Creativity and Emptiness

Going up to McGee Creek last weekend to feel the sunshine, see the stars, smell the campfire and sleep alongside the whisper of the wind did something to me. I hadn’t been camping in over eighteen years, so it’s no wonder that I was struck with childhood memories, moments wrought with emotion at remembering my grandparents who’ve passed, a renewed appreciation for Mother Nature, and even just the sound of my own breath amidst something I know very little of—silence. The whole experience knocked me over even as it uplifted me—reminding me of my need for vacation and basically, my need to just “be.”

The High Sierras seemed to wag their proverbial fingers at me, shaming me for being so busy and encouraging me to do more of this thing called “nothing” and learn to just “be.”

Doing nothing is not something I’m good at—and I never have been. Even now, in my mid-fifties, I’ve taken to playing solitaire on my iPhone to keep my mind occupied. This jaunt through the canyons has caused me to re-think my little addiction to tiny technologies that fit into my back pocket. And in fact, my own children (who are now the same age I was when I last camped) have been encouraging me to meditate for years. Meditating is the practice of doing nothing, of calming the mind and finding one’s center.

While I don’t traditionally meditate like a yogi, in criss-cross-applesauce position—fingers poised and eyes closed, I do dabble in pseudo-meditative activities. Aside from singing, I have been known to slap paint on a blank canvas just to watch it drip, then dry. As a poet, I am experienced in the use of empty space called whitespace. Though I am not a sculptor, I am keenly aware of the negative space in sculpture that can define the form—as important as the solid shape itself. So, it does stand to reason that for Creative works, emptiness and nothingness are what actually express meaning. I concede that there is something to this nothingness.

Creativity seems to warrant empty space. In her book, “The Artist’s Way” Julia Cameron urges artists to keep margins in their calendars, as well as to carve out play dates for the practice of not-doing. Albert Einstein is known for having spent long afternoons doing just that–nothing, engaging only his imagination. Salvador Dali claimed that falling into a half-sleep state would cause him to slip into this liminal space—this slot of nothing. Meditation changes our brain’s Beta waves to Alpha and Theta waves, which relieve stress and promote well-being. Even a plant whose roots are crowded into a tiny pot can thrive when transplanted into a bigger pot and the roots can spread out. Space is good. Emptiness is powerful. Especially when that space is internal, dark, and undefined.

Not everyone’s schedule is as jam-packed as mine, but many of us do operate on a level-of-busy that flies in the face of the desert fathers’ or Buddhist monks’ idea of a good life. Learning to embrace the idea of letting go is a good beginning for both self-development and Creative works. We don’t even have to drive five hours north of Santa Clarita to experience it, either.

Nothing is everywhere.

I have to hand it to Oprah and Chopra for introducing our pop culture to meditation and marketing ideas like Super-Soul Sunday (in direct opposition to Kim Kardashian’s famed obsession with wedgies and vintage thongs) where concerned millions congregate via cyberspace to meditate and improve their practice of doing nothing. Gathering the collective around an invisible campfire to release stress is quite an accomplishment even if it’s in a file-format or a pod cast.  Meditating helps to Create healthier individuals and these individuals are what make up society. When we contemplate together, we are connected—which is the ultimate mission of Creativity. Sometimes it just might take empty space to fulfill this mission, but there’s plenty of it to go around.