The Lateral Action blog publishes articles on creativity. Today’s piece, “Creative Block #5 — Being Disorganised” struck a chord.
Pared down, it says that creative achievement requires a lot more than inspiration.
Inspiration is the motivating energy, and organization is the supporting frame. It doesn’t matter if we’re making music, painting, juggling, or running. We need both.
Runners who imagine that progress comes by following inspired feelings are likely to be disappointed. The Lateral Action article’s author, Mark McGuinness, notes that creative projects invariable require a fair amount of drudge.
Last week I argued that good runs begin with the body. I won’t repeat what I said – to summarize briefly, good runs require that we manage our five runnerly tools: body, heart, will, mind, and soul.
Naturally, it takes a bit of order and method. That means running with control.
At each stage of a run, control delivers the best results.
During the warmup, the body takes center stage. Nursing the body through a proper warmup gets the it ready to perform well. It’s a question of “pay now, play later.”
Same thing for the second stage. As the body warms up and starts delivering energy, that energy stimulates positive feelings. Energy is a mental high.
During long runs, I usually reach a point where I have to make a decision. It happens when I’m warmed up and I’ve been running with good feelings for a while.
Managing feelings is crucial. And, once again, it takes a bit of organization.
If I let my feelings veer into giddy emotion, I invariably end up wishing I hadn’t. Gushy emotions are like a pendulum — emotional highs never last, but always swing over into the opposite. One minute you’re feeling giddy, and the next your mood turns blah.
Controlled feeling is more satisfying and enduring. Of course, it takes some control to restrain the wild emotional heart.
It’s easy if we apply a little will power. Uh-oh, I’ve said the W-word — the word we associate with steep hills, marathons, speedwork, and winter mornings with freezing rain.
And that’s unfortunate, because will power is a lovely thing.
When is will power strongest? When we feel enthusiasm for what we’re doing. When, in some secret part of ourselves, we’re actually having fun.
Will power doesn’t have to be grim. In Fitness Intuition I borrowed a definition of will power from my spiritual teacher: “Will power is an increasingly smooth flow of energy and attention, directed toward a desired end.”
Okay, where were we? We’ve warmed up and we’re enjoying the flow of energy and positive feelings. We’ve come to an important crossroads in the run, when the good feelings begin to fade and dissipate. At this point, it’s all too clear that if we lose control and run mindlessly, we won’t be able to enjoy the last miles nearly as much.
Time for a little organization. When feelings fade and get weak and vague, what can we do to regain and extend the joy we were feeling just a short while ago?
Will power is the answer. Okay, here’s another useful definition, courtesy of my spiritual teacher. “Will power is almost the same as concentration.” Oh, and here’s something else he said: “Concentration means deep interest.”
Okay, that makes will power seem a more doable, doesn’t it, compared to the usual images of hard-charging Vikings surging over the ramparts, swords in hand.
Well, actually, I find that it does help to cultivate a certain warriorlike attitude in the final stages of a long run.
For example. During a 2½-hour long run recently, at the point when my feelings began to fog and fade, an image entered my mind of the qualities of a hero. I thought, “Heroism is 90 percent heart, 90 percent self-restraint, and 90 percent sheer stubborn perseverance.”
It’s the heart-part that makes will power something more than dry drudgery. I was able to salvage the quality of my run, and avoid running in a stupor, by focusing strongly in the moment, forgetting about any personal feelings and emotions, and making my awareness clean and strong.
I straightened my spine, drove out personal reactions and whims and whining, and offered my inner reality in the service of a — well, how shall I describe it? — a kind of inner light and honor and higher, joyful duty.
And, okay, that’s a fairly high-flown way of talking, but it worked.
I’ve come to think, from personal experiences and observing my spiritual teacher, who manifests the qualities of a radiant warrior to the nth degree, that the highest type of hero and warrior practices self-discipline because he or she is motivated by love. As the LAPD motto says, to protect and serve.
There’s a kind of impersonal happiness that can happen at the end of a run. Where the focus is on doing the right thing, at each moment. The work is concentration, focusing attention, and finding the innermost, innocent place in the heart; happiness, then, comes as a side effect, without asking for it.
The las two stages of a run are for mind and spirit. Mind to calmly discriminate and know what’s right; and spirit as a guide.
Thirty years ago, friends of mine visited a woman saint of India, Anandamoy Ma (the Joy-Permeated Mother). There’s a chapter about her in Yogananda’s book, Autobiography of a Yogi.
During one of their meetings with her, someone said, ”There are many of us in America who love you.” The saint replied with calm, impersonal wisdom,“There is no love but God’s love.”
Sometimes in the late stages of a run, I feel that it just might be true. More than once, I’ve trotted on the tree-shaded shoulder of Foothill Expressway, past the stately Stanford professors’ homes, feeling deeply concentrated, silently chanting a short phrase to bring my attention back to what counts. And as I offer myself inwardly to be attentive and self-controlled, I seem to find an inward connection with a higher love and joy. It’s quite personal — yet impersonal; though not mechanical at all, as if turning the crank of spiritual practice to receive a plastic-wrapped piece of cosmic bubble gum. Attitude is everything — a warrior’s unselfish heart is all that matters, pure, even childlike, not grasping but gratefully giving.
It strikes me that the real work of a runner is inside. It all starts within. Monitoring the body, following a calm, intuitive feeling about what’s right, focusing attention and — listening.
For a year and a half in the mid-1990s I worked in a tiny rural health food market in California’s Gold Rush country. My boss was an ex-Marine named Tom Taylor. He’d run a farm in Indiana and was a plainspoken, cheerful, and an all-around great guy. When I once told him how I enjoyed stocking shelves, he said, “I used to absolutely hate stocking. But then I decided that if I had to do it I might as well give it my full attention. So I made a game of making sure that all the cans were lined up just right, with their labels facing out, and the shelves were dusted and spotlessly clean. And pretty soon I realized I was having a great time stocking, all because I was so completely focused and it took me to an enjoyable place in my mind.”
The outward approach to running is limited. Surely, organization is vital. But it’s very far from being all there is. Running, to my way of thinking, isn’t remotely about outward goals, like preventing heart disease. It’s about recovering the heart.
In his wonderful book and BBC TV series, Civilisation, the late Lord Kenneth Clark pointed out that the Renaissance drew its main inspiration from a single individual — St. Francis. He described how Francis was a young nobleman who loved a party and wanted to go off and fight battles with his companions. Then, during a protracted illness, he had a vision in which Christ asked him, “Francis, rebuild my church.” Clark describes how Francis gave up all his material possessions, and in doing so, how he found an inner freedom in which God’s love was able to pour through him for all.
Well, running is play, and play is a mirror for life, in safe surroundings. I find that the more I give up self-seeking, pretension, and ego when I run, the more I’m receive in return, of things that truly matter. But I’d never be able to get there without order and method — without control and organization.