I wasn’t sure what I would write today. No urgent new thoughts are prevalent in my head. No pressing issues have surfaced to be considered and pontificated on. Life for the last week has been rather more a series of ‘busyness’-es and culminations. A clearing of the decks, if you will. As if something really important is about to happen, and I need to be ready for it.
The theme of absence, of waiting – of honouring a necessary space – is one which I visit often. Our current culture places little value on anything that doesn’t happen in an instant. It urges us to seek stimulation after stimulation, pushing us relentlessly forward through a barrage of superficial emotion, rarely encouraging us to stop and reflect. Even more rarely, recognising the need simply to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’.
Such a headlong rush, by-passing the depth of life, has its consequences. ‘Time goes so quickly now,’ I hear older people saying. ‘I don’t know where the time went,’ and so on. A tacit acknowledgement of non-engagement with the creativity of being alive. And often accompanied with a strange desire to focus on the next thing, the completed project or the unaccomplished dream. A wistful yearning for an imagined future.
Or, maybe more detrimental to well-being and a love of life, a sickly reminiscence of times now gone by, a sad longing for things happened and finished but not released, a desperate hanging on.
I wonder what it is we find so difficult about sitting in the midst of stillness or emptiness. That vital period of nothingness before something blooms. For how can anything new be created in a space already filled by something else?
The highlight of my last week has been my walk with the dogs along the estuary footpath. The place was littered with an abundance of fresh wildflowers. Bursting through a backdrop of scintillating greens, I saw hundreds of ‘Lords and Ladies’, proudly flaunting their virile and unusual structure above the ground-covering mosses and clovers.
There were Campions and Cow Parsley, Nettles and Nipplewort, Violets and Vetches. Every so often, I passed an explosion of Stitchwort, spilling exuberantly over the margins of its allocated spot. But most astonishing of all was when we reached the edge of the woodland, set beyond the footpath fencing, roughly at head-height, so I was looking up into the rich lustre of ultra-marine, carpeting the land as far as the eye could see. Bluebells. Thousands and thousands of Bluebells.
We had been along this footpath only ten days or so before. Then, I’d wrapped myself in winter leggings, fur-lined waterproofs and woolly hat, and glimpsed the snow-plastered hills through obliging gaps in the clouds. Passers-by had commented on the longevity of winter and bemoaned the late spring. What they failed to recognise was the importance of the delay.
The vibrant display of colour and abundance that greeted me this week was the out-pouring from a patient and necessary gestation. A slow and hidden maturing of secret – private – growth. Some things need to be done in the dark. They require a delicate ‘feeling of the way’, a sorting of the energies, before they are ready to show what they’re made of.
In the speed we ask of ourselves with popular lifestyles, we neglect this waiting process, this gentle trickling towards a new understanding of expression. We seem to think if nothing obvious is happening, nothing is happening, and forget to be mindful about what goes on beneath the surface. But this is the very core of creativity. It is impossible to produce a masterpiece instantly. It has to be crafted and lived with quietly, until its outlines become recognisable or its innards can be sensed.
Caroline Myss, theologian, academic and author, talks about the process of writing a book as one of being on a surprising journey. You set off where you think you’re going to go. You have the book you want to write in your head. Then, as you work, things become unclear. What you thought you were going to say evaporates, and the words you planned to use grow elusive. Until you find yourself in ‘the wilderness’.
From here, you have two options. You can give up in despair, or you can honour the gift of the space you have discovered. She has learned to sit and be patient, and in her own words – ‘I wait for the book I’m supposed to be writing to come to me.’