When creativity strikes, it flows through us in a welcome and energising rush. As ideas spring into form, we feel as though something elusive has temporarily dinged us with its magic wand.
We tend to accept a pernicious myth that creativity is the preserve of artists, forgetting that the instinct to create and generate newness is universal. Too many of us wish we were more creative, or sense that we are creative but unable to effectively tap that creativity.
Happily, even the most frozen among us can rekindle this joyful state of mind.
I'm not talking about becoming great artists but about what might be called creative living - making expressive living spaces, doing playful things for friends, flowing around obstacles, improvising solutions, having juicy business projects. Our inherent creativity is waiting to be realised in everyday ways.
Early in my career, I was lucky to learn "creative problem-solving", a fail-safe process to displace stuckness with radically new thinking. If a person (or indeed a whole team) is blocked or has been doing things a certain way for years, they'll have endless habits and assumptions at play. So the first step towards creativity is cognitive: expanding our minds beyond tunnel vision, then stimulating our imaginations to generate something new.
It's incredibly powerful to break a stagnant topic down into smaller chunks for creative attack, but the real fun starts when we quicken the flow of new ideas. For this I use any number of creative provocations.
We might arrange postcards into stories, and listen to the quirky themes within.
Or collage cut-out images from magazines to become really clear about what we want. We might try a playful exercise that piggy-backs ideas that work elsewhere.
If you want to become more brave, for example, you might ask, "where in the world are people really brave?", then go and talk to an army sergeant about how he encourages bravery. Later you ask, "How might I apply the same principles in my own life?"
An entrepreneur client was so tense about her financial inexperience that she couldn't grasp her business advisers' models. By examining how she supports her nephew who is learning to read - with patience, introducing baby steps, supporting him on tricky words - my client devised three new ways to work with her experts.
A fun form of stimulation is revolution. You list your ordinary, obvious rules of the game - then break them. For example, a small-town American police force was struggling to keep up with petty thievery. I asked them the rules of arrest. One was, "we must catch the criminal as they are leaving with the goods". Revolution asked them to invent circumstances where they might catch criminals returning the goods - Operation Bee-Sting was born. A listing was placed in the local paper, inviting people to trade used electrical goods at a specialist fair. Burglars were accosted as they rolled up with a dozen missing televisions.
So we can deliberately put our stuck brains into bouncy mode, using any random thing to send us wandering down fresh avenues of thought. Such lateral thinking temporarily abandons the left brain (the seat of our factual, analytical, logical, mathematical tendencies), while the right cortex (visual, conceptual and synthesising) makes new connections in metaphor and image. Often, the non-verbal right is the source of those "aha!" moments.
Those who feel uncreative and flat are often locked into left-brain modes.
Attending more to intuitions, emotions and symbols as ways of knowing will enrich their mental life. Logic will swoop in to verify and implement "soft" perceptions soon enough.
It's the iteration between modes that sparks and materialises new things.
But the bounciest cerebral processes still won't give us the whole experience of living creatively. When we're guided by a hunch, "see" a vision of what might be or get carried away as something spontaneously takes form, we're not trying to be creative - it's flowing from an open, receptive state of mind.
A decade after I'd mastered intentional creative thinking processes and helped countless organisations generate new ideas, I came to recognise that it's a whole different matter to let unbidden creativity course through us.
The practices that lead us into heightened creative states are embodied and experiential. Walking silently in nature can do it. Rhythmic repetitive activities such as swimming and drumming can send our brains into alpha state, where subconscious ideas pop through (that's why we remember vital information when we're running). Changing postures, for example into a stance of expansive confidence, can instantly expand our repertoire of creative responses to adversity.
The best approach I know for learning to invoke creative states is 5Rhythms Ecstatic Dance, because it allows us to experience, in a physical way, what it is to flow, to move through resistance, be flexible and fluid - all core creative skills.
While the crisp rhythm of staccato reminds us what it takes to be directive and organised, we also get to practice the opposite: to let all tension loose, to improvise in response to unplanned twists and turns of life, to throw ourselves into something uncharted and discover unknown resources within.
Lyrical music conjures movements that pinpoint the sensations of lightness; we know how we feel when effortless and free.
Tranquil music clarifies how we, individually, gently connect to the creative source, the quiet centre from which new inspiration springs.
This awareness is hard to learn by other means, but it gives us access to ways of being creative in ordinary life.
So our creativity is an inner alchemy. We kindle it (and have a lot more productive fun) when logic brushes with imagination. We live it when we can also suspend all that goal-directed manufacturing and be open - it's almost a state of grace.
• Rosie Walford will host a weekend workshop, Creative Alchemy, with creativity coaching, 5Rhythms Dance and reflection time at Te Moata Retreat, Coromandel on April 12-14; $350 all inclusive. To book contact firstname.lastname@example.org