set is a major deduction. I didn’t even end up placing that day. My remarks from the judges on my score sheet was scribbled in angry letters. “STOPPED.” I stopped too soon. I interrupted my enlightenment, with overthinking and panic, instead of allowing my body to be taken over. I was too afraid of not being in control. We need to let go of this control sometimes and embrace it. This is what Gilbert was talking about; forcing ourselves to be in control, to be the creator, instead of letting the creativity over take us.
I always chalked up this strange occurrence to simple adrenaline, but I know it couldn’t have been just that. I can still feel the lightness that I had until this day. I can see the whole experience as it happened. It’s something that hasn’t left me and still haunts me. Where did it come from? Will I ever experience it again?
Magnificent writers believe in this given creativity and brilliance. They believe it to be within your unconscious self. Delve into Ray Bradbury, and you may just believe it too.
“Listen to your muse.” My muse has always been itching at the back of my head. I think it’s time to start listening.