“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” So said Albert Einstein, one of history’s most creative thinkers who also seemed to really enjoy his explorations and discoveries. But sometimes when I’m trying to figure out a problem or staring at an empty page wondering what to write I don’t feel like it is a lot of fun.
Instead of ideas flowing through me like sunlight I am stuck, my mind on a loop, generally saying helpful things like: “This is tricky. How are you going to do this then? I’m definitely going to get found out now.” The problem then stops being the challenge I have set myself to plan out my next book, rearrange my room so it works better or choose which scarf to wear with which jumper for a photoshoot. Instead my problem is how to get away from the painful thoughts.
At this point I will do pretty much anything to distract myself. I’ll make tea, organise my dishwasher, do some washing, sort through my post, even fill out a form (my least favourite activity), anything to avoid the sense of frustration and failure that is now flooding my beleaguered brain.
Then I find myself, at the end of the time I had allotted for my creative task, the one I was really looking forward to, with an organised pile of post, a fully ordered stationery cupboard and an empty teapot, but no creation. This leads to more mental gnashing of teeth as I now feel like a creative failure. Fun? No, not at all.
So, how can we break out of this destructive cycle and move back towards having some intelligent fun? How can we unstick ourselves from this constipated mode of thought where all of our creativity is bound up in keeping ourselves blocked and none of it in actually making anything new?
In my experience mindfulness is the key to unlocking our creative potential and revelling in our challenges, even when they are at their most trying. Great, I hear you say, now I have to use my creative time to sit still in an uncomfortable sitting position clearing my mind like some kind of weird bearded guru. How the fuck is that going to help?
Well, you aren’t going to clear your mind. Clearing your mind is not possible. Thoughts happen, sometimes lots of them and sometimes just a few, some of them are quiet and inoffensive and some are loud and brash. It’s a bit like traffic on a busy road. There are always vehicles coming along but sometimes it flows smoothly and easily, sometimes everyone is honking their horn and moving nowhere and sometimes everyone is jostling for position, largely ignoring the rules of the road.
What you are going to do is watch your mind. You are not your thoughts, or your emotional response to your thoughts. You are the one who watches. You are the observer, but you’ve forgotten this because you’ve been too busy standing in the middle of the road dodging cars. Now it’s time to step away and take a seat on the sidelines so you can watch.
Also it doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable seat. You can sit in the lotus position if it helps or cross legged on the floor. Or you can sit in a chair in a way that you can easily maintain for a few minutes without getting pins and needles or hurting your knees. Sitting that way it’s time to move in and start observing. Coming back into the here and now, rather than running away on that catastrophic scenario where your inability to choose which drawer everything goes in for your new kitchen leads to divorce and an early death from alcoholism, take a breath and recognise that everything is OK.
Taking another breath it is still OK. The challenge is still there, so are you and so are all the possible options, waiting to be discovered. Closing your eyes and moving your attention to the way your body moves with your breath, imaging yourself sitting on a bench by a road watching the traffic go past. Those tricky thoughts may be there honking their horns and making a nuisance of themselves. Don’t fight them, don’t ignore them, just notice them and let them be. They are just thoughts like any others. And there are others, plenty of them.
Staying with your breath and letting go of your need to escape these difficult thoughts you can relax and look around. Take in the sky above you, the grass underneath the bench, the inscription on the bench, the people sitting on benches on the other side of the road, the lake just in the distance, the mountains rising beyond the lake. Let your inner landscape expand as if you are building a world on Minecraft. As you watch notice the breadth and depth of the space you can be aware of when you let your troubles alone.
Sitting there peacefully while traffic goes past, ask yourself a question about what you want to create, the problem you want to find a solution for. Staying with your breath playfully examine your surroundings and see if an answer arises. Don’t worry if it does or it doesn’t, that doesn’t matter, the willingness to discover and play is the aim, not the answer.
After doing this, bring yourself back into the room where you are, reinforce your intention to discover and play with your challenge and open your eyes. Then go back into your day in an attitude of play; like a child turning a bicycle ride into a medieval joust or committing themselves to building a castle out of lego. Give yourself permission to fail, not to know, to learn and discover. Before you know it, there you will be, asking questions, wondering, exploring, creating and having fun with your intelligence.
Thank you and have fun creating!