day seven: creative doubt and shivers

Each time I sit I learn something new (some less profound than others, but nevertheless).

Today I wandered outside again to take in some sun and, on my last day of midday mindfulness, I learned a few important things. I know that it takes me a few minutes to ‘get into’ sitting, so I’ve been setting my timer for 15 minutes to give myself 5 minutes to relax into it, and 10 minutes to be there. But… that’s not what’s happening. With 15 minutes, it takes me closer to 10 minutes to clear my mind enough to feel as though I’m really accomplishing anything beyond just being away from my desk, enjoying the fresh air and taking a much-needed micro-break. These things are important, too, and were the main reason I started doing this. But I want a little bit more. So it seems I’ll have to give myself at least 20 minutes, perhaps more, before I’ll feel I got a good sit where I didn’t spend more than half the allotted time wondering how to describe the experience in the next blog post or concentrating on not to freezing to death.

Water Remains
Research Park, May 31, 2011

 Which brings me to the second thing I learned today – it’s really, really hard to relax into peace when you’re shivering. Now that it’s officially spring, and was at least 12 degrees this afternoon when I went out, I decided not to take my shawl/scarf/sweater. Big mistake. While the sun is always constant, the clouds are not. Each time the sun dipped behind (white fluffy!) clouds, the temperature seemed to drop a good 5-10 degrees. This is a big deal when you’re trying to be relaxed, calm, happy and peaceful. Not easy when you’re ruffled with gooseflesh and praying for the sun to come back out. Lesson learned – I need to be cozy.

Now that I’ve completed my seven day experiment, I’ll certainly keep going. I might choose to reserve my outdoor moments of calm for nice days – which are, thankfully, rapidly upon us – and may not make time at the office every day, but I plan to keep up a meditation practice everyday, whether in the morning, afternoon, or night; at home, the office, or in the car (while parked, of course). It’s been a beautiful and eye-opening journey that’s revealed a host of paths and opportunities to explore, and I certainly have no intention of just shutting the door now that I’ve reached my “goal”. Besides, I get the feeling that in meditation, as in life, it’s the journey rather than the destination that shapes us.

One of the most valuable things I’ve taken away from this process is realizing that, with the right mindset, I can overcome my ‘creative doubt’*. Being a writer, I have a tendency to strive for ‘perfection’ (or my version of it), which I think is a problem for many artists. This creative doubt – not quite the same as the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ – has plagued me for years, and in fact I opened this week-long journey with a comment on how feeling stuck was holding me back from writing. But here I am, blogging every day for seven days. A small feat for some, but a revelation for me.

People often say that writing isn’t a profession, it’s who you are. I’ve always believed this, knowing that, despite all else, I am a writer. If I wasn’t, something inside me would be broken and I would never be the same. A few weeks ago, when I started to feel like I was drowining, I thought for the first time, “I don’t know if I  want to be a writer anymore”. This question was more than a bit shocking to not only me, but anyone who knows me well. I’ve realized, over the past week, that when I said said this, what I meant was “I don’t want to be this writer”. And I’m not.

If, from one moment to the next, I’m a different person, altered by my experiences/ surroundings/exchanges with others, then I can’t possibly the writer who sat down, wondering if I wanted to continue in a life that didn’t feel like it fit. Never in my life – during a 52-hour stint of dissertation writing where I didn’t sleep a wink, or after various rejection letters – have I crumbled and questioned “Am I sure?” It’s a testament to how utterly stranded I’ve felt in my career lately. There will always be creative doubt (and personal doubt, maybe some spiritual doubt, relationship doubt and political doubt) but if I know that sitting for 10 or 20 minutes each day can help me see past the doubt to a place where it’s not so important to have everything figured out, then I’ll sit.

Thanks again to Valerie who inspired me to try something besides stressing, grumbling, panicking and just all-round fretting.

*Yesterday (Monday, May 30, 2011) I attended the Calgary PechaKucha Night #8: Inspire Japan, where local artists/community members/share their insights/vision/thoughts on a chosen topic. Ken Cameron, a local writer/playwright, introduced the idea of ‘creative doubt’. Not the same as ‘writer’s block’, creative doubt is when an artist doubts his or her own ability to achieve their idea of ‘perfection’. Instead of being blocked, and not having anything to write about, the writer simply doesn’t write for fear of failure/coming up short/under-achieving/under-accomplishing, which, Cameron suggested, is the reason some artists are remarkably prolific while others find completing a single piece so difficult. This idea resonated with me and helped me recognize that I doubt myself all the time – I won’t start a book, despite having ideas for several, because I’m afraid I won’t have the discipline/time/talent/dedication. Who does that serve?


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