Jump-Start Your Mindful Flow

As a way to jump-start my creativity each morning, especially during times the novel feels as stiff as a corpse, I’ve been experimenting with short exercises in mindful flow. There are a lot of scholars who talk about mindful or creative flow, and plenty of scientists who study it as well. In my former life as a Montessori middle school teacher, this concept was a guiding principle in the environment I created and the way I carried myself as a guide. (For persuasive research on creative flow, check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life).Lately, trying not to take on too much but also trying to balance my daily need for the sense of “anything’s possible” that mindful flow induces, I’ve made a short video clips to inspire the beginnings of flash fictions (free for the taking!), I’ve started making one sketch a day in my very informal notebook with my very unpracticed hand, and I’ve begun to collect quotes and clips that inspire me. Here’s a clip of Picasso at work. Talk about intuitive:


And here are two quotes I like to ponder:
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you.” (Chuck Close)
While I agree, I also think there’s something to be said for keeping ourselves available to inspiration, or even for “faking it” until we make it. When I’m working in my Sketch a Day journal that’s exactly what I’m doing–faking it–because after just a few minutes, my mind feels more open and ready to approach the novel tasks at hand. That’s not passive, but it’s not nose-to-the-grindstone “work,” either. I guess I’d call it consciously working with my own imagination; not unlike stretching before or after a long run.
“The creative process is a cocktail of instinct, skill, culture, and a highly creative feverishness. It is not like a drug; it is a particular state when everything happens very quickly, a mixture of consciosness and unconsciousness, of fear and pleasure; it’s a little like making love, the physical act of love.” (Francis Bacon)
The only thing that doesn’t fully resonate with me here is what Bacon describes as happening “very quickly.” I think that describing the creative process or art-making process as something fast can feed dangerously into the stereotype of the artist working in a flurry of insight (much like the lightning bolt Chuck Close cautions against). In fact, most creativity can’t be “seen” or “measured” in terms of time and accomplishment. It’s a slow unfolding; a time lapse of a flower opening. Why would someone want to measure that and risk taking the flow out of it? Just let the flower unfold. Better yet, be the flower.

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