Creativity has fascinated researchers for decades. It is that ephemeral quality that some possess with effortless ease, while for others it becomes a source of constant anguish. It is yet another discussion if creativity is inherent or if some have it more in abundance than others, and whether we lose that as we grow older, and fear of failure cripples the natural instincts to create. What is more interesting is the process of creativity, what fuels it, and what are the optimal conditions for it.
Research has discussed in depth about the value of solitude for inspiring creative thought and process. Ester Buchholz, a psychologist, psychoanalyst and author of 'The Call of Solitude', emphasised the need for some alone time to let our thoughts wander, to figure things out, and to arrive at innovative solutions. Artists and writers such as Bergman and Hemingway have waxed lyrical about the need for this time where you can confront your emotions head on, grapple alone with the feelings and thoughts, live with them without being able to ignore them to create something beautiful and original. Psychologists Long and Averill note in their paper “Solitude: An Exploration of Benefits of Being Alone” that one needs to be alone to go through this process of self-transformation, where one does not feel self-conscious and obliged to play any roles, and have the time and space to focus on their thoughts. Einstein talked about long walks where he could listen to what was going on inside his head, Kafka about sitting still and letting the world unfurl itself at your feet, and Picasso stressed that without loneliness, no serious work is ever possible.
Today we are always connected in the virtual world. The world is literally at our fingertips. Information is ubiquitous and even working alone from home, we are really never ever alone. We are restless, checking our phones and devices constantly for the next new update or newsflash, or status updates from our virtual friends. While on one hand this has helped the lone workers and freelancers maintain a sense of community, on the other hand, is this in some way a deterrent to our creative expression? Can we really create if we are never ever alone?
Solitude doesn’t necessarily equate to being ‘alone’. It means being in complete one-ness with yourself, a sense of contentment. It is not isolation, or loneliness. Loneliness is a negative word, where one feels detached and restless and empty, looking desperately to connect, demanding attention. Solitude, on the other hand, comes from the Latin “solus,” similar to the Greek word “holos,” signifying whole. It is this that makes us whole and complete by removing the separation and boundaries between ourselves and our work. We can seek and demand solitude and the space to create order from the general tangled mess, within this busy world and a busier state of mind.
I have forgotten how to sit still and do nothing. I remember as a child spending hours lying on my back, staring at the sky and just day dreaming. But I cannot remember the last time when I wasn't making a list, crossing off things from my list, or just moving from one task to another with my brain running at million miles. My heart is pounding as I think of the things I still have to do today, skipping from one task to another, whether it be food shopping, organising travel, tackling my social media, listing new products on my website, designing and finalising my new catalogue, responding to those emails that I haven't still replied to, writing the research paper that is long overdue, or pureeing the sweet potato for my twins. And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I feel like there is no space in my heart or my mind to just drift with my thoughts, doodle my ideas dreamily, let my mind wander or even reflect calmly on my feelings and emotions. We cannot create when we are doing something all the time.
Here are six ways to find that creative spark, when our lives and the world around us is so busy:
1. Do Nothing: Try doing nothing. Just sit still. Watch and listen. Do whatever comes naturally to you, but don't force it. Listen to your breathing and watch the world around you. Don't force the ideas to happen. Don't worry if you do not come up with a ground-breaking concept in the next few minutes. It will happen slowly but surely.
2. Doodle: Doodling without intention helps. Applied visual thinking helps imagination to soar by firing up neurons. However, it has to be done without thinking and spontaneously. Only then we can see what we have not been able to see before. Doodling can also help us reach a state of calm, by using drawing to process emotions, and form connections between disparate concepts.
3. Be positive: When we are happy, content, and engaged then the imagination network that involves areas deep inside the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe (medial regions) is fired. It is this positive state of mind that is the trigger for creative flow.
4. Daydream: Allow yourselves the freedom to daydream. We have been so conditioned to believe that we are wasting time or not being productive when we sit idle but it is exactly the opposite. The incubation of ideas can happen in this instance and it is this that is the impetus for creative thought.
5. Participate: The idea of solitary creativity is completely in dissonance with the idea of participation. However, participation can provide the inspiration and motivation to germinate the seed of an idea, and brainstorming with others can help us find links that we might not have made in our solitary state. The notion of participation is not only of working directly with others, but also that of participating in the world around us. We can be inspired by new ideas while volunteering in a soup kitchen, or while shopping in the local supermarket. It is only when we are completely absorbed in an activity that our brains are most active and creative.
6. Collaborate: While some writers have stressed on the need to only find collaborators who are like-minded, and partnerships where there is no conflict whatsoever, I would disagree. It is as important sometimes to work with people who are not completely in agreement with you. It is the discussion, the strife, the opposing voice that can also help refine our own beliefs, and values. An effective partnership, whether in real-life or whether in spirit, is one which stimulates the creative juices, fosters the creative spirit, and inspires a stronger belief in our own ideas.
In this increasingly busy world, we can still find the space to expand our brains and unplug ourselves. But, it is not solitude alone that aids the creative process. The online world also allows us a portal in several rich sources of inspiration, stimulate our senses, firing our creative brains. We have to allow ourselves to be inspired, to see things with fresh eyes, and be excited by new ideas. It is when we keep our brains engaged, notice, observe and experience, that we allow ourselves the freedom to explore and create.