GUEST BLOG POST: Cultivating Inventiveness by Julia Cameron, author, The Artist’s Way for Parents
*Excerpted with permission from The Artist’s Way for Parents by Julia Cameron. Copyright © 2013 by Julia Cameron. Jeremy P. Tarcher; Penguin Group USA – A Penguin Random House Company.
The very act of creation might be defined as inventing something new, making something from nothing. Mining the daily realities of our lives for creative opportunities, we teach our children to do the same. We can find fun in unlikely places as we approach seemingly humdrum activities with joy and imagination. Dealing with boredom and menial tasks, we can actively choose to bring a sense of play. Exposing our children, in bite-sized increments, to the adult realities of money and cooking, we can peak their interest and help them to value– and enjoy–money earned and goals accomplished. Consciously digging deeper and setting an example of innovation, we learn– and teach– that within every activity, however simple, can lie inspiration.
The Boredom Myth
“I’m bored,” our children complain, and the look in their eye completes the unspoken end of their sentence: “Fix it.”
The idea that “boredom” is a stagnant state in and of itself is a myth. Boredom has nothing to do with stasis. It is, in fact, the opposite. Boredom is a call to action, a prompt to change direction. Boredom does not mean we are “out of ideas.” It means we are ready to move on to the next one. Because creativity is an in-dwelling force infusing all of life, it is a constant supply that is available to us at every moment.
As a child, I lived in a home richly endowed with playthings and pastimes. In my after-school playtime, I had ample choices of things that would engage my attention. And yet, I would sometimes announce to my mother, “I’m bored.” My mother had a quick comeback: “If you’re bored, it’s because you lack inner resources.” My mother was not about to be bullied. She knew she had placed multiple toys at my disposal. I remember being angry that I couldn’t guilt-trip her into providing still more pastimes. After all, I could draw, build with blocks, play with clay, do dress-up or herd my toy animals. Far from bored, my only real difficulty lay in choosing the day’s delight. Multiple toys encourage multiple interests. There is no place for boredom in a well-stocked playroom.
Claire, a comedienne, tells me of her stepmother’s quick comeback to her complaints of boredom. “Oh, good!” she would say. “Because I have a list of chores for you to do!”
“My brothers and I quickly learned to never say we were bored,” Claire chuckles. “Otherwise, we’d be stuck doing the most boring chores of all! My stepmother always had a list ready to go–polishing the silverware, raking the lawn, dusting the baseboards. By learning not to say ‘I’m bored,’ we learned to change focus.”
Growing up in rural France, Claire found many of her pastimes were outdoors. Picking flowers or exploring the edges of her parents’ property, she would make up stories of elves living in the trees and the journey a bird had taken before deciding where to settle and build his nest.
“There wasn’t a lot of artificial stimulus in my childhood,” Claire remembers. “TV was strictly limited, as was mindless computer time. So we used our imaginations a lot.”
“Using” imagination is a more literal expression than we may realize at first glance. Imagination is a part of all of us, as available to us as thought itself. Using it, we exercise an important muscle. Strengthening that muscle, we develop the empowering habit of exercising the part of our brain that is the most original and most individual to us.
It is easy to fall into negative habits of complaining, of looking through a pessimistic lens at the world, of nitpicking, of seeing ourselves as a victim. When we consciously push ourselves to look for imaginative solutions, we are granted optimism and inspiration. When we leave our children to their own devices, allowing them to rely “only” on their imaginations, we offer them the same reward. Engaging the world imaginatively, in large and small ways, we are at a distinct advantage. While boredom asks us to dally, we must instead stubbornly take this boredom as a cue to change direction. Imagination urges us on toward our own True North.
In a time of overabundant stimulation and distraction available to us and our children at every moment, we have to be even more vigilant. Giving our children the time and space to come to their own conclusions and new ideas, we help them. Hovering and directing their every move, we hinder them. How will they learn to pick up a pen or a set of paints or a musical instrument and be self-starting if we do it for them? We must be careful that we are not teaching them not to think–or worse, to be afraid to be alone with their thoughts, that vast emptiness of “what’s next” which, paradoxically, is the source of true inspiration. By handing them every idea, we are teaching them that by complaining of boredom, they are granted a new idea in return. And this will never work, because the idea they are looking for is their own, not ours.
Feeling bored is inconvenient. It says, “Move on now. Look deeper. Push harder.” We would rather not feel bored. The same is true of our children. The good news about a call to action is that it initiates progress in us. The bad news is that it requires that we make a change. It requires getting up and searching for new ideas when we may not be in the mood to search. We may wish to be numbed by television, the Internet, a slice of cake. Our children are no different. But ignoring the promptings of boredom and indulging in a mind-numbing activity only puts off the inevitable. Once we have been called to action, that call will not go away until we indeed act on it. We may try to bury it, avoid it, douse it with cold water, but it will not go away. The embers will not go out, and the stirring of our soul will not stop. This is the calling of our own creative spirit, a spirit that exists in every person. When we feel that we are bored, it is because we have something to say.
The next time your child complains of boredom, try to resist the temptation to “solve” it by offering another activity. Try, instead, to hear what they are really saying. What exactly are they bored by? What exactly are they done with? What change of direction is required?