I’ve written before about the process of incubation, about the subsconscious stewing and brewing. Writers recognise the feeling of tapping into the subconscious, the repository of half-formed ideas, distributed and layered memory. As we move through life we lay down the experience of millions of hours, thousands of millions of minutes of conscious experience, peripheral experience and also dreams. I’ve had a couple of incidents recently of remembering exerpts from long ago, dreams that seem to have no relevance to current events, they just popped out as if an synapse had fired in a particular region of the brain and fed out the memory. It made me realise the quantity of impressions that must be held by the brain, even when we don’t know they are there. I think that is why the process of artistic expresssion can, when you get into the flow, sometimes have a magical or spiritual feeling. We are tapping into something that is elusive, unseen.
When we create a piece of art or writing we engage in a dialogue between concepts and ideas consciously thought of, real world events, triggers in everyday life and between the largely unconscious thoughts, emotions and memories that swim under the surface. I think, and you can argue with me on this, that the conscious ideas create the structure of the piece and the unconscious the long lasting resonance and beauty that makes the piece connect with others.
So we can gain inspiration from news items, anecdotes, unusual (and usual) people we meet, film, travel, science. It sets us thinking, makes us delight in novel juxtapostions that form exciting ideas.
But what triggers us emotionally, what untaps the inner resonance that makes our work more meaningful? Other writers have said that it was a particular book that moved them or changed the way they saw writing. In a wonderful article on her blog Nova Ren Suma says ‘ Sometimes I’m reading a book and a paragraph just slays me‘. She shows us a paragraph that had than effect on her and continues ‘After reading that paragraph, my spine tingled. Memories surfaced. Something came to me. Something I wanted to write.’ Sometimes it is a place, a lost love, a particular sound that is connected with the past, a powerful internal memory-event that is deeply etched and has many strong associations.
Music has to be one of the mainlines to memory and emotion. On its most fundemental level it is a physcial thing that has a wave frequency that can interact with and affect the cells of the body. (Don’t get me started on the fundemental particles of life, we could be here a while…) The brain is a complex thing, memory is elusive, even to scientists; the interaction between the external and internal world, the magical study of neuroscience and particle physics. But we know the keys exist to unlock the fundementals of humanity that swim in our subconscious.
We know the feeling when it happens, the just rightness of expression, the story that writes itself, the book that comes out of nowhere, the perfectly formed line that we wake up to at four in the morning. One of my enduring memories of college was a story my Cognition professor told us about his Buddhist experience of climbing a mountain with his son who lost his Mars bar. Instead of fixedly looking for the bar, they kept a generally open mind on the descent, kept a casual eye out, so to speak, and finally it appeared. If we want to find our keys we may tear the place apart and never find them. We may keep going back to the same place and never do any good. So with inspiration, we can make ourselves ready for it, put ourselves in the landscape of music and rememberance and reach for the sweetness when it comes.