The infamous voiceover that started each episode of Star Trek called space the final frontier. Of course, that particular reference was about outer space, with planets, moons, galaxies and all of that cosmic stuff. Certainly, there are many ways to think about space and the concept has been the center of many lively metaphysical discussions throughout the history of mankind. When I think about it relative to our creative lives, space is the ultimate frontier.
This could be a slightly goofy ride, but hang with me for a while. Cool?
Space is important in the work we create. But it is also vital within the creative process itself. In writing and jazz, we make space by eliminating the noisy clutter of excess words and notes. It could follow then that within our creative process, we make space when we are able to eliminate the noisy clutter of excessive thoughts and cumbersome expectations. In both cases, once we’re free of all that debris, things get really interesting, or at the very least, clearer.
For me, it sometimes goes something like this: I step up to the mic or sit down at the computer to write and I’m confronted with a nagging uncertainty that makes it hard to begin. It’s not that there’s a lack of ideas or flow. It’s more of a life conundrum. I’m not always sure how I feel. I get existentially flummoxed. When I’m in this particular place, there are no hard and fast absolutes. The edges are blurry. You could say that my gray matter wrestles with the gray areas. This seems to be happening with increasing frequency these days. I’ve said it before on this blog: The older I get, the less I know. And while I don’t think that every word I write or note I sing has to be laden with meaning, I like to think that there’s relevant truth (of some sort) beneath whatever I’m doing. Even the most irreverent and entertaining romps–written, musical or otherwise–are rooted in something. So, when I find myself locked up like this, the best thing I can do is to take a giant step back, loosen the death grip on “making something happen” and give my psyche room to breathe. Space. It’s an exercise in relaxing into the vast ambiguity of it all. It’s about exhaling and observing. Curiosity is key. A sense of humor is also helpful. It’s not always easy. Space takes patience and trust.
The other day I had coffee with my friend, Seattle jazz pianist Tim Kennedy. The conversation wandered into improvising. Tim said that improvisation to him is about “weeding out the BS and getting to the pureness, that pure melody.” Bingo. Space not only allows us to do that–to extricate the superfluous–but it also gives more clarity to the ideas that we do bring forth. Space provides little resting places within the tune and allows the music to unfurl and stretch out. Although I’m talking about jazz here, I believe this is true throughout most disciplines. That purity is available to all of us.
This afternoon, I had an especially great yoga class. It opened me up so wide that I felt like I actually became the beautiful fall day. Space is refuge. Or to borrow from the Heart Sutra, “form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form.” It seems that although the moments may be brief and fleeting, when we’re able to recognize that pure spaciousness within ourselves, then the potential for our creative lives is enormous. Because once our hearts and minds are liberated from the clutter, then what’s left? Pure consciousness. And where does creativity emanate from anyway?
I’ve either come full circle here or made one big crazy-ass leap. That’s for you to decide. But all the same, I invite you to space out, tune in and “boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before.”