This morning as I sat down to write, I had to shield the sun from my eyes as the rays drilled through the east-facing windows in front of me. It was blinding! Or maybe I’m just not used to bright sunshine in January. As I tried to write with the bright sunshine beating on my face, I unconsciously bobbed and weaved, trying to shield my eyes from the sun, but to no avail. Holding my hands out to shield the sun quickly grew tiring. After a short while, I felt a flush of warmth on my skin. I couldn’t be getting a sunburn ― through a window ― in January, could I? After fighting through my whole morning in the glaring sun, it dawned on me what I was doing: I was trying to shield myself from the sun in January. Was I nuts? I finally shut my laptop, squeezed my blinded eyes shut, and turned into the sunshine.
At noon, I met my husband for lunch, and as we were seated, my husband noticed a rash on my neck. “I think I got too much sun this morning,” I said, laughing. As we settled in our seats, I noticed the sun beating across my face, right in my eyes ― again! I immediately began searching for a blind to pull down, but found none at the tableside window. “Do you want to switch seats?” my husband asked. I stayed in my sunny seat, squinting through lunch, wondering if the universe was trying to tell me something.
Traditionally here in Nebraska, January is one of the nastiest months for winter weather. Omaha ranks number 5 among the coldest major cities in the country, on average, 133 days of subfreezing temperatures a year, with most of those days in Omaha are cloudy. (Remember About Schmidt, a grey, gloomy movie shot in Omaha?) Anyone who hates winters as much as I do knows that late January is hump time. Just get through January, survive February, and we’re on the downhill slide to spring. So who in their right mind would be fighting to stay out of the sun? What was I thinking? I wasn’t.
“Most aspects of our culture currently lead us to try to reduce uncertainty: we learn so that we will know what things are. Instead, we should consider exploiting the power of uncertainty so that we can learn what things can become.” – Ellen Langer.
Mindfulness is all about being in the moment, and it took me half this sunny day to be reminded of this. But we’re all human, and how often do we mindlessly behave in a way contrary to logic, for instance, turning away from something that might bring us joy? We all have what psychologists refer to as “pre-programmed scripts” that guide our day-to-day behavior, a kind of autopilot of behavior. For instance, the sun usually doesn’t shine in Omaha in January; I’m not used to it shining in my face, so I’m going to shield myself from it because, in my mind, it’s not supposed to be there. Mindless!
What does this have to do with writing? Consider the mindset we bring to each writing session. How many pre-conceived ideas and assumptions do we make each time we sit down to write (or participate in any creative activity)? How might our creative choices change if we were to take ourselves off auto-pilot and let go any pre-conceived notions about how we think writers should be or act or do? What if forcing ourselves to sit our butt in a chair for however many number of hours a day or pages a day other writers say that “real” writers should sit and write was found to be counterproductive?
In the wonderful book on creativity, The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron says, “As artists, grounding our self-image in military discipline is dangerous. In the short run, discipline may work, but it will work only for a while. By its very nature, discipline is rooted in self-admiration. . . . We admire ourselves for being so wonderful. The discipline itself, not the creative outflow, becomes the point” (153).
Do you sit in front of your computer screen, running on auto-pilot until you’ve met your pre-determined word count? Do you pull the curtains shut because the sun isn’t supposed to be shining in January (guilty)? Consider that stopping to enjoy a rare warm, sunny day in January instead of BIC (butt in chair) might, just might, be much more productive in the long run than trying to ignore the miracle that it is.
In her book, Cameron goes on to explain that for creatives, enthusiasm is much more important than military-like discipline: “Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us” (153). Perhaps the universe was simply trying to get me to stop and appreciate the beauty that was surrounding me – and get my butt out of the chair. Snow is in the weekend forecast. I’ll be grateful I did.