"Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity." Robert Pirsig
It’s Okay To Let Your Mind Spin
I recently spoke with an expert on learning and creativity, Sally Campbell Galman, who is both a visual artist and Professor in the Children, Families, & Schools Program at the University of Massachusetts. She explained that one of the best ways to improve creativity is to allow yourself to get bored. That struck me as an interesting insight. People often ask me where I get my ideas, but the fact is that I don’t “get” them at all. They arrive, and I find a place for them in whatever thing I’m working on, and those ideas, in turn, influence the thing I’m working on and become part of it. (I wrote about that for The Daily Hampshire Gazette.) Basically, boredom is the precursor to allowing ideas to come and find you. Because they will. This is the way the mind works—the world spins on around us, and our brains continually observe and record, question and seek explanation.
No doubt we’ve all noticed this. Sometimes I think I should just bring my laptop into the shower with me because I get all of my best ideas there. Isn’t it strange how we tend to get good ideas just at the moment at which we allow our mind to wander? Like on a drive, or a walk, or floating in a lake.
Sometimes I think I should just bring my laptop into the shower with me because I get all of my best ideas there.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about meditation and the way it forces us to be in the present moment, observing our breath. Inevitably, thoughts come along in an attempt to interrupt our focus. This is called “monkey mind”. In mindfulness practice, the idea is that every time our monkey mind attempts to distract us, we should gently remind ourselves that this is just thinking and then return our attention to our breath.
Tracking the Wild Mind
Writing is the counterpoint to this. It is deep engagement with whatever wild idea wanders into our mind. It is exploration and investigation expressed on the page. And then, when that expression has been made, we can look back at the ideas and analyze, evaluate, or organize them. We can choose to let them go or to explore them further.
Both meditation and writing can be valuable tools for improving focus, reducing stress, and increasing self-awareness. When we meditate, we observe the mind and return to focus on the body. When we write, we experience the thoughts and attempt to capture them. These are two sides of the same coin that allow us to have our thoughts, understand them as being different from ourselves, and then move on.
Our minds wander. That’s because humans are innately curious, and our minds are always looking for thoughts to fasten on to. So this week, take a long walk. Stare out of a window. Take a long drive or maybe a bath or a shower. Just don’t bring your laptop into the stall with you. Not all ideas are good ideas.