Some months ago, after the holiday of Eid, my brother-in-law went away on a trip and my mother-in-law (who shares the building with him) stayed home. Omani culture likes to swathe ageing parents with visits and chat, and so my husband and I moved into her house for two nights.
I awoke on the first day feeling like it was a holiday. Sunlight poured through an unfamiliar curtain. The smells of morning were fresh paint, cleaning products, Eid desserts on a trolley.
A break from life’s routines.
People talk and write of ‘beginner’s mind,’. Something like this it felt. As though I had stepped out of habit and into a fresh reality to learn.
I don’t know what happens to brain cells when they are shown new places but it can feel, I think, like the opening of a parachute. The plodding walk of everyday takes flight, as though the mind has had to lift to learn what’s new and taken the whole self with it.
Beginner’s mind can be a tool for imagination. Free from memory, there is the chance to test ideas, break rules, find untapped resource. So I have been asking myself how it might be used in the service of creativity:
- I go for a walk most days . But a walk with beginner’s mind awakened, as the M&S advert goes, is not just any walk. It’s headed somewhere new. With music, without sound, listening to the birds, taking a path up and off the normal track. Trying new things so the body and brain might enter a free space, to flick the switch which says experiment.
- Travel can have the same effect. Finding new cafes, shops, spaces, meeting new people can also do the trick. Shaking the brain cells out of their collective habits. Sometimes really focusing on another person’s way of seeing the world can cultivate beginner’s mind for me. It too is a brand new place.
- ‘Habit is the great deadener’ said Samuel Beckett. Certain routines are unavoidable, but I have found removing the ones which clutter the mind can create freedom. Habits which are relatively easy to quit and whose pay off I have found to be big in terms of mental space: Mindless phone/Twitter/Facebook scrolling, googling too much, saying Yes to things I don’t want to do. All of these can clog creative energy.
- Taking photos brings in the here and now. A camera (or phone camera) can be a physical reminder to be present, to notice.
- Trying new recipes has been for me one of the simplest ways to access beginner’s mind. The faith required to follow new instructions (or invent one’s own) can create tangible – often edible – results (!) and it’s a great break from writing.
We had barely driven for twenty minutes, stayed away 48 hours when I left my mother-in-law’s house with renewed purpose. Beginner’s mind is powerful, so open that ideas can’t help but wander in.
How do you nurture your mind to stay creative?