I spend a lot of time staring into space. I guess it’s become part of my process.
Let me explain:
When I first wrote about my creative process, I described my startling ability to procrastinate: I’d look through emails, read articles I didn’t care about, change my seating arrangement, write to-do lists. I highlighted my frustration, my restlessness, the way I felt like creativity was teasing me: close enough to visualize but always too far away to grasp. I’d consider getting a chai latte then talk myself out of it. I would stretch, sigh, and fill an entire word document with exclamations of my boredom.
If I’m being honest with myself, I still do this sometimes. But what I’ve come across during the past few weeks is my love – my undying devotion to – silence.
Here is the traditional definition of silence, as shown in the Merriam Webster online dictionary: n. forbearance from speech or noise; absence of sound or noise.
This is not the kind of silence I’m talking about.
Maybe a more apt way to describe what I now think of as so essential to my creative process is stillness. I should qualify this word and say that what I’m talking about is something more than physical. It’s not about slowing the traffic of your thoughts, either. It’s more like sitting with something until it becomes part of you. Allowing it to sink in. Letting go of resistance and fear.
Because silence is scary, right? It’s the first thing we worry about in a horror movie, it’s what keeps some of us up at night – when it’s too quiet. Absence of sound means absence of living beings around us. It suggests the idiom silent as the grave. It makes us think of death.
I like to think of it more as a cycle of rebirth.
Of course, creativity is different for everyone, and of course, it’s very difficult to find whatever is burning up inside you and bring it outside of yourself. It’s a process that requires so much strength. I know there are obstacles. Please do not think that I am discounting that aspect of this lifestyle. But do not be afraid to think of creativity as a process born out of calm, out of reflection, out of resilience. You don’t have to battle against demons or slay a dragon to write a verse of poetry or perfect an arabesque.
What I’d like to suggest is that we make an offer of peace to our struggles. What would happen if we let them have their place in our careful lives but didn’t let them drive the whole show? What would happen if, instead of screaming at them, yelling at them to go away, trying to push an important part of creativity completely out of the process, we just sat down?
Sometimes as I’m practicing my oboe, I hit a very cold, very solid wall. Suddenly, I can’t do anything right. It makes me want to scream. It makes me want to cry and maybe put away my oboe forever or maybe throw my music out of a window.
What I’m slowly learning to do with this situation is to sit back and allow this anger to unknot itself within me. I trust that if I don’t give it anymore fuel – in the form of shouting, putting myself down, or clenching my fists – the anger fizzles out all by itself. What I need for this to happen is space, space in the form of silence.
It has become essential for me to pause and reflect and trust. At least twice a week I have to put my oboe aside, sit back in my chair, and stare at my music. I put this thought out into the universe: Okay, I hear you. Now let’s work this out. Then I let it go. The silence slowly creeps into my periphery. (Most of the time there is a violin in its altissimo range in the room two doors down, eager to be heard, but I let go of that, too.) I focus instead on breathing and on letting this sink in: I do not have to fight with the music to play the music. The same thing applies to my writing. (The tribal symbols, you see, have been forgotten.) When it seems like I have no ideas, nowhere to go, when it seems like the only place I can possibly create is in the shower and how is that supposed to help me, I can’t bring my computer into the shower, I pause. I take my hands off the keyboard, or I put the pen down. I sit back, and I stare. After five minutes, I trust that something unknown and unseen has clicked back into place somewhere deep inside me, and I pick up my oboe, I grab my pen, I lay my fingers on the home keys of my computer. I take a deep breath, and (here is the rebirth) I start again.
This article is part of a series on creativity and the creativity process.