Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Creativity comes from breaking through status quo and cultural fences made from group-serving moralities and in-vogue values. Much of our genetic inheritance thwarts this kind of approach though. Humans evolved in harsh and threatening environments where acceptance by a group was essential to survival. Part of our emotional inheritance from this creates fear, anxiety, and conformity when we venture beyond what our society or social order considers acceptable. This deep need for approval creates barriers to creative thinking and entices us back into the Faustian bargain of trading our individuality for acceptance, positive regard, and fame. Often a creative book, song, or invention catapults someone into a kind of fame and adulation that chokes off and corrupts their creative process into “one-hit wonders,” impressive debut novels that only lead to follow-up flops, and inspired innovations going forward into only hackneyed continuations. For these reasons, many of history’s prime movers like have remained in relative obscurity using pseudonyms and anonymity. Arthur Schopenhauer wasn’t “religious” at all but was devoted to one prayer: that he not become famous in his lifetime.

The willingness to be different is a key to creativity. While conformance to the dictates of status quo, religious dogma, cultural and political norms build fences around it; anonymity, pseudonyms, and a devotion to truth create gates. While most have at least the illusion of being able to choose being different and creative over conforming and being the same as everyone else; many don't have that choice. Gay people, prostitutes, unaccepted minorities, and followers of disfavored political, religious, and cultural traditions; these are already defined as "different" so it's often easier for them to go a little further in that direction.

See also Imagination

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Quotes (92)

“Yin, the receptive, earth above; Yang, the creative, heaven below: This hexagram denotes a time in nature when heaven seems to be on earth. Heaven has placed itself beneath the earth and so their powers unite in deep harmony. Then peace and blessings descend upon all living things.”

Fu Xi 伏羲 1 via Richard Wilhelm, Hexagram 11, "Peace and Harmony"
Emperor/shaman progenitor of civilization symbol
from I Ching

Themes: Creativity Peace

68. Joining Heaven & Earth

“Drive your wagons on untrodden fields.”

Callimachus Καλλίμαχος 310 – 240 BCE

Themes: Creativity

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“The wise make proverbs and fools repeat them.”

Anonymous 1
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Scottish Proverb

Themes: Creativity

“A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man's brow.”

Ovid oʊvɪd 43 BCE – 18 CE
(Publius Ovidius Naso)
Great poet and major influence on the Renaissance, Humanism, and world literature

Themes: Creativity

“Don’t dwell in appearances, be bounded by or settle into any place but rest from the remnants of conditioning and reach the limit in all directions illuminating fully what is before you as awakening blossoms.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE via Dan Leighton and Shan Dao
from Cultivating the Emplty Field

“We are all meant to be mothers of God...for God is always needing to be born.”

Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328 CE
(Eckhart von Hochheim)

54. Planting Well

“There is no lighter burden, nor more agreeable, than a pen. Other pleasures fail us, or wound us while they charm; but the pen we take up rejoicing, and lay down with satisfaction for it has the power to advantage many others, even though they may not born for thousands of years to come”

Petrarch 1304 – 1374 CE via Robinson and Rolf

“Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure.”

Petrarch 1304 – 1374 CE

18. The Sick Society

“Creative imagination resolves duality into unity and spontaneity, illuminates the ultimate meaning of life, and establishes meaningful being in the now.”

Longchenpa ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས་པ། 1308 – 1364 CE via Herbert V. Guenther, Shan Dao
(Longchen Rabjampa, Drimé Özer)
from Kindly Bent to Ease Us, Trilogy of Finding Comfort and Ease ངལ་གསོ་སྐོར་གསུམ་

“The envious nature of men, so prompt to blame and so slow to praise, makes the discovery and introduction of any new principles and systems as dangerous almost as the exploration of unknown seas and continents”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from Discourses on Livy

“As the births of living creatures are at first ill-shapen, so are all Innovations... every medicine is an innovation and those who will not apply new remedies must expect new evils, for time is the greatest innovator.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE
from Of Goodness and the Goodness of Nature

“I made every mistake that can be made but I just kept pushing.”

René Descartes 1596 – 1650 CE

43. No Effort, No Trace

“The means of obtaining as much variety as possible, but with the greatest possible order...is the means of obtaining as much perfection as possible.”

Leibniz 1646 – 1716 CE
(Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz)

“I have never found any who prayed so well as those who had never been taught how”

Madame Guyon Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon 1648 – 1717 CE via Thomas Taylor Allen
from Autobiography of Madame Guyon

12. This Over That

“All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

Themes: Creativity

“There are two distinct classes of what are called thoughts: those that we produce in ourselves by reflection and the act of thinking, and those that bolt into the mind of their own accord”

Thomas Paine 1737 – 1809 CE

“He who moves not forward, goes backward.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE
from Herman and Dorothea (1797)

Themes: Creativity

“He who moves not forward, goes backward.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Creativity

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Joys impregnate, sorrows bring forth.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE
from Notebook, 1793

Themes: Creativity

“Life must not be a novel that is given to us, but one that is made by us.”

Novalis 1772 – 1831 CE

Themes: Creativity

33. Know Yourself

“Thus, the task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

Themes: Creativity Reason

67. Three Treasures

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

Themes: Creativity

“innovation is always in the right, triumphant, attacking and sure of final success”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
from The Conservative (1841)

Themes: Creativity

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882 CE

Themes: Creativity

“The discoverer and the poet are inventors; and they are so because their mental vision detects the unapparent, unsuspected facts, almost as vividly as ocular vision rests on the apparent and familiar.”

George Henry Lewes 1817 – 1878 CE
English philosopher and soul mate to George Eliot
from The Principles of Success in Literature (1865)

Themes: Creativity Poetry

“such originality as we all share with the morning and the springtime and other endless renewals.”

George Eliot 1819 – 1880 CE
(Mary Anne Evans)
Pioneering literary outsider

from Middlemarch

Themes: Creativity

“an original is in most cases the very essence of what is particular and apart from the commonalty”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE via Constance Garnett
from Brothers Karamatzov

Themes: Creativity

“all the noblest arts hold in perfection but for a very little moment. They soon reach a height from which they begin to decline... for an art is like a living organism—better dead than dying. There is no way of making an aged art young again; it must be born anew and grow up from infancy as a new thing, working out its own salvation from effort to effort in all fear and trembling.”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Erewhon

Themes: Art Creativity

“The chance reading of a book or of a paragraph in a newspaper, can start a man on a new track and make him renounce his old associations and seek new ones that are in sympathy with his new ideal; and the result for that man, can be an entire change of his way of life.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

Themes: Creativity

“Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist

Themes: Creativity

“The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps.”

Lucy Parsons 1853 – 1942 CE
(Eldine Gonzalez)
Political activist “more dangerous than a thousand rioters”

“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare

Themes: Dream Creativity

“New Thought offers you no promise of paradise or eternal bliss... All it offers is unending work, constant effort, new difficulties; beyond each success is a new trial.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE
from A Thousand and One Epigrams

Themes: Creativity

“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE

Themes: Creativity

“Conflict stirs us to observation and memory, instigates invention, shocks us out of sheep-like passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving…conflict is a sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

Themes: Creativity

“The devil in the American world drama may be mercantilism, ensnaring, tempting, battling against my hero, the creative mind of man”

H. G. Wells 1866 – 1946 CE
A father of science fiction and One World Government apostle
from The Future in America, 1906

Themes: Creativity

“The only way to attack language is to attack it... there are no certainties, even grammatical ones... Every writer is obliged to create his own language, as every violinist is obliged to create his own 'tone'... they begin to write well only on condition that they're original, that they create their own language... only that which bears the imprint of our choice, our taste, our uncertainty, our desire and our weakness can be beautiful.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

“Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions and composed our masterpieces. Never will the world know all it owes to them nor all that they have suffered to enrich us.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Justin O'Brien
Apostle of Ordinary Mind

“The condition every art requires is, not so much freedom from restriction, as freedom from adulteration and from the intrusion of foreign matter, considerations and purposes which have nothing to do with spontaneous invention.”

Willa Cather 1873 – 1948 CE
Modern day Lao Tzu

from On Writing

“There is rarely a creative man who does not have to pay a high price for the divine spark of his great gifts... the human element is frequently bled for the benefit of the creative element... ruthless, naive egoism, vanity, all kinds of vices—and all this in order to bring to the human "I" at least some life-strength, since otherwise it would perish of sheer inanition.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Psychology and Poetry (1930)

Themes: Creativity

“The daimon of creativity has ruthlessly had its way with me... When the daimon is at work, one is always too close and too far. Only when it is silent can one achieve moderation.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Creativity

“Where the hand of man never set foot.”

James Joyce 1882 – 1941 CE
from Finnegan's Wake

Themes: Creativity

“One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.”

A.A. Milne 1882 – 1956 CE
(Alan Alexander Milne)

Themes: Creativity

“Difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.”

John Maynard Keynes 1883 – 1946 CE
Revolutionary economist credited with saving capitalism

“to use words; that is to convert an inner surge into immobility. Every word is an adamantine shell which encloses a great explosive force. To discover its meaning you must let it burst inside you like a bomb and in this way liberate the soul which it imprisons.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE via P. A. Bien
from Report to Greco

Themes: Creativity

“I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

67. Three Treasures

“The artist is always beginning. Any work of art which is not a beginning, an invention, a discovery is of little worth.”

Ezra Pound 1885 – 1972 CE

Themes: Art Creativity

“Usually a supreme artist is the culmination of a tradition [and] his very superiority fulfills and exhausts development so that after him must come a period of helpless imitation and decline. Then slowly a new tradition grows...”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Renaissance

Themes: Creativity

“It is difficult rather than easy conditions that produce achievements… where life was easy, natives remained primitive… the harder a time a country has had, the more brilliant its record as an originator of civilization.”

Arnold Toynbee 1889 – 1975 CE
from A Study of History

“For the truly creative mind in any field is no more than this — a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive— a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death... He must create. He must pour out creation. By some strange unknown pressing inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE
from The Creative Mind at Work (1935)

Themes: Creativity

“God never made a more perfect creature than Ben Franklin... Above all, he had a clear mind, and it was from that clear, equitable temper of mind that the warm glow of humor and serenity flowed through his writings... he always knew what he wanted and was happy about it... Above all, his was always a searching mind. If anything, he was original.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from On the Wisdom of America (1950)

Themes: Creativity

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

Themes: Change Creativity

81. Journey Without Goal

“Even if, deep in my heart, I thought we were all blind atoms in a world as limited as a stroke of a pendulum, I and my sort would struggle against tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940 CE
Prototype of "Jazz Age" exuberance
from This Side of Paradise (1920)

“All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940 CE
Prototype of "Jazz Age" exuberance
from Letters

“If we speak of evolution, it an only mean the gradual unfolding in time of what is potentially present but has not yet stepped into visible or tangible reality... If we can see the causal connections, we speak of evolution. If the process occurs spontaneously, we speak of mutation.”

Anagarika​ (Lama) Govinda 1898 – 1985 CE
(Ernst Hoffmann)
Pioneer of Tibetan Buddhism to the West

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

Themes: Creativity

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”

Erich Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
One of the most powerful voices of his era promoting the true personal freedom beyond social, political, religious, and national belief systems

“Most people die before they are fully born. Creativeness means to be born before one dies.”

Erich Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
One of the most powerful voices of his era promoting the true personal freedom beyond social, political, religious, and national belief systems

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Without diversity, freedom is but an empty word... Human beings are not really free and cannot be fully creative if they do not have many options from which to choose.”

René Dubos 1901 – 1982 CE
Influential scientific environmentalist

from Celebrations of life (1981)

“New ideas have a striking similarity to genetic mutations... they are also probabilistic and not in themselves originally selected or adequate, but on them there subsequently operates natural selection which eliminates inappropriate mutations. Now we could conceive of a similar process with respect to new ideas and to free-will decisions, and similar things.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science

“When you try to do something, you lose it because you are concentrated on one out of 1000 hands - you lose 999.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE via David Chadwick

57. Wu Wei

“The idea of the supernatural as being something over and above the natural is a killing idea. In the Middle Ages this was the idea that finally turned that world into something like a wasteland, a land where people were living inauthentic lives, never doing a thing they truly wanted to because the supernatural laws required them to live as directed by their clergy.”

Joseph Campbell 1904 – 1987 CE
Great translator of ancient myth into modern symbols
from Power of Myth

Themes: Creativity Belief

“Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense—the creative act.”

Kenneth Rexroth 1905 – 1982 CE
"Father of the Beats”

“We may say, therefore, that modern has deprived man of the kind of work that he enjoys most, creative, useful work with hands and brains, and given him plenty of work of a fragmented kind, most of which he does not enjoy at all…we might do well to take stock and reconsider our goals.”

E. F. Schumacher 1911 – 1977 CE
The “People's Economist”
from Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered

Themes: Creativity

72. Helpful Fear

“The need to be right is the sign of a vulgar mind.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

“Creativity and mental excellence will become the ethical norm. The world will be too dynamic, complex, and diversified, too cross-linked by the global immediacies of modern (quantum) communication, for stability of thought or dependability of behavior to be successful.”

Timothy Leary 1920 – 1996 CE
Pioneering psychonaut, performing philosopher, and counter-cultural hero

“There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish.”

Warren Bennis 1925 – 2014 CE
Authentic Leadership pioneering thought leader

Themes: Creativity

“If you have no personal history, no explanations are needed; nobody is angry or disillusioned with your acts. And above all no one pins you down with their thoughts.”

Carlos Castaneda 1925 – 1998 CE
from Journey to Ixtlan

10. The Power of Goodness

“One thing about pioneers that you don’t hear mentioned is that they are invariably, by their nature, mess-makers.”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“Deviation is antisocial and therefore forbidden by society under a variety of sanctions... Deviancy, however, is the very essence of culture. Whoever merely follows the script, merely repeating the past, is culturally impoverished.”

James P. Carse 1932 – 2020 CE
Thought-proving, influential, deep thinker
from Finite and Infinite Games

“It’s not the tradition that someone follows that makes them wise; but instead, the ability to see and go beyond that same tradition.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Creativity

“Leary can get a part of my mind that's kind of rusted shut grinding again... we had discovered something as surprising and powerful as the New World when Columbus came stumbling onto it. People like Leary have done the best they can to chart it sort of underground, but the government and the powers do not want this world charted, because it threatens established powers. It always has.”

Ken Kesey 1935 – 2001 CE

Themes: Creativity

“It is the time where we partner with Creation in the creation of ourselves, in the restoration of the biosphere, the regenesis of society and in the assuming of a new type of culture; the culture of Kindness.”

Jean Houston 1937 CE –

“‘That’ has a name but ‘this’ doesn’t have a name.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

Themes: Creativity

5. Christmas Trees

“Death could be said to be birth at the same time… The moment something ends, the next birth takes place naturally. So death is the re-creating of birth.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Six States of Bardo

52. Cultivating the Changeless

“Creativity is a gift. It doesn't come through if the air is cluttered.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Creativity

“My whole artistic life has always been about change, change, change, move on, move on. It's the only thing I find interesting.”

Paul Simon 1941 CE –
Prolific planter of musical, cultural wisdom seeds

Themes: Change Creativity

“He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you. Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you... Strike another match, go start anew.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –
from Bringing it all Back Home

Themes: Creativity Forget

“The things we fear most in organizations—fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances—are the primary sources of creativity.”

Meg Wheatley 1944 CE –
Bringing ancient wisdom into the modern world.

Themes: Creativity

“The only deserts are deserts of the imagination.”

Paulo Lugari 1944 CE – via Alan Weisman

“You can't find the right roads when the streets are paved.”

Bob Marley 1945 – 1981 CE

70. Inscrutable

“I reach a point where, in a realm I cannot even give a name to, I conceive a dream, a sightless fetus called understanding, floating in the universal, overwhelming amniotic fluid of incomprehension.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Philip Gabriel
from Sputnik Sweetheart

Themes: Creativity

“Instead of a stable truth, I choose unstable possibilities. I choose to surrender myself to that instability.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Killing Commendatore

Themes: Creativity

“America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed, and it can't be duplicated anytime soon, because it is the product of a multitude of factors: extreme freedom of thought, an emphasis on independent thinking, a steady immigration of new minds, a risk-taking culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing”

Thomas L. Friedman 1953 CE –

Themes: Creativity

“If Apple is going to succeed, we're going to win on innovation And you can't win on innovation unless you have a way to communicate to customers.”

Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011 CE via Ron Johnson

Themes: Creativity

“The soul is a verb, not a noun.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Themes: Creativity

13. Honor and Disgrace

“Imagining a world creates it, if it isn't already there. That's the great secret of existence: it's supersensitive to thought. Decisions, wishes, lies—that's all you need to create a new universe.”

N. K. Jemisin 1972 CE –
from The City We Became (2020)

“the more financial analysts who cover a company, the less innovative the company.”

Simon Sinek 1973 CE –
from Leaders Eat Last

Themes: Creativity

“It is an infinite-minded player's appreciation for the unpredictable that allows them to make these kinds of changes. Where a finite-minded player fears things that are new or disruptive, the infinite-minded player revels in them.”

Simon Sinek 1973 CE –
from Infinite Game

Themes: Fear Creativity

“We don't usually spend a lot of time thinking about needles, but they were one of the most important inventions in history. If ancient Sapiens hadn't invented needles, they probably couldn't have reached America.”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Unstoppable Us (2022)

Themes: Creativity

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