Much has been written on the subject of genius. It appears in all forms, in all walks of life and yet the mere act of describing it inevitably falls short. Genius lies in the cracks, in the space between notes, in the involuntary situations one had to experience in their life. It inspires but is impossible to imitate, it transcends time yet does not feel out of place. Some of history’s greatest artists tapped into core emotions such as love and suffering to create truly resplendent work. Genius chose their art as much as they were chosen by it. They wrote, painted, drew and sculpted and turned their pain into a blessing. People tend to simplify everything, put it into easily digestible boxes, they expect genius to be splendid and solitary. Inversely, genius is called upon to resemble all. Fortunately for us, reality is infinitely more complex. (Albert Camus, Create Dangerously 1957).
The Cave You Fear to Enter
Numerous connotations to the word ‘genius’ may be running through your mind and as much as we all admire Johann Sebastian Bach or Leonardo da Vinci it would be impossible to fully live on their level. When I talk about genius I’m talking about a skill that includes aspects of temperance, self-awareness and intuition. A skill that cannot be perfected yet is always full of surprises. Can one be skilled at living? I guess if the answer were simple we would have discovered it a long time ago.
With that paragraph, you may be wondering what I’m getting at. I feel that to an extent we are all artists. We choose the paintbrushes with which to colour our lives. An artist constantly lives in a state of ambiguity, incapable of understanding the real yet eternally bound to question it. So how do we live in a reality that’s ever-shifting, ever just out of reach yet within our narrow spectrum of understanding? We start with our thoughts and our attention.
One of my favourite Alan Watts quotes says: “A purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.” It takes tremendous skill to be present, to observe, to listen to one’s intuition and feel at ease not knowing the outcome of things. By relinquishing control to the universe you actually get more order and understanding in your life. And meditation is all about relinquishing control, being a passive observer of one’s own thoughts and reality. Meditating in such a way that allows us to discover our inner genius.
To identify with a higher self we start by carefully watching all our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions. We begin to build up a sense of separation between the watcher and what is watched. You remain the witness, impassively, impartially, suspending judgment and watching it all go on. And the beautiful thing is that this is available to anyone. You just have to make a conscious effort to do so. It’s utterly liberating to realise there’s nothing you can do. All that’s left to do is dance. Dance in the street or just join the dance of life, don’t fight against change. After a while, you become aware without judgement or comment of what is actually happening in this moment, both outside yourself and within. Listening to your involuntary thoughts as if they were no more than the sound of rain.
This is possible only when it is clear that there is nothing you can do. There is nothing else to do because there is no time to do it. There is no way on or back from here as there is no past or future. The answer is close and tomorrow it will be no closer. And precisely at the point where we realise this, we cease using the present to get ‘somewhere else’ and thus we awaken to what Ananda Coomaraswamy called ‘a perpetual uncalculated life in the present’. A moment’s awareness is sufficient to reveal to us the fact that this perpetual uncalculated life in the present’ is exactly the type of life we are always leading anyways, whether we realise it or not.
The genius behind this skill is unknown to those who know it and known to those who know it not. The mere act of talking about it is as effective as trying to move the ocean with cupped hands. Yet we see hints of genius in everyday life, in people, in nature, but only if we take the time to observe. Through our observations, we can create an optimum model of the world within which our unique character traits can flourish. We develop an optimum model over time, we put it into our own terms while the brain sprinkles it with billions of unconscious signals. This is where we learn to trust our intuition as deep down it’s aware of our strengths and blind spots.
But life isn’t a math problem to be solved. There isn’t a formula to follow as a rigid way of thinking can constrain your viewpoint. There are no objectives unless you consciously set some for yourself or unconsciously download the cultural programming of the world. Genius is being one of a kind, working on ideas that are unique to you and constantly challenging your own perspective. There is beauty in observing others as everyone’s model is different and unique to them. Newton, Mozart and Da Vinci nurtured their natural talents but like everyone, their lives contained imperfections that made them distinctly human.
As you become more comfortable with this mode of thinking you begin to see how far you can push a certain line of thought. We can look for genius in new areas that satiate our morbid curiosities and challenge our comfortable modes of thinking. You begin to see the timeless interrelationship of black and white, how evil is necessary for good to exist. You become aware of the good times and appreciate them to the fullest because you’ll be completely present in the moment. You’re gonna have bad times and your mind will be your friend in those times. Mental toughness is underrated and any joy or fulfilment you wish to extract out of life has to start from within.
“It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.”
I touched upon Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey in one of my previous posts. There comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to enter the cave of uncertainty and face their fears. The very cave you are afraid to enter will turn out to be the source of what you were looking for. The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become your center. And all it took was a conscious decision to change one’s perspective. Our inner genius has the potential to shape our destiny and it’s a waste of life to squander its development.
Being present with your own genius is an art, a skill which is nothing without reality and without which reality is insignificant. Life is not a competition but a beautiful dance, a play. You are lucky to be able to have a front-row seat to the greatest show on earth, complete with everything from comedy and laughter to tragedy and betrayal. Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, playing things safe, but honest in the knowledge that you squeezed out every last drop.
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