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Stillness and Creativity

I realized that I had a to-do list of a few pages long that I just kept checking off. I was getting things done, but was I creative? I knew that something was missing as I hadn’t come up with a meaningful blog in months. I had started a couple of times, but nothing seemed to stick. In settling my thoughts, I realized how important stillness could be to creativity.

I guess I am not the only one thinking that my checklist was hampering my creativity. Others are also saying that “being busy means not being creative”. We get caught in a whirl of shallow activity, missing those opportunities that lead to deep reflection.

Funny how the creative spirits in my life have had a curious stillness about them. They all have a quality of being totally present, completely immersed in the moment.

My father, Bill Dunstan, could sit in companionable silence or in deep reflection. We used to joke that when he was in the zone he wouldn’t be bothered even if he was sitting amidst the chaos in the stands at the Panda Game, an annual college football game in Ottawa, Canada that went on for years. He was often reflecting deeply on matters large and small. 

One of my co-authors in “Your Creativity Sprint” is quiet, attuned to everything around him. You notice the stillness in the way Dwight Powless stands and the long pauses as he decides without hurry what he wants to say. He has taught me that everything can be a teaching moment. It is almost like he is sending out feelers around him and patiently waiting for a response.  He tells me that the important first step in ‘thinking differently” is to ask the right question. Then, through observing and listening, you work to understand the response, the way to act differently.

My friend, Dan Sniezick is an artist with a lifetime of drawings and several published books. His most recent compendium of his drawings and observations is International Travel During Covid. This ordinarily larger-than-life type of person can sit quietly sketching from memory, seemingly alone in a crowded hotel lobby. I also saw him sitting, his head bent over his sketch pad amidst the riot of colour in the Indian Market in Peru in November of 2022. It was like he had a magic cape that he could throw over himself to preserve the small centre of tranquility within which he could finish his drawings.

Recently, my husband and I were working silently together on a 3d model of the Sagrada Familia cathedral. It is a big model with an astounding number of pieces, 860 in all. I was the operating room nurse, preparing the environment so that the surgeon could concentrate on the intricate operation. When he is building something, my husband goes silent. He stills his breathing and slows everything down, a practice that gives him a laser focus and precision hands. Nothing else matters at that moment. When a problem comes up, I can see him quietly chewing on how he can fix it.  When our model went askew, which happened more often than we wanted; he found other ways to fix it, even resorting to a soldering iron to melt the glue.

Although the idea came to me independently by watching others enter the zone, connecting stillness and creativity is not new.

Eckart Tolle in his book“On Stillness”reminds us that stillness speaks. He says“True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found”. He adds, “Let stillness direct your words and actions.” He encourages us to concentrate on the spaces between thoughts and the spaces between words. He also says that stillness doesn’t have to be silence, it can be finding and accepting the moment as it is, finding the peace or stillness behind the noise.[1]

Tebogo Nong, a South African poet based in Cape Town also talked about stillness on the Monograph podcast series.  For her, being still means being in the space where you are seeking truth. It is a space where you are not worried about what others think – a space where you are not distracted and can intentionally make a choice. So, what have I learned about stillness and my creativity.  First of all, it means intentionally reducing my to-do list.  It means giving myself the space to ponder, to listen and learn, to just “be”. There are always a hundred thoughts roaming around in my head, thoughts that get in the way of profound listening and deep reflection.  I need to make time to still those swirling thoughts, pay attention and make connections.  Only then can I follow the path to greater creativity.

[1] Tolle, Eckhart. Stillness Speaks (p. 4 and 5). New World Library – New World Library – New World Library. Kindle Edition.

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