Wu Wei

Today I am musing on the subject of idleness and its value to a creative person.

Recently, my energy and inspiration began to wane as it always seems to at about this time every yea.   Last year I was physically unable to walk away from work because I was in the middle of making things for my graduation show at Uni, but this year it’s different.  I have no deadlines and no stress so this time I was able to go with the cycle and practice what the Taoists call Wu Wei, which is the art of knowing when to act, and when not to act.  I put away my beads; folded away my table and I haven’t touched either since.

There’s a certain amount of guilt – and a little fear – attached to this decision to down tools because it seems that every time I open an Etsy email, sellers are being dynamic and selling loads of art whilst maintaining their sanity and it sure does make you feel like a useless slacker.  This however, is the very time when I give my inner slave driver a talking to and remind myself that there is no set way to create – some work at night, others keep strict office hours and others still have no problem dropping the ball and taking a good long rest.   I really feel right now that the third option is best for me.  I am my own worst boss and I feel that if I am not constantly doing, my time is wasted.  This, I have discovered, could not be further from the truth.   Time spent in contemplation and experiencing life ‘in the moment’ is extremely valuable for one’s creativity.   Pretty soon I can feel my energy cycle will shift and I’ll be moved to act again, but I’m not going to force it.

For someone with a degree I can be really quite dense sometimes and I’ve only just realised the value in taking breaks has been staring me in the face the whole time when I consider my favourite musical artists.  The artists I tend to like are people who take their time over albums and are not afraid to drop one thing and explore another art form or style just out of sheer curiosity.  I see now that this approach can’t ever hurt your creativity, only enhance it.

‘Down’ time in the future will also be less daunting because I know what to do with it now.  When my creative brain is not firing, my analytical side takes over and this is the best time for me to do what’s necessary to turn my creativity into my career.  I’ve set up new Twitter account for my etsy shop and re-arranged the shop itself.  The simple act of creating new categories has already begun to inspire me, as has bringing my sketch book up to date (speaking of which, it’s funny how I couldn’t fill those books to save my life when I HAD to at Uni but now I’m actually enjoying it!).

It’s now been about 6 weeks since I made anything and I’m starting to get itchy fingers again.  But this time they are genuinely itchy and I’m not forcing myself to make something just because I feel I should.  I’m not quite at the point of having clear design ideas in my head but I will put my table up again and let it sit, just to get myself in the right mindset.  Again, I’m not forcing myself.  I’ll take baby steps and act when moved to do so.

So, dear readers, how do YOU manage your creative lulls? Do you battle through them or take the ‘Wu Wei’ approach.   Did your submission to the natural cycles of inspiration yield a particularly satisfying piece once you started to create again? Let me know! And do show me pictures, I love seeing everyone’s work.

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3 thoughts on “Wu Wei

  1. My creative process is something I’ve been considering a lot in the past few weeks (I invite you to this post: http://taoistpoetbutterfly.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/poetry-twofer/ ) and on a larger scale, for years. I consider myself a Taoist, but I don’t always make the best possible one, and my creative life is one of those instances. Learning that there’s vital creative space to be had in between forcing work to happen and giving up on work ever happening again took me far too long.

    My writing process is pretty organic, and it requires some waiting and rumination — mostly indirect — for things to begin stirring. When I try to force the process, I lock up. When I treat the waiting period as if it’s failure, I lock up even more. Understanding “lulls” as functioning parts of the process rather than failures in it has changed how I work entirely. The first thing that new understanding generated was the completion of a sestina that had been sitting idle for four years. If I needed proof my new track was a right one, there it was.

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