Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
- Mahatma Gandhi
I started writing this post a few moments after returning from a 'Satsang' at the Sivananda Yoga Centre in Putney. These free gatherings take place five minutes from my home and follow a familiar routine of four roughly half hour chunks; meditating (mostly concentration), chanting (mostly Kirtan), listening to a lecture(mostly free-flowing responses to an idea in one of the texts by the movement's two founders) and sharing a meal(always vegetarian, usually lentils).
I go there for a spiritual 'hit', a change of scene, and a sense of community that is not mediated by social status. The setting is not without religious (mostly Hindu/Vedantic) signifiers, but they feel mythological and ritualistic rather than propositional, in that they are about the experience of symbolic meaning rather than the textual description of reality. The whole process leaves me feeling energised and renewed, but without that gnawing sense of intellectual compromise that haunts me in churches.
Tonight I was struck by something the Swami (teacher) said in her talk that got me thinking about the RSA's emerging worldview, currently called 'The Power to Create'. The Swami didn't use the Gandhi quote above I was familiar with. Instead she spoke about the importance of retaining coherence between what we think, say and do, not so much for happiness, but for confidence, which may be a prerequisite for it.
If we think things are one way, but say otherwise; or if we say things should be so, but don't act accordingly, it's not just corrosive to wellbeing, it undermines our sense of agency.
When I strongly disagree but say I mostly agree, or when I say I want to lose weight but reach for the third piece of chocolate cake, my sense of self-efficacy is eroded. When we sense this recurring gap between thought and word, and word and deed, we lose faith in ourselves to shape our lives, and gradually assume it's literally beyond our power to turn our ideas into reality.
When we sense this recurring gap between thought and word, and word and deed, we lose faith in ourselves to shape our lives, and gradually assume it's literally beyond our power to turn our ideas into reality.
This was a timely thought. I have been trying to figure out what it is about the RSA's emerging world view that leaves me feeling a little uneasy. I knew it was something about its value neutrality and lack of emphasis on our inner lives, but I couldn't quite place it, and now I have a clearer idea.
The Power to Create has a kaleidoscopic core, but on my current understanding it tends to pivot around the following five interrelated ideas:
It sounds a lot better than a slap in the face with a wet fish, as they say, but at present what's missing is a theory of how changes in our inner lives correspond with the changes in the external world.
The heart of the power to create vision, it seems to me, is a reconceptualisation of agency that is currently described in the third person ('it' language) but it will need to find form in first ('I' language) and second ('You' or 'we') person expression. It's not enough for 'people' to turn their ideas into reality, but particular 'I's, 'we's, and 'you's need to consistently live in ways that retain coherence between thought, word and deed.
If the power to create really is a vision of a world renewed and not just about more than people starting their own businesses, it needs a better account of how people develop that internal coherence to actually work for visions of their better selves, and for the greater good of others too.
That may be possible, and worth striving for, but is it likely? I think it comes down to how optimistic you are about human beings. I generally take the Gramscian view that pessimism of the intellect is reasonable, but optimism of the will is essential, so it's just not enough to believe willpower or positive thinking will get us through.
If the power to create really is a vision of a world renewed and not just about more people starting their own businesses, it needs a better account of how people develop that internal coherence to actually strive for visions of their better more integrated selves, and for the greater good of others too. We can't just take that kind of personal growth for granted as an article of faith.
What does it take, internally, psychologically, existentially, spiritually, to shift one's perspective from being primarily a passive consumer and citizen by default, making ends meet and waiting for better times, towards being the kind of person who looks at the problems in the world with an appetite to get busy changing them and lives for that very purpose?
I think the 'power to create' vision would become much more powerful if it could answer the following question: What does it take, internally, psychologically, existentially, spiritually, to shift one's perspective from being primarily a passive consumer and citizen by default, making ends meet and waiting for better times, towards being the kind of person who looks at the problems in the world with an appetite to get busy changing them, and lives for that very purpose?
We know that kind of shift takes deep and resilient self confidence but we also know such confidence is fragile. As I have argued before as part of our work on the social relevance of spirituality, any theory of social transformation needs a commensurately robust account of personal transformation to go with it.
We need to give more thought to our inner power to create.
Dr Jonathan Rowson is Director of the Social Brain Centre at the RSA and tweets here.
Join the discussion
Please login to post a comment or reply
Don't have an account? Click here to register.
Thanks Matthew. I agree that taking creativity seriously requires a concomitant commitment (an expression that has the virtue of being very hard to say without smiling...) to changing institutional forms and their underlying theories of knowledge. I guess part of the challenge is that 'creativity' looks very different at varying stages of development. So here's a question for integrally minded creatures like yourself: what do we know about how creative capacities are informed by underlying subject-object relationships?
Your comment on coherence, and the value of inner work building confidence resonates for me. It reminds me of Scharmer's description of how we stay stuck in downloading patterns from the past. Because we don't recognize what we see, we don't say what we think. Then we don't do what we say, which leads to that we don't see what we do. Breaking this cycle can help set us on the road to coherence and integrity, trust and all those good things.
I also note the Institute of HeartMath's work on coherence in relation to neurocardiology. The impact of the brain in the heart being in a state of coherence is tremendous, affecting not only our physical well-being but also our cognitive abilities.
I believe that our ability to create the outcomes we desire in the world start with the ability to create the outcomes we desire inside ourselves. If we don't have the confidence to follow through on our promises to ourselves, how will we inspire trust from others to follow our vision? Or to follow through on any good vision we get behind.
It is like having layers of mud on our shell, filtering the light of creativity. The challenge that I believe you describe is to see the five inter-related ideas you note and see them as an integral part of the spiritual task facing us today.
Illuminating thoughts, thank you.
I think your sense that the ‘inner power to create’ remains somewhat undeveloped in the RSA account of the ‘power to create’ might relate to the fact that the RSA account may still be overly dominated by the analytical, the known, the ego, the power of our intellects etc.
You’ll know from your Social Brain work that intelligence and creativity overlap but are different – they use different lengths of dendrites, in different brain hemispheres. Or something like that…
The essence of creativity requires an oscillation between the known and the unknown, conscious and unconscious. But usually this vital oscillation is collapsed, due to our fear of ‘not having the answers’ and suchlike…
Creating post-conventional spaces/containers that can hold such oscillations is rare – and requires a co-creative frequency, requires specific liberating disciplines. Creativity isn’t just born from a blank sheet of paper, or from brainstorming or idea-jamming.
Indeed I suspect that a vision that would deeply challenge the RSA to transform in a highly creative direction would be “the power to co-create”, rather than merely ‘the power to create’ alone.
I currently hypothesise that large group/co-creative methods (like Future Search, Open Space, World Café etc) might be crucial to spreading RSA influence and effectiveness.
Future Search – for example – has been singled out by key Cultural Theory thinkers as a truly ‘Clumsy’ integrative approach,
that doesn’t get tied down to the false elegance of narrow approaches that
focus solely on the top-down hierarchy of the expert group, or the solidarity
of the egalitarians, or… etc.
Large group methods - like Future Search
– even seem to give rise to projects that are far more likely to be successful
(probably because of the high level of engagement/buy-in/creative input that is
at their core).
I was told recently that when Bosch
evaluated 2,000 of their large group interventions they found that 70-80% of those
projects that came out of large group interventions were successful.
This compared to only 35-40% from traditional expert-driven
If you’re interested in the ideas above, I mostly
borrowed them from Dr Nick Udall’s new book ‘Riding the Creative Rollercoaster –
how leaders evoke creativity, productivity and innovation’. Do take a look (and
he ties it all in to Robert Kegan-like psychological development models too,
which you might like – and which makes it similar to the Anti-Hero report on
leadership that I co-authored). Another RSA Fellow working in the creativity
field has a book coming in a few months which might cover some of this same
Is there something in the air…? ;-)