The other day I was at the gym, ready to fire up the podcasts I had lined up for an hour of listening when halfway through the first, I realized I just wasn’t paying attention to a single thing said on the podcast.
Now normally, I would have just pressed the “back 15 seconds” button until I’d found the point I had zoned out, but this time, I made a conscious decision to turn off my phone and run the next five miles in total silence.
Lately, I’ve felt rather crowded in my own head. I don’t necessarily mean my doubts or worries or anxieties (although yes, they’re there too), I mean just…things that are competing for my attention. Audiobooks. Podcasts. Music. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve realized that aside from sleep, there’s hardly a single point in the day when I am NOT engaged with some sort auditory media. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts at my day job, at the gym, during my commute, while I walk the dogs, when I was the dishes, do the laundry, clean the house, etc. The only time I am not listening to something is when I am writing, and even then, I usually have music.
I’d been feeling creatively stoppered and I couldn’t quite figure out why.
Once I’d turned off the podcast at the gym, I understood.
There is value in silence. In boredom. I’d forgotten that. As a child I had spent so much of the dead time between structured things simply imagining. Creating. Daydreaming. Back then, I didn’t have a phone with Twitter, my entire music library, games, etc. Back then, the only thing I had to amuse myself was myself. When I let my phone screen go dark and run in silence, I let my mind go blank. With all the other distractions tuned out, thoughts and ideas about my writing began to bubble up to the surface. I let them bubble and brew, not thinking, not working. When I got home and fired on my computer, I was rejuvenated and for the first time in a long time, the words began to flow.
I’d recently gotten back into my yoga practice, and we traditionally end each class in shavasana, or corpse pose. As my teacher says, it is the easiest pose to do physically, but the hardest pose to do mentally. Often during shavasana, we find ourselves actively thinking, about what errands we need to do next, how many words we’ve achieved, what needs to be done. Letting those active thoughts go, to exist in a state of passive meditation, to focus on the moment, the breath going in, the breath going out, that is much harder.
I find mindfulness on the mat, but had not found mindfulness in other areas of my life. My brain was “on” at all times that it didn’t have room to let my ideas and creativity develop.
The idea hovered and shimmered delicately, like a soap bubble, and [Lyra] dared not even look at it directly in case it burst. But she was familiar with the way of ideas, and she let it shimmer, looking away, thinking about something else.
-Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass
So now I don’t fear the silence. I let my commutes, my runs at the gym, my household chores be quiet. My mind is not so crowded, and my thoughts have room to breathe.
What about you? Have any of you discovered that “shutting off” helps your creativity? Are you afraid of boredom? Let us know in the comments!