Finding the Secret Magic “They’re” Not Hiding From Us

It’s one of the most powerful marketing secrets out there: that most of us have a hidden, painful sense of inadequacy… a lurking subconscious suspicion that some super-informed and miserly “They” are keeping all the ability, the skills, the knowledge about useful (or lifesaving!) topics from the rest of Us.

Just take a look at the pages that came up in a quick Google search (these are selected from the 95,900,000 results listed!)…

  • 20 Things They Don’t Want You to Know
  • Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know
  • Debt Cures They Don’t Want You to Know
  • The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About
  • The Secrets Creative People Don’t Want the Rest of Us to Know

Doesn’t it sound like there’s massive conspiracy to keep the information we need out of our hands?

As a copywriter I can tell you, however: while there are certainly big secrets being kept (the scope of the Gulf oil disaster, the health impact of GMO’s – pick your issue…), it’s a pretty fair certainty that the “secrets” listed above aren’t among them.

These are pseudo-secrets – solid, practical, available knowledge, enticingly labeled and posted behind multiple sales spiels that tap into our inner victim, compelling us to click through and read the article and/or buy the info-product ….proving the effectiveness of that headline template over and over again.

Yup, it’s a template, recommended by just about every copywriting course I know. Tapping into our underlying feelings of victimhood is that effective.

Let’s take that headline on creative people as just one example (and as a disclaimer, I know the woman who wrote it. Promoting Us-vs-Them victimization or disempowerment is completely against her values, vision and mission; the event she was promoting intentionally disproved the premise – but not the power – of her headline).

To look at the number of web pages focused on boosting creativity (a quick Google search turned up 2,090,000 or so), a lot of people are feeling uncreative these days. And when you look at the rising cultural pastimes – surfing the Internet and watching television – the reason quickly becomes apparent: we’re becoming passive receivers.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: it’s easier to relax and enjoy the fruits of other people’s creativity than it is to create our own, and as we exercise our creative muscles less and less, the harder it becomes to use them at all…so we become increasingly dependent on outside sources. And the cycle deepens….

Worse: if you’ve grown up with the idea that you’re not creative – that you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, or draw a stick figure – you don’t have a lot of incentive to try.

But there’s a cost to sitting back and receiving, buying into this sense of powerlessness.As visionary theologian/author/educator Matthew Fox writes in his revolutionary book Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, creativity is an inescapable element of our humanity, which we ignore at our peril:

We are a species and indeed a civilization very prone to dictatorships; that is, to addiction. It is as if we want to turn our power over to others….I propose that most addictions come from our surrendering our own real powers, that is, our power of creativity. We get a temporary “high” from a shot of some external stimulus, be it nicotine or sugar, speed or acid, sex or more money, entertainment or television – and that is our sad substitute for the joy and ecstasy of creativity and creation.

This was a powerful “aha” for me. Even as a writer, producing copy for clients upon demand, I knew I wasn’t going as deep as I could if I dared. I was being creative, sure, but there was something missing. And I was looking at the experts – coaches, copywriting gurus, etc. – and thinking, “Perhaps if I took just one more course…….”

I didn’t find the answer until I went for a two-week training out of state, and returned to find my home reeking and filthy and my garden dying from the neglect of the person I’d (unwisely) employed as house/cat-sitter. I was battling my way through costly repairs, replacements, and cleaning to reclaim my home, feeling my energy steadily sliding into depression and victimhood…

…And then I read this, also from Creativity:

When our ancestors discovered fire back in the savannahs of Africa over a million years ago, they set out on a great journey. When they arrived at the place we not call EuroAsia, the ice age broke out. There they were, fresh from the heat of Africa, forced to live in caves for seven hundred thousand years. Did they give up? Did they fall into masochism and say “Woe is we!”? No. They got to work. They put their imaginations to work. They learned how to prepare hides, sew warm outfits, hunt animals for food and clothing, and how to tell tales around the campfire and entertain themselves. In short, this is where our creativity came to birth.

And I realized: my creativity isn’t limited to the work I do for my clients. My creativity can dictate the mundane choices I make as I live my life. I can sit feeling victimized and depleted, or I can use the skills and tools I have at hand to envision new answers, craft new solutions.

I gathered the materials I’ve collected for space-clearing and got to work…and the energy of my home – and my mind – changed. As I moved through the house, smudging and singing “We are the rising sun – we are the change – we are the ones we are waiting for – and we are dawning – we are the rising sun,” I began to embody the song as a truth in my life.

And out of that truth arose a question: What if – just as a wild possibility – I’m feeling uncreative because I am simply not recognizing the creativity I use every day?

What if creativity is not just about writing copy…producing works of Art…or even saving sanity in a high-stress situation? What if creativity can show up in something as mundane as crafting a healthy dinner from mismatched odds and ends in the fridge…rewiring your home’s electricity…or negotiating a truce between two arguing children?

In a culture that identifies creativity with the computer-generated, special-effected, airbrushed, Photoshopped megaprojects featuring an elite class of Beautiful People, such everyday practical creativity comes off looking as glamorous as a tone-deaf shower singer.

But – if what I was reading and realizing was true – creative skills don’t need to be flamboyant and artsy; they’re also mundane, everyday, practical, as much a part of us as our thumbs. Perhaps they’re not producing a blockbuster movie, a million-dollar art sale or a lifetime income in book royalties – but we could not survive without them.

“But leftovers and fuse boxes and peace among the kids – that’s not a creative legacy,” you might think.

Or is it? Food on the table, lights in the dark, and lessons in living together…these make up the most basic legacy of all, one of nurturing, protecting, civilizing.

My mother wrote many emphatic op-ed columns on conservative politics and religion – but the earth-loving values she lived were the legacy she gifted to me. And while my husband left a massive artistic and spiritual legacy, his carefully-drawn schematic of the wiring he installed in our house is the practical legacy that has kept our lights lit, our basement unflooded, and our frozen foods unthawed. We pass on all sorts of legacies in ways we’d never expect…or necessarily intend.

Of course creativity takes many forms, from a leftover casserole to an  electrical schematic to Michelangelo’s David or James Cameron’s Avatar….but that experience of reclaiming my home taught me that honoring the creativity in our mundane, everyday choices is the foundation. Consciously developing intentional, creative solutions for the challenges of our daily lives, rather than going with the easiest default — clearing the energy of the house instead of wallowing in victimhood – making up a new recipe rather than hitting the speed-dial for pizza – talking with the kids about (creative!) problem-solving techniques rather than plunking them in front of the TV.

To adapt another quote from Matthew Fox: Creativity is not just about (artwork). It is about ALL your creative energy put to good use. We practice our creativity in the ways we choose to show up, in all the facets of our lives…in the beauty we enact, as well as the beauty we create.

So far from conspiratorial cabals of Grinchlike gurus hiding secret knowledge from us, the real question becomes: what are the secret gifts that we’re hiding from ourselves?

Death and Ceremony on Sacred Land

Nearly four years ago, I witnessed a tiny, shattering microcosm of the destruction being wreaked on the Earth. I was sitting by the fire-circle of my husband’s teacher (“Coyote”)’s sweatlodge, at the edge of a forest where he had often conducted vision quests…sacred land consecrated by years of ceremony. And now this land was under threat: the legal owners wanted the trees logged and sold so they could get double the value of the wetland before they sold it for development. Legal steps had been taken, counter-offers made to preserve the land, with no result. The loggers were due to move in soon.

I had been meditating at the fire circle for much of that morning. The sky was brilliantly blue and the trees just beginning to show a tinge of green. A fox had passed close by me an hour or so ago, stopping briefly to look in my direction before it trotted on. In my state of mind at that point everything seemed radiant, quivering with life, living silence cradling me like a nest.

That was when the chainsaw roared, somewhere over the hill to the north. I heard and felt it bite into wood and felt the energy of an elder tree being attacked. The grinding din entered my head, then my body – I sat wanting to run, but paralyzed, feeling the rending shock in my own body as each limb was severed and fell to the forest floor. Tears were pouring down my face as I pleaded with Spirit – make them stop, please make them stop – but there was no stopping, only pauses while the loggers prepared for the next assault. I felt I was bearing witness at a murder, wanting to run, unable to move. Finally, I heard/felt a rending scream as the tree fell and there was silence. I gathered my things and fled, half-hysterical with grief, up the path to the field where my car was parked.

At the street entrance to the other side of the property I slowed the car, seeing the heavy machinery parked down the rutted gravel access road. Should I go in, try to stop them – How? I started shaking at the thought of witnessing more trees felled, and drove home to call Coyote.

He heard my story and the frantic prayers I’d been making, and after a brief silence said “That’s not going to stop them.” He told me that he would go to see where the cutting had taken place, and he’d give me directions: if I was willing, I should go and offer tobacco to the trees that had died and ask for guidance on how to stop the cutting. I agreed.

The loggers wouldn’t come on a Saturday, but I went early anyway. The cutting had been roughly a mile from the lodge, downhill through thick underbrush and across several small streams. The clear-cut patch stood out like a massacre. I could recognize the lingering energy of the tree that had been cut first; it was indeed an elder. Even before I physically reached the cutting, its violence hit me like a blow – I doubled up, holding on to a small sapling, and retched. When the spasms had passed I went to the stump of the elder tree and knelt down in the sawdust, offering tobacco and asking forgiveness that I had not been able to stop the loggers.

As I knelt there with my hand on the stump – still moist with sap – I felt a sense of peace, understanding and forgiveness from the tree. I’d shared in its suffering and death, and I could take action to stop further deaths. I was asked to request a sweatlodge ceremony with the intent of stopping the logging.

I thanked the tree, offered tobacco with prayers of sorrow and release to the other trees that had been felled, and returned to offer tobacco to Coyote with the request. To my surprise, he said that the sweatlodge ceremony needed to be performed solo, by me alone – that he could guide and support, but could not participate. I hoped that I could remember how to do the ceremony properly from witnessing Coyote, my husband and other water-pourers, and Coyote said the lodge would be under his protection and responsibility. We set the date – the Saturday before Easter.

The day dawned bright and clear. I went early to the cutting site to gather stones along with discarded slices from each of the felled trees: one slice would be used in every round of the ceremony. I cleared the lodge circle of leaves and twigs, revealing dozens of tiny holes where cicadas had emerged, then with Coyotes help, hauled wood and water to the lodge and covered the frame with tarps. I laid and lit the fire and sang as I fanned it, a song I’d learned when my husband Sundanced. It was one of the few ceremonial songs I knew, with a translation I’d heard as “I do this because I live.” I could not live with myself, I felt, if I did not do this ceremony.

The rocks heated and it was time to go in. I brought in the first stones and began singing the song that called in the energies of the six directions. Called in the powers of the Earth, Sun, Moon and Stars, the plants, animals, humans, and elementals, and finally the powers of love and unity in the universe. I felt the energy in the Lodge growing as I sang. I stated the intention of the ceremony at the songs’ end, then opened the door, rested briefly, and went to bring in more stones.

I opened the second round with an honoring song to all the relations who gave away their lives at the hands of humans, and grief at the destruction I’d heard and witnessed rose up in sobs and screams. Finally the emotion dwindled and I asked the energies in the Lodge what I should do, knowing that this was only one of many forests – sacred lands – being despoiled.

A vision came then of the answer, and how it would feel to act upon it.

The rest of the ceremony passed in a daze, and I returned home barely present in my body. To the best of my knowledge, the cutting stopped for a period of six years. The answer that was given to me in the Lodge was later repeated as I sat praying in another forest, also at risk.

The Vision that Started It All

Age 10, sitting on the swings, watching the sunset: the light saturated everything around me, swings, sliding board, trees, house, birds…it all shone from within, became energy, connected living energy-forms, conscious, feeling, thinking, communicating, sacred, shining with divinity.

When I emerged from immersion in the living Interconnected cosmos, so much realer than any catechism lesson, I ran inside to tell the story:

Mommy, mommy…!  —  We don’t believe that, dear, that’s pantheism, it’s heresy.

That was the beginning of my journey, with a Church-wound dividing soul from soul, soul from self, and soul from the transcendent/immanent Divinity of the cosmos.