Lately, although I’ve been pleased overall with my creativity levels, I’ve also been struggling to get focused.
Or, more specifically, struggling to not waste time on mindless activities, instead of doing something more mindful, and meaningful.
An important distinction to make here is what I mean by mindless, and mindful.
With both, I’m talking about the way I, or you, do something, the attention and presence we bring to it, rather than the activity itself.
What really drains my energy and creativity more than anything is getting lost amidst the background static, trying to chase ghost channels that don’t really exist.
Instead of just picking, and doing, something – anything – with intention.
Imagine for a moment, a day of your life spent doing nothing but listening to the radio.
Throughout that day, you might listen to a range of channels and types of broadcast.
Maybe you’ll take in a few plays or dramas, a handful of talk shows on topics that interest you, an hour long blast of rock ballads, an interview with a writer you admire, a musical documentary on the early works of your favourite composer, or any number of other broadcasts.
There might also be parts of the day where you switch off the radio completely and just enjoy the pure silence.
Now imagine as you go through your day listening to each of these channels (let’s include turning the radio off as a channel – the silent channel), you’re fully engaged at any moment.
Whatever broadcast you’re currently tuned to, you’re immersed in it, and enjoying it. It’s the full, sole, focus of your attention and your life for the duration it is on.
We can call this mindful listening.
At any point, your mind is full of the current sounds you’re hearing and all the connected thoughts and feelings it brings up in you.
This would be a wonderful, fulfilling and memorable day of radio!
Conversely, a completely unfulfilling, frustrating and demoralising day of listening would consist almost entirely of you frantically channel hopping, not settling on a single one for more than a few minutes before skipping to the next.
It would also mean often not tuning in to any channel at all, and instead being caught in the background static in between – drifting in the mist, neither one place or another.
You’d be drawn into those ghost channels that consist of a distant shadowy echo of a proper channel. Ghost channels that, even if you strain your ears and press them up close to the speakers, you can’t make out properly amidst the noise and erratic, decaying signal.
This would be mindless listening.
Never fully engaging in anything because you’re either switching aimlessly between broadcasts without choosing one and settling down to listen, or trying to tune in on something that’s not even there – a ghost channel.
Your mind never truly connects to anything that enters your ears and you spend the day in a state of buzzing surface level anxiety, glancing at the clock constantly and seeing time devoured before your eyes.
What a contrast to the mindful type of listening we talked of previously.
Another word here on the “silent channel”.
Engaging with the silence – in a mindful way – is not a waste of your time. In fact often it’s the most valuable use of your time there is.
Without the white space between the notes, whatever music we listened to would be a cacophonous mess.
We need the space to let everything else breathe, settle, percolate, take shape, before continuing again with our creative work.
My own creating, as I said at the start of this conversation, has been getting sucked into the ghost channels too much lately. I’m catching myself surfing the static all too often.
How this manifests itself is almost irrelevant. (But for the record, it mostly involves being online without any particular aim or enjoyment and sometimes, when it’s really bad, hitting Refresh on my email/ social media/ browser a hundred times a minute…)
What matters more than what the habits are, is that I need to become more aware of when they’re happening, then make the conscious decision to either tune into a real channel, or switch off the radio altogether and immerse myself in the silence.
Noticing the most likely ways we get sucked into the static is the first crucial step.
Putting practices in place to help us get out of them as quickly as possible when we do notice is the second. Ways to pass through the ghosts and pick a real channel.
The theory isn’t hard.
1. Choose fewer channels – only ones you really enjoy.
2. Listen to one at a time – give them your full focus.
3. Regularly switch off the radio altogether – just listen to the silence.
Awareness, then practice, moves us forward to a more mindful way of creating. Which will naturally begin to have a wider reaching effect, and lead us into a more rewarding and fully engaged way of living.
Our work, our play, our relationships. Embracing, experiencing and enjoying, everything we do.
So, how about you? How mindful has your creating been lately?
How often do you find yourself surfing the static and chasing ghosts?
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