For creative well-being to flourish, we need to allocate time and space for re-creation and re-generation.
“…when you make something, you put it together, you arrange parts, or you work from the outside in, as a sculpture works on stone, or as a potter works on clay. But when you watch something growing, it works in exactly the opposite direction. It works from the inside to the outside. It expands. It burgeons. It blossoms. And it happens all of itself at once. In other words, the original simple form, say of a living cell in the womb, progressively complicates itself, and that’s the growing process, and it’s quite different from the making process.” Alan Watts, What is Reality — Pt. 1.”
Have you ever had that dream where you are trying to get somewhere, but as you make your way, the destination moves further and further away?
When I have that dream, it feels like I’m in a long and narrow tunnel. As I try to move towards my goal, the space around me stretches out further ahead, taking my destination with it — like an alternate reality or special effect in a movie. Time and space appear to be pulled away from me, like taffy or a rubber band that surrenders its elasticity and doesn’t bounce back. It’s as if stepping toward where I want to go creates the expansion and separation from my goal.
What does the dream mean?
The usual interpretation is that I’m stuck. And that would not be wrong, but it’s not the whole picture.
In the broadest sense, being stuck is about not being able to get ahead. It can also mean that there are too many distractions that are keeping me stuck in place. I have too much to do, and therefore too little focus to make enough progress on any one thing. I could also be stuck if I don’t have a plan and don’t know where I’m going. Finally, I could be stuck because I do know where I’m going, but I haven’t yet dropped off all the baggage that’s weighing me down in place, keeping me attached to the past.
When You Let Go But Forget to Re-Create
For most of July, I have felt listless. It’s a confusing feeling — a kind of imbalance without tipping over. It’s not that I’m without intrinsic motivation to pursue my creative work and continue building my coaching business. Rather, like my dream, it feels like what I want to reach — what I want to accomplish — is being continuously stretched out farther afield and away from my grasp.
Yet, I thought I had cleared the path and let go of what was holding me back. At the beginning of June, I gave notice on a contract and I also resigned from an executive board position at a not-for-profit. These were conscious and deliberate decisions I made to reduce extreme overwhelm and frustration. Releasing those commitments, thoughtfully and professionally, was necessary, but I forgot about one crucial thing.
I didn’t realize just how burnt out I was.
In my perfect morning routine, I journal and then do my most generative, creative writing. Other than getting a glass of water and an espresso, I like to immediately start work in this early morning, sleepy, groggy state. I don’t check my phone, or email, or browse the Internet. I write in the purest of flow states, not yet distracted by the pressing needs of the day.
Without realizing it, I wasn’t doing that! I was still writing in my journal, but instead of following that with generative writing, I made breakfast, read the news of the world (got upset), browsed social media (felt annoyance), checked emails (oh shit, I have to do that?), reviewed my tasks, and so on. Then, telling myself I needed to relax, I took a long walk and listened to a thoughtful podcast to ‘engage my mind.’
But where were the new ideas and the new writing?
Why wasn’t I making any significant progress on two major projects, my two biggest goals?
In my journal, I asked myself this question and wrote the words of realization that I had made a tactical error.
My unfocused morning routine meant that my thoughts went broad, never to return to the narrowness required for deep focus and uncritical creative generation. By allowing too many distractions and consuming too much information, I took myself out of the naturally ‘drowsy’ creative generation state that I have access to first thing in the morning. It’s like I went to the well but never dipped in my bucket.
The lack of creative generation wasn’t the only awareness.
The night before I realized my ‘tactical error,’ I was reading a book published this year, “Fully Human. A New Way of Using Your Mind,” by Steve Biddulph. His ideas resonate with me on a deeply humane and emotional level.
One of Biddulph’s core messages is the importance of reconnecting with your inner self. This is what he calls the ‘fourth floor’ or the roof of your ‘human house’. You need to literally get back into yourself, and into your higher awareness as a consciously connected human being. Biddulph expresses a hopefulness for humanity, that I also share, but only if we as a collective do the conscious work to care about others as much as we care about ourselves.
“The fourth floor of our mansion — where we connect to everything — is the home of our spirituality. The place where — either by luck or by grace, or by hard work, you have as sense that you are connected to all around you, to the sacred unity of everything. This is not a matter of faith, but simply a direct sense of fellowship and belonging in the world…
[T]his sense is essential to making our body-mind systems work as they should…. This topmost floor is not like the others. It’s a rooftop garden, open to the sky. Spirituality is difficult to express in words, because words are designed to address small, discrete things — spoon, dog, nostrils — and not huge mysteries. But can you remember ever as a child just feeling wonderful? Completely and fully free and alive? […] Totally safe, without boundaries or self-consciousness of any kind?”
The lightness and human-heartedness I felt while reading Biddulph’s book, and the awareness that I had disconnected from my ‘fourth floor’ — my sense of wonder and awe — helped me decide to take a hiatus.
Re-Creation and Re-Generation Time
My partner and I are spending the month of August in Montreal, staying at a long-term furnished apartment rental. We want to spend time living in a city that we love and might consider our new home someday. It’s also a safe way to travel during COVID-19, and it’s within Canada. We are only crossing a provincial border.
What a perfect opportunity — we will be living in a different environment, making for the perfect time and place to put into play something new. I am taking a complete break from actively publishing any new content (articles and podcast) for 5-weeks from August 1st until (ironically) Labour Day, September 6th. During that time, I will be writing content for new articles and podcasts, and spending the majority of my creative generation time working on my human-heartedness book project. I’m letting go of all tasks related to production and allowing for spontaneity, aimless wandering, and simply enjoying being away with my partner.
The stuck-ness and listlessness I described earlier are because I didn’t give myself any time for regeneration and recreation after giving notice and resigning from the executive board position. I failed to literally re-set and re-establish myself as well as my perspective from my ‘fourth floor.’ Any significant life change requires a re-balancing of our priorities and task management. I have been just as ‘busy’ as before, but thankfully nowhere near as stressed.
What was missing, after making such a big change, was an assessment of where I now stand.
While I let go of work I no longer wanted to do and that was holding me back, the habits and behaviours which that work entailed were still present and influencing my thoughts and actions. Thus, a hiatus would be the perfect opportunity to step back and get clarity and focus on my direction, and how to be productive without being ‘busy’ — how to be more productive by doing less.
The Paradox of Production and Achievement.
The more you try to do, the less you’ll accomplish.
The less you focus on, the more you’ll get done.
This distinction speaks to the concept of allowing versus forcing. Shouting at a tree doesn’t make it grow faster. The tree will grow, naturally, without forcing. Allowing is a state of openness and freedom. In this state, you can slide into the flow to do your most authentic work without stress or judgement. When you try to force yourself to work or complete a list of tasks, you are pushing against an idea, instead of being pulled along with it. Generative work happens when we swim with the current instead of against it.
Every so often, the best action you can take is to relax into the current’s pull and let it take you.
When you try to work against the flow, you’ll either be stuck in place, or you will tire out to the point of exhaustion and drown in overwhelm. Having made the decision to take a hiatus after seeing how I had slid into one-too-many distractions, I noticed that there was one more distraction to deal with: social media.
As a writer, podcaster, and coach, I use social media to share my content intending to reach more people. But by sharing my content on all the major channels, I can’t give focused attention to ‘the one platform' that will make the most significant difference in engagement and dialogue with people who want to connect with me. And so, not only will I be taking a hiatus from publishing, I will be concurrently taking a break from social media for 5-weeks.
Sticking with the water metaphor, most of us are unconsciously drowning in social media.
We cannot see the way out because we are under the surface of one-too-many platforms. The only way to see clearly is to let go, relax, and gently rise to the surface of it all. To float on your back, gazing at the clouds in the sky and letting your mind flow wherever the river takes you.
Are you seeing the trend here?
Re-creation leads to re-generation.
See you again in early September. :-)
Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel