Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

Free association

Transcendence, i.e. exploiting your para-otherness, is not about enjoying ineffable superhuman prowess or using fantastic strength or turning to an extraordinary ability, no, it is about the ennoblement of your creative thinking… extending beyond the range of simply routine. It’s about stretching your free thinking beyond typical ability.

Are you ready to explore your para-other?

How a person distinguishes themselves from other people is to think differently! Individuality is not an externally physical state, we are more or less built the same; we are made of the same bones, etc. what gives us meta-individuation is derived from development, from experience and, most importantly, is brought to us by dreams, by pretending (using active imagination) and is practiced through exercises in free association.

Developing free association skills is essential for imaginative thinkers because it allows them to express their ideas uncensored… and explorations into uncensored free thinking will bring about creative spontaneity.

Para-otherness is about extending your thinking beyond typical human ability…

— Neil Mach

Let me tell you a true story: While working in London’s East End, the work-bosses sometimes called me “into” the office at weekends. One Sunday morning I waited for a train at my local railway station (in the U.K. they operate what they mischievously call a “restricted service” on Sundays) and, just after I had stepped onto the footplate of my train, (which I hoped would take me to the City) the train announcer said: “Passengers who just boarded this train are advised we will not necessarily be going where you want us to go or stop at the destinations you want us to stop at. You have been warned!

by train to Machu Picchu

I fleetingly imagined the train might stop, unpredictably, at Timbuktu, or Machu Picchu, or maybe Angkor Wat … after all, the announcer hadn’t exactly ruled those places out (though, to be fair, he hadn’t ruled them in, either) — so stopping off at any one of those “impossibly fabulous” stations was just as likely, it seemed, as stopping at London (where, incidentally, I hoped to be getting off.)

You will be pleased to know that I finally arrived at my place of work (an hour later than predicted), although you may be disappointed to learn that I was not taken to Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat along the way. When a work-friend asked me how my trip to London had gone, because, as he reminded me, “it’s always horrible on Sundays” I told him that, to be honest, the train journey was “a bit Schrödingery!” My work-friend, Dave, who has a similar quirky sense of humour, commented, “So your ride was a quantum paradox, was it?” “Yes,” I told him. He chuckled, “Very good. I will leave it at that.”

Free association

A person’s flow of thoughts often turns into a predictable and interconnected sequence of factors and influences. So a thought stream (even a creative person’s thought stream) might become consistent, unexciting, and perhaps even formulaic. It’s as if we keep getting onto “the same train of thought” when we want a new idea. For some, bold and non-derivative thinking will always be an impossible challenge because they can never allow their thought processes to take a sudden detour.

To understand what I mean by this, and to explain how the predictable flow of thought can be an impediment to creative thinking, you must imagine your normal chain of thought behaves like a long line of railroad cars: the factors and elements of notions, all the decision-making components, if you like, are connected to one another, each to the next, consecutively and linearly. This conceptual train of thought will definitely take you somewhere… but it will never take you to those extraordinary places you perhaps longed to visit… A regular train of thought will never take you to Timbuktu, Machu Picchu, a dragon’s lair, a gigantic space station or a theme park populated by futuristic cyborgs.

rorschach-inkblot

Therefore, you will need to learn to interrupt your “regular” train of thought, if you want to be a passionate creator. As a creative artist, you will have to step out from the safety of your carriage now-and-then to enjoy a new spectrum of possibilities. To do this, you’ll need to cultivate your propensity for non-judgmental curiosity. For some, this will not be easy. Prejudices, biases, and rigid thinking will often immobilize our best creative endeavors. Fostering curiosity without judgment is going to be more difficult for some than for others, but here are three ways to overcome your natural inclination to self-criticism. You will need to accomplish these if you are ever going to “step off the train” of predictable thought!

I hope you don’t mind, but, to do this, I have had to dismantle Freud’s theories on the development of free association skills. I’ve redesigned his proposals to suggest three ways to break the thread of thought that I think will benefit an artist. I will do my best to explain all three ways to you and I apologize in advance to any qualified psychoanalysts who’ll be dismayed by my egregious reorientation of the great man’s ideas… but, here goes, here’s how to get off the regular train of thought:

cat on a train

1: Become someone else. Imagine you are viewing the journey from someone else’s perspective. This other perspective could be the point of view of a colleague, the point of view of a relative, or the points of view of an audience (your reader, perhaps, if you are an author). Or it could be the point of view of a completely unfamiliar character. I once saw a video of a cat travelling regularly on the Docklands Light Railway. The cat got on a train car at his home stop. He stayed by the entrance for three stops, then he alighted. What decisions happened inside that cat brain to cause him to get off the train, at exactly the same station, every day? Why did he take the train, anyway? What did he expect when he reached his destination? How did he learn such freakish behavior? If so, why did he practice such behavior? Are you willing to think like a cat?

own shadow

2: Become your own shadow. Most of the time (with luck) you know yourself well enough to be sure of what you want, where you’re headed, what you need, and what to do with things when you get them. If that’s the case, then it must also be the case, ipso facto, that you would recognize the things you certainly don’t want, and don’t desire and don’t need. For example, I wouldn’t want to go to ever go to a soccer game because I don’t enjoy messy crowds, plus I’m bored by drunken sports fans and bullies, and I think the sporting action on the field is wearily slow. But could I become my shadow? Could I flip all the possibilities around in my mind and create a shadow-person, who, although he resembles me, he experiences everything in reverse? So the shadow me loves football! Could I describe why shadow me loves to mix with like-minded spectators because they offer cheerful camaraderie? Could I describe how shadow me enjoys the thrill of a punch-up? Could I describe why shadow me thinks the best part of the game is when nothing happens, because that’s when he goes to the bar to get more beers. You might describe this type of contemplation as symmetric creativity, although I call it mirror-wondering.

censored self

3: Tap into your censored self. Sometimes an ego is threatened by external forces, so it shuts your creative processes down. In studies, Freud observed that some patients avoided subjects that brushed too closely to uncomfortable memories that had lain hidden for long periods at the back of their minds. It was if these patients avoided some thoughts because those ideas got too close to unacceptable emotions and/or hidden desires that were once sparked by pain, lust, greed, loss, or fantasy. These memories were stored during a busy lifetime that had been filled with mixed (some good, some bad) experiences.

Some people talk about repression and “repressed feelings” but repressing feelings is just a sensible and healthy defence mechanism that allows us to carry on with our daily lives without being continually disturbed by thoughts that would disrupt our neatly ordered, well-arranged, expectations. But if you wish to be a free-thinker and you want to interrupt your usual line of thinking, you’ll have to analyse some of these internalised anxieties and address them (as a detective would) to understand what happened, what went wrong, what went right too, and assess how you might learn to deal with some of the consequences.

You’ll have to address hidden feelings. For example, do you remember the first time you were afraid? I mean, terrified… what was it that actually scared you? Try to expose those pent-up scares! Also, think about when you were sadder than ever. Why? What made you feel so sad? When did you feel guilty? When did you feel forgotten? When did you feel cursed? When did you feel unloved? When did you feel lost? When did you feel disloyal? When did you feel betrayed? When did you betray another person, perhaps a loved one? When did you cheat to get your own way? What made you do such a thing? When did you feel selfish? When did you feel gluttonous? When did you feel out of control? When did you feel lustful? Why?

If you experiment with the idea of re-connecting to repressed feelings (there will be others, and often they will be hazy childhood memories) — you will find a rich storehouse of recoverable (and legitimate) moods, emotions, and instincts that will help energize your creative artistry. and transform your thought patterns.

Good luck! Get to know your para-other and interrupt the ho-hum, everyday, train of thought

Words: @neilmach September 2021 ©

To participate in some creative expressificity exercises with me over the next few weeks, follow me on my socials:

https://www.facebook.com/author.neilmach or go to

https://www.facebook.com/mythmagicpodcast

Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

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