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Mindful : June 2017
his novels buck naked. None of these ploys worked for me, however. Years later, when my career as a writer was floundering, I turned to meditation. My teacher at the time told me that creativity was about being fully in the present. She said that she used to spend weeks writing and rewriting her talks trying to make them perfect until she realized that all she had to do was trust the moment and let the words flow effortlessly. That insight inspired me to break through some of my more persistent blocks, but part of me still longed to tap into the wild, free-wheeling creativity I sensed was buried inside me. The creativity I knew when I was a child. That was the world that Barbara (and her colleag ue Claudia Erzinger) played in. “ You don’t have to be in a special state in order to create,” she said. “The creativity will meet you where you are.” It’s all about “deep listening,” she added, and going far beyond “I like/I don’t like” and “I want/I don’t want.” “ It’s pushing yourself to your edges and coming face to face with the ideas and attitudes that are limiting you. When that hap- pens, it can be completely transformational.” Spirit Rock is a peaceful sanctuary in the golden hills surrounding the San Geronimo Valley, about 25 miles north of San Francisco. As I drove onto the grounds past a large herd of cows and the road sign that read “Yield to the Present,” I noticed a small raft of wild turkeys making their way slowly down the road toward the pasture. The retreat was being held in a large meditation hall overlooking a hill where a red- tailed hawk circled quietly, searching for prey. The metaphor that Anna Douglas, one of the founding teachers at Spirit Rock, used to describe the retreat was “frozen ice cubes melting.” “Melting is good,” she said. “Melting the frozen judgments, plans, ideas that keep you from being in the moment. And mindfulness is a tool for dealing with the hard things that come up during melting.” Listening to her, I finally understood what my college mentor, poet Edwin Honig, was talking about when he told me that the secret of creativity was “gliding on your own melting.” The 50 or so participants were divided roughly into equal groups of writers and paint- ers, and the idea was that we would spend a good part of the time practicing our craft when we weren’t meditating or listening to talks. The writing teacher was author Albert Flynn DeSil- ver, who described his approach as “embodied creativity.” It combined meditation and quick, spontaneous writing exercises that, he said, were designed to “awaken unconscious ideas and emotions that are hidden in our bones.” That sounded interesting, but, given my profes- sion, I worried that it might also rouse my inner critic, so I opted to go with the painters. To my delight, the retreat also included daily yoga practice. “ We’re inviting your whole being to be here,” said Anna. “The point-and- click world we live in often leaves out the body. But this week is about letting go of your mind and dropping down into your body.” Yoga and creativity, added teacher Anne Cushman, both deepen our intimacy with experience. With yoga, she explained, “ you discover that whatever part of your experience you pay attention to blossoms under the warmth of your attention. And the same can be said about creativity.” When Anne, an accomplished novelist and journalist, started writing fiction, she said “the editor part of her mind often shut down the cre- ative part before it even had a chance to open its mouth.” One effective way to break through that block, she learned, was through intense meditation. “There’s a way of meditating where you drop deeper beneath the surface of the ocean. All the big waves of thought are moving on the surface, and you don’t necessarily have to quiet them, but you can learn to scuba dive down and contact this other layer that isn’t so churned up.” Another powerful strateg y was practicing yoga in a way that focused on follow- ing “the thread of aliveness” in her body rather than trying to strike picture-perfect poses. “Doing yoga that way,” she added, “ taught me how to tap into something that was moving through me when I was writing and let it guide the flow of the story.” The science bears this out. Being open to experience is the single most consistent per- sonality trait that predicts creative achieve- ment, according to Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychology professor at the University of Penn- sylvania and one of the nation’s leading author- ities on creativity. But that means being open not only to your observations of the external world, but also your intuition, imagination, and intellect ual curiosity. The other relevant traits exist on a spectrum: extrovert–introvert, agreeable–disagreeable, conscientious–disorganized and narcissistic– When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college— that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, 'You mean they forgot?' " HOWARD IKEMOTO Art is the means we have of undo- ing the damage of haste. It's what everything else isn't." THEODORE ROETHKE When you make music or write or create, it's really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you're writing about at the time." LADY GAGA 58 mindful June 2017 creativity