The Myth of the Peacock and the Realities of the Octopus

August 6, 2022

The Creative Process by Diana Henderson

If there is one lesson I could gift to all people it would be the understanding of The myth of the Peacock and the realities of the Octopus. It is a simple idea that has far reaching consequence.

The Peacock is how an idea lives in your mind. The moment after an idea is sparked it begins to mature into the Peacock. When inspiration begins to develop the idea grows and matures into the full beauty of a peacock as it spreads its tails and the feathers shimmer in iridescent beauty. Everything about the idea is seen in all its beauty. It’s one of my favourite parts of the creative process, because it often fills me with awe and wonder. I have such a sense of honour to be able to interact and behold the beauty. There is a delicacy about the Peacock and an intimacy. As I inspect the beauty of the details and see how they are woven with parts of me and my story, I often have a glimpse into an insight about my own personhood. 

I love the time where the Peacock lives with me. Depending on the project it can be for minutes, or months, or even years. It’s a dance where an intimacy of understanding grows until eventually the time comes to bring the Peacock into the world… and this is where almost all of humanity get it wrong. This is where things fall apart for novice creators, and I believe is probably the biggest hurdle to be overcome in our creative journeys. 

Here is the truth of it, The Peacock can only live in our mind, what we bring into the world is The Octopus. No matter how perfectly we study the Peacock, what we create are octopuses. We must learn to love the Octopus. Just like when a mother births a child, she is the caretaker, but not the determinator of personality or destiny, the same is true of the Octopus. The Octopus has its own mind, and I believe the Octopus comes with it’s own destiny and personality.

Our job as creatives and creator is to nurture the preordained destiny of the Octopus. When I am creating, whether it is photography, writing, or painting, I always start off with an idea of how I want it to look at the end. There is the inevitable moment though where I stop and say. “Oh, that is what you want to be.” I have learned through many tears and frustration, that it only ever works out when I succumb to the Octopus. I most stop and listen and see what it wants to be. My job is to use my own skills and talents, however meagre they may be, and use them to bring forth the Octopus before me. 

Recently I was painting with my children (trust me it was NOT Instagram or Parent Magazine worthy) and my daughter was filling with rage and frustration as she was painting her canvas. I stopped her and told her the myth of the Peacock and the Realities of the Octopus, and then asked her, “Do you think you could try to be kind to your Octopus?” “Let your Octopus know that it is welcome here.” 

She took a big breath, looked at her canvas, and said, “Ok mum. I’ll try.”

And just like that she found her flow. 

When she was all finished, she showed me her painting and said, “Mum, this is the best painting I have ever done.” I think she was right. It really was.

The myth of the Peacock is the idea that we can create peacocks. The reality is we are creators of beautiful, weird, ever-changing octopuses. The greatest lesson you can learn is to listen to the octopus. Learn what it is meant to become, and then fall in love with wherever it takes you. 

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