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The Highest Art; Embracing Structure and Flow

Lately I have been reflecting on the artful dance of structure and flow within my life and being. 

My natural essence leans to creative expression.  Ideas and insights often come to me through dreams, walks in nature and intuitive promptings.  I love nature, am fascinated by people, inspiring stories, the arts and enjoy physical activity.  Creating is not an issue.  Quiet, unpressured time and good sleep are however key to support this process.  When they are absent the creative flow can easily dry up!


My relationship with structure is a bit different.  It has gone through many interesting revisions over the years.  From lessons when I was younger and worked in the fitness industry engaged in the discipline of exercise routines for better health, to flying gliders (planes with no engines) and the skill it requires to stay in the air, along with the precision and focus needed with only one chance to land the plane.  The stillness and focus called for when doing hospice work and being present to those facing death or in grief and when exploring certain creative activities like writing.  I can be very detailed when needed but like many, I can also resist that call.   There is a part of me that sometimes worries that if things get too structured or controlled, my freedom of expression will be lost. Choked off.  It has been an on-going dance to honour the balance of these two qualities within my being and life in general.


In my YouTube conversation with Dr. Balfour Mount, who is a pioneer in palliative medicine and coined the term “palliative care”, I was struct by his skill to embrace both structure and flow.  He is an artist and all the way through the interview we touched on the importance of art in his life and work in end-of-life care.  In the backdrop of his office, he had displayed on his wall many drawings and paintings he had done over the years.  Combined with this he was also a gifted surgeon which required detailed attention and focus while in the operating room.  Both of these qualities are woven into the foundation of good palliative and hospice care.  Detailed accuracy in medical attention along with the humanities, creativity and an honouring of the ineffable mystery of life itself.


When I was younger, I loved to draw with pencil.  Took art classes in high school but haven’t done much with it since.  After that interview I dug out some old pencil drawings I had done in my youth that showed skill at the craft.  His example inspired me to revisit this art form.


In her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, author Betty Edwards gives exercises to her students to help connect them with the wisdom of the right brain’s gift to see a broader view while sketching.  Beyond the left brain’s need to define and perceive an image in a more literal and linear fashion.  Apparently, the left brain’s intervention can interfere with a more accurate perception of the image you are viewing.  This is based on its tendency to quickly categorize objects from prior experience and form symbols it now associates with the objects it is viewing.  In contrast images take on much greater dimension when viewed with the right hemisphere in the lead. 


In one of the exercises, she presents the students with an image turned upside down and then asks them to draw what they see.  The results are astounding.  The exercise is designed to quiet the left brain’s involvement and allows the right brain’s perspective to move into the fore resulting in a more engaged relationship with the true image in the moment.  The drawings when finished and turned right side up, end up much more realistic than when trying to approach the task in a more literal sense.


Her chapter on children’s cognitive development and drawing is also fascinating to read.  When the children got older, around ages 9-11, she noted that the left brain’s influence started to become stronger, as well as the social conditioning of others judging a drawing.  As a result, children became more self conscious and often gave up art all together feeling that they weren’t good at it.  Ashamed that the picture didn’t look good or wasn’t real enough.  She claims they were just not taught how to stay connected to the right brain’s perspective and ability truly see the real image in front of them for what it is.  Her book offers a vastly different and more encompassing point of view coupled with exercises to re-discover the possibility of drawing by embracing the gift of the right hemisphere’s ability to perceive things in its own unique and different way.


Yet structure is important too.  It creates focus and clarity of intent for an outcome.  A goal.  It also offers a container, holds space for the flow, the essence to be expressed.  Some call this interplay the Yin/Yang or masculine and feminine principles that make the whole.  As mentioned, the qualities are also attributed to the functions on the left and right hemispheres of the brain.


These days with all the heated discussions and emotions that get stirred around the polarities I prefer to simply think of it as the blending of structure and flow.  Both men and women have these inherent creative qualities for expression within them.


We often think of art as fluid, the artist life one of ease and no responsibility.  Yet at the foundation of many who excel at their craft, is incredible discipline, a dedication to the work, curiosity, and endless discovery.  Similar to the focus required for athletic achievement. 


A piece of music has the design of the musical notes to allow for the expression of the sound to flow through.  A film often has at its conception, a story board or pre-imagined sequence of images mapped out to form the full arc and visual presentation of the story’s message.  In a sculpture the intricate, detailed work of the artist’s chisel over time reveals the image to be birthed from within the stone itself.  Even in dance, behind the final performance is hour upon hour of learning the steps to perform the craft.  Resulting in either a solo performance or in union with other dancers within an ensemble or duet. 


Stepping back, with a wider view, when each artist fully commits to do the work, while surrendering to something greater than themselves, it allows the creative flow to come through.  That mysterious, magical element, essence, that touches our hearts, inspires, and uplifts.  Ineffable yet tangible at the same time. 


Behind every art form you will generally see an interplay of both structure and flow.  The same is found in nature.


An interesting example is that of a river and the riverbanks.  Without the fluid water rushing through the riverbanks there is no river.  If the water dries up, the rich expression of that life-giving element is gone, along with most of the vegetation and wildlife that the presence of the river nurtures.  In turn, the land becomes hardened, dry, and barren. Things can no longer grow or survive. The opposite is also true.  If the riverbanks are over run, flooding can occur.  When the water is not contained it also destroys vegetation, wildlife and most everything found in its path with its powerful force.


Yet with the imbalance also comes an invitation for change.  Encouraging a new way.  To re-discover the art of structure and flow in an intimate weave.  Embracing the deeper gifts that both elements offer, when in harmony. 


Sometimes I ask inwardly for help to be shown how to create the structure needed for a project then quietly stay open to capture the inner direction that comes to mold the outer container.  When I see the ideas inwardly, I make a point of writing them down even if they seem disjointed at first.  Eventually an insight of how the pieces weave together will emerge from what I have been shown. A stronger overall structure always manifests when creating this way. From the inside out.


For me personally it doesn’t work when I try to will a structure from the outside simply with my mind.  It blocks the process or results in a less favourable outcome.  For others it might be different.


At the foundation, my biggest concern is always to maintain the heart of the creation in conjunction with the detailed structure required.  To blend and find harmony with both.


I recently re-visited Steven Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  My attention was drawn to the chapter “Seek first to understand then to be understood” but most specifically how he ties it into the concept of synergy.


He talks of compromise as a basic form of coming together for finding a solution but not necessarily the most efficient.  Inevitably compromise can involve an individual or group of individual’s perspectives to be supressed or let go to make peace and blend with the whole.  This may initially appear successful but over time can have the potential to end in quiet resentment, restriction, or discord. 


He then leads into his reflections on what he calls the highest in partnership and teamwork that of SYNERGY.  He points out that it is also the rarest.  It comes from true, deep listening.  “Seek first to understand then to be understood”.  The foundation is one of creative collaboration.  While revisiting his writings and examples I marvelled at his skill to ask questions to deepen his understanding when listening to another instead of putting them on the defense or shutting them down.  A role model and example to strive for.


With synergy as the goal, instead of making one point of view right or wrong, good, or bad, it is about taking time to truly hear the other’s point of view.  A true invitation to creative collaboration.  Be open to see the essence and point of view of the individual or group in front of you.  In turn, sharing your point of view.  It honours how a different perspective can change the whole dynamic.  Once embraced a true blending of the disparate perspectives, varied talents, and unique gifts that everyone brings can create an even greater outcome. 


This third, combined option, brings the gifts and views together in a complimentary alignment that is much stronger than the individual parts alone.  In synergy the uniqueness of each perspective is fully honoured and instead of interfering with the team dynamics, enhances it, raising the overall productivity.  Competition melts away and open, collaborative creativity moves to the fore.  There is a different ease and flow with this newfound resonance. 


Trust is paramount in this style of creative collaboration since it can initially cause tremendous uncertainty.  The old ways are being disrupted and let go for the new.


How often do we really listen to hear and see the other?  Open to perhaps a vastly different point of view without caveat?  In turn, how often do we really feel “seen” and heard?  I know this is an on-going life skill for me to refine.  Often, my own filter of thoughts is running in the background when listening to another to later be presented or defend my point of view.


However, during times I have been fully open and present to sincerely receive a different perspective the outcome has been profound and healing.  Growth always occurs.


More and more I have wondered how I can begin by embracing this synergy within myself first.  Start by respecting and deepening my relationship with both the qualities of structure and creative flow within my being?  The so called right and left-brain functions. 


Inevitably, I believe if I fully commit to embracing that relationship within, truly inviting the two disparate elements to align in synergy, it will flow over into honouring those elements at play in all my relationships with others and in life.


How might you begin a deeper exploration and engagement with each quality within your own being and observe how the third option of synergy might then ripple out to impact your own life and relationships?  Perhaps start with the one that is the least comfortable.


Structure and flow woven in harmony.  The highest art.

Photo by kermit nicou on Unsplash


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