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But often when he continues here when one works at a hard question nothing good is accomplished at the first attack. Then one takes a rest longer or shorter and to it's done a new to the work. During the first half hour is when he starts work again and as before nothing is found. And then all of a sudden the decisive idea presents itself to the mind. It might be said that the conscious work has become more fruitful because it has been interrupted and the rest has given back to the mind its fright its force and freshness. You see this is the way most people interpret this. I had a rest that's why I got the idea that a typical If I may say so American way of trying to explain it by 100 century physiology. Now he says no it's not true. The illumination did not come because his fatigue was relieved. He says Rather it is more probable that this arrest had been filled up with unconscious work. And that the result of this work has
afterward revealed itself to the mathematician. Just as in the cases I have cited only the revelation instead of coming during a walk or a journey has happened during the period of conscious work. But independently of this work is very interesting. It happened during the conscious right but independently of the conscious work of a conscious work plays at most a role of excitement as if it were the good stimulating the results already reached during rest but remaining unconscious to assume the conscious form. Now I am this summer working on some very difficult psychological problems that are fascinating to me but very difficult and some ways quite new. Now when I'm sitting in my studio out in the field or the corner of a field it is far enough from my house and nobody can call me. No telephone or anything and when I do is look at the mountains and watch the foxes in the deer. I
come across a field from time to time. That's a I'VE BEEN come out there very early in the morning and about 6:30 or 7:00. I think about 11 and I'm terribly fagged out. It's really difficult to intellectual work when you get terrifically fatigued for the short time but the problem isn't solved. I can't see how. This human beings work and set in such a way. You know what I'm trying to understand now. I know the temptation is very much to quiet. And I have every right to quote I put in a good morning. My conscience would be clear. And I want to go in and have a drink of sherry or something stronger depending on how depressed I am at having the struggle without any success. But unless I'm completely out I don't quite that. Now the reason I don't quit is not that my head's going to get any Clare but the fact I'm sticking with conscious commitment at the time.
Many do exactly what I did here with one K. it may enable an unconscious state I miss going on to do its work. And this is why the writers have always said that you should stay in your chair whether the writing is going on or not I may not go all morning long. But then the charity grows but that one thing that makes a good writer is to polish a chair. Why did you stay there you're not going to do anything it's good if you do anything you type probably right. But the stain there this kind of commitment does something to the forming of unconscious things. That them. And I don't know why that says I can think of all kinds of worries. And the unconscious. Lestrade him gets from your commitment and intentionality that enables it to go on forming it
despite the fact that if you're so tuckered out guns you know going to do anything. Now I generally know that if I do that and I still probably would come to other clock and I want to work anything out. And I seem to be more tired. But I'm fairly certain I the next morning it will have done this a very curious thing and I don't want to talk here every day. The one the reason I didn't want Mike in his program to mention these books of mine is I happen to be one of the kind of man who never like to talk about stuff he's creating at the time. And a lot of men like this. He specially the artis the doings and he would talk about it but talk is like a primitive person breaking the taboo. There's a certain taboo that goes on in profound creative wrestling with a problem. Not so I don't I hesitate to tell you I mean the talk is alive and that. It always sounds arrogant but in any case the what I generally find
is that. If the commitment is sufficient then and if I stuck to it then between that time when I was swimming in the afternoon when I'm painting some trees or in my dreams at night there very often comes the answer to the problem. Now I well are so of find myself these things and dreams that depends on the relation you have to your own unconscious but I have a certain relation of mine that if there's a particular problem I'm struggling with. It's the. I I tried to get this quite clear in my mind before I go to sleep. I don't know I may write down a few things about how to get as clear as I can. There's a clarity if you're conscious responsibility and I was very
happy you spoke of my still believing in clarity Mike I very much do. God gave you a brain for heaven sakes use it now your current your unconscious irrationality will be most creative to the extent that you take responsibility for keeping your rationality most clear. But do work together. And if you're confused and stay confused let yourself be confused rationally. Your irrational side won't help you much. I don't make it because again if I go to sleep and my hope is only to permit me my faith that in a dream there may come some answer to this problem. And there comes often enough so that I do this fairly consistently. Now I think that's what poincaré is trying to tell us. That the inside doesn't come because you get arrested. So it's fine to get rested but they rest is important only because it it releases a whole
lot of tension and that often enables you to break through. But it comes because the unconscious workgroup recedes along with the conscious commitment. And then he says this is now poincaré aspect of this. What happened during the break through. There's another remark to be made about the conditions of the unconscious work. It is possible and of a certainty it is only fruitful if it is on the one hand preceded and on the other hand followed by a period of conscious work. The sudden inspiration and he says the many examples I've given he gives many in a chapter. Never happen except after some days of voluntary effort which has appeared absolutely fruitless. And whence nothing good seems to come. Where the way taken seems totally astray. These efforts then have not been as sterile as one thinks. They have set agoing the
unconscious machine. And without them they could not have moved and would have produced nothing. I was very ecstatic when I read these Words because they had they confirmed what I had discovered in my own. Experience with myself for some years now the danger of course in this point is that you may be brought barking up the wrong tree. The important thing about taking responsibility consciously to keep your life clear what you're doing there is that you may be trying to work through a mathematical theory and you may not be a mathematician so that it's hard to do it. It's dangerous to say if you just stick to it it'll happen. Maybe you don't have this talent. Maybe your town is something else. This is a tragic thing that a creative person always must suffer. He works tried work 10 years before anything came out of psychoanalysis and
10 years before anybody else understood a thing about it. When I read about Bell's hack and dusty Aeschines in Ibsen recently who had been studying a great deal. These are all very depressed man incidentally. Depressed but joyous. At least managed and wrote the play after play and there just were no good and he was panned by the critics but he kept saying I'm going to make each your words. Now it could well have been that Ibsen wouldn't have been a dramatization. I don't know how many tragic people there are to keep doing that all their lives. Are you going to eat that make. But I don't know I don't believe it. I see my own faith about why it is that we have to be pretty much screwy in order not to be able to sense that this is not us. And when a person is genuinely committed to something I tend to respect this in saying he must be in touch with a soul or pattern some home within himself. But as I say one can never be sure about
this. As I said and if you talk about creativity you always must talk about tragedy. The do are inseparable. Now I get to that in just a minute. Now part of the experience. Let's see if we can summarize what's going on here. You notice it in these experiences both going Cory's and and the breakthrough occurred against what we were trying to prove rationally. He was trying to prove there weren't any Fuchs in functions and the unconscious broke through saying there were I was trying to prove it was such and such. Maybe unconscious. But the breakthrough was against this the breakthrough is against what the person rationally believes. And. When he's working very hard to prove it often though even the working hard to prove that this is a defense of one's own dog My guess what one senses irrationally.
Now this is a curious thing that the unconscious works in opposition to consciousness. And this is one element of the dialectical interplay S.G. young and out of Iran knew this very well. Young said consciousness works in a polarity. The conscious and unconscious balance each other consciousness brings the rationality of the control of the form into our lives the unconscious brings the irrationality the newness the originality the freshness and keeps our lives from drying up and arid emptiness. Now whatever this may be you see you have all through history from Saint passing before a beautiful example of you to somebody fight hardest against something. When I'm consciously there about who is about to break through and when I was analyzing my psychoanalytic practice in New York
somebody that I know hates his mother say he doesn't know that he's devoted to her. Brings her flowers and helps her this way and that I was fantastic. They can say one thing that right wrong with me as I love my mother. When you can see that there's been a terrible relationship. Now it isn't going to do me any good hair and her head obviously. But I can tell when he comes in and most insistently and strong more strongly. Insisting on this so-called love that it's going to it's about to break down and the anxiety occurs just before the break. Now this is I think the polarity of human experience and this is why I'm one of the reasons I think NG's I think is very often a constructive experience. It's a it's a warning that something valuable is knocking at the
door and we would do well to listen to this Ben Chon was in on I had a conference we had in New York recently. And saw Bello and Byron and Adrienne a number of people trying to figure out how to work through what the creative process is and Shawn says the artist must have intention by this he means commitment. But he mustn't hold this so tight. That the unconscious cannot break through and change it entirely. This was an artist's way of saying. The same thing that I'm trying to say here. It's not any simple growth of nice new ideas it never happens that way. It's a battle within. It's a dynamic struggle going on within the person of the irrational tendencies against
what he consciously but the use. And this struggle will give birth hopefully. But it will give birth with anxiety and guilt and the anxiety is because his self-willed relationship is going to be shaken the way he relates what he believed before. It's going to be radically changed. And the guilt is because in the new idea of breaking through the old forms the old scientific ideas the old artistic ideas are going to be broken destroyed in the meantime. The same process as day Guy says a painter paints his painting with the same feuding as a criminal commits a crime. This is why the great myth of creativity is a mythical me. Yes as a myth of a man being suffering all night long as the vultures ate out his inner organs a beautiful example of the creative struggles and then
each day they grow back again. Now another characteristic of our experience is that at the moment everything around become suddenly vivid. I remember the ugly green of the houses on 8th Street in that block where I got this idea. And the total world around you at the time. Becomes vivid. Becomes lit lit up becomes translucent. In this special instantaneous experience it takes on an intensity that may be momentarily overwhelming. This is one aspect of the state of ecstasy that is present and the uniting of unconscious experience with consciousness. Now I don't believe that these insights come in a vagueness as though you were in a dream. So it used to be
said. When we believed that creativity was a nice thing for ladies on Sunday and a good thing to do on your vacations and even to come up to seminars for but it was not a serious part of life. I am proposing it's the very bread of life. And if it is the very bread of life the very root of what gives our spirits a nourishment from day to day. This is a knowing of our minds. Then it's not correct to say that it happens in vagueness and in a dream and in when you your senses are less sharp. I think it could be demonstrated and I hope somebody will at some time. That the moment of these insights in unconsciousness your perception your literal perception of the world around you is infinitely more accurate than it is normally as when I get an idea in my office in New
York I'm looking out over it. Most of New York City from my twenty fifth floor. I had the experience I'm thinking now about the idea but I had to experience it every building and hundreds in front of me is etched with a clarity that is much sharper and I could I could do it mathematically I could draw it more accurately than I could. Normally that is a very important point because it means that at the time of the breakthrough of unconsciousness one's relation to the world not only has a vividness and unforgettable intensity. But it has a scientific empirical accuracy. It is greater than otherwise. Now the third point is that the insight occurs never hit mess but occurs on NYE when you are committed to the topic at hand. The new format
is beyond the idea of the art.. The experience of love or understanding of somebody which also is a new form. This is boring as the as a fulfillment a completion of the incomplete struggle that is going on consciously. It's as though your unconscious has to complete the baby as complete the gestalt which my conscious is struggling. The fourth characteristic of the experience is that it happens often at moments of transition between work and relaxation. It comes at moments of break while an tarry work and though at that point the struggle of this child to be born within you as it is able to occur. I mean the breath is
able to occur because one has. Let down the attentions of the media conscious work. Now I want to finish here with another point or two and I always have to annoy you driven some distance today as I have and my neurosis. You might know it to start with and maybe we can control it better than us A7 I do when I get interested in a subject I forget entirely about time and I watch who is made so that it will scream in five minutes and then we will quit. But in the meantime I want to get across to you if I can too. To me most important points of all. And these are. And that in order to have the breakthrough on consciousness we must have the capacity for the constructive use of solitude. And what one must overcome in him self. Most of all it seems to me
is the fear of being alone. Now I don't mean simply being alone. I psychologic say. But the fear that comes even though you may be around a lot of people. I'm sure the fear that if going Curry were to have told us it comes at the moment when he was talking with his soldier friend stepping on the bus. Or then this experience of mine on a street and I realized everything had to be changed and what I had to tell my professors I mean how are they different. Now the reason this is alone. And here's where the existentialist have given us a tremendous contribution. Is it at that point you are existing on a sanctum sanctorum within yourself a depth. To which nobody else in the world can go. This is the very center of a man's car. No matter how many people love you no matter how
much. Religious your relationship is with yourself with the universe. We have many friends you got it at this point when a man is reborn. And he knows that his relation to the world is shifted as a real earthquake takes place. I may not be a great one quantitatively or qualitatively it is. And at that point nobody else can be there but you'll know it. This is point. This is important practical way because many people lose their best ideas because they get instantaneously scared and they don't let the idea come up. And I can see this in psychoanalysis with patience. All round and you can see it coming you see it in a dream. And then
they begin to talk about the dream the dream has something to menace you important they don't yet know. They told you ahead of time having the dream and you can see just as they get to it they get scared into talking about something else. Or they wait till the very end of the hour and they are saved by the bell. Now I think if you can be right of course when it comes the next hour. And I think my job there as an analyst is not a talent I can get lots of brilliant ideas but the point is they have to fill my my job is to ensure a world of sufficient clarity and translucence that we have in this world in which they participate with me. They can and will have the courage and the clarity and the depth and the relation with their own unconscious that they themselves can have these various glossy in our society.
If you're alone people get worried. And. Also you have a sneaking feeling that your Savior if you are the one we assumed I was I know going to be alone if you could help it. And so if you want to be alone you were even treated ourselves right. We apologetic saying at somebody. Now this is a sickness of this society. The world is too much with us and there's no doubt about it getting and spending we lay waste our real heart and soul. But I think that's what you can cultivate. And we're going to talk about that more later on but it is possible that a man can learn to be alone for a certain period if the day wants to each day or part of the weekend because the most important things of all won't happen unless you give your still small voice a chance to speak. And I am of a very great believer in solitude now nobody loves
him and complains that more than I do. And I'm by nature as far as I can tell a very warm man. But I. I love you and I would not give up the mountain as an alternate to the marketplace. We must be in the market place most of our lives. But when it's necessary if the creative breakthrough is going to occur. That you also have a mountain that you can retire to. And give them the. And the noise of the world is for a moment a few moments at least lessen Now the idea may not of come come to you then incidentally I don't think that's necessary the time we got our bright ideas. But it's a kind of nourishment. Beside of ourselves that then can grow on go on even know we're in the army like poincaré. And. Walking from bus to bus. Carry guard said that people who are afraid of solitude and the way they're afraid of Solitude is like the
percenters in America. And he went on to say something I hadn't known about our grandfathers. You said it's like at night they build the fire and beat on hands to keep the wolves away. Now we keep a fire going and make a lot of noise. The radios Peavey's everything else and chatter in order to keep the wolves of these unconscious. The irrational breakthrough is that he's AI and the possible guilt that in the nude that this would bring. And then my last idea. Is what determines why a particular thing breaks through and not something else. There are million things that could come up. Why is it this particular idea.
Now do you think it's because that's the most accurate idea. That's why the patient gets an insight on why I get an answer to my problem why poincaré thinks of these geometrical matter to be magical. I've. Won a lot. But I do think so you're wrong. I don't think it has much of anything to do with accuracy as such. And do you think that the insight that comes up comes up because as pragmatically best as it works fast. It will be an answer and I think again you're wrong. I don't think that's what determines the particular insight that comes. And poincaré says this beautifully. And I want to read what he says because he's a mathematician and you probably are enough of a modern 20th century American to be more convinced by that than what we psychologists are. Arlo I believe this is I say long before I met poincaré. From Mary's
writings and he says this one seems to me the most important point of all of our thought tonight the useful combinations is that coming from the unconscious are precisely the most beautiful. He goes I mean I was best able to time the special sensitivity. That our mathematicians know. But of which the profane are so ignorant. As often to be tempted to smile at it. And what happens then. He says. I mean this insight is about to come up. Among the great number of combinations blindly formed by the subliminal self. Almost all eye without interest and therefore without utility. But just for that reason they are without effect upon the aesthetic sense they set extensibility consciousness will never know it than only certain ones I have known Yes. And consequently at once useful and beautiful. They
will be capable of touching this special sensitivity of the mathematician of which I have just spoken and which once are roused McCaughan our attention to them and thus give them an occasion to be conscious. Business men seminar big survey during this wake the first of four discussions on the unconscious by Dr. Rollo May next week Dr. May considers the scientific are phenomenological approach to the unconscious. Join us then for another seminar. Big sir. This program was distributed by national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
Seminar: Big Sur
The unconscious and creativity, part two
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, presents a discussion led by Dr. Rollo May.
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Discussion and lecture series from Esalen Institute at Big Sur, Calif., headed by Michael H. Murphy devoted to exploring the psychological nature of man.
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Producer: Esalen Institute
Speaker: May, Rollo
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University of Maryland
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Chicago: “Seminar: Big Sur; The unconscious and creativity, part two,” 1967-06-27, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
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APA: Seminar: Big Sur; The unconscious and creativity, part two. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from