B ut Scott! You just said we have to move past the ‘E,’ absolutely correct! But moving past it, doesn’t mean that it evaporates like a bad dream. Ego, when applied properly, is a scribbler’s delight. How? Well, I hate to annoy the enlightened souls out there, but stripping the world of ego, also strips it of conflict, and conflict my dear scribblers, is the lifeblood of all fiction. Without it we would sit around the maypole in blissful satiety, singing ‘Kumbaya’ ’till the cows came home. So today we’re going to put ego in it’s proper place and practice using it the way it was intended, to help us build powerful stories.
Who’s ‘Zooming,’ Who?
Psychology sees ego as a shaper of Identity; an arbiter that sits between your conscious and unconscious mind, and determines what is real, and who you are in relation to it. Sounds reasonable, right? My favorite Zen trickster, Alan Watts, lays it out in The Truth about Ego, and defines it as “The marriage of an illusion to a futility.” Ego is a mind drug, a dangerous construct, and a futile irony, like our reliance on Nukes to ensure peace. It’s tools are negative emotions and the ability to twist your story from an exciting adventure, to a nihilistic tragedy. And the outcome, when you succumb to it’s illusionary tricks: Is major creative blockage, anxiety, and the inability to scribble your fabulous world into being.
The Cave, Boss, the Cave!
What turns a story from a dim play of ego generated shadows into a brilliant creative experience? Presence – Presence is the DNA that builds flesh on the bones of your shadowplay, by infusing it with the connective power of the moment. I liken it to Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave,’ so read on if you still remember it from Philosophy 101, or check out the video below if you need a clever reminder:
My take on Master ‘P’s Allegory is simple: If you’re not fully present in the moment, your ego has imprisoned you in it’s dark cave; narrowing your creative vision down to a thin, black & white reality that’s based on your ego’s limited perception: The drip line. That means that all your creative actions and your scribbling will remain one dimensional, as long as you operate from the ‘E.’
T he most amazing thing about the present moment is that all possibilities exist in it: Past, present and future. So the only way out of the cave, is to allow the present to fill you with it’s sublimely connected, eternally playful, illusion busting joy.
Why does presence & the connective power of the moment lead to brilliant creative experiences? Think of it this way, you are a self-aware conduit for consciousness to express itself in the world. The more present you are in each moment – the more creative patterns you tap into (physical, emotional, intellectual & spiritual), and tapping into these patterns intensifies the cultural resonance and creative gravity of your work. Books on writing often wax poetically on archetypes and plot points, but they often ignore the fact that all the intellectual noise in the world isn’t going to help you dance to the infinite pool of creative flow – they’re external constructs that merely hint at a reality, that you’re already immersed in. Wherever you are, you’re There! Right?
P resence is awareness. It’s also the incredibly brave act of emptying your mind of all it’s glittering intellectual junk, and fearlessly Feng Shui-ing your consciousness to reveal your profound connection to the infinite pool of creative Jazz that resides in every moment.
Fire in the Hole
In the last post, “Action=Your Creativity in Motion,” I mentioned the fact when you put ego, before creativity, you turn a vast cosmic firehose of imagination & inspiration into a tiny drip line. But what happens when you reverse it, and empower your creative genius to use ego as a power tool? Well, you get the golden triangle of storytelling: Dynamic protagonists; compelling antagonists; and peak story intensity. Every tale contains elements of the primal battle between Light: Awareness; and Dark: Ignorance. Our Hero’s carry the light of knowledge and awareness in the same way our Villains wield the dark power of ignorance to fight them. Presence allows your creative genius to transform the volitile power of ego to shape your characters, inform their actions, and fuel the emotional, intellectual and spiritual play of light & shadow that drives great storytelling!
Night and Day
As a ‘Creative’, I love Chiaroscuro, the placing of light and shadow to create the perception of depth in a visual work. Goya uses it brilliantly here in “The Colossus;” Chiaroscuro is also at the heart of ‘Deep Storytelling:’ the interplay of Light & Dark Elements that reveal the depth of universal truth in a story. Listen to your characters, what do they tell you, and where do they lead you? Take a step back and check your ego, is it activated, or is it flowing into a character, or characters? If it’s flowing, you are experiencing ‘Story Chiaroscuro’ in action. Now follow the flow into the essential conflicts between your characters. Does it feel ‘Right?’ Are all the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual links connecting? If the answer is yes, you’re golden. If not, follow the broken links back to your characters and ask them what’s missing. They’ll show you where the gaps are, and inspire you with ideas to fill them.
Yesterday I was in a funk! Yes, a funk. Well it only lasted an hour, but it was serving a vital purpose. I had just sent out a pitch doc for review, then did a too-quick v.2 and sent it out a bit later, but my beleaguered partner, who knows my iterative ways too well, told me to stop and walk away. Easier said than done. When we are in the grips of our creative genius we are like the “Princess and the Pea,” and no amount of mattressing will cushion that feeling of sleepless unease we get, when our imaginal muse is not satisfied. What did I do? I transformed my ego into story action by using the funk as a propellant to launch me back to the broken story links. I listened to my characters, took notes, and filled in the gaps until I nailed it, then begged my partner’s forgiveness as I hit send. Now the little grain of sand that was irritating me, is well on it’s way to becoming a pearl, and it’s the same for all of us if we just stay present, play through, and let our Creative Gravity pull the fun back in fun-k.
Ultimate Writer’s* Toolkit – Tool Tray #2 – Ego Transformation – Now that I’ve outlined ego, presence, and their transformative relationship, let’s try ’em out:
1. Accentuate the Present • RELAX! Go outside and find the first green being you can find, preferably a large, leafy Tree, and look at it. Notice the variations of color, the roughness of the bark, the thickness of the branches and visible roots. Touch it; smell it, climb it if you can, or sit under it and look up. Notice the dappled light pouring through the branches and leaves and feel the dancing Chiaroscuro of shadow & light on your skin. Do you feel the creative pull? You got it! Beauty is the fastest path to Presence.
2. Transformation Interrogation• Now that you are sufficiently Present, find your comfy power spot and engage your creative engine. At this point I am assuming you already have a story cooking, if not, refer to “The Ultimate Writer’s* Toolkit – Chapter One” and get started. Now look at your characters through the lens of their egos:
- Is their self image creating inner conflict?’
- Are they transforming that inner conflict into external conflict with other characters?
- Do their behavioral actions link powerfully back to their dialogue?
- Are these actions creating an intense physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual experience?
3. Cave in, or Cave on • If you said ‘Yes’ to all the above, you’ve collapsed Plato’s cave and mastered the Ego Transformation Tool. If you feel a funk coming on, you’re missing one or more of the elements, so keep calm and transform on by following the broken ego links back to the character, or characters, that they’re radiating from. If you get stuck just ask your character/s to tell you what’s missing, and scribble down everything they tell you until your Funk ‘o’ Meter changes from ‘Naw’ to ‘Ahhh.’
4. Repeat as required • Keep working the tool and the process, until you have your story pearl then get it out there, because every Pearl takes on a transcendent luster the more it’s handled.
5. Bask-ilisk • Please take the time to bask in your story achievements. The supremely courageous and honorable work that you are scribbling is a gift to you and your readers or viewers.
I love tapping into the collective unconscious and letting my creativity rip, and since everything we do is creative, I’m constantly amazed at how these tools, tips and contexts relate to our innate ability to enjoy in the moment. Sure, all these goodies are great for scribbling, but they also boost our skill at recognizing how ego & presence work in our relationship with ourself and others. When we use knowledge to transform dark energy into positive action, we’re on a hero’s journey, so go forth and work your magic – the world needs your presence now more than ever.
Here are some Transformative works that you might enjoy, I know I did:
Photo Credit: Luca Bravo