Bathing in my own attention, my breath, exercising the ‘coming back’ muscle whenever I get distracted, is what I call basic meditation. Every moment in this state is a moment of creative regeneration.
Why is it so hard to do what you know full well you need to do, exactly when you need to do it? I have the tendency to postpone what I need right now until some point in the future when I have done all the things that need doing — and my counselling practice fully supports my conviction that I’m not alone!
I am presently designing a series of Creative Regeneration workshops (starting in Glasgow, Scotland on Feb 4th). In this I am following the good old principle that if you want to learn something properly, teach it. Preparing to teach something is the best way there is of breaking down a subject into its component parts, or if that sounds too mechanical to you (as it does to me) of discerning the main points, the areas of real significance and power, within the whole. For someone who tends to get a sense of ‘everything at once’, it can be very valuable to hold a given subject down in time and space.
So, I am breaking down the main areas of what works for me in my own creative regeneration, in order to share the benefits, and with the intention of catalysing it for others. This makes me extremely aware of how little time I devote to properly practising what I preach. By ‘properly’ I mean not in snatches of time when it’s convenient or when I am particularly in the mood, but deliberately setting time aside. And this time seems to have more power to it, if it is purposefully taken before starting on all the things that ‘should’ be done, and/or before switching on any kind of screen. This doesn’t necessarily mean always in the morning, but it may mean in breaks before the next chunk of activity, rather than when I’m exhausted after it, as an afterthought.
So what actually are the practices that work for me? It always starts with meditation. For me, basic meditation means being my own attention, inhabiting it fully, dwelling in it, feeling it out. An easy way into this is paying attention to the breath, because it has to be there constantly, because in a sense it is life itself. When attention edges, or races away, or becomes absorbed in something else, be it an external stimulus or a thought or feeling or physical sensation or pain, bringing it back to awareness of the breath is like exercising a muscle — the meditation muscle. This skill of coming back, out of thoughts, out of feelings, is I would say among the number one life skills. Having that muscle honed in actual meditation practice makes everyday life so much less overwhelming.
Once settled in my attention, another aspect of regeneration I might use is focusing, becoming aware of the various senses that arise — not exactly thoughts, emotions or sensations, but a kind of composite gut-sense of my life right now, or some aspect of it which wants attention. Being with this felt sense, allowing it to develop, and to respond, can move situations along in ways I could simply never have thought of with my rational faculties.
Focusing is a creative process. It also involves finding words for what doesn’t really fit the normal everyday vocabulary — if it did, it wouldn’t be a felt sense, and we’d know exactly how to state it. Finding words which the body responds to, saying ‘yes — that’s it!’ starts a process well known to artists of all kinds. How else do you know the next line in a poem, the next brushstroke, or note? Writing these words down, letting them form in strings that have not been said before, this isn’t just a question of producing an end result but of extending, dwelling in, the process of living itself. Every moment spent there is regenerative.
Finally, there is art. Painting or drawing from this sense, asking what needs to be expressed, not worrying about it fitting or representing something or measuring up in any way, is fantastically interesting and also healing. The whole process is one of checking with what it is in us that responds — call it intuition, or the gut, or the felt sense, or spirit. We might not pay explicit attention to it as such, but that is ultimately how we decide what to do when making art.
Bathing in my own attention, my breath, as the foundation, refusing to be distracted for long, coming back to the breath, to the bathing, and from there moving into making words, making art, doing ‘on purpose’ what is in fact always happening in the process of living, underneath the distractions — this is what I call creative regeneration. I don’t do it ‘on purpose’ enough, but I have done enough of it to know how powerfully, concretely, and magically it works.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on January 7, 2018.
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