As artists, we spend years learning and doing our art. We practice, rehearse, take lessons. We put our focus on the creative act, whether painting, writing, photographing, dancing, sculpting, composing or playing music.
Yet, there’s another part of our creative work that gets far less attention, but can be just as important. It’s the moment before we start. Sometimes this moment can be filled with anxiety – rushing to get to the computer to write, the flurry of words, trying not to forget the idea or the phrase that will make our work brilliant. Trying to get the painting on canvas, the musical notes on the page, to capture the idea and the form.
But this moment need not be frenetic; the frenzied moment can actually work against the flow of our work. Instead, this can be the moment when we prepare for, and set up the conditions for, the flow of the creative process. It’s the moment when we take a breath, gather ourselves, center ourselves, and dwell in a space of silence. Or the artist takes a moment to take in the dimensions and look of the empty canvas, before filling it with form. Or the writer stares out the window, not so much deep in thought but deep into the quiet before the thoughts come. Or the photographer stops for a moment before taking the photo to hear that small voice that says, “turn around, the photograph is behind you!”
We might think of this moment as Centering or Gathering. For those who are spiritual, it might be the moment of Tuning In to the Creator, or getting in touch with the Creative Energies that we see as implicit in life and in the creative act. One of the descriptions that might ring true comes from the first book of Genesis in the Bible. Right before God created the world, right before the Light began and all the other splendid creations, we’re told “The Spirit of God was moving over the water”. Sometimes the word used is “sweeping” but the more correct translation is actually the word “hovering”. The Spirit hovers before the moment of Creation much like an eagle hovers over her nest. She broods. She warms the egg right before it’s hatched. It is not a violent motion, like a lightning bolt or a Eureka clap of thunder, but a moment of waiting.
This is a tender image. It implies standing still. It’s calm. There’s no sense of hurry or the frenetic whoosh-whoosh that sometimes comes when we approach our work with desperation or fear. Sometimes this moment is one of seasoning, or waiting, or letting something simmer. We move into the rhythm of the process, almost as if the creation we’re about to do has to first be breathed into us. In some spiritual teachings, it is said that true creativity and true change can only happen in the space between the in-breath and the out-breath. That’s where the magic happens.
I first became aware of the importance of this moment at the Maui Writers Conference many years ago waiting to hear from professional photographer and inspirational speaker, Dewitt Jones. His topic was Creativity. Right before he spoke, he was sitting in the front row over to the side. He seemed remarkably calm. There was a sense of solitude around him. It was clear that he was not creating a space for people to come up and talk to him, but creating a quiet space out of which he would speak. Something was happening there. What was he doing in that space, and how much of that beautiful and flawless speech was attributed to those moments he took before he began speaking? It seemed he was tuning into that quiet voice that sometimes leads us into unexpected directions, or simply surrounds our work with the presence of the Muse.
Some master piano teachers spend time with even proficient pianists discussing the approach to the piano – that moment of sitting quietly at the piano before the playing begins. It is the pregnant pause – filled with anticipation and possibilities.
Artist Dean Andrews calls this moment “circling the fire”, a slow circle before actually digging into the project. She calls the frenetic moment “vacuuming the garage,” which seems to accomplish very little. We can prepare for these moments, opening up the space for the art to begin.
The image of this waiting is almost like a glassblower preparing to create the glasswork. The breath comes into us that enlivens us, that speaks through us. Sometimes we might think of gathering our thoughts, but in this moment, the mind is more empty than full. It is expectant without being desperate. This has little in common with cramming for a test, or filling our mind with form and content. You don’t push or tug at it. You’re preparing to let it happen.
For those of you who are Spiritual Creatives (and perhaps many of you are) this may be a sense that the Spirit breathes into you so you can let the breath out into the New Creation. For a few of you, this waiting and letting it happen might come naturally. But perhaps most of us have to practice learning to wait, as much as we practice our art. We prepare for the Opening, for the Flow, and learn to work out of the Quiet. Out of the Hover. Out of the Creative Breath.
About the Author
Dr. Linda Seger has been exploring the integration of creativity and spirituality for over 30 years. She’s an international speaker, writing consultant, and the author of 12 books, including Spiritual Steps on the Road to Success: gaining the goal without losing your soul and Making a Good Writer Great. She has M.A. degrees in drama and religion and the arts and a ThD in Drama and Theology. Her websites are www.lindaseger.com and www.spiritual-steps.com.