“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”~ Edward de Bono.
I just awoke from a terrible dream. I won’t bore you with the details, but it involved having multiple simultaneous responsibilities and no way to accomplish all of them in any meaningful way. Oh yes, and it involved a class of 5-year-olds. There are those who put great meaning in their dreams. Some cultures encourage the examination and interpretation of dreams and see them as messages from the spirit world, showing a teenager their future career. Some use the images to determine numbers to buy in the lotto! And sometimes it is very simply evidence of an overfilled life, one with multiple time sensitive tasks, and not enough hours in a day.
My parents were blessed with health that lasted through most of their retirement years. My father retired to Wales at the age of 66, still strong, capable, and willing, but aware that he had lost his father and one of his brothers before they were 60. And so he prepared for his own life after retirement to be short. He had loved his time in Jamaica, in fact my parents revisited Jamaica at least every 2 years after they retired. He even returned and laid the foundation for a ‘lay-preachers’ course at the Theological Seminary in Kingston. By the time he died, he had lived in retirement longer (by one year) than he had served in Jamaica. He often said that if he had known how long he would live, he would have stayed in Jamaica longer. Thanks to a life of careful living, and some additional funds my mother inherited from a hard-working grandfather, they were able to travel to visit friends and family around the world. Thankfully they both enjoyed mostly good health until the last decade of their lives.
My friends who are in the same age bracket as I am, especially those who live in the US, fantasize about retirement. Unfortunately, most of us cannot afford to live on Social Security alone. A recent interview with a financial expert suggested that people should start planning to work until the age of 80, and plan to expect less Social Security. Perhaps it should be renamed Insecurity! When you are young, retirement seems so far away. When you are knocking at the door you realize how little time you have left to make sure you have sound financial plans in place.
But although I would love to have money to travel, to pursue those activities that a full working life have not permitted, there is another luxury in retirement that most people have no idea how to appreciate: The art of doing nothing. I am on vacation at present (one of the perks of my teaching job is three weeks off over Christmas), and most years I would be flying off to England. As my parents’ health declined it was clear that the only place to go on vacation was to visit them. This year I had work commitments that trickled over into my vacation; an important report was due to an accrediting agency, and we had not been able to complete it before the semester ended. I had other commitments also that interfered with my ability to make any travel plans that required advance booking. And so I have been enjoying a ‘Staycation’. One day this week I literally stayed home in front of the TV all day, ‘binge-watching’ a TV show on Netflix (step away from the remote! It is a dangerous addiction!). Because we are programed to fill every minute of our days with meaningful activity, I had to reach out to my Facebook community for validation. Was it a bad thing to do nothing all day?
Thanks to my NPR gurus, I received my validation from two completely different and unrelated interviews. One was with an author of a book on geniuses, the other on the origins of creativity. The man who researched the common themes in the lives of those who are considered to be a genius, found that many of them encountered hardships in their childhood. They may have been raised by one parent, or experienced some kind of deprivation or even ill-health, but those losses provided the stimulus for a plethora of ideas. The author also noted that it wasn’t that they came up with one good idea that they became famous for, but that they generated many concepts, most of which were discarded.
In the other interview, the author spoke of boredom as being a breeding ground for creativity. When your mind is constantly occupied, when you are being bombarded with stimuli, whether it is entertainment, or work, or social media, there is no space for creativity to emerge. We have become a society incapable of enjoying being still and doing nothing. If we are forced to sit still and wait for even five minutes, we whip out our smart phones and try to find something to hold our interest.
Last week (on my Staycation) I took a trip to the Morikami Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida. The brochure described the benefits of walking through the gardens as being ‘restorative’. What a beautiful word! Most of us run through our lives taking care of the bills, the kids, the house, and very little time taking care of ourselves. Unfortunately, I got to the Gardens late (due to commitments!) and so did not have as much time as I would have liked to stroll without purpose through the beautifully tended gardens; admiring those amazing Bonsai trees (but I was a little perturbed at how they have to bind and force the tree limbs to grow a certain way – isn’t that cruelty to trees?); being hypnotized by the recurring patterns of a Zen stone garden; and feeling the cool breeze riffling through the bamboo leaves.
On the last Friday in December (ah my favorite month, as usual we have sped through the days at an unnatural pace) it is good to reflect on how we are living our lives. Do we allow for periods of stillness, of silence, permitting our minds to be creative? They also found that walking promoted creative thinking – so add a little walk to those moments of reflection. And how about our children? In giving them everything they could possibly desire (and so much more) are we actually stifling their ability to be creative and innovative? Remember how much fun we had as children with one good toy (or maybe none!), no TV or video games, and a very active imagination?
As we approach the end of another year, I hope you are permitting yourself time to do nothing, to restore your soul. In our overcommitted lives, we need to make sure that we are not running on empty, challenging our immune, endocrine and nervous systems to work extra hard to keep us in balance. The remedy? Visit nature, go for a walk, and open up your mind as you restore your soul. You may come up with the very idea that provides you with the means to retire!
Have a wonderful last weekend in December, Family!