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Certainty and Mysticism
Surrendering intellect to know the unknowable
I recently saw author Elizabeth Gilbert speak to 2000+ Toronto-based fans and she was incredible. We listened to her tell new stories, as well as familiar stories told from new angles. One particular topic she spoke about has stuck with me: mysticism.
Liz spoke about Richard from Texas (chronicled in her memoir, Eat Pray Love) and the way in which his calm, relaxed ‘it’s gonna be alight’ attitude was a direct result of everything not being alright. In a suicide attempt that should not have seen him live, Richard had a spiritual awakening between the states of life and death, where he heard a voice tell him that everything was going to be alright. When he awoke from that experience, he not only believed this statement to be true, but now embodied this truth — in his demeanour, mindset and actions — throughout the remainder of his life.
Liz also spoke about her beloved, Rayya, who she lost to pancreatic and liver cancers in 2018. She recalled some of the most challenging, painful, helpless moments during Rayya’s final weeks. Through all of the excruciating pain of seeing her love suffer, she fondly recalled Rayya’s final breath, where she displayed the happiest, most wondrous expression across her face. Liz has no way of knowing what Rayya saw, but she knows it was beautiful.
The in-between — from here to there, Earthside to another side — is a mystery to the vast majority of us. Sometimes the world is curious and beautiful and unknowable and that’s exactly the way things should be.
In thinking about creative confidence, ‘creativity’ itself may be seen as a mystical experience. In her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Liz says this:
“I should explain at this point that I’ve spent my entire life in devotion to creativity and along the way I’ve developed a set of beliefs about how it works and how to work with it that is entirely and unapologetically based upon magical thinking. And when I refer to magic here, I mean it literally. Like in the ‘Hogwarts’ sense. I am referring to the supernatural, the mystical, the inexplicable, the surreal, the divine, the transcendent, the other-worldly. Because the truth is I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment, not entirely human in its origins.”
Furthermore, in a Creative Heart-to-Heart with his wife Suleika Jaouad (of), celebrated musician and artist Jon Batiste said this about creativity:
“Creativity is mysterious. Creativity has something to do with craft but it also has more to do with life. Creativity is something that is a steady stream in the subconscious realm; in the realm of the spirit.”
Alternatively, ‘confidence’ suggests the requirement of a more human-centred, down-to-Earth mindset about what we do and make. Oxford languages defines it as: “The state of feeling certain about the truth of something”, which appears to be in direct opposition to unknowable, unseeable mysticism.
Because it doesn’t have to be just one or the other — mysticism or certainty — in the pursuit of a more creatively confident existence. We don’t have to have it all figured out in order to experience the joy and love and pain and humanity and inspiration and gut feelings.
When we acknowledge that multiple truths exist, a third path makes itself available; we can choose to be certain about surrendering intellect to know the unknowable, embracing all that the universe has to offer.
Just Like Grandad
My Dad, Rob, was a guy with a big heart who loved a good head scratch.
He spent nearly 20 years volunteering his free time and musical talents to a local church. He never missed an opportunity to talk about my accomplishments and as a teenager, it was mortifying. I now realize he was just so damn proud. That pride grew to include my daughter, Charlotte, who was 11 months old when he received his diagnosis: advanced stage pancreatic cancer. He was given less than 4 months to live.
Although a very difficult battle, my father lived 16 months past his diagnosis, and in that time he learned that he’d soon be expecting a second grandchild. In a conversation with my husband, my Dad entrusted him with his greatest regret - likely not having the strength to meet her.
In his final days, I was prepared for his bed-ridden state, but I wasn’t prepared to lose my Dad as I’d always known him. He built his career in sales and he was a performer his entire life. (‘Mic check, mic check’ were practically my first words.) When he stopped being able to speak, it was a monumental shift and only Charlotte could get a response from her Grandad; the turn of his head, a difficult-to-muster smile, a tiny wave. During his final days, I turned on 1970’s rock’n’roll music and I knew if he was able to, he could tell me the name of each song, each artist, each release date. We listened to his favourite songs and I stroked his hair, trying to put on a brave face, knowing he would soon be outside of the body that was failing him so badly.
On March 1, 2019 I lost my father.
It was 27 days before my second daughter was born and during this time there was a palpable sense of the in-between. My Dad was no longer in this world, but my daughter wasn’t yet either. I wanted to believe that on some unknown and yet-to-be-understood level, the two of them spent the entire time together; my Dad playing his guitar and his second granddaughter gleefully tapping the matching ukulele, just like had happened Earthside with his first granddaughter.
And on March 28, the new little life arrived and we named her Hannah Robin.
Just like Grandad.
In the weeks that followed we learned that she loved music. It seemed to feed her soul more than it ever had our first daughter.
Just like Grandad.
In the months that followed, Hannah began playing with her hair to soothe herself to sleep, completely unprompted and unprovoked like it was the most natural thing in the world. It’s something she still does to this day. She uses her little fingers to help drift from a state of joyful consciousness into peaceful, deep sleep.
Just like Grandad.
Lending Voice to the In-Between
My Dad’s favourite creative medium was audio.
As a 7 year old, I have memories of my Dad pulling out blueprints, explaining a schematic of a sound system installation to my grade 2 peers (which, for obvious reasons, went over everyone’s head).
As a 15 year old, I have memories of every floor of our house reverberating with rock and roll as his band practiced for an upcoming gig.
As a 29 year old, I have memories of his rigorous sound checks before my wedding to ensure the audio was just right.
Music and sound were a huge part of his life and therefore a huge part of mine.
Like a family heirloom, I’ve long held onto an audio recording of my Dad and I reading my favourite childhood book together, recorded in the late 1980s. I’ve always known — deep down in my creative intuition — that there would be more to its story.
While he never got the chance to meet his youngest granddaughter born 4 years ago, we now have the chance to hear them read together for the first and last time.
Here’s Put Me In the Zoo (Part 2!), uniting grandfather and granddaughter through the certainty of audio and the mysticism of creativity.
Photo by Winston Tjia on Unsplash
Remixed by Diana
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