Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mindfulness and Creativity

A lot has been going on with me this year - the kind of things that forced my writing to the back burner for awhile. While the stress hasn’t let up, I cannot ignore my work any longer. It feels like I will fall apart if I don’t sit down and tell some stories. I remember thinking that Stephen King’s quote, “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around,” was a beautiful idea. Now I know how very true it is.

I finally sat down at my desk, but the words wouldn’t come. So, I did all the usual things I do when I get writer’s block - I read, I tried writing prompts, I lit candles… but the words that arrived were stilted and forced. I was crushed. And a little scared. What if this was permanent? Nonsense, I told myself. The words will come. But maybe… I should think about rebooting my imagination.

I wasn’t sure how to do that, but I did realize that stress was probably part of the problem. I decided to focus on mindfulness. I’d been so wrapped up in the overwhelming amount of things that I needed to accomplish, that I’d go through each chore, focused on what I had to do next. I rarely took time to pay attention to the task at hand. If I was gardening, I’d think about how I still had to wash the breakfast dishes.
I could just picture Yoda pointing his finger at me and telling me that my mind was never on where I was or what I was doing. It was definitely time for a change. I’d heard that practicing mindfulness would help reduce my stress, but could it also help revive my imagination? The answer is, yes!

The best example, is what happened when my schedule changed and I had to drive nearly eighty miles a day. Obviously, mindfulness is a part of driving so I wasn’t planning to practice it behind the wheel. It turned out, however, to be the best place to use mindfulness to boost my imagination.

There is one stretch of road that I absolutely love. It’s a two lane highway through woods, grasslands, and marshes. There is not one stoplight, store, or business for six miles. There isn’t even a farm stand in the summer. It is fast, a little curvy, and comes with a few hills. Pared with emotionally stirring music, it easily makes my list of all time favorite roads to drive. The trees, the blowing grasses, the shadows… even the telephone poles look dramatic when set to the the soundtrack from INCEPTION, or DIVERGENT. 

But when I hit that stretch of road during morning rush hour, I was dumbfounded by the traffic. Sure, the merge would be bad, but once that was over, why wouldn’t we all just fly down the road like usual? It’s still a mystery.

It was agonizing, crawling down the road that first day. But a day or two later, I remembered to be mindful. After all, frustration wasn’t going to improve anything. The only thing that could improve was my attitude. So, I let go of my frustration, and began to pay attention to my surroundings. At this pace, I could pay attention to individual plants that grew along the roadside. I saw that one type of grass had rusty seed heads while another’s were black. I noticed the grassland wildflowers and the cattails of the marshes. I could smell the plants still wet with dew, and listened to the birds. I noticed how the sunlight gave the telephone wires a slivery glint. I noticed a discarded oil can on the side of the road, a patch of wild asters growing around it. I imagined the flowers grew there on purpose - just to defy our human litter. 

I fell  in love with this road again - in a whole new way.

This experience helped spark my creativity because I spent fifteen minutes of my day finding beautiful things that moved me. I also spent part of that time imagining myself hiking through those woods and grasslands - or living there as a wild animal. By noticing and imagining, I was re-opening my heart to the natural creativity of our world. And I wanted, in my own small way, to add to it.

When I was home, and found a few scraps of time to be at my desk, I wrote. In three weeks, I had written over seven thousand words. Compared to a few months of nothing, that was a big deal. 

Currently, I’m writing at a pace that I’m happy with, although I’m still not meeting my old word count goals. But for now, that’s fine. I’m just grateful that I’m writing almost every day. Two days ago, my schedule changed yet again, moving my drive back by an hour. While there are many benefits to this new schedule, I am truly grieved to lose the opportunity to practice mindfulness as I slowly drive through the country.

On this hazy morning, the sun was an eerie red due to wild fires in Saskatchewan, Canada