Monday, December 29, 2014

The Book of Life: Guided Exercises in Designing Your Big, Bold, Beautiful Life

By: Murray Altman-Kaough
Graduate Student
International Center for Studies in Creativity
Buffalo State College

The Book of Life: Guided exercises in designing your big, bold, beautiful life is a compact CPS curriculum in narrative form.  I created the Book of Life as my Creative Studies Master’s project, and as a curriculum for use in my coaching and training.  Designed to lead participants in conceptualizing their lives in a storybook format, the curriculum provides CPS training and invites students to reimagine their creative lives.  Self-discovery is accomplished in a relaxed and playful way, in both written and illustrated form, as creators are guided in exploring collage, doodling, mandala coloring, poetry and storytelling as they work through the Book of Life.  As a visual artist I firmly believe in the power of the arts in stimulating the imagination and in accessing intuitive knowledge beyond the reach of the rational mind.  Not only are hands’ on projects effective in accessing wisdom beyond the rational mind, they are simply fun! 

The purpose of the Book of Life is first, to help participants conceive of themselves as authors and full owners of their life narratives.  Second, to support learners in their own possibility thinking beyond culturally defined limits.  Shared conceptions about what is possible - or even suitable - at various life stages may inhibit the development of radical life goals, especially for people at or beyond midlife. And third, the Book of Life is intended to provide a basic foundation in creativity skills training.   Participants are supported in constructing new timelines capable of inspiring divergent thinking and ultimately, in more fully developing their creative potential.  In thinking of their lives as a story composed of individual chapters, students are freed to select new themes or change story lines that don’t support them in living the most vibrant and productive lives possible.

While the content is definitely applicable to all age groups, I developed the project primarily for use with historically underserved populations such as women and adults mid-life and older.  I had observed during my time in the Creative Studies program that, while a prodigious amount of creativity research investigates and supports creativity in children and young adults, very little specifically targets training and skill development in mature adults.  Despite relatively recent improvements in the recognition of women as full equals in creative potential, a gap unfortunately remains between men and women in terms of ‘Big C’ creative output across disciplines.  Exceptions still prove the rule.  For example: first woman Supreme Court justice, first woman astronaut, first woman racecar driver, first U.S. woman poet laureate, woman president of the U.S. - oh wait, never mind.

Here in the West we tend to view the arc of the human lifespan as unidirectional; flowering early and dwindling fast, and ending in an utterly predictable and ignoble end.  Were you to examine the common timeline of the average human, you would find that the vast majority of positive milestone events are clustered in the first thirty or so years.  For example, learning to drive, heading off to college, entering the work force, marriage, home ownership and childrearing are generally accepted as positive events and necessary markers toward attaining adulthood. 

But what comes after that?  What are our assumptions beyond midlife?  The mile markers grow fewer and far less positive - we typically don’t anticipate much beyond retirement, old age and the attendant declines in health and productivity.  Not unlike humanity’s former shared belief in a flat earth, we seem to think of the human lifecycle in static terms.  Youth is effectively regarded as a time of high divergence, while maturity converges rapidly on an increasingly narrow perspective.  Even the words we use to describe maturity are underwhelming and undermining, and rebranding is clearly needed.   If our assumptions about creative output beyond midlife aren’t a textbook example of premature closure, I don’t know what is!

While our lifespans have continued to increase, for the most part, we haven’t revised our expectations of productivity and creativity across the decades of life.  We’re clearly living longer, but have not adjusted our expectations accordingly.  We expect older people to dwindle and diminish in creative capacity and output, and so they do. This strikes me as a preventable human tragedy. 

And so the Book of Life concept evolved as a curriculum for use in small group training sessions in CPS concepts.  But even more importantly, it is also intended to motivate and inspire students in questioning their own assumptions about their creative potential, and in encouraging them in radical goal setting beyond the first third of life.  We now know that creativity is highly correlated with learning and curiosity.  We also know that environments can stimulate or inhibit creativity.  The Book of Life is intended to help participants avoid premature closure, question assumptions and experiment artistically in imaging fuller and more creative lives.

Read the entire Master’s project paper in the ICSC Digital Commons

Murray Altman-Kaough (Max) is a success coach and motivational trainer with twenty years' experience in higher education.  She earned a Master of Science from the International Creative Studies program in 2014.  She leads transformational adventure excursions to deserts of the western U.S., in which she combines her passion for inspiring others with her love of the arts and the wonders of the outdoors. Murray is an accomplished painter, budding author and energetic motivational speaker and creative collaborator.  She believes that we are called to follow our hearts in living creatively, and that in pursuing our passions we can best help heal the world.  Her mission is helping inspire others to be powerful creators, living to their utmost and  engaging in deeply meaningful work.

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