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Issue 65

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In this issue ~~

* Accessing Genius

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf

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Accessing Genius

For most of us, when we think of "genius," Einstein or Mozart comes to mind. Certainly not ourselves. We see genius as the domain of the elite – the extremely smart or extremely talented. In Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior, David Hawkins (www.veritaspub.com) says that genius resides within all of us, that the processes of creativity and genius are inherent in human consciousness. Every one of us has moments of genius, but they often surprise us and we don't know where they came from.

It has become clear to us that much of our genius is squashed at an early age. School curriculums are standardized in the interest of conformity and control and rarely address diverse talents and learning styles. If you perform outside the expected norms, there is no context for your creativity, and it will often be suppressed as an undesirable deviation, rather than encouraged as unique and noteworthy.

In discussing this topic, I'm going to call on some experts, beginning with Merriam-Webster, who defines "genius" as "extraordinary intellectual power especially as manifested in creative activity," but also as "a peculiar, distinctive, or identifying character or spirit" – in other words, your unique gifts and talents! Everyone is a genius and an artist. Your genius may be in painting or music or writing, or your artistry may be in making people feel comfortable, organizing events, fixing cars, raising children or raising tomatoes.

We often miss these flashes of genius because we narrowly define genius by either high IQ or outstanding artistic ability. But IQ only measures one type of intelligence. In his new book, Intelligence Reframed, in which he expands on his earlier work on multiple intelligences, Howard Gardner (www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm) posits 9 separate intelligences: logical-mathematical, musical, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, natural (as in "nature") and spiritual/existential.

Gardner defines intelligence as ". . . a biophysiological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture." Clearly, there are many ways to process information that contribute to a culture. Many of our most useful inventions were created by ordinary people.

In the 1950s, a divorced secretary, fearing for her job when the speed of her new electric typewriter caused her to make more mistakes than usual, filled an empty nail polish bottle with white tempera paint to cover her typing mistakes, thereby inventing Liquid Paper. In 1948, a Swiss electrical engineer came back from a nature hike with his clothes covered with burrs. His curiosity led him to look at them under a microscope, where he saw what looked like little hooks that had attached themselves to the fabric of his trousers. He saw its potential as a unique fastener, and after a few years of experimentation, Velcro was born.

Michael Gelb (www.michaelgelb.com) has made a career of studying geniuses. He cites seven critical principles, which he learned from Leonardo da Vinci (www.mos.org/sln/Leonardo/LeoHomePage.html), that need to be followed to bring out your genius:

~ Curiosita: An insatiably curious approach to life.

~ Dimostrazione: Willingness to learn from mistakes and continually test theories through experience.

~ Sensazione: Using the senses to connect with the world around you.

~ Sfumato: A willingness to embrace contradictory ideas, ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.

~ Arte/Scienza: Developing a balance between science and art, logic and imagination: "whole-brain thinking."

~ Corporalita: Taking care of the physical body, cultivating fitness and poise.

~ Connessione: Recognizing and appreciating the connectedness of all things: "systems thinking."

These are practices we can all embrace. While the world around us may not seek out our genius, we can value and nurture it ourselves, working with the principles of daVinci and the examples of his peers to create a welcome environment for it.

~ Genius emerges from the interplay of logic and imagination. Gelb calls these "critical thinking" and "creative thinking." Both are vital to powerful thinking. Logic alone is earthbound, while imagination alone is ungrounded. Put the two together, and magic happens.

~ One of the most important components of genius is intensity of focus. When you're working in your arena of genius, it's easy to get intensely involved in your creation or quest for hours at a time. When this is alternated with time away, in which you give your ideas time to germinate, inspiration arises.

If focus is difficult for you, you can train yourself. In Conquest of Mind, spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran (www.easwaran.org) says, "It is the nature of the untrained mind to keep moving, moving, moving. But the mind is infinitely teachable. You can make it natural for your mind not to move, but to dwell like a laser wherever you place it. That is the secret of genius."

Great artists start with talent, but it is through this intensity of focus, and endless hours of practice, that genius emerges. Easwaran observed that "after seeing the kind of training Nureyev must have undergone, I realized anew why genius has been called just an infinite capacity for taking pains."

~ Don't let obstacles deter you. If you hit a wall, use your creativity and imagination to dissolve it. When Isaac Newton reached an impasse in his work because the existing mathematics were inadequate, he created calculus.

~ Seek out an encouraging environment. When people believe in us, we are capable of rising to genius. The film Stand and Deliver tells the story of math teacher Jaime Escalante, who motivated and inspired 18 disadvantaged, East Los Angeles barrio kids to pass the Advanced Placement Calculus test. (Newton would have been pleased!)

~ Take time to just be, and not always do. Keeping ourselves constantly moving prevents the soft voice of inspiration from coming through. Harvard business professor Shoshana Zuboff said that her real work occurs when she is putting her feet up on her desk to think and reflect. This winter, a few of my clients were sick or injured and had to stop their normal routine. Every one of them reported greater clarity on personal issues that had baffled them before.

Gelb corroborated this in an interview in the Spring 2001 issue of Linezine: "In the last 20 years I've been asking people all over the world, 'Where are you when you get your best ideas, where are you actually physically located,' and people almost invariably respond, 'I was lying in bed, I was going for a walk in nature, I was driving my car, I was taking a bath.' They almost never say, 'I was in a meeting.'"

~ Generate new ideas by being curious and open to new possibilities. Albert Einstein said that the childlike, open, imaginative, playful way of thinking was at the core of his approach. When you dare to dream, you create the possibility that your dream could come true. Use creative thinking to dream and brainstorm, without censoring what comes through, and then follow up with critical thinking to see which of your ideas might be developed further.

~ Pay attention to your ideas; take them seriously. Gelb stated that "all the geniuses I've studied are pretty good at paying attention to the inner muse." Great men like da Vinci, Newton and Edison kept extensive notebooks, while Thomas Jefferson poured his ideas into letters. Today, we might keep a journal or an idea log.

~ Always be open to learning, no matter how accomplished you are in your field. Buddhism calls this "beginner's mind." Have the courage to ask questions, even if you feel foolish, and not just ones to which you already know the answer. Don't judge or rule out the responses, but playfully explore and experiment with them.

~ Be patient and persistent. Thomas Alva Edison tested over 6,000 filaments before he created a successful light bulb. Wilbur and Orville Wright began building toy airplanes and kites at the ages of 12 and 8, respectively. Twenty-four years later, when they took their craft to Kitty Hawk, they had carefully tested each component and knew it could fly.

~ Great geniuses usually also demonstrate great humility. Einstein often protested that he had no special gifts, except perhaps his curiosity, focus and persistence. Ego is what bursts the delicate bubble of genius. Take, for example, an athlete running a race. When that athlete is performing optimally, he is mentally and physically "in the zone," totally focused on the sublime ecstasy of pushing the envelope of human limits. If his mind turns to the rewards – glory, praise, money or fame – the intense focus is broken. You may have experienced this yourself, when you were "in the flow" with your creation and then lost it when you began to think about how your work might be judged.

~ Remember that your genius may be focused in a particular area, and don't discount it because you also have weaknesses (as we all do). In his PBS special, The Power of Intention, Dr. Wayne Dyer admitted that while writing books and talking to audiences about spirituality is easy for him, don't ask him to fix the screen door on his house.

~ Finally, trust yourself, value your own experiences and talents, and don't look to others for approval. Your genius may elicit jealousy and competitiveness, and the responses you get from others may be aimed, consciously or unconsciously, at keeping your genius in check, not encouraging it. Listen to your own muse, and protect your genius and your creations; don't expose them to criticism during the early, delicate stages.

Genius may be elusive, but with a persistent effort, we can create the optimal conditions in which it can show up. While we can't schedule genius, we can tap into it by heeding the words of David Hawkins: "Do what you like to do best, and do it to the very best of your ability." Genius comes from something within us, and also from something greater than us. We can align ourselves with exalted values, such as perseverance, patience, courage, humility, concentration and integrity, and then allow our talents to shine.


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Creative Tip

Set aside some quiet time at least weekly, if not daily, with nothing to do. Let your mind rest. Give it free rein to wander. Keep a pad and pencil or a micro recorder handy to note any ideas that may emerge.

 

Wise Words

"The art of using moderate abilities to advantage often brings greater results than actual brilliance."

~ Francois de la Rochefoucauld

"Genius is only the power of making continuous efforts. . . . A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success."

~ Elbert Hubbard

"In ancient times, everyone was considered to possess inner genius. It was a kind of guardian spirit that accompanied a person through life and helped one overcome odds and achieve personal heights. We've lost touch with this original meaning of genius (related etymologically to the fabled genie in the lamp) in all our concern over IQ testing and similar nonsense. It's time we brought it back."

~ Thomas Armstrong, PhD, 7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Many Intelligences

"No one can arrive from being talented alone. God gives talent; work transforms talent into genius."

~ Anna Pavlova

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Bookshelf

(click on the book or DVD graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior . . . David R. Hawkins, MD, PhD

Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century . . . Howard Gardner

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day . . . Michael J. Gelb

How to Think Like Einstein: Simple Ways to Break the Rules and Discover Your Hidden Genius . . . Scott Thorpe

Discover Your Genius: How to Think Like History's Ten Most Revolutionary Minds . . . Michael J. Gelb

Conquest of Mind . . . Eknath Easwaran

Stand and Deliver (DVD)

The Power of Intention: Learning to Co-Create Your World Your Way . . . Wayne W. Dyer

The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius . . . Mary-Elaine Jacobsen

Understanding Creativity . . . Jane Piirto

 

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© 2004 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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