Creativity can be your focal point during these times. In the current state of our nation, I would guess that everyone’s focus is on their immediate necessities–food, water, health and safety. Making sure we limit contact with others to slow the spread of this illness. As Maslow’s hierarchy shows, these are at the foundation of our being. Those basic needs must be met before reaching higher level needs like esteem or self-actualization. Truly, how can we reach our full potential if we are deprived of food and water, or a safe place to reside?
Another theorist enters my thoughts as this pandemic continues, that of Viktor Frankl, founder of “logotherapy,” formed from an existential perspective.
He believed that the human desire to find meaning in life can help us endure hardship–that the meaning we discover, create, or assign to the events in our lives gives us the motivation to persevere.
So it would seem that, contrary to Maslow, the deeper, more self-fulfilling aspects of life are almost as life-sustaining as physiological needs.
Recently, I have found my mind venturing away from the mundane into the creative realm (at least sometimes!). And have noticed an upsurge in creative activities shared over social media…sidewalk art, neighborhood safaris, how to craft at home with simple materials…Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.
As many of us are confined to our homes and the immediate surrounding areas. Some with children used to a schedule we are not accustomed to providing, some unaccustomed to spending this much time holed up in one place. Creative thinking and action are much needed respites. And not simply for the purpose of creating variety while quarantined, but for many, much deeper, more meaningful reasons.
Creativity allows us to transcend what is ordinary and make something meaningful, often relatable to the masses.
A music therapist with whom I attended grad school with has been creating musical parodies of familiar songs, themed around social distancing and quarantine. In addition to spreading much needed laughter through their hilarity, these songs are so relatable. He has translated his own experience of frustration and cabin fever into something we all know–the feelings, the circumstances, even the tune! And in this way, his creative product opposes the isolation of social distancing–it unites us.
Creativity has such power: It connects us with our own sense of life, of vitality. It connects us with others. It connects us with ourselves. It provides us with a way to make sense of it all.
We put into image, dance, song, poetry–metaphor–all that we do not understand, for that precise reason…to understand it. To find much-needed meaning. And this meaning, as Frankl proposes, gives us the strength to go on. To persevere. To move through the challenges because of the meaning we give them.
Your creativity need not be the next masterpiece, to be displayed in a museum of modern art, performed by a famous symphony, or change the world. That is what theorists call “Big C” creativity.
“Little c” creativity, on the other hand, is a simpler act of combining existing concepts or things in a new and innovative way. It engages our sense of play, of divergent thinking, spontaneity, and improvisation. Among many other parts of self, in fact, it is one act that engages our whole self. When we engage in a creative process, we are fully present, fully invested in our endeavor, and therefore bring our full selves into our work. And in doing so, our need for expression is fulfilled and we are able to communicate our thoughts, feelings, desires, personalities, and we often discover meaning along the way, as artistic mediums have a way of revealing something about us of which we were previously unaware.
And this is the life-giving cycle of creativity: there is output and input, expression and discovery; we are not the same person we were when we started because we have created something new and learned something new.
So…acknowledge your feelings of frustration, anxiety, loneliness from the quarantine. And then utilize the restriction and your feelings as inspiration for something creative:
- a new craft to make from cardboard boxes and toilet paper rolls (we know everyone will have plenty of those!)
- a new activity that transforms your living space into a new environment
- or a poetic piece about what this pandemic has revealed to you. The personal meaning you create from this unprecedented situation will change you, grow you, give you the determination to persevere and come out of this stronger.
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Take 5: How to create space by taking time
It’s amazing the kind of space that a little bit of time creates. I write this following the transition from working 40 hours at an inpatient hospital (read: no holidays!) to joining this practice. This morning, after taking care of the typical morning responsibilities, I returned home with intention–intention to most meaningfully utilize the newfound time I am giving myself by making this change.
I followed a short yoga practice themed around “transitions” in honor of the new year, this new career transition, and the new dedication I am making to myself. In just 22 minutes, I felt more grounded, more centered, more creative, more connected to my inner desires and my hopes for this next chapter.
I realize that this time is a luxury and that it is not always available in the form of an hour or two between responsibilities of home and work. But I began to wonder what kind of impact does intentionally taking time make?
What would happen to our sense of happiness and satisfaction if we took the time to truly be present in the things that make us joyful? I suppose this really goes back to the idea of practicing “gratitude” or “mindfulness” without the buzzwords. In taking just a short amount of time to feel present in your body, more organized, and less rushed, you may realize, as I did, what you have been missing.
To what extent does packing your life full take a toll on you? Do you find you have a shorter fuse? Have you lost the joy in the simple things you used to appreciate? Are you more focused on a to-do list rather than the act of living life? And finally, how can you create space and time when your schedule already feels jam-packed?
Here are my 5 suggestions…which may spark your own unique ideas…for how to create space, by taking time:
- Notice your screen time–we are all connected to a screen of some sort; it has become woven into our very culture. However, if you notice how much time you spend checking emails, scrolling social media, playing games, you may discover lost time right in the palm of your hand! Shifting those spread out minutes perhaps to a dedicated 30-60 minutes may consolidate time spent on a screen, make it more efficient, and provide an opportunity to become more present in the time it would normally take to scroll through a feed. Try this: instead of reaching for your phone the next time you feel bored or slightly awkward, observe your surroundings and take a breath.
- Do that last thing! Take a breath. Or 3. Or 10. Just a short amount of time to notice the rhythm, depth, and location of your breath can slow you down and bring you into the present moment.
- Become lost in a creative endeavor. There is a state of “flow” we reach in which time ceases to exist when we are engaging our mind creatively. This can look like so many things: turning on music to sing or improvise a dance, making art by creating a small drawing, painting or coloring a design, journaling or writing poetry.
- Connect to your 5 senses. Maybe all five in the span of a few minutes, or maybe just focusing on one. Watch the sun transition our world from day into night or night into day, and notice the nuances and subtle changes of color as mere minutes pass. Listen intentionally to a favorite piece of music and pick out the parts that especially delight your ears or move you. Light a candle or use an essential oil diffuser; or simply go outside and take in the scent on the air, which differs every season. Savor a delicious meal; really taste that tea you’re drinking. Give or get a hug, curl up in a warm, soft blanket, massage your hands, feet or shoulders, pet your dog or cat.
*If you want to go even further, you can connect to your 6th sense of proprioception. This is the awareness of where your body is in space at any point in time. Notice the angles of your joints, the relationship between one part of your body and another. And then, if it feels right, create space in an area of discomfort.
- Spend time with a pet. Animals are particularly grounded in their bodies. They do not have the narrative we create from interpretations and projections of others’ (or even our own) behavior; they simply live in the moment, reacting to their surroundings and the signals from their bodies. Notice how your pet interacts with the ground beneath it and create this same intention for yourself–feel the pads of your feet on the ground as you walk, or the surface of your body in contact with the floor as you sit, and then allow the ground to support you rather than pulling away, as many of us do. Become present by becoming more fully embodied and connected to your surroundings.
I hope that these suggestions to become more present in your life, and more intentional with your actions, will help you find a sense of meaning in how you exist in the world–to take up the Space you deserve and create the Time you need.
If you look very carefully, you will start to notice they are all around us. The zombie outbreak is silently plaguing our communities, our homes, and our relationships. Observe while sitting at your kid’s swim practice or at a friend’s party. Better yet, pay attention as you simply walk down the street, the walking dead are among us.
The modern Zombies are everywhere! They sleepwalk while consuming their hand-held devices in a flurry of hunger. Not feeling full and going back for more with bloodshot eyes which dart from browser to app. In the mist of mindlessly passing time on a regular basis by staring at your smartphone, the Zombie is not even aware of how serious their condition has become. In other words, phone addiction has become the modern Zombie apocalypse.
You may ask yourself, when did it happen? When did I turn into someone who is so dependent on my phone? Parts of your life start to blur together, and you never feel like your fully living your life. For example, you are home in the evening trying to spend quality time with your family when a work email or text dings on your phone. With valiant effort you try to resist. But it’s no use, you get sucked into the phone and out of the present moment.
Dazed and distracted – signs you are becoming a Zombie
1. You Can’t Sleep
The undead don’t sleep and neither will you when you keep asking Siri question after question. Do you find you have a hard time putting the phone away at night? For example, you may think of random questions you NEED answers to. As a quick reward, you have Google at your fingertips to satisfy your curiosity. Or perhaps you can’t stop looking at social media or playing your favorite game on your phone.
How to fix it: Plug your phone in to charge for the night in a place you can’t mindless reach for it. If you use it for an alarm, have it close enough to hear the alarm but far enough away that you can’t scroll through it. Furthermore, when you wake in the morning, try to do something without your phone for the first 15-30 minutes in the morning.
Ideas for quick mindful morning activities to help combat phone addiction:
- Do a wake-up yoga routine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEEsdXn8oG8
- Write down your goals or intentions for the day
- Go for a walk
- Take 5 minutes to meditate or do breathing exercises
- Drink your coffee somewhere pleasant, and journal your feelings
- Write what you are grateful for
2. The phone is causing anxiety and distress
If you can’t find your phone for 5 minutes you are in distress, let alone if you discover you have left home without it… torture! In fact, some people may feel like their whole world is inside their phone. The extreme connection can lead to disconnection to people and relationships that really matter. Ask yourself this question, “Have any of your friends and family ever asked you to put your phone away when they are talking to you or when you are out together?” This may be the first sign of phone addiction.
Additionally, having information always within your reach can cause you daily stress. Because of reading too much Twitter, New York Times, or searching Web MD, you have more anxiety about the world around you. Furthermore, if you have a thought or a worry, now you also have endless information on the Internet confirming your suspicions.
How to fix it: First things first, you need to admit to having a problem. If you answer yes to the following questions, then you may be too dependent on your phone and need to admit to yourself that you have a phone addiction.
- Is picking up your phone and looking through it the first thing you do in the morning?
- Do you have a hard time putting the phone away for an hour or more to have quality time with friends or family?
- Do you treat your phone like a person? Is it as important to you as some of your relationships?
- Are you always checking your phone during “boring” activities like standing in line or going to the bathroom?
- Do you find yourself viewing and answering texts, tweets, and emails even when it means interrupting other things you are doing?
3. Multitask is your middle name
It seems impossible to even watch TV anymore without scrolling through your phone. Are you so addicted to the high speed of instant gratification that multitasking is your go to drug of choice? Consequently, being fully engaged is something that you have not felt in a while.
How to fix it: Mindful activities are the opposite of multitasking. Doing one task at a time with your full attention is how you combat the frenzy of doing too much at once. To begin practicing this, set a timer for 15 minutes and see if you can do just one activity without any distractions. You can try this with eating lunch, doing chores such as cleaning or work projects. The key is to stay fulling engaged in just one task. Therefore, if it’s eating lunch then put the phone away and focus on the taste of the food, taking one slow bit at a time and tasting your food fully.
4. Losing track of time and becoming a mindless Zombie
Do you find yourself mindlessly checking your phone many times a day? In addition, are you doing this when you know there is likely nothing new or important to see? You get sucked into a time trap of unproductivity and mindlessness. The phone likes to play tricks on you and make you think you are being fruitful because you are doing something. In reality, like a Zombie, you are wandering around aimlessly looking for brains (or in this case data) to eat!
How to fix it: There are settings on your phone where you can check your “screen time” to see your usage and statistics. You may be surprised with how much time you spend on your phone every day. Take small steps to reduce usage. Make it your goal to cut back small amounts every day (like 15-30 minutes) and see how different it feels to be more connected to things other than your phone.
5. You put yourself in danger – Don’t become a Zombie
Most of us are aware of the dangers of texting and driving but are guilty of doing it because the addiction to those notifications are just too strong. Why does the text to a good friend feel so important that we have to answer immediately? Do we really need to check our social media account while driving?
How to fix it: This is another area where you can build your mindfulness muscle. Driving while texting is also known as distracted driving because you are not fully engaged with the act of driving. Can you challenge yourself to be in the present moment while driving? Will you be able to silence your phone before you get into the car to block out those temptations?
Mindful activity: Start to drive and notice what you are “looking at” as you drive. What do you see through your windshield or in your mirrors. Now become aware of what you are “hearing,” and start to listen more closely. Notice the sounds you hear. See how long you can keep this up while you drive. Come out of your zombie state of mindlessness and start being purposeful.
6. Social media is stressing you out
If you are going through personal struggles, social media could be something that you find brings you down more. You may need to run from looking at your newsfeed like you would run from Zombies. People often show their “highlights” reel or work hard to show the world the wonderful life they have created. We don’t see the reality of other people’s lives on social media. Check out our blog “The Comparison Trap” to read more about this subject.
How to fix it: The truth is, LIFE IS NOT PERFECT! Life is messy, complicated, beautiful, hard, and everything in between. Nonetheless, without the dark there is no light. So, dedicate yourself to start living your imperfect life and commit to phone-free time every day. If your phone-free time is from 6PM-8PM, make sure everyone in your house knows that the expectation is that electronics will be off. Or better yet, try to go out without your phone!
In conclusion, you may have realized that you are part Zombie or know someone who is. There is good news… The human part of us is still inside, and we need to reconnect with it. Force yourself to have phone-free time, find time to be fully engaged in something you love, and truly listen to those around you without distraction. Before you know it, you will feel more connected with the alive, vibrant world around you!
Check us out on www.turningstonecounseling.com!