A number of years ago a friend asked me to speak to her college art class about artful living. The college was located in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I arrived early—which seems to be a dysfunction of mine— and decided to walk around the streets of the city. At one point, I noticed a cluster of tents and a crowd of people gathered. Curiosity got the better of me, and I moved toward the action.
What I found was a group of international ice sculptors in town for a competition. For the next half hour, I was mesmerized. Even though every extremity of my body protested the cold temperature, I had to stay and watch. With chainsaws and a plethora of picks and chisels, these arctic artisans created frozen statues of hockey players, cartoon characters, and whatever else you can imagine.
After my frigid walkabout, I found a group of college freshmen daring me to engage them. I shared my experience with the ice sculptors and relayed that most of the artists had nothing more than a simple scribbled picture from which to work. I demonstrated the movement the artists made—moving from the picture to the ice, back to the picture, and then back to the ice.
How do you think they get the ice to look like the picture? There’s no template to put on the ice. They don’t outline the ice. They simply look at the picture and put their instruments on the ice. Something occurs between their glance at the picture and their action on the ice. Something invisible becomes tangible. What do you think that invisible “something” is?
At this point three students were asleep, two were drooling, and the rest looked like the proverbial deer in headlights. Eventually, though, they got it, and our discussion took off and we spent the next hour talking about living a life of creative action.
My winter-day encounter with ice sculptors, and the conversation with those students, reminded me that creating happens when we apply both skill and a certain kind of mindfulness to whatever it is we are doing. When we are creative individuals, we learn the personal skill of transforming raw materials into something better. As we make alchemy (create) in our personal lives, it then makes us better at the tribal variety as well. Tribes ought to encourage their members to explore personal creativity if for no other reason than the positive effect it will have on tribal alchemy.
When we create as individuals, just like the sculptor, we bring something into existence through action. What we create doesn’t have to be as complex as an ice sculpture. We can create a meal, a good conversation, an exercise routine, a poem, a painting, or just a simple gift for a friend (and more). Creating shouldn’t be just about what we produce (although that too is important), but about the cultivation of mind-sets and actions that enable creative expression. When we cultivate those mind- sets and actions, we enrich our own lives and enhance our alchemic effectiveness as a tribe member.