My latest article on Campfire Convention is published !
Want to know what the connection is between walking, Zen, creativity and our conscious and unconscious minds are? Well this article is for you.
In this article the idea of developing ‘Generative Practices’ are explored. Generative Practices are regular habits that we can all develop into habits that help support our daily existence.
You will see how these ritual habits can also support your creativity and why sometimes the best thing you can do is go for a (Zen) walk to inspire you!
ART AND THE ARTIST
Every human being is an artist; the work of art in question is the individual’s life. Most artists have a problem knowing when they have completed a work, but if you realize that your life is your art form, you don’t have that problem.”
Zen Without Zen Masters.
One of the questions I ask my clients is: ‘What are the things that you do that support you in your life?’
My mentor and teacher, Dr. Stephen Gilligan, discusses how to develop ‘Generative Practices’; small chunk sized things that you can do throughout the day to help ground you and bring you back ‘home’. He suggests that you should do at least 30 minutes of these practices a day. Most people’s instant reaction is that: “I don’t have time for that”
He then goes on to explain that that can be broken down into ten, three minute chunks; bite sized exercises that you can do wherever you are. Of course, this isn’t something revolutionary and there are parallel messages in the world of mindfulness and meditation.
The way I translate ‘being mindful’ for myself, is that its a way to bring a conscious awareness into everyday activities. What makes the difference between bringing mindful awareness and making something a ‘generative practice’ is that it is something that is embodied: allowing for a deeper loving, connection from our head into our heart and gut minds, all of the intelligences that live inside us.
What I’ve noticed in working with clients on helping them develop their own generative practices is that if you make them also playful and fun, it becomes much more natural and easy to integrate into their day to day lives and is more likely to be something that they maintain.
Not only do these practices support your emotional state and can be used throughout the day to ground, centre and bring you back home, doing something that gets you out from a purely cognitive way of thinking is one of the key stages of the creative process.
For me, creativity is something that permeates all areas of our lives. It is an essential part of the human experience. There are many great books on creativity and it’s an area that I work with a lot in my professional life. Although there are some differences in the studies on creativity most agree that the creative process can be thought of as happening in the following stages:
This is the starting point of all creative endeavors, when we use our conscious, cognitive mind to try and ‘think’ our way out of the problem. The noted neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist, in his book “The Master and his Emissary”, describes this conscious mind experience as being categorized by what he called the ‘three L’s; Language, Logic and Linearity’. If your thoughts feel like this you know your conscious mind is leading the charge.
At some point, if your thoughts are not coming up with the solution or you feel blocked in a creative endeavor, it’s great feedback that now is the time to let this part of the process go.
This is one of the most undervalued and neglected (in my experience) parts of the creative process, we need to let things go!
Holding on too tightly to whatever it is we want to use our creativity for is a sure way of getting in ones own way. We need to allow our outcome to percolate through into our bodies; into our unconscious mind.
This is the time where you need to let go and do something else. We also need to give our conscious cognitive minds a rest, and the reason why procrastinating on Social Media isn’t going to get you anywhere (as it’s still primarily s cognitive experience). This idea is to let the other intelligences that live inside us start to get to work.
So, go for a walk, run, cycle, sit on your favorite park bench, listen to music, have a nap. All of these things build the mind-body link that is necessary to move the matter at hand from our conscious to our unconscious minds. The idea to take regular breaks when working is a well known concept, although I think the reason for why this is so important is less well understood. What going for a walk, as an example, does, is that it both distracts your conscious mind and fires up the unconscious somatic minds.
One of the best definitions of the creative process I have come across is that creativity is ‘the conversation between our conscious and unconscious minds”
Sir Issac Newton famously had a garden with a stone path. When he would get ‘stuck’ or was looking for inspiration he would walk round the garden, picking up and playing with stones in his hand. Depending on how weighty the problem was, he would pick up more stones. The bigger the challenge he would say: “This problem is a three stone problem”, and he would walk around and let the issue release down into his body, until something would emerge. When asked about how he made his discoveries he said “I keep the subject constantly before me, and wait ’till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”
Roughly speaking one way of looking at the unconscious is that it is something that lives within our bodies. Therefore taking part in any kind of activity that engenders mind-body connection will help this process of incubation.
Traditionally after the question/problem has had time to percolate and gather the wisdom of our unconscious, there is a moment of illumination or the ‘Aha!’ moment.
The chemist August Kekule came up with his theory to explain the structure of Benzene, after awaking from a dream where he had a vision of the Ouroboros (the snake that eats it’s own tail). He realized that there was a circular nature to the chemical structure. This is a perfect example of the unconscious sending the answer through to the conscious mind through metaphor and symbols.
Illumination can take place in a variety of ways and the more that we learn to listen out for these pearls of wisdom that pop into conscious awareness the quicker that illumination can appear. Sometimes the answer will appear literally, sometimes, like for Kekule, metaphorically.
Letting go of the problem allows it to move from our conscious to our unconscious and the conversation to develop between these multiple intelligences.
4) Translation (or realization)
Once we have had this moment of illumination, it’s now back to the job of turning the idea into reality. We re-engage with our conscious mind and find the way to integrate our ‘Aha’ moment into practice. Often this realization will involve translating adapting our ideas into the practical nature of what we are engaged with, and/or a process of testing and refining.
There is a fabulous book that came out in the 70’s called ‘Zen without Zen Masters’ written by Camden Benares.
(For a bit of background, it came out of the same counter-culture Discordian movement that people like Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Shea, Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley also emanated from and was involved with.)
It’s full of Zen Koans, masquerading as jokes or jokes that are Zen Koans, depending on your perspective.
At the back of the book are a selection of suggestions of meditative exercises to explore and try out.
My two favorite exercises I’ve included below the Moving Meditation and the Walking Meditation. I use both of them in my own practice and in my workshops and trainings. They are a fantastic way to build and reinforce the connection between the conscious and unconscious minds, so that we can enter the world with access to the whole of our intelligence.
I’ve included them below (luckily the Discordians were anti copyright!)…
Try them out for your self, the great thing about these practices is there’s no right or wrong way to do them, they are simply experiences to try out and explore.
Like any exploration, the more you do them, the more naturalistic they become and the more deeper and profound the experience can be.
The invitation is to find the things that you do, that really support you and that get you out of purely experiencing the world from your rational mind, (what most people call the conscious mind) and get yourself connected into your body (the unconscious mind).
You can also start to think of ways that you can enhance your creative process by tending to the ‘incubation’ period of creativity.
Moving meditation requires a private, quiet place with room to walk around. The meditator prepares by sitting quietly until surface calmness appears. Once this has been achieved, the meditation begins by slowly walking to the center of the room or area.
Centered, stand still for a moment. Then allow the muscles to move as they release their tension. Instead of sending commands to the body requiring movement, let feedback from the body be the moving message-like the adjustment moves that are made with little or no conscious attention when preparing for sleep or finding a comfortable position on furniture.
Neither block nor encourage thought during the moving meditation. Because ,the emphasis is on letting any tension in the body work its way out, the exercise of the brain is not important during the movements. Relax into whatever motion seems to be what the body wants. Any movement made consciously, such as walking or turning, is appropriate provided it doesn’t interfere with removing the tension indicated by feedback.
Relaxing the conscious control of muscles, let the body assume any position that is comfortable. Permit the vocal cords to relax and let any tension-reducing sounds emerge. Occasionally, let the head loll on the shoulders to loosen neck muscles.
During the meditation, any movement that feels right may be repeated while waiting for muscular feedback to generate. Moving from standing and walking to sitting or lying should be accomplished on a feeling basis. The emphasis remains on spontaneous movement.
By practicing a moving meditation most individuals lessen their muscular tensions and become more at home in their bodies. It can also be used as an aid in overcoming mental and physical discomforts produced by stressful situations.
The benefits of moving meditation will be reflected in a greater awareness of the body and eventually a greater acceptance of the physical structure that houses the spirit. Those who continue the practice will notice that the subjective value of this meditation changes from time to time. The practice should be continued as long as the meditator finds dividends returning from the investment of time and energy.
Whenever you are walking, concentrate on the body movements that you are making. Experience the physical flow as balance changes. Confine your attention to the feeling of walking and to the sensory input necessary to continue walking.
As you become one with your walking, the relationship between your steps and your breathing will become a familiar rhythm. The lengthening and shortening of muscles can be experienced as movements in the cosmic dance while your awareness moves through everything like a recurring theme.
See each walk as a process instead of a space between destinations. If your attention wanders, bring it back to the physical actions-the movements, the change in balance, the point at which the inhale becomes the exhale.
Becoming one with the experience of walking makes every step more satisfying. If you walk a thousand miles, each step should be as the first.
Enjoy exploring these, finding your own way to allow this mind-body connection.