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by Tara Lazar
Amidst the chaos and confusion of the past year, a Zen movement gathered steam, gently simmering in the background of our harried lives and minds. You may have noticed—albeit fleetingly—while shuffling through news of war, tragedy, and a deeply divided nation. You may have caught a glimpse, in the corner of your eye, as you rushed from work to home to school to conflicting calendar commitments.
Our technologically advanced, modern lives are supposed to be more efficient and productive, but instead we feel required to do MORE with the time we have—and to feel badly when we don’t, to somehow believe we are faulty, we have failed.
And for these reasons, “mindfulness” achieved an elevated status this past year. I witnessed it everywhere in 2016—in magazines and articles, on TV, and even in the opening of a sensory deprivation spa a few miles from my home.
I learned about mindfulness before it had a name. Newly diagnosed with MS, I became a worry-wart, imagining my future as a helpless invalid. I lamented the inevitable loss of independence, a retirement not surrounded by loving grandchildren, but by indifferent nurses. Finally, after what I refer to as “the lost year,” I learned that worrying about the future makes you miss out on the here and now. I strived to instead be present in the moment. This is mindfulness.
Mindfulness can work wonders for creativity. Being more aware of your environment, your actions, interactions and emotions gives you a better understanding of being human, which, in turn, is fuel for character development. Others’ reactions also serve as powerful material for storytelling. Being mindful can help us capture and remember pieces of daily life that lend an authenticity to our stories. Moving about with a constant, present focus, will allow you to see ideas, to be open to the inspiration that exists around you every day.
In being mindful, we should also make time just to be, just to think. The most successful entrepreneurs in the world schedule time to ponder their lives and careers. You should be similarly thoughtful about your writing path. Where do you want to go? What do you want to accomplish? Who do you want to be as an author?
And now I am going to confuse the Dickens out of you.
While I am all for the benefits of mindfulness, I also urge you to let your mind wander, to daydream. You probably already do. And you should not stop.
Not being mindful when performing routine tasks—like folding laundry, washing dishes, taking a shower—allows the mind to escape the doldrums of daily life. You do not have to think about how to do the things you have done thousands of times. You can free up your mind to go on an adventure. Some of the best ideas come when we are not focused on the here and now.
But wait, isn’t that the opposite of mindfulness?
Actually, I believe practicing mindfulness can lead us to become better daydreamers. They are not adversaries, but partners in creative living. According to daydream researchers McMillan, Singer and Kaufman, “Creativity lies in that intersection between our outer world and our inner world.” I interpret this as meaning we must pay strong attention to both daily duties and daydreaming. In other words, let the things around you stimulate the daydream. This is called inspiration, right?
We can set aside time just to daydream, or we can be aware when we lose our focus to daydream, and allow the thoughts to flow. If we stop our minds from wandering, I fear we may lose our ability to be creative. After all, the illusive ideas we seek ultimately come from within our own minds. So maybe when you feel a daydream coming, you can pay attention to it, let it happen. Grab a notebook. Yes, be MINDFUL of when you are not MINDFUL.
And this, my friends, is how you mine—and mind—your ideas.
Tara Lazar is a picture book author and founder of Storystorm. She has two books releasing in 2017—WAY PAST BEDTIME from Aladdin/S&S and 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY from Disney*Hyperion. Tara is a council member of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature and a picture book mentor for We Need Diverse Books. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, and far too many stuffed animals.
Tara is giving away an “Ask Me Anything” Skype session (or Facetime, or telephone). These typically last about an hour, but she will stay on the line (internet?) until you have answers to your most burning questions regarding children’s publishing. From initial idea to polished query, from deciding on an agent to marketing a book, she will cover it all. The opinions of Tara do reflect those of her employer, which, incidentally, is also Tara.
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