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Emptiness is crucial for creativity

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This is a pattern that started years ago. During my musical journey, I would hit phases of complete apathy and even aversion to musical activities. I would sit for hours trying to start my riyaaz, but to no avail. I would stare at my music notes as if they were stale food in front of me. Even the sound of the taanpura would be disturbing. It was scary and embarrassing. A musician being put off by music? A singer not wanting to sing? A person who imparts musical education day in and day out being repulsed by sounds and teaching? It was downright frightening!

Any writer who might be reading this would know of the infamous writer’s block. The much-dreaded and unpleasant phase in the creative process is when the writer hits a wall of nothingness. No ideas, no inspiration and no output. It’s a phase of uncertainty. It’s like a feeling of being inside a dark tunnel not knowing where it ends. A place where there is no desire, no impetus and no energy.

To try to tide over this, one tries different things. Powering through and trying, despite the loss of creative energy, is one of them. Another is guilt-tripping or beating oneself up to move forward.

 I have observed that when I do any of these things, everything just gets worse. I feel myself going deeper into the abyss of zero creativity and feel progressively more dismayed and disheartened, which only complicates things. And before I know it, I am sucked into a whirlpool of self-doubt and flagellation. 

The solution is to let go and accept. Phases of creative block are periods when your mind and being are telling you to rest and rejuvenate. It is quite like sleep after an 18-hour workday. It is like the summer or winter vacation we take after months of putting our nose to the grindstone. It is like those campsites midway up a hill climb, where you eat, rest and ready yourself to climb further. A creative vacuum is a period where you stop and assimilate what has happened thus far, things that you need to pat yourself for, and lessons you›ve learnt. 

Interestingly, this is not a conscious exercise. Just as the body knows better than us when it needs rest, our creative minds know when to shut off and go into hibernation. If we try and power through this phase instead of resting and rejuvenating, strange things happen. In my case, powering through the phase left me with bizarre symptoms. I would develop vocal nodules in my vocal cords that force me to stop singing for some time. Or I would fall physically ill with a tummy bug or a fever that would force me to cancel all my appointments. As I said, our inner selves know better than us what we need.

And just as how sleep is the precious 8 hours when your brain and body reset and rewire, I have realised that these periods of creative lull are necessary for growth as a creative person. I have always emerged with better music after these lulls but only if I don’t argue with it or question my mind›s deeper wisdom in asking for that ‹time off›.

While this is more obviously true of people in the creative field, it is true of all processes of growth. Spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual growth all follow the same pattern of bursts and lulls. Other examples include growth plateaus in children and emotional numbness or withdrawal in adults after a life-changing event. We are innately spiritual beings, all in the process of growing, but in different ways.

As I write this piece, I am in the middle of one of my creative lulls. But this time I have acted differently. I have cancelled my appointments, taken a few days off and am sipping a cup of honey tea to soothe my strained vocal cords. I am looking out into a calming sight of the vast ocean and telling myself this – creativity is like the ocean itself. It is always there. Just because it is low tide doesn›t mean that the ocean is silent. The next big wave of creativity is just around the corner. I know, I trust and I wait patiently.

The writer is a vocalist of both Hindustani and Carnatic Classical music, with over three decades’ experience. She is also the founder of Music Vruksh, a venture to make classical accessible for its aesthetic and wellness benefits.

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