I tuned out this past weekend, abandoned my computer and shut off my phone for 24 hours to spend a little time in retreat at a beautiful restored monastery in Richmond, VA. I worked with author/poet/dancer Cheryl Pallant and a group of lovely ladies to learn about writing from the body.
The experience was delightfully restorative and enlightening, but in a way I didn’t quite expect. I have stopped going to writing workshops and conferences the past few years because I end up walking away with a ton of really useful information that completely overwhelms me. The tendency of most facilitators is to pack their events so full of educational, networking and experiential learning activities that I can’t make use of any of it. My brain locks up.
This time was different. My brain relaxed.
The absence of something I have become accustomed to feeling–a mental chaos I liken to an overloaded inbox–was remarkably apparent as soon as I entered the retreat space. I said to the friend who accompanied me “Remarkable. My brain is empty.” There were no thoughts, no pieces of information to file, no messages to sort through. And no one trying to jam anything in there either. Kudos to Cheryl for providing that physical and mental space. Time suddenly opened up for me. I could walk, sit, eat, breathe, move, listen, meditate and write without distraction.
Before leaving our group met briefly in the lounge area to have a last cup of tea and I noticed a Newsweek on the table with the cover story “I Can’t Think!” by one of my favorite science writers Sharon Begley. Upon returning home I looked the article up and found scientific evidence for something I’ve come to understand but have yet to find a workable solution:
“…decisions requiring creativity benefit from letting the problem incubate below the level of awareness—something that becomes ever-more difficult when information never stops arriving.”
BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious). Our brains are not suited for information processing 24/7. Trying to sort through masses of data and set priorities can be debilitating. It can freeze our brain’s ability to make decisions well, and sometimes stops us from making any at all. And because “the brain is wired to notice change over stasis” information that is recent rather than pertinent may drive decision-making more and more. (Despite the fact that creative decisions made with the benefit of allowing unconscious thought processes to integrate new information with existing knowledge, see patterns and make novel connections are nearly always better decisions.)
Is brain freeze a problem for creative types? If my experience this past weekend is any indication the answer is a resounding “YES.” Even if you are a creative individual that takes time to turn off the flow of information so that you can create, you are going to be dealing with a world that is increasingly affected by the inability to make decisions even about what they LIKE or if they want to buy your books and CDs or come to your live show.
It’s why those annoying self-promoters we have to block from our social networking sites and less-talented artists and writers end up selling millions. When the brain is given too many choices, it defaults to the most frequent and recent blip on the screen. An overloaded brain buys into the hype.
So what do creative individuals do about this trend? Check back in a few days. I’m going to put my unconscious processes to work on this one.