A recent piece in the New York Times dives into a relatively unknown phase of Lou Reed’s illustrious career, when he fired himself from the Velvet Underground and stopped making music for a year. The article describes a period defined by doubt and depression, with Reed stealing away to his childhood bedroom to scribble poetry far from the public eye. It also proposes that this year of refuge is responsible for what many consider to be his greatest work, “Walk on the Wild Side.”
The piece really got me thinking. What does it really take to connect to inspiration and innovation? And what does pausing like this look like for us writers? It doesn’t always look like quitting everything and hiding away for a year (though it might), but it does invariably take space, silence and a true willingness to listen, experiment and wonder…
Sometimes the best way to seek inspiration is to stop altogether. Psychologist Jonathan Smallwood found that our creativity levels are greatly influenced by our ability to disengage from our external environment. While it’s not always possible to take off on an impromptu, year-long sabbatical, there are other ways to steal away and ignite the muse within. It begins with listening.
Toni Morrion said, “All narrative begins for me with listening. When I read, I listen. When I write, I listen – for silence, inflection, rhythm, rest.”
Another consummate listener is US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, who describes her listening process as a conversation and a call back and forth with a new work. She writes, “With each new poem, story, or song, I need to be challenged, opened to the impossible, then restored. This happens with a call-and-response between my spirit and the light of knowing. I ask questions, listen, then find the musical waves upon which to write.”
Mindfulness practices can help us cultivate a listening practice. Various types of meditations and guided practices can help us focus our awareness and move from the external to the internal.
In class last week I offered a body scan (if you’re a studio member you can watch the replay), and I’ll offer a written version here.
Body Scan Meditation
(you may like to record yourself reading this script and then practicing)
This body scan can be performed while lying down, sitting, or in any other postures you find comfortable and relaxing.
Begin by bringing your attention into your body.
You can close your eyes or keep them open.
Notice how your body feels, feel the weight of your body on the chair or on the floor.
Take a few deep breaths.
Notice your feet on the floor, notice the sensations of your feet touching the floor. The weight and pressure, vibration, heat. Notice if they have any stories to tell. As you listen, notice if these stories are loud, quiet or even silent.
Notice your legs against the chair or the floor. Notice their heaviness, lightness or temperature. Notice if they have any stories to tell. As you listen, notice if these stories are loud, quiet or even silent.
Notice your back against the chair or the floor. Notice what the surface support feels like. Breathe into the whole back. Notice if your back has any stories to tell. As you listen, notice if these stories are loud, quiet or even silent.
Now, on the next breath, bring your awareness to your belly, your ribs, your heart, your lungs and your whole torso. Breathe into your whole torso. Notice if your torso has stories to tell. As you listen, notice if these stories are loud, quiet or even silent.
Notice your hands, your fingers and wrists. Relax them on purpose. Ask your hands if they have anything to say. As you listen, notice if these stories are loud, quiet or even silent.
Notice your arms, your biceps and triceps, elbows too. Let the breath move up and down the arms. Notice the sensation in your arms. Notice if your arms have any stories to share, notice the volume. As you listen, notice if these stories are loud, quiet or even silent.
Let your awareness move up your arms to your neck and throat. Let them be soft. Relax. Breathe in and out to the whole throat and neck. What does your neck have to say? As you listen, notice if these stories are loud, quiet or even silent.
Now, separate your top teeth from your bottom teeth. Soften your jaw on purpose. Let your face and facial muscles be soft. Breath into your whole face. Ask your face if they have anything to say? What stories does your face hold? As you listen, notice if these stories are loud, quiet or even silent.
Then notice your whole body, present. Take a few deep breaths into your whole body.
Be aware of your whole body as best you can. Take a breath, and take any micro movements. Perhaps wiggle your toes or fingers. And then when you’re ready, gently flutter your eyes open.
Return to wherever you are and write for 10 minutes.
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