Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
I often learn the most when I let my curiosity drift based on who I meet, where I am traveling and what I am reading. When I am engrossed in a good book, it is easy for me to pass over unfamiliar words and events. I have tried to stop myself from doing so. If I don’t know a word or a reference to a person, place or thing, I go into sleuth mode which often involves a web search. I call this “going down the rabbit hole” because I can easily move from link to link, and before I know it, unattended daily tasks begin to demand my attention. This also applies to games like Words with Friends or other similar games. I don’t feel right achieving a stunningly high score on a word that looks like gibberish to me. So I made a pact with myself, if I play a word I have to actually research what it means and how to pronounce it.
When reading or traveling, I constantly run into people, places, things, and events, which are intriguing. As an example, my family and I recently traveled to Iceland which led to all kinds of new insights and interesting pursuits. We traveled to Snæfellsjökull (a.k.a. Sneffels for folks like me who can’t quite pronounce Icelandic). Travel to this volcano not only opened my eyes to geology, ever-expanding tectonic plates, and geothermal technology – but also prompted us to read Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth in which the journey begins at Sneffels. But I definitely don’t have to travel this far from home to find intellectual stimulation. I am fortunate to be surrounded by very interesting people with diverse pursuits. I have been exposed to amazing history, wonderful books and music. I’ve started new hobbies and decided my next vacation spot by attending to the gifts spontaneously offered through daily contacts and activities. Just writing this makes me want to learn something new. Today, I think I’ll go investigating.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
There is nothing like travel to increase mindfulness, particularly international travel. What I love about traveling is that there are no routines. Since so many experiences are new, I cannot mindlessly go about my day. Even something as mundane as pumping gas or buying groceries brings with it something novel and interesting.
On our recent trip to Iceland, it only took us a few minutes of driving to get lost and have to stop and ask directions to our apartment (I’ll take the blame for that one. I got all turned around in terms of my mental map of the city). Reading a map and looking for street names in an unfamiliar language can be challenging at best. All of the road signs are different. The speed is listed in kilometers instead of miles. Lucky for us, Icelanders drive on the right side of the road.
Making purchases in a foreign currency is another experience that supports mindfulness. I was forced to make calculations and conversions that often felt like mental acrobatics. Admittedly, I did cheat a few times using a currency calculator. However, there was more than one time where I slowed down a checkout line by counting change. Of course, it would be easier just to use a credit card. Someone else makes the calculation for me. But I like to feel the money and practice something new.
After just a week in Iceland, I notice that things become easier. My mental map is firmly in place. I’ve seen sights and had experiences in Iceland that have changed me. I’ve learned things about the Icelandic culture and people, broadened my view of the world, and expanded my knowledge of myself. Now onto my next adventure…
“Not all those who wander are lost…” – J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954.
Made to Move
JAMIE PFAHL, B.A., Community Liaison
There is a labyrinth in the small town in Western New York where I spent my childhood. To be clear, it wasn’t a treacherous maze with a monster lurking inside to devour you should you lose the path. Instead, it consisted of an unimpressive spiral of concentric circles outlined by tiny shin-high shrubs. As kids, we never understood the point of a “maze” that you couldn’t get lost in, but that didn’t deter us from playing there. We would race through the spirals and switchbacks and occasionally cheat by leaping over a shrub to beat our friends to the center. Then, having reached the goal, we’d bee-line across the neatly mulched rows and run on to somewhere more fun to play, feeling victorious but somehow like we’d missed the point.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that labyrinths are not about getting lost, but about getting found. Although it might look like we’re getting deeper into a mess as we walk a labyrinth, the process is more like unraveling a knot. The rules of the labyrinth are to slow down, to walk quietly and mindfully, and to let go of distractions and focus on the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that arise as you navigate the path. Let go of the overwhelming desire to take the shortest point from A to B, and quiet that nagging voice in your head that keeps saying “Are we there yet? Hurry it up! I’ve got places to go and people to see”.
So what does this have to do with intellectual wellness? The magic of the labyrinth is what I would call “mindfulness in motion”. Regardless of how slow or fast we go, moving our muscles can help clear our heads and make way for creativity, focus, problem-solving, and inspiration. It’s the same feeling I can find in the solitude of a run or a bike ride, or in that rare moment in Zumba where I give in to the music and allow myself to move to my own rhythm.
We tend to think of exercise as being really hard work that leaves us sweaty and exhausted, but you don’t need to be wearing gym shorts to reap some of the benefits of “working out.” In fact, simply replacing some of our sedentary behaviors with standing, stretching, and walking can have tremendous physical and mental health benefits, including improving our intellectual well-being. When I am stressed, I have the tendency to feel like I don’t have the time or energy to work out. The good news is that I don’t have to – I just need to get on my feet. In fact, it’s the days when I feel like I have the least amount of energy that I need to spend some time walking a labyrinth he most. So if you’re feeling uninspired, worn down, or worn out, a little mindfulness in motion might be just the thing you need.
SARA MUMBY, B.A., Program Administrator
Cooking is a huge passion of mine. I wouldn’t say that I’m a master chef by any stretch of the imagination. It’s more that I crave the hunt, pursuit and experiment of cooking and trying new recipes – whether a delightful success or a massive failure, it is always an exciting endeavor for me. However, I found that in the last months my desire to experiment with new recipes has dwindled. Perhaps it’s a lack of imagination, a desire for a routine, or the non-existence of AC in our apartment, but for whatever reason, my kitchen has been eerily vacant of the sounds of knives chopping, pans bubbling, machines whirring and, of course, the occasional cursing (since I am bound to misread the recipe at least once).
In the months that I’ve been neglecting my passion for the “kitchen challenge”, I’ve noticed a lack of stimulation and motivation in other areas of my life. I’m noticing that when I’m pushing myself to read a more difficult novel, or learn a new hobby, or even challenge myself at work, I’m actually more likely to go home and attempt that coconut cream sauce that has eluded me for years. It’s when I fall into a slump of non-intellectual stimulation, with being content with the everyday mundane routine of things, that I become comfortable with more frozen meals, take-out dinners, and – forgive me – instant ramen noodles.
With the changing of the season upon us, I’m determined to polish and refine my arsenal of fall comfort food. With every failed butternut squash soup, I not only stimulate my mind and increase my experience, but I end up with a story to tell or advice to give. Spending time in the kitchen can be a pleasure and a nightmare, but it is always a way for me to expand my knowledge, to think critically, and at the same time, improve my knife skills.
EMMA MAKI GIANANI, M.S.S., R.N., Community Liaison
I often think about the incredible capacity the human brain has for knowledge and also understand that taking care of the mind is also taking care of the body. “A strong mind improves the body and a strong body improves the mind.” Having an active body and mind is important to me, so I am continuously thinking about activities and hobbies that I would be interested in trying that would be both intellectually stimulating and encourage me to live an active lifestyle.
To challenge myself, I have decided to learn Italian. Not only will I “exercise my brain” but also I will have the added benefit of being able to communicate with my husband’s family who live in Italy. It will be so rewarding to learn a new language and learn about the Italian culture. Another activity I must admit I have been interested in trying for a long time is learning how to crochet and knit! From what I hear from others, crocheting and knitting are great ways to reduce stress and work on hand and eye coordination.
It can be a challenge to have the motivation and courage to start learning something new, not to mention finding the time to practice new skills. I’ve found that prioritizing new hobbies and setting small attainable goals, which include a start date can be helpful. So I encourage you to make a list, try new hobbies and interests – something you’ve always wanted to do! Cherish the learning experience, stay active, and have fun!
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