The Creative Drum: Finding Our Natural Rhythm
I was feeling a bit unsure of what to write about this week. I had lots of ideas in my head but was struggling to pick one and settle on it. In the end it was a great post from The Butterfly Hobbyist on ‘craft block’ that helped me make my decision. As I commented on that post I found myself writing about something which had been on my mind to blog about, so here we are .
I’ve called this post ‘The Creative Drum’ because I believe that we all have a natural creative rhythm and that when we find it and listen to it then we can get the most out of our working periods. I might be wrong about this, it might just be me – everyone’s different – so feel free to disagree! It’s just that I’ve watched so many people sweating over what they perceive as a block, that I’m convinced that what we need is a mind shift in the way that we look at it.
I first started thinking about this when I was at college. For any of you who have also gone through any kind of creative education system then you may well know what I mean when I call it a treadmill! While I loved having the opportunity to give that kind of focussed attention to my creative work, my experience was one of being relentlessly asked to produce new work regardless of whether I felt that spark of inspiration, whether I had had time to let my ideas ferment in the dark places inside me, or whether everything inside me was telling me I needed to let my creative muscles rest for a while. For me college felt like being on a production line with a constant pressure to make, make, make. I got through it and came out with my qualification but it had instilled working practices in me which did not feel at all supportive in creating a sustainable practice.
Now this might all sound a bit like I’m just complaining that I had to do things at times when I didn’t feel like doing them, and don’t we all have to do that? Of course we do, and there are plenty of areas of my life, including sometimes my creative work, where I take that on without a whisper or grumble, because I know it’s just got to be done and that’s the end of it. What I’m trying to get at, perhaps clumsily, is that I think for some people, myself included, creativity just doesn’t work in straight lines. It’s not like when I sit down to do some paperwork and I know exactly what has to be done and can work through it in a logical and methodical way. My feelings about those logical tasks are only relevant in as much as my will power will have to be pitted against them to make me stick at it! :
Creative thought demands something else. It demands that we take leaps in the way that we approach a task; that we use our intuition and instinct to continually re-evaluate what we are making without even realising we are doing it half the time. We very often don’t set out with an absolute specific plan of what we are going to do, even if we have the end product in our mind. We know that lots of things could happen on our way to that final outcome, that we will have to shift and adapt and respond to the way that something evolves. We need mental flexibility to make decisions to change course if our first idea isn’t working the way we intended, or if the process of making allows us to see a better version of that idea.
Our creative flow is much like the path of a river that has to negotiate the obstacles in its path: sometimes finding an easy way round them; sometimes needing to linger and wear away a block; sometimes needing to change course altogether to get moving again. Along the stretch of any river we will find areas that seem to be barely moving:
areas where the pace is steady:
and areas where the pace is fast:
They are all part of one river, its moving, evolving flow that can change from moment to moment depending upon what it encounters. In our own flow all kinds of things can interfere with the pace: our stress levels; our health; our sleep patterns and energy levels; our environment; the weather; the seasons; our hormones!! This is before we even start to take into account our natural creative rhythms. It is entirely natural for us to respond to these undercurrents in our lives and for them to affect the flow of this stream to greater or lesser extents. After all, we are whole people! Our creativity can’t be split off and asked to function entirely independently of the rest of us, however tempting it may be to try and force it to do this!! But the great thing about water is that it is very persistent and patient. It is working all the time, wearing away obstacles even when it appears to be sitting still. It will always find its way through in the end:
Water also has a rhythm. If you sit and listen to a river or the waves on the seashore then you will hear it. It plays its rhythm in sound, shows it to us in the formation of its ripples, in its peaks and troughs and of course in its tides. It moves in cycles like everything in Nature – the ultimate creative force! The courses of the sun and the moon and the Earth move from darkness through to light then fall away to darkness again to begin the cycle once more. It is these cycles that give us our seasons. It is these seasons that allow the earth to rest and renew itself, old matter to be broken down and composted – recycled – to feed and nourish new life. In this way the Earth’s creative fertility is sustained and sustainable. We only have to look at what happens when fields are intensively farmed and not allowed to rest to see what happens when we force life to operate outside of its natural rhythm. Those soils become depleted of nutrients, producing tired, weak plants and eventually are unable to sustain life at all.
In order for rhythm to exist there must not only be the sound of the beat, but also the silence between the beats; the dark, empty spaces that allow us to distinguish and hear each individual pulse and its relationship to the next one. In this way the individual beats become a rhythm. Our 24/7 society teaches us that everything should be available all the time, that somehow if we can’t continue to produce and function under any circumstances then we are weak, don’t ‘have what it takes’. To me this is crazy talk. Fighting this rhythm in ourselves is exhausting and fruitless. Far better I think to recognise and surrender to our little creative ‘winters’ and let that creative flow sleep and renew itself, to turn our attention to other tasks that don’t need that same input so that we are ready for the Spring when it comes, bringing us renewed energy and inspiration!