I once saw a documentary about Bhutan and how it had changed the measurement of its government’s success from the gross domestic product (GDP) metric to a metric of gross national happiness. As if that alone wouldn’t be intriguing enough (and I do think others should follow that example), there were scenes from a school were children had written on the wall lists of the most important values. One of these values, prominently written in large letters was: resilience.
What a thing to teach to children already in school! In a creative life it seems to me one of the core skills to foster and develop is just that: resilience.
It is not only that we have to recover from time to time from rejection (or what we perceive as such). And there is a lot of that, of course. But worse, I think, is our own inner rejection and what is called fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). This FUD is something that can block us completely and clog our creative arteries. It is the cholesterol of the creative life.
Now, I don’t know how the children in Bhutan train for resilience – unfortunately the documentary didn’t go into that. But I have for myself found that a kind of scaffold of routines and practices helps me to go on after, and to recover from, FUD attacks.
In her famous book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends mainly two techniques to overcome writer’s block (which I think has at least similar causes or is even the same as what I described as FUD attacks). One of these methods is the practice of writing so-called Morning Pages. This means to write first thing in the morning three pages of longhand (yes: paper!) free or stream-of-consciousness writing. This writing doesn’t have to make sense, one just drops whatever thought comes to mind, spelling doesn’t matter and one can and should even interrupt sentences when a new thought occurs. The point really is the act of writing on auto-pilot. Not surprisingly, a lot of whining, self-pity and nonsense will be the result – but that doesn’t matter because nobody (including yourself) should read these pages. And I can say with my handwriting no-one even could read these pages. In fact I burn them after a while. Someone compared the writing of morning pages to taking out the mental trash and I think that is a good way to describe it.
A second method I use is being orderly, organized and disciplined in my planning and scheduling. This might sound counterintuitive to the creative process and maybe it is. I just found that having a more rigid frame helps me already to prevent FUD attacks and I don’t perceive it as intrusion to my creative activity. I’ll write more about this method in a later post.
But resilience is for me also important under a different aspect and one that has become (unconsciously) one of the big, persistent themes in my work. That is the resilience of other living things. Plants growing on hopelessly unfertile ground, living things that endure hardship kind of attract my empathy and I have brotherly feelings for some of these creatures which I have sometimes watched repeatedly over a long period of time. Indeed, we can learn from nature a lot about resilience. It seems to me that resilience is one of the deep mysteries of living. The shouted answer to the emptiness of the universe: “Damn you, I will go on!”.
What a thing to teach children in school, indeed !