Questions my last year high school mentee in Tanzania asked me:
How do you know what you want? How to know which choices to make and where to go?
The Dutch way: Deciding where you want to go and making a plan to get there.
A very efficient way of building and getting somewhere. Though, because of the focus on getting somewhere you might miss out on a lot of excitement and beauty on your way. Having a goal changes how you live the present. It influences your decision making and activities. This can be a very strong and motivating tool. The danger might be that because the goal is in the future you forget to see and be guided by all the beautiful, interesting and exciting things that happen in the moment.
The Tanzanian way: Having big ideals and we will get there if God wishes.
A very open way of living which creates space to enjoy small things and embrace the unexpected. At the same time dreams and ideals will stay dreams and ideals and not much will be realised. By putting the responsibility outside yourself it becomes difficult to take things into your own hands. The ideals seem far away and almost unreachable without little steps or a plan in between.
In between Dutch and Tanzanian: Investing in the moment and trusting your core.
Having a clear idea of your ideals and holistic view on the world in combination with action, investment and decision making in the moment. The actions, investments and decisions in the present will create the next present. This creates a path that takes you to places that resonate with your ideals and holistic view. At the same time it allows you to enjoy, be surprised and excited in the moment.
This combination sounds great but it also brings me back to the questions my mentee asked me: How do you know what you want? How to know which choices to make and where to go?
What are your ideals and holistic views and how do you make sure your actions, investments and decisions resonate with them?
The only moment we can live in is the present. Moments filled with experience, reflection, thought and action in no particular order. Every moment there is an experience to be lived and decisions to be made. It is a journey of cause and effect in which each present will create the next one. Not only your own past, present and future are connected, they are connected to everyone and everything around you. You could ask yourself: How much choice do we actually have?
I think we have a core deep inside which tells us what to do. You could say this is your gut feeling, unconscious, intuition or what ever name you wish. Around this core there are layers covering and blurring its clarity and strength. Social expectations, parent expectations, fixed idea of perfection, success and direction, fear, need for recognition, external and internal judgment etc.
I think everybody knows what I mean when talking about this core but to hear it, listen to it and trust it is very difficult. At first you have to see and acknowledge all the layers around it by listening, observing and reflecting. What do they say, how do they feel and where do they come from? It is a process of learning to recognise them and face them in a kind but determined way. When you see and recognise the layers you can see through them for a moment and truly listen to your core. The communication with your core might not be clear or explainable as it is a non verbal one. This can be confusing, scary or confrontational.
Listening to your core is a great first step but: How do you communicate that what you feel in an honest, sincere and truthful way with yourself and the world around you?
It could be that the listening in itself is already enough. You might experience an eye opening moment or clarity which shifts something in the way you see, perceive or do things.
It could also be that trust is the next step. Trusting your core, the experience and the choices of the present together with the not knowing. As people we tend to believe our thoughts and see them as the truth. Different people have different truths and a shift in your perception can change everything. What is the truth? Not knowing is scary so sometimes we decide to know. We create ‘fake’ control for ourselves which gives a strong and safe feeling but is this useful? It might help to take a step back and observe without judging by letting go of your control thoughts and trusting the not knowing. Through doing so, you will find out that the present takes care of its own future in which you will be present.
Sometimes it is important to share our deep listening with others. Maybe you need a conversation, a listening ear, understanding, help, challenge, change, support or it could be that simply sharing what you feel is already enough. You might need something from someone and have to find the courage to ask for it. It is as if you are asking them to come over and think with, support, change or do whatever it is you feel is needed. You might not receive but how do people know what you need if you don't ask? Asking someone over is not the same as expecting something and you might get something you did not ask for. This can be very useful but can also be frustrating or disappointing. If what you get back is not fulfilling you can ask again, change yourself or accept.
We listen, feel, reflect and act but sometimes the only option we have is patience, kindness and taking time. Maybe the core needs time. If this is difficult it might help you to decide not to decide or to decide not to know. In the end we are not always in a position where we can change or ask. Once in a while you will get into a situation that goes against your core. This is hard and can be very tiring. Being aware and kind to yourself might be the best solution in situations like this.
Following your core does not mean knowing what is going to happen next. You might know what to do but that should not be confused with knowing what will happen. It simply means making a decision and trusting that because of the intense listening in that moment, it will guide you to the next step on your journey.
How does this translate to a creative process?
My classical training had a very ‘Dutch’ approach in which there is a clear goal or final product. I would work step by step towards this goal or product with a very clear idea of how the outcome should be. It is good or bad and the process does not really matter as long as there is a good outcome. This training has given me an amazing set of violin and musicianship skills. A set of skills which became part of me and I still use every day. At the same time I think it is a very specific set of skills, process and way of thinking which at times made me feel limited or even unhappy. What I missed is openness in the process. Instead of saying: “This is the way it should be done or should sound,” I would have loved to hear: “This is a way it could be done or could sound.” Developing skills is something great and inevitable in the process of learning and creating but I don't think skilfulness should be the goal. I think it is a tool which gives you the opportunity and freedom to create and develop further.
When joining the Leadership Master at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama my classical process got exchanged for a different way of working. We would try and explore new ideas without knowing what would come out or happen next. Process and product were equally important or the same. There was no clear good or bad. People would have different opinions or no clear opinion at all often using the word interesting. My classically trained mind got challenged everyday and slowly opened up for new sounds, concepts and experiments.
The Leadership Master opened a new way of thinking and working which got even stronger when practising ‘trusting the not knowing’ in Tanzania. My artistic practice became very flexible. Every time I step outside my comfort zone or experience something new I change the shape, create more space or even fade out some of the walls after which I probably build new ones again. It is filled with experience, skills and knowledge and shaped by perception.
I like to work in a way that is very connected to ‘In between Dutch and Tanzanian’. I follow a strong idea, process, piece of material or personal interaction while reflecting on the actions, investments and decisions I do and make in the present. I build on the knowledge and experience I have and create new ones in the moment. This way of working creates space for unexpected, new and exciting personal learning and ‘product’ material.
Trust is a key word after my experiences in Tanzania and London and therefore I would like to end this bit of writing with a beautiful quote from Ray Bradbury:
“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you're going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”
Geerte de Koe