Not long ago, I experienced some “found time.” You know, those times when you think you’re going to be tied up with a project or a guest or an all day repair in the house, and then the other party cancels and all of a sudden, you’ve got this big space of time you hadn’t expected to have.
My niece and her new husband were going to come over for the day. I haven’t met the new man, and I haven’t seen Nealey in over a year, so I was thrilled to have some time with them, even though I had to move heaven and earth to clear my calendar, get the house cleaned up, get some food in the fridge so I could be hospitable, and sweep off the front walkway. By 10:00 a.m., I was ready and eager to see my precious only niece. Florida was showing off her glorious spring weather, the Winter Park Art Festival in full swing on Park Avenue, and I was ready for a fun day.
And then, at 10:05 a.m. I get an email saying they can’t make it. It’s the strangest feeling. The house is clean. The calendar is cleared. I’m dressed and ready to go out into the world. And in a split second, all my accumulated energy, focus, and urgency disappears. And just as quickly, I plummet into a gap, a kind of disorienting emptiness.
The day, like most of my days, had been planned and organized and expectations had been set into place. I was ready to move forward into all the fullness of the experience with Nealey and her husband. But in that momentary gap, all that fullness disappeared and I was at a loss what to do next. “What should I do now?” That question didn’t get much traction, tough, because I have so much work to do that the night before I was on the verge of panic.
So the first thought entering the gap was to get right back to the original work plan. Work on the writing project (the one I’ve been postponing for weeks; the one that causes my gut to clench every time I think about the fact that I’m not writing it). Grade student papers. Prepare for the exam review session I’m giving on Sunday. Write student recommendations. Work on business plan. Send follow-up emails to potential clients. Catch up on webinars I need to listen to for two web classes I’m taking. Pay bills. Go to the grocery. Fertilize the yard. I could go on. The list of things I could accomplish in this found time is quite long.
Then, I caught a glimpse of my image in a mirror. I looked hard at it. A question came: What do you want to do, Lezlie? Why don’t you do what you want to do with this found time?
The old tug came immediately. The tug to be disciplined, responsible, stay on top of the work load, and mostly, the drive to be productive became palpable. Yes, I thought, with a whole day cleared. You could really get something done, right?
Oh there she is again, I noted, that hard-driving critic who has kept you very, very busy your whole life. I looked at the image again, and this time, it didn’t even feel like I was looking at myself. I was looking at someone who was momentarily suspended in confusion. So I asked her, “What do you want to do with this found time?”
I had to sit with the question, because, truly, at first, I couldn’t even allow the question much less answer it. I couldn’t drop into my body and feel what I really wanted to do. I couldn’t release the “shoulds” long enough to redirect my energy for the day.
And at that point, I knew I was not crafting an artful life. I was not remembering the powerful lessons I’ve learned about mind, body, spirit and the conditions under which they thrive. I was all up in my head and my type-A personality and totally ignoring my body sense, which was struggling to give me a new message about what to do with this found time.
This past month, I’ve been in a series of webinars led by Tracking Wonder founder Jeffrey Davis. In this highly informative course called Your Potential Difference, he has examined creative identity, establishing a deliberate practice, sculpting time, and developing fire and focus in a creative project. As a recovering accomplishment junkie, I was, of course, completely fascinated by his module on focus, which provided information on how to stay on task and remain disciplined and clear-minded about purpose and goals. And to reinforce my type A-leaning tendencies, I had also just read Daniel Goleman’s new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, in which he explains how to strengthen the brain’s circuitry for concentration and boost focus. All my type-A tendencies were being fed by Davis and Goleman.
Then came module 5 in the course, called Deliberately Daydream. In the webinar for this module, Davis explains how over-work and over-focus can actually deter creative insight. In other words, plowing ahead with your to-do list is not always the best action to take if you’re striving for your best creative effort. In this webinar, he explores what conditions help a creative “recognize, capture and act upon insight.” Focus is important, for sure. But there are other states of mind and other practices that actually give rise to flashes of insight. And this doesn’t usually happen through calculated, rigid, highly focused actions.
Research, Davis says, suggests that being relaxed but alert, tapping into body sense, experiencing positive emotions, and mindfulness all contribute to tapping into the intuitive functions of the brain and leading us to new ways of thinking, new solutions to problems at hand, and insights into our creative expression.
Boosting the brain for focus, strategies for directing attention to the task at hand, getting things done, and executing life efficiently are important to every creative, for sure. But moving into a more relaxed but alert state, that is, deliberately daydreaming, is equally important for creative flourishing. Davis offers several practices that facilitate deliberate daydreaming (he’s not advocating mind wandering!), and he says that these practices can “renew our curiosity, increase our connection with the world and with other people, and increase self-acceptance.”
I looked at the image in the mirror again. The best version of me observed the confused version of me. “What do you want to do today?” I asked again. “Just stop for a minute, Lezlie, and drop into your body. What would feel good for you today?” I could see she was having a hard time dropping her old habits of over-scheduling, over-working, over-achieving. I reminded her of the line from Robert Bly’s poem “Things to Think”: “. . . if you lie down no one will die.”
It was clear I needed some deliberate daydreaming. And that’s exactly what I did for the next ten hours. It felt very uncomfortable at times. It felt irresponsible at times. It felt completely self-indulgent at times. And often, I was doubting the benefits of turning away from the kind of tight focus required to get through the tasks of a day.
But turn away I did. I meditated. I practiced “open monitoring.” I took two long walks with Dash. I watched the sky. I breathed deeply. I read a short story. I went to my art table and practiced artful lettering. I listened to a new CD. I took a short, blissful dip into sleep. And as far as I know, not a single person died because of my actions.
And this morning, I woke up refreshed, eager, happy to be alive, and oh-so-willing to get to the computer and begin writing. Deliberate daydreaming is not frivolous. It’s necessary if we are to commit ourselves to living creatively and shaping our art for the long haul. Try it out, and let me know how you feel.
And if you want to learn more about deliberate daydreaming, I highly recommend registering for Jeffrey Davis’ Your Potential Difference webinar program. His guidance, insights, and provocative questions will take you to a new level of joy and performance in your creative life. You’ll learn from the master of tracking wonder.
Thank you so much for stopping by the Studio today. Have a deliciously daydreamy day.
P.S. For more provocative thinking on “deliberate daydreaming,” see a fascinating book by Edward Slingerman, Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity.