Creativity and Solitude

A psychic once told me that I had been a monk in a silent order and I scoffed and said, “That’s so not me. I hate being alone.” In fact, I feared being alone, something very different than just ‘not liking’ it. Where would ideas come from if I were not able to collaborate and brainstorm with people? How would I be able to tell if I were going crazy if I were alone?

I was so afraid of my ability to be alone with myself that I “practiced” being alone by going into the eastern deserts of Mauritania–alone–to see if I would be OK. Nothing happened to me, but it was an almost hallucinogenic experience sailing along the one road (The Road of Hope) that was often obscured by drifting sand, not having road markers, billboards, other cars, houses or life forms to triangulate with. Because of that unsteady grip on time and place, after that journey, I remained leery of being alone.

But I’ve now been living alone for about 8 years, and I’m no longer scared of that aloneness. It’s not like I became the silent monk, hidden from the work, lost in contemplation; I have friends, I volunteer, I get out and about to exercise, to garden, and I have family and see some of them often. Plus, I have cats–although now, just one cat. (There will always be cats in my life, I hope.) But, over time, I’ve grown into my single nature.

IMG_1090I’ve benefited from working with a mindfulness-leaning therapist for about as many years as I’ve been alone, and have sort of expanded in the quiet. My brain has expanded and I’ve grown more content, more curious, and more active in producing/making things after a long, infertile period. So what changed? Why this close embrace of the previously uncomfortable solitude?


“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
  ~ Albert Einstein

THJune08I started to look into research on solitude and its apparent link to my present creative, productive state. As Ester Buchholz, a psychologies and author of The Call of Solitude, notes, “…being alone doesn’t have to be the same thing as being bored or lonely. In fact, when the word ‘alone’ was coined in medieval times, it referred to a sense of completeness in one’s own being.”

According to Buchholz, “solitude is an important—and normal—part of human existence. And it’s also essential for our best creative work.”

“Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems,” she writes. “Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.”

IMG_0775

As I’ve settled into my own scattered mindfulness practice, into days that open each morning wide with possibility and choice, into noticing and choosing to do the things that bring me satisfaction, happiness, and stimulation, I’ve felt a sense of energy that comes from being able to explore life more fully than before. I have the time to pay attention to and think about people and ideas, and to try things, sometimes for the first time, other times, trying to find ‘perfect pitch’ in something I make.

The painting, above, probably is unremarkable to everyone else, but to me, it accurately represents that blissful, floating state I enter when I reach ‘perfect pitch,’ where time ceases to be relevant, where I disappear into the work I’m doing. It doesn’t happen every day, but man, being in that state is heaven.

Losing your very delineated, bound, constrained self is both exhilarating–as even more ideas/images/sounds/colors arise–and peaceful–since my normal self-critical voice is stilled, lost, and no negative thoughts  are possible. I am the painting, the photograph, the pottery, the knitting, the writing, the music, the river of ideas when I’m in this state. All alone, and so alive.

“Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.” — Scott Barry Kaufman, author, Wired to Create

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