It occurred to me recently that I need to spend more time staring at the wall. Seriously. I came to this conclusion yesterday while I was in the bathtub, which is an auspicious place consider that’s where Albert Einstein masterminded the theory of relativity. And somehow, I was reminded of an important task I’d been forgetting to do. It wasn’t exactly the theory of relativity, but it hit me that if I hadn’t been soaking in the tub the usual noise of my day might have completely blocked it out until who-knows-when. It may not have resulted in a crisis, but it was something I truly needed to do.
When I was a child in grade school I remember how badly I wished the teacher would keep quiet so I could hear my thoughts better. I was scolded for daydreaming and suffered many a low test score because paying attention to teachers who were unable to make their subject matter interesting was not my forte. My hearing tended to shut down as a sort of protective mechanism when I needed a break and no amount of prodding from a frustrated teacher could make me tune in. I needed to spend more time staring at walls. It became crystal clear when I entered the high school writing program and was encouraged to stare at the wall until my creativity kicked in, and that’s when I knew I’d found my calling.
Many philosophers from all time periods have discovered the necessity of contemplation and mindfulness. Watching your thoughts can help unlock your potential for greatness. But even more helpful is clearing the mind in order to recharge your battery considering how effectively working without a break can drain us of our creative juices, energy and passion. We can even call it a mental detox if you consider how much junk food for the mind we absorb without even trying. The result is often too much input and output that doesn’t amount to much.
We often push ourselves to do more when sometimes the best approach is to do less. There is a point when ideas, visions, theories, songs, various creative concepts, and solutions to problems simply wash over us.
According to Arjuna Ardagh, who writes about his theory (on his website) called “The Brilliance Cycle,” there are four phases of this cycle and staring at the wall is one way to access the first phase, which is Awakening. Jack Canfield came up with the title for “Chicken Soup for the Soul” while in this phase.
“Original, great ideas arise not from imitation or ‘trying,’ but from knowing how to let go so completely that you enter into a state of consciousness without boundaries,” says Ardagh, a California-based author of five books, public speaker, and film-maker.
After Awakening, or releasing control or “trying,” comes Flow, which occurs after we are rested and recharged. It’s when ideas come fast and furiously and it’s difficult to keep up with the thoughts passing through your mind like running water. This is a very gratifying state of being that often comes with rushes of adrenalin and momentum.
The third phase is Action, which is required to get your idea out of your mind or your computer and into the world. It can be a difficult phase considering it sometimes requires money, cooperation from others (like having your book published or recording your music or starting your business with a partner or employees).
The final step in the process is Letting Go, when some aspect of your output or project is complete. This phase can inspire feelings of sadness or disappointment. Ardagh likens it to post-partum depression, when a woman feels depleted after giving birth. However, the Brilliance Cycle resets with each project or concept.
I’ve been asked what I do about writer’s block. Although it’s not something I’ve experienced much of in terms of larger projects, blogs and shorter pieces stump me from time to time. I always offer the same advice. I’ll give you a hint. It involves a period of inactivity in close proximity to a blank wall. You should try it sometime. It usually works.