Apollo and Dionysus – Creative Pairs

A while back I wrote about The Lego Movie and its assertion that creativity required both structure and imagination. I’ve written about how my best Halloween costumes were made when I had the structure of a theme to work with. And now comes an article in the July/August 2014 issue of The Atlantic about creative pairs, especially John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles.

Apparently, John Lennon was rude, unorganized, impatient, and defiant. Paul McCartney was polite, neat, organized, and conventional. And it was exactly the fact that they were so opposite that made them such a brilliant pair of songwriters. They needed each other – Paul needed someone to break open his control, and John needed someone to reign in his lack of control. In fact, John could be rude because Paul was so polite – he knew there was someone to take the edge off and make the reporters comfortable.

“Paul and John seemed to be almost archetypal embodiments of order and disorder. The ancient Greeks gave form to these two sides of human nature in Apollo, who stood for the rational and the self-disciplined, and Dionysus, who represented the spontaneous and the emotional. Friedrich Nietzsche proposed that the interaction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian was the foundation of creative work, and modern creativity research has confirmed this insight, revealing the key relationship between breaking and making, challenging and refining, disrupting and organizing.” p79

I find this fascinating. There is a big value placed on individual creativity. In fact, a lot of artists do work in isolation, writing or painting or practicing alone for hours. And yet, finding one’s opposite can spark more creativity.

I think it’s not just the blending of structure and chaos that’s so important to creativity. I think that having other people to bounce ideas off is vitally important. I often find myself explaining something I didn’t realize I knew or thought or felt when I talk to someone else. This comes out in LEGO® Serious Play® too – people build information they didn’t realize they had in their heads. But it’s hard to do this in isolation. It takes being in a group to make the insights flow. It takes other people, and their ideas, and their listening to our ideas, and the new ideas that sprout from the intersection. The ideas become more robust when they’re torn apart and rebuilt, iterated until they fit, redrawn until they resonate with everyone. When models are put together with everyone’s viewpoints incorporated and not done until everyone feels it’s right.

For some things, fewer people are better. Songwriting by committee tends to be uninspired. Having just two people with such tension between them can make immensely better songs. Some things need more people, especially projects that will affect a large number of people. There is so much knowledge and ability locked away inside people’s heads, just waiting for the creative spark to let it out! And people who experience this creative connection find it immensely satisfying.

How Are Meditation and Play Similar?

I have recently started meditating. I’m not managing to do it every day, or for very long at a stretch. But it’s a very interesting process. Some days my head is very noisy, and it’s all I can do to try to come back to breath, or a mantra, without drifting off on another thought current (or song stuck in my head). Some days I sink in deep, feeling like I’m sitting with my essence and discovering that I’m okay. Some days I have a conversation with my younger self. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I feel like my body and my mind and my life are expanding, filling up with light and life and hope and love. I love these times the most. They make the hard days worth it. They make me want to go back, to sit still, to see if I can feel that amazing collaboration with the universe again.

It occurred to me that really good play sessions feel very similar to these really good meditations. Sometimes when I play I think too much, and sometimes I feel awkward, and then some days it comes easily and flows through me and I’m on a current, heading towards discovery and purpose without working very hard at all. One lovely thing about finding this same connection with the universe through play is that other people can join me there. In meditation, everything happens inside. In play, some of it happens in the physical world around me.

It is very easy, even necessary, in our daily lives to be guarded. When we are alert for danger, we are not likely to experience this sort of flow. It’s harder to be aware of insights, new possibilities, or gut feelings and intuition, when we are going through the world with our practical, logical, or self-protective hats on. We need to find a place outside of the daily grind to practice relaxing and letting ourselves go with the flow. Meditation helps with this. So does play.