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“To be creative, one should simply unwind mindlessly.” —Craig Wright, Ph.D, author of The Hidden Habits of Genius
The mind wanders into discovery.
Whether while we sleep and our decision making and logical thought parts of our brain turn off freeing up the hippocampus, amygdala and visual-spatial cortex to have free range, while walking (without listening to something in our AirPods), taking a shower or even milking a cow as painter of American Gothic Grant Wood often did, when we give our mind space to wander, having fed it well, creativity and problem solving have the ability to surprise us.
Dr. Craig Wright is an emeritus professor at Yale where he teaches a course on what his new book, The Hidden Habits of Genius (October 2020) details. The course Exploring the Nature of Genius examines and reveals the changing definition of genius through the centuries, how race and gender historically squashed, removed and denied genius from being seen in anyone other than white men for a long swath of history thus affecting future generations and what they either believed they were capable of or saw as what constituted genius in others, and how depending upon what a generation or culture valued, the idea of what genius – the Romantics vs. the Enlightenment period for example – changed as well.
As I read through chapter 13, a chapter focused on the power of relaxing, relaxing the mind, it became clear to me how long periods of examining and sitting with a problem or a possibility missing a special ingredient cues up the mind to eventually, seemingly magically present solutions, but it isn’t until after one has wrestled with the idea for sometimes upwards of seven to ten years, that the mind knows and has enough data to mine through, to present solutions.
All of this is to say, what we feed our mind matters.
As I mentioned above, when we have fed our mind well, the potential for awe-inspiring results and solutions and unique ideas have the tools with which to work, to create and thus for us to exercise our creativity.
How to limit and potential remove distraction from your life.
1.The media that surrounds you
It took me time to acknowledge what I fed my brain would often appear in my dreams. Realizing this truth, I now carefully select the books I read, the television and films I watch and now that I have more ability to do so, the news I listen to and stay apprised. I have shared in the past that while I have not stuck my head in the sand to the world around me, I do temper the amount and the source, giving myself better control to the flow of the amount information and news about the world I receive. For example, I often take in my news via hold-in-my-hand newspapers and the radio and sometimes online rather than watching television as the latter is sensory overload and I cannot determine what will be talked or visually shared next. While reading a newspaper, I can scan the headlines and choose which article to more deeply explore when my mind has been prepared. While listening to radio, the sound, rather than the images on the television are less abrasive, so I can determine if I want to continue to listen to the segment or simply turn it off and turn back on my classical or jazz music.
Similarly, the few shows and films I watch are ad-free, and of course while reading a book, I am completely in control of turning the pages, even (in non-fiction), jumping ahead to certain chapters and backward in an order that tickles my curiosity.
2. The tasks assumed
Part of the reason, as Virginia Woolf astutely pointed out in her essay A Room of One’s Own (1929), women were unable to more easily reveal their genius is their lack of free-time, free from obligation of caring for the children, the home, the husband. Dr. Wright spotlights Woolf’s observations shared throughout her life in chapter two “Genius and Gender” acknowledging often the geniuses extolled today were able to immerse themselves into their work because someone else was taking care of their progeny.
Each of us, as often shared here on TSLL, will, if we garner up our courage and explore our true yearnings, discover a journey unique to our talents, passions, and values. So long as we are not influenced by external forces, we can more confidently strive down the path we have discovered; however, we must thoughtfully choose the tasks we assume necessary and not become weighed down by those that distract our mind from the necessity to wander, thus fueling our creativity.
When we have too many responsibilities, too much on our ‘to-do’ list, while we may be able to complete them, beyond being able to actually complete them well, are time and attention is being pulled away from possibility. We need time to just be still – whether that stillness comes while we sleep well and deeply, enabling our minds to reach the REM stage or time to take our regular long walk outdoors. Many creatives as Mason Currey points out in Daily Rituals (book one and two) and all individuals as shared by neuroscientist Shane O’Mara benefit from regular daily walks, and typically, not short jaunts, but significant meanders. All of which is to say, you need time in your day to be able to welcome such a necessary opportunity to do so.
3. Unnecessary Energy Drains
From the drama of others’ lives, existential global affairs beyond our ability to solve directly, fear of lack and unfulfillment deemed a necessity from an external source, when we acknowledge what our tasks are and tend to them, what we let go frees us from distraction. In episode #301, the importance of solely tending to our own tasks, what we have control over, plays a key role in our everyday contentment. When we stop being absorbed and ‘entertained’ by others’ life journeys, when we assure we are doing our part to positively contribute to a better tomorrow but acknowledge what is in our ability and what is not at this time, when we get to the root of our feelings of not being enough and recognize we are enough just as we are in this moment, we not only free our lives from distraction, we also improve the overall quality of our lives and everydays.
Today, bear witness and be honest with yourself: what does fill my mind when I let it rest? If what fills your mind is worry, bad dreams and ugly imaginings, how can you change what you feed it? It will take time, but in time, your dreams will change when what you feed it becomes more nourishing. Case in point, every fall both at the beginning of my teaching career and during the six years I taught here in Bend, I would have dreams each night for about two weeks of not being prepared for class, and upon reflection, I know my filling my mind with preparation thoughts and confusion for the upcoming school year due to a new expectations from the district, sudden changes in classes or objectives, fed into my mind’s stress which carried over into my dreams. Once during my waking hours, in my classroom, I knew I had a firm grasp and confidence of what and how to do what I needed to do, the dreams ceased. However, unnecessary fears and worries during the day shut out any possibility for other dreams and creative ideas to present themselves.
Once you begin to consciously choose your daily schedule and the tasks you tend to, and especially the food you feed your mind, you will begin to see the destructive power of distraction and upon witnessing the improvement and deeper joy of living without it, be even more inspired to maintain your new way of living.
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