“But I was beginning to see, now that I was out of school, that the world was not set up for sitting and staring, that time was no friendly giant lofting me gently into the imagination.” — PATRICIA HAMPL, BLUE ARABESQUE
No, there is far too much to get done these days.
Get up. Make the bed. Get the kids to wherever. Do your work. Eat. Do your work. Do your work. Do your work. Pick up the kids from wherever. Eat. Clean. Sleep.
And along the way deluge yourself with an enormous amount of bite-sized information.
Is it any wonder Harvard psychologists have concluded the following:
“We are already the most over-informed, under-reflective people in the history of civilization.” — ROBERT KEGAN & LISA LEHEY
I’m as guilty as the next chap, probably more so, if my wife had a say.
I wake up. Check email. Twitter. Google reader. Coffee. Write. Email. Do my work. Do my work. Do my work.
Come home. Do just a little more work. Play with my daughter. Eat. Clean. Sleep.
All the while, flooding my heart and brain with temporal junk.
It’s a rat race and I find it becomes difficult to breathe while pressed against a wall pierced with tiny bits of data - tweets, blogs, emails, text messages, half-listened-to voice-mails.
In the end, nothing really sticks.
No sitting and staring for me, thank you very much.
Yet I can’t help but think I’d be a much better creative director, husband, friend, and human, if I sat more often.
I can’t help but think we’d all be better off if we gave ourselves the permission to sit, think, and breathe.
Why can’t we allow ourselves the luxury of sitting anymore?
It seems to me that the Westernism of “idle hands are the devil’s playground” has turned sitting into a dirty word.
And so most of us stay far, far away from what Hampl calls, “purposeless time.”
“For moderns - for us - there is something illicit, it seems, about wasted time, the empty hours of contemplation when a thought unfurls, figures of speech budding and blossoming, articulation drifting like spent petals on to the dark table we all once gathered around to talk and talk, letting time get the better of us. Just taking our time, as we say. That is, letting time take us.” — HAMPL
My fear is that unless we decide staring out a window and letting time take us (into our own stories, new ideas, and new worlds) is important, and not illicit work, we will continue to create fewer and fewer pieces of art that move people.
How can we expect to hold the world’s attention with mystery and beauty if we won’t allow ourselves to be captured?
But how can we!?, we exclaim. There’s too much on TV tonight! We’ve got deadlines to meet! Quotas to fill!
Yet, I can’t bear to believe this is how we were created to live.
Don’t I get much more out of a great conversation with my wife than I do from something some random guy, halfway around the world, just posted on Twitter?
Don’t I get much more out of sitting with my notebook, staring out a window, breathing in and out, waiting for a thought to occur, than I do rushing from meeting to meeting?
But now is not the era for taking our time, is it?
No, as I’ve already said, there is simply too much work to be done.
If we are going to create truly meaningful art; if we are to become fully-functioning and loving humans; if we are going to give our lives over to a ever-deepening process of creativity, then we must fight tooth and nail to capture what others are missing. But capturing only happens when we’re slow and quiet enough to see what might be floating through the air.
There is no magic potion, unfortunately, for upending our system of modern work in the Western world and giving ourselves over to this kind of life.
The artist’s (and human’s) job is to see well and to do that you must have slow and steady eyes to see.
And so we must take our time.
Becoming a great artist is not about might, it is about being.
Becoming a great artist is about sitting and paying attention to the world that is passing everyone else by.
I spent last week in a cabin in the woods with my very best friend.
I sat as much as possible. I tried to disconnect, but in the back of my mind I had deadlines, and work, and people, banging around.
So I tried as best I could, which is all you can ever do.
I’m back now, still dreaming of the mountains, still longing for more time away. And now I must go to work. But not the kind you’re thinking of.
Today, I’ll find 20 minutes to sit in my little office, staring out the window.
I suggest you do the same.
I know that over time, I will get better at this small, yet important practice, and I must be graceful with myself in the process.
In the end I know it’s worth it and am painfully aware that the consequences of not adopting what Patricia Hampl calls us to are grave indeed.
Today you must rest and you must take your time.
This post was adapted from the blog archives & UNTITLED: Thoughts on the Creative Process it was also inspired by the Luminous Project, a conference for creatives and communicators involved in faith-based work. For more about it, check out the Luminous website. If you’re interested in attending the event, use the promo code “luminousLOVE” (case sensitive) to get 30% off. Sign up here.