On a Personal Note

by Brad on December 31, 2016

Observations on the past year, and on the creative process.

This week, I will post the first newsletter I’ve written in a year. It has been an interesting time, this past year and a half or so, so I thought I would offer some reflections on my experiences.

For the past two years, my dad had been in a slow decline with congestive heart failure. His wish was to stay at home, and I chose to honor that by caring for him. It became a role of primary caregiver, one that went from handling ‘incidental’ needs a couple of years ago to essentially 24/7 toward the end. When he passed away in September, a relief for both of us I am sure, my major observation was that I made a far better son than a nurse. Nevertheless, I did the best I could, and for that, I have no regrets. Perhaps a life lesson for me in its own right, this whole deal took me out of my head, where I tend to live most of the time, and put my squarely in touch with my heart. I found it very difficult “not knowing what to do,” and even more difficult to simply “be” with those feelings of helplessness.

One reason I’m writing about this here, however, is because during this time, I learned a lot about my own creative pursuits, like writing newsletters, for example. Over the past year or more, I’ve created essentially nothing, and written hardly anything. Even my thinking hasn’t shown much focus or depth. I do remember making a conscious choice well over a year ago to put my creative pursuits completely on hold, with the awareness that if I were to continue them, it would be a question of doing so “in stolen moments.” I realized this wouldn’t allow the depth needed for creativity to flourish, so I chose to package it up “for another day” instead, rather than wage a futile fight with myself to try to honor it.

I recall one or two “blips” in creative energy that happened during this time, however. When moving around became difficult for dad, conversation was the only option left for our connection. Despite his intellectual brilliance, his world was very small, mainly because he held on so tightly to his “classical science” view of the world. The rigidity this imposed on his consciousness made any deep or emotional conversations with him nearly impossible. This had represented a barrier to depth in our relationship over the years, but I figured I’d give it a go during his last days. I asked him questions now and then, and simply “allowed” space for any dialogue if he chose to engage. We sorted through as much (not very) emotional context as his worldview would allow. I chose not to push him too hard, yet (and maybe because of my not pushing) he became somewhat more open to seeing a bigger world toward the end. As is also true with my newsletters or with my clients, I suspect, I may never be truly aware of how this connection impacted him.

Despite the fact that I did not do much that involved creativity, I did learn a lot about my creative process. One noticeable “side effect” of being a full-time caregiver is that I essentially lived from moment to moment, with no plan or intention of my own, instead just waiting for the next of his needs to arise, whether it be routine or emergency. What this means in terms of level of consciousness is that the caregiving process, for me at least, encouraged a habit of “living in the shallows” of life, just moving from one external trigger to another. In other words, life didn’t ask very much of me; and I complied, by not “being” very much (again, in terms of depth of conciosuness). This made me think about how little, in general, everyday life really asks of most of us, as we move from one repetitive task to another. It was pretty amazing to me to notice how shallow my existence was, compared to what I had been used to over the past many years. I knew I didn’t “like” it, but I did get pretty acclimated to it.

Since his passing, however, I’ve been working to return to writing and coaching. Obviously this involves regaining the depth associated with the creative process. It has been torture. Recently I read a book called “Deep Work,” by Cal Newport. It suggested there were really two very different, but just as important, facets of building, or rebuilding, the habit of conscious depth required for almost any creative pursuit. The more obvious was being disciplined about creative time – closing off the outside world, going deeper into myself to find my creative muse, and allowing him to express himself through my work. But the less obvious, and the one that was torturing me, was this: if we allow ourselves to live in the unconscious shallowness of habitual response, we actually become addicted to shallowness, an addiction which will thwart almost any attempt of the conscious mind to overcome it. In becoming acclimated to this kind of consciousness, it seems I’d also habituated it. What that means is that we can’t just “try” to be creative and expect it work. We need also to practice releasing the habituation to the mundane. This has meant restricting life’s necessary, but shallow, pursuits to small, specified, fractions of the day. For example, we need to see email every now and then, we may choose to be on social media (although I do not), we need to get groceries, and we need to take care of the external business of life and home. But by habituating a consciousness of “living shallow,” we become trapped in a way that all these little pursuits become the “reason for our day.”  In my everyday practice of “making space for the big by pushing the small to one side,” I’ve noticed how easily distracted I still am from the “big,” drawn as I have become to the small. As a result, my first newsletter in a year was not easy to write. They used to be. It’s a process.

These past few years have brought me face-to-face with the importance of uniting head and heart, and with the need to be vigilant about balancing everyday life with the creative depth inside us all. I already see changes making a difference for me, and I can only suspect they will have similar impact on my work. A challenge for 2017, perhaps.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie Fraser December 31, 2016 at 10:59 am

Welcome back, Brad! I cannot begin to express how deeply this blog post impacts me. As you always do. I find myself touched, crying softly inside for both of us with a combination of pain, longing and compassion.
There is little question to me that this is the fundamental issue for me any time I get into a funk. Surrounded by the shallow and mundane, while my soul is calling me to create. Creating from my soul, not at someone else’s direction is new and challenging for me, not such familiar territory.
Thank you for being so clear and vulnerable… Looking forward to facing the challenges for 2017. Delighted to know you are back, head and heart, creating… Now I’m smiling.

Phil Goddard December 31, 2016 at 11:22 am

Congratulations on the newsletter Brad. I think you touch on a very important point in your post which is that we have to make time away from the mundane shallow living to connect to something deeper. It is increasingly easy these days to be pulled away from that with all the distractions at our fingertips. Some can enhance our creative process, but we have to be careful not to get lost in them.

Having been in a similar situation in caring for someone and knowing how that can consume a lot of what you do leaving little time for other pursuits, I can say however, that being there the way you were for your dad and compassionately managing all the details can create an opportunity for moments of profound connection even in mundane tasks. Being with someone when they are absolutely vulnerable and helping them transition with dignity I feel can be a deeply powerful gift and honor. Sometimes, just being there without doing anything, absorbing the moment can provide openings for some incredible connections as you noted by allowing the space.

I look forward to reading your newsletter in 2017 as you share your insights. They are a treasure and can speak to me, and I know many others, in very helpful, practical ways.

Ted Curtin December 31, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Dear Brad,

So good to hear your ‘voice’ here again, and especially to get this message – it comes to me at an important moment in my travels, and has served as a wake-up call. Thanks, and best wishes for the year ahead.

Kathie Merrill December 31, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Dear Brad,

Welcome back. I have missed you! Thank you for sharing your insights. Having just had 2 knee replacements, I can relate falling into the mundane. The first time I was able to sit outside after my operation, I could tell how I had “forgotten” the ‘real’ world.

Thanks for being you and sharing your journey with us.
Kathie

Vicki Hamilton December 31, 2016 at 4:25 pm

Good to have you back! Thanks for sharing your heart-warming and very personal story. The gifts of loving care and time you gave your father were a true blessing for him. The putting life on pause for loved ones, the awareness and experience of shallow living that can result from handling mundane daily tasks for an extended period of time, and the challenges associated with making time to focus and create are areas so many of us struggle with. Your experience and what you have gained from it will no doubt serve to help many.

Suki Davis January 3, 2017 at 7:12 pm

Dear Brad, welcome back! You have been missed. Thank you for sharing your heart and soul with us with grace and vulnerability. As always, you have touched on something that, for me, was hiding in the shadows and was unnamed. “Living in the shallows” says it all right now. I now know it is the reason creativity had been so elusive for me for quite awhile and it is an acknowledgement that I gratefully receive. Thank you.
If those of us who have been graced by your wisdom are so delighted to have you back,
please know that what you gave your dad was everything that he needed in just the way he needed it.
Happy New Year and Happy New Life!
Suki

James Beaufait January 12, 2017 at 1:40 pm

Aloha Brad,
It is great to have you back!

Thank you for sharing your experience with your father. It brought back a flood of thoughts and emotions recalling our move to Maui to spend what turned out to be my father’s last 21 months – together. He was also a scientist and found Source in nature yet he could never quite bridge the two. He passed peacefully in October 2014. Love comes in so many sacred and beautiful ways yet awkwardly sometimes between sons and fathers. I believe the caretaker role is one of the most intimate ones we can fully embrace. We are all far richer for your experience!

Welcome back from a life journey like no other!

with love and aloha,
James

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