“An important part of any practice involves learning when to just stop practicing altogether. Stopping gives you more space, which allows you to accept the ups and downs, the possible turbulence of the experience that may be generated by your practice.”
– Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
My friend Christin Chong recently wrote about creativity depletion and disseminated this wisdom: “Being grumpy about not having creative energy after using it all up, is counter-productive.” She’d exhausted her creative steam after pumping out a wonderful e-book in only a month. It was time to refuel.
I can relate. I’m tired. Physically, mentally, and creatively.
It’s been a productive week. I finally published Summoning the Muse after a month of concerted effort. Plus, I spit out a combination of essays containing around 10,000 words!
I also kicked off a couple of long-ish term journeys. First, I’m finally making my passion for Qi Gong official and am on my way to formal teacher certification. Bringing vibrant energy to the world. Yay!
I’m also starting a whole new thing that feels way out of my wheelhouse: I’m learning to write niguns (worldless melodies) and create nigun communities. What better way to stir up some joy than to “make a joyful noise” together?
Last week was exhilarating and celebratory. Now, I’m spent.
Generally, I prefer a steady-as-she-goes lifestyle. But surges like this can be fun and meaningful once in a while.
I’m reminded of my days as a software engineer in silicon valley, toiling away at a young and quickly expanding upstart – Adobe Systems. When a release was imminent, it was all hands on deck 24/7. After the release, the office would turn into a ghost town for a week or two, while everyone collapsed and reconstituted. During the time I spent at that grind, the pace of these turnarounds rapidly escalated. It became all-consuming. I was either working round-the-clock or collapsed and immovable. Not a recommended lifestyle!
Creativity isn’t just required for writing or other artistic endeavors. Creativity is defined as the ability to generate original and useful ideas. As such, it’s obviously critical in everyday life. In fact, it’s one of the most sought-after skills in the workplace. Helping businesses cultivate creativity is my most frequent gig. The pace of life (and work) keeps increasing. If the well is dry when a problem comes up, there’s no juice to generate potential solutions.
We also need creativity to manage our moods, enhance our well-being, and cope in meaningful ways with change.
One of the key steps in creativity is to stop thinking. Seriously. It’s a step in many an empirically-tested model of creativity development.
One thing that’s crystal clear from neuroscience research is that sleep – a deep and extended form of rest – is critical for creative thinking. That’s when reorganization of existing knowledge happens. One theory suggests that REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, one of the phases of the sleep cycle, promotes new associations between and among existing bits of information in the brain. Non-REM sleep, at least in theory, solves problems and creates mental rules to call upon in similar future situations. We create new and robust networks during sleep that enhance our decision-making capabilities.
That said, sleep is just one of seven types of rest and all are required to feel like your Resilience Bucket is full up. They address seven key areas of your life.
- Physical rest
There are two modes of physical rest. Passive rest includes sleeping and napping. Active rest refers to activities like restorative yoga, stretching, massage, and Qi Gong, that improve circulation and flexibility. Most of us are familiar with this form of rest. It’s the committing to it and following through that can sometimes be a challenge.
- Mental rest
You’ll know that mental rest is what’s needed if you’re using stimulants (yep, that’s coffee, my friends) to prop you up, have difficulty concentrating, or are too agitated to sleep at night. Our brains can be abuzz with activity and that interferes with the quality of sleep, even if you technically get enough quantity.
Use your reminder app to schedule short breaks every two hours. Just take a few deep, slow breaths, focusing your attention on the physical sensation of those breaths. Follow the ebb and flow of your belly, your chest, or your torso. Or pay attention to the cool and warm sensations at your nostrils.
I also recommend keeping a pad and pen (not a device!) by your bedside to offload ideas and concerns that would otherwise keep spinning in your noggin’. This data dump allows your mind to rest, knowing the info’s been captured. Do the same when you’re meditating when you find your monkey mind is stealing the show.
- Sensory rest
My friend, Eli, still does not have a cell phone. Well, yes, he does. We gave him one. He just refuses to use it. He has no devices and doesn’t watch TV. He drives me absolutely ape-shit. But…
Eli doesn’t have to worry about sensory rest as much as the rest of us do. Damn those infernal (and adored) screens! But, being a city dweller, he still has to deal with background noise – something that can be oh, so grating. My condo’s fan runs 24/7. When I first moved in, I thought there were ghosts in my ceiling. Nope. It’s just the mechanicals. This drives me as bonkers as Eli does.
You can run off to a sensory deprivation tank for self-restoration, but there are also quick, easy interventions for your home or office. Close your eyes for a minute a few times each day to reset your visual sense. Noise-blocking earbuds and headsets can do a world of good for our auditory inputs. And, of course, unplugging from all devices at the end of every day is a big win.
- Creative rest
This is where my awe practice comes in handy. When you need to get your creative juices flowing again, get yourself into nature if you possibly can. If that’s not accessible, photos of nature abound (I particularly favor Instagram for this) and YouTube’s replete with waves crashing and forest walks. Just get yourself an infusion of beauty, one way or another.
I’d also have another look at your surroundings. Are your walls blank or are they stocked with luscious works of art? Is your space a chaotic mess or is it organized, clean, and clear? This matters, people.
- Emotional rest
Are you a giver, a do-er, a can-do-gal? Does that ever leave you feeling like everything and everyone rests on you? If so, you may be in need of emotional rest, simply defined as taking space and time to roll back your people-pleasing impulse. And when I say “simply,” I get that this isn’t actually simple or easy at all, if this is your general mode of operation.
What emotional rest really provides is a dive into deeper authenticity. It means learning to say “no” – even if it’s only once in a while at first, and even if it’s about something inconsequential. You’ve got to start somewhere, so start with something easy-ish and score a predictable win.
- Social rest
It may be time for an inventory of your relationships. Assess which relationships feel expansive and restorative. When you’re with such a person, you feel more yourself than you did before. You feel cared for and supported and the desire to reciprocate is natural and heartfelt. On the flip side, some people may feel draining.
I’m not suggesting you ditch anyone (though you might consider it). But when you’re in need of social rest, make sure you’re filling your time with positive, supportive people. And don’t forget the wonders of Zoom. For me, the silver lining of the pandemic has been my wildly active Zoom social life. I can, and do, see all the people I feel closest to around the world any time I need to top off the tank. I highly recommend this.
- Spiritual rest
This is a bit metaphysical, folks, and might not appeal to everyone. That’s ok. But if the idea of connecting with something greater than yourself speaks to you – or if you want to experiment with such a connection – give this an ABA test. How do you feel before and after a meditation sit, a mindfulness moment, a prayer, or a service at a house of worship? You can also try reading a book that immerses you in a context of love, acceptance, and belonging. And anything that engages you with community can also supply spiritual restoration.
Rest and rejuvenation…filling your Resilience Bucket…allowing your fields to lie fallow for a bit…all of this is in the service of awakening delight. We tend to the needs of our body, mind, and spirit so that we can look upon the paths we daily tread as if they were new (and hallowed) ground. That’s how the creative spark revives.
The rewards of such self-care are plentiful and they expand far beyond our physical boundaries. Others can practically taste the energy we bring.