I feel incredibly fortunate to have half a mile of driveway that snakes through the woods toward where our mailbox sits just off a country road here in middle Tennessee. The long driveway serves as my private walking path that is completely surrounded by steep hills, trees, and a creek on one side. For at least six days a week, I go on an hour-long walk by myself.
I have reaped a few benefits from these solitary sojourns.
I get quiet time by myself.
Being a true introvert at heart, I often crave alone time. My walks happen early in the morning these days, and no other humans are hankering for my attention. This energizes me in ways that most anything else cannot.
I enjoy silence.
Being out in the woods, long stretches of silence are accented by birds singing or wind brushing through the trees. Those are comforting sounds, but mostly, there is the silence. Gone is the stalwart tone of a reporter on NPR delivering more bad news on my car radio. There is no music and no ebb and flow of a movie’s dialogue going on in another room. There is immense richness in silence.
I feel more calm inside my head.
Perhaps because we live in an age of digital sensory overload, my mind can travel far too fast among numerous thoughts, distractions, reactions, and emotions. My. mind slows down when I walk alone. This deceleration is an entryway into a calming space. All that happens in my walk is me taking one step in front of the other. I breathe. I blink my eyes. I see the path ahead. I simply exist in the moment.
I get exercise.
This is easily one of the best benefits I derive from walking. I get to move my body instead of being inert and sedentary. My blood flows more freely along with the limbs of my body. What’s more, walking is also a low-impact form of exercise, and as such, my bones and joints do not get stressed unnecessarily. Walking leads my body toward a healthier state of being.
I feed my creativity.
There have been countless times when I have either come up with new ideas for projects or found solutions to problems in my long solitary walks. The combination of walking without distraction in a calm and free manner is conducive to creative ideation and problem-solving. I will not pretend to know the science behind this. I can only tell from experience that these walks have lead me toward tremendous breakthroughs in my creative work. Go figure.
There are, of course, some things I do to maximize the experience and enjoyment of my walks.
Drink plenty of water and fluids.
It is important to stay hydrated when walking (particularly in hot weather). I usually bring a thermos full of water or my morning coffee to sip on along the way.
Listen to nothing.
For a while, I tried listening to podcasts as I walked, but I found that I enjoyed letting my mind wander freely instead. The voices and demands of other humans should exist in other parts of your life. A walk by yourself is yours alone.
If you need to listen to music, choose calming and enjoyable varieties.
If there is music out there that makes you feel good and relaxed, choose that. It will be the soundtrack to your journey. Choose wisely.
Wear comfortable clothing.
If you are the type who sweats a lot, a light t-shirt and shorts might be perfect. I like using fabric that feels smooth and cool on my skin. Whatever your preference, give yourself permission to be comfortable.
Wear appropriate shoes.
I strongly recommend wearing sneakers made for walking, running, and hiking. Take the time to find shoes that are comfortable and that will absorb the shocks of movement in your feet and legs.
It is important to acknowledge, dear reader, that not everyone lives in an area in the woods that facilitates a blissful meandering walk. Wherever you live, whether you have sidewalks that wind around your neighborhood or a greenway in your city, it is worthwhile to find places where you can walk safely by yourself. It is the simplest activity that any able-bodied person can do independently, and it reaps numerous benefits.
It matters less how often you go for a walk and matters more that you at least do it with some regularity. Every other day, three days a week, or every night after dinner—see if you can do it consistently and in a way that fits comfortably within your normal routines. Walk for twenty minutes, an hour, or however long is easiest for you. Generally, I say the more and longer the better, but we all have different needs and schedules that we must accommodate. Simply do it joyfully whenever and wherever you are able.
Walking is the simplest, low-stress gift you can give to yourself, and it gives back tremendous value.
Creativity is a tricky concept. In my experience, it can be both omnipresent and elusive at different times. It is omnipresent in the form of play and free-form art like doodling and improvisational dance. It is elusive when it needs an inspiration and compulsion to drive it.
A composer hears a melody in her head.
A writer envisions a meaningful story.
A manager needs to solve a big problem in his team’s workflow.
Today, I am addressing that elusive form of creativity that results in a desired work of art or a clever solution to a difficult challenge.
How does one get into the necessary headspace to come up with new solutions and techniques?
As a songwriter, I think of an idea for a song and eventually end up with the actual song in a finished form with music and lyrics. This same process has happened with blog posts and the short films I have made. I have done this often enough that I have developed my own ways of cultivating my creativity. My methods may not work for everyone, but they have yielded satisfying gains in my life.
In no particular order, here are some of my keystone practices:
I DO NOT FORCE AN IDEA OR SOLUTION TO HAPPEN. Unless there is an actual deadline to meet, I am the kind of artist who lets ideas percolate and gain momentum along their own time. I have written songs that took a year to coalesce. For a documentary film I completed last year, I spent several months just letting the whole concept of it bounce around in my head. I have found that forcing art to happen in a way that applies too much pressure on getting a specific result is a recipe for a finished work that is noticeably contrived. When I allow an idea to germinate slowly across time, I get the chance to delve deep into the roots and nitty gritty of it. In this sense, the process, beyond even the actual piece of art itself, becomes more surefooted, and the learning grows much deeper.
I GIVE MYSELF SPACE AND TIME IN THE MORNINGS TO THINK ABOUT THE PROJECTS AND IDEAS I WANT TO DEVELOP. There can be important progress in times of stillness. In the mornings, I sometimes lie in bed awake before getting up. I may look like I am staring up at the ceiling like a zombie, but internally, I am working out a problem in my head or mapping out the workflow for a film project. At my desk in my studio, I quietly sip my warm morning coffee as I mull over a concept in my head. The best thing about mornings is the freshness with which I feel my brain approaches anything I throw at it. Sure, there may be an initial groggy fogginess, but beyond that, a rested mind forges a path toward clarity and focus. My mornings also tend to be quiet. The lack of noise pollution opens up expansive fields of contemplative space.
I GO ON LONG WALKS BY MYSELF AND SURROUNDED BY NATURE. Every day, I go on a solitary walk for one hour or for 3 miles, whichever suits my schedule best. This is not one of those frenzied power walks that looks far too ridiculous. My walks are often slow, meandering forays along the remote country road that leads to and from my house in the woods. While my legs move, my mind wanders even further to see shapes and forms that cannot be seen inside a room of four walls. I take in the glorious trees that surround me and the blue skies above. I listen to the sound of birds communicating. I pay attention to my breathing. I have made tremendous breakthroughs in my creative work on walks like this.
I READ A LOT OF BOOKS. I make a concerted effort to read more books than news articles and blogs. They are a vital source of inspiration for me. The long-form nature of any book allows a reader to delve deep into a topic or narrative. This forces my brain to make connections and to conceptualize ideas along a substantially lengthy thread of complex abstractions. Reading a book is exercise for the brain. This activity summons internal visualizations, questions, and emotions. Each book is also a window into its author’s brain. Each page conveys a separate set of sensibilities and inclinations. A book offers a dazzling panoramic view of someone else’s perspective of the world. This is sustenance for a creative mind.
I MINIMIZE EXPOSURE TO TELEVISION, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND ANY TYPE OF PASSIVE ENTERTAINMENT. TV and many forms of digital visual entertainment do not offer as much depth as reading a book. It’s called entertainment for a reason. Certainly, the escape from reality and the visual feast that it gives can be enjoyable and fun, but it leaves little room for contemplation across time. In a half-hour sitcom, a conflict in a plot gets resolved. In a two-hour major motion picture, everything gets neatly wrapped up before the end credits role. The engagement is too passive because everything has been given to the audience quickly. There is far less to grapple with. Of course, there are incredibly powerful and wonderful films and tv shows out in the world, but they are not as common as one would hope. (I tend to favor foreign films that follow structures and pacing that diverge from the immediacy and flashiness of American-style filmmaking.) More often than not, digital entertainment is addictive and adds up to precious time lost over something sparkly and inconsequential.
I SERIOUSLY TRUST MY INTUITION AND LISTEN TO IT DISCERNINGLY AND FAITHFULLY. Because we make mistakes and bad decisions, it becomes difficult to trust our intuition. However, I have learned that it is through our mistakes that we can fine tune our sensibilities and inner compass. We have to be willing to make a lot of mistakes and to give ourselves the space and time to question them, struggle with their consequences, and decide how to deal with similar situations in the future. Like anything in life, the more we try, the better we get, even if the gains are microscopically incremental. A gain is still a gain regardless of its size. I have learned through NUMEROUS mistakes to trust myself even more. Learning breeds instinctual acuity. The more I learn, the more I know—this makes most decisions much easier to make. I make every effort to trust myself and my abilities. Any mistakes along the way will only benefit me in the long term.
You are welcome to try any of these techniques. None of them are based on exact science but have been culled out of my own creative pursuits. I live a life in which I write for this blog, make short films that I release every week, and play music every day. I actively replenish my creative energy in any way that I can. I do all of the above with consistency and a whole lot of patience.
PS. If you have not seen this week’s film release, here it is. I unbox and review my brand new aNueNue tenor ukulele. Check it out: