Sometimes it just feels like the spark goes out.
Writer’s block. It happens to us all from time to time in life. I don’t think it’s just something that writers face. Often a block arises when there is something to learn, or overcome.
Perhaps it’s to do with the long, grey English winter, or the fact that I have become undisciplined in my daily routine. The well trodden walking paths near my house have become thought traps – pulling me back into decades of memory as I trudge the same routes week after week.
Moving a pen across a page is normally one of my simplest joys, but right now it feels like a dead end. Words elude me. Melody too. I dance mostly in my dreams.
It’s felt this way for quite some time. I’ve been able to overcome these blocks before and I wanted to share a few things I plan to do, in case they are of help to you.
1. Water – this beautiful life giving element never fails to help me. I recently watched the movie Shine, a true story about the prodigious Australian pianist, David Helfgott. The theme of water came up throughout the film – bathtubs, falling rain, swimming pools and rivers. The character of David was drawn to it and seemed to find shelter in it, especially when circumstances in his life became traumatic, and he developed a severe mental illness. I later learned that in his recent life, he sometimes spends up to five hours a day in the water. I don’t think I could rack up that many hours, but I certainly fully relate to the incredible power of water on the body, mind and soul.
It’s no coincidence that some of the greatest ideas of our times have arrived in the shower or bathtub. Water envelopes, and frees one from the weighty burden of the body. Water soothes scattered thought and aching muscle, and seeps under the skin. Water invites reflection and movement. At college, when I felt overwhelmed, I would just go to the sink and run the tap over my hands and forearms, up to elbow. Standing like this for just a minute would bring so much relief. When I was living in Manhattan for some time, just a glimpse of the Hudson river through the forest of skyscrapers would give reassurance.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says ‘sarasam asmi sagarah’ – ‘Of bodies of water, I am the ocean’. These vast bodies of water have always been extra special to me for this reason – a place of prayer and inspiration, as much as for swimming and playing.
SO – I make a commitment to myself to swim 1-2 times a week, and engage with water as much as possible.
2. ‘Morning Pages’ – Most of us have little time to do anything extra in the morning. Life is bursting at the seams most of the time – on a good day. However I’m going to try my best for at least 30 days to do the ‘Morning Pages’ exercise suggested by Julia Cameron in her book ‘The Artist’s Way’. It is very simple – as soon as you wake (or as soon as possible), you write three A4 pages of longhand, stream of consciousness. No stopping, no over thinking. If this sounds a silly idea to you, I urge you to try it for just 7 days, and see what you experience. There is no need to re-read anything you write, or for it to make sense. The important thing is the consistency.
3. Meditation in the ‘golden hours’ – since I was a child I have heard about the special quality of the early morning hours. In the language of yoga, the time one and a half hours before sunrise is called the ‘Brahma muhurta’. I have a deep love for this time of day; its power is undeniable. There is a stillness, a sweet opportunity, and a timelessness about these hours. Before the day has started its chaotic movement and the flurry of thoughts have risen like a flock of birds, these hours are unexpectedly nourishing. It is said in the ancient scriptures of the East, and re-emphasised by monks, sages, saints and masters – that this time is the best for meditation, focus and growing in wisdom. I experience it, and have faith in it.
The main challenge is lethargy. It’s fairly simple – if you don’t go to bed early, you will struggle to wake early. So simple I make the same mistake, wilfully, again and again. It is for this reason that many a poet have spoken of sleep as an enemy – a thief who steals away these precious moments of life. In the Bhagavad Gita, the great warrior Arjuna is also named ‘Gudakesha’, meaning ‘conqueror of sleep’.
SO – I will make a commitment to myself to do my morning japa meditation during this time for at least 7 days (to start) and try to continue for at least 30. It is a little easier right now as the sun rises later in the Northern hemisphere.
O traveler get up; it is dawn-it is not right that you continue sleeping.
One who awakes, he finds, One who is asleep, he loses.
Get up and open your eyes from slumber and meditate on your Master.