How to Commute Inward
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In her beautiful book Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro writes, “The deeper I immerse myself in the details—and they are mostly pleasurable—of my domestic life, the greater the distance I must travel to get back to the place from which I work.”
While I truly believe that life is creativity, I think it’s safe to say that sometimes it’s hard to access the place from which we create during our day-to-day.
It’s hard to go from paying the bills—especially if it’s the minimum payment of a hefty credit card balance—to playing inside your imagination. It’s hard to go from calling the insurance company (going on 10 times this week) to creating your next fictional character. It’s hard to go from spit-up and dirty diapers and a house in desperate need of cleaning to working on your mystery novel (unless, of course, your mystery has to do with a messy house, a shirt covered in peas and a bag of smelly diapers).
Sadly, we don’t just put on our creativity cap, and magically turn on like a lightbulb.
In the same passage in Still Writing, Shapiro talks about writers “commuting inward.” I love this phrase. I love the idea of going to a special place where creation sprouts and blooms.
Shapiro further writes, “We are traveling to that place inside ourselves—so small as to be invisible—where we are free to roam and play…We know that once we enter the place from which we write, it will expand to make room for us. It will be wider than the world.”
But how do we access this place? How do we access this fruitful, fertile place within ourselves? How do we transition from the details of our domestic life, which sometimes dampen creativity, to this artistic place?
- Find a few guided meditations that resonate with you. Practice one of these meditations before you start creating. You’ll many options to choose from at meditation teacher Tara Brach’s website and at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.
- Have a small ritual. This is a ritual that signals it’s time to do your creative work. A specific cup of tea. Five minutes journaling about why you love to write, about why you’re grateful to have the opportunity to express yourself. Five minutes reading from your favorite book. In a recent podcast interview, Shapiro talked about turning to Virginia Woolf’s diary for guidance. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter what Shapiro is struggling with, she said. Woolf’s words always provide the wisdom she needs. (Shapiro includes these words from Woolf on her blog: “Every day includes much more non-being than being. This is always so. One walks, eats, sees things, deals with what has to be done; the broken vacuum cleaner; ordering dinner; washing; cooking dinner. When it is a bad day the proportion of non-being is much larger.”)
- Spend 10 minutes moving your body. Close your eyes, and focus solely on stretching your limbs. On shifting your weight. On swaying. On rolling your shoulders. Front and back. On rolling your neck. Front and back. Try to shake out the previous thoughts, sensations and stresses that are associated with the day.
- Imagine what this place of creation looks like. Write about it. Draw it. Create a collage. Then before you begin working, reread what you wrote. Look at your drawing or collage. Visualize this vibrant inner place. Remind yourself that thinking about it is the first step to getting there.
Of course, our everyday lives inform our creative work. But in order to get it down, in order to write, in order to make our words tangible, we must commute inward, to our own special space. Which can be hard when we’re in the thick of the mundane. In the thick of paying our bills (possibly late, possibly again). In the thick of a stressful situation at work or at home. In the thick of chore after chore, task after task.
We aren’t robots who can shut down, reboot and create at will. Which is why it’s important to have a way, maybe a few ways, to commute inward.
How do you access that rich, vast, imaginative place within you? How do you commute inward?
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