It’s been a long time since we’ve had that experience of lazing around on a picnic blanket on a summer afternoon, bees buzzing, kids running around, and hot dogs grilling. Can you even remember such a moment? Nowadays we seem to be running and running and never catching up. There is always a lot more to do and an awful lot that gets left undone. When was the last time you felt “caught up”? On the order of years ago?
A key to maintaining some semblance of organization as a creative is to manufacture some “catching up” moments where, putting your perpetual to-do list off to one side, you take stock and make some new decisions, some new calculations, and maybe some new plans and schedules. How often ought you to manufacture one of these “catching up and taking stock” sessions? Once a month must be some sort of rough minimum, wouldn’t you say?
How much time to set aside? Surely an hour, at least. When to do it? It feels like a Sunday sort of thing, doesn’t it, a meditative day of rest sort of thing? And what to do? Ah, that’s the question! How does a creative or anyone else catch up any more? When there’s always another thing to try, another danger to avert, another bulletin to digest, another buck to make, another post to consume? Catch up? Really? Or maybe just run faster!
Here’s how to spend that Sunday hour, I think. First, you breathe. You sigh. That sigh means, “Gosh, there is so much.” You sigh at the much-ness of life. Then you talk to your body. You ask—beg it, if you have to—to not race for a little while. You sigh again. This sigh means, “Gosh, I have been racing so much.” You close your eyes and really, really stop. You stay stopped for a long time—at least several seconds
Then you murmur, “Okay. Let me sort in my mind’s eye where I’m at without looking at any of my to-do lists or project lists. Let me let my projects and ‘things’ just float by and let me see where I’m at in some impressionist, intuitive way.”
So, if you’re a writer, your current book might float by, and all those blog posts you’d intended to write, and all those social media posts you never posted, and all those emails to agents and editors, and all those fragments for that memoir you might write one day, and those two unpublished novels in their folders whose names you can’t quite remember, and …
You let that all float by painlessly. Maybe they swirl about and bump into each other. Maybe some burst like soap bubbles. Maybe some you let escape. These escapes might be accompanied by thoughts like, “Not the memoir’s time. Not the time for unpublished novel 1. Not the time for social media posting.” What may settle is your understanding of where you want to focus going forward—what two or three or four stars will shine in your firmament.
This might sound like: “Okay, more time on the current novel. A little real attention to unpublished novel 2, which deserves my attention, including minimal but real attention to the painful task of finding an agent for it. And a themed series of blog posts.” Voila! You have caught up with yourself!
You can tear up all of your now-out-of-date to-do lists and feel, for the moment at least, calm and settled. This feeling may not last for very long; but even as it fades and you find yourself racing again, it will be an updated race—a race much more in keeping with your current intentions.
When you don’t know your next step, stop.
Pause from the path you were traveling, sit by the side of the road and wait.
What is emerging will arrive soon.
What is unfolding will soon become clear.
Do not worry if you are waiting, doing nothing.
You’ll be moving again soon.
Flow is a constant stream, but it is not experienced at the same speed or with the same vehemence all the time.
It is better to wait for your true path to emerge, than to force yourself to continue on the false path.
Drop your ego at the side of the road and be still.
Soon, guidance will appear.