How To Stay Curious. How To Be Creative…Again

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Artist Anna JanosikDo you remember your childhood? The good parts? Here’s a memory of mine I’d like to share. This stepping back in time will be used as part of your own exercise in keeping your curiosity alive now:

I remember walking with wet mittens on my hands, my fingers hurting from the cold when I didn’t move them. I moved them, squeezing them tight to where the water in which I had soaked them dribbled out of them like a slowly leaking faucet to the snow and ice at my feet.

My toes hurt, too. Pulling hard rubber boots over my sneakers was always an exercise in frustration. There was real joy when mom would come to the rescue, me on the verge of tears at five or six. I readily burst with joy when she tugged up hard enough to make my little knee come up to my chest as I stomped down with all my might. There was that tinge, that visceral mingling and tingling of tears shedding away to small giggles; happiness in my chest that knew no other way to escape. Then mom saying, “There, now that wasn’t hard, see?” She was smiling; you could hear it in her voice.

Then there was more tugging and pushing and scrunching and wiggling of fingers and thumb into that ever-difficult thumb hole. Hat, scarf, and mittens topped me off and sealed me in my cloth cocoon.

She had to open the door. Mittened hands slid around and off the shiny brass knob freely. No traction whatsoever. If boots were frustration, the doorknob was its brother.

Then I was carefully making my way down the house steps into the garage, my scarf making it difficult to aim my head down to see where my feet were going. I could feel the temperature difference immediately, cloth cocoon or not. It wrapped itself around me, bracing. My eyes peeking out from under the hat and scarf were the first to know the cold.

I wiggled my mitteny fingers into the bright gash where the door to outside was—the snow and ice buildup made it hard to close completely. I struggled and pulled and got the door open and went outside, having to step up just a bit to avoid tripping on the small ice ledge.

Even on a grey day snow is bright, especially after my having been inside for some time. I squinted and then trudged my way out into the yard and to the circular drive between the house and the barn. It was warm. The garage had been colder.

Warmth was relative, though. There was still plenty of snow and ice, but it was melting. This was spring, where the happiness and play of fluffy white gave way to rivulet streams and scarred snow, which seemed somehow sad all on its own. There was a sinking feeling in the air, and the snow reacted by settling, reducing its presence under the weight of the grey sky.

I broke ice. Snow pack melts and freezes, melts and freezes. And then just melts. Soon there are thin sheets of ice dotted with air bubbles, and sometimes dirt or hay the closer you got the barn. Water runs along a predictable route following the grooves of tractor tires on the path out to the field alongside the big red metal shed.

But long, jagged crevasses form all on their own, too. Sometimes thin sheet ice covers these mini floodways. A good stomp of my rubber boot breaks the ice and I can see the water flow better, bits of the ice floating downstream to jam at sharp turns farther away.

I bend down and pull on a pointy pane of unbroken ice, my boot effort having made it possible to grab the edge, and heave it up and away with a satisfying snap. My mittens got all wet from the streaming water beneath the shard. I didn’t really pay attention to that. I had the ice. And, yes, I licked it. Cold and minerally tasting. You can definitely taste when there’s a little dirt in the ice.

I lick some more and then stab the broken ice into the water. The water moves around it. I watch the waves bulge, creating pleasing patterns that hold me still. My nose is cold and is starting to drip, but not bad enough to have to sniff it back in or wipe on my scarf. My breath comes out warm through and behind the scarf, and I feel it rise up to my eyes.

Now my fingers are getting cold. I move them in their mittens, love from grandma and her knitting needles. She always made the best mittens.

They stick to the ice. I wiggle them some more and pull the yarn fibers away. I get a better grip on my ice, lift it out of the stream and snap it into two pieces. I try for more, but the ice it too hard.

I throw the pieces into the snow across from me and then reach into the water to grab another bit of ledge to lift and break away…

 

This was a tiny bit of my remembered childhood. I shared it in such detail because I wanted you to know that, barring brain trauma, we all have the ability to immerse ourselves so.

But more than that, we have access to a state of mind where we are unburdened by the world around us, a particular lack of responsibility to anything but the our own inward, inquisitive, directive. As a child it is something in which we immerse ourselves wholly.

In my memory, I didn’t have any care or concerns other than cold fingers and a runny nose. But even those took a back seat to what I was experiencing. While I watched the wave patterns in that icy channel, I didn’t notice the pain in my fingers until after my curiosity had been satisfied to the point something else grabbed my attention.

Don’t let your curiosity be satisfied.

When my fingers got cold from the ice and water, I didn’t rush off to heat them in the house. I wiggled them. Then I went on to the next piece of ice in my mindful exploration. I continued to involve myself with my senses. Explored my world.

Quite honestly, I had no idea where my mother was. I had no idea where my eight brothers and sisters were, either. All I knew was what was before me. Where I wanted to go next, driven by some inward impulse to place myself in the path of the world and its wonders. There was great freedom in that.

As we get older, we tend to take on responsibilities and forget our child-mind—the very thing that got us to where we are now. It hasn’t left us. As sure as we can dip into the memories of our childhood, we can experience that same curiosity and wonder and freedom.

Get young again – break the “old” pattern

Writing is an exercise of the mind, and, like any exercise, the more you do it, the stronger you become. Pathways to memory and the way in which we used to process the world become clearer.

As human beings we tend toward patterns: recognizing them, falling into them. This affects us both positively and negatively.

The accumulation of age and experience lays pattern on us and in us—not always originating from us—burying the child-mind in the process. We practice ourselves away from our wondrous state, forgetting how to be young again, devaluing the process because it doesn’t directly apply to someone else’s view of how the world should run.

The positive thing about being adult is that we can choose when not to be an adult—and no one else has to know about it.

The Exercise of the Child-Mind

Take some time out of your life, use the 30’s example in my previous blog to help you. Set boundaries for your time and for any acceptable interruptions from others in your life.

The exercise takes place in two stages: the immersion stage, and then the present reflection stage.

Tell yourself you have X number of minutes for the exercise (thirty-minutes is a good start) and any other thoughts or worries can take a flying leap. Some people literally have to say this aloud to themselves. This is acceptable and sometimes needed.

If you’re using the thirty-minute example, allow for twenty or twenty-five-minutes of immersion, then the rest of your time for the present reflection stage.

Relax. Breathe. If you have any meditation training, this would be the time to put it into play. You can also read a meditation example from the following link.

As with much of our life, we have direct connection to our childhood through certain senses, smell being one of the greatest. If you need, get a candle similar to the one your mother burned on Christmas morning, tobacco from a pipe your grandfather smoked, soap you used to clean yourself, the scent of a particular book, or book cover like the paper bag ones we made as children for school, crayons, Elmer’s glue, a leather jacket…anything that triggers a sense-memory from an earlier age.

Once you have this, allow your mind to wonder in the memory associated with it. No rushing. Take your time. Tell yourself, if you need, that your alarm will go off at the appropriate time and then it can go back to worrying about life afterwards. The child-mind isn’t in a hurry and it looks at everything. Feels everything. Touches and tastes everything.

Stay with this immersion stage for the time allotted. Be free to explore with that curious, unburdened, mind. Don’t try to force the memories, let them flow to you in their own time, just do your best to stay with the original imagery or scent that got you to that memory.

When you are done, look around you. Again; breathe. Notice the little details in the floor, or on your chair, or in the patterns on your shirt, or in how the lamplight shines on the many surfaces around it. Stay with this for the rest of your allotted time.

What many people feel after working this exercise is a new level of clarity, a deeper awareness of their environment, of themselves. Many also feel a sense of calm and peace.

One of the greatest aspects of the child-mind is that it knows very little and has a deep desire to know more. It has to immerse itself more deeply than our take-for-granted adult minds, simply because it craves to know just how far that plastic spoon will bend before it breaks, how it sounds as it snaps, how our fingers sting a little afterwards from the effort and effect.

Do this exercise, create a pattern in your life that includes immersion in wonder, and you will get quite good at accessing your child-mind process. This will boost your curiosity and your creativity.

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