“We must examine everything, stir up everything without exception or restraint.” –Denis Diderot
Before going Meta, before flow states, before synchronicity can bridge the gap between opposites, there must be disciplined interrogation. There must be deep inquiry into the nature of things. There must be tractable turbulence. In short, before creativity, there must be curiosity. As philosopher Simon Blackburn said, “The cure is for the people to respect inquiry over assertion. Full, sober, objective inquiry is the only way forward.”
In the spirit of unleashing the mind and generating new ideas, you must be able to drop question marks like thought-bombs into the overtly secure, blatantly safe, and all too comfortable ramparts of your worldview. Indeed, in order to think outside the cliché box, you must at least temporarily obliterate the box. If you don’t strategically set up tripwires for your current way of thinking, you’ll never achieve higher, more imaginative ways of thinking. You’ll never be able to trip “into the masterpiece.”
“My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my proper atmosphere.” –Sherlock Holmes
If inquiry is the spearhead of creativity, exploration is the spear; the heart of which is a sense of adventure. To explore is to be onto something. To be on the hunt for novelty. To be on a quest for more imaginative modes of self-expression.
When we explore, we are in the moment, allowing the journey to be the thing even as we’re questioning all pre-made paths and daring ourselves to create new ones. Exploration generates new ideas organically by plucking an idea from this path and weaving it with an idea from that path and then running it through the filter of a new path.
Novelty is gold when you’re in the throes of deep exploration. And when you can combine the gold of novelty with the gold excavated from historically well-trodden paths, you have the kind of gold that glows exponentially, surmounting the typical, trumping the conventional, and transcending the ordinary. But it is important to understand that the gold of novelty, the gold discovered from exploring new paths, must be primary to gold previously discovered. In fact, you must be cautious that previously discovered gold doesn’t blind you from discovering new gold. Hence the need to keep the spearhead of inquiry sharp.
As it turns out, our need for novelty is inherent. According to the scientist Leonard Mlodinow, there are four basic components of human temperament: reward dependence, harm avoidance, persistence, and neophilia (attraction to novelty and change). The reason our attraction to novelty isn’t readily apparent is because of the pecking order of human temperament. Most people fear being harmed and not being rewarded for their time (reward dependence and harm avoidance). This fear prevents most people from ever taking a leap of courage into the unknown. It keeps them from seeking adventure. It blocks exploration.
But when exploration is embraced, persistence becomes the human temperament that manifests novelty and change. Neophilia becomes self-actualized and the creative floodgates open, giving rise to new, more imaginative ideas. A huge part of being persistent is planting minefields in the mind-field. Its forcing question marks like bombs into everything you’ve taken for granted. It’s upsetting the stagnant applecart of the ordinary and discovering the extraordinary hidden beneath all those rotting apples. It’s using fear as fuel for the fire of creativity. Indeed, with enough practice, with enough persistence, you can override harm avoidance and reward dependence and create novelty and much needed change.
“Look at each path closely and deliberately, then ask yourself this crucial question: does this path have heart?” –Carlos Castaneda
After you’ve blown yourself up a few times in the minefield, after you’ve tripped over your strategically laid tripwires of thought, after the question mark bombs have obliterated everything you took too seriously, or put too much weight in, or believed to the point of dogmatism, after your mind has been unleashed, there is the critical and vital stage of adaptation. Becoming adept at adapting is a skill in itself. Adapting to the minefield in your mind will make you more open-minded. And there is no garden more fertile for the flowering of new ideas than an open mind.
Where the minefield blasts open the mind, by forcing the stretching of your comfort zone and the toppling of your insecure walls, adaptation keeps it open for further exploration. Adaptation leads to self-overcoming, and self-overcoming leads to the continual transformation of boundaries into horizons.
When the mind is open, the generation of new ideas becomes a part of the interconnectedness of all things. The mind-field becomes cosmos, and vice versa. The flow state becomes manifest. Idea creation is done on the fly with timeless improvisation. Navigating the minefield in the mind-field becomes a delicious dance of trial and error, where the adaptive self-overcomer learns to relish the error as well as the pains that come with the trial. And all of it becomes art. High art. Revolutionary art.
Adaptation, improvisation, and the ability to self-overcome are almost as vital to the creative process as the need for dropping question mark bombs and planting the minefield in the mind-field. And the ability to creatively adapt to the minefield launches the entire process into a meta-state where flow states and the ability to generate new ideas becomes second nature.
Adapting to new paths is important, but keep in mind Castaneda’s cautionary quote. If the path has no heart, discard it. Learn what you can. Take the good from the bad. Mine the gold and reshape it with new gold. But then create a new, healthier path that has the potential to lead to grander, healthier ideas.
Conclusion: Going Meta in the Minefield
“We are composed of agonies, not polarities.” –James Hillman
It’s important to understand that no matter what path you choose, or what mindset you adopt, or what world view you embrace, when it comes to creativity and the ability to generate new ideas, planting a minefield in your mind-field is paramount. It is vital to human flourishing. Just as the only permanence is impermanence, just as the only truth is to question all truths, just as the only thing that never changes is change itself, the only mindful mindset is the one with a minefield planted in it.
The minefield unsettles the settled mind. It un-fixes fixed thinking. It trips up the certain mind. It un-stagnates stagnant thought. It blasts off the brainwash, the conditioning, the indoctrination. It balances mindfulness with no-mind and creates meta-mind.
From this meta-mind, created by exploring, adapting, and overcoming, comes a flexible, robust, and anti-fragile mindset that can generate new ideas within flow states that transcend time, make the unknown know, and defy even death itself. In the end, the question is not whether we will have a mindset or not, but what kind of mindset we will have. Will we have a fixed mindset, settled, unquestioning, dogmatic, or a mindset with a minefield in it, flexible, unsettled, questioning and self-overcoming?