I had depleted myself by the time Shodo Essentials launched on May 26. I spent countless hours writing, editing, brushing, shooting, and promoting the online course. Also, as a challenge in April, I brushed a calligraphy every day for 30 days. Not only did I brush calligraphy daily, but I also shot, edited and uploaded a video to YouTube every day during this challenge.
I was constantly creating.
When June came along, I felt like doing absolutely nothing. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the energy, but that I had squeezed out all of my creative juices. The feeling was not new to me; I’ve been here before. The first time it happened I worried I wasn’t going to be able to recover, but it’s all a natural process. You see, nature goes through the same cycle.
Anyone who has ever tried to plant anything, whether a single tomato plant or a vegetable field, know that the success of any crop lies in the fertility of the soil.
Natural soil fertility comes from sunlight, water, and nutrients. Some people see creativity as a muscle that needs exercise. The more you exercise your creative muscle, the more creative you become. I guess this is true, yet it has not been my experience. For me, creativity acts more like soil. It can produce excellent crops as long as it has all the necessary nutrients. It also works in seasons (synced with other things going on my life such as work, vacations, Aikido training, etc.) where it is more abundant in certain parts of the year. The thing with soil is that it cannot produce crops season after season without getting depleted from its natural nutrients. If nutrients are not returned to the soil, naturally or with the aid of fertilizers, the crops will have deficiencies reflected in poor yield and taste (if they are food). Even though soil can obtain nutrients from sunlight and water, the most important source of nutrients comes from plant matter returned to the ground from decay (one of the reasons why you shouldn’t rake leaves in the Fall). A common practice in organic farming is to leave the soil alone for a season, or two, after harvest to allow for this natural process to occur which enables the soil to recover its nutrients.
The launch of Shodo Essentials depleted me. To use the agricultural analogy, all things I create are crops, and the soil is what feeds my creativity.
SHIN (心) is the soil where all creative things grow. Shin is the heart, the mind, the spirit; it is the birth place of ideas and the energy source for their execution.
And just like soil, it depletes after all its nutrients are taken from the ground by crops. The online course, the daily challenge, the weekly newsletter, and commissions among other projects took away everything I had. There was nothing left in the soil.
I took June off from all things creative and focused on three things to help bring back nutrients back to my soil.
The first one is rest. Rest is the equivalent of leaving the soil alone for a season to recover. Resting after a heavy period of creativity is probably the most important fertilizer. Rest brings back energy. It also produces boredom. Being bored is important in creativity because it forces you to find a way out. I haven’t brushed anything in about a month. Instead, I’ve watched movies, TV shows, surfed the internet, and read a few comic books during this resting period.
The second one is seeking new experiences. Ideas are born from experiences. If you stop having experiences, eventually you’ll run out of ideas. Experiences can be simple such as a weekend trip, time with the family or an Aikido seminar. A big experience for me this year was to finally decide, after nine years, to take my Aikido Yondan (4th-degree black belt) test. Taking this test brought me a new perspective, and the experience of going through it enriched my soil.
The third one was to focus on new activities. I spent this creative resting period doing woodworking. The best thing that happened to my Aikido was my calligraphy practice. Shodo practice pushes forward my Aikido training in a way no Aikido seminar can ever do. My Aikido practice is not enriched by the similarities with Shodo, but by its differences. Consequently, my recently discovered love for woodworking enhances my calligraphy practice. I get the same feeling when I grab a brush as when I pick up a saw. I feel the same thrill, excitement, and sense of accomplishment when I finish a spice rack as when I finish a scroll.
These three things; rest, experiences, and new activities are the fertilizers I add to my Shin to recover my nutrients and get ready for my next crop. I’m not fully recovered yet, but I feel little sprouts peaking through the ground. And that’s the hardest part. I can feel the creative juices flowing again. Ideas are popping in my head. Once the sprouts are coming out is all a matter of adding water and sunlight to watch them grow and take over the garden.