By Jill Badonsky, MEd | Updated February 17, 2019
I have a secret for you — no it's not THE SECRET. Heavens no, it's even better because this one involves, are you ready? Doing nothing.
You know how we are always doing … well, something? I have it from some excellent sources, yes, world renown people that, okay listen carefully: doing nothing is actually going to get you somewhere. That's right and, this is the extra special, prize in the cereal box, grand jack-pot: doing nothing can make you more creative. What a concept eh?
It's a secret because in this society there's a lot of hoopla about doing stuff... all the time... Productivity, bottom-line, scrap booking just like Miss www.scrapbook.com, painting like that girl I-forget-what-her-name-is, keeping my body slim like the deprived women on TV, writing, cooking, gardening, marketing, raising Nobel peace winning kids, well, I have it on these sources including myself because I just noticed that I published a book, have sold the manuscript for another one, have written and performed a one woman show, had several successful art shows, traveled the country doing storytelling, created a business based on creativity, built a training program for creativity coaches, … and a lot of what went into the process of doing that stuff was sitting there doing nothing. First, I stopped trying to change those parts of myself I'm always trying change and transferred the energy that I was using for that, to my creativity.
Second, in the process of doing nothing, or at least looking like doing nothing, things incubate, percolate, connect, combine, burble up and create a new idea. When we are always doing SOMETHING, we get depleted and this miraculous, spiritual wonder we have as mortals to bake an idea subconsciously in the void does not have a chance.
"By slowing down, taking a break, releasing the process, and diverting our attention, we fill our souls, body and mind with the nutrients for the next step in the creative cycle. Ideas, inspiration, and motivation fulfill the creative cycle's promise of the return to spring. Aha-phrodite shows up again, you resume your Marge efforts and continue from a place of plentiful readiness. We don't need to fill every space of silence with stimuli. Silence and stillness can be quite medicinal." —Lull, Modern Day Muse of Pause, Diversion and Gratitude.
Put on pause the prospect of powering your supposedly imperfect self into perfection and productivity. Go ahead, hit the pause button. I'll let you in on another secret that I know as a trainer for creativity coaches. What I find is that we mortals don't give ourselves enough credit for who we already are. Repeated for subliminal advantage: we mortals don't give ourselves enough credit for who we already are. Here are some of the magic questions we ask as Kaizen-Muse coaches that have changed hundreds of mortals' lives —- and that would be for the better: What are you already doing right? What are YOU doing that has worked? What are you glad you already did? How magnificent are you…. Already? Without making one more change?
Because when unattended, our minds will go to why we need to change, what we did wrong, what we need to do more of and why we aren't good enough at everything under the sun. For right now — let go of that. Take it all into your arms like a flock of doves, or a bunch of balloons, or a jar of lightning bugs. Go ahead do that. And now let them go. Free yourself of the pressure. Celebrate who you already are and you will emerge with some of that confidence I talked about in the column on Audacity last month.
In the creative process, we need to let go. We need to surrender. Forget trying to control things and change yourself for a minute, for a week. Trust in the process. Be in gratitude. Here are some of those excellent sources I was telling you about:
"Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself." —Zen Proverb quotes
"It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing." —Gertrude Stein
"Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth comes to the top." —Virginia Woolf
"Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits." — Satchel Paige
By Molly Anderson-Childers
Q: How did you become a Modern Day Muse?
A: Well the Muses were working incredibly hard to reinvent themselves into these modern versions of the Greek inspiration brokers. They had successfully come up with five Muses when, zap! Muse revamping came to an abrupt halt. They still had some slots left to fill, but they could not think of what would work next. They made all sorts of facial contortions, had a few brain strains, and Bea Silly's attention span was completely shot. They tried hard to control the process by auditioning various Muses, hiring a Muse from an escort service, and attempting to rehabilitate a Muse with a bad reputation. They were trying too hard — then it dawned on them: "Duh! We need a break!"
As often as it happened, they were still surprised when the juices dried up without warning. So they took a break. One of them went skiing in the French Alps for a while, and one of them lay in the grass and looked at the pale moon in the daytime sky, but most were fine with just being still. They just stopped doing what they were doing to rest, to let go, to listen, and to receive. That's how they came up with me…Lull.
The lack of directed thought that comes during a creative break creates a chance for ideas to connect on a subconscious level. Breaks result in "eureka" experiences of solutions, plans, or definitive directions. Profound discoveries make regular appearances during a pause. This is the mystery of inspiration, and one of the joys of being a creative mortal.
Q: You suggest that sometimes it's best to take a break, and refill the creative well. But for an expert procrastinator such as myself, this just gives me an excuse to slack off — and then I miss a deadline! It's easy to tell myself I'm just taking a break — but in reality, I'm just avoiding what I most need to do. I could see how mortals might get confused. What's the difference between taking a break and slacking off? How do you know when you've stopped being in a lull — and started being lazy?
A: I wish I could answer but I'm on break right now.
Okay, I'm back. It's not so complicated. If mortals get to know their patterns of creativity and are honest with themselves, they pretty much know when they are rationalizing their procrastination behavior versus when they've worked intensely hard, are up against a wall or showing signs of depletion and need to take a break to replenish. Sometimes, however, a needed break does masquerade as procrastination among those who are diligent about being engaged in the process. A true call from me usually does not happen with those who succumb frequently to a habit of avoidance. A creative lull is a part of the creative cycle and if the other parts aren't attended to, the lull won't feel right.
There's a chance, Molly, that you might THINK you are slacking off, when in fact, you are answering my call. In that case…be easier on yourself during lulls. When we honor a lull, it passes quicker and we feel refreshed and a new tide of inspiration slides into shore.
Rationalizations are known to come from the brain and are close cousins to fear, laziness, and addictions to distraction such TV and the Internet. The need for a break is born of the spirit. The feeling between these two origins is dramatically different. But because many mortals have unrealistic expectations of themselves, they may call a lull goofing off instead of the divine break it is.
Individuals in a creative job with deadlines that don't allow for long breaks may need to take short ones: walks, drives, hikes, complete release of a project for an hour or so; exposure to activities, visuals, music, even a breathing meditation that can quickly reboot their idea reserves. Flowing into a magical, energizing and light daydream can help as can a juicy nap.
Q: What are some of your favorite ways to replenish your creative well and make sure it's full of juicy ideas?
A: Some of my favorite ways include:
Q: For those who work on more than one type of project at a time, is it beneficial to follow the flow of inspiration and take a break from, say, painting, in order to focus on poetry? Or is it best to truly take a break from ALL creative activities at times and simply be? And how do you know when to do which?
A: This differs according to the individual. Because the creative process is fickle, one way can work one day, and another the next. Experimentation, intuition, and taking action in a light and curious way can help mortals decipher what works best for them. Not being attached to one way of doing things helps too.
Q: Can you talk about the role of gratitude in a creative life? In our planning for the future, we often take today for granted. What are some simple ways to cultivate gratitude in our daily lives?
A: If during the pauses mortals can fill with that abundance that is already present, their feeling of lack and neediness can disappear. The most profound part of the shift in their thinking is to fill with the wealth of their creativity and realize that being engaged with their creative passions can make them incredibly content. Material wealth will lose some of its driving allure. Then the irony is that both spiritual and material abundance will begin to appear more effortlessly.
Every night mortals can fill with abundance by writing down two reflections of the day: (1) What they're glad they did that day from the tiny details to great deeds, and (2) the things for which they feel gratitude. This simple exercise creates whatever energy there is out there waiting to be accessed. The energy brings more things to be thankful for, and abundance seems to gravitate toward mortals, enabling them to work more effectively toward their creative dreams.
Another powerful gratitude builder is to write an I-Want list and fill it with all the things you already have.
Q: There's so much emphasis on the end product — the painting, the finished manuscript, the perfect poem. Talk a little bit about slowing down to enjoy the ride, with regards to the creative process.
A: An alternative to taking a break is slowing down. Slowing down allows the senses to drink in the copious gifts of the moment. Multi-tasking might be fun and effective in certain realms, but it also robs us of the possibilities that reside in a moment given undivided attention.
We have gained time and lost out on the sensations, smells, tastes, and sounds that could coalesce for creative output. The sun sets in pinks and golds, tangerines and cadmium blues, and the harried still race by, gobble down their prepackaged processed cheese, and collapse oblivious.
One of the best things mortals can do is to observe all the enjoyment of the process, to season the process with an intention such as lightness, play or mischievousness, and to be totally present for the timeless flow of creativity.
Q: Can you quote a few mortals whom you inspired?
A: Samuel Butler said, "To do great work a man must be very idle as well as very industrious."
Arthur Rubinstein said, "I handle the notes no better than many others, but the pauses — ah! that is where the art resides."
Virginia Woolf said, "Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth comes to the top."
Gertrude Stein said, "It takes a lot of time to be a genius; you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing."
Be kind to yourselves, mortals. Take a break every now and then and fill it with enchantment.
By Jill Badonsky, MEd
So remember the article I wrote last month? Yeah. Me neither. I forgot to write one. I missed my deadline. A Muse held me hostage. Well then, you might think — "A Muse is a goddess of creative inspiration. If she held you hostage did she not deliver creative motivation? Shift you into gear? Activate the mysterious workings of the idea translation system? Shift subconscious wind drifts to concrete manifestations?" Not this Muse. Since I upgraded the nine Greek Muses (who were laid off due to outdated modalities that failed to meet modern day mortal creative needs), there have been some unexpected stirrings, or in this case, lack there of, in the Muse world. The Muse who held me hostage is called Lull, the Muse of Pause and Diversion.
"To do great work a man must be very idle as well as very industrious." — Samuel Butler
Creativity is a cycle. There is a part of that cycle that requires no activity and sometimes is not voluntary. It is that phase of the creative process that Rollo May terms "data collection." It appears that nothing is happening because nothing visible IS happening. But the subconscious is sweeping the floor, restocking the idea inventory, plugging in the connectors, associators, divergers and convergers. Electricity is getting recharged — creativity simply does not run nonstop without periods to refill. Or during certain times of our life, trauma, sadness, loss or stress can both put creativity on hold and be a conduit for expression.
As a creativity coach I frequently encounter people who need to let the process go in order for the process to come back. Some of them think they are stuck or procrastinating when in fact they simply need to take a break, divert their attention, fill with new sensations, experiment in a venue or read about a subject they are not saturated, hang in a hammock, stop beating themselves up! Sometimes the break calls for 15 minutes and sometimes the break wants three or more months. During the break however, we may find we are capable of a different style of creativity — one that feels less natural but still meets the moment's needs.
Luckily for me the lead Muse of Creativity Portal let my deadline error slide without public flogging. In fields where deadlines are not negotiable, unpredictable Lull-visits need contingent plans. Extra creative output can be prepared ahead of time during the flowing part of the cycle. This, of course, can be unrealistic to those of us who thrive on last minute energy — so another modern day Muse, Albert, inspires mortals to manipulate existing ideas with twists, perspectives, and associations that led to new ideas through creative modification when creativity isn't on the tip of your cortex. And sometimes, simply taking a walk, field trip or even a nap can revitalize creative zest. But what is certain is the creative process does benefit from breaks and rests. If it is over months, patient acceptance along with participation in refueling activities brings the process back faster than forcing and harsh self-criticism.
Take a moment and think or list what activities might be or have been refueling to you. Take a moment and consider that your procrastination may be incubation time in disguise and relax. Take one small moment and imagine letting go of the intensity of whatever project you are in. Take a walk.
After an intense month of travel, family drama, planning and executing a huge workshop, meeting all sorts of deadlines — my creative resources were depleted. It may have been Lull that convinced me that my deadline was three days later than it actually was so I could not in fact write an article. But conveniently, I also have a Muse named Spills — she is the Muse of mistakes and imperfection.
"It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing." — Gertrude Stein
By Jill Badonsky, MEd
"I handle the notes no better than many others, but the pauses — ah! that is where the art resides." —Arthur Rubenstein
Do you ever beat yourself up because you keep putting off your creative pursuit? In the cases I am talking about, at the last minute the course is made dependably clear, the motivation is full throttle and the task is completed with brilliance. For the most part, because I know creativity's nature, I no longer beat myself up and thus have even more energy and ingenuity for that last minute gusto. I urge you to stop the cruel and unusual self-flagellation too. This information may help.
The creative process has cycles. They are non-linear and fickle. The method that works to motivate and set us in motion one day is not available for comment the next. An idea that seems Da Vincian in one moment seems like the gum on the bottom of the chair in the next. And then there's the cycle where no idea seems to even come up for consideration and resistance has parked itself on your couch and is suggesting TV shows for your addicted pleasure.
Procrastination is indeed, a twenty-first century progress thwarter. I remember way back in the late twentieth century it was fairly popular too. Procrastination manifests from fears, perfectionism, overwhelm, self-sabotage and being held captive to a habit called "I love my comfortable rut more than I know." Yet, sometimes putting off action can be a result of the creative process moving into dormancy in order for the subconscious to collect data and make connections. It is the classic stage of creativity called incubation. Graham Wallace, one of the first psychologists to propose a model of the creative process, described incubation as "where the problem is internalized into the subconscious mind and nothing appears externally to be happening." It is not an excuse to put things off; it is information that can relieve a creative person of wondering why they are at the mercy of this confounding place where patience works better than force. Patience is hard for many of us but it works better than negative self-talk for creative excellence and for the vital confidence we need in order to creatively shine.
Incubation or the "pause" is personified as a Muse in my book The Nine Modern Day Muses and a Bodyguard.* Her name is Lull and she is the Muse of Pause, Diversion and Gratitude:
"Lull lets us know that at certain points in our creative process, we cannot make more progress unless we honor the part of the cycle where the unconscious processes of spirit and intellect have a chance to connect. This natural element of the creative cycle is often mistaken for a block when sometimes it is just an indicator that it is time to let go for awhile. Sometimes when we go blank it is simply Lull reaching to replenish the resources of our creative magic. She has removed the process to freshen and load it with abundant wonder and untold inspiration. Mandatory goofing off is in order here. At last, we have actual permission to skip out."
Here is where the creative process gets spiritual. We need the faith and trust that letting go is the best thing to do, to focus on what has already been done rather than focusing on what needs to be done, and to divert attention to another source of inspiration to help fill the reservoir of ideas. These are the things that bring the creative process back and also create ourselves as more stable and beautiful people. When one creativity goes off, another — the creation of better coping skills — is there for our choosing. The pause between the inhale and the exhale is the pause between the inspiration and its expression. It is a void of stillness and possibility. One is necessary for the other.
"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." —Albert Camus
©2001-2009 Jill Badonsky. All rights reserved.
Next Muse: Marge: The Just-Get-Started Muse
Jill Badonsky is a creativity coaching pioneer, inspirational humorist, artist, and founder of the Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching™ model. ...
This creativity inspiring series is based on Jill Badonsky's The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard).
Learn about the history of the Modern Day Muses in Another Fine Myth and each one individually through articles, interviews, and profiles: Aha-phrodite | Albert | Audacity | Bea Silly | Lull | Marge | Song | Shadow | Spills | Arnold (the Bodyguard) | Bonus Extras
Pause, diversion, & gratitude
MEANING OF NAME
A break, a pause, a space in between
Honoring the cycle of creativity where letting go works best, adding the power of gratitude
THE SELECTION of LULL
So the Muses were working incredibly hard to reinvent themselves into these Modern Day versions of the Greek inspiration brokers. They had successfully come up with five Muses when, zap! Muse-revamping came to an abrupt halt. They still had some slots left to fill, but they could not think of what would work next. They made all sorts of facial contortions, had a few brain strains, and Bea Silly's attention span was completely shot. They tried hard to control the process by auditioning various Muses, hiring a Muse from an escort service, and attempting to rehabilitate a Muse with a bad reputation. They were trying too hard — then it dawned on them, "Duh! We need a break!"
As often as it happened, they were still surprised when the juices dried up without warning. So they took a break. One of them went skiing in the French Alps for awhile, and one of them laid in the grass and looked at the pale moon in the daytime sky, but most were fine with just being still. They just stopped doing what they were doing to rest, to let-go, to listen and to receive. That's how they came up with the next new Muse, Lull.
Sometimes, in the creative process, the next right step is to let go, pause, and give time for our vast resources to connect and spring into new ideas. Surrender to the natural cycle of creativity. Fill with new sensations. Meditate. Turn your attention to mind stimulating activities. Let go of trying to control things. Trust in the process. Celebrate the creative rejuvenation of rest and pause. Say thanks.