Creativity, Community, and Context
Every man whose name is recorded in the books of history is remembered for having built something, for inventing a revolutionary machine, or for having challenged the limits of human thought. Gautam Buddha is remembered for the Eightfold Path, Einstein for the theory of relativity, and Shakespeare for his plays. Each of them lived in different periods of time. Each of them had expertise in radically different fields. Yet each had one thing in common; during the course of their lifetime, they created things that changed the course of mankind’s development, spiritually, scientifically, and artistically.
My previous blog posts comprised of discussions of individuality, ambition, and purpose, asking the question of relevance in the end. But they did not explain what it means to be relevant in the modern era. To understand this, let us consider the contributions of the people mentioned in the previous paragraph. Gautam Buddha conceived transformative ideas about suffering when thousands were dying of hunger, poverty, and old age. Einstein mathematically explained the photoelectric effect at a time when no new discovery had been made in that field for years. And Shakespeare wrote and organized plays at a time when the British society’s social disparity was slowly developing into a culture of condescension and prejudice.
So each of them was relevant because their contributions came at a time when their associated field had looming problems. The Eightfold Path inspired many to conquer their suffering through the power of their will and meditation. The photoelectric helped several physicists think about scientific problems that had left them baffled for years and propelled scientific thought years ahead. And the Merchant of Venice served as a social comment on sexual prejudice at a time when women were considered incapable of any intellectual work.
Their work was contextualized by the era they were functioning in. And that is what made them relevant. But if relevance requires contextualized contributions of a global scale, what about the common man? What about people like me with meagre physical abilities and average intellect? Are we to stay irrelevant throughout our lives?
As my mind thought about such questions while I devoured succulent chop suey skilfully prepared by my host, I heard the passionate dribbling of balls on the adjacent basketball court, and it occurred to me. Although the contributions of great men were made relevant by calendrical context, the process which led to those contributions were completely decontextualized: Buddha left royalty because he found suffering unbearable at a personal level and the prevalent absence of answers was insufferable to him; Einstein personally considered the development of science to be of paramount importance; and Shakespeare loved the art of writing. They were just like all those kids on that basketball court, who were shooting three-pointers simply because their minds were intrigued by the sight of the ball going through the hoop.
How does that make them relevant? Tubod Mar is defined by its spirit, its energy, and relaxed but passionate culture. And the people who define that spirit are the kids who play basketball on that court every evening, the women who prepare mango float to share with the entire community (although I must confess, I often consumed my neighbour’s share as well), and the men who eagerly await the weekend swim in the ocean while toiling through the week. Although their personal preferences are decontextualized, their shared experience is contextualized in the community. Through this contextualization, each individual is made relevant. Every individual’s creative instinct is not only important but is required for the sustenance of the community. And that is what gives purpose to each individual.
The past three weeks in Tubod Mar have given me the opportunity to indulge in free thought. Unusually, my mind was unoccupied for long durations, which gave me time to address previously ignored existential issues. Having lived with the people of Tubod Mar, I now appreciate the excitement of a monotonous lifestyle, the peace in being just like the kid next door, and the bliss of sitting with one’s neighbours and laughing about strange creatures of the night. My experience in Tubod Mar have reminded me of the fact that it is okay to not know one’s career path, to spend an entire day in the ocean, and to sit with your family members without saying anything.
Interestingly, it has also given me a clearer sense of direction, as I now know that the pursuit of an interest does not have to lead to excellence. The pursuit of an interest is meant to lead to creative exploration. The lives of locals are defined by frequent creative exploration, as they spend hours on a single activity, lost in focused thought. These do not have to be specialized activities such as building software or preparing financial accounts. It can simply be mowing one’s lawn or cleaning the dog’s fur, activities that have become alienated in urban experience.
This realisation has made me more open to pursuing interests without a long-term objective. It has calmed my ever-restless mind, making it easier to work on projects that might not be professionally logical but are spiritually essential. It has taught me to feel a sense of purpose in this creative exploration and in shared experiences.
I look forward to seeing how I approach challenges posed by university with these new-found insights. Will my priorities stay the same, or will I find myself able to let go and explore inhibited passions? I do not know. I guess one can never fully know. However, if one knew for certain, would there be any room left for creative exploration?