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Conjuring the Rest of Your Life

Let’s face it, creativity can be elusive and frustrating, somewhat like waking up in the morning and trying to remember the dream you were just having. You can tug its gossamer edges, and then…’s gone.

But is it really? If your mind is functioning properly, and you don’t have any dementia-related problems going on, it’s probably still in there. How to access it, and other gossamer-y plums becomes the issue, and I’ve come to believe there are some pretty effective ways of doing that. They’re things we do for other reasons (to clean ourselves, to get somewhere, to take a break, etc.), things where our conscious mind steps out of the way, and we suddenly have access to quite a magical store of treats. 

Does meditation inspire creativity? Meditation helps us come to the present and experience happiness and peace there. When we meditate, it’s an intentional act, and that in itself erects a few walls in our consciousness. Hopefully, we are able to leave our stressors behind and fully appreciate that we are beings experiencing life, our singular and miraculous life, and that that appreciation alone gives meaning to our time here. As Oscar Wilde said: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Or, Dr. Suess’ take, “Today you are you, That is truer than true, There is no one alive that is youer than you!” I believe meditation re-centers our understanding of ourselves, but I’m not sure it helps with creativity, at least while we’re meditating. 

Of course, what you do during meditation could inspire things that happen later. If you introduce an intention during meditation, it’s likely that you will be on the alert, even subconsciously, to bring that intention to some sort of resolution in your life. Meditation is a powerful tool that can help guide us to the life we really want and intend.

The times I’ve had breakthrough moments of creative insight have occurred when I’m actually doing something, something that takes a little bit of thought, but also allows my mind to wander, such as the following:

  • Walking/running/working out

  • Shower/bath

  • Staring out a window

  • Solitaire card games

  • Reading/writing

  • Driving

  • Knitting/crocheting

  • Listening to music/playing music

Take a look at this simple experiment that was done at UC-Santa Barbara in 2012. Students were given a two minute test to list as many uses possible for everyday objects like toothpicks and clothes hangers. They were then given a twelve minute break, where they were divided into three groups and either rested, or were required to do a time-related memory test, or engaged in something known to elicit mind wandering. After that, they went back and tried the test again, and the ones who had been in the mind wandering group did FORTY-ONE PERCENT better the second time. The other two groups showed no improvement.

I’ve experienced this when I do crossword puzzles. I’m pretty sure I don’t know the answer to a clue, yet when I return after some time has gone by, and I’ve done some mind wandering, I somehow magically “know” the answer. Our brain’s storage system is vast and deep; when sent on a mission to retrieve answers, it may take a while to dig them out.

One remarkable experience I’ve had, and which I wish might happen more often, was when my children’s book, “Giselle and the Little Idea” came to me in a flash. Some time before this happened, I had been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s essential “Big Magic”, which talks about the creative process. She describes how she believes ideas are actual entities that go around looking for partners in creativity. My book for kids describes an idea looking for a collaborator and finds one in a little girl named Giselle after several aborted attempts with other people. When it was done, my creative self tapped me on the shoulder and made me write it down. 

That’s only a slight exaggeration. The book came out of me in one sitting, and as many creatives have admitted, my only role was in taking dictation. I changed almost nothing of that first iteration, but since I had never published a book before, let alone get one illustrated, it took me a while to get up to speed on those skills.

And that could have held me back. If I had been afraid or didn’t want to learn those skills, my book may never have come into being. So part of the payback for having a creative insight is to take action, no matter how clueless you are about what to do. These inspirations are rare and tremendously valuable to our personal growth and well-being, and they came to us for a reason. Whether we understand that reason is beside the point.

To get inspiration, it really helps to experience someone else’s. Composers, poets, writers, artists - these are all people we want to constantly be curious about. What did they do, how did they do it, what gave them the idea? The term “everything is a remix” is true - we all borrow from each other, and that’s how creativity grows. If you want to write a children’s book, read a lot of children’s books, compose, listen to music, etc. How did anyone else, who is no better or smarter than you, do it?

While I’m writing this, I keep losing the thread. That’s because wisps of ideas are very elusive. We have to grab for them, but often, they’re gone before we touch their smoky tails.

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