Consciousness in Action: The Power of Beauty, Love and Courage in a Violent Time by Andrew Beath




Creativity, Ego and Introspection: Introduction by Andrew Beath
Peter Levitt's comments below

This article is an excerpt from Andrew Beath’s book Consciousness In Action, the Power of Beauty, love and Courage in a Violent Time (Lantern Press, 2005)


There are a multitude of approaches to self-discovery. Creative expression through writing has is one such pathway that has the capability to open a window to one’s soul. Peter Levitt writes and teaches poetry and prose based on his decades-long study of meditation and life philosophy. Introspection is integral to his creativity.

During our discussions about the seven attributes of conscious activism I asked Peter how he teaches his writing students to get to a place beyond their egos. His comments about one’s personal imagination tapping into a universal imagination provided valuable insights to the process of introspection. Peter considers writing to be an act of consciousness and therefore a spiritual practice. He told me:

It is a practice through which we can “re-cognize,” which means to know again, the full extent of what we really are. There are techniques available through which the imagination can help our boundaries to dissolve and reveal to us the oneness of all life. The imagination is the place in which all boundaries, which are usually determined by the restricted sense of self that our ego promotes, can disappear. That’s why writing, or any act of imagination, can be such an important practice; you can write or paint or dance your way into a larger understanding of what you are, what Suzuki-roshi called Big Self.

The Internal Autocrat

One of the things that keeps us from realizing this is that we live with a kind of a totalitarian dictator in our own psyche and, as you know, dictators are always on the lookout for anything that threatens their lock on power. That’s why they develop so many ways of checking on their citizens. But it’s not uncommon for us to have a relationship with our own egos in which the ego structure is like the totalitarian dictator.

When the ego is unhealthily situated in our psyche, it sends out what may be considered thought patrols, expression patrols, to distract or limit our knowledge of our deeper selves so that we don’t imagine or create anything that conflicts with the ego’s ability to maintain its power as head of state. Let’s call it “the state of things as they are.” When we practice a liberation pathway of personal exploration and expression, however, the form of expression—working in conjunction with the imagination—can find ways around the ego’s constraints and subvert its control.

The spontaneous mind and the creative expression it depends upon are pretty darned smart and are almost always an element of that pathway. Being open to all possibilities is crucial to creative expression, but it is terrifying to the “head of state” because one of the possibilities just might come to life and dance its way out of reach of the ego’s control.

When you follow your writing to the place where you start to touch the depths of what you, and all of life, really are, you go to ground level, so to speak, the ground of the imagination where everything may be found. Once you do this you have dropped beneath the level where the ego can maintain control of your attention in the usual way. Then you cease to hear its constant mantra, “What about me?” Instead, you are present with what the imagination gives you, to help you realize your true nature.

Writing that speaks beyond the needs of the writer’s ego is rooted in this larger ground, speaks from this larger ground, and is recognized in the larger ground of the reader’s imagination as well. This tends to be the writing that lasts. After some practice in writing techniques that develop spontaneity, people develop the ability to write from what might be thought of as their unconscious and intuitive depths while still using all the craft and skill available to their conscious mind. This is a thrilling and necessary ability to cultivate—being aware and conscious while having full access to your intuition and unconscious mind. There’s a current that flows through us when we’re in such a deep relationship with ourselves, and through ourselves with all things. Some people have called this current life itself.

As this ability grows strong, a wonderful and comical thing happens; the ego notices it no longer has our full attention, so it starts to take credit for our work. “Hey!” it shouts, “Look at what I’m doing! I’m writing!” Always on the lookout for control, it redefines itself in terms of the liberation for which our deepest self has worked so hard. But it’s good when this happens because the idea and experience of self has expanded through the creative act and the ego starts to relax. It’s on the side of its own liberation now.

However, it still needs to be helped along. This is as important for social activists to attend to as it is for artists. If we forget, the ego might begin to consume our activity, cloud our vision and, in the end, create the kind of confusion that undermines what we are after. Of course we need a healthy ego, at least one that is facing the right direction and is beginning to look out of a window with a bigger picture before it.

Creative Self-Awareness

The broader, universal imagination expresses itself through the individual imagination, just as the totality of what makes life possible is expressed through everything that exists. It works exactly the same way. What we are calling the imagination wants to be known. This is one of the reasons it gives us its gifts. It wants to be known, and it wants for us to know the totality of what we are as well. It wants us to understand that, in the end, those two things are the same.

There’s a wonderful and provocative teaching on the nature of creation that comes from mystical Judaism. According to Genesis, the Divine Plenty (which is a name for God that can also be related to the imagination) created the heavens and the Earth and all things in six days, and on the seventh it took a rest. But why did the Divine Plenty create all of this? If it is really Divine, and Plenty—the Whole, the All—why would it create anything? Doesn’t being All mean that you already are everything and are complete? Why “individualize”— why make grass? Why make beings with consciousness of their own?

The teaching from this tradition is that the Divine Plenty wanted to be known. And both words are important in this teaching: wanted and known. Our creations are also rooted in a desire we have to be known—known to ourselves. And, like the creations of the Divine Plenty, they are vessels of awareness. Creating such vessels, with this motivation at the root of our activity, is part of what it means to be made in the image of a Creator.

Through the creative process, the imagination makes it possible for us to know, and thereby return, to the One we have always been, though we’ve been separated from it in part by the dualistic thinking that supports the delusion of a permanent, separate self. This delusion is the product of our old friend, Mr. Unintegrated Ego. But it takes an act of consciousness. “Act” is the key word here. Human beings have always intuited the oneness, or wholeness, that is ours. Artistic expression is one path by which we are able to satisfy our longing to return.

Insight opens your mind.
An open mind leads to an open heart.

--The Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu

©2005 Consciousness in Action | All Rights Reserved