Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Secrets of Flow: creative dreamers and shaman poets

Creativity comes most deeply and naturally when we enter a state of flow. This is evoked in the Tewa Pueblo word for creativity or art. The word is po-wa-ha. The three syllables literally mean “water-wind-breath”. The understanding is that creating is a process of connecting to a deep natural flow [and that art is a process, not a product]. Rina Swentzell, an architect and artist from Santa Clara Pueblo, explains that the Tewa do not have a separate word for art because they do not experience art as an activity separate from any other in life. Creativity is as close as breathing; it is the spirit of life moving effortlessly through its cycles.

Po-wa-ha, literally “water-wind-breath” is that energy that flows from everybody and everything – plants, stones…Creativity just begins to flow out of people. [It] breaks through limits and limitations and flows through from the very source of life. [1]

Dreams can help move us into creative flow, as poet William Everson observed:

The development of the dream-life is one of the best of all possible ways of getting you into the imaginative dimension from which true writing springs…There is no real creative process without mood. It is a losing of objectivity to another dimension, a further loss of self, and it is from this loss that all authentic work springs. It is not possible to create without losing your ego-consciousness. The great thing about the dream is that it takes us into that dimension of mood. Sometimes your finest poems come out of dreams, or out of your recording of a dream. [2] 

Creators and shamans both enter a state of conscious dreaming to do their work, and bring back gifts of magic and healing. In Birth of a Poet William Everson beautifully evoked the similarity between those who reenchant the world as poets and as shamanic dreamers:

In trance [the shaman] descends to the unconscious and like a grebe or cormorant swims underwater in search of the delivering images, the spirits…It is the talent and the genius of the shaman to control the conditions of the trance until the remedy is found and the cure effected. The artist must do the same thing…The shaman enters a trance-like condition in order to engage the archetypes of the collective unconscious and stabilize their awesome power, appease the demons, as it were. This is precisely the function of the poet today. For the poet, too, can only work through trance. [3]

    The connection between the shaman and the creator goes even deeper. The Inuit say that the spirits like “fresh words”. They want to be entertained. They are easily bored with humans who go on repeating old formulas and old ways. When we bring something fresh and new into the world, we entertain the spirits and delight our own creative genius, and our lives are infused with natural magic, confirmed by the play of synchronicity about us.
    I teach an unusual creative writing retreat called "Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming" at a magical private retreat center in the green woods east of Seattle. But I have the pleasure of watching people move into creative flow in many other situations as they learn to start their day by drifting in the fertile space between sleep and awake, and then to bring fresh dreams to the breakfast table and take action to create with the fresh energy and imagery that is with them. 


1. Rina Swentzell and Sandra P. Edelman,  “The Butterfly Effect” El Palacio 1, vol 95 (Fall/Winter, 1989)
2.William Everson, Birth of a Poet: The Santa Cruz Meditations edited by Lee Bartlett, (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1982) 41
3. ibid 133.

Art: "Mandala de l'arbre" by Annick Bougerolle.

No comments: