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QUINTESSENCE

Habits of Creative Practice 2

Runner in the clouds tackling a rocky slope up The Jungfrau, The Bernese Alps, Switzerland
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. I have learned a deep a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: 'Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin now."
- W. H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

This essay by the Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray expressing his experience of the well-known adage by Goethe (and collected by Steven Pressfield in a little gem of a creative kick-starter, "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles") explores the intertwined power and mystery linked to commitment. When we choose, we accomplish. When we commit, we begin. We commence the steps necessary that take us from intention to deed.

On a walk this morning through lacy delicate white grasses beneath an oyster-colored sky of low cloud, I caught myself in mid-stride solving a particularly tenacious creative dilemma - completely unaware my mind had been on autopilot, tasking through its lists of "what ifs" and "now thens." The thought on the heels of this awareness had to do with appreciating the difference between running and walking for me as forms of mental flex. In short, movement is the physical preamble of deep thinking: a commitment to engage.

In my running, calm inner balance comes from the primary focus on breathing and stride. When that concentration relaxes and falls into a rhythmic groove, my forebrain nonetheless remains actively piloting the run. Like meditation, this single simple focus restructures the overburdened, fragmented mind. Stuff falls to the wayside, big ideas step forward, stress seeps away. On a vigorous extended walk on the other hand, the rhythmic physical groove finds me sooner, and with less effort. My mind leans back, trusting in the faith it has in my body's basic balance (to not trip or choke on a bug), and begins to surf the mental intranet: to observe, page through phrases and ideas, connect the random and mysterious.

The work solution rose far down the trail with a simultaneous awareness of a nearby crow, mixed with new knowledge that hawks actively hunt crows, alongside a mental appreciation for a pine frosted in white, needles encased in gloves of white tulle. A floating transparency linked my body and winter and my movement through space. A seamless knitting together of physical boundaries, a blending; and a gold nugget amongst the gravel shaken loose in the brain pan. I had my writing answer. I headed home. In addition to the much appreciated book solve, I possessed a clear awareness of something new: I run to disengage and refresh, and walk to re-engage and newly associate. For me, running is mental strength training while walking is a free-climb.

How does this unexpected insight impact productivity habits? It says that for me, beginning to engage with work (or life in fact) has multiple entry points with differing yields. Am I facing distraction? Do I need to open my thinking to help myself through a creative block or pace my attention through a long haul work effort? Committing to a run versus a long walk addresses a different need, and the question to ask myself is straightforward: Do I need a break or a reboot, or inspiration and new thinking?

I believe there are similar patterns within all of us linking thought and breath, movement and idea. What works for you?
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