This is not the first version of this column. I initially wrote about needing silence in which to find inspiration. I wrote about walking and finding silence.
The next day, I went for a walk and – as is the whole point of walking – inspiration hit as I heard my footsteps and the birds and the wind. So it’s not silence that our minds need for creativity, for problem solving, for answers and truths; it’s stillness. Our minds need stillness as much as our bodies need food, water and air. If our minds are always busy with thoughts – especially those endless rehashings of mistakes and regrets – then we’re blocking the chance to be inspired.
It’s not only walking; sometimes, inspiration hits while I’m sitting in the bathtub or washing dishes or drying my hair. It’s not a silent time, but there is a stillness in my mind as I concentrate on a task that allows a brilliant thought otherwise blocked by worries, grievances and plans to pop into my momentarily relaxed mind.
Creativity begins with inspiration, and inspiration needs the space created by stillness, so in order to be creative – even if just to solve a problem – we need to become quiet, by either sitting still or through steady, repetitive movement.
In our 21st century world, how many of us have extended periods of stillness and silence in our lives? How many of us have forgotten what silence sounds like? How many of us are afraid of what we’ll discover when our minds are still? Now that we all carry a computer in our hands, we rarely get a chance to clear the noise from our heads and hear what really matters. Our incessant need to scroll through the lives and opinions of others, to comment on everybody else’s experiences, is a barrier to the stillness that will help us discover our own life.
Silence is a break from noise and distractions, so we need an empty house where the only sound is the hum of the fridge, a walk through the woods where the only sound is the whisper of the wind through pine needles, an early morning in the city where there are no other people on the streets in order to create room for inspiration to flourish.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote the memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, takes it one step further in considering the “transformative power of solitude”. She recently wrote that she used to be afraid of solitude, and could imagine nothing worse than coming home to an empty house. “How little I understood back then what a furnace of creativity aloneness can be,” she said, “and what quiet delights a woman can discover when she is left alone to explore her own company.”
This is what I discovered when I moved to rural Nova Scotia thirteen years ago, only I called it a “bonfire of creativity” rather than a furnace! In rural Nova Scotia, living at the edge of a field fringed by woods, under a huge sky where there are no street lights to block out the stars, along a tidal river that follows its own routine, I found the stillness that inspires curiosity and creativity.
While I love the unexpected ideas that come to me during a bath, for me, the best inspiration comes when I get outside and put one foot in front of the other. There’s a Latin phrase, “Solvitur Ambulando”, that translates as “It is solved by walking”, a concept that suggests walking has greater benefits than simply physical health.
When I walk, I am unplugged. No phone, no music, no partner. Just me and my feet tromping across the field, just me and my ears pausing at the beaver brook to listen to the wind, just me and my lungs stopping at the duck pond to breathe deeply. Into this stillness flows not only answers and ideas but also the other ingredients for inspiration: courage and confidence.