When we fail to realize the tremendous significance of every new day, we slip into an automated response to life and brew in deep boredom that we try to eliminate with trivial distractions. Our creativity stops to flow and finally, our spirit begins to wilt. I’m quite sure everyone goes through this as we all have a tendency to end up working ourselves into a corner. However, what really counts is to leave that corner as soon as possible. Creativity is after all a higher expression of consciousness emerging from a sense of deep connectedness to life. And so, whatever puts us in that corner can also bring us out.
Three months before I got my first vertigo attack in 2003, (those who have been following this blog will connect) my own creativity needed a very big boost, so I decided to pursue a writing project that I had always dreamt about. It concerned a book called A Moveable Feast, written by Ernest Hemingway. The book, a memoir, covers Hemingway’s early years in Paris as a writer struggling to enhance his craft. I had read it a couple of times with great fascination because it had added a certain romance to the struggle of succeeding as a writer. Suddenly in my eyes, the world of the quintessential writer had flung itself into the realms of experiments and dreams. But beyond, was the realm of the spiritual, without which Hemingway could not have been able to construct the magical sentences he did. It held precious truths and deep learnings because what was observed and mastered, came through intense discipline. And it was this experience that I was most attracted to in the book, and I wanted to make my own even if it meant for a few days.
So I left for Paris where I knew my knowledge of the language could get me more than directions to the Eiffel tower. The plan was to revisit all the places Hemingway went to in the exact sequence, and eat the same things he described and at the same restaurants, and chat with the old locals and re-construct the missing scenes when he struggled to become a good writer. I walked retracing his footsteps every moment of the daylight that broke early and faded late. I met a very old man who remembered the pumping noise of the horse-drawn wagons near Place Contrescarpe that is mentioned in the book, I had the pommes a l’huile and a demi in cafe Lipp which the writer had ordered more than eighty years ago, I stood before every statue he mentioned, every house he lived in, every restaurant he went to, and every friend’s place he visited. When I had ticked-off each and every place mentioned in the book, I had lost some weight and survived the worst summer ever in Paris, which in itself was not a bad discipline.
But that’s just the summary of what happened. The true learning came from testing Hemingway’s discipline. Throughout the book, Hemingway credited hunger for being his constant companion to inculcate discipline and sharpness to evolve his technique. He worked on his craft by carefully watching paintings in a museum on an empty stomach, especially those of Cezanne, whose brushstrokes took him to a deeper dimension of his own work. To test what those paintings might do to me as a writer on an empty stomach, I decided to fast the next day and put Hemingway’s theory to test. After all, a hunger inside any stomach has no pretenses. It is raw hunger.
The following morning, I had a small fruit as breakfast and stood in the long queue outside the museum to tackle the works of Cezanne, hoping that food wasn’t his favorite subject to paint. I should mention here that I had visited the Louvre the day before on a full stomach so that I could tell the difference when I tried D’Orsay the Hemingway way. I watched the work of many great artists and reserved the Cezzane corner till the hunger reached its peak. When I was starving before his painting of a woman in green silk, it was far from a good experience. First there was the wild hunger, then the embarrassment of the sound of my stomach acids in a quiet corridor, and finally the temptation of giving it all up. Frankly, if it wasn’t for Hemingway’s earnestness to learn and improve his craft through this method, I would have headed straight to the museum restaurant. And so I stayed- put before the paintings, immersing myself in the details in order to distract myself from the brain signals begging for food.
To my surprise, the learning came slowly and gracefully. There was a distinct sharpness that stood out and it came through every brushstroke and not just in its collective outcome. It came in the revelation of the artist’s ability to transform something as fluid and basic as paint into real sensations. Cezzane had painted silk so that it could be felt without touch, he had painted eyes that came alive from the darkness of the empty space behind them, and he had painted skin that felt fresh and alive. And there it was! The spiritual dimension that made the process of work so much more meaningful than the subject. I realized then that when one is challenged by something fundamental, one has the innate capability to transcend. And so, in that tiny moment of transcending the debilitation of hunger, I saw that a great piece of work could only be a result of an artist working on himself as a human being.
The more he worked on himself, the more he refined his art. When you understood his art, you understood his evolution and finally, the artist. I was reminded what the famous artist S.H. Raza had once said to me in his Paris studio. “Concern yourself with those who understand you and continue to work on yourself”. And right there, came the learning that had brought me this far: true creativity happened in transcendence. When you transcend thoughts and connect to the source, a stillness arises. It is in this stillness, when you are no more, when time is no more that authentic creativity emerges and expresses itself. And so, if Hemingway had enhanced his craft in Paris he owed it to his own enhancement through the basic and powerful tool of hunger.
Over the years, I have seen the role creativity plays in the evolvement of a human being. Even though we live inside the boundary of a body, we have the ability for seamless creative expression. The truth is, a great piece of work always reveals that it has come from a timeless source which is what makes it great. In my experience, being born human means to be a tireless creator, whether it is by finding creative solutions, or expressing through various art forms or creating one’s own destiny. No matter how you look at it, creativity is the only way to release ourselves from stagnation, mediocrity and repetition. We are all blessed to have everything at our disposal to become true creators- from the canvas to the cosmos. My realization of discipline and creativity deepened further through the practice of yoga. Having said that, what Paris teaches is incomparable.