Sand Castles III

April 29, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Sand Castles

I’ve noticed that it takes several days of deep concentration on a sand castle project, exercising techniques I’ve used a thousand times, teaching them to children, observing variations on a theme proliferating across a project, before the unexpected occurs.

Often, the unexpected is proceeded by a dip in emotion, a depression, a feeling of helplessness and of being alone.  Somehow, I get scoured out by the emotional isolation, and then, without thought, I am creating something wholly new where an emotional hole was moments before.

New kinds of towers are created.  New ways of making connections between structures are devised.  New ways of approaching age-old problems emerge, and I am consumed by the possibilities.

Joseph Pearce wrote a book almost 40 years ago called Crack in the Cosmic Egg, where he explored creativity as a process with structure that could be studied and reproduced.  Pearce discovered that a head-over-heels, long-term, deep commitment to a project can result in a sudden “Aha” experience leading to unique solutions and emotional elation.  Pearce noted that the “Aha” often comes after the person is separated from his devotion for a little time.

Darwin commonly punctuated time spent in his study with strolls around his property.  I would not be surprised if many of his insights came to him on those strolls.

For myself, I’ve had the repeated odd experience of spending time in deep study over prolonged periods to have an insight join me while I was taking a bath, sitting on the toilet or sitting on the shower floor.  Solutions to an intellectual riddle often find a way to unexpectedly communicate themselves to me while I am in a distracted, pleasant kinesthetic state.

December and early January are often very difficult emotionally.  I’ve observed this in the people I know and in myself.  Over the twenty years I ran a sales firm, I got the whole month of December off.  Stores were selling, not buying.  Assaulted by depression almost every December, my routine broken, I’d grapple for a project that I could find consuming.  For me, creative projects often begin when I feel most helpless and alone.

And, unexpected “Aha” integrations often follow brief depressions.

Depression seems to often accompany the beginning and beginning of ends of projects.

I’m not clear on the exact relationship between depression, creativity and consuming isolation, but there seems to be a dance with predictable steps revolving around the process.  Building sand castles, I experience the process microcosmically while playing within a context of modified space and time.  While theorizing about evolution, I’ve experienced several cycles of deep study, then depression followed by cascading insight.  The study is often isolating.  The depression is isolating.  The insight feels integrating and people-embracing.  Sometimes the experience of expansive integration is followed by depression, particularly when I feel unable to successfully share the details of the insight.  Still, there is a pattern to the three-step shuffle.  Depression seems integral to the process.

Building powerful sand castles is only somewhat about the sand constructions topping hills and meandering down the beach.  I learned early that a sand castle is about the chasm, the abysses dug across the shoreline from where the wet sand is mined to create the towers.  The deeper the depression, the more powerful is the metaphor of the construction.  The more space occupied by the deep, dark, wet channels of water, the more evocative the castles become.

Sometimes the height from where I stand inside a quarried channel to the top of a tower is almost seven feet.  People observing the process of castle creation are often as attracted to the holes at the foundation of the process as they are to its productions.

Depression is part of the process.  Creativity requires a foundation in whatever’s real.


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