I’m currently engaged in a course with my yoga nidrā mentor that looks at wishes and dreams for our lives and then begins mapping directions towards realising them. It’s not a course in ‘you can be/have it all’. It recognises limitations and the real world, but is proving to be a creative and encouraging way to re-set the vision. When we are striving towards creative projects or becoming a different story, most of us will have a pattern of seeing change and results mixed with periods when nothing seems to be happening or we feel that we’ve lost the thread. We see this across our life, where we can wipe out our good nutrition habits with one holiday or our usual exercise routine unravels after one minor illness. And we see it in our creative lives too, where we can suddenly feel we’re on a plateau and stuck.
How do we keep the vision alive?
What is it that allows passion to thrive and grow rather than withering? I think the answer is very often in the question. The vision we were following may have shifted and we find ourselves engaged in a project (from how we excercise to what we want to write currently) that no longer makes our hearts sing. We need passion.
If the vision you think you should be following doesn’t delight you, if you are following a path that pleases others more than yourself, if you’re bored by your own writing, then it’s time to rethink. To stay vital, the vision has to be fresh and it has to be your own.
Of course we need resolve to pursue a creative project like writing a haiku each day or finishing a novel, but simply forcing ourselves on and on is likely to lead to burn out. Intrinsic motivation is something completely different. When what we are writing is what we really want to be doing then we begin to take ourselves more seriously as writers. When you take the space to think about the person you want to be and the life you want to lead, the focus shifts to passion, delight and vision.
This doesn’t mean that the vision will never feel dull again. At some point we’ll reset it again because writing, like any art, has to keep developing. A long time ago I worked with a poet who told me during a workshop that they had learnt everything they needed and were beyond feedback. It felt to me like a point of terrible stagnation. As soon as we start to think we’ve ‘made it’, we’re lost.
If we’re alive, there is always more to learn, more to be be. In the film Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character tells ‘Annie’ that a relationship is like a shark. If it doesn’t keep moving the shark dies. What they have on their hands, he says, is a dead shark. It’s not only true of relationships. Any aspect of your life or creativity can stagnate. When that happens, what you have on your hands is a dead shark.
Not only do we constantly need to pause to remind ourselves that process is more important than outcomes, but we also need times when we reappraise whether we could be pushing our writing further, taking it in new directions, just having more delight with it and a bigger vision of it.
Connecting the vision
I also think that keeping the vision alive is so much easier to do when we stop thinking of our creativity as a solo expedition. We may be the one who sits down to put the words on the page, but we get to that point by having a team in the background providing the lifeline of support. The team might include the inspiring authors you are reading, the person who looks after your child while you write, the person who brings you a cup of tea, the people who read your drafts, the places that speak to you, and so many more. It’s good to ask for help and make connections. It’s good to know that you can never get away from the myriad connections that support all of us every day—from mother Earth to the corner shop.
I was reminded of this connectedness recently by a friend and writer who sent me a link to Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel prize speech.
At the banquet speech Tokarczuk emphasises this by remembering her ‘team’ and challenging the idea inherent in prizes, that they are all about the individual:
prizes treat their laureates as individuals, by ascribing one-hundred-percent of the merit to them. When in fact there are always lots of other people behind their success – those who support, help and inspire.
So my thanks go to all those who have taken care of me while I was writing, who have done the research, edited the texts, and who supported me when the going got tough. The people who had different opinions from mine, and never hesitated to say so. And to those who rubbed soothing ointment into the back of my stiff neck.
I also owe a great deal to my translators. They will continue to be the most attentive readers of everything I write, they’ll catch every little inconsistency, and they’ll kick up a fuss about every mistake I make.
And in the full speech, which is incredibly powerful, she digs into this connectivity much more deeply. Talking about how her mother read fairy stories to her as a child she notes:
… animals were mysterious, wise, self-aware creatures with whom we had always been connected by a spiritual bond and a deep-seated similarity. But rivers, forests and roads had their existence too―they were living beings that mapped our space and built a sense of belonging, an enigmatic Raumgeist. The landscape surrounding us was alive too, and so were the Sun and the Moon, and all the celestial bodies―the entire visible and invisible world.
When did I start to have doubts? I’m trying to find the moment in my life when at the flick of a switch everything became different, less nuanced, simpler. The world’s whisper fell silent, to be replaced by the din of the city, the murmur of computers, the thunder of airplanes flying past overhead, and the exhausting white noise of oceans of information.
At some point in our lives we start to see the world in pieces, everything separately, in little bits that are galaxies apart from one another, and the reality in which we live keeps affirming it: doctors treat us by specialty, taxes have no connection with snow-plowing the road we drive to work along, our lunch has nothing to do with an enormous stock farm, or my new top with a shabby factory somewhere in Asia. Everything is separate from everything else, everything lives apart, without any connection. […]
The world is dying, and we are failing to notice. We fail to see that the world is becoming a collection of things and incidents, a lifeless expanse in which we move around lost and lonely, tossed here and there by somebody else’s decisions…
She goes on to talk about how she has always been fascinated by connections and it seems to me that this is the terrirory of the artist (including scientific artists).
At base―as I am convinced―the writer’s mind is a synthetic mind that doggedly gathers up all the tiny pieces in an attempt to stick them together again to create a universal whole.
How are we to write, how are we to structure our story to make it capable of raising this great, constellation form of the world? […]
We have more and more proof of the existence of some spectacular, sometimes highly surprising dependencies on a worldwide scale.
Nurturing the vision
To write with vision we have to desire the creative process, love what we are doing (even when it’s hard) and constantly be learning, because the death of vision is thinking we’ve arrived. And we also have to nurture the vision. We do this when we’re aware of our connectedness and grateful for all the ways in which we’re supported.
And we also do it by protecting the space and time to write. We should all be generous with our time and resources, but we also have to make choices and part of our generosity is in the writing we put into the world.
Which brings me full circle to the course I’m currently doing that is making me dig deeply into wishes and dreams. Our writing and our life should make our hearts sing. Some of the writing may be dark, some of the songs may be of grief, but they should still be what you care about with passion. For then our writing and our life will be on the path of the story we want to embody. As Mary Oliver puts it
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with our one wild and precious life?
Here’s to finding the vision of our story.