Here are my first four tips, three of them quite closely related though each produces subtly different results. If you’re put off by any, or don’t see the point, that’s fine. Just go for what resonates best with you. But keep in mind that a strong rejection may be a sign that you may be sub-consciously resisting change.
Refresh body, brain and soul with a walk in nature, or by the sea:
A local park, reserve, along a canal, quiet river or lake, woods or forest, gardens. The ideal is to walk along a quiet seaside beach. Just absorb the whole atmosphere, breathe easy, receive, open your mind. Don’t take a camera — so don’t try to photograph or even look for pictures. Don’t think. Don’t look for anything.
Just see, take in passively, feel quietly.
• Expose yourself for at least 30 minutes.
• Close your eyes for minute or two.
• If it’s warm and dry enough, take off your shoes and socks to stand with bare feet on the earth.
• Breathe comfortably — no need for special breathing techniques — but breathe throough your nose.
• If it’s raining, stand in the rain for a while but don’t expose yourself to any danger such as getting soaking wet or lightning.
• If you have to travel to reach a suitable location, try to ensure that the time in nature lasts longer than the total driving time needed to get there.
If you find yourself thinking about photographs and what you’d like to photograph, that’s fine. Allow the thoughts to take their shape and go where they will. Don’t try to control. Don’t try to make them more clever or more creative or push them in any way.
You may well find that the hardest part of this exercise is to let go, and to stop the habitual need to control, make perfect, get right or excel. You’re doing this only for yourself.
Continue gazing out to the nature. Relax. If you feel your eyelids get heavy and want to close them, close them! Breathe slowly, sigh deeply, and enjoy!
You will know when you’re ready to return to the normal pace of life. You may take a deep breath and feel that you’re woken from a nap. Or you find yourself smiling. Some change will come over you, and it’s time to return, turn homewards.
Jot to jog the mind
When you get back, jot down any further thoughts – even if it’s the need for more coffee, apples and onions next time you shop. Get into the habit of jotting down thoughts and feelings. No need for whole sentences. ‘Great!’ or ‘Surprisingly relaxing’ or ‘Sand textures’ or ‘Colours of foam’ will be enough to get your creative juices going when you read them later.
Anything that really catches your interest, or gets you excited, just jot down the outline. Don’t try to write down the details.
Again, don’t censor yourself. You’re pleasing no-one but yourself. Often, once you write a few words, you find yourself adding more details, more thoughts that you didn’t know you had. This is a big part of the exercise.But let me repeat: you’re pleasing no-one but yourself. You don’t have to show me anything; you don’t have to show anyone anything.
So, if you want to write a single word like ‘Beautiful!’ do that. What you want to write is the right amount. And if you need to write ‘Phone Mother before 4pm’ then write it.
You can date the entry, but it’s not obligatory. Nothing is. Take it easy. You have permission … from yourself.
The next three suggestions work on the powerful action of sounds on brain function. Sounds have extremely powerful effects on the mind, and on emotion: think of the difference between a baby gurgling with joy and its screaming when in pain. And sounds organised as music are also extremely powerful: think of the difference between a lullaby compared with trumpets calling an army. It need not be so dramatic: some music is lovely to have in the background for reading, other music (at the same quiet volume) may make reading impossible.
Re-link neurons by immersing in recordings of bird songs.
e.g. blackbird, warblers, swallows, nightingale. Just absorb, empty, receive, open up. Don’t try to listen for anything, just enjoy, marvel and sink in: let the songs vibrate through your head. Close your eyes to make it easier to listen closely.
This might seem to be a bit far-fetched, perhaps pointless to you. But it’s known that bird song can be a huge help to people recovering from strokes. It calms people, slows them down.
Modern life is so full of minute details that you need to remember: your personal identification numbers, twenty different passwords and access codes for various websites, your own phone number, how to use at least a dozen features of at least half-a-dozen software applications – each of which does the same job in its own way … the list goes on, and we haven’t even really started.
In response, the brain gets stressed and functions inefficiently. There’s a lot of neurobiology that shows this. What happens, roughly, seems to be that our brain gives priority to what appears to be most important: what we need to get through the day like driving safely, remembering to keep smiling through a dreadful meeting, shopping for an important anniversary. Creative concerns fall a long way down the agenda. We don’t need to be on top of them to get through the day.
After enough neglect, we forget — our brain forgets — how to think creatively. We forget how to think freely, without urgency or the need to solve immediate conflicting calls on our time. We get out of practice.
Listen to the bird song for a few minutes. Ideally through headphones, but certainly turn off any other music you might have on.
This is one of my favourites: of the most glorious, tireless song-bird of them all: Nightingale track
or try this for a mixture of birds: Forest sounds
Did you enjoy that? Did you feel transported to a different space, even a different time? There are literally hundreds of hours of excellent bird-song recordings on YouTube, Vimeo and elsewhere on the Internet.
Watch and listen to clear running water or waves to rejuvenate the brain stream, or brook in mountain is perfect. Also wavefall on the beach of a quiet sea. But if you can’t reach one, check out a local park for a fountain. And failing that, even water dribbling from a tap or shower is a substitute that is a lot better than nothing. OK, I grant you might look a bit nutty staring at a dribbling tap, but try it: I promise you’ll find that it’s an amazingly soothing, calming thing to do.
Observe the random shimmers of light. Watch how the drops form, then fall. Listen to the sounds they make: how musical yet irregular they are. Relate the sound to what you see: the sound of the drip preceding the next drop that is steadily forming and wobbling before dropping.
You could point a light at it from the side to increase the sparkle in the flow. Alternatively watch the water flow in bright light, so the water sparkles. Watch for three minutes, extending to ten with practice. Watch and listen, let eyes lose focus. Just absorb, empty, receive, open up.
You can also find lots of running water tracks on YouTube and Vimeo: sample a few to see what works best for you. I find some a bit too frantic, too fast-flowing.
Heavy rain is also a lovely random sound that rejuvenates the tired mind. Try this, for example, that combines rain and running water.
Use music to stimulate creative brain waves in a darkened room. A good choice is a mix of Baroque music by e.g. Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Scarlatti, Purcell. Many people have found that they can learn more easily, retain more of what they read and even think more clearly. There’s a long, long history of writers and artists who love to work to the sound of music from the European Baroque and earlier.
There are hundreds of hours of compilations on sites such as YouTube for you to set playing.
If you’re familiar with the old favourites such as Bach’s Air, Pachelbel’s Canon, it may be better to avoid them. What you want is for the music to affect you at a subconscious level, rather than listening to tunes you love. Don’t try to make sense of it or ‘follow’ the music or find the tune or melody. Just let the sound and rhythms wash over you, so you absorb their soft energy and pulse of musical notes.
Let the vibration and beat of the music resonate with the brain waves that lead to contemplation, self-illumination, creativity. It appears that the pulse of Baroque music helps the brain to enter certain brain wave states that lead to creative thinking. Try this, for example: Baroque mix. If you’d like more suggestions, let me know in the comments.
And just enjoy!
If you don’t get on with Baroque music, there is a growing body of modern ambiance pieces inspired by Japanese manga movies that are very easy on the ear. Try this (but you don’t need to watch the visuals).
Listen as much as you like. Don’t worry if you fall asleep – that’s not a bad result! If so, give yourself time to recover. The usual advice is that a nap during the day should not be longer than about 30 minutes, or else your sleep patterns may be disrupted.
What’s important is how you handle the wake up. When you open your eyes, try not to rush off to catch up with the day. Give yourself a few minutes to let your mind wander and if it lights on anything interesting, jot them down in your notebook. In this slightly dozy state, your censors – the little critics in your head I mean – the voices that normally inhibit you – your censors are not too awake themselves. Your dozy state is a good situation to let fantasy and imagination take you away!
Remember: don’t rush. Take your time: the extra time difference is probably only three to five minutes. If you rush off, you lose the benefit of the music.
Enjoy, create and breathe!