Over the past two weeks, I’ve watched the starlings practice their annual murmurations. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, murmurations are the intricate swooping sky dances some birds do when they fly in unison.
On my early morning walks, I’d hear their squawks swell and then fall into a collective hush as the flock took off. During their air ballet, they’d chirp at each other in what I would imagine was a lot of, listen, listen, listen, fly left, now right, now back to the nest.
I’d just grown accustomed to their daily routine when the birds left Charlottesville. I felt the ensuing silence in my bones.
On Sunday, I was still sitting with this absence, when I attended a monthly meeting with a few of my writing peeps.
When asked how my writing life was going, I said terrible. It feels like my creativity has flown south, right along with those birds. I show up to my writing desk, but there’s no sense of flow. I struggle to form sentences, then go back and cross them out.
The source of my creative emptiness is easy to pinpoint. I’m preparing for a big presentation. My calendar is overbooked with work tasks, home projects, and visits with friends. I love everything on my calendar, and yet I’m also aware that busyness has taken my creative energy. Plus, it’s taken two months to settle my house. If I’m honest, I’ve been craving a sense of order and maybe a little rest.
And I hate resting more than a toddler.
Creative emptiness and fatigue trigger my “get cracking” tendencies, that part of me that believes worthiness is about getting things done. Right now it’s convinced that warring with my current reality and yelling things at me like get going, pushpushpush and get this shit done! will help me complete my project. So far, working harder hasn’t worked.
Have you ever felt like this?
I’ve learned my “get cracking” isn’t an ally when it comes to creative emptiness. Instead, I need to pause and wait for further instructions from my place of deepest knowing.
Truly listening requires a sense of inner stillness and an openness to what is. My messages and insights come from a variety of different sources, including meditation, journaling, cards from my Osho Zen Tarot deck, or signs from nature like murmurations.
Yesterday, as I worked to listen, I drew the following card from my Osho Zen deck.
Here’s part of this card’s message: “The truth of your own deepest being is trying to show you where to go right now, and when this card appears it means you can trust the inner guidance you’re being given.”
After drawing this card, I did a short breath meditation then wrote what do you want me to know? in my journal. My inner knowing responded with relax, be patient, things will be different after next week. Your flow will return.
Meditation can prepare you to listen whether you’re in a slump or sailing through your NaNoWriMo goals. Periods of stillness can help you discover what your characters want or where your story needs to go.
But paying attention isn’t enough. How we listen matters.
Many of us only stop to listen when we’re uncomfortable. Operating from a place of fear or melancholy, we clench our fists and beg for someone or something to ease our misery. But creativity arises from openness. As Taisen Deshimaru says, “Keep your hands open, and all the sands of the desert can pass through them. Close them, and all you can feel is a bit of grit.
There are many ways to open clenched fists.
This past weekend I also attended an outdoor dinner hosted by a local writer. Fifteen of us watched the sun set behind her house, then ate chili as the stars twinkled overhead. Later, we gathered around her bonfire to talk about our writing lives. Someone who’d also been experiencing creative emptiness mentioned Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, a collection of short essays on life’s ordinary happy moments.
Here’s a brief excerpt from one of his essays.
“A cup of coffee from a well-shaped cup. A fly, its wings hauling all the light in the room, landing on the porcelain handle as if to say, “Notice the precise flare of this handle, as though designed for the romance between the thumb and index finger that holding a cup can be.”
The creatively empty writer shared that reading Rose’s book helped her pay attention to the thousands of small romances happening in her own life. Anticipating a daily delight is filling her creative tank and making her fallow time more pleasant.
My friend’s story made the drawing of this card feel inevitable.
My Osho Zen guidebook has this to say about the Sharing card. “When you draw this card, it suggests you too are in a situation where you have an opportunity to share your love, your joy, and your laughter.”
In other words, focus on your abundance and delight. This is great advice whether you’re feeling stuck or making your word count.
Last night’s delight was the crescent moon slung below the north star. Today, it was the feeling of the warm air after several chilly days.
Showing up to your writing desk is yet another way to listen. Five minutes is enough. Write one sentence, or even a word. Open yourself to your muse and her epiphanies. Then say thank you for what you’re able to complete. Don’t worry about outcomes.
When you’re done, return to the rest of your life. Share your love, your joy, and your laughter with the world.
When starlings begin their murmuration practice, they establish a home base, fly practice runs, and then return to the safety of a designated tree. There are pauses between each and every flight. As I think of their aerial ballets, I think their beauty stems from the pauses, between each flight. They’re in the air, and then they’re gone. Sometimes creativity behaves the same way. And yet, like the starlings it always returns to us.
Whether you’re happily churning out pages, or feeling stuck like me, know that our writing lives are filled with ebbs and flows. This is how creativity works. That means there’s no failure and no wrong place to be. If you’re feeling productive, ride that wave. If you’re running on empty, it just means your deepest knowing is calling to you.