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?
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.
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.
“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?