Qi Is the Real Secret of Creativity
By Michael J. Gelb
Qigong originated at a time when the rhythms of nature had much more influence on daily life than they do today. People rose at dawn and retired at sunset. They planted and harvested in harmony with the change of seasons and the movements of the moon and planets.
They watched a heron stalk and then catch a fish.
They observed the praying mantis capturing a fly.
Bears, snakes, monkeys, and cats were their teachers.
They studied the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, the flow of water and the patterns of the wind.
They asked, how can I be like the heron and the mantis? What are the secrets of the bear, snake, monkey, and cat? What can I learn from the sun, the moon, the waves, and the wind?
They played. Explored. Danced. Breathed. They experienced qi in all its manifestations and recognized it as their most important natural resource. They experimented to discover how to access, store and utilize it. Thus, the art of qi cultivation was born.
But these practices arose from more than just shamanic spiritual explorations. These were very practical people. They dug in the earth, stacked hay, moved stones, fought battles. They needed strength and stamina. They had to recover quickly if they were sick or wounded. So they took what they learned from their observations of the natural world and asked, how can we use this to heal? How can we use this to vanquish opponents?
Thus, the healing and martial arts came into being.
And then they contemplated the source of the power behind all creation, and they asked, how can we use this to create?
Martha Graham (1894-1991)
Dance legend Martha Graham (1894–1991) was a creative genius. She revolutionized modern dance and influenced many great terpsichoreans, including Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, Paul Taylor, and Twyla Tharp.  Graham captured a profound truth about the essence of creativity when she said, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.” She added, “If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. . . . It is not your business to determine how good it is . . . nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” 
The vitality, life force, energy, quickening that you translate into action is qi. And it’s not hard to recognize.
Consider a work of art that has moved you deeply. Whether it’s a play, a musical composition, a painting, or a dance, chances are that, more than the words, notes, colors or choreography, you were affected most by the energy of the piece. As musician and teacher of “Qi for Creativity,” John Voigt explains, “What makes any art great is the use and communication of the energy of life. Most listeners, viewers, readers only subliminally sense this vitality. They do not know it in the verbal part of their minds, but they demand it from any art they choose to experience. Without that life energy—what we call qi—any art is lifeless, academic, weak.” 
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)
In traditional Chinese landscape painting, artists aimed to convey the experience of this vivifying force. Osvald Sirén (1879-1966) author of The Chinese on the Art of Painting, explains that the power of qi is “something that links the works of the individual artist with a cosmic principle.” He adds that it is “active in the artist before it becomes manifest in his works; it is like an echo from the divine part of his creative genius reverberating in lines and shapes which he draws with his hand. . . . It manifests unconsciously and spreads like a flash over the picture.” 
In the book The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination, author Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004) cites T’ang Hou (1250s–1310s) an ancient Chinese philosopher of art who explains that the artist must align with, “the shaping powers of Nature” so that “the charm of inexhaustible transformation is unfailingly visible.” T’ang Hou adds, “If you yourself do not possess that grand wavelike vastness of mountain and valley within your heart and mind, you will be unable to capture it with ease in your painting.” 
You were born from “grand wavelike vastness.” It is your true nature, and reconnecting with it will revivify your creativity in all areas of life. Besides being the secret of great art, vibrant qi is the key to a delicious meal, an engaging presentation, a fulfilling experience of making love, and a successful entrepreneurial venture.
This insight into the source of creativity isn’t solely the province of the East. American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) describes a secret learned by every wise individual: “Beyond the energy of his . . . conscious intellect, he is capable of a new energy by abandonment to the nature of things; that, beside his privacy of power as an individual man, there is a great public power, on which he can draw, by unlocking his human doors, and suffering the ethereal tides to roll and circulate through him: then he is caught up into the life of the Universe, his speech is thunder, his thought is law.”
With these words Emerson is advising us to discover new energy by “abandonment to the nature of things,” by “unlocking our human doors” and allowing “the ethereal tides to roll and circulate” within to participate more fully in the life of the universe. If we do, our “thought is law” —in other words, what we envision is created.
The ability to roll and circulate the ethereal tides, to keep the channel open, to move and direct the flow of qi, and experience the charm of inexhaustible transformation is the secret of great art and a creative life.
Editor’s note: the above entry was taken from Michael J. Gelb's book Creativity On Demand: How to Initiate and Sustain the Fire of Genius, published by Sounds True. It was slightly modified to fit the style and format of Qi Encyclopedia.