The Drive to Create: Impermanence, Legacy and Creativity
Notre Dame, Australopithecus, and Sand Mandalas…
We were at an ethnography and anthropology museum over the weekend, looking into the far past of human history.
One of the temporary exhibitions was on impermanence (yep, ironic, right!), with a large sand mandala at the entrance, a mandala which will most likely be gone by the time you read this post.
I was struck by the juxtaposition of this exhibition on the lower floor of the museum with a display of skulls from some of our distant human ancestors, millions of years old, some of them millions of separate pieces of bone, painstakingly put together and then created as an imagined form of the living being.
Impermanence and recreation back to back.
We Want to Create Legacy…
To find and preserve remains from millions of years ago, to spend months and years of work on them, creates a natural desire to want to keep them, to protect them from harm, to preserve for our generation and the generations to come.
Preserved so we can marvel at them, understand more about where we’ve come from and imagine what life might have been like for those animals, a distant cousin perhaps, or a branch of the species that died out somewhere along the way.
Side by side with something that has been created intentionally to be destroyed.
It seems natural to get attached to things, to mourn the loss of something, human or material form. As I write it’s within days of the Notre Dame fire. Many people felt a deep sense of loss, or grief. It’s normal. And it’s OK to be sad.
And, it’s also true that everything is creation and re-creation.
I work with people who dream of creating something that can be called a legacy—physical, digital, even a large-scale social or economic change. And why not? We have incredible creative potential for creation, for innovation, for creating new worlds and awe-inspiring art and architecture.
But Can We?
…we also live in an impermanent world and from time to time we stumble into a crashing reminder of that.
My oldest son is a chef. He loves to work in fine dining restaurants, sometimes spending hours and hours on preparation of a meal that will be gone in minutes.
He laughs sometimes as he tells me this. Oh well he shrugs.
I love that about life.
I love that I can create something. I can create this small piece of writing and leave my digital footprint. I love that, over 850 years ago, the bishop of Paris can commission a magnificent cathedral, that in 2019 we can deeply mourn destruction, and then celebrate a new stage of life. I love that some unknown curator can spend many man or woman hours reconstructing the skull of Lucy, Australopithecus Afarensis, a 3 million year-old memento of my distant cousin according to my younger son—a comment on our shared (lack of) height.
What Will be Here in 1,000 Years, Or in One Year?
Who knows which of these things will outlive us, and for how long.
What’s true is that we have power to create incredible social change, to create incredible beauty in art and words. And we also have the capacity for incredible joy at the sight of our creations, and incredible sadness when they slip away from us.
Grief is normal. Loss is part of the cycle. We cannot know what will stay with us and what will disappear. In that same museum were aurochs. Over-sized relatives of the humble cow, extinct by over-hunting in Europe.
The Drive to Create…
And the power to create, yet again, the drive, compulsion even, to bring something new into existence, and to celebrate it, is also normal. We can’t help it—it’s our nature—It’s in our genes and it’s the very nature of life itself.
Another thing that Lucy and I have in common... ;-)