Silence and Creativity

This morning, I chose to do a guided meditation. Usually I just set a timer and sit for 15 minutes. But sometimes, I need a little extra guidance. This morning, I woke up excited about life again – a pleasant change after my grumpiness yesterday – and ready to take on the challenges at work. So I tuned in with a guided meditation that I enjoy.

I liked this meditation because the guide starts with a lot of direction to center you, then gradually backs off, until finally, he goes silent for several minutes, and then comes back to guide you back into the world. Today I really tuned in and let go during the silence instead of filling the void with mental chatter.

And then I suddenly felt a wave of panic that sounded like this: surely this silence has gone on too long – maybe something has happened to the app or my phone – what if he never comes back and I am stuck waiting like this?

Things like that do happen from time to time. When I was ferrying my 90-year old in-laws from the auto-train station outside DC to Pittsburgh – a route none of us had driven before – I had plugged my phone into the USB hub in my father-in-law’s car so that I could keep the GPS on. At one point, the little voice reassured me that I had another 5 miles to go before my exit, then retired, as it had throughout the trip to silence… a silence that, I realized too late, was due to the fact that my phone’s battery had died (my FIL had never used the USB, didn’t even know it existed, and it didn’t work). Now we were lost, traveling on a highway we were unfamiliar with, unsure where to exit…

Clearly I survived. But I recognized this sense of panic while I was meditating with a sense of humor. It felt so familiar. I had to ask myself, “Why are you panicking that the meditation guide might not come back? Here you are, sitting safely in your apartment. You have nothing pressing after this – no time commitments for almost three hours, and yet you worry that you won’t know when to stop meditating. You have the power to stop meditating any time.” And then I caught myself thinking, parked that thought for later, and went back to meditating just as the guide’s voice returned to bring me back from meditation.

It leaves me with a reflection on distraction.

When I was doing my job from my office – a space I love – if I had a space between meetings, I first felt relieved – now I could catch up on my ever-growing to-do list. And do you know what? As soon as I made myself sit down and work on the to-do list, it went quickly: check, check, check, done!

Okay, now what? I fidgeted around. And then I’d get up and walk around the space, grab a dry-erase marker or post-its and start thinking visually, using the white boards that lined my walls. Soon enough, new ideas started emerging. Or someone walking by would see me writing on the walls and pop in to chat, and we’d come up with a solution for some pressing problem.

Creativity happened.

Now I am pinned at my home office desk. If I have a few minutes between meetings, again, I work my way down my to-do list… and then what? I don’t have any white boards or room for white boards in my home. I don’t have the space in my office to walk around: it’s a tiny room, stuffed with old magazines, clothes to donate or ship to my niece, quarantined laundry, and unused bicycle equipment; and I barely have room to scoot my chair back when sitting down or standing up. Even if I removed those things, it’s still a tiny room, half the size of my office.

When I was working from home before, I sometimes got up and roamed around while my husband was at work. But now my husband is also working from home, using the living room as his office, with the TV on ALL DAY. So there’s no harbor in there.

I’ve tried to use the computer as my white-board but I have found it is to “J” – things feel too concrete when I enter them in the computer and creativity dies. Studies of people’s brains while they write stories on paper and then on a computer have shown that different areas of the brain light up. On the computer, the areas of “doing” light up; on paper, the areas of “creating” light up.

I haven’t found a solution yet.

So I fill my days with meeting after meeting after meeting, preventing the pause, the silence that causes me to panic. The way my husband fills the silence with Magnum PI reruns (original series).

And I plan to finish my jigsaw puzzle as quickly as possible so that the pandemic ends and I can go back to work at my office.

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