Barnet Bain is a Hollywood producer, director, writer, filmmaker, and author of The Book of Doing and Being. As I read through his book, I couldn’t help but notice how many times he mentioned breathing. He didn’t give any specific instructions, but it was obvious that he was very aware of it, and that he used it consciously in his work. So I decided to meet him. Since then, we have had some wonderful conversations about life, breathing, consciousness, and spirituality. During one of our conversations, Barnet pointed out that 98 percent of three-year-old children test as creative geniuses, yet only 2 percent of college graduates test as creative geniuses!11 What happens to us? And how can we fix it? Barnet’s answer: “When there’s too much aliveness in the body, we evacuate the building. When feelings in the body become too strong, we abandon ship and take up residence in the head.
Creativity is not born in the head; it comes as a gift from beyond. It’s a heart thing. It’s an emotional thing. It’s a feeling thing. And so in the process of avoiding intense feelings, we cut ourselves off from the body, and therefore our creativity. The solution is to get back in touch with the body, to connect with feeling, and there is only one way to do that: breathing. Breathing is the whole deal!” Brain science can help us to understand this. We have a reptilian brain that controls our fight-or-flight response. It also regulates other body systems, blood pressure, and so on. We have a limbic brain, a limbic system. This is responsible for emotional attunement, and attunement in general: play, fun, imagining, and so on. And we have the neocortex, the prefrontal cortex. It is in charge of the executive function, the logician.Some people are born into unfortunate situations; for example, they have terrible parents. Even in the most fortunate situation, the fact is, no person can fully meet the needs of another human being. The problem begins something like this: you are an infant, days, weeks, or months old. Your mother is very loving, very attentive to you. Maybe you have a sibling, maybe she’s on the phone, maybe she’s busy with something else, and in that moment you crave attention. Where is she? She’s gone! She’s left me! This is not logical or rational, because your neocortex is not operational in that sense. It is a limbic response. It is preverbal. You experience an energetic abandonment. There is a severing of emotional attunement. The child feels it, and it is extremely painful. So now you have this child who experiences a lack of attunement from his mother, his caregiver. Feelings of fear, abandonment, stress, and anxiety—an existential threat. It’s too much. There’s too much energy, there’s too much aliveness—energetic aliveness—in that infant. The feeling of abandonment is too much for that infant to handle. The system goes into overload. So what does the child do? The only thing it can do: it leaves the body, splits off, goes into a dissociative state. It leaves the body because there is too much body aliveness—distressing body aliveness. We become more and more skillful at handling our abandonment as we grow up, and we train ourselves to check out, to leave. And there goes our creativity! We begin with somatic aliveness. We begin with body awareness and limbic brain awareness, with them both operating. And we make a choice very early on to abandon ship. So now we look to restore our relationship to the primordial feminine energy that resides in the subconscious, which is the body. In order to reconnect with our creative energies, we must reconnect with the real feelings of aliveness in our body. The body holds everything. It never lies and it never
forgets. To regain our creativity, we need to relearn how to breathe. “But,” as Barnet says, “now you might be a forty-two-year-old person living with a forty- two-year-old ghost!” So the challenge is that when you begin to breathe fully and freely, you reconnect with the same aliveness that terrified you once upon a time, that was too much for your little system to handle, and that caused you to escape.
What automatically happens is that when the breathing brings up these distressing feelings, your executive function takes over and you go into rational, logical thinking about medical facts and symptoms. You have a conceptual experience of your feelings instead of a real experience of them. Without the breath, you can only have a facsimile of feelings. For example, the “fear of loss” is not a feeling at all, it is a concept. The mind tries to fit all experience into what it knows. Genuine innovation, real creativity, cannot happen in the head. It comes from the body, and you cannot get into the body without breathing. You’ll just be moving the furniture around. Barnet pointed out that when Einstein was stuck on a problem, he got out of his head. He went sailing, or he played the violin, or he took a nap. In other words, he got into his body. If you begin a breathing practice in a way that is simple and easy, then you will begin to gradually open up those original creative channels. You will begin to learn how to move the energy of aliveness through the body; you will start to see where there are blocks, places where the energy doesn’t move, and you will become more intimate with your system. Barnet reminds us that creativity is all about breathing. The problem is that your breathing “is like the pilot light on your oven: it’s enough to keep you going, but not enough to cook anything.” “When you watch people hold their breath in the face of discomfort, you are seeing a map of the route they took to get out of town. When you live in your head instead of your body, it’s like reading the lease on your apartment instead of living in it.” When you learn to get out of your head, energy that usually goes toward feeding the ego is available to heal the body and awaken creativity. When you learn to breathe, you release the residue of early life traumas, and this allows you to meet life’s challenges with something other than the frightened three-year-old child in you.
Breathe now: Creativity-Boosting Practice
Here is the breathing practice that Barnet Bain teaches at his Creativity Camps and Creative Energy . Trainings: First, don’t practice slow diaphragmatic breathing through your nose. “That’s good for relaxation, for managing anxiety, and so on,” Barnet says, “but it will not get you to a feeling of charged aliveness. It will not awaken your creative juices.” He has people breathe through their mouth, into the upper chest and upper back. He recommends that you start with five very big, fast full breaths. Put your hands over your collarbones and breathe into your upper chest. Breathe in and out through a wide-open mouth. Hold the breath in for a second or two, and then let it all out. If you notice any uncomfortable sensations when doing this, then ground yourself by looking around and naming things: “white tablecloth,” “computer on the desk,” “plant on the shelf,” “Dan in a black shirt,” and so on.Once you feel grounded, do another five or ten big, fast full breaths. Again breathe up under your collarbones, through your mouth. Pull in the breath, keep your mouth wide open, hold for a second or two, then let it all out through your mouth. Gradually work up to fifty or sixty breaths like this, and you are well on your way to removing the biggest blocks to your creativity