An emblem of our times is the solitary figure, their head bowed over a tiny screen of an electronic device.
They might be young or old, male or female, in a crowded public space or surrounded by the majesty of nature. We can observe a symphony of emotion flash across their hunkered face as they finger the tiny tablet held in their hand—submerged in a virtual world of online friends and family, the ebb and flow of the world swirls around them, unnoticed.
This might be you. I admit that it is sometimes me.
Today’s phones, tablets and readers are wondrous things. Sci-Fi come to life. Access to the knowledgebase of our civilization is at our fingertips—our instant communication transcends languages and continents.
I personally applaud and rely upon this technology but have flirted with an addiction to it, too. I am haunted by a sense of loss as I witness the disconnectedness of that solitary figure alone in a crowd—the widows and widowers of technology.
The paradox is that the worldwide web of inspiration, if overused, can create a wasteland of the imagination.
When faced with boredom or an unfamiliar situation, I suggest that we try an alternative to running for the shelter of our pocket devices or even an old fashioned paperback novel. So much is to be gained from opening to our surroundings. Here’s how.
Our heads are filled to the brim with intricate chains of thought. Some are beautiful, some are sexy, some are mundane, some are ridiculous and some are creative epiphanies waiting to happen.
The ability to manipulate and communicate ideas is the source of art. Control of the mind is our creative toolbox.
Play with making thoughts stop for a moment. We might be surprised at how reluctant our mind is to empty. We must try again. Try breaking our stream of consciousness. Separate one distinct idea from the ones that are about to follow it.
Here is an example of a string of connected thoughts as opposed to one distinct (and true) one.
A magazine bought my article>my writing must be good>I could write ten article a month>I can earn a living as a writer>my blog readership will go through the roof>I will be famous>let me check my email to see if more articles have been accepted—and so on.
Simply, we can stop after the first thought; A magazine bought my article.
When we do this, there is a substantial difference.
We must pay close attention to our thoughts. The act of observation changes the thinking experience and the specific thoughts themselves. Thoughts are shy—when unobserved, they run amok through ambitious plans and grand fantasies. When we turn our eye to them, they straighten up like proper guests at a Victorian tea party.
Daydream mindfully. We can follow our thoughts in any direction. Try to find their source or follow them to their conclusion, then watch as we jump the tracks and follow a new train.
We can decipher if we value or favor one type of thinking over another. And then question why.
Try self critical thought. Try self affirming thought. Try a fantasy. Try to create one perfect, real and present thought. We should not assign a negative or positive value to one kind of thinking or another, just passively observe the process.
At first these exercises might not be enjoyable. Honestly, it is not easy to be self aware. (I lied when I said it was easy in the title of this article) The more we practice, the more fun it becomes. If we keep at it, we will be rewarded with mastery over our minds and unbridled creativity.
Talking to Strangers
We tend to talk to people who are similar to ourselves—within our comfort zone. It is important to cultivate these familiar and nurturing relationships as they are affirming and allow us to communicate in the shorthand of our shared experience. This is our audience.
However, limiting our interaction to people solely in our demographic is toxin to innovation. This shorthand is exactly what makes these relationships useless when it comes to developing revolutionary ideas. For creativity, we need to expand our circle.
We should make it a point to speak to people whose experience seems different that ours. Talking to four or more people to whom we would not normally engage in conversation while we are out in public—ask questions and isten closely.
How different can these experiences be? Immensely.
For example, the other day I set out to talk to strangers in order to get some new ideas for a novel. I met:
Seven young Haitian refugees who had been dumped by human traffickers on the desolate East Shore of the island of St. John on a moonless night.
A lost soul who had mixed the ashes of her dead father with ink to tattoo herself with him.
A 90 year old matriarch who had spent her life savings to treat her family of 10 to an extravagant holiday on St. John. She was pleasantly senile, wore an enormous sun hat, had been a USO girl in her early 20’s, and was surrounded by a gaggle of her children, in-laws, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Quite different from me.
Keep a Notebook
Now that we’ve gathered new ideas, we need to get them down on paper. Write longhand or make sketches in a notebook that we always keep with us. Record daydreams, snippets of conversation and ideas.
Try describing something that we normally take for granted in words and pictures: the smell of a perfume, the view of a hillside, the person sitting at the bus stop next to us—things that seem mundane but are not on closer inspection.
If we are careful, we can put our thoughts, observations, and even photographs into an iPad but don’t dare touch that Facebook or wiki button! Save the online research and socializing for a time that is specifically set aside for it. What we are aiming for is freeform creative mind play.
Observe and record the perception of our internal and external world. I promise, perception will change, constantly. This is the fertile ground of new ideas that we are tilling. This is the ground of our experience and we have a responsibility to share it.
These practices are both easy and hard. All we need is our brain, our body, and a sheet of paper and a pen. However, paying attention and recording our observations requires constant diligence. Mastering mindfulness takes effort. It may not always be pleasant but it is always productive.
Love your brain and it will reward you with creative fulfillment.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Melissa Horton/ Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo Credit: Karen, Flickr Creative Commons