‘A lot,” I responded with certainty. “I just don’t know what it is yet.”
Two weeks later I find myself unpacking the essence of this experience faster than the contents of my suitcase and it is profound.
My retreat co-facilitator, yoga instructor, Ashley Ludman, and I had talked about the Dreamweaver idea for a while. For several years, Ashley has been immersed in a writing project about her early experiences as an adopted child and her emerging path as a healer in several modalities. It made perfect sense that we would combine our disciplines of yoga and writing to offer this experience.
Ashley has a very story-based approach to all her bodywork. In yoga class, she asks us to consider the stories we’d like to explore within our own lives and bodies. She invites us to stretch and make space allowing new stories to emerge, stories that will allow us to become more full-hearted in everything we do. She asks us to consider what stories we are telling ourselves that might be causing imbalance or dis-ease with some aspect of our lives.
One story I’ve been telling myself for a very long time is that I am a constitutionally late-night person who can’t wake up early in the morning. I’ve stuck to this story for many years and have probably sabotaged a number of opportunities with this belief.
When Ashley scheduled our daily yoga sessions for seven o’clock each morning, I was concerned. My initial reaction was ‘I can’t do that.’ I even briefly considered requesting a time change then decided against it. And then my dancer’s discipline kicked in. ‘You will be up by 6am,’ I told myself, ‘and simply march yourself to class each morning.’
On the night before our first full retreat day, I began putting on the brakes at 9:30pm. This meant removing myself from various conversations happening in the outdoor area just outside of my bedroom. Making a little space in my thoughts, I said goodnight and headed to my room. No email, no Facebook. Shortly after 10 o’clock I was in bed. I had no problem waking to the 6 o’clock alarm the next morning.
Each morning for the entire week, I rolled out of bed at 6 am, had a cup of coffee or not, and was ready for yoga practice at 7 am. It helped that my motivation to show up was high. This wasn’t just about me; it was about the eleven retreat participants and one partner on this retreat. True, I was responsible for the writing activities so my presence at morning yoga wasn’t required but what kind of slacker message would I be sending if I skipped the very first activity of the day?
After the first few days, I noticed that I was enjoying this new routine. I liked the quality of my energy, which felt more relaxed, fewer energetic highs and lows throughout the day. I hadn’t given up my morning coffee – something I’d been thinking about on and off – but I wasn’t experiencing the adrenaline crash in the afternoon I’d previously felt.
One week after the retreat ended, I was still getting to bed earlier and setting my alarm for 6 am. The story I’d sworn by for decades, that I’m constitutionally a late night person who just doesn’t function well before 10am, had been replaced with a whole new routine.
Throughout the retreat, we talked about how to make space in our bodies to create health and ease; space in our lives to develop our creative lives.
Making space in our bodies means finding ways to increase the flexibility in the joints and muscle tissue, increase the blood and oxygen flow to relax the inflexible spaces of the body.
But what do we mean when we talk about making space for creativity in our lives?
Making space for creativity starts with carving out time in your busy day. You can’t sit around waiting for the Muse to call. Scheduling time for your creative projects signals the brain ‘this is important’ and this signal will help focus your intention. But scheduling alone will not fully open the creative space you need.
Energetically, creative work is very different from most of our other activities. Like yoga and meditation, it thrives on a deeper more expansive focus. The ideal state for any creative exploration is a keen yet relaxed focus.
Sure, you can get a lot done on adrenaline-charged energy but have you ever noticed that your thinking gets flat and uninspired from too much caffeine or worse, from the inevitable caffeine crash?
Here’s what I noticed. Running on the even-keel energy of my retreat week, my thoughts slowed down just a little bit and my movement became more conscious. In place of the nervous tick of caffeine-based energy, I felt sustained by a slower, more expansive wave of energy.
Here’s something I learned. Getting to bed an hour and a half earlier allows my night-time cortisol cycle to normalize. I’d read about this cycle but until I experienced the dramatic improvement of my energy (and appearance), I had no idea how important this cycle is.
I also learned how important breath is to the creative state of mind.
Engaging in creative work means stepping off the beaten path. There’s no template or checklist for you to follow. When you sit down (or move around if you’re a dancer) to write a story, paint a picture or compose a song, you’re trailblazing into the dense undergrowth of your thoughts and imagination. The trail you’re following (other writers, painters, dancers or musicians) may be faint or non-existent; your end goal unclear. The potential for frustration is enormous.
How often have you sat down for a precious hour of creative time only to find your thoughts won’t focus, that they ricochet around like some super-charged Hydrogen particle?
Here’s the most important discovery I brought back from the Dreamweaver experience.
Just as the attentive breath makes space in your body, you need that attentive breath to make space in your thoughts. Using an attentive breath during creative exploration will give you the flexibility to move around the obstacles that inevitably present.
How to Focus Your Mind and Activate Your Creativity:
Pick any idea you would like to explore. Focus your mind on a person, place or event connected to this idea.
Where does this idea go as you breathe in?
Where does this idea go as you breathe out?
Can you track the path of your idea?
In the short space of your in-breath and out-breath, that one single idea has, most likely, traveled around the globe several times.
Is this idea going somewhere you’d like to explore or is it taking you off course?
Try this same exercise when you are feeling creatively blocked, unable to focus.
What is this frustration telling you as you breathe in?
What would move you around this point of frustration as you breathe out?
Dara Lurie is an author, workshop facilitator and book-coach who works with ambitious dreamers who are telling their stories for business and personal enrichment.