In Napa Valley, June 2006. Photo by Raj Hornstein
Zen & Ciao: Fuel for the High Road


Karen O'Leary's column, Zen & Ciao,
is based on interviews with artists, inventors and thought leaders. Articles address classic questions, modern challenges, cultural trends and the creative process. 

Yasuhiko Genko Kimura on Authentic, Original Thinking:  

Karen O'Leary:
  You believe original thinkers  – even in Silicon Valley – are rare and that people tend to form concentric circles around them rather than become original thinkers themselves. In light of the innovations at Stanford and Silicon Valley, could you elaborate on your thoughts about the dearth of original thinking?

Yasuhiko Genku Kimura:
  Insofar as I can discern, there are four levels to the phenomenon of thought:(1) Organic, perceptual, and pre-conceptual thought, which is entangled with our bodily existence, such as “I am hungry,” “I am full,” “it hurts,” or “it feels good.”  Animals essentially have the same level of thought, though they do not express it in the way we humans do, that is, through symbolic language.

(2) Intentional, meaning-seeking, conceptual thought, out of which science, philosophy, mathematics, and much of art, literature, and culture grow.  We are familiar with this level of thought.  This level is what we think thought or thinking to mean. 

We modern humans are highly developed at this level of thought. Stanford and Silicon Valley are full of people who especially excel at this level of thought.

(3) Inspirational, supra-conceptual, symbolic thought, which is the province and the provenance of the greatest of poetry, aphorism, music, mathematics, and philosophy.  The works of illumined minds that transform culture and inspire humanity come from this level of thought.  Those whom we call geniuses are able to tap into this level of thought in the fields in which they are said to be gifted.

(4) Transcendental and trans-conceptual thought, in which every thought contains the whole just as in a hologram, that is, each thought includes the whole of eternity and infinity, and yet all thoughts are distinct one from another. 
The unbroken and undivided eternity-infinity dynamically presences itself before the mind, and yet it is unceasingly colored anew, as it were, with limitless possibility. The third level of inspirational thought is a faint echo or distant image of this fourth level of transcendental thought.  At this level, the human intelligence merges with the divine intelligence.  Your mind becomes powerfully illumined but profoundly silent.

Karen O’Leary
 Can you elaborate on your idea that higher thinking is linked to returning to the divine?

Yasuhiko Genku Kimura:
Authentic original thinking is the kind of thinking that fully utilizes our human and divine intelligence and creativity.  Authentic thinking is my English translation of the ancient Japanese word for “to think,” which is “kami-kaeru.”

“Kami” has three meanings: (1) To create with love that arises in and as the union of yin (female) and yang (male) energies; (2) the body of divine light; and (3) the invisible ground of our being.  “Kaeru” means “to return.”  So, kami-kaeru
, or authentic thinking, means to return to the invisible ground of our being, to the divine light (of intelligence), and to create with love that arises in the dynamic interchange of yin and yang energies of light.Authentic, original thinking is a spiritual activity through which we powerfully unfold our human and divine intelligence and creative potential.  

It has both meditative and creative aspects.
Meditatively we return to our spiritual base, and creatively we return to the world from our spiritual base. This is how great geniuses think in their fields, and every human being has the potential to be able to think in this way.  However, our educational systems “de-geniusize” people.  By promoting and teaching authentic thinking, I am trying to “re-geniusize” people. What people usually believe thinking is, is actually what I call “information shuffling” and is exclusively at the third level of thought.  It is the mental process of arranging or rearranging information according to pre-accepted or pre-established organizing principles.  It is a mechanical and even an automatic process and no creativity is involved.  Nothing is wrong with information shuffling; we need this skill.  

But if this is all there is to thinking, we are grossly underutilizing our intelligence and creative potential.
 Authentic thinking is relatively absent in the world.  That is why those who think authentically stand out. Our education systems are churning out well informed, intellectually adequate, and professionally marketable non-thinking young adults who tend to remain non-thinking and unaware of “authentic thinking” throughout their lives. 

Stanford and Silicon Valley attract the best among them.
 Authentic thinking itself is a kind of action, spiritual-intellectual action, but when you conceive an idea or vision through authentic thinking, you naturally move to appropriate action to materialize that idea or vision into visible reality.  Tibetan Buddhist philosophers speak of this process as the complementarity of appreciative discernment (shes-rab) and appropriate activity (thabs) that rouses one’s latent creative potential.   Authentic thought is a force in the universe.  Your authentic thought generates a kind of magnetic field to which necessary elements of reality are attracted in order to actualize an idea into reality.

This process of actualization or materialization is what we call action. 
One of the essential factors required for a person to think authentic, original thought is, first and foremost, to transcend his or her egological construct and egoic preoccupations and concerns. 

The life of [your husband] Dr. Douglas Engelbart is a case in point. He wanted to be of service to the world. He was not moved by his egoic concerns such as fame or money but by his trans-egoic vision to serve humanity at large. 
Another factor required for authentic original thinking is playfulness. As children learn and create while playing, so do creative people originate new ideas when they are playfully engaged in works they love.  The reason that there are so many creative people present in Stanford and Silicon Valley is because there exists a culture of play or playfulness. Again Dr. Engelbart exemplifies the attitude and the culture of playfulness.  ###

A Muse Supplies Her Writer
With An Endless Stream of Stories

Agony – even romantic agony – is not essential to the creative process for all wildly successful writers. Quite the contrary. The constantly abundant literary harvest of novelist Andrew Greeley is a case in point.

Even with other demanding roles – as sociology professor, social scientist, journalist and Roman Catholic priest – Greeley manages to turn out one novel after another, year after year. How does he manage that rate of productivity?

“I’m asked that often,” said Greeley. “I think the Greeks are absolutely right: there are
muses. My muse helps me a lot. “Of course the muse is something inside of us, our preconscious imagination.”

Now a prolific writer in his late 70's, Andrew Greeley didn’t start writing novels until he was in his 50’s but he’s been spinning gripping yarns ever since. And he’s reaping millions of dollars as a result. Also a sociologist, Greeley has published more than fifty books and hundreds of scholarly and popular articles, including fiction and non-fiction.His oeuvre includes history, sociology and theology, two autobiographies, and a host of detective stories and steamy romances. And he writes a regular column for the Chicago Sun Times.

Of most significance – he’s a Roman Catholic priest. And that adds yet another role: that of philanthropist. He gives away his millions through endowments, one for a chair at the University of Chicago and one for educational grants for inner city youth in Chicago.
An outspoken journalist, lately Greeley focuses some of his articles on the failure and deception of the leadership in both the U.S. and the Catholic Church.

But he doesn’t let his ire consume him.

“Do you know Fellini’s film, ‘8 ½’?,” Greeley asked. “It’s a film about a filmmaker trying to make a film. Fellini is the filmmaker; it’s autobiographical. His muse is gone. When she’s not around, he can’t do anything. Then she comes back and he can produce again.”

Greeley’s muse has never failed him. He reports that he has never suffered from writer’s block, or run out of ideas, or lacked the creative energy to execute them. “She’s been remarkably faithful, unlike Fellini’s muse,” says Greeley. “Of course there’s always the fear that sometime she won’t be, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

“I think the pre-conscious imagination is that dimension of ourselves that is closest to the Spirit,” says Greeley. “Saint Paul says the Spirit speaks to our spirit; I believe that’s where we’re most accessible to God.”

Artists have spoken of the link between creativity and mystical experiences for ages. Goethe, Brahms, Handle and Puccini reported that their art virtually created itself at times. Handle reportedly wrote “The Messiah” within weeks while in a mystical state of mind, and Puccini said the music of ‘Madame Butterfly’ was dictated to him by God.

“It’s as if I’m an amanuensis – a secretary taking dictation,” Greeley reported.
Greeley is so sure of the faithfulness of his muse that he doesn’t get up in the middle of the night when art calls, as other writers do.

The characters in the story race ahead of him. When he tries to go to sleep, they’re still talking. It’s difficult to sleep, and it bothers him, but he refuses to get out of bed. He knows his muse will return at a more civilized hour.
When Greeley begins a novel, he doesn’t always know where he’s going.

While he was writing “The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germain,” a detective story, he was well into a complicated plot before he knew where the story was headed. “I was on page 25 when I realized what happened and I just sat back and laughed and laughed,” said Greeley.
Bishop Blackie Ryan, a clever, Irish whiskey drinking detective who regularly appears in Greeley’s novels, is now being championed by a Hollywood agent and two producers for a television series.

The shared spring of sacred and scintillating love and art is important to Greeley.

If the realm of mystical love is the source of his art, an equally prominent idea – and the subject of much of his writing and his sociological research – is his conviction that divine and romantic love spring from the same source. He’s written both hot and steamy novels and serious sociology books to illustrate his point.

Earthly factors in Greeley’s stellar success


Besides having a faithful muse, being a priest without the responsibilities of a family is an important factor in Greeley’s productivity. And – man after my own Celtic heart – he cites one more cause of his perpetually creative life.
 “The other thing is, I’m Irish, so I’m incredibly glib. I can write very, very fast.”

If I’m at least a little Irish, and if muses come when they’re asked, then there’s hope. No more agonizing in the process of creating anything. I’m going to sit back, relax and enjoy it.  Bring it on, dear muse!