Breathing the creative breath
by Dr. Linda Seger
As artists, we spend years learning and doing our art. We practice. Rehearse. Take lessons. We put our focus on the creative act, whether painting, writing, photographing, dancing, sculpting, playing the music.
Yet, there’s another part of our creative work that gets far less attention, but can be just as important. It’s the moment before we start. Sometimes this moment can be filled with anxiety — rushing to get to the computer to write, the flurry of words, trying not to forget the idea or the phrase that will make our work brilliant. Trying to get the painting on canvas, the musical notes on the page, to capture the idea and the form.
But this moment need not to be frenetic, and the frenzied moment can actually work against the flow of our work. Instead, this can be the moment when we prepare for, and set up the conditions for, the flow of the creative process. It’s the moment when we take a breath, gather ourselves, center ourselves, and dwell in a space of silence. It’s the moment when the pianist sits before the piano, and then slowly raises her hands. Or the artists takes a moment to take in the dimensions and look of the empty canvas, before filling it with form. Or the writer stares out the window, not so much deep in thought but deep into the quiet before the thoughts come. Or the photographer stops for a moment before or right after taking the photo, to hear the small voice that says, “turn around, the photograph is behind you!”
We might think of this moment as centering or gathering.
For those who are spiritual, it might be the moment of tuning in to the Creator, or getting in touch with the creative energies that we see as implicit in life and in the creative act.
One of the descriptions that rings true for me as a writer actually comes from the first book of Genesis in the Bible. Right before God created the world, right before the Light began and all the other splendid creations, we’re told “The Spirit of God was moving over the water.” Sometimes the word used is “sweeping” but the more correct translation is actually the word “hovering.” The Spirit hovers before the moment of Creation much like an eagle hovers over her nest. She broods. She warms the egg right before it’s hatched. It is not a violent motion, like a lightning bolt or a Eureka clap of thunder, but a moment of waiting.
This is a tender image. It implies standing still. It’s calm. There’s no sense of hurry or the frenetic whoosh-whoosh that sometimes comes when we approach our work with desperation or fear. Sometimes this moment is one of seasoning, or waiting, or letting something simmer. We move in the rhythm of the process, almost as if the creation we’re about to do has to first be breathed into us.
I first became aware of the importance of this moment as a speaker at the Maui Writers Conference many years ago. I was sitting in the audience, waiting to hear a speech by an inspirational speaker named Dewitt Jones. Dewitt was a professional photographer and motivational speaker. His topic was creativity. I watched him right before he spoke, sitting in the front row over to the side and he seemed remarkably calm. There was a sense of solitude around him. It was clear that he was not creating a quiet space out of which he would speak. Something was happening there, and I was fascinated because I was still rather new at giving speeches and had few role models. I later reflected, “What was he doing in that space, and how much of that beautiful and flawless speech was attributed to those moments he took before he began speaking?” I wondered how to tune into that quiet voice that sometimes led us into unexpected directions, or simply surrounded our art work with the presence of the Muse.
Some years later, I attended a Master Class for Classical Pianists and watched the Master Teacher teach the already very proficient pianist. The teacher spent quite some time discussing the approach to the piano – that moment of sitting quietly at the piano, before the playing began.
The image of this waiting is almost like a glassblower preparing to create the glasswork. The breath comes into us that enlivens us, that speaks through us. Sometimes we might think of gathering our thoughts, but in this moment, the mind is more empty than full. It is expectant without being desperate. This has little in common with cramming for a test, or filling our mind with form and content. We don’t push or tug at it. We are preparing to let it happen.
For those of us who are Spiritual Creatives (and perhaps we all are), we might call this the moment the Spirit breathes into us so we can let the breath out into the new creation. Some call this making friends with the muse, or waiting for the moment of guidance, or letting it be and not manipulating what is about to happen. For a few, this waiting and letting it happen might come naturally. But most of us have to practice learning to wait, as much as we practice our art. We prepare for the opening, for the flow, and learn to work out of the quiet. Out of the hover. Out of the creative breath.Tags: Creation, Creativity, Dewitt Jones, Dr. Linda Seger, Hollywood, Inspiration, Screenwriting, Spiritual Creatives, Spirituality