Rainbow Abstract3

4. Breathing Ideas into LIfe

words written by other authors appear in PURPLE
practical exercises appear in ORANGE

* breathe vb 4: ‘to take in air, especially for combustion’, as in “the engine breathed into life” and “she wants to breathe new life into the project” and “the wind breathed through the trees” and “give your ideas the time and space to breathe”

“Poetry is thoughts that breathe, words that burn.”
~Thomas Gray, Poet

You cannot go into the womb to form the child;
it is there and makes itself come forth whole …
Of course you have a little more control over your writing than that;
but let it take you and if it seems to take you off the track don’t hold back.”

~Gertrude Stein

“There are a number of metaphors that creators use to describe their process, but none more common than that of gestation.”
~Guy Claxton

A definition of inspiration is ‘to breathe into life.’ Breathing feeds us with oxygen, and oxygen feeds the brain and the body and the emotions and the spirit. The true meaning of inspiration is ‘breathing’, ‘inhalation’ rather than ‘motivation,’ and it is always an active process.

And yet, I suspect that every artist has to learn to trust and value the importance of their unconscious to deliver inspiration. Most of us will have experience of coming to some of our best ideas seemingly ‘out of the blue’ rather than from deliberately working them up. And, just as for our art, perhaps we need to remember the worth of giving our ideas the time and space to breathe in other dimensions of our lives too.

In alchemy the Hare has profound and shamanistic meanings. She lives in the interior of the earth and is an archetypal guide to the world of the unconscious, a spirit guide who leads us down through the darkness that we must chart in order to lose our ignorance and emerge into the light. It is perhaps this Hare that we need to evoke as we learn this sixth way of breathing – lightly, giving our ideas and our thinking unhurried space to form and deepen before we force them out into the light.

In his book, Hare Brain Tortoise Mind, the Hare Guy Claxton gives us is the speedy Hare of the fable who loses the race against the slower and less dynamic Tortoise. Claxton uses this fable to encourage us to foster our unconscious thinking, believing that our greatest creativity will come, not from the highly focused, target-driven thinking of the hare brain, but from nurturing a slower, more contemplative, day-dreamy mind. Regardless of whether or not we associate the Hare with this kind of mysterious unconscious percolation, Claxton is giving us some really helpful ideas to fire and breathe our creativity into life:

Some kinds of everyday predicament are better, more effectively approached with a slow mind. Some mysteries can only be penetrated with a relaxed, unquesting mental attitude. Some kinds of understanding simply refuse to come when they are called…

Recent scientific thinking shows convincingly that the more patient, less deliberate modes of mind are particularly suited to making sense of situations that are intricate, shadowy or ill-defined…

Poets have always known the limits of conscious deliberate thinking, and have sought to cultivate these slower mistier ways of knowing. have little… The unconscious realms of the human mind will successfully accomplish a number of unusual, interesting and important tasks if they are given the time…

The individuals and societies of the West have rather lost touch with the value of contemplation. Only active thinking is regarded as productive. Sitting gazing absently at your office wall or out of the window is not of value. Yet many of our icons of creativity and wisdom have spent much of their time doing nothing: Einstein would be frequently found staring into space; the Dalai Lama spends hours each day in meditation; even Sherlock Holmes is described by his creator as entering a meditative state ‘with a dreamy vacant expression in his eyes’…

The undermind [unconscious] needs to be left to its own devices for a while, and then the need for patience – the ability to tolerate uncertainty, to stay with the feeling of not-knowing for a while, to stand aside and let a mental process neither be observed nor directed take its course – becomes all important…

The poet Ted Hughes once talked about ‘the kind of thinking we have to learn, and if we do not somehow learn it, our minds lie in us like fish in the pond of a man who cannot fish … I am talking about whatever kind of trick or skill it is that enables us to catch these elusive or shadowy thoughts…’
He said he learned this skill literally fishing, spending hours gazing at the red or yellow dot in the water in front of you, all the normal little nagging impulses that are competing for your attention gradually dissolving away until you are left with the whole field of your awareness resting lightly but very attentively on the float, and on the invisible autonomous world of water things suspended below it, and moving – perhaps – towards the surface and towards your lure. Your imagination and your perception are both working on and in the water world.

You can email me for a fuller extract of his ideas from Guy Claxton’s book, Hare Brain Tortoise Mind – why intelligence increases when you think less

Exercises to Ignite Ideas and Trust Unconscious Thinking
Any activity that helps you to pull away from whatever you are doing and breathe in new air will likely to bring you fresh ideas and thinking:
* get out into a different environment,
* or spend some time with a favourite piece of art,
* or make something, perhaps cooking or sculpting or modeling or drawing…
Any activity that makes it easy and inevitable for you to fall into free and unconscious breathing will help to slow your mind and provide the space for your unconscious to percolate.

In his recent book, Imagine – How Creativity Works, neuroscience specialist Jonah Lehrer writes:

Take a long walk. Daydream. Find some way to relax. Alpha waves are a signal in the brain that’s closely correlated with states with relaxation. And what scientists have found is that when people are relaxed, they’re much more likely to have those big “A-ha!" moments, those moments of insights when these seemingly impossible problems get solved. So when you hit the wall, the best thing you can do is probably take a very long, warm shower. The answer will only arrive once you stop looking for it.

Sometimes the best thing I have done is gone and had a sleep.
One of the best ways for gently encouraging the creative Alpha thinking of the unconscious mind is through the wide, open window of poetry. This might be either writing your own poetry or reading and letting your thoughts fly through and out from others’ poems.
Here is one of New Zealand’s favourite poems, which you might like to spend some time inside…

Hone Tuwhare

I can hear you
making small holes
in the silence

If I were deaf
the pores of my skin
would open to you
and shut

And I
should know you
if I were blind

the something
special smell of you
when the sun cakes
the ground

the steady
drum-roll sound
you make
when the wind drops

But if I
should not hear
smell feel or see

you would still
define me
disperse me
wash over me

……Back to Six Ways of Breathing

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