My Creative Experiment – 7 Days of Silence

So – seven days, no speaking.

I woke up in the middle of the night to turn on the air conditioning and fend off the inevitable Toronto humidity and realized that I was technically allowed to speak.

I had no desire to do so.

One would think I’d have hummed a little song, made a big noise or at least tested out a sentence but in this week I’ve realized that for a person who speaks so much I really do enjoy the quiet.

There’s something in the stillness, in the discipline, that brings a sort of peace and steadiness that I’ve never experienced before. It brings a calm that is foreign to my overactive mind and mouth.

Though it’s been frustrating and at times lonely it’s also been a gateway into my own passions, communication and relationships.

The inability to speak leaves limitless space for others to express themselves. Sitting back and watching another inhabit that space, occupy a verbal place that is shared but that they are the only actor in is actually quite beautiful.

It seems that the small nuances are magnified. In myself all of the little reactive noises that I make are amplified and my actions and expressions are bigger and more dramatic. Yesterday reconnected me with my love of acting, of physical excitement and creation. But in others I witnessed other amazing characteristics grow larger and more evident.

My mother’s generosity, warmth and kindness exploded as the week passed. Her fierce love was still ever present but, typically quiet and subtle, her support was more expressed.

On Wednesday I went for tea and a movie with my best friend and realized we didn’t need language. Only a few moments in we were laughing and joking and she too was communicating mostly in gestures. It felt so good to know that even without words we have so much and can spend hours together loving the company and laughing from our bellies. Our friends, as chosen family, are such an incredible gift and it was amazing to have this chance to really witness the power of our friendship in small but significant glory.

Last night was spent with someone new(ish). I think both of us were quite concerned that it would be awkward, spending hours together when I couldn’t speak, being so close to the start of our friendship but it was really wonderful.

Not being able to verbalize responses, leaving more space for his expression and focusing our interaction outward brought out a side of him that I’d not seen before. It brought out mutual silliness, new forms of expression and shared stillness. It was so much fun.

I’m not sure that this is doing such a great job of explaining my experience of silence. Maybe I’m still too close to it or maybe it isn’t meant to be expressed in words but I am proud that I made it through and I am happy that it’s over.

As a creative exercise it’s been deeply valuable and I’m excited to start creating – to paint, to sing, to write and move with this in my physical and experiential memory. I already feel it lending fresh energy to my life and my perspective.

I’ll definitely do it again, but maybe next time it will be outside of the city. I get the feeling that being surrounded by nature, by quiet and earthly beauty will bring a whole new experience to the fore, allowing for more active creation, for the work to be the focus rather than the result.

Happy weekend beauties, I hope you get out in the sunshine and remember to play…

xx

My Creative Experiment – Silence, Day 6.

In today’s silence my heart is singing.

I’m inspired, energized, happy and connected.

Despite gloomy weather for most of the day I’ve been wandering the city and checking out one of its most creative spaces – Harbourfront.

I don’t know why I don’t live there. By the water and bent on cultivating the craft oriented talents of Canadians, at the Harbourfront Centre I saw three amazing exhibits, a guy blowing glass and a load of kids having an amazing time exploring the space. Then I ate lunch looking out over the lake surrounded by different languages as work continued to replace a grotty parking lot with a beautiful, plant filled square. I even saw the beauty in some seagulls. It was heavenly.

There’s loads going on there all day everyday and in June a jazz renowned festival kicks off so I’d suggest you have a peek at the roster if you’re looking for something cool and new to get into.

On another note, physical activity is an amazing way to occupy silence I discovered today that running is particularly conducive to happy quiet.

I’ve only just started running this month but already I’m seeing the benefits. I picked it up because I wanted an activity that was all mine, that I could do anywhere in the world and that would ensure that my heart and body stay fit as I get older.

The wonderful thing about it in this context, however, is that there is a beautiful sense of community in running. Through the parks and along trails I pass other runners who are out in the early morning. They smile and continue along, dog walkers do the same, smiling, active and enjoying the shared space. It’s a unique place where no one is asking anything of anyone else but instead enjoying the calm, pre-work moments in nature.

It is a beautiful example of natural rhythm, the human machine and the subtle energy that flows through the city’s ravines, parks and trails.

Running is meditative in itself but I also did a traditional guided meditation today. Meditation is an amazing, deep and relatively quick way for us to tap into the relaxed, open mindset that encourages creation. There are many different reasons and ways that meditation can be used but as part of my own (almost) daily practice I like to use Chopra Centre meditations to help me find balance, peace, focus and clarity.

At first I thought they were pretty hokey and it was hard to connect to them but more and more I’m finding that, as with everything, what you get from guided meditation is what you take from it. For me, Davidji, though maybe a bit airy fairy, has a wonderful voice and incorporates beautiful poetry and themes that I can really connect to. If you’re looking to try out meditation, the free online Chopra library might be a good place to start.

As the old proverb says and Florence repeats – It’s always darkest before the dawn. It certainly is nice to be past the negativity of yesterday.

If you’re feeling down on this cloudy afternoon, I hope you’ll turn up the volume and Shake It Out beauties,

xx

Image

Harbourfront Centre

My Creative Experiment – Silence, Day Five.

After a number of great responses to yesterday’s post I’ve decided to write a blog each day for the rest of the week, to continue sharing the experience of my self-imposed silence in our city and the creative insights that are bubbling up.

It’s sad but one of the stand outs that has really come through in all of this is how prominent the negative position is in so many people.

I know we’re all probably getting a bit tired of inspiring quotes over images, self help affirmations and videos pledging positivity but, from this silent standpoint, it seems that they really are necessary. Perhaps they’re not working, perhaps they’re saying the wrong things, but having been just a receiver for most of this week it’s quite striking how easily the negative can take over.

The realization struck me gradually and, to be honest, I didn’t really want to share it because it’s not all that happy or positive and I like to be happy and positive. I like to be cheerful but I think it’s important to stop and acknowledge that sometimes people and their actions are not.

In the first day or two of my silence it was quite easy to slip past the funny looks and focus on the lovely barista who made my coffee from a handwritten order that I passed her. She responded with a note back asking my name and was sure to include a smiling face on my coffee cup. At the AGO the first ticket taker was weirded out and dismissive but when I returned to get a map the second was lovely and smiling and wished me well.

Through the weekend there were a lot of laughs and it was sunny and beautiful so it was easy to sit outside and paint and draw and enjoy the silence without interacting too much with people who were unaware of my state.  I felt bad for not being able to respond to people in the elevator but it really wasn’t too big a deal, I was learning how important it is for some people to be recognized and participate in community. It really is quite wonderful and heartening.

Then, I started noticing that while I received much positive feedback there were also negative trends happening, or maybe I was just noticing them more as I began to feel more isolated.

At a gallery a person I would have expected to be open and interested was rude and dismissive, she was outwardly hostile to me to the point that a colleague of hers was apologetic.

For some reason I started getting emails and comments that were focused on defining my experience. There were notes talking about rules and breaking rules, questions about whether I was conducting myself properly within the boundaries of the exercise.

It seemed that others were suggesting it was too extreme or indulgent, while a certain segment tried to define it as a monastic or spiritual experience. Out of nowhere something that was inspired by a reading about an opera singer with a tired voice was taking on a completely different meaning and I was limited in my ability to respond.

At somepoint in sharing my findings I not only opened the door to generous, curious feedback but also to more negative, limiting, possessive responses. And receiving them was inordinately painful.

Where at other times I might pass them off more quickly here, trapped in my silence, I was unable to vent and so was forced to sit with the questions.

Am I legit? Have I been cheating by putting out blog posts or corresponding by text on occasion? Am I supposed to be looking deeply inward to find an ultimate truth about myself? Have I got this all wrong?

I thought the whole experiment was to be defined by me. My intention was to spend a week without speaking in order to shake up my understanding of communication in the hopes of allowing new forms of expression to surface. I clearly defined the guidelines to myself suggesting that written notes, texting and emailing were not to be abused as a replacement for conversation but could be used for making plans and generally staying sane in the everyday interaction that a week in the city calls for. Was this wrong? Where was the rule book that I was supposed to be following and why had I not been informed of its existence? What was it that I was supposed to be adhering to?

It may be naive but I was really sad. I expected skepticism and many rolling eyes but it didn’t even occur to me that I would receive this kind of active, limiting feedback.

I know it sounds as though I was shaken, and I was, but thankfully it only lasted a few fleeting moments at each point of confrontation. Each time I received the  comment, felt like shit for a minute and then remembered this is about me and my work. Creativity, expression and, I think, life are about making what is in to what you want it to be. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but we all must live by our own values, our own rules. I would think on that, get really pissed about the person imposing their perspective on my experience and then try to move on.

I suppose the real lesson here, today, is that when you invite people in to your space through sharing endeavors that are close to you you must be prepared for unexpected responses and you have to be courageous. It’s easy to get upset, to be a victim and to give up ownership over your creation. It’s easy to allow someone else’s definition to dominate but I have come to the conclusion that it’s not very valuable or brave.

Not everyone will understand, not everyone will connect to the intention of your work, whatever work that is, and people will naturally, for whatever reason, be compelled to limit, define and just generally rain on your parade.

In terms of creation, of innovation and big ideas it really is to be expected. There will always be critics. My experiment certainly isn’t revolutionary or ground breaking but it has garnered skepticism and surprising reactions nonetheless.

So perhaps now is the time to remember, to ingrain in ourselves, that any ideas, works or rumblings that have made a real difference have always been met with conflict, skepticism and, sometimes, outright denial but that is because they were new. They couldn’t stand up to comparison because there was nothing like them to adequately compare them against.

As for the next three days, hopefully there won’t be many more of those voices and hopefully they will be even more easily brushed aside. At this point, I’m resolved to do a little meditation tomorrow, to create something beautiful and to reconnect to my own intentions for the project. I am resolved to steer the work and myself away from those forces that are focused on what is lacking.

This isn’t about introspection, yoga or solitude. It’s not about following a prescribed set of rules or denying myself pleasure, happiness or connection. On the contrary, this exercise is about expanding my available routes to happiness, pleasure, expression and connection, about finding new ways to reach people and becoming a witness to communication. That said, it’s not supposed to be easy and I hope I’ll  learn more about myself, my priorities and my process along the way…

Much love in the meantime and Happy Tuesday!

xx

shhhh via woolandmisc

My Creative Experiment – Silence, Day Four.

“You must forget all your theories, all your ideas before the subject. What part of these is really your own will be expressed in your expression of the emotion awakened in you by the subject.”  ~ Henri Matisse

So – it’s day four of the week of silence and I’ve got to say, in some ways, it’s not as hard as you’d think. In other ways, it’s completely excrutiating!

First, some observations… silence can actually be a pretty great indicator of who your friends are.  It is incredibly isolating to not speak, it’s uncomfortable and annoying and pretty boring so I can imagine hanging out with someone, interacting with someone who’s silent to be all of those things too.

That said there have been a few people who have made plans and hung out over the past couple of days and even more who have sent emails and texts and fb messages just to say hi or to talk about times they’ve been silent. All of the interaction has been so awesome and supportive. Not one of them has suggested I can’t make it through to Friday or that the experiment is crazy or ridiculous and I love them for it. It’s clear – work like this brings along people you wouldn’t expect, those who are curious and kind and it’s heartening. Thank you.

Another realization – people ask so many questions! In life, everyday people must ask hundreds of questions. I reckon inquiry is one of the least recognized parts of our day. Sure, most of the que ries are mundane but, really, questions kind of keep the world moving and standing back to notice that has been really interesting.

Also – I talk a lot of crap, and so does everyone! Part of this exercise, Twyla Tharp’s reasoning, is to look at what we talk about and to look at its value. What are we saying? Is it important? Why? I think that while there is much conversation that is interesting and valuable there is also a lot that is valuable but not so interesting. This weekend I had an awesome time with a generous friend who played along, chatted and connected with me despite my non-verbal state.

Through notes and gestures and eye contact we “blabbed” through recent events in her life, not overly exciting or valuable, and into a realization that was quite profound. I don’t know if she’d expressed it outwardly before or if it was quite so significant to her but what I do know is that the not so valuable chat is what got us there. Those conversations that may not appear to have value are often the bridges that take us to meaningful revelations. 

Speech can be compulsive. This is a HUGE realization for me. Holding back over the past few days has highlighted just how reactionary speech is. The few times I’ve broken the silence (there have been three or four phrases that escaped) have been as follows…

1)   Sorry!  – I was at the AGO, sitting drawing a painting at a station with an tablet. Someone came along to reset the ipad and, without any thought the word slipped from my lips.

2)   HEY! – in the car with a slightly distracted friend who didn’t notice that people had entered a crosswalk.

3)   Bless you! – this one’s obvious, though I didn’t know the person at the restaurant who sneezed.

4)   “I’m putting this back” – the biggest transgression. This too was compulsive. I was at the grocery store with mum and for whatever reason didn’t think to hold it in.  I was so disappointed that I didn’t even enjoy saying the words! Silence takes so much concentration – more on that in a minute.

So – what do these have in common?? Well they’re either politeness or emergency. Interesting that they should have equal value in my mouth…

One of my biggest troubles with this exercise is that I feel incredibly rude most of the time. For as much as we believe Toronto to be snobby and rude and impersonal there are loads of small opportunities for connection and interaction that happen every day. Not being able to react to them is one thing but, not being able to connect, to interact has me noticing how much it jars people who do attempt connection when they are rebuffed. Silence is a weird one too because while I try to smile and be open I’m still not talking and that is even stranger.

One massive gift has been the alternate forms of expression – I spent Friday afternoon drawing and colouring and listening at the AGO. Saturday afternoon I was painting and drawing. Something to try – take one small phrase and make it a focus. Write it, draw it, paint it, sing it, dance it – play with that phrase. I couldn’t turn mine over in my mouth and chose not to send it back through the wires immediately and the words became some small form of art. I found so many different ways to write and paint them.  I stretched my brain and I’ve discovered I really love producing visual art. Not just for fun as I thought before but in a much deeper way…

Lastly, on concentration. It takes so much. I thought entering this that it would be hard but I thought so quite flippantly, that it would be tough because I’d want to gossip or order food. It is hard because for a speaking person talking is natural. Constantly holding back responses, not being able to ask questions. It’s so very hard. To be honest it’s actually physically exhausting and I’ve had headaches for much of the weekend!

I’ve had a few people suggest that I don’t need to keep to the full week, and some suggest that I can’t, that, of course, Laura has to go overboard and can’t just do the typical 24 or 48 hours. That’s been interesting too. I don’t know if I’ll make it a full week. I don’t know if I need to but it does feel as though I’m about to happen on something interesting so, at this point, I’m going to take it day by day and try not to make this about proving other people wrong because apparently, even in silence and frustration I’m still very stubborn.

Happy Monday!

Wishing you an amazing, expressive week…

xx

L

The Dance, 1910 Henri Matisse

The Dance, 1910
Henri Matisse

 

 

 

 

 

Absolutes, Definitions and Limitations

It’s so easy to speak in absolutes – people are optimists or downers, they are hard workers or smart or lazy or outgoing.

It’s natural for us to want to define one another, and ourselves, but it’s also dangerous. The more I delve into the psychology of creativity and innovation the more I encounter the inherent complexity of humans. Our stories are powerful and varied with many sides and voices. Well-formed stories can represent our values, our social norms and our cultural viewpoints all in the space of a few lines of text.

Think for a moment – what adjectives do you use to describe yourself? Are there many? Are they contradictory? Where are they sourced from?

There was an interesting moment one day last week when I found myself  admonishing myself for not spending enough time with someone important to me. Automatically I was calling myself a bad friend. The thing is though, if I were to be speaking to anyone else I would have the logical mind to remind him or her that starting a business, active learning and maintaining personal and professional relationships takes a lot of time. I would remind that friend that one missed opportunity does not define a person.

In the same way that I am not defined by that experience, people are not one creative or non-creative based on their past actions.

There are so many chances to look at the world differently, to suggest a new or innovative path or process – whether in work, at school or elsewhere in life – that it is unlikely that any of us is non-creative. In fact, it’s more likely that we are trapped in narratives that define creative people only as artists, writers, dancers and those working in “creative” fields like advertising.

Imagine what you could be doing if, from youth, you’d been told that science, accounting, law or banking were also creative fields. What new products, procedures or  revenue streams might you be developing if your mind was more open to the potential for creativity in all professions?

The narratives and stories that we share and those we impose and ourselves and others can be limiting and even dangerous as the video below reveals. In the video below, Chimamanda Adichie uses her experience as an author, a Nigerian and an African student in America to take a look at the power of stories and of definition.

Some more questions for today – What are you imposing on yourself? How could a new perspective free up your ideas your relationships and your mind?

L

Getting Ready for the Summer Season

So how does all of this talk about creativity translate when it comes to the programming at The Creativity Campus?

Well today we’re building our summer camps and thought we’d give you a bit of insight into the process.

We’re designing each day so that kids not only have fun (#1 priority) but they learn (#2 priority) and they have something to take home to their parents and for themselves. Something they’ve created that they can be proud of and enjoy (#3 priority).

These priorities actually make organizing the camp fun for us too – we look back into our own childhoods for the games and crafts and activities that we enjoyed the most, then we look at what they taught us. Did they build skills? How?  We also dig deep into our research. There are some amazing resources that come in the form of books, classes, workshops and experiential lessons that can inform how we interact, learn and enjoy life together. All of these are important to building creativity and the skills that come along with it.

Also important is keeping things fresh and varied so we incorporate music, dance, art, discussion and language into play and games throughout each day.

If you have a look at our links page then you can see some of the researchers who influence our work and the theories we’re building from. For each skill set there are specific methods of development – as we plan we are constantly checking that the activities are nurturing those skills, priority #2 is what makes our work interesting and seeing the results is what keeps it fulfilling and fun.

One of the first quotes that popped up on my screen this morning when I went to update our facebook page was from Benjamin Franklin.

Tell Me and I forget, Teach me and I may remember

It’s so true, isn’t it?  The more we enjoy the activity, the more we engage, the more ownership we feel and the more we learn. We learn from doing, we learn from getting our hands in, asking questions and getting involved.

For each of the days that are in the works there are going to be a variety of different ways of getting involved. Each activity is about connecting with different learning types and opening up different learning pathways and “mindsets” for kids while they have fun and explore. Each day will have physical play and, weather permitting, we’ll head outdoors for at least 45 minutes to have fun as we develop our soft skills.

The really special part though, is that we’re learning too. It’s special because it enhances our commitment to teaching and connecting with everyone who takes part.

As we build we draw from what the experts say, what we enjoyed and what is expected but as the kids play and participate we learn even more.

If something’s not working, we’ll adapt it and try something new on the spot. If they have different interests or their own ideas about how they’d like to incorporate creativity then we’ll see how they line up with the research and give it a shot. Flexibility is important to us because everyone who crosses the threshold at The Creativity Campus learns differently and has something unique to offer.

We’re also we’re committed to sending home the products of the kids time and play for parents to check out. The best way for kids to get excited about learning and to engage in actvities is when the people they love are interested too.

If we come to all of this development and education with minds that are open to learning from each other then not only does it validate the kids, their work and their confidence but it allows us as adults to regain some of the perspective of children that is so valued in professional development and innovation today.

The Facts About Creativity

There’s a lot that’s ambiguous about creative work but there are two definites.

1) Creativity takes courage

2) Mistakes are mandatory

In my mind creativity is about coming up with a new idea or approach and expressing it. It is essential to let the work out to the world, to your friends or to your colleagues and that can be really scary.

For most of us our creative lives started when we were little kids with make believe, storytelling and pretend games. The wonderful thing when you watch kids creating is that they really get involved. They see one friend coming up with ideas, performing or acting silly and they get right into it themselves. There is no time made for thoughts other than – “That looks fun!” or “I have an idea too!”.

Really, they have yet to grow the part of their social brain that says “Keen isn’t cool” or “What if I make a mistake? That would be embarrassing.”

This is why creativity is ballsy. It’s why it’s work. We have to fight the experiences of our past and discouraging voices that make us want to stay quiet.

The great thing about doing workshops (I was at an amazing Tom Schlesinger one this weekend) is that you realize that you are not at all alone in this. We all want to express ourselves in some way and we’re all kinda freaked out by actually doing it.

Much of the reason I get worked up is that I’m used to striving for absolute perfection. The thing is, that’s impossible in life and even more impossible in creativity. One thing I keep noticing though is that the more that I am brave, the more mistakes I’m ok with making, the more those around me get into it. The more they try, the more they express themselves and the more they realize that mistakes can be silly and fun but they can also be valuable in both work and life.

The most important part of creativity is taking risks and making mistakes.  Original work means there will be nothing to compare it against in order to define the standards of perfection. We’ve been trained against it, but really, do you think symphonies are written in one try? Great novels in one draft? Amazing businesses with the first plan or executed task? We are supposed to learn as we go.

What makes it easier is that original work comes from inside of each of us and is a result of our own mix of experiences, knowledge, passions and, sometimes, pain. This means we’re not only hardwired to create because we’re human but we have all of the material we need to make completely unique work!

I know we’re not all artists or writers or actors or ad men but we are all human and there are creative ways to do math, walk dogs, write news, deliver papers and approach our businesses.

Today join me in my challenge and find a way to stray from your comfort zone and be courageous with your ideas.

Trial and error is recognized everywhere else – why not give it a chance in your life too?