Understanding Demotivation

Apparently there is a principle in Oriental philosophy according to which life goes in a cycle. (I’ll try to decipher where exactly this comes from so that I can properly cite it – it may be Confucianism.) I won’t pretend to totally understand this concept, but it has something to do with the Ups and Downs of Life. Emotional highs and lows, physical successes and failures, psychological break throughs and hang-ups. They’re all encompassed in the Cycle.

The German version of this, as I learned in Advanced Jazz Theory back when I was doing my undergrad at the University of Louisville, is called the Zeitgeist. My dictionary defines Zeitgeist as “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs at the time.” I understood the idea more broadly as a study of the progression of an Art form, or of anything really, from human behaviors to the engineering of food, in a cyclical context.

My teacher was¬†using the Zeitgeist concept to explain the trends in American jazz music. In jazz, he was explaining, you had traditional blues-based forms, which evolved into bepop in the 40’s and 50’s, which in turned evolved into fusion and more experimental, free-form jazz in the 60’s and 70’s, finally giving way back to a more conventional, “post bop” sound in the 80’s, and so on. The cycle in jazz, then, is “simple, complex, simple, complex.”

This cycle of alternating back and forth between two extremes can be seen as a universal principle. In my own case, I’ve experienced my own version of the Zeitgeist in my creative life. Usually the current takes me through periods of intense drive and passion, where I am super “productive”, followed by equally intense periods of demotivation and feeling completely uninspired.

I like the “Zeitgeist”, or Cycle, idea, because it’s a compassionate take on these alternating periods. Maybe it’s perfectly natural to feel uninspired, just as it is to feel gung-ho and ready to take on the world. For every point, there is an opposite point, so every mood or condition simply falls into the Cycle.

The friend who brought this idea back to my attention explained that the periods of de-motivation are just as important as the periods of motivation, because they indicate where our attentions should go during that period. Our attentions might be better suited, for example,¬†away from the area of focus, so that the creative mind can refresh itself and prepare to receive more advanced information. The person in the frustrating period of “demotivation,” then, is actually there because he or she is not happy with the level of knowledge, aptitude, or awareness, she is currently experiencing. On some level, she wants to attain a higher level of awareness, and so her repulsion from the thing she is usually attracted to is allowing her to shift her focus to other areas, other interests, which may help her original area of focus when she comes out of the “demotivation” period and starts to return again to the “drive and passion” period.

Of course, she will return to the “drive and passion” period with renewed vigor, and stay there for a while, achieving her new level of Awareness. But again, this period will end, and she will hit another plateau, only this time it will be slightly higher, and the Cycle continues.

These scenarios may be over-generalizations, but I think they can be useful when thinking about our own creative Cycles. You, reading this, may be experiencing a “high-vibration” period of going full throttle, or you may be somewhere in the low-vibration period, where the Process has become drudgery. I believe that these low-vibration periods are the most telling, because they, aside from being naturally very difficult to deal with, reveal the kinds of Artists and people we truly are. They provide a chance to either embrace the grind and continue even though we just don’t want to, or to shift our focus for a while and explore other avenues until we feel that it’s time to come back to the first thing, about which we may find we have a fresh attitude.

What you do in these periods shapes you as an Artist and a Person, and it also speaks to your inner nature. I don’t believe there is a “wrong” or “right” way to go about it – as long as something is being done. Who’s to say whether the solution is to go deeper or to remove yourself altogether – especially when nothing is permanent?

Passion, Creativity, and Freedom

I thought I’d kick off the week with a brief post about Passion. Some of you might have seen/heard my song, Passion Play. I love that expression because it is indicative of what so many of us go through who are on a creative path. We feel the turbulence, the unrest, that is natural for someone who is making something out of nothing.

Of course, such a life, until it pays for itself, must be tempered with financial obligations. Some of those obligations include the all-known “working a job.” The “job” is anything that is not your love, your dream, your Passion, but that is necessary for you to support your love, your dream, your Passion. Until your Passion can pay for itself, you must do the “job.”

A funny thing about the “job” is that, while in some cases it can be directly related to the Passion, it is usually not the strong point of the creative person in question. In fact, to use myself as an example, I’ve been through several jobs, having either been fired or quit, clearly because they were not what I was designed for. It’s not uncommon for creative people to not be able to hold a “job.”

This is sometimes seen by the outside world is impulsive or irresponsible. “Why can’t you keep a job?” “Don’t you want to be stable?” There is something seen as “wrong” with the creative person. The truth is, the creative person just wants to be creative. The “job” is the opposite, in most cases, of the creative person’s nature.

The creative person then has to work around the rigid demands of the “job” until such point that he or she can break away and have the “job” be the “Passion” (entrepreneurialism). This makes the “job” an interim necessity for the creative person. Problem is, most people do not see jobs as “interim necessities,” but as something that you’ll always have to do, or even a “career” (love that word). “You need to make money!” “Gotta have a job!” And the idea of the art paying for itself gets swept under the rug, because the art ain’t payin’ the bills.

I believe that we are all naturally creative. If we weren’t, there wouldn’t be cars, houses, or clothing. The man-made objects we’ve grown so used to would not exist. There would be no such thing as music or painting. The very fabric of reality is based on creation (birth). The grass is green, the sky is blue. A species is threatened, it finds creative ways to survive.

Does it follow that we would all be naturally entrepreneurs? No. There’s only a handful of people who even want to be. But I do think that we all want to be free – free to be creative, free to be debt-free, free to eat Doritos and watch television on the weekends. OK, maybe the Doritos thing is a notch or two below the “creative” impulse, but my point is that freedom and creativity are bedmates.

Passion has a price. You can’t just show up for work, then go home and eat Doritos. Passion hurts. Passion stings. Passion makes you get slapped around.

This is a touchy subject – I realize. But hey, I never said I would sugarcoat anything, did I?

Are you a creative person with a Passion? Do you find that your “job” is in harmony with your passion, or simply a means to the end of supporting your passion until your passion can support itself?

The Joy Of…

I think I’ve finally managed to rediscover something that has long been dormant… something that has eluded me for years, it seems, or at least until I gather up the courage and presence to let it return. That is the joy of writing music.

It’s not like I’ve never experienced it before… I have, many times, it’s just that I let what happened in between distract me, to the point where when I was not writing, I would forget what it would feel like to sit down, alone, a blank piece of paper (or in my case music notation document), and work through musical ideas, slowly, breaking them down meticulously until each note is scribed, and the whole time retaining that creative spark that allows the melody and lyrics to flow. This is not always easy, and that is one thing that makes it hard to start, but it IS always rewarding, and it DOES always feel right.

It was the things I thought I needed to do: the jobs, the parties, the errands, that took me away from that Joy. Not to say that these things are not in their own right necessary. But the minute they start to take away from the creative time, where the real magic happens, the painful sitting and waiting, sitting and noodling, sitting and writing, testing, rewriting… that’s when they become distractions. For so long, I’ve been de-railed by the “other stuff.”

It’s not like I ever abandoned the work, I just avoided it. Why? Perhaps the most obvious answer is Fear. Fear that I might sit for hours and not come up with anything I really liked, fear that I might be missing out on something else (what else is there?), fear that it’s just – too – hard.

But yet, every time I sit down, with my tools at hand, and really start to get into that creative space, and then start to get into a flow, and stick with it for an hour or two, I really feel good. It’s meditation at its purest. A state that’s calm and pure. I’m finally not thinking! My personal dramas are not even within my periphery. My “tragic” past is just where it needs to be – in the past. And at last, I’m fully in the Now!

Even as I write this, I can’t wait to get home and start writing music. I think that’s the whole point – to get back to that place when you’re a kid, you’re sitting in school, and all you can think about is that new toy you got for your birthday that you can’t wait to play with again once you get home. You’ll go through the motions, go to class, do the humdrum worksheets, then the minute that bell rings, you rush to the bus where you know you’re in the home stretch, and once home you barely answer mother’s “How was school?” before you rush to that toy. There’s a hunger, a need to explore, a zest for life that’s reflected in playing with that toy.

And so I can feel myself being pulled away from the petty detours and back to what matters – the writing. I can’t wait.

What is in your life that draws you, that excites you, that makes you impatient to get home and do? What’s that toy you can’t wait to play with?