A friend recently loaned me a book of writings by Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. I had been sharing with her the difficulties of life as a freelance musician, that I frequently feel pulled in a million different directions, and that I find it difficult to be present in the moment.
One story from Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings on mindfulness stuck out to me in particular.
He writes of seeing a beautiful leaf at the the bottom of a water jar but being unable to get it out as his arm was not long enough to reach it. In frustration he gave up, but when he returned later to the water jar, he found that it had filled partially with water, and that he could now reach the leaf.
He likens the water jar to our unconscious minds. Sometimes, he says, we need to entrust the problem at hand to a deeper level of consciousness, and with time, the solution or insight will rise to the surface.
I have frequently found this to be true of creative problems requiring solutions.
I recently sat down with a composer of musical theatre for coffee. Eighteen months previously he had entrusted me with the task of writing lyrics to two of his pieces. I worked painstakingly on the task and when I was satisfied with my work, I presented it to him. He loved what I’d done, but felt we should lengthen the piece by adding another bridge and verse. Having sweated over each and every syllable of my narrative arc, I could not possibly imagine finding anything to add to the story – let alone a whole additional bridge and verse.
Months passed, the busyness of life took over, and the project fell off my to-do list.
I then ran into the composer at one of my shows. He suggested we get together and have another look at the pieces. I decided to take another look at the lyrics before our meeting.
It seemed that in the eighteen months I’d been consciously neglecting the work, my unconscious mind had been busy at work. I finished both pieces in less than an hour.
Now, I’ve developed a habit of gently making request of my unconscious mind before I go to sleep. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep, or just giving the project a break, can do.