The center that I cannot find
Is known to my unconscious mind
I was both interested and dismayed when chapter four brought up the possibility of spending a week reading absolutely nothing. Dismayed because, well obviously as a chronic reader I feel a lot of internal resistance at not reading anything for an entire week. Interested because it’s something I started thinking about weeks ago, before I began working through the Artist’s Way.
When I first arrived in Oregon I had been traveling for four months, living out of my truck and on the couches of friends. My four months of travel were preceded by a year and a half of leaving a dance company I loved being in, moving from California to Illinois, spending three months traveling with a band in Costa Rica, losing my closest animal companion, having my marriage nearly implode, moving deeper into Chicago, trying to find work and some semblance of community, then switching gears much sooner than expected and moving back to the other side of the country to a place I had never been. I am sure that someone out there is a pro at maintaining a routine and moving forward with their creative endeavors in that sort of constant upheaval, but I am not one of them. Never underestimate the power of stability.
I’ve heard it takes around three weeks to build a good habit, though no one really talks about how long it takes to destroy one. I can’t contribute much to such a study, if there is one, as my good habits quietly slipped away during the chaos of the last couple years, their absence unnoticed in the commotion. When the commotion finally quieted, I resolved to rebuild good habits from the beginning, habits that supported my creative goals and helped keep me in a positive emotional state (which in turn keeps me moving forward in my creative process which in turn keeps me in a positive emotional state…). Habits like my yoga and dance practice, writing every day, meditating, and keeping up with my OBOD and BOTA studies.
Which brings me back to the topic of reading deprivation.
Having tossed all my practices out the window for quite a long time I was in a good position to be aware of the process of building them back up, particularly after I started paying close attention to my creative recovery. Without a doubt, input from social media, news, and other people’s opinions form the biggest obstacle to my momentum, second only to my own inner critic, which not surprisingly gets louder the more energy I give to the other things.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron compares words to tiny tranquilizers for artists, clogging us up and numbing us out to our inner voice, our artist’s inspiration. Your inner voice doesn’t stand much of a chance if you are constantly immersed in the noise of internet memes and media hype, turning to another’s voice every time you might have an idea of your own, or “escaping” through novels and movies.
“It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the well. “
Not all reading and other forms of input has the effect of numbing us out to our inner voice. Much of it can be inspiring, educational, life-affirming. I think there’s an element of defensiveness, though, that comes up when faced with the idea that we may be sabotaging ourselves by keeping our minds constantly busy on relatively unimportant things, and in that defensiveness is potentially denial and an inability to be objective. We immediately justify our habit by labeling it educational, or important, when it might not actually be when considered alongside whatever it is we say we truly want to create in our lives.
And ultimately, it’s all a distraction. I think the key is in discrimination. Pulling the weeds.
I’ve pulled some weeds and made some changes, in regards to what input I allow in and how much.
I now limit myself to ten minutes a day total on social media sites and other time-waster sites, like you tube. If you think ten minutes a day is more than enough to check your Facebook, I challenge you to try it! You will be amazed how quickly that time disappears. I’m using an extension for chrome called Stay Focused which blocks the sites you specify after the time you set elapses. Very useful tool. That ten minutes is mainly spent answering messages, so I don’t get much static from the news feed anymore. And yes, it has made a difference.
I’ve also learned to set clear boundaries around the space I set aside for things like writing. For me, this is the first thing in the morning. I don’t even turn on the computer or make coffee until I’ve written three pages. Well…. sometimes I make coffee.
I haven’t gone a full week yet with absolutely no input. I am going to do it at some point in the remaining eight weeks of this Artist’s Way series. Is anyone up for doing it with me?