“You just sit there young man, and think about what you’ve done!” is something that most of us have heard at one point or another. We’ve heard this from a mother, a grandmother, or some authority figure in our lives. Sitting in silence is an excellent punishment for a young mind that wants to move, explore, and participate, and the negative connotations we apply to such forced inactivity, may be the reason that some of us still avoid it as often as we can. For some minds, however, it may be the key to tapping into untapped resources of creativity.
Ardent advocates of noise would disagree. They would suggest that the best way to find that creative place occurs in the exchange of ideas. The distracted mind, they would say, requires forced participation. They also say that suggesting these minds need more space, and more silence, may allow the cracks of distraction to grow wider.
The very idea that silence should play a role in the creative process seems antithetical to everything we’ve been taught. We, as a people, have spent so much time trying to create technological advances that put an end to silence that we’re now conditioned to believe that cluttering our minds with voices and images may lead us to finding individual, creative thought in that stew. Some do, of course, as every brain works different. Those that require more processing of information –conditioned to the same beliefs about the creative process– may buy a self-help guide to find out what’s wrong with them. For them, the source of creative thinking can, more often than not, be found in the brain itself … If it is allowed to breathe a little.
As Dorothy Gauvin stated:
“Your mind makes connections between facts and experiences that may seem unrelated to a logical entity like a robot. Imagination connects the dots and comes up with an ‘Aha moment’ we call inspiration.”
These technological distractions that we have, and all of the noise of the day, prevents our imagination from taking what we’ve learned to that place where all the dots can be connected to produce a creative thought, or what Ms. Gauvin calls ‘an Aha moment’.
“Remember the famous quote from A.A.Milne,” she writes, ‘Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sits.’”
Some of us spent most of our time outside of the Socratic Method of teaching looking in. We’ve witnessed other brains firing right along with the teacher’s. The teacher hits them with a question, they fire right back; the teacher probes deeper, the students respond in kind, and a summary discussion ensues in which all participants are rewarded with like-minded smiles when they’ve reached the same conclusion. Some of us have always wanted to be those people, and we have been … the next day. The next day, we arrived in that class with an answer that would’ve knock our teacher right on her keister … If we had thought of it yesterday. We wanted a do over. We wanted to show the class that we had the perfect answer. It was too late for us, of course, the class moved on.
Every mind works different. Some minds are excellent for business, and school, and they can come up with the perfect solution on the spot. With that perfect guide, they can delve deeper into the depths of the mathematical mind than either party imagined possible, or they do it so quick that some of us stare on dumbfounded.
The spoils for thinking often go to the quick, and that fact has led some of us to believe that we were the dumb. Our “Aha moments” do arrive, but they arrived when we were walking down the stairs, after the meat of the discussion has long since passed, and we thought of all the things we could’ve and should’ve said. Our minds work different, and even if we realized this in school, we may not have been rewarded in the manner the quicker minds were, but it may have been less frustrating or embarrassing to realize that our brains work different.
If you have a “down the stairs, could’ve, should’ve said” brain, Ms. Gauvin writes, you may want to consider the idea of developing a routine that involves a moment, or a series of moments, where all you do is sit in silence to digest what you’ve experienced. She writes that some meditate, some contemplate, and some “just sits” there in a manner that “suits their circumstances and personality”. She says that once you figure out how your brain works, you should consider creating a regular period in which you experience silence in the manner high profile “professionals in Medicine, Sports, and the Arts” all do.
“Free your mind, the rest will follow.” —En Vogue
Years after reading the brilliant, Raymond Carver short story Feathers, I reread it. I was confused. I went back to the title of that story to make sure it was the same short story I read all those years ago and recommended to everyone I knew that expressed even a slight interest in fiction. It was the same short story, of course, and it was just as good as I remembered, but I had so jumbled the details of that story that I misremembered it into an original short story.
Carver’s short story was so great that I experienced a creative high after reading it. As an aspiring, young writer, I have to imagine that reading that story was equivalent to a young basketball player watching Michael Jordan drive the baseline against the Knicks in the 1993 playoffs. Carver, like Jordan, made it look so easy that I thought I could do it.
The focus of Carver’s story was, of course, the main characters, but my focus churned on the side characters. I identified with them in some manner I couldn’t grasp at first. I decided to explore. I decided that this exploration was worthy of a short story, my short story.
Upon rereading Feathers years later, I realized that the side characters were so far removed from the ones that I had created that no lawyer in the land could prove an infringement on, or plagiarism of, Carver’s material. After getting over that initial spate of confusion, and some feelings of being so stupid as to misremeber those characters, I realized that I had come up with my first original “quality” short story. And all of those leaps occurred in quiet moments where all I did was ‘sit and think’ about them and the short story, and my relation to them.
The Sounds of Silence
Silence can be difficult to find at times. We spend so much of our time trying to keep our minds active, focused, and participatory that we’ve cluttered it with noise, under the proviso that “No TV and no beer make Homer crazy”, until we’ve reached a point where our lives are drained of silence.
If you’re one that needs a creative space of silence, and you’re able to find time for it, it’s important to note that there is no specific quantity of silence from which creativity is born. Laying out such a provocative idea may lead some to say that it doesn’t work for them. “I tried it,” they will say. “It ain’t for me.” Our natural retort will be, “Well, how long did you try it? How much effort did you put into it?” It’s a pointless –square peg in a round role– discussion for some, of course, because all minds are different. For those creative minds that don’t know how their brains work yet, and the others that have to deal with them, this may be an eye-opener. For those that experience writer’s block, or creative fatigue, silence may be the one method they haven’t tried yet.
Your silence should be drained of distractions. We all have minor distractions that pervade our silence, such as what sassy Susie said to us the other day; the delicious burger that we’re planning to eat tonight; reliving the Blackhawks championship run; and how the stand-up comedian described going to the bathroom in the toilet tank as going top shelf, and we all have an almost unnatural propensity to dwell on those ideas. To void your mind of such distractions, I like to think of the process the Tom Cruise character went through in the movie Minority Report, when interacting with the futuristic gestural interface to find the information he wanted in its database.
Not all silence should be active, or focused, but it does require a certain degree of participation to find the undiluted creative area. Focusing yourself into specifics is difficult, of course, but if you can swipe these distractions away, you can achieve various specific, creative thoughts on the subjects of your own choosing. The key to creative thought, in my opinion, is to create an eighth day in which you, the god of your creation, can rest with everything that hit you in the previous seven days. The key is to avoid putting headphones on when you jog, mow, or workout at the gym. Some may go so far as to “just sits” in a quiet room, others may take long drives alone to nowhere with the radio in the off position.
I found the perfect vehicle for freeing my mind, a while back, when I got myself the most brainless job imaginable. I didn’t do that for this purpose, of course. When I was forced, by management, to do away with all distractions for the ostensible purpose of placing all of my focus on a job that I could’ve accomplished in early R.E.M. stages, I achieved a state of blankness. Not everyone is as fortunate as I was to have found such a tedious job, I understand, and for those of you forced to focus on a demanding job will need to find another avenue, but many have found silent moments to stew.
This blaring horn of creative silence can also be found in the most innocuous places like a doctor’s waiting room. My advice: once you reach that point where you’ve waited so long that you’re so bored that the urge to pick up that magazine –you’d never read otherwise–overwhelms you, fight that urge. Fight that urge and stare out at the dregs of humanity that wait with you. Look at that guy with tousled hair and frayed jeans, in a short-sleeved shirt, and wonder why no one ever taught him how to dress. When you’re engaged in the monotony of lawn work, fight the urge to wear headphones, and pick those dandelions naked … without aural accompaniment, or stimuli of any kind. Free the mind from everything that you’ve been jamming into it for the previous seven days, and “just sits there” on an eighth day of rest, and the rest will follow.