As I mentioned in my last post, working creativity requires effort to find a steady source of inspiration and renewable energy to sustain it over a long term. Not to discount the advice of close friends, or the encouragment of trusted mentor, but occassionally the path we walk along has only room for one, single file trekker. Those times when its just you and your thoughts, staring at the ceiling as you lie awake at 3am, where do you go? What sheds light on your feet? What illumines the path? Here’s a few of my recent practices.
Music. Music has a way of speaking to me when words are inadequate or unnecessary. Since music has this power for me, I keep a steady supply of new music moving into my ears via my eMusic subscription, which offers a Free Song a Day feature on my phone. I let a couple of weeks pile up before I give them a listen, then I go through the playlist, ruthlessly culling out the ones that don’t impress me in the first 15 secs of hearing it. I probably find 1 in 15 or 20 that stand out, and put them in a keepers playlist. I’ve found some great, inspiring tunes this way, all initially free. And for the artists sake, it may lead to purchasing the entire album. I’ve recently found Rodrigo y Gabriela and First Aid Kit this way.
Writing. When I write a post, many times I am writing to myself. I often write to remind myself of the story that is unfolding. When we discovered Karen’s cancer two years ago, my first compulsion was to write about. Writing reveals what I believe, and making it public reinforces that belief. It makes me accountable and prevents the pity party from being hosted. Not every writer has this as his or her starting point, especially those who write for a living. But our commonality is that all have to find that muse that provokes the words.
Quiet. For about a ten year stretch, we took family vacations to Dillon, CO and stayed in a condo that overlooked a beautiful lake below a series of incredible mountain peaks. One morning, as was my regular habit, I was sitting on the deck, staring out into the view. This question popped into my thoughts, “Am I looking AT something, or FOR something?” I discovered it was the latter. Stillness allows subtle beauty to emerge and be seen.
Giving your mind the permission to roam unfettered is critical for its creative survival. I can tell when the speed and pace of my life gets too fast. I remedy it by listening to less music when in the car. I sit outside at night with nothing playing in the background. Doing so can make you appear to be aloof to your family, but remind them that just as you go to the gym for physical exercise, you regularly go to the quiet for mental fitness.
Incense. This probably sounds like a beatnik, hippie-kind of thing to do, but hear me out. The olefactory sense is the strongest trigger to provoke memory recall. When I smell fresh paint in a room, it takes me back to my years of returning to elementary school during the hot, humid August days of late summer in Oklahoma. The janitors spent the summer repainting classrooms and hallways, and the smell of paint still filled the air when the school kids arrived.
Aroma is associated with memory, and can help stimulate productive thought. In the nice weather, when I get home from the restaurant I’ll light a few torches and stick of incense, pour a beverage and let all three components go to work. While my body is fatigued, my mind is still active, and the aura of the environment gives the brain a chance to be heard and cast its vote.
Walking the dog. Dogs are incredibly healing creatures. They respond so faithfully to your needs, its almost impossible not to reciprocate. Our beagle now knows the word “walk,” therefore we have to use a codeword when discussing whether or not we have time to walk the dog, lest she get defrauded and have to overcome her false sense of hope. To watch Maddie get uncontrollably excited about nothing more than a stroll through the neighborhood is contagious. There have been many a problem solved and stress released on these excursions.
Weeding the garden. I hated weeding as a kid when my mom and dad made me get down on my hands and knees and pull the crabgrass crowding the young plants. But now, as an adult, weeding an activity that requires no critical thinking other than querying which is weed and which is desirable. When the hands are occupied without need of strict intellectual oversight, the mind can be free to explore and engage in other types of leisure.
The Grocery Store. Karen hates going grocery shopping for reasons foreign to me, so I gladly do this family chore. It takes me about twice as long as she because I turn it into a fact finding trip. I have a little game I play on each outing whereby I buy something I’ve never purchased before and see if I can find a way to use it. I do this more for creative stimulation than practical purpose. It forces me to look at the aisles differently, rather than through rote familiarity. Granted, the canned oysters and the wasabi in a bottle were awful, but it opened my eyes to that section of the store.
TED Talks. If youre not familiar with the TED movement, find out at TED.com. there you will find hundreds of inspiring talks, none of which are over 18 min long. I like going there on Sunday mornings when no one else is stirring about the house. Great ideas spawn great ideas, and TED is a great way to immerse your mind and provoke your creativity without spending tons of money and time on travel to attend a professional conference.
If you have certain things you do to refresh your mind, please leave them in the comments below. I’d like to know what helps inspire your thinking.