Starting here: I recently watched the film, “My Neighbor Totoro” by Hayao Miyazaki. It was recommended by a friend following a conversation on creativity. A children’s film, such as it is, I settled down with my two daughters last Sunday afternoon to check it out. Interestingly enough, the movie centers on two sisters who are adapting to a move to the countryside. As they explore their new home the power of their imagination brings to life magical creatures and incredible happenings, the most significant of which is an enormous tree sprouting from their yard in the middle of the night. In reality they had simply planted some seeds. In their imagination (fueled by their insistence on immediate gratification) the tree erupted from the ground, filled the sky and became their new vantage point on the world around them.
Creativity starts with “rootedness.” A grounding in something solid and well-defined. Seeds are planted, roots move into the earth fed by nutrients and pulled by gravity, preparing for an upward push towards the sky. The tree is simultaneously moving into the earth as it extends itself into open space.
When I weave in Andy Goldsworthy’s idea that “change is best understood by staying in one place” the image of the tree as a metaphor for creative thought and action takes on another layer of meaning. The tree is stationary; growing down to grow up. It is a keen observer of the world around it and it uses this awareness to adapt and to grow. Stay with me here…
Let’s personalize it: I am the tree. If I am well-planted, well-rooted in my beliefs and values; if I am willing to stand firmly in reality, aware of who and what is around me and committed to continuous learning about them, I create the conditions for creative possibility. As I stretch myself upward, I do not do so at the risk of losing my “groundedness,” I do so because of it. My confidence is fed by the core truths at my base; the steady supply of food and water.
Change is a certainty. It is the wind that topples the shallow-rooted tree. Learning, creativity and adaptability are a must in the face of change. And they are only possible when the conditions are right, when the roots are deep.