In response to a great deal of unease and a keen interest in finding a better way of being in this world, I have turned to creativity and in particular writing for some answers. Along the way a practice has emerged, out of something that is not entirely clear, which I like to call the Mindful Creative Enquiry. It starts with a simple question.
This question becomes a mantra as I start out on a new creative challenge. It is a device I purposely revisit because there is so much to unfold from that simple enquiry. It provides not only something to begin with but also something to return to, and this is very important.
To begin this blog I asked, Where do I start?
At the risk of going on ad nauseum, I return to it again and again because repetition is important when forging a new pathway. But rather than a tedious task done by rote, this seemingly banal and repetitive question has the surprising effect of consistently inspiring fresh ideas. It stokes my curiosity to see what new response might bubble up.
My quest is In Search of Clarity, so I use it as means of starting something that’s not entirely clear. Acting like a key for unlocking a blank page — a body of potential, it has proven helpful for opening a direction forward. But once I’ve started I also use it to bring myself back when I get a bit carried away.
I am reminded of the mindfulness technique of focusing on the breath during meditation. We start the practice by taking several deep breaths to settle in, allowing ourselves to become more present. The idea then is to observe the thoughts that arise without getting too caught up in them. To help with this we can turn our attention to the rising and falling of our breath. As soon as we notice ourselves being swept up in thoughts or feelings again, we can always return to the rhythm of the breath.
Like the breath in this example, the creative enquiry can act as something to initiate the practice as well as somewhere to return to when our mind wanders. Having a constant reminder to come back to is essential for coping with our distracted lives. It gives us an anchor to steady ourselves with and helps develop presence and peace of mind.
Having a constant reminder to come back to is essential for coping with our distracted lives.
If our purpose is clarity, then this act of returning becomes essential for staying on course. We are starting in a state of uncertainty — unsure of what we need to do, want to say, or where we will end up. We may have a goal but aren’t quite sure how to achieve it yet. Inevitably, along the way we will get distracted, lost, confused or just plain forget what we were doing in the first place. Having something to return to as a reminder helps us to refocus our efforts and regain our purpose.
At first, we may meet a variety of obstacles. Sitting in meditation we experience restlessness, boredom, pain, or drowsiness to name a few. With creative writing we feel self-doubt, uncertainty, inarticulacy. But if we stick with it, making small steps forward then gently calling ourselves back, gradually we gain a measure of independence from our racing thoughts and can experience greater moments of calm alertness. As we begin to identify with the awareness of the thoughts as opposed to the thoughts themselves, we touch upon a very deep and mysterious part of ourselves.
The creative enquiry serves a purpose similar to the meditative practice. It is one of introspection and a means of becoming aware of the thoughts and feelings we have. However, it differs in the sense that it looks to that which arises for creative potential. Instead of letting the thoughts go untouched, they are channeled and shaped into something more tangible. In this way we ground them instead of letting them fly around ceaselessly in our minds. This has the effect of discharging them and allowing them to either leave us in peace or come to some sort of fruition on the page.
My interest is in filtering out the noise and tuning into that clear signal waiting patiently beneath. I’m looking for ways to calm and bypass the fragile ego, and instead let that silent giant that knows better have its say. The emphasis is not so much on the content, but in peeling back the layers and touching upon something residing at a much deeper level. There may be a lot of crap in the way, but by patiently working our way through we find a potent source of inspiration.
For now I am trying to ground a practice that helps bring clarity and embrace the unknown. I am using creative enquiry to establish a rhythm, a simple routine I can repeat that helps me get a footing in a new terrain. The consistency gives a modicum of certainty that helps deal with the uncertainty of starting something new. It also prevents me from straying too far ahead initially. By returning to my starting question, I am gradually teasing out that thread that connects back to a much deeper source.
Life takes on greater meaning and relevance when we come into contact with this inner signal. There is a unifying influence that makes connections and imbues greater significance to ordinary things. Wonder replaces banality.
The ideas that emerge from this creative wellspring have a curious effect. They stay with you and work on you. They lead you to unusual places. They make things pop out that you never noticed before. They urge you onwards towards some unrealised place. They feel abundantly alive and potent.
But the creative journey can be a precarious one. We get glimpses of awe-inspiring visions, as inspiration strikes a window to some tantalising place is revealed. However, it can vanish again just as suddenly, leaving you feeling singed and bewildered. Or it can be mercurial and lead you astray. There is a tendency to get sidetracked with tangential interests. It is important to break new ground and investigate less trodden areas, but sometimes we stray far from our initial intention, losing ourselves down rabbit holes, or off on some cloud.
When we branch off and get entangled the creative enquiry looks to our roots for guidance, helping us to reconnect with our original purpose. There is an anchoring effect as we return to check back in with where we started. By building this into a deliberate practice we can mitigate some of the pitfalls that accompany the “big idea”.
Tuning into that urge that got us going in the first place we build a stronger relationship with a deep source of guidance. If you manage to listen, and pick up the request put to you, it is a simple one, but one that takes some courage to act on.
Sometimes all it takes is starting something new and returning to it as much as possible. That is my purpose for now, and something I will return to touch upon in more detail in the next post.