Mindfulness and Creativity: Excuses

I’m ashamed to admit that I’m still procrastinating with my courses. I guess I feel I have valid reasons, but deep down I know better. It’s always the same, if this wasn’t happening or if I was in such and such a position, blah, blah, blah!

My main fault is being unable to get up early to do my meditation and writing exercises, as I already get up very early because it takes me over an hour to get to work every day. Right now my alarm is set for 6.15am, giving me plenty of time to do my writing exercise, which I’ll explain more about soon, and do my meditation, before my usual morning routine kicks in.

I keep saying once I finish my college course, then I won’t have to get into work so early in order to make up the time I miss for classes. Or if I could just go to bed early, but…Reddit! Or if I worked closer to home.

Two out of three of those excuses are impossible to change right now: I still have another three months of college. And I can’t change jobs right now otherwise I’d have to pay the €2,000 college fees (my job are paying for my education). So I can’t actually afford to change jobs, which just sounds kind of ironic.

What I can change is going to bed earlier at night. When I say Reddit, I mean I am addicted to it. Every night I go to bed and browse AskReddit or other subreddits (depending) until I’m too drowsy to keep it up. Blame my fiancé, he got me into it!

I can make all the excuses I want, but they don’t stop me beating myself up. I know what I have to do, it’s just fighting against the procrastination that’s proving to be the real challenge.

Must. Not. Procrastinate!

Mindfulness and Creativity: Starting over yet again

Apologies for being away so long, things have been tough these past few weeks and ironically I’ve fallen out of my meditation routine. I became more unmotivated than usual and even the small things I couldn’t bring myself to do.

It’s a struggle getting back into it but I made the decision to start both Penman’s and Brande’s programmes over again. ‘False starts’, Penman says. I shouldn’t expect to get it right the first time. I want to get better, not just at writing, but at life. That’s doable, right?

Mindfulness and Creativity: writing on schedule

Apologies for being away for so long. It’s been a busy week in work and everything got on top of me. Unfortunately I’ve also been neglecting my meditations and most of my writing exercises. The one I have kept up with is the one I’m going to speak about now.

Brande calls “writing on schedule” and it begins with taking a moment to yourself in the morning and going over the day ahead of you. You’ll more than likely know what’s going to happen, such as work, college, food shopping, etc. The point of this is to map out the times of the day you will have to yourself, preferably fifteen minutes at least. These fifteen minutes are to spent writing. The only rule of this is that you MUST write in the time timeframe you have allocated to yourself. A “debt of honor”, according to Brande. You can’t make any excuses as to why you didn’t write in the time you decided upon, even if you have to ditch your friends to do so. You can write anything, whether it makes sense or not. It can be babble, it doesn’t matter as long as you give yourself time to do it.

I’ve become quite good at sticking with this exercise. Each day I allocate the fifteen minutes and so far I have stuck to it. Brande suggests not writing at the same time every day, but this is a bit tricky for me. Lately I have always written at 1.00pm because it is the beginning of my lunch hour. Weekends are a little more flexible. I try not to write babble because I’m so desperate to write stories even if there is absolutely nothing in my head. Up until yesterday I wrote excerpts of a story I’ve been working on for years. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve rewritten it. I have a folder dedicated to First Drafts and it is overflowing! Yesterday, however, I decided to try something new and wrote an entirely different story, none of which I had any first drafts of.

What is the purpose of this exercise, you may ask? According to Brande, there is a “deep inner resistance to writing”, the unconscious doesn’t like to be told when to write, rather it prefers to choose its own timings. Essentially, you are forcing the unconscious out of its laziness and to stop it offering you loopholes, which will cause you to skip your set time or to go a few minutes over. Confused? I’ll admit I was a little but the more I do it the better I feel. I actually look forward to these fifteen minutes. At work it’s not usually possible to keep writing for longer, but on weekends I have found myself writing a little bit more.

Brande ends this chapter with a harsh statement that caught me quite off-guard and put fear into me, which I’m not sure was her intention or not.

“If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late.”

Looking at it now, it makes complete sense. What scared me was the idea that my resistance would have such power as to overcome my motivation to write that I would in fact have to give up writing. Maybe this is her way of scaring you into writing. Who knows? What I do know is that I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.

Mindfulness and Creativity: Being Objective Inside and Out

Both Penman and Brande advise us to be objective, either to ourselves or to our thoughts. They see the mind as having two different, and yet equally important, parts. For Penman, the mind is divided into the Doing mode and the Being mode. For Brande, it’s simply divided into the conscious and the unconscious. It could be that both concepts are the same, or that they are somehow completely different. Let’s look at them in detail.

Doing and Being Modes

The Doing mode represents the autopilot we find ourselves trapped in day in and day out. This is essentially the mode in which we get things done, and efficiently at that! From driving to work, doing the grocery shopping, to any routine/habit we’ve accustomed ourselves to. There’s nothing wrong with this mode, it simply has to be tempered with the Being mode.

Also called metacognitive awareness by neuroscientists, the Being mode is pure conscious awareness. In other words, “you are actually experiencing something first-hand, rather than thinking about it”. What mindfulness encourages is for us to step back and observe our thoughts from the outside, to view them as clouds floating across the sky, a series of pictures, or whatever works for us. It is also applicable to carrying out daily tasks, to put ourselves right there in the moment rather than allow our minds to wander elsewhere as we’re washing the dishes or walking the dog.

Conscious and Unconscious

Dual personality, Brande calls it. Before Penman, Brande came up with the concept of the mind being divided into the conscious and unconscious. And like the Doing and Being modes, she encourages the idea that they need to balance each other out in order to work harmoniously. The difference is that Brande has just the writer in mind, though that isn’t to say her concept cannot be applied to other creative professions.

“Think of yourself as two-persons-in-one.”

The conscious is the person who “bears the brunt of the day”, who goes about the everyday tasks of the workday. The unconscious, on the other hand, is the person who is shielded from the everyday by the conscious, who flows freely and provides the writer (or artist) with the bones of a story, such as characters and scenes by using the emotions, incidents, scenes, intimations of characters and relationship that is stored in its depths.

At first it sounds as though the conscious is simply the person who carries out the boring tasks of everyday living, whilst the unconscious gets to explore and create. But that’s not the case. According to Brande, the unconscious simply provides the basis of the story, it is then up to the conscious to shape it and bring it to life.

If you feel I haven’t defined these concepts properly, I do apologise, as I am still trying to get my head around them myself. So far, they do seem almost similar in the sense that we need to divide our minds into two modes/persons and have them work together to tap into our creativity. The problem is, how do we go about it?

First Task(s)

This is actually my favourite part in both books. I don’t believe anything can be achieved in simply reading about it, you need to physically do something. We’ll start with Penman’s first task, which involved meditation (obviously), but also what he terms a “Habit Releaser”, which involves breaking a habit or a routine. It can involve taking a different route to work, sitting in a different seat at the lunch table, etc.. This is what I’ll be focussing on.

Penman

Habit Releaser: Go on a Creative Date

“What will you do? Anything at all. It can be a visit to a museum or art gallery or perhaps a trip to the cinema. You might like to go and see a car race, climb a mountain or swim in the sea. Or perhaps watch a sunrise or sunset, visit a castle, go to a music festival or learn how to be a fire-eater, a circus-clown or how to ride a unicycle.”

Sounds pretty out there! But the point of it is to be playful, to do something that in turn helps us rediscover the spontaneity and serendipity we had as a child. And if you find you can’t do any of the crazy stuff mentioned above, Penman offers an Appendices of other choices at the back of the book.

Brande

“You are near a door. When you come to the end of this chapter put the book aside, get up, and go through that door. From the moment you stand on the threshold turn yourself into your own object of attention. What do you look like, standing there? How do you walk? What, if you knew nothing about yourself, could be gathered of you, your character, your background, your purpose just there at just that minute? If there are people in the room whom you must greet, how do you greet them? How do your attitudes to them vary? Do you give any overt sign that you are fonder of one, or more aware of one, than the rest?”

Two very different exercises and yet they both seek almost the same objective: to open your mind, to discover or rediscover your artist-self. But are they universal? Do they work on anyone who carries them out with the intention of unlocking their creativity? Or the most important question: will they work for me?

Mindfulness and creativity: what was lost can be found again

According to Dr Danny Penman, there is no such thing as Writer’s Block. Fellow writers will know what it’s like to have no new ideas spring up randomly in your mind like they used to, the desperation as you sit in front of a blank screen hoping that the words will simply flow from your fingertips and you’ll find your rhythm again. But it doesn’t happen. So what do you do? Do you sit back and wait for the block to crumble? I’m sad to say that I have done this, essentially hoping the problem would fix itself. As time went on, I began to worry that I had simply run out of ideas, that I had no more stories to tell. Then I blamed other factors, such as moving from a part-time job to a full-time one, lack of sleep, depression, anxiety, etc. But it always came back to self-annihilation.

‘I’m not good enough to be a writer’

‘I can’t write like the authors of the books I read day in and day out’

These thoughts constantly swelled my head, and still do. I am not writing this as someone who has overcome these creative-blocking hurdles, instead I am writing as someone who has finally decided to try to be that someone. Instead of waiting for the problem to fix itself or constantly criticising myself, I want to know what it is that’s blocking my creativity, and furthermore, to unblock it.

The starting point

My first step was to start Mindfulness for Creativity by Dr Danny Penman. If you have read my previous blogs, you will know that mindfulness is something I started about a year ago. I’m sad to say that once I completed the 8-week programme by Dr Danny Penman and Dr Mark Williams, I fell quickly out of the habit of meditation. I began to see it as a chore and therefore decided it wasn’t worth it. I’d like to say I no longer see it as a chore, but I can’t help it, this is simply another hurdle I need to overcome in order to rediscover my creativity.

What is my goal, you may ask? Is it to be a published author? While that is certainly one of my goals, my main one is in fact to be the girl who used to come home from school/college/work, jump on her laptop and just write and write and write. I miss writing, the joy it gave me, the excitement of starting a new story or exploring new ideas. That’s what I want back more than anything.

As my mindfulness course is currently teaching me, it’s the constant chatter inside my head that is blocking my creativity. I allow thoughts to take over and my body to run on autopilot that I have no room left for creative ideas to push through. Of course this makes sense, but there is something else, for me at least.

A companion

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande is a book I purchased years ago at the recommendation of my former Creative Writing teacher. But I never read it. Why? I was afraid I would find no help in it, that I was a hopeless case. To put it simply, I was very scared of this book.

You have to understand that this book was written in the 30s and the language takes a bit of getting used to. Three chapters in, I now feel I can read this as a companion to my Mindfulness Programme, as they both focus on what’s going on inside rather than techniques and strategies of writing an actual story. Or perhaps I will find they clash with each other, who knows? Isn’t that what a journey is all about, not knowing? If I could predict down to the letter what was going to happen, I wouldn’t be scared out of my wits. But that’s part of the fun, I guess.

Another book that was recommended to me was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I have carried out this course twice, but like mindfulness, I quickly fell out of the habits it encouraged me to keep. There’s always an excuse. Could I use this also as a companion, or is it too much to take on at once? After all, Cameron also recommends tasks that focus on your mind before any writing is started, such as Artist’s Dates and Morning Pages. Could it be that the answer to my creative block was staring me in the face for years without me realising?

The first chapter

While I do hope to use more than one resource for unlocking my creativity, I intend to start with Mindfulness for Creativity, as it offers a structure in which I can work around. Hopefully I can incorporate the wisdom of Dorothea Brande and Julia Cameron and whoever else I might encounter along the way, because I figure it’s better to have too many resources than too few.

 My journey begins now…

Innie the Introverted Store Assistant: Stay in School

Working on the self service tills can be very stressful. You’re given eight separate tills to supervise and it’s impossible to spot shoplifters on a busy day. To make my life easier, I carry the plastic bags on my arm so I can give it to customers without them needing to search for them.
It’s worth noting that in Ireland, it’s 22c for a standard plastic bag, which goes to the Government, not the store.
Its lunchtime on a Tuesday and it’s starting to get busy. A young girl of about 15 or 16 approaches me, obviously from the community school across the road, judging by her uniform.
‘Where do you get them bags?’ she asks, indicating the wad of plastic bags on my arm.
I’m confused. Perhaps she didn’t see the bags in my hand, but…
‘These bags?’ I reply, holding up the plastic bags.
‘Yeah.’
‘Uh…from me?’
‘Oh right. Can I have one?’