Many of you unhappy lawyers would love to be more creative. But you finally sit down to confront the page, or the canvas, or whatever your creative urge, and you get a big, fat, nothing. And you conclude that you really aren’t creative at all, that it’s a pipe dream, and you need to just buckle down and get your real work done.
Problem is, what you’ve just done is akin to concluding that the tiny seedling that just sprouted should be a huge, whopping sunflower, already! So you pull up the seedling and call the whole experiment a failure.
Like anything important in life, your creativity needs nurturing first, not command performances.
How do you do that? Naturally, I have a few ideas. One of the best ideas I can give you is to simply go for a walk, without any electronics or screens.
No Screens = Room to Ruminate
I’m on a bit of a tear about getting away from screens and constant stimulation lately. I see people in the park, walking or running tuned into earbuds and tuned out of their surrounding, and I just don’t get it. Yes, I know, many people want something to help distract them from the discomfort of running, in particular, or maybe just for motivation when they hit the wall (or whatever it’s called these days; I wouldn’t know).
When I walk, I never listen to anything that comes over an earbud. Yes, I am probably ruining my life by not taking the time to listen to a really great podcast. Oh well! For me, walking time is time to let go of all the crap sloshing around in my brain, so that new and better stuff has room to wander in and take up residence.
This is how I got my idea for this post, in fact.
It started out as a simple wish. I had finally managed to turn off my phone and Facebook addiction, and very reluctantly get out of my car. I did not want to walk. I wanted to go home and catch up on the sleep that I missed via my other current addiction, Criminal Minds. (Ten seasons on Netflix, people! I’m on season 5.)
So I wished for something interesting, maybe even magical, to present itself as I walked. And then I started paying attention to my surroundings, so that I could notice whatever that might be.
I must pause here and note that usually, I might see a really huge acorn, or a cool bit of tree lichen, and that is fine. Plenty, in fact. Nature holds incredible magic and beauty.
Be Open to the Silly and Ridiculous
Today, the Universe decided to show off a little. I hadn’t gone 25 yards when I saw the elusive white squirrel that lives in our park. Whenever I see her (or him), I feel like I have been abundantly blessed with some kind of magic.
That would have been a big, fat pot of plenty for today. But then, as I walked and marinated in the magic of the squirrel, I saw some really adorable little mushrooms, and the random thought hit me that wow, those look like little fairy umbrellas or something. Cool.
A few feet later, I saw some wild strawberries, and wondered if the fairies used them for food, or if they attracted the oafish bunnies, who hop here, there and everywhere and wreak havoc on fairy neighborhoods.
Yes, clearly I had jumped rather unintentionally into a storyline of some sort. Since I don’t write about fairies, oh, EVER, I was a little bemused with this. But suspending judgment, and refusing to make any kind of decision about whether I wanted to write about fairies, whether such a story could go anywhere interesting, or contemplating the market for such a story, I just stayed with it and kept my lookout.
Not too much further, and I saw a lone thistle plant. It has one fully blooming flower hovering about a yard above the ground, and one about to burst open. I wondered if thistles were like dandelions, that turned into floating seeds, and if so, would the fairies be able to scale the wickedly prickly thistle to catch a ride on a breeze? Hmmmm.
On the east side of the park, bounded by a large creek that feeds into the Harpeth River a few scant yards away, I listened to the call of a little gravel bridge over a large drainage pipe. A black damsel fly lured me in, but was obstinately camera shy. On the other side of the bridge, though, I found two trees with twists of roots, perfect places for a fairy fortress or a summer palace.
As I headed for the end of the loop, I spied a lone feather lying in the grass. Maybe a couple fairies had had a few too many cups of dew, and tried to flag down a recalcitrant dove to cadge a ride home?
At the end of my usual walk, I felt another tug toward a bit of path right next to the kiddie playground. I haven’t walked that particular bit in ages, since my son long ago outgrew that playground. I walked it anyway, feeling fairly sure I wouldn’t see anything, or maybe ever understand why I felt called to walk there.
To my surprise, and sadness, I stumbled on the remains of a blue jay. Even with my science hat on, I couldn’t really discern what had killed it. Maybe it was a valiant victim in a fairy war, shot down by fairy enemies? Or maybe the jay itself was the attacker?
Moving Mindfulness Creates Calm and Creativity
I tell all of my weird thoughts and musings here not just so you can call the local authorities and have me checked out for mental disorders. (Though feel free, because at this point of my life a couple days of not having to work, let alone shop, plan, cook and clean up for several meals a week sounds unbearably wonderful.)
Instead, I want to show you just how you can notice the world around you, a form of mindfulness that is very calming and soothing. Plus, notice how you don’t need to have some big plan, lots of expensive pens, paper, cameras, paints, pencils, apps, or any other fancy supplies to let your creativity out to play.
What you need, and what is fantastically hard for driven professionals like lawyers, is to simply let your mind wander with some ideas that are not calculated to solve a problem. To ponder without an agenda. To allow yourself to simply be, in all your unproductive glory.
If you are a storyteller of some ilk, you can use walks to gather your material for that. If storytelling isn’t your thing right now, you can still use walks to power your creative side.
- Look for patterns or numbers. Is everyone wearing teal one day? Red? Pastels?
- Look for changes from the last time you walked there. Are the storefronts the same? Are new plants growing in planter boxes?
- Look for the same people you saw last time.
- Check out the fashion show before you. Do some people look like characters? Models? Are they wearing cool, daring things you need to add to your wardrobe?
- Notice the changes in the light, day to day and season to season. How are the shadows different? The colors?
Focusing on the things right in front of you helps pull your brain out of its rut of worry and anxiety, which most of you suffer from at least occasionally. Right away, that’s a huge reason to go on mindful walks.
The brain, too, can’t make the connections required to generate new ideas when we focus our cognitive attention on any particular task or problem (or chore, or job, or traffic, etc.)
And as my own little walk one day shows, you need to lose focus on tasks and problem that beset you, so your mind can be freed to make those random connections that are the essence of creativity.
If you’re feeling a creative stirring, go for a walk somewhere. Bring a sense of adventure. But be sure to leave your ear buds behind.
If you just can’t seem to extricate yourself from your phone or your desk, drop me a line. I can help.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering attorney who loves helping unhappy lawyers tap into their creativity and zest for life and work. If you would like some help with that, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a discounted sample coaching session.