Autonomous meaning-making and self-management

Eric Maisel, PhD, has distilled his insights from more than 40 years of coaching creatives, writing, and pondering human existence into a new philosophy of life called kirism, the subject of Lighting the Way: How Kirism Answers Life’s Toughest Questions.

In this Q&A, Eric illustrates some of the principles of kirism, and how you as a creative person might use this contemporary philosophy to fashion the life you want.

C: Eric, it’s quite a feat, coming out with a brand-new philosophy of life. Congratulations! But tell me, what’s in it for the creative person?

E: Creative people are inherently individual, and they come into the world with more energy, bigger appetites, and a strong urge to tell the truth about things. They’re likely to come up against a world that wants them to stifle all those qualities and just do as they’re told. Kirism gives creatives a solid foundation, which they themselves choose and develop, so they can live a personally rewarding and ethically sound life that makes room for their creativity. All this takes place in full knowledge of how the world works and includes an honest appraisal of where they may need a personality upgrade, so they can do the creative work that calls to them, despite the obstacles and tyrannies of modern life.

C: So how, for example, would a writer navigate her life as a kirist?

E: Well, one thing the kirist writer might do is decide that even if life has only a six-percent possibility of commercial success in store for her, she will still assert that she matters, and that her efforts as a writer matter. That conscious, deliberate choice will improve her odds of persevering in the face of all the very real challenges that she will have to confront along the way.

C: I love the idea of making that declaration. As you’ve often said, we can’t predict where our efforts will take us, or how the quality of our work could improve over our lifetime as creatives, and certainly not how the world will respond to our work. But affirming that we matter protects us from all those unknowns and keeps us going. 

E: Exactly! And imagine how much more meaningful your life will feel if you honour your life purpose of being a writer, persevere in your work, and manage your own personality and the vagaries of the outside world, all in service of your writing.

C: You’ve said that kirism isn’t a new religion or belief system that tells us what to do and how to live.

E: That’s right. There are no prescribed beliefs or practices, but kirists can create their own practices, perhaps in line with some suggested ideas, like a daily creative practice. I believe that a daily practice can help a creative person deepen their experience of their creativity, achieve greater mastery of their art form, and attain their long-term creative goals. But again, it’s a practice that they design and decide to implement.

C: I’m aware that you’re using your own writing and your multiple platforms in an activist way. Does kirism require activism of creatives?

E: Any writer can decide that one of her life purposes is to use her writing to speak out against injustice, enlighten others or inspire them to take action. 

C: I suppose that by following through on our desire to speak out through our art, we improve our odds of being able to look back on our activist writing as part of a life filled with meaning.

E: That’s right, by fulfilling your life purposes, you make yourself proud.

C: What else does kirism offer the creative person?

E: I think the concept of the room that is your mind can be really useful for writers, visual artists, musicians and other creatives. The way that we actually experience life is in our mind. If we learn to see our mind as a room that we can redesign to better serve us, we can make it a calm, quiet, pleasing space in which to dwell. We can fill it with wonderful light, gentle breezes, an easy chair, and other things that are conducive to generating ideas and handling the ups and downs of the creative life. If our mind is a place of chaos, the outside world will continually knock us off our feet. This could lead to years of creative paralysis, because we’re reacting with violent emotions to every hurt that comes our way. Then the room that is our mind is more like a hurricane, churning up everything in its path.

C: Is the way we live in that room connected with how we manage our thoughts as creatives?

E: Very much so. I use the term indwelling style. When you’re in that room that is your mind, you can opt for a passive indwelling style, accepting every thought that bursts in or slips in, and never question what might be underlying the thought. One thing that’s unique to humans is the ability to mentally step to one side and examine our thoughts. In my book, I use the example of a writer who stops at one café after another, intending to go inside and spend some time working on his novel, but each time, he thinks thoughts like, “This café is too busy,” “This café is too noisy,” etc. As a creative, and as a human being with the gift of being able to analyze his own consciousness, the writer could instead ask himself some useful questions: “Is it really the cafés, or am I making excuses for not writing? If it’s the latter, why am I making excuses? Am I afraid that I don’t know where to go next with my plot? Am I worried that my character is too unlikeable, or that I’m not a real writer?” That deliberate self-questioning is more of a dynamic indwelling style.

C: It’s another reminder of how subtle our desire to run away from our creative work can be.

E: Exactly. This kind of thing happens all the time to creatives, and the urge to flee remains unconscious or unexamined in many of us.

C: Does the idea of the room that is your mind relate to your notion of a personality upgrade, of choosing to become better versions of ourselves?

E: Yes. You can ask yourself what kind of person you need to be to meet the challenges of the creative life and to find a measure of contentment, no matter what life throws at you. We have three personalities: the one we’re born with, our original personality; our formed personality, which evolves through our life experiences and can become quite rigid over time; and available personality, which very few belief systems address. Our available personality is the arena in which we have at least some freedom to install a personality upgrade. Here is where we can choose the values and life purposes we want to live by and actually live by them, by doing what we believe is the next right thing in any given moment. We can choose our most effective ways of dealing with the harsh realities of the times we live in, and decide to focus on the things we’ve decided are important in our lives.

C: There is so much more I’d like to ask you about, but for now, can you just tell me why you chose to call your new philosophy kirism?

E: The word has associations with similar-sounding words in different languages that mean ‘to illuminate’, ‘spark’ or ‘sparkle’, and ‘fire’. Kirism is a philosophy that illuminates, sparks thinking, and burns brightly. How perfect for the creative person, since creativity also illuminates, sparks ideas, and burns with fiery passion!

C: Eric Maisel’s book, Lighting the Way, was published by Crossways Press in 2020, and is available through Amazon, other online platforms, or from your favourite bookseller.

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