“No one in the world was ever you before, with your particular gifts and abilities and possibilities. It’s a shame to waste those by doing what someone else has done.” ~ Joseph Campbell
People thrive when they have projects to engage in, activities that are stimulating and serve as the means for self-expression. We see examples of it all around us and we know it to be true. Yet it’s easy to get caught up in building the career and earning money that is going to give us, depending upon our situation and thus motivation, the security or status that gets us out of bed in the morning and keeps us off the sofa at night.
Some of us are slowly trundling towards lives which can at times seem, if we may be melodramatic for a second, devoid of meaning and destitute of feeling due to the absence of those two keystones of civilization which humans have been cultivating for thousands of years: passion and play.
THE TRIALS AND REWARDS OF FOLLOWING YOUR BLISS
The modern-day ‘winners’ are those who have elevated their passions into a fruitful career; those for whom the so-called “work-life” balance has just become “life”. But we know that this isn’t easy. In the meantime, we just keep on trucking.
The sage advice from Steve Jobs on finding your inner yogi and Arriana Huffington on the importance of ‘unplugging to recharge’ is all well and good, but no one ever claims that you don’t need dedication, grit, perseverance, and sacrifice to turn your passion into your purpose (and ‘magical’ income-generating money pump).
Yet work without play is a sure way to stifle motivation and make you despise what you could have learned to love. Finally, the work-life balance debate has shifted gears from how many hours to dedicate to each, onto how our play can enrich and drive forward our impact at work. And if you generate enough passion, play can become your jumping off point into creating the career (and life) you really desire.
Since focus and creativity are slowly but surely displacing hard work and sacrifice on the nine-to-five plus overtime battlefield, we present five activities to build into your weekly schedule that can help you get centered and cultivate your creative ammunition.
1 – READ
Stimulate your Grey Matter
Few things in life are as evocative, emotional and transporting as great literature. The magic of tapping into another person’s creative mind as they take you along on a literary journey is unforgettable. Besides, reading builds up your vocabulary with which you can express yourself and widens the scope of your thinking.
Good literature teaches you the ability to empathize. Your emotional reactions transport you along with the protagonists’ experiences, making you laugh, cry, scream and fall in love. Unlike the cranial spoon-feeding of television or film, reading exercises your imaginative muscles and forces you to visualize with your mind’s eye.
Most importantly, reading teaches you things you’d never even imagined to consider before, arming you with a rich tapestry of information in all fields of life which ultimately helps you to form that unique lens through which you view the world.
Scientists have closely examined the effects of reading on the brain, and found that becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. Furthermore, avid readers are two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimers in old age – proof that keeping your brain supple and engaged has long-term health benefits. Reading is also a wonderful antidote to the ever-shortening attention spans we find ourselves lumbered with, by reversing the focus-sapping effects of task-switching between tabs on the computer and flicking through news feeds on social media. If you need to retrain your focus, then start off with shorter reading sessions and slowly work your way up, leaving your smartphone well out of arm’s reach.
Insider Tip: Stick to paperbacks – our retention of information is greatly diminished when we read from a screen or listen to audiobooks, whereas on paper we are more likely to engage in deep reading where we digest every sentence.
No time like present: Book Mooch
Swap old books you don’t need any more. The more you post off, the more points you get and the more books you can ask for in exchange from other users! All you need to pay for is the postage of your old books, and if you have extra points you don’t need, you can donate them to a charity of your choice.
Take it to the next level: Write. About a cause you are passionate about. About what it means to be human. About why you do what you do. Write about whatever you like and follow these tips to try and get it published.
2 – MEDITATE
Connect with your Inner Nature
One of the biggest myths of relaxation is that we should do absolutely nothing, yet this is the way to relax the body and not the mind. Asking the mind to stop thinking is like asking the heart to stop beating: it’s almost out of our control. So to give the mind a rest, we need find that perfect balance to stop it from cranking and free it of judgement, a means to calm down our constant urges to theorize, evaluate and critically analyze, and yet keep ourselves engaged and focused. If we do this effectively (with practice) we can reach that elevated state in which creativity comes into full flow.
In the long-term, meditation can help you to set your intentions, become more diligent and focused in your manner of running your live your life, more mindful of how you spend your time, and more in tune with your inner self.
Meditation shares in common with reading that seemingly contradictory duality of being simultaneously stimulating and relaxing. Typical barriers people put up against meditation are that they have an overactive mind, think too much, and can’t slow down. These are exactly the kind of people who will benefit most from meditation. Meditation expands your awareness, enabling you to tap into what David Lynch calls that “ocean of pure vibrant consciousness inside each one of us” by synchronizing and harmonizing remote regions of your brain to give you that slow-burning focus which is critical for the creative process.
Scientists are still scratching their heads over some of the neurological phenomena relating to meditation and mindfulness practices. For example, they’re trying to figure out why monks who have been practicing for many years emit off-the-scale volumes of high amplitude synchronized gamma waves from their brains when they enter transcendental meditative states. But while the empirically-minded scientists are busy attempting to validate meditative practices with statistical data, others are happy settling back and accepting that much of the wisdom of ancient Eastern sages is being proven true.
Meditation is a perfect opportunity to practice gratitude and build up strong reserves of compassion and positive vibes to get you through the harder days. The more you practice, the more you’ll notice that your negativity starts to recede – reflex reactions of anger, anxiety and fear will become weaker, while your intuition and enjoyment of things will grow. Inspiration will begin to flow and your interactions with other people will become more joyful and gratifying as you unlock to keys to kindness and connectivity. Meditation is nectar for the creative soul.
Insider Tip: It’s all about carving out a peaceful, uninterrupted slot of time in a quiet space. Try setting the alarm clock twenty minutes earlier and sitting in your bedroom or lounge while the kettle is boiling – it’s an immensely energizing way to start your day.
No time like the present: Try out Headspace, described as the “gym membership for the mind.” The first ten sessions are absolutely free and it’s as simple as downloading the app onto your smartphone and devoting a quiet ten minutes.
Take it to the next level: Now you have gone through the trials and tribulations of removing all negative judgments, take some positive action (an ancient habit that was practiced by the stoics and is championed by modern happiness researchers everywhere): make a list of 10 things that you are grateful for and what brings your joy to the fore. Make it fun and do it often.
3 – YOGA
Stretch and Breathe
There is a huge overlap between the yoga tribes and the meditation devotees, and that is no passing coincidence. To bluntly categorize, meditation takes care of your spiritual and mental health, and yoga helps your physical health, but in reality the two feed into and enhance one another.
Yoga gives your body a brilliant detox of lactic acid and other impurities which build up over time, and strengthens muscles which you weren’t even aware you possessed (they’ll definitely ache a bit when you start using them). There’s literally no reason to feel afraid in front of more seasoned yogis – they’re a passionate and welcoming bunch of people who love talking about stretching and breathing, and sharing helpful tips to improve your practice.
Best of all is that post-yoga workout buzz, sometimes known as being ‘yoga-high’ or ‘yoga-stoned’. It’s what makes yogis keep coming back for another hit. After a good session you feel very relaxed for the whole day, and even the following days after (potential aches and pains aside).
Yoga has helped revolutionize the way that doctors and scientists theorize about the connection between the body and the brain. It may sounds blindingly obvious, or downright silly, but the things you do with your body and the thoughts you think change the firing patterns and the chemical composition in your brain. These results are often temporary and go unnoticed, but once these actions turn into a long-term habit over time, the effects can be extraordinary.
There’s a strong physiological element to the effect yoga has on your brain, in quieting down some of the excessive signalling pathways in the brain that can lead to feelings of anxiety, and modulating the responses of your parasympathetic nervous system to make your body less physiologically responsive to stressful conditions. Thus yoga can help you deal with pain, anxiety, depression and a whole bunch of other ailments, as well as releasing your inner creativity and giving your body the loving kindness it deserves.
No time like the present: The internet is full of sites devoted to teaching about yoga, free online videos, tutorials and blogs. Check out the Yoga For Dummies YouTube channel, Yoga Journal, and YOGANONYMOUS for starters.
Take it to the next level: Get your friends out on a sunny day for a yoga session in the park! Yoga is for sharing, relaxing, and appreciating the present moment. Who knows, you may even find with practice that you have a knack for teaching your own classes.
4 – DRINK TEA
Nourish your Body and Mind
Time to take all those lessons you’ve learned about using your brain more mindfully, learning to breathe fluidly, and listening to the desires and needs of your body through yoga and meditation to the tea ceremony.
That tea is good for you is virtually undisputed in both Western and Eastern medicine. Tea is loaded up with wonderful nutrients for your body, as well bioactive compounds, polyphenols and antioxidants such as flavanoids and catechins, tea is believed to boost your metabolism, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and ward off cancer.
But the Camellia sinensis has another magic trick up its sleeve. The powerful combination of a gentle dose of caffeine with the amino acid known as L-Theanine is what gives tea drinkers that slow-burning boost of focus and energy, without any of the jittery caffeine-fuelled buzzing highs and drowsy lows that coffee lovers experience. L-Theanine prompts an increase in dopamine levels – the happy hormone – and Alpha brain waves, which has the effect of relaxing the mind and body, relieving anxiety and promoting a sense of well-being, all the while amplifying your ability to concentrate and sharpening your senses.
Most of all, drinking tea is the best way to put into practice your newly-learned skills of mindfulness. As Vietnamese spiritual leader and Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, incited people to, “drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis upon which the Earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” Tea drinking is the revitalizing ritual which arms you with a renewed sense of energy, purpose and concentration; that much needed break in which you reassess your goals and set your intention for your next piece of creative work, and appreciate the present moment in its entirety.
No Time Like The Present: Purchase one of our Try-Before-You-Buy sampler packs and get started!
Take it to the next level: Learn to taste your tea like a pro. Drink it more deliberately, take in the aromas, search for notes of fruits, spices, flowers, nuts, and so on. Do you feel bitterness on the back of your tongue or sweetness on the sides? Make a few notes and soon you’ll be tasting the difference between spring and winter flush, low and high elevation. And it doesn’t stop there. After tuning your taste buds you’ll be picking up on the turmeric in curries or the lime in your guacamole. Food has a whole new meaning for those who don’t just eat but taste.
5 – CREATIVITY
Reveal your Inner Nature to the World
Ironically, the most important factor when it comes to creativity is discipline. Carving out that space and time for yourself is essential, because inspiration will not flow easily at first, and it’s easy to become distracted and give up. But whatever medium through which you wish to express yourself just keep in mind that, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “No one in the world was ever you before, with your particular gifts and abilities and possibilities. It’s a shame to waste those by doing what someone else has done.”
Be it writing, drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, dance, music, theater, cooking or whatever else seizes your curiosity, experiment to yours heart’s content without judging too critically the fruits of your attempts. Face yourself with an open heart and mind, as you would a child or close friend. Negativity is the arch enemy of innovation. As you practice over time, your skills will improve and those limitations to the quality of your expression will naturally fall away.
Creativity is about finding that outlet in which you can “follow your bliss” (that wise old sage, Joseph Campbell, again), allowing those internal subtleties which make you up as an individual to take on symbolic and physical form in the external world. But it can be intimidating to start with, in which case, focusing on process-based goals rather than outcome-based goals could be much more helpful. For example, aim to write 1000 words a day, or learn to play 5 new chords a week, with the ultimate outcome-based goal of writing 3 articles a week or play 4 new songs a month.
If you persist, one day, you may be one of the lucky ones who is able to turn their passion into a career, but do not let this be your motivation. Creativity needs to flow from the wellspring of intrinsic motivation, the desire simply to be and do and experience and create.
No Time like the Present: Get yourself down to the local art gallery with a sketchbook and pencil, sit yourself down in front of your favourite piece for half an hour and get some inspiration! You could also hone your skills with some tutorials online, from a website like Drawspace.
Take it to the Next Level: Once you’ve got a good thing going, why not try to sell the fruits of your passionate labour online? As long as you can bear to part with your work, Etsy is a great online platform for selling and here’s a perfect guide to getting the attention of customers.
Now It’s Your Turn
If you want to take on the world, or at least the corner of the world that you occupy, you’re going to need to unplug to recharge. To sit back, meditate, pursue some solitude and stillness while the mud in the water slowly sinks to the bottom so you can see further into the distance and course yourself to a destination with conviction.
All of these activities are inexpensive and can be done in solitude, thus removing the financial and logistical barriers, leaving simply the commitment of time and energy that only you will be able to muster.
When building healthy yet time consuming activities into your week, it might at first seem like they aren’t getting you closer to your goals. It’s always tempting to focus on more tangible productivity metrics, to delay on investing your time in play until you’ve hit this or that target, be it a promotion or a salary level. But the things which appear ‘optional’ are often the most nourishing, and the danger of neglecting them is the gradual depletion of our resources of motivation and conviction, balance and energy.
And yes, to begin with play probably will be slowing you down: hours used might not equal hours saved yet. This is the admission that many self-professed life coaches fail to make: that a purposeful activity doesn’t contribute to your momentum until it becomes a habit.
After this point, it could well become an addiction. Until then, it’s just play for fun as we know it, and that’s absolutely fine, too.
What rituals do build into your week which cultivate your creativity and get you into a state of mindfulness? Let us know what works for you, what doesn’t and why. Do you find the rewards only come later or do you reap the benefits immediately. Leave us a comment!
This article was first published on the Mindful Matter blog of Holstee, who are dedicated to helping people to live with more courage, gratitude and mindfulness, as expressed through their Manifesto.