Within the chorus of David Bowie’s Changes, he sings “time may change me, but I can’t trace time.” When we first hear this familiar part it may seem nonsensical. It may make as much sense as a Zen Koan, but look at it for a moment and turn it over in your mind. What does it mean to “Trace Time“?
If we could “trace time” we’d be able to know exactly when change occurred in our lives, we’d see the pivot points and quite possibly know how to replicate them in the here and now. If we could “trace time” we’d easily be able to unlock the pesky creative blocks that encumber our businesses, our teams and ourselves.
Does my interpretation of “Trace Time” connect with how you see those lyrics? Or do you have a totally different understanding than I do? If you see it differently, and there certainly are different options available please comment on it below.
Musical lyrics and Koans are both related to blocked creative flow, think about it. Both song lyrics and Zen Koans require that we stretch ourselves beyond the ordinary, and move toward resolution. Both Zen Koans and Song Lyrics invite us to hear and see with an unknowing mind, to see with a beginners mind. Both musical lyrics and Zen Koans lend themselves to multiple interpretations and both require us to come at them with a non-ordinary approach to problem solving. Unblocking Creativity easily could be a 3rd category that fits easily into the same bucket of requirements of song lyrics and Zen Koans.
Actively Unblocking Creativity asks us to see things differently instead of banging our heads against the wall (or the block) while we wail about how frustrated we are. For a moment and for a bit of fun imagine your whole team finding their own spot on the wall, and in unison banging their heads in hopes of unblocking creativity.
In the above exercise do you think your team achieved a breakthrough? It’s more likely the only breakthrough achieved in this exercise was head going through the plaster wall. Of course the above exercise should be preformed only with a gentle bang of your head against the wall, or a slightly harder bang if you are using your imagination. I’m pretty sure no one would really smash there fragile skull against a wall (hard) to see if it unblocked creativity.
NOTE: If your team is tempted to try the above please be gentle in your head banging, and never slam your head into a concrete or metal wall. Not even for a creative breakthrough.
Unblocking Creativity will only grow and become ridge if we walk away from it saying, “I don’t understand or it makes no sense.” Approach the block with awareness grounded in the present moment and not chained to the past or future.
5 Activities for Unblocking Creativity
I walk most days as a way of shutting off the noise in my head, and shifting to a quieter place. Walking for me clears out the distractions better and quicker than any other activity I’ve found. And judging by the large and diverse group of men and women I see while on my daily walks I think we’ve all found a great way to shift our thinking into a more spacious place.
Where you walk is not as important as the act of walking itself. When I lived in northern New England most of my walking was along parts of the Appalachian trail, but now I walk along well traveled roads. The quiet and scenery are not nearly as beautiful on the streets but the opportunity to put myself into the here and now is equally expansive.
Walking feeds both the desire to quiet the internal dialogue and to give my body a nice extended workout. It’s nice to sit on the steps outside the kitchen door after my daily walk with the awareness of my physical body humming in sync with my now very quiet mind. These two activities birthed of something as simple as walking open fresh possibilities for creativity.
“Every walker is a guard on patrol to protect the ineffable.”
The action, to meditate is perhaps a misnomer. Meditation is not a verb, not something we do but instead is a space we inhabit when sitting or walking. Meditation can best be thought of as being present and aware within the body of each moment, without doing anything.
Now I’ve gone and thrown a wrench into the usual understanding of actively practicing meditation or mindfulness. Meditation is not something we actively engage with the way we go jogging or climbing a mountain but you can be meditation while doing both of those things.
Meditation like mindfulness is not concentration on a particular object of action such as washing dishes, thought you can be both in meditation and be mindful while washing dishes. Take a breath and sit with a moment and with the next moment without doing anything but being aware of what is there.
I often think of moments as a field of tall green stalks of corn that I’ve waded into. I stretch out my arms and carefully part the space between the stalks so I can move deeper into the streaming moments in search of creativity. Yet at the same time not in search of creativity.
Being surrounded by the field of moments creates its own sense of quiet, a quiet unfolding rapidly into the next moment without end. Being in this field heightens my awareness of connections I have not seen before.
The field of moments is meditation, be here now is meditation, chewing your food is meditation, folding and unfolding is meditation. And to paraphrase what Shunryu Suzuki said about enlightenment, It’s something, nothing special, but something.
“To understand the immeasurable,
the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.”
Washing dishes as a tool for unblocking creativity may seem at first glance a bit suspect, I use it as an example to highlight the myriad of everyday tasks we can engage with to help us unblock. I could as easily used the Zen standby “carry water, chop wood.”
We all live within an endless stream of moments, moments imbued with opportunity. Each moment we find ourselves in the middle of is of equal value in unlocking the lost, and in turning the key that reveals the hidden treasures found when we unblock creativity.
The trick (it’s not a trick) is as simple as moving out of our own way and allowing our awareness within each moment to blossom. Chop wood, carry water and get out of your head, it’s as simple and as complicated as that. We can use anything we do as the catalyst to open the door.
Deliberately putting ourselves into the present moment with full awareness is the trick (non-trick) I’m pointing to.
“I find myself dreaming of doing normal things –
like staying home and washing dishes.”
We all can draw, doodle, scribble, etch, paint, sketch, trace, outline or storyboard something. Applying pressure behind a pencil or pen to a piece of paper is all that is required. Feel free to ignore lack of talent or proficiency and draw whatever comes to you hand.
The writer-Zen teacher Natalie Goldberg encourages her students during writing periods to “let yourself go.” And the same goes for drawing, let yourself go and let your subconsciousness express itself. This is practice in itself.
Try expanding your drawing skills by capturing different objects, or maybe people in line with a mirror. The mirror gives you a new view from which you can pull inspiration from and open the doors to your creativity.
“See feel draw: One verb.”
Journal writing can be as undisciplined as jumping up and down in a mud-puddle, do you remember doing that when you were a child? What were you feeling with each splash splash splash? Believe me, letting go of constraints in journal writing is a good thing.
In the beginning of writing in your new journal you may find it equally liberating to have a few constraints, and that’s great. Create a space, pick a topic, set the amount of time you’ll spend each day and write write write.
When I first started writing I choose the quiet time of first waking up each morning. I’d make a cup of coffee, sit myself down at the kitchen table so I’d get a clear view out the windows. The view from the windows became my muse, it stirred a writing stream within that relegated any worries about Unblocking Creativity.
“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.”
How Do You Go About Unblocking Creativity?
We’ve all heard stories that creativity is best accessed by drinking huge amounts of alcohol or by ingesting other mind altering substances. And while I’m sure partaking in conscious altering liquids can shine a light on new ways of seeing things there are many more ways to jog your center of creative ideas and visions that don’t require getting blasted on a regular basis.
I’m not wagging a finger in judgment to those who pursue altered states as an avenue to finding some creative panacea or the hidden riches of El Dorado. I’m merely sharing a lifetime of experience that has taught me there are many paths existing beyond the obvious.
Never cower, flinch or shy away from exploring the unusual, exploring the undocumented on your quest to illuminate that which you’re searching for. Building connections that have never been thought of (or at least never acted upon) is key to expressing yourself to the world, expressing yourself to yourself.
And while we all owe a debt of gratitude to those inner explorers who have gone before us, failing to attempt the journey because someone else has already done it is a poor reason to not explore the depths of creativity ourselves.
Please share your thoughts below on this subject. Thanks.