We highly value success, winning, achieving goals, and getting results in this culture. We are conditioned to do, to produce, to get somewhere. The tendency for many, if not most, of us is to bring this goal-oriented mentality to everything that we do, including creative expression. Focusing too much on goals can inhibit the creative process.
Of course, goals have their place with regard to our creative endeavors. Having a goal of writing a thoughtful and inspirational essay about a life-changing event or building a website that clearly reflects who you are and what you have to offer can motivate you to move forward on your ideas and visions, and can help to sustain you if and when you begin to falter. There is a fine line, though, between having the intention to create a wonderful product and having rigid expectations and an excessive attachment to the end result.
Leaving the moment and focusing on the goal interrupts the creative flow. Suddenly you are caught in a quagmire of questions: How is this going? Where is this going? Is it good? Will people like it? When we are present and can surrender to the endless moment-to-moment twists and turns of the creative process, magic can happen. We let go of control, we get out of our heads and stop analyzing, worrying, and strategizing. We venture into the unknown, wide-eyed and curious. We get out of the way; insights and new possibilities are revealed to us. As Stephen Nachmanovich, author of Free Play, says, “For art to appear, we have to disappear.”
When I sit down to write the first draft of a poem, for example, I’m aware that I would like to write a deep and meaningful piece. I’d like rich imagery and astute insights to come forth. I make room for that desire, not making myself wrong for wanting this. If, though, I find myself too invested in the outcome, I soften that intensity, and feel myself shift from holding my goal tightly to holding it lightly. I know that in this writing period I may or may not achieve the results I’d like, and that is okay. I relax into that and often feel spacious and open. Then I look at the blank page, feel the pen in my hand, and see what comes. I move into the creative void, curious and available to the Mystery. I may just let words and, perhaps, feelings and images spill onto the page, or I may focus attention on my body, attentive to my somatic experience, and let the body speak. At times there is a particular theme I want to explore; other times I just want to write something open-ended. When I start to feel constricted, or find that I’m getting lost in meddlesome thoughts, I catch myself, take some deep breaths and simply choose to return to the Now. A poem or a few lines that I love may unfold, or nothing special at all may occur. It doesn’t matter, though, because I have been enriched and enlivened by immersing myself in the creative process.