“Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence.” — Alan Watts
In a world measured by “productivity,” we often feel like eight billion, busy human factories, hustling as hard and fast as we can. But in the process of being “productive,” we tend to discount our creativity, overworked into believing “it doesn’t matter” and we’re “not that creative anyway.” Somehow it seems easier to just keep grinding at the grindstone than doing the one thing we were all born to do. But for any human to say they’re “not that creative” is like an eagle—soaring through the air—saying they’re “not that great at flying.”
Despite what we’ve been conditioned to believe, the truth is that we are all wildly, gloriously, astoundingly creative, every single one of us. We were born to create, to invent and to tell stories. But here’s the trick: creation takes time. And the things that take time require a willingness to make time.
In the same way that nature needs the time and space to sprout a seed and grow a tree, we need the time and space to look within and nourish what’s in there. Like deep-rooted seeds and underground streams, we are all filled to overflowing with stories, thoughts and ideas, what Elizabeth Gilbert calls our “big magic.” But we don’t know what’s in there—we can’t know what magic we contain—until we make time for it.
It is a strange irony, that a creative activity like writing requires the very thing we’ve been conditioned to fear and distrust most: slowing down and making time. If it helps to give yourself permission, you can think about writing as a form of meditation, because it is. Like meditation, all creative, intuitive writing requires a shift from doing to being…and breathing. Everything begins with being and breathing.
Before we can write a word, we have to pause and breathe. We have to take a moment to turn away from the constant buzz of external demands and plug into that quiet place inside ourselves. What do we need to express? What needs to be explored? What story needs to be told? We never know until we start to write. The answers always come from inside us, moment to moment, in the words we weren’t expecting, the words that stumble and tumble onto the page.
The very word inspire, comes from the latin, inspirare, which is about “breathing in”—being receptive to—the vitality around us. We can’t force creativity but we don’t have to. For human beings, creative expression is as natural as breathing. What is hard is making space for it, applying the tools of self-discipline and scheduling to weed-wack through the relentless demands of school, work and life. We have to make time to write or the time will be lost to us.
Just like the underground streams that crisscross the earth, our creative nature is forever bubbling with new insights and ideas. But we don’t know what’s in there—and can’t begin to access it—until we stop and breathe.
As you can tell by my frequent use of the metaphor, I am fascinated by underground streams. It’s probably because there are several near my house which I pass on a daily basis, most notably: Pleasant Valley Creek, Bushy Dell Creek, Wildwood Creek, and Indian Gulch/Trestle Glen Creek. I know this because the city planners were kind enough to carve their names into the concrete that covers them. Every time I walk across these words—carved in bronze like memorials—I feel a twinge of hope...followed by a wave of frustration.
It bothers me to know of these magical creeks but not have access to them, all because we chose to cover them up. I’m sure it interfered with the “productive” flow of city traffic. But I feel like we do this sort of thing all the time, that our modern, productive lives are the concrete that hides our creative spirit. Fortunately, we don’t have to let other people’s choices affect our own. If we want to access our magic and wisdom through writing, we can choose to do so. We can choose to make time for the rivers of exceptional stories that are always pooling inside us, waiting for us to set them free.
If we want to discover who we are, what is possible, and what to do next, we need to give ourselves the space and time to write, to let the stream flow up and out and onto the page. Then and only then can we discover our underground magic—which, funnily enough, may be the most productive thing we ever do!