‘The Void,’ and why understanding it leads to our best creative work

Here it is again. That wave of discomfort.

It starts like a rippling in my chest, and then a ping in my throat.

I couldn’t describe the emotion because it is composed of several. Frustration; boredom; anger; restlessness; confusion, and borderline despair.

I’m also sleepy.

This can’t be a good start, can it?

Well, yes it can, because I’ve been here many times before.

Completing anything worth doing always started with moments like these. Many times, this ‘feeling’ led to some of my best work.

But as I feel these dodgy emotions again — let’s just package them all into the label: ‘claustrophobia’ for clarity’s sake — I need to remember how to deal with them.

Maybe you want to join me as I break this down.

When I’m not feeling it; when I want to do something else, like take a nap, or nip to the fridge, or check my emails; when I feel stuck or trapped, this is an opportunity.

It is not a reason to run away.

The reality is this: I do not need a break. I don’t need another holiday. I don’t need more sleep when I already slept seven hours last night. Maybe tomorrow, but not right now.

Humans are amazingly resilient. I don’t have to recount the hundreds of individual feats of stamina and struggle that people have been through over history, to come through alive.

My only task is to type words on a page. It’s nothing more than that. Those other things can wait because I have made writing things every day my must.

I feel uneasy because I’m not listening.

I’m ignoring my spirit.

Feeling bored tells me that I am not conscious. My thoughts are elsewhere.

But the only place I need to be is here in front of this computer screen, despite the weirdness.

Amateurs hit the eject button when they don’t feel like doing what they need to do. Pros have felt claustrophobic many times before. They became masters because they know what it means.

Claustrophobia is not a fear of enclosed spaces. It is the discomfort you feel in believing that you cannot move.

When I am static, I feel it. This is why I dream of escape. Escape is the obvious answer to this problem of not moving.

But I don’t need to travel halfway around the globe to move. I don’t need to play a game for thirty minutes before returning to my keyboard. I can stay here, and act, in this moment.

I move by taking out a pencil and drawing lines with it. I begin to flow by typing letters — ieuboihewofinscnvwerihfsl — on the page.

I can learn to stay with the pain (yes, it is pain), and move into what feels like an abyss — a void of nothingness.

There are no safety wheels here. No distractions. No excuses.

It is here that I am rewarded.

When I say yes to distractions and diversions, I am turning my back on the void, and I am turning my back on myself.

When I ride the wave and hold on tight, the void moves closer again.

And when it gets close enough, the void swallows me whole.

I see that I am still here. Still alive.

I am here — this place where few venture: the quiet source of creative insight.

I have a theory that I believe in deeply.

Because we need to maintain our survival, our bodies (perhaps it is our ‘souls’) continually push us to be engrossed in what is right in front of us.

Our subconscious is a machine that perpetually delivers sparks of insight — visions — that guide us to what brings us to life.

When we satisfy our need to be stimulated through other things, such as watching TV, our source of creative insight is turned down. Our subconscious has stopped providing because we’re already fed data externally.

But when we allow ourselves to sit with what feels uncomfortable for a while, and start moving in any direction, these sparks return.

Hits of data that we use to inspire creative action flow to us from the inside (or perhaps it is the ‘ether’).

This is why I need not fear the void.

Stay with the boredom.

Inhabit your claustrophobia, and take that small step.

The rewards will come.

Are you close to the void? If you have 11.6 seconds, I’d love to read your comment below.

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Originally published at alexmathers.net on October 23, 2017.