How to Harvest Ideas
Sprouting a Seed-Idea
Composting the Soil
Growing a Mature Specimen
The Path of the Solo System
“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”Friedrich Nietzsche
Many people are intrigued by the complexity and clarity of the Solo System, if not the sheer volume of it. If you want to know how I got the idea, where it came from, and how I developed it, here is the story. In the introduction to the 1st volume of The Solo System, The Atlas, you can read that I received the material ‘through inspiration’, which of course could mean anything. I didn’t go into it any further because the process is far too elaborate to fit into one short paragraph.
In my early 40s, after translating books for over a decade and working with several small publishers, I felt a kind of calling to write my own material. There was a growing desire to express myself in my own voice, and it started with a vague idea like “wouldn’t it be nice if I could write something original?” It was the kind of idea that pops into many people’s heads at some point in life.
Around the time when my wouldn’t-it-be-nice-idea was conceived I also listened to a talk by some motivational speaker who mentioned that many great things in the world came into existence because of ordinary people who had one brilliant idea. The moment I heard this, a seed was sown in my mind, and I kept thinking “I wonder what my one brilliant idea is…”
This marked the beginning of the creative process that brought the Solo System into existence. Of course it was only the first step in a long journey, and if I hadn’t taken any further steps, the seed in my mind would never have even sprouted.
How to Harvest Ideas
“I just let myself drift from one sentence to another, from one idea to the next. That’s how I discovered writing as an adventure.”Michael Ende
From the very beginning I had no doubts that my ‘one brilliant idea’ would be expressed in writing. I had been writing for over a decade, I loved the solitary activity itself, and I had become reasonably good at it through practice. I thought I’d write fiction, and my role model was Michael Ende, one of the most influential writers in postwar Germany, affectionately called ‘the nation’s storyteller’. He is the author of the Neverending Story and Momo and many other amazing stories.
My starting point was Julia Cameron’s well-known book the Artist’s Way. It contains a practical course for students of the creative process and introduces a range of useful exercises. The first and perhaps most important exercise is a daily practice, which Julia Cameron calls morning pages. This is a technique also known as stream of consciousness writing. The version suggested in the Artist’s Way advises writing without taking the pen off the paper until you have filled three A4 pages.
You literally write in one long stream whatever pours out of your mind without punctuation or any of the usual considerations of ‘correct writing’. This technique enables you to draw the stuff out of your Consciousness and onto the paper. Julia Cameron calls it morning pages because she recommends that you do it first thing in the morning. It is a very effective method for clearing the mind from the usual fogginess and chatter. The insights you can have with just this one simple technique can be surprisingly profound.
Following Julia Cameron’s advice I began writing morning pages and did so consistently for at least 3 years. During the same period I stopped reading books (apart from those I needed for my work), newspapers or magazines, I didn’t watch any films or television and never listened to the radio; my internet connection at the time was limited to email. My aim was to turn off all external noise as much as possible to access my own original voice.
After a few weeks of scribbling 3 pages every morning I knew I wanted to write an ‘epic novel’ that somehow incorporated the creative process. I started writing that novel, the title changed a few times along the way, and after about a year or so I had made considerable progress. If you write 3 pages every morning you fill over 1000 pages in the course of a year, and some of those sentences and paragraphs seem quite reasonable.
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”Albert Einstein
One day I noticed a nagging thought that stopped my creative outflow. I realised that I couldn’t finish my epic novel because I didn’t really understand the creative process yet. I stepped back from my work and turned my attention back to the exercises in the Artist’s Way. I also spent a lot of time studying the Genesis account of the divine act of creation in the Old Testament in the hope to gain some insights from understanding ‘how God did it in 7 days’. My focus was the question “How does the human act of creation work?”
As a result of my intense search – some might call it obsessive – I woke up one early morning with an intense rush of ideas flooding my mind, which I felt compelled to write down in a great hurry. From my novel writing phase I was used to receiving insights and ideas all the time, but this was of a different order. It was far more intense, I couldn’t immediately make sense of the insights I was getting, and they were accompanied by an overwhelming excitement. There was a sense of making a great discovery, even though I didn’t have a clue what it was. The best I could do was to write it all down.
Sprouting a Seed-Idea
“The very essence of the creative is its novelty, and hence we have no standard by which to judge it.”Carl Rogers
The 2nd phase of my creative process was marked by receiving the core information of the Solo System. Intense floods of inspiration came into my mind every morning over the course of about two months in 1999. I would wake up every morning around 6 a.m. or earlier and immediately had to start writing, my head buzzing with information. Sometimes I would write until midday just to get all the material out of my system and clear my inner space. It was an exhilarating and exhausting experience. I ‘knew’ that if I didn’t write this stuff out of my mind I wouldn’t be given any new information. At the end of this period I had effectively received most of the raw material for the Solo System.
If I had ever thought I could now type it all up in a neat format, do some spellchecks and layout, get it edited and published and become a rich and famous author, I would have been wrong. That’s not what happened next. I did type it all up etc., and I even published the material myself, but it didn’t go any further. The material was far too immature, and nobody could understand why I was so excited about it.
Composting the Soil
“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”C.S. Lewis
For me the material for the Solo System was exciting because it had very practical implications. I had not only written some theoretical material about the creative process, human consciousness and the subjective experience, I was also applying the principles of what I was writing in my daily life. I had discovered how to use this information to make significant changes in my own inner and outer world.
One of the most striking results of my personal inner work was that I managed to understand and transform a dysfunctional relationship pattern into a healthy structure within the organism of my own Consciousness, which enabled me to experience a naturally healthy and fulfilling relationship for the first time in my life.
A string of tragedies and crises throughout my 20s and 30s had contributed to my growing search for meaning and how to create a more positive experience for myself in this life. At the same time I had no intention to suppress or avoid any of my negative experiences – after all they were part of my life. Now in the late 1990s, I was in my early 40s, and a lot of people were talking about how their challenges were their gifts and so forth. I was on a quest to find my gift. As a result I formulated the question “What is the good reason for the negative human experience?”
“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.”Auguste Rodin
I assume that all humans basically have positive intentions and want to create a good life for themselves and their loved ones, and yet we all have negative experiences at some point. Why do we get it so wrong so often? – We can blame it on our parents, authorities, conditioning or other external factors, which never gets to the heart of the matter. Especially when we discover voices of authority within ourselves contradicting other tentative and more authentic voices, we might begin to wonder whether the cause for our dysfunctional lives really does exist outside of ourselves. At the very least we can try to take responsibility for our own part in the complex game of life. We can try to change whatever it is we need to change within ourselves and observe what happens in the outer world around us.
Applying the principles of the Solo System in my own life I have come to see my world literally as an act of my own creation. I have walked the ‘Path of the Solo System’ now for about 17 years and discovered that all negative experience in everyday life is the raw material, from which we can create whatever is authentically ours. Of course the bad, messy and ugly stuff needs to be transformed into something pleasant, energising and user-friendly first. It’s what gardeners do all the time, and they call it composting.
Growing a Mature Specimen
“I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling.”Elizabeth Gilbert
Over the years the Solo System has gone through its own evolution and radically changed many times. For long stretches of time I didn’t know whether I should make the information available to the public at all, or whether it was just my ‘secret weapon’, which I could use for anything else I wanted to do in life. But the Solo System had its own plans…
2 years ago, after listening to a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on the creative genius, I recognised that I had to give the Solo System one last chance to make it into the public arena. Having spent many years struggling to find the right format for it – was it going to be fiction or non-fiction, academic or non-academic, narrative or dialogue… – I also had developed some genuine doubts whether I was cut out to be a ‘successful author’.
I decided to treat the Solo System as a ‘proper job’ and spend 8 hours a day writing it from scratch. I was prepared to give it a year of my quality time and commitment to find out whether it had what it takes to stand up in the world and be taken seriously. After a few months of writing I knew I was on the right track. Within about a year the Solo System had found its own authentic voice and grown into a body of work consisting of 4 volumes of reference books and a range of workbooks. It took another year to get the 1st volume ready for publication, create an author’s platform and upskill myself in relation to a whole range of required tasks.
In retrospective I can see that such a long time was necessary for this type of project. In nature some trees take a long time to grow. The tiny seed of the mighty sequoia tree may lie in the ground for 20 years before it even sprouts, and when these red giants grow they never stop; they can continue growing for a thousand years. The plants that take over the garden in no time at all are usually the weeds.
The Path of the Solo System
“I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for the truth; and truth rewarded me.”Simone de Beauvoir
The creative process and human consciousness are hot topics these days. As in any other field there are many different approaches. The Solo System shows a gentle path. We call it a natural, organic and sustainable approach to personal growth. Many methods work towards the same goal by eliminating the ‘weeds’ of negativity and cultivating the soil with the ‘fertilisers’ of positivity. The Solo System, by contrast, is grown in a 100% organic soil, and the results speak for themselves.
The path of the Solo System is not easy. It can be hard to welcome your negative experiences over and over again while secretly wishing that ‘they would just go away’. It can be difficult to stay on your path not knowing where it is going to lead you or whether you’re ever going to get there. It can be disheartening to watch others take off with their projects while you seem to be stuck in the starting grid forever.
Natural, organic and sustainable growth has to take its own course. Sometimes there are growth spurts, at other times there may be long plateaus. We are culturally conditioned to take the masculine approach to life, which means deciding, determining and controlling what happens when. The Solo System integrates both the feminine and the masculine principles, which means being receptive towards all events in everyday life without loss of direction and discipline.
“Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”Winston Churchill
We don’t like to face negative experiences, let alone cultivate them, not just because they are unpleasant. We are scared that if we ‘wallowed’ in them they might take over our lives, and then we might sink into an even deeper mess. This is an erroneous assumption. Negative experience consists mainly of negative feelings and other uncomfortable phenomena produced by human consciousness. Once we understand their true purpose and learn how to handle them appropriately, we can turn apparent internal enemies into our most loyal allies. I have learned to accept my negative experiences unconditionally and watch them transform into precious resources by using simple techniques, which I share in The Solo System.
The individual steps and exercises on the path of the Solo System are often deceptively simple. And yet it can be easy to lose track or miss the right turning only because the results don’t meet our expectations, or because we lose hope or patience. The natural organic process of personal growth does take time and is full of surprises. It leads you to an entirely new and unknown experience, which is the whole point of the creative process.
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