Flow — the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a task — is a strong contributor to creativity. When in flow, the creator and the universe become one, outside distractions recede from consciousness and one’s mind is fully open and attuned to the act of creating. — Scott Barry Kaufman, Huffington Post
I love it when I get into flow. I mentioned once that I have this inner clock that never seems to stop ticking. It can be a royal pain at times.
However the clock stands still when I enter that mental state called “flow”.
I’ve been doing some digging, hoping to understand what it takes to achieve that sense of timelessness. I’ve discovered its like trying to fall asleep by trying to fall asleep. Doesn’t work so well.
There’s good news, however. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has studied this phenomenon extensively, this state of mind happens when we challenge ourselves by doing things that require some skill and commitment on our part.
Its about being awake to our life and paying attention, not just living on auto-pilot. (He has also written quite a few books about this subject which you can find here.)
He calls Flow the “joy of complete engagement.” Sure sounds like something I’d like more of in my creative life.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. — Steve Jobs
I used to read that quote and only see the part about time and not wasting it. I have an inner clock that just keeps on ticking, reminding me that time is a-wastin’.
It was only recently I really took note of that last sentence in the quote. The one about trusting my heart and intuition.
When I make art from my head it’s almost always about technique and marketability. When I trust my heart, the art speaks. Maybe not to everyone but the ones who do hear it? They’re my peeps.
While I want a break every now and then (who doesn’t?) once I disrupt the momentum of my routine it feels hard to shift back into gear.
Too much to do and not enough time
Since our return from 3 weeks of visiting family and friends, I have struggled to find time to paint. Everything else seemed more important. While studio time felt like a priority, somehow I never got to it.
Over the weekend I read this quote:
What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do.
That got me to thinking. There are some powerful questions inherent in it.
What is this ‘want’ telling me?
If I mean what I say, what am I MEANT to do?
And what am I prepared to do about it?
I already knew the answers
Today, studio time easily became the first order of my day. I had a fun, productive morning and the result are to the left.
I haven’t done much in acrylics in the past few years so I’m surprisingly pleased with this.
Here’s what I think happened:
Wanting to do something makes it feel optional, something for when the ‘real’ work is complete. Perhaps that reflects a childhood lesson. “Don’t be selfish. You don’t always get what you want. “
Seeing my desire to be creative as something I am meant to do, the inner dialog changed to “I have a responsibility to do this.” Not in a heavy way, though but more like “Wow! This is my life’s purpose. What’s more important than that?”
What does your ‘want’ tell you?
Have you chosen it as a priority? What helped you do that? And if not a priority yet, what would help?
The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more. — Twyla Tharp
Are you thinking about New Year’s Resolutions today? I usually avoid them but this year there is one that makes sense to me.
After reading Twyla Tharp’s words in The Creative Habit, I committed to regular creative dates with my Muse in 2018. I encourage you to consider it for yourself if you’re serious about living a more creative life.
Creative routine is powerful
Showing up on a regular basis in my studio sends a signal to my subconscious which is where my Muse hangs out. That message reads “This is IMPORTANT.”
I am the first to admit not everything that comes out of my studio is gold or even fit for anyone to see but me. However, a creative routine that evolves into habit means inspiration always knows where to find me.
Make this the year you stop waiting to “feel” inspired. Don’t leave something this important to the whims of a sugar high or a restless night.
Every time you express a complaint about how difficult and tiresome it is to be creative, inspiration takes another step away from you, offended. Elizabeth Gilbert
In her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert takes a practical common sense attitude towards living a joy-filled, creative life I can appreciate. It’s a breath of fresh air that makes creativity feel accessible to anyone and dispels the myth of the suffering artist.
The risk we take
Actually, when we focus more on the negatives in any area of our lives, we risk becoming boring and a repelling force. Chasing people away with our attitude runs counter to success in any endeavour, creative or otherwise.
That’s why I’m heeding Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice to focus on the joy of my creative practice. That doesn’t mean the work isn’t difficult times and I don’t get tired. Hardly.
What is joy?
I’m not blind to the hard work (and yes, sometimes sacrifice) it takes to create from the heart. And I’m no Pollyanna. I grew up in a dysfunctional home with a mentally ill mother, so I get it. Life can be tough and painful and even frightening at times but I don’t need to drag that along behind me.
Yes, we experience joy in the bright moments but it’s also there in the shadows. A friend of mine put her busy life on hold to care for her mother in the final stages of a terminal illness. After her mother was gone, she shared with me that their time together had joy laced liberally into the sadness.
Joy isn’t about being giddy but rather feeling deeply fulfilled by an experience.
Find your own joy
We’ve been well-taught to look for the negative. The marketing messages you’ve heard most of your life start with the idea you’re not good enough and need to be fixed. (We can help! Buy our product!) So shifting your perspective may take some re-training of your inner chatter.
Here are some tips that can help.
First, pay attention
That inner chatter is powerful. Train yourself to be aware of the negative words you repeat to yourself, especially about your art. Write them down, if you need to. Whenever you hear one pop up, challenge it by responding “Says who?”
Change the conversation.
Second, stop comparing yourself
The habit of comparison always gets in the way of our satisfaction and joy. If we look at the public works of a successful artist and think “I could never do that”, we overlook the ‘learning curve’ pieces, hidden away in closets or thrown in the trash.
Third, actively look for what works
Back when I facilitated creative writing workshops, I followed the AWA method. My training in the methodology emphasized providing feedback only on the strong writing.
“What works? What moves me? What emotions do I experience?”
I witnessed the magic of that again and again. The weak writing fell away simply because we humans crave the positive feedback. “You liked that? I’ll do more of it!”
Each week the writing improved. Many of my students went on to be published, so we were definitely doing something right. I only ever had one participant who constantly complained that unless I told her what was wrong, she couldn’t fix it.
Missing the point, she also missed the joy her art could have brought to herself and others.