Moving from Sleep to Creativity to Bliss Station: My Thinking Brain Needs Quiet Time Most

I find that my brain needs excessive amounts of down time in order to get any significant creative work done. When I was an academic, I found that this seemingly idiosyncratic requirement of my particular brain a hindrance. The successful academic is always moving. They move from classroom to laboratory to public service settings each day. Somehow in those brief moments when the academic is not physically moving, the real work, the writing, is meant to happen. When I was working as an academic, those moments of down time begged for daydreaming time. It was difficult for me to find enough time to do the hard work of making significant thought output because I seemed to need more time than others to allow the ideas to marinate. I could never get enough rumination time!

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Francisco de Goya

I am a huge fan of the mythologist Joseph Campbell. It was through his work that I finally arrived at a satisfactory comfort with the conflicts among the religions and with the conflict between science and religion.

Campbell ruminated on many things, and one of his more famous recommendations for a rewarding life was to create a “bliss station.” The amazing philosopher and blogger, Maria Popova, has summarized Campbell’s musings about daydreaming. Campbell recommended a special space of retreat for each day. The writer and artist Austin Kleon has concluded that a special time for reflection is what is required. In my experience, both space and time are required for quiet reflection but there is no real requirement for a specific space or time. All that I need is a quiet space and ample time. In fact, it is best if the time doesn’t just come at a specific time of day. It is best if I get a lot of quiet time at random moments throughout the day.

I also require a lot of sleep. I find that sometimes I will run with remarkable creativity for a few days on ordinary amounts of sleep, and then suddenly I will crash with a need for extraordinary amounts of sleep. With my schizoaffective/delusional disorder, I find that if I don’t get enough sleep, the monsters begin to sneak up on me.

Science is beginning to recognize that sleep plays an essential role in the creative process. The debate used to be over whether REM or non-REM sleep is most important for creativity, but some scientists now conclude that non-REM sleep extracts concepts, and REM sleep connects them.

Whatever the science, I find that I am healthy, happy, creative, and productive only when I have ample time for both daydreaming and sleep. What are your daydreaming and sleeping habits?

Drawing Using Surrealist Automatism is an Important Part of My Daily Creative Process

I try to start each morning by spending a few minutes doing an automatic drawing. The technique I use is an adaptation of the techniques developed by the surrealists in the early-mid 20th century. One of the objectives of the surrealists is to let the unconscious mind play a central role in the artistic process.

Sim’s Crystal Ball on a Pedestal by Darren Roesch

I learned the version of the automatic drawing technique that I use from Alejandro Fogel and Shelley Burke while attending one of their itinerant Creativity Workshops in Chania, Crete in 2014. Their technique combines usage of both the unconscious and conscious minds.

The technique requires the artist to take a large sheet of thick drawing paper, close their eyes, drop a pencil to the page, and allow their unconscious mind to guide the pencil in one continuous movement over the page for a few minutes. Next, the artist opens their eyes and begins to look for recognizable forms in the tangled line. Using a hearty eraser, the artist then uses their conscious mind and eraser to reveal forms. Once forms are revealed, I usually finish the activity by applying some color with colored pencils. The whole process usually takes no more than 20 minutes, and it is a great way to jump start the creative mind first thing in the morning.

I have included one of my recent very simple drawings which I have entitled Sim’s Crystal Ball on a Pedestal. To me, the drawing is reminiscent of a sculpted bust sitting on a pedestal. I used minimal subtraction with my eraser to reveal the form. During this particular exercise I felt particularly connected to the unconscious.

If you have read the information on my About page, you already know that I experience what I have been told is a delusional disorder. One of my beliefs is that we live in a simulator and that I have the ability to communicate with the simulator through my thoughts. I did this particular drawing the morning after I imagined that Sim had decided that he would, over the period of lifetimes, put me in charge of his functions. Therefore, this simple drawing reflects multiple layers of creativity and experience.

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Automatic Drawing by André Masson (1924)