By Toni Birdsong
Solitude. Silence. Meditation.
Does this word trio pique your heart? Whet your wonder?
Or does the mere suggestion make you want to run and hide behind a rock?
In our tech-tethered world, these three seemingly docile words may prove to be your most explosive sources of creativity. So lean in a little closer.
How many times have you surfed the net, poured over books, or researched an idea only to find the hours spent searching rendered little, if any, original or inspired thought? Sometimes too much information — too much noise — is the true enemy of creativity. More often than not, the answer you are seeking is inside of you. You simply need to hush.
You’ve got it all — the goods, the ideas, the hatchable stuff.
You simply may not have the habits you need to coax them forth. And why should you? Why should any of us? In today’s digital culture if you aren’t plugged in, tuned in, and teched up, you’re two steps behind civilized society.
While possessing technology isn’t the problem, what can become an issue is the position we give that technology in our daily lives. There’s always an exchange happening, whether we realize it or not. When anything edges out the sacred — silence, solitude, and meditation — your creative sensibilities suffer. And those old demons you chased off — the self-doubt, fear, and procrastination? When we forgo consistent soul feeding, those counter creative pests can resurface like fruit flies.
In her landmark book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes, “Art isn’t a matter of thinking something up. It is the opposite — it’s getting something down.”
Getting something down means digging, listening, observing, and understanding, all of which require solitude, silence, and meditation. Getting that “something down,” requires new habits, even venturing outside of your comfort zone if routine or busyness currently commandeer your hours.
Rest is, at its core, restorative.
Even God, after six days of creating, rested. In His wisdom, He modeled inactivity for us because He understood human nature. He knew we’d be crazies and, that given skill, talent, and a workload, we’d find a way to blow it all out of proportion if He did not supply us some rails. He rested, so we rest.
We cease striving, slow our hands, and recalibrate our hearts. We practice listening. And drop down into cool rivers to refresh.
For ages, practicing solitude, silence, and meditation has given countless creatives their power tools. Giacomo Puccini says of the matchless opera Madame Butterfly that God dictated the music to him and that he was merely and instrument that communicated it to the public. No doubt, Puccini did pen his world famous opera between stops on a crowded subway, playing Candy Crush on his Smartphone, or whooping it up at a BBQ with friends. More likely, he created the masterpiece far away from everyday distractions, so he could hear what God had to say.
If the very thought of being alone makes you squeamish and reaching for excuses, that, dear friend is symptomatic of an emaciated soul.
To encourage you forward and inward (and to put some meat on those soul bones), here’s a jumpstart on each discipline.
Solitude is the restorative art of being alone. Solitude is very different from loneliness, which is a negative term connected to isolation, even sadness. Solitude is the opposite. Solitude is cherished time we crave and carve out. It is the day’s back roads our soul aches to travel. It’s as necessary as air and water to our creative health. Trappist monk Thomas Merton viewed solitude as so essential to the human spirit, he equated the lack of it with emotional cruelty:
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone with everything is to succumb to violence.”
Solitude can be a time of contemplation, prayer, or enjoyment of some kind. Solitude might include reading, journaling, long walks, canoeing on a quiet river, prayer, painting, fishing alone, or simply absorbing and enjoying nature in some way.
The gain of solitude is peace, contentment, godly order, awareness, and restoration of mind, body, spirit, and creative energy. Be still, says Psalm 46:10, “and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth!”
There’s a sense of order established when we read those sacred words. First, before we hear from God or gain any revelation (or even judgment in some cases), we must first be still by ceasing the clamor of our world so as to invite heaven to earth. That’s Godly order.
Spend 15 minutes today in by yourself in solitude. Note everything around you, running water, birds singing, the sun’s warmth falling around you, or even the tap of the rain. Declutter your heart and mind so that peace has room to expand. Over the next month, build up to 20-30 minutes of solitude a day.
While solitude is intentional time alone, silence is spending periods of time completely void of sound. Not many of us can truly relate to silence. We understand when the environment we’ve entered is eerily quiet, but silence is another thing, even a scary thing. Mainly because sound has become our subtle companion, which means silence in our modern day culture is all but extinct. But there’s an equally quiet price we’re all paying for the ever-present hum of noise in our lives. A 2011 World Health Organization report calls noise pollution a “modern plague,” stating that 25% of disease can be connected to everyday noise, which is causing sleep loss, stress, annoyance, and hearing loss.
If we are tired, annoyed, and stressed there’s little desire to create, right?
A creative trend that encourages silence is adult coloring books. Adults everywhere are rediscovering the creative, healing practice of simply sitting and coloring a picture like they did when they were kids. Coloring is an excellent (and fun) way to get comfortable with silence.
Need more inspiration to get quiet? Look at Zechariah 4:6 where God says, “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” meaning all great things will be accomplished (and discovered) not by our human ability and genius but by God’s Spirit.
Turn off, unplug, and even hide your electronics.
This includes any source of music (as soothing as music can be, it still helps us avoid complete silence). Quiet your mind. Open your heart. Listen. Do this indoors or outdoors. Feeling confident? Commit to a word fast for a full day. Minus background noise and conversation, inner ground opens up where God can actually get a word in edgewise.
Void of sound your heart, mind, and soul are more likely to hear that “still small voice” of God that Elijah heard after a dramatic battle in 1 Kings. The point of God speaking in a mere whisper was to show Elijah that the work of God did not always come in dramatic revelation or signs but in stillness.
Research shows that a quiet mind is fundamental to physical and emotional healing and directly related to healthy sleep patterns, which can prevent a multitude of diseases.
Spend 15 minutes today in complete silence. Over the next month, build up to an hour of complete silence a day. During this time close your eyes, turn open your palms upward, and invite God to speak. Listen.
Far different from the New Age movement’s meditation practices, Christian meditation means to study, reflect, and consider God’s Word on a deeper level. Scripture repeatedly tells us to meditate on God’s Word regularly. Why? It’s acutely simple. Because God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are far and above our thoughts. And that gap leaves enormous space for daily discovery and revelation — more spiritual ground than you or I could travel in one lifetime.
Time spent in God’s presence will render something new, something fresh in the heart and mind of the one seeking.
One Hebrew word for meditating is Sihach, which means to muse, review in one’s mind, consider, and contemplate.
Heroes meditate. David, Paul, Jesus, and countless men and women of faith who followed spent focused time in contemplation and prayer.
In times of meditation, we gain revelation, wisdom, and a sense of gratitude that keeps our very souls afloat and our vision expanding. Psalm 16:11 affirms that time spent in God’s presence can make us whole, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Pastor Rick Warren describes Christian meditation this way in his book The Purpose Driven Life:
“Meditation is focused thinking. It takes serious effort. You select a verse and reflect on it over and over in your mind . . . No other habit can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflection on Scripture . . . If you look up all the times God speaks about meditation in the Bible, you will be amazed at the benefits He has promised to those who take the time to reflect on His Word throughout the day.”
Meditation simply means to ponder or consider God’s word, and it looks different for everyone. For some people, meditation is pouring over scriptures and journaling. For others, it’s extended times of prayer, or communing with God to the backdrop of nature. Whatever, your method, the key is to take your mind off of your swirling thoughts and fix them on the deeper words and promises of God. As a roadmap, use Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
Romans 12:2 reminds us why meditation is so key to our inner peace, “Be not conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The verse goes on to say we will gain discernment, clarity, and alignment with God’s will. Meditating on God’s word can render fresh perspective, strength, and for the creative, significant affirmation and vision.
Find a quiet place. Choose one of the above verses, or a book in the bible and study each line. Grab a study bible to help. Record your insight in a journal. Ask God to help you understand His word and to show you where you can separate your feelings and fears from His promises. Always record what you discover so you can return to it.
Why is it we feel obligated to attend events, answer a text immediately, and jump to meet the needs of someone else but shrink back — even reject — the attention and care of our souls? What is the honest conversation you need to begin with yourself today?
Whatever that answer, solitude, silence, and meditation may be the first steps in that very holy conversation.
Toni Birdsong is an author, blogger, and owner of Birdsong Creative, a branding and web agency outside of Nashville, Tennessee. She’s been riding the creative white waters professionally for more than 25 years, including The Walt Disney Company, where she was an Imagineer.