In a world in which sections of our memory are farmed out to technology, where apps measure our daily steps or heart-rate or tell us when to sleep, where more and more time is spent on sedentary occupations, often ‘plugged in’, it’s possible to forget that we are creatures, human animals, part of the large cycles of nature and the universe.
Henry Beston, writing, over ninety years ago, in The Outermost House puts it like this:
The world today is sick to its thin blood for the lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot.
We have an enormous range of cycles that play into our rhythms of life and writing.
Rhythms of day
We all have circadian rhythms that follow a daily 24-hour cycle (give or take four hours) and enable us to adjust to regular environmental changes like light or food and to regulate metabolic processes.
For humans, the influence of light on the circadian rhythm is sufficient to impact on health, with current research examining links between artificial to metabolic disorders, sleep disorders and perhaps even some cancers. While circadian rhythms can be trained, many of us have strong views on whether we are night owls or morning larks.
The contemporary obsession with morning routines and rising at ever earlier and earlier times can make us believe that if we haven’t done three or four hours of intensely creative work before 8 a.m. then the whole day is a write-off. Whilst there is anecdotal evidence of larks as high achievers, there is little or no research on all the mediocre larks, or vice versa.
Left to my own devices, I come to life in the late evening and find my brain sharp and my creativity buzzing. I’m fortunate that I run my own business, so much of the time I can work around a body that hates mornings. We all need habits that support our best selves. My ‘morning routine’ includes journalling, coffee, yoga and a slow breakfast with family, but it’s not an early routine.
My evening routine includes reading, sometimes more yoga, a bath and journalling, often leaving a question for my subconscious and it tends to be a late evening, even into the early hours. This pattern would be a disaster for others and I’m constantly tweaking the details, but the vital thing is to develop a rhythm that works, that supports you to feel alive and creative and allows for enough sleep.
Rhythms of night
Sleep too is a rhythm and some of us, myself included, need more. The space for sleep is crucial to health. Sleep deprivation doesn’t just make us grumpier versions of ourselves, it harms us in every conceivable way. Obesity, diabetes, stress and decreased life expectancy are some of the ways that not sleeping enough impacts on us. Lack of sleep lowers libido and can adversely effect fertility.
If we want all the rhythms of our life to work together for harmony then getting enough sleep has to be non-negotiable.
An article I recently read recommended 6 hours of ‘quality’ sleep, achieved with a number of ‘hacks’ in order to increase working hours. Another biohacker advocated a ‘system’ for sleeping less so that we can do more. I’m not convinced and this is not my idea of rhythm, which is much more about living deeply in the moment, than about squeezing every second of productivity out of a twenty-four period. I’m with Kierkegaard on this. For him every moment was an ‘atom of eternity’ and he adds:
Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a [wo]man who is brisk about his[/her] food and his [/her] work.
Ironically, there are an increasing number of life hack blogs that don’t recommend skimping on sleep and instead recommend increased sleep as a way to hack your productivity. At least these articles aren’t posing health risks, but they still miss the point that sleep is a good thing in and for itself.
Yes, being well rested will make us less stressed, more clear-headed and healthier but it is also simply a pause in the busyness of life, a time when the subconscious can play and imagine, when dreams can do their work, when we are simply being.
Sleep is deeply restorative and for many of us, the pattern of sleep and of all our activities varies with seasonal shifts. My energy is much more focussed and fertile once Spring comes and there is more blue light. I’m much more drawn to hibernating in the winter, but also find it has its own kind of creativity; short, intense bursts of writing or big ideas gestating.
Rhythms of season
In addition to our daily bodily rhythms, many of us are likewise deeply tied to the seasons in a range of ways. I developed the series of short courses, Diving deeply into your story, in response to this; courses of three to four days that punctuate the quarter and cross-quarter days of the year and culminate in a five week course through December to New Year.
Many of us want to discover how our writing and life respond to the seasons and value time to connect more deeply to the rhythms of the seasons and how the flow of our writing varies across them.
Too often the world goes at one pace: fast. It’s both monotonous and exhausting and the occasional one or two week break can often disappear in a blur of over-stuffing our precious leisure time with all the things we don’t normally get to ‘do’.
The shift of the seasons is a chance to vary that pace, to refuse to walk (or run!) at the same speed all year. In designing Diving deeply into your story, I wanted to give a space to writers to explore how the seasons impact on all of us, even in our technological world. The light changes, the temperature shifts and, whatever your personal beliefs, and whatever you write or aspire to write, whether it’s blogs or memoir, poetry or fiction, the pull towards deep reflection and recharging our creativity often has a seasonal rhythm to it.
The world doesn’t always honour spaces for deep thinking, taking slow time for creativity, or recalibrating your writing quests as the seasons turn. On top of that we all have so much in life to keep us busy — whether it’s work or young children or elders that need care or commitments we’ve made (and sometimes wonder why) or a mad combination of things, we can all feel fragmented and uncentred at times.
So the question for writers becomes how to participate in the stories that resonate with us whilst not colluding with whatever leaves us frazzled, exhausted, and staring at the blank page or screen wondering if we are frauds to call ourselves writers. How do we go deep within when there are so many calls on our time, many of them legitimate?
Reconnecting with the seasons can nourish your creative centre and anchor you in your writing so that you stay clear about, and committed to, your writing practice, constantly diving deeper.
Coming out of the long winter, we notice that the impulse of life is irresistibly urgent, even if it has taken a long time to germinate. A baby is in the womb for nine months, a bulb grows beneath the earth through the winter. The growth is off-stage and deep. The bursting forth comes only after a secret life of change and growth and struggle. And the moment of birth is, of course, one where pain and joy collide. The result is something radically tender and sweet, yet with the steely purpose of survival, whether we’re looking at an infant only a few hours in the world or an exquisite clump of snowdrops.
This can also be how writing happens. There are times when we think nothing is happening, when the germination is slow and hidden. And this secret life can be full of turmoil and doubt and change and then we are in flow again and the prose is supple and the poetry dances and life floods every word.
By summer, writing and life can change again. Creativity is powerful. It’s like green sap rising, unstoppable. It is restless and, when it rises up in us, can feel overwhelming, dizzying. Creativity and imagination are seen in abundance in the summer world, everywhere there is flowering.
And we want this in our writing too, we want the summer solstice to be a time of imaginative and fertile flow. At the height of summer the light reaches its peak. We have the longest day and the shortest night, but from the day after the Solstice, the daylight hours shorten slowly, tiny step by step moving back towards the dark. There is always this to and fro. At winter solstice, we are in the cold and dark, yet there is the joy that the shortest day is done, each one now will be a little longer… At summer solstice we are in the fullness of that joy, yet we also know the reverse process will happen.
To keep soaring with the sun, even when the darkness comes, we have to imagine. And we have to harvest what our imagination brings.
Life is rarely, if ever, all one thing. And in the flow of this both/and life that is dark and light, fertile and barren, we need stories, and for those, we need imagination. To keep soaring with the sun, even when the darkness comes, we have to imagine. And we have to harvest what our imagination brings. Late summer to early autumn, the time of harvest, can be a time when we feel the satisfaction of work we have done, the story we have lived; the planting and nurturing begin to come to fruition, as long as there has been consistency, as long as we have taken one small step, then another, then another.
Of course, our writing life, or our larger life, is not always simplistically in step with the seasons. We might have a vernal outpouring of creativity in November or a barren spell at harvest, but it’s often possible to trace resonances between the natural world, our interior lives and our creativity, however subtle.
Yet being mindful of the seasons, taking note of how our bodies, souls and writing respond to light or cold, dark or heat, acts in a similar way to deep listening, Pauline Oliveros’s practice of voluntary, selective listening to everyday sounds, nature, our thoughts, imagination and dreams. Taking notice of the seasons is a form of attentiveness that slows us down sufficiently that we connect our internal processes to the world we live in.
Whatever those stories, let’s not forget that we are creatures
And the arc of our life has seasons too, of youth and age, of the roles we take on at different points, of the ways in which we become different versions of ourselves in different contexts and groups and of constant ways we become different stories. Whatever those stories, let’s not forget that we are creatures, human animals, part of the large cycles and story of nature and the universe.
Becoming a different story
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