Waterfall of Creativity

An interesting thing happened the other night. I had been asleep only about an hour when I suddenly woke up. I had left NPR radio streaming on my iphone beside my bed…I naturally started listening…a man was being interviewed…he was an author. As I became more fully awake,  I determined that it was Paul Young, the author of The Shack (which I’ve read and enjoyed and even given as gifts a few times.)  It seemed the interview was about his new book – Crossroads. But this didn’t particularly interest me…it was what he said at the very end of the 8 minute interview that I’ve been chewing on the past few days.  Read through my transcription of his closing anecdote….


I woke up in the middle of the night…it was as if I was literally caught in a waterfall…It was like I was sitting up in my bed in a waterfall of creative ideas. And after about an hour into this, I thought to myself…I need to get up and write this down…and it all stopped. And I really felt “the voice” (you know to me, it’s the Holy Spirit) who just said…’Isn’t that what you always do? You don’t trust that creativity is a river.’ And I said, ‘You’re right. I don’t trust. And I’m not going to live like that any more.’ And immediately the waterfall started again for another hour…until I fell asleep. So every time I go to write, my first thought is – I trust…I trust that this is a river. And part of that is, that I’ve finally….I’m 57 years old, and I’ve finally got to the place in my life, where I want to live just inside the one day’s worth of grace.”

Allow me to connect some dots for you:

  • I woke up in the middle of the night to hear a guy tell a story about waking up in the middle of the night.
  • I’m in the beginning stages of my first book…his experience happened just after his first book.
  • He’s 57 years old….I just turned 57.
  • I’ve also experienced these rare waterfalls of creativity in my life.
  • I’ve also yearned to know the mysterious secrets of this gracious gift of creativity.

For years now…well,  I would say decades…I have been fascinated by creativity… the creative process….from whence comes inspiration? It is awfully  spiritual…like contact from the beyond. An idea…it comes from nowhere…often not-asked for…but yet it is the essential element to great creative expressions. How do we find the source? That place? That sweet spot? That creative zone? That waterfall of creativity? And then once we find it…can we ever get back to it? And if we do, how do we find it again and again? And what seems to block me from returning at times? And how do we take from it without abusing it?

I am so very grateful for the insight of this NPR midnight encounter. Trust…yes, trust is a significant element in the answer to these questions. To trust that “creativity is a river” is to know that  it DOES exist…that I CAN find my way back to it…that it IS full and plentiful…always flowing….that it is NOT just some fluke experience resulting from something I ate. And hopefully for me….also now at 57… that I’m finally at that place in my life where I have just began to understand how to daily return to the waterfall and take just enough for that day…because I know how to get back to it and get “another day’s worth of grace”.

But you may be thinking, “Great Dave! I’m nowhere near 57…but I need to get to the river too! Help me out here.” Ok…I’ll try to put something down in words….there’s nothing new here….you’ve probably heard it all before….but have you figured out how to do it?

  • First of all, there is a counter-intuitive element to it. In order to get busy…get creative…get doing what you do…actively pursuing your pursuit – you need to CEASE activity. STOP. Carve out a few minutes of precious time to push back the stronger urges of ambition, organization, rationality that dominate your thoughts most of the day.
  • Now in these few moments…people offer various options: Julia Cameron of “The Artist’s Way” fame suggest “doing morning pages” or journalling to get into a reflective mode. Personally I prefer to create a spiritual environment for myself, where I intentionally express thanksgiving for things, people, events in my life. If a person lingers in my mind, I offer a simple blessing on them. But I eventually move to that contemplative zone where I push all thought aside, one by one and enter into the depths of my soul, where “deep calls out to deep” as in Psalm 42:7.  Cynthia Bourgeault calls this “taking a vacation from yourself.
  • Once you’ve installed this temporary fence to hold at bay your normal life activity and you’ve cultivated this secret garden of your soul – the small delicate shoots of new ideas…or new directions on old ideas… quietly peek through the soil.  This is where Paul Young‘s “trust” comes in. To continue in this metaphor, the gardener knows the plants will appear, if the seeds have been placed in the proper environment. The trust comes from experience….from repetition.
  • The adventure comes in making this personal. You need to turn these words on a screen into action…and action into experience. You need to find out what works for you and what doesn’t work….what will work if you work at it. Only YOU can find YOUR path to the river…..only YOU can cultivate your secret garden of inspiration.

I find this quest for inspiration quite fascinating, liberating, necessary  and even VERY counter-cultural. To take control of your own soul….to discover the pathway into it….to push against the barrage of information, activity, expectations, etc, etc.

This night encounter with Paul Young is just another in a series of seemingly random events that I have happened to stumbled into….But each of which have marked my life profoundly….like each one a missing puzzle piece being pushed into place. The puzzle is not nearly finished, but I have already written about another one of these pieces in the post entitled “A Missing Puzzle Piece”.