Creativity is today’s magic word. It is contemporary politicians’ talisman when facing social quandaries, it is included in the curricula of the top universities and is crucial in job interviews. Its omnipresence in the world is broadly endorsed by extensive investigation like the thirty years of the “Creativity Research Journal”, high-quality specialist publication where leading scholars ceaselessly delve into its sources and discuss how to stimulate it.
What is really meant by creativity, though? The Oxford dictionary defines creativity as “the use of skill and imagination to produce something new or to produce art”. Hence, creative thinking closely relates to “the new”. Nowadays the wizardry of the new boosts a frantic race for possessing the latest product, an unquenchable thirst for novelties that gathers fresh momentum each day stimulated by the never-ending improvement of brands.
Nevertheless, this consumerist use of human creativity raises some questions. Why is it mostly applied to material things? Is it only the comfortable side of human existence that needs to be enhanced? Should not creativity be also brought into play to develop our personality and foster spiritual values?
A response to the latter question is normally affirmative, since it is easier said than done. Although when it is done, history shows the extraordinary benefits derived if individuals embrace “the new” experienced in their inner self. By doing so, for instance, Saul of Tarso became saint Paul, Íñigo of Loyola transformed into saint Ignatius and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi turned into Mahatma Gandhi.
What they did in an outstanding manner we can also do it in a much humbler measure, because all of us share the same human nature. Obviously, you ought to step into yourself and take what happens inside you seriously. Curiously enough, these three personalities seem to confirm the fact that the deeper you go inwardly, the better your outward action flourishes.
Saint Ignatius’s life over the Manresan period offers a good example of such an inner task. Absolutely captivated by God, Ignatius strived to know Jesus intimately and serve him generously. He adopted a harsh lifestyle in penance for his past sins, he was living at the Manresan Hospital, he begged for alms daily, he would neither eat meat nor drink wine except on Sundays, he would pray seven hours a day, hear Mass daily and taking the sacraments weekly, he would read the Gospel and write his inner feelings, he relished sung Eucharist services. He would only travel on foot. He would converse with spiritual people, particularly his confessor. He would also assist people who would come to ask his advice. He enjoyed God’s consolation at times until he felt seriously afflicted by his anxieties, agonising experiences which dampened his spiritual expectations and from which he was only freed after gaining some awareness of the dynamism of those thoughts. In spite of these tribulations, his remembrances highlight the perseverance and determination by which he would maintain this lifestyle.
One day, notwithstanding his dogged resolve to abstain from meat, an image of eating meat came into his mind and he felt a strong will to do so from then on. Suddenly, he had no doubt about determining resolutely to eat meat. This inner motion was absolutely new in Ignatius’s mind, in clear opposition to his desires for extraordinary penances that he had harboured since his conversion in Loyola after having learnt from Ludolph of Saxony “Vita Christi” that fasting was the way to become one with God.
Unexpectedly, an entirely fresh perspective had emerged, and from this moment onwards he changes his biographical account into describing God’s gifts that he was gratefully receiving at Manresa.
He embraced this realisation that brought with it an indubitable certainty, a crucial confidence. A few years afterwards, in the book of Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius declared that experience of a complete certainty as the touchstone, along with others, for discerning God’s involvement in human lives.
How did that new perspective emerges? This experience speaks eloquently of God’s grace, an ultimate cause that we cannot control. We can add that the unconscious must also have played an instrumental role, but this cannot be analysed today either. So, these two factors must be set apart from our enquiry and we have to make do with Ignatius’s objective description because some kind of human action must have been involved, even if it only had a preparatory role.
Ignatius stated that despite his firm determination of fasting a picture of meat suddenly appeared in his mind and he felt a strong will to eat. He does not say that he was hungry, that someone would have offered him meat or that his confessor would have advised him to do so. His words suggest that he did not do anything deliberately for that image and feeling to happen. Thereby, ruled out external influences, confessor’s spiritual advice, feeling hungry, and his own will, the dynamism of his mind is the key to this matter. Now we are not analysing in depth the psychological roots of Ignatius’s mental transformation but we can look to what leading scientists say about that issue.
Ramon Maria Nogués, emeritus professor of Biological Anthropology, reminds us that contemporary neuropsychology conceives humans as a strict unity denying the dualistic model of mind- body. Nervous and sensorial systems, biological and emotional processes, cognitive and social factors are all intimately intertwined, and that interconnection particularly suits the brain which always reacts as one multifaceted reality joining different systems of perception and different levels of consciousness.
The renowned British psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, sharing this unitarian conception of the brain, specifies its concrete dynamism in his theory of ‘The Divided Mind’. He asserts that the two halves of the brain have different perspectives of the world and prioritise different values. The right hemisphere yields a penetrating, intuitive and value-laden insight into the world; it is open to the unforeseen, it provides the “something else” that renders the world meaningful, is the primordial, “the master”. The left, based on a narrow-focus attention, restricts things to a rational certainty, deals with tasks, it renders everything explicit, is the useful part, “the emissary”. They are not different functions, both are involved in every conceivable activity of the brain, though they differ in the manner they do so, they are asymmetric.
McGilchrist maintains that these differences are very relevant for living fully as humans, and that both lobes always play a pivotal role in the ways of conceiving what we mean by reasoning, emotion, music, language, morality, self, etc. They ought to do so in a balanced way. This indispensable equilibrium, visible in the Renaissance, has vanished in our Western culture. Its paradoxical situation -richer but unhappier, highly interconnected but desperately lonely-, is a direct result of having boosted the left hemisphere to detriment of the right.
In addition, the high standard of life acquired by the West has fuelled the belief that the left hemisphere is the only way of understanding and dealing with the world, consequently, any attempt to seek a solution outside of it is thwarted. Western culture, entrenched in this position, moves within such a narrow interpretative space.
Coming back to Ignatius, he persevered performing ordinary deeds consistent with his ideals. Performing such a variety of humble but specifically human actions entails the joint participation of inner attitudes, feelings, a variety of mental functions and the whole body. This is precisely what Ignatius was doing until his mind opened to a new wide path so certain that he could never doubt.
However, it is not enough for something new to appear, you have to accept it. Ignatius despite the seeming irrelevance of that idea he admitted it. He could have cast it aside on the basis of its triviality or nonconformity with established thinking. The absolute certainty he felt guaranteed God’s will, and by going along with it he began a new way of approaching God. In time, after being entirely conscious of these findings he would carefully formulate them to benefit others.
To sum up, a comprehensive lifestyle, perseverance, discernment of the small internal movements and accepting them are ordinary means with creative results that boost human existence towards new horizons. Do these ignatian suggestions differ from the ones included in specialised journals? Are these steps not available to any of us?