Big Ego, Little Ego

Does your mind get in the way of your creativity?  This may sound like an odd question.  But let’s take a minute to think about this.

Worried, from the permanent collection, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

From the permanent collection, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Can we all agree that our creative ideas begin in our minds?  They leap into our brains like flashes of light.  They  may be sparked by a snippet of conversation, a song on the radio, a fleeting glimpse of someone or something, an article we read, a program we saw on TV, or even the smell of frying bacon.

Our minds seize this idea and practically quiver with excitement.  And then, what happens? Is your mind content to mull over this idea for a while and wait for it to germinate and grow?  Or does your mind get restless and start demanding more and more brilliance–measured in pages, sketches, musical compositions, photographs, and so forth?  Does your mind tear into your brilliant idea like a dog pulling stuffing from a chew toy?

That’s when the trouble starts because our creativity falls victim to our egos, which muscle in and dominate our thoughts.  Your creative spark, which started as a joyful burst, falters and then disappears as you fret.   What if your creative idea isn’t good enough?  (Little ego.) What if your audience (real and imagined) hates your creative work?  (Little ego.) What if the story (painting, musical composition, and so on) shrivels up like a withered grape and dies in media res? (Little ego.)  What if you die before you finish your creative work and you never achieve the fame and glory which you so richly deserve?  (Big ego.)

And so, your ego expands and contracts for days, weeks, and even months at a time.  It can make you doubt yourself.  At times, you may feel battered and bruised by it.  And all the while your creativity suffers, adding to your pain and frustration.  In fact, I suspect that ego troubles are one reason for writer’s block.

But what is a creative person to do?  This is where Kenny Werner comes to the rescue.  His book Effortless Mastery and his mediation exercises for musicians and other creatives have been a source of reassurance and calm for me.

I turn to them again and again when I need creative peace of mind.  If you think all world-class jazz musicians have super-sized egos, think again. Kenny is modest and unassuming as he shares his insights about finding and maintaining the blissful non-judgmental creative space where we do our best work.  This space is open to all of us if we believe two fundamental ideas.

The first is that we all have within us a small piece of the vast creative energy, which swirls around and through us and our universe.  This energy is called divine by many religious traditions, and in fact, if you are fortunate to have experienced it, you understand its bliss.  As creative people, we tap into this energy when we paint, sing, write, and compose music.   We have access to this energy when we are in a creative zone or “space”–as Kenny calls it.

Now, here’s the second idea.  In this space, we are creative “masters.”  As masters, we are privileged to dip into this pool of creative energy and share our creative talents and our bliss with others.  But at the same time, we can’t assume that as “masters” we exist on a plane far above “ordinary” mortals.  Instead, we must recognize that we share this creative energy with everyone on earth and can not possess it.  This will keep our egos in check.  It is only when we are free of our ego demands that we can enter the creative space without expectations and create with joy.

Some of us creative types mistakenly believe that we need to be high or drunk to enter that blissful creative state.  For those of you who have seen the movie Barfly about the writer Charles Bukowski or Last Days about the suicide of punk rocker Kurt Cobain, you will know exactly what I mean.

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski. Source:

But Kenny warns us that the flashes of brilliance that come from a drug or a bottle cannot sustain us in the long run and will end in a physical and emotional break down.  Instead, Kenny offers us his mediation exercises which will help us enter the peaceful creative “zone” where we do our best work.

I find Kenny’s insights fascinating, like when he describes his students, who freeze up when they pressure themselves to perform well.  This pressure to be “great” effectively locks us out of the creative space, which we are eager to enter.  Listen to Kenny talk about his four steps to tame the mind in this video:

With Kenny’s help, I am understanding my ego and recognizing its demands.  At the same time, this is freeing me to enter the creative space on a more regular basis and releasing me from the trap of my conscious nattering mind.  Although Kenny’s book is addressed to musicians, his exercises and wise words are applicable to all of us who work in creative mediums.  I highly recommend it.

Now, I’ll give you a chance to hear Kenny and his music in his interview on NPR. Click here to listen.

In closing, I invite you to share your methods for entering the “creative space” and taming your ego.  Do you play a particular piece of music while you create?  Do you have a favorite space where you do your best work?  Do you find that meditation helps you enter this space more easily?  I wish you all creative happiness now and in the new year!

For other posts on creativity, click the links below:

Why Do You Create?

10 Myths about Writers and Writing

12 Ways to Find Inspiration

2 replies »

  1. This article really speaks to me. I’m working on a humorous/inspirational memior entitled, “Confessions of a Christian Trekkie: Spiritual Lesson God Has Taught Me Through Science Fiction (No, Really!!!)” and I find I have to set all ego aside when I create. Tonight a friend was telling me what a good writer I am and I told her it is God creating through me and if were not for God I couldn’t write a shopping list, let alone a book! I consider writing to be a collaborative effort between God and I and is a product of the love that God and share for each other. It is truly a labor of love. I write the whispers God speaks into my heart. I know that must make me sound like some modern mystic, but its true. Collaborating with God affords me two great privilages. One, I get to hear from God. Two, I get to share what God tells me. Thank you again!


  2. Hi Ariel! I’m so glad you stopped by and shared your thoughts. I’m delighted to hear that my post resonated with you. We (as creative artists) are the mediums or conduits of that divine energy that is swirling around us. It doesn’t matter whether you call the energy “God” or “Yahweh” or “the Creator”–so many religious traditions believe the same thing–that when we create we share that bit of the eternal. How lucky we are! All the best to you in your writing–Patti


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