Last week we looked at how the work of others can help us to become creatively inspired. This week we’ll be looking at ways that taking time out from our own work can also stimulate inspiration. Sometimes if you want to be inspired the best thing to do is to just chill out or simply do nothing at all.
As I talked about previously, inspiration is a passive rather than active process. You need to be open for that creative spark to strike you, if you’re buzzing with a million little things there’s simply nowhere for that shiny inspiration fruit to land. Think of it as having a clear, peaceful space in your consciousness for ideas to come into, kind of like a large clearing in a woodland, you need the weather to calm to see the bright sunlight shinning down and hear the birds singing; or a lake with ripples on the water, once they still you can see the sky reflected on the surface and the gleaming treasures in its depths. When we relax and rest ourselves we calm and still the mind and the instincts that may otherwise get out of hand and block our creativity, and our enjoyment of life in general, and open the way for creative and wonderful insights. This can help us to be inspired in three key ways:
- Making the mind servant rather than master
“Our obsession with speed, with cramming more and more into every minute, means that we race through life instead of actually living it. Our health, diet and relationships suffer. We make mistakes at work. We struggle to relax, to enjoy the moment, even to get a decent night’s sleep.” – Carl Honore
As far as I’m concerned it is the sensual, the emotional and the intuitive that inspire us most profoundly. Our mind, the secretarial chatter of language based problem solving and information sorting of the everyday that can go on in our head, often just gets in the way. Our mind is a process, extraordinarily useful in its domain, but a tyrant when out of hand, bullying and silencing other processes it could otherwise nurture and elevate. The thing is though, the mind just wants to be useful, it wants to solve problems, it wants to organise and clarify. This becomes bullying, anxious, hasty, clumsy and judgemental when it is undisciplined, running wild and unacknowledged, creating problems and chaos in order to be useful – think of yourself after six cups of strong coffee, that is the mind in charge and the body wired, responding to a highly caricatured reality on, likely poorly, conditioned reflex. The mind must be firmly put in its place and kept to task, one of many processes in service of us as whole beings, so we can better access our senses, our emotions, and our intuition, with the mind acting as a calm detached note taker and organiser. One of the easiest ways to do this is by relaxing and enjoying the body.
Our mind tends to dominate when we are stressed, tired or otherwise negatively affected, because it is the trouble shooter par excellence. It just wants to do its job. So when we relax the mind should back down and get on with the day to day, along with all your other internal processes. In a culture so hooked on stress and fear and outrage, taking time to walk in scented woods, watch a beautiful sunset, soak in a nice long bath, enjoy the tastes of a well cooked meal, or listen to waves lapping on a sandy shore, is essential for the mind to stop acting as tyrant and instead operate as part of a whole receptive consciousness. It is when we have given in and let go, when we have been peaceful and open that we are most likely to have those eureka moments and epiphanies. The mind has gotten out of the way and the fruit has somewhere to land.
2. Accessing the wisdom of the body
“We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
When Charles Darwin was writing On the Origin of Species he would go for long walks every day through the countryside near his home. These walks were part of his process and helped him to clear and clarify his thoughts. When we learn to be able to turn away from what is going on in our mind and focus on the body, on our senses and our emotions, we find in ourselves a much richer, clearer view of the world. The mind is an abstracting mechanism, taking incoming data and removing what seems ‘inessential’, that is, those things that do not conform to our expectations. By focusing on what we actually sense with our body in this moment, we can begin to bypass our preconceptions and notice new and unexpected things.
Had Darwin been looking at the world with a closed mind, a mind that threw out nearly every piece of sensory data that did not conform to his expectations, he would never have thought evolution possible, let alone been able to explain it. The more we train the our consciousness to be open to larger amounts of raw sensory data, as an artist must to paint accurately, or a writer to describe convincingly, the less we tend to experience the world as a predictable caricature and instead it comes to life with richness and complexity. By relaxing, re-centring and paying attention to our senses and our emotions, the most seemingly mundane events can become fascinating, intricate and joyful sources of inspiration.
- Being open to our intuition
“The process of creating is related to the process of dreaming although when you are writing you’re doing it and when you’re dreaming, it’s doing you.” – Robert Stone
Daydreaming and dreaming in general are often disparaged as impractical and unproductive. Yet the influence of inspirations from dreaming on our world cannot be overstated. A young Rene Descartes dreamed of an angel that told him “the conquest of nature is to be achieved through measure and number”, he went on to invent analytical geometry and the scientific method, making him the founding father of modern science as well as modern philosophy. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was inspired by a dream about sledding down a mountainside, and his Theory of Special Relativity by a dream about cows. Niels Bohr saw the structure of the atom in a dream. Salvador Dali’s paintings were heavily influenced by his dreams, as were the works of the surrealists more broadly. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was inspired by a nightmare, as were Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and stories. I could go on.
Dreaming and daydreaming occur when we are at our most relaxed, when we are in sync with our intuition. If the human nervous system is a receiver rather than a generator of consciousness, as modern theories suggest, then this means when we relax and open ourselves by being more in tune with our body and quieting our mind we may be more able to receive inspiration from a non-local source, what Jung called the collective unconscious. Or maybe our dreaming state of consciousness is just more creative. In any case, paying attention to our dreams by recording them can be incredibly inspiring, and the more you record them the more you will become able to recall. I find daydreaming more creatively useful than dreaming, as you can actively engage with the dream, the more you do this the more lucid and engrossing they become, enthralling you with creative possibility. I highly recommend trying this to music you enjoy.
“You have to relax when you’re shooting an arrow. You can’t be tense. And that just helps, in your day-to-day life.” – Stephen Amell
Relaxation quiets the mind, allowing us to be more open to our senses, emotions and intuitions, allowing us to perceive the world more clearly and create a still space within for inspiration to fill. What do you do to relax? Do you record your dreams or use them for creative inspiration? As always, I’m interested to hear from you – so let me know what you think in the comment’s box below.