Three Ways to Get Chummy with the Void

You aren't alone in the void!

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Not surprisingly, I heard from many of you after my last post, It's Time to Talk About the Void, in which I suggested that January was as good a time as any to address the experience of emptiness which is so central to the experience of creating.

Many of you shared that you were more than familiar with that place of groundlessness where you feel bereft of what came before and unsure of what is coming next; that gooey zone where you've detached from whatever you created in your the last cycle, but haven't yet re-integrated a self that is perfectly shaped around your next project, role, or mission.

In fact, many of you said that you not only recognize the void experience - you are THERE RIGHT NOW.

Of course, it is not surprising to hear that many of you are in that space, because many of us are ALWAYS in that space - it comes around again and again as long as we all shall live. (Congratulations!  You are a creating human! Welcome to emptiness!) 

The void is a feature, not a bug, in the cycle of creating. 

And yet, over and over again, it takes us by surprise, doesn't it?  Each time, we forget that the fantasy of continuous forward motion is just that - pure illusion. Each time, we tend to feel as if we, alone, are lost and floundering while everyone around us is marching relentlessly, purposefully ahead.  We tend to feel in our void times that we have lost hold of something that everyone else seems to have a firm grip on, and we doubt that we will ever grasp it again.


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**SHAMELESS PLUG**:  I hope you'll join me for my Five Crises of Creating webinar next week (choose Jan 23rd or 25th) in which we'll talk much more about the Void, and also investigate four other baked-in challenge points where you are most likely to run up against a sense of floundering or stuckness or mega-resistance (Click HERE to read more and register).  In the webinar, we'll get to talk together about what it looks like to keep re-starting as a creator and how to normalize (rather than demonize) these challenges.  


One of the overarching themes we'll explore in the online workshop is this next Big Idea which you may remember from my last post... 

The quality of your creating is determined by the quality of your relationship to the void. 

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Why?  Well, for one thing, creative work itself is often a response to the void...your way of bringing Something into being that is, at least, Not Nothing.  If you don't allow yourself to know the void, how can you respond to it?  Here's how Stage Designer Es Devlin puts it:

“Over the last two decades of working, one of the things I’ve discovered is often things are made to fill voids.  The impetus to fill that hole with art to me is fundamental.  My canvas tends to be devoid of light.  You sort of do need to start without light to find it.” - in Abstract:  The Art of Design.  Netflix.  Season 1:3.

What would shift for you if you, like Devlin, thought of the void as a potent time, bristling with electric "just before the great stuff happens" energy?  Just shifting your perspective in this way might help disarm the fear that keeps you from surrendering into the state of grace - of pure not-knowing - that is the fertile ground out of which the truly wonderfully new can grow.  Don't you think?

Or, as Es puts it, "You need to start without light to find it."

The performance artist, teacher, and author Nina Wise also sees the experience of the void as integral to the experience of creating (and with a name like Wise, you know she's onto something important...):

“When an artist is poised on the brink of creation, she must come face to face with the void.  Out of nothing, something will arise – but what?  It is the blank page, the empty canvas, the vacant dance floor, the moment before speech, that is the most terrifying. And that is the moment so many of us turn away from and instead find some enticing chore like balancing our bank account or checking our email to divert ourselves from the fear.  To become comfortable with creativity, we need to become comfortable with emptiness.
– Nina Wise in A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life: Self Expression and Spiritual Practice for Those Who Have Time for Neither (bold added).

Okay, so how exactly do you 'become comfortable' with the void? 

To those of us who are used to valuing purposeful action above all, cultivating a positive relationship with the void might sound like being asked to buddy up to the space inside a bucket or the hole inside a donut...who has time for such counter-intuitive friendships?

And, yeah, that's kind of the point - our own linear, action-driven ways of being are often exactly what stands in the way of our creativity.  So, if you're willing, here are three ways you can practice getting comfortable with emptiness.

1.  Meditate

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Isn't it fascinating to think of meditation as a kind of homeopathic response to the void?  Seen from the perspective of the creating process, meditation is the practice of welcoming and honoring the void - deliberately placing yourself in relationship to small doses of emptiness both to disarm your fear of it and to allow it to prepare you for your generative work in the world. 

With each small experience of nothingness, you practice lowering your resistance to it so that when the bigger, longer, more intransigent void times come, you know how to be with it, simply accepting this space it as a place which precedes us all and to which we are all always returning.

What's that?  Do I meditate?  No I do not, I must confess.  But I know many of you do, and I honor your practice!  If you are in the void anyway, why not give it a try?

2.  Just be still and wait

  NOT  an actual picture of franz kafka waiting at his table.

NOT an actual picture of franz kafka waiting at his table.

If you, like me, are not quite ready to commit yourself to meditation practice, there is always the lazy-person's option for befriending the void, which is just to sit quietly and wait it out.  I particularly love this Franz Kafka quote, which makes your next creative idea sound like a sweet, slightly nervous puppy who just needs you to get really still so he can trust you enough to come near:

"You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait. You need not even wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."  - Franz Kafka

Of course, the big idea here is that you are NOT alone in the void, that you are always already in relationship to a living universe that has its own agency and its own plans for you...and that you need only surrender and allow the world to do it's part - in its own time - to reveal it's gifts to you.

3.  Get Moodling

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And then, there's moodling, which I confess is my personal favorite - yes, mostly because it is such a wonderful word, but also because it puts a name to the active form of stillness that suits me best when I'm in a void.

The term "moodling" was - as far as I know - made up by the incomparable Brenda Ueland.  Ueland was a writing coach who wrote in the 1930's - long before 'writing coach' was a thing - and whose voice rings out from so many decades ago with more ass-kicking directness than just about anyone working in the same genre today.

Moodling, says Brenda, is a state of generative idleness that is an absolute pre-requisite for creative work.

She says:  "...the imagination needs moodling, - long inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering." 

Moodling is a state of active inactivity in which one makes no attempt to END the void, but rather gives into it by deliberately down-shifting into a dreamy, unfocused way of being.  Unlike Kafka's stillness, moodling is about moving with and through the void - not moving against the emptiness, but staying in gentle motion with no expectation that your action is going to cause anything to happen.  It's simply low-key action without destination that keeps you loosely engaged with life during times when life is needing to re-charge you.

Here, Brenda clarifies the difference between generative and non-generative idleness:

"If your idleness is a complete slump, that is, indecision, fretting, worry, or due to over-feeding and physical mugginess, that is bad, terrible and utterly sterile.  Or if it is that idleness which so many people substitute for creative idleness, such as gently feeding into their minds all sorts of printed bilge like detective stories and newspapers, that is too bad and utterly uncreative...   
...But if it is the dreamy idleness that children have, an idleness when you walk alone for a long, long time, or take a long, dreamy time at dressing, or lie in bed at night and thoughts come and go, or dig in a garden, or drive a car for many hours alone, or play the piano, or sew, or paint ALONE; or an idleness - and this is what I want you to do - where you sit with pencil and paper or before a typewriter quietly putting down what you happen to be thinking, that is creative idleness.  With all my heart I tell you and reassure you:  at such times you are being slowly filled and re-charged with warm imagination, with wonderful, living thoughts.
- Brenda Ueland in If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, originally published in 1938.

To Recap

  1. Accepting that experiences of the void are baked into the creating process is a game-changer.  When you drop your resistance to emptiness it loses its power to stop you or stall you or make you feel like you'll never create again.  And when you actively make friends with the void - choosing to see it as the time just before the world "rolls in ecstasy at your feet" - well, then you are really ready to experience the kind of true restart that leads to powerful generativity.
  2. Moodling is highly recommended for all creators wanting to be filled with "wonderful, living thoughts."
  3. For more game-changing insights and opportunities to share about your own creating process, join me next week on Tuesday the 23rd or Thursday the 25th for the Five Crises of Creating online workshop!

Wishing you stillness, solitude, and lots and lots of moodling,

Sara