When I’ve had the opportunity to teach a class on creativity, I always start with a guided meditation.
In addition to presenting a focus on emptying the mind from external distractions, there is the practical result of settling the students’ restless energy. For those who had just completed their brisk walk through busy city streets or their classmates who had been molding clay or hammering on a metal installation, meditation was a chance to leave that behind and become present for the next activity.
I’m certainly not the first person to experience the creative process as a medium, as if ideas flow through me rather than originating in me.
Allow me a moment to roll on the floor laughing about the whole ‘first person’ concept
Nothing is new. Humans have been creating since they have been human: making art, telling stories, singing, dancing.
And as anyone who has read my blog knows, I include accounting, cooking, parenting, research, gardening, cleaning, and bus driving as creative endeavors. Humans have been doing all those things for as long as they’ve been human too (or at least since there have been buses).
Waiting around for your muse to appear is a sterile activity
No self-respecting muse wants to hang out with parasite who simply wants to receive without expending effort, and yet… an excellent way to invite the muse is by doing… nothing.
Don’t just do something, sit there. —Sylvia Boorstein
Yup, I’m talking about meditation.
There are multiple resources to learn to meditate and to develop a practice. Just as with creating in general, a practice is the optimal way to frame it. (I’ve learned a lot from Sally Kempton and Jon Kabat-Zinn.)
But the most straightforward instruction comes from one of my yoga teachers, Betsy Ceva.
Step 3, listen, is what makes this particularly helpful for creators.
While meditating we aim to take on the role of witness. (We’re back to the not doing.)
We don’t want to engage, react, or follow the narrative path arising from an observation of thought.
You know: I smell coffee. Who is making coffee? That really smells good. John must be up now. I want a cup of coffee. Weird, I hate coffee. But it smells so good. Maybe I should start drinking coffee. Maybe I should try coffee with lots of sugar. Maybe I should…
Nope, none of that. We just listen.
Later, when we’re in front of our page, our boss, our sketchpad or our bedeviled dataset we must respond.
But while we are seated, meditating, we listen and acknowledge
This serves at least two major purposes:
- We practice (yes, that word keeps coming up) not rushing to react. We learn to introduce a pause before we act. We are taking in information instead of blindly doing.
- We might actually hear something that we were missing. Meditation provides a safe space for thoughts that are too timid—or too daring—to enter our reasoning mind.
When these thoughts make their appearance we may discover our deepest intentions and our wildest dreams. Or maybe we have insight to the next step, be it infinitesimal, or momentous, on our journey.
Revelations and transformations aren’t (usually) an everyday occurrence
Which is a good thing because often they shatter our status quo, and living one’s life during an earthquake is no easy feat.
But making time to look within instead of forging ahead is a great tool in the toolbox of any creative.
Uncomfortable and boring
While the many available resources on meditation deal with this more systematically, I find that the discomfort of ‘doing nothing,’ and the very ‘doing nothing’ about that discomfort are central to the meditation practice.
Just observing and noting our discomfort is a great lesson for dealing with the anxiety and uncertainty of creating.
My own activity, writing, isn’t always rarely ever a matter of words gushing onto the page. Not knowing and self-doubt are part of the game, and there is little we can do to counter them.
The habit of listening and acknowledging without reacting serves one well when facing the day-to-day.
Willpower schmillhower. What about creating?
Remember step 3, listen? That is where meditation conspires with both conscious and subconscious minds to solve problems and open up new pathways, all while you are doing… nothing.
When you return to your page, sketchbook, spreadsheet, or collection of found objects, the next step may now be accessible to you.
And if it’s not, we’ve been practicing at proceeding in the face of discomfort. Try things out, show up at the page, as Julia Cameron has brilliantly said.
Meditation is just today’s creativity tip, not a magical potion
But if we give it a try, it can help us become the medium, the antenna. It opens us up to let the stories, images, solutions come through us and into our life.
You know, while we’re doing something.