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Thread: Blocks

  1. #1


    There are it seems, two Muses: The Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, ĎIt is yet more difficult than you thought.í This is the muse of form ÖIt may be, then, that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

    -Wendell Berry


    This quote has soothed me, informed me and inspired me I donít know how many times in the last 25 years. My blocks are legend.

    But as Iíve gotten older and found my way through so many blocks so many times, Iíve come to trust their usefulness and have stopped the panic.

    For me, there is no way to Ďforceí a block away. Iíve got to be patient, and once again be a student of that Muse. To be a student of art.

    Loori (Zen and Creativity) says ĎWe can actively take up our barriers as art koans.í And that has worked for me over the years.

    But now I understand something more profound and deeper, that many of you probably already know. I need the break. My creative psyche needs a recharge. Iím tired. Enough! she says, and I rest.

    What works for you when youíve reached that wall of creative blocks? Or maybe you are one of the wondrous few who are so consumed by creative energy and ideas that you donít even know what Iím talking about. Weíd like to hear from you too!!!



  2. #2
    As probably one of the least creative people in this Sangha (partly because of my Science-based education and my complete lack of right brain activities for so many years, LOL) I can relate to this post a lot--because I have ADHD.

    ADHD is an odd beast, where you cannot focus on anything unless you are interested in it, but if you are interested in it, you can go into a "hyperfocused" state where you almost become one with the subject. Most folks don't know about that aspect of ADHD. Whenever I needed to focus on something in college, I had to find a way to go into hyperfocus mode. In that state, creative juices flow like a river and time completely stops. However, most of the time I am in that "block" state where my mind automatically gets all stubborn and fuzzy as soon as I try to direct it toward a subject in which it has no inherent spark of interest.

    So it became important for me to always find a way to trigger my interest about a subject I needed to address. How to do that is completely different for every subject. That "creative block" feeling is so familiar to me, it happens whenever I try to begin a task I find boring, which is many times a day. So almost automatically now I try to engage my "right brain" with whatever it is in a different way--while my left brain is saying "you have to make that phone call so you can get out of here and go pick up Nicole, etc. etc.," I tickle my right brain with "that case is intriguing because 'X" and I want to share it with them" or "they will be so grateful to hear from you" or something that appeals in an emotional, sensory way to engage me with it. The trick is to always go one step past the knowledge of wanting or needing to do something into actually visualizing a positive emotional connection of some kind with it. That turns the key and magically unlocks the room where the creativity and skillful actions are imprisoned.

    Thanks for your insightful and helpful topics in this forum! Deep bows.

    清 道 寂田
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  3. #3

    Thank you for your thoughtful post.

    Maybe we should do a post on exactly what creativity is. There is a belief if one is not making 'art', music, writing, dance one is not creative. Creativity comes in all shapes, colors and disciplines. Might be a good discussion in and of itself. So thanks for that idea!

    Your method of dealing with everyday tasks is highly creative and useful! And intriguing. Anyone else relate to Jakuden's clever block breaker?

    Right now I am between projects. But I have made myself busy by putting together a fundraiser for an animal rescue organization. And that seems to be a placeholder until I return to the studio. This task requires an entirely different type of creativity/ skill set, but still problem solving (which is what creativity is). That always involves creative thinking, whether its about what to prepare for a dinner party, or how best to rearrange the furniture. And best of all I'm not sitting around brooding about not working in my studio. But it took years to get here though. I've finally relaxed.

    Anyone else? please share. We all burn out at some point. Or maybe not?


  4. #4
    When it comes to music composition I donít depend on my creativity to make a living and so I donít tend to dwell on it but hereís what I have.

    • Take a break and do something else. There have been times where I just donít get to music at all. I may go days or even a week or two without touching the guitar if I am uninspired.
    • Listen to other peopleís music is almost a sure way to inspire me to make some of my own music
    • Try to learn a new song.
    • Take a lesson or two.
    • Do something completely different like go for a walk or garden. Inevitably Iíll have some song in my head to work with.
    • Play with others. I am fortunate that I create music with a partner. It is pretty rare when we are both uninspired at the same time
    • Go and see a performance. YouTube is also really handy for this.

    Nothing ground breaking here. I bet if you petitioned most musicians youíll end up with s similar list. Iíll be interested in hearing how artists in othe media break blocks.

    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  5. #5
    Treeleaf Unsui Geika's Avatar
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    Jan 2010
    San Diego County, California
    I get angry thinking about my own blocks. I get caught up in disappointment over how much art I may have produced over the years if I just consistently worked... but inspiration is fleeting. Sometimes, I just sit down without really thinking about it and draw a portrait or something and I am completely absorbed-- and nothing gives me joy quite like a completed drawing or painting. The next day, I might do it again. Eventually, though, it just stops. The desire dies the moment I choose a subject that my hand can't quite get into right away, I make a bad line, and I shove everything back under the desk and sulk. I try to drum up what it is that causes me to just start drawing without thinking about it, but I don't know where it comes from. I have such long dry spells, and then a sudden burst months and months later that produces a few good ones, and then it goes away again.

    I really really hate it. Nothing really helps me get out of it. And it is depressing because making art is one of my favorite feelings. Many people will advise taking a long break from trying to draw, but I do that anyway. Others would attest to simply working through the lack of inspiration, and keeping my hand savvy.

    Honestly, I have no advice. It is something I have always struggled with. I think it started the worst for me when I began selling my artwork or getting commissioned to do something. It didn't happen very often, but when it did, there would be this burst of confidence followed by sudden lack of confidence: how can I sell this crap? When it had the prospect of becoming work instead of fun, something might have changed in my head.

    I also greatly enjoy playing music. I rarely have to drum up the inspiration to do that. I love to play. I have played the flute for over twenty years. Sometimes I pull it out and play along with anything by ear, and this is a wonderful feeling of creativity and no effort or mind. However, this gets shut down by my shame of not quite making it into the symphony in college, and my disappointment from that. For years, I was sure I was going to be a musician. So now that is tainted by self-pity.

    I guess I am not really offering anything helpful up. Just kind of feeling sorry for myself I guess. I had to say something though because creative blocks are simply the bane of my existence.

    Sat today, lah
    Last edited by Geika; 11-20-2018 at 05:32 AM.
    求道芸化 Kyudo Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  6. #6

    I can totally relate. I've been known to go a year without working. It's hard. It feels like I've died to be honest. I regard plugging into creative energy as being in the state of "grace". Because that's how it is. It's delicious and juicy. But as I've gotten older and learned to trust my ups and downs the blocks are not quite so bleak.

    Once I begin working again my output is usually pretty horrid. And now I know that and look at it as a warm up. Rather than despair that my productive days are over. But truly that is a difficult place. Best not to judge at this stage but plow through. Most artists I know have this same getting back into making art experience.

    And I have done it all ... Looking at art in galleries, museums, even art books of work that I love... I've prayed, sat, bargained with my muse!

    Anyway I've learned that the blocks are temporary and in some ways necessary. A rest. But never, never are they fun.

    Good list Tairin, most of those suggestions can be translated into different mediums.


  7. #7
    Anyway I've learned that the blocks are temporary and in some ways necessary. A rest. But never, never are they fun.
    I totally agree with this and while there are some methods to unblock the blockage, often it has to be recognised that there are periods in which the creative juices just aren't there and it is pointless to keep pushing.

    At some point in the last year I came up against a major block in my haiku writing. I was not writing much, and little of what I was writing was of any merit. A more experienced writer said that when this happens to him he often comes out of it writing better work but that did not happen. Instead I have learned to be patient and just write when I am feeling drawn to it, rather than trying to meet the deadlines of numerous online and print journals. It is, for me, much better to produce a smaller amount of work I am happy with than a lot of mediocrity. At one point I resolved myself to the fact that if I could not write anything worthwhile, it was better not to write at all.

    Sometimes it is useful to read the work of other people, sit quietly in nature or just write what comes but it is best to do this without an aim in mind but just to experience what comes. Muses are fickle creatures and tend not to take kindly to being expected to turn up. That said, if they could limit their appearances just after I turn off the light to sleep, that would be particularly welcome!

    finger painting
    I fall into the sound
    of rain

    (Stardust haiku, September 2018)

    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  8. #8
    So many of the posts here sum up how I feel too, thank you everyone.

    I have very long fallow periods; I'm never sure if they are actual blocks or I just lose momentum and interest for a while, perhaps this is necessary as you say Anne, just to give my mind a break. But I have noticed that unconsciously I've adopted similar practises to those suggested by Tairin. If I can't seem to get anything onto canvas with paint, I might switch to another medium - collage is a good go-to for me, I always have small boxes or bowls full of scraps of paper or material, if not, I tear up old sketches - there's something about the physicality of collage which is very relaxing. I think also the process,cutting out, glueing etc, hark back to childhood, simple processes that I can be absorbed in, yet don't require much intellectual engagement. I will also pick up knitting, sewing or crochet to stop me getting antsy. I've found that when I'm not able to get anything down with paint, I can get overcome by lethargy, then it seems to feel so difficult even to get the paints out - my other creative practice is photography which is a great fall back at these times, oddly enough I never get blocked with that, perhaps because the process is much simpler and the results are immediate.

    The other block, which is something I've had for years, is fear of the empty page. When I open a sketch book and there's that vast white emptiness I find it difficult to see it as lots of lovely space to play in, but rather as something pure and pristine which I'm going to wreck - I can get so anxious about making a wrong mark that often I won't start. If I do start and make a wrong mark, like Geika, I tend give up and put it all away again - but more recently I've forced myself to push past that point and just get something down. Although blocks are really in the mind, it's amazing how they can freeze physical actions - it can be hard to find the flexibility in my arm and hand to move a pencil across paper.

    I was talking to a counselor friend recently about my nemesis procrastination and she gave me two words which have helped me in life in general but also with creative blocks - 'Stand Up'. It helps. Moving the furniture around Anne - yes, every time

    Thanks everyone for a great discussion.

    命 Mei - life
    島 Tou - island

  9. #9

    There is a Japanese art form called Chigiri-e (ちぎり絵) in which the primary technique uses coloured paper that is torn to create images, and may resemble a water colour painting. My wife tried it when we lived in Japan and did some nice pieces. The technique dates from the Heian period of Japanese history when it was often used in conjunction with calligraphy.
    You may find it satisfying as it sort of goes with collage.

    gassho, Shokai
    Last edited by Shokai; 11-27-2018 at 01:26 AM.
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Shokai View Post

    There is a Japanese art form called Chigiri-e (ちぎり絵) in which the primary technique uses coloured paper that is torn to create images, and may resemble a water colour painting. My wife tried it when we lived in Japan and did some nice pieces. The technique dates from the Heian period of Japanese history when it was often used in conjunction with calligraphy.
    You may find it satisfying as it sort of goes with collage.

    gassho, Shokai
    Shokai thank you so much for sharing this, I had never heard of this art form and I'm really grateful to you for the heads up. I've been googling images and have found quite a few on Instagram too. I'll definitely be experimenting with this. Every day is a school day and I love it!
    命 Mei - life
    島 Tou - island

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