This summer, I read a lot about the practice of mindfulness - being present, in the moment. I felt it was work I needed to do, something with which I struggled. My mind has a tendency to wander, to get lost in the forest of thought, and I was feeling some negative effects of that tendency, such as leaving my body when my husband was talking to me about something, or losing track of where I was going when I was driving, or eating an entire meal without really tasting it, or worrying so much about the next things I had to do that I failed to notice the beauty right in front of my face. You know - little stuff like that. So, I read up on being present. I read books by Thich Nhat Hanh, and books about Christian contemplative practices, and Barbara Brown Taylor's AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD. And I practiced being mindful and present as I walked, as I ate, as I moved through my day. I started honoring a digital Sabbath every Saturday so I would choose presence over technology. I mean, I worked on this stuff.
But just now I am reading a book called THE CREATIVE MIND, by Nancy C. Andreasen. It explores the nature of creativity, examines a wide range of studies on the subject and looks at the current neuroscience behind it. One section struck me today, a section delineating what appear to be common threads to the creative process. The first such thread, or stage, is a kind of trance, an entering into another world, "a state apart from reality." I recognize this stage. It's something of an out of body experience. I sometimes liken it to going down the rabbit hole. I have talked about this stage in the process with other writers, too. It is a necessary step in the evolution of a creative endeavor.
And yet, you cannot enter this "out-of-body", creatively fertile mental state if you are practicing being present, being in your body. There is a kind of tension between the creative process and the practice of being present or mindful.
I must admit, I felt a slight eureka sensation as I struggled to articulate this idea for myself. I felt I had glimpsed, however briefly, the reason that I am prone towards absent-mindedness and struggle with mindfulness.
To have the raw material that makes poetry and fiction sing, a writer ought to practice mindfulness. After all, how can you fully evoke the sensations of a given place or experience if you don't allow yourself to be present and experience sensations in your own life. On the other hand, the writer must cultivate the capacity for non-presence, for that out-of-body "state apart from reality" in order to enter fully into the creative realm.
Perhaps if you are prone to creative endeavors you are also likely to struggle with mindfulness in your day to day life. Perhaps the line between presence and wandering is blurred for the creative mind. Perhaps this is where practice comes in. If you regularly engage in the writing practice and in mindfulness, your skills at slipping into and out of the two states - presence and the creative zone - become stronger, and more within your own control. Or perhaps it is a fool's game to attempt to control such things.
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