Read an Excerpt
The Daily Action
You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait. You need not even wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
-- Franz Kafka
In a dark corner of her childhood house, her father sometimes set up a makeshift laboratory. She used to sneak in and play there, watching the bubbling liquids, measuring the weight of her little hands on the scale. Officially, she wasn't allowed to touch the instruments, but her curiosity often got the better of her. When her sisters were outside playing, she escaped to the laboratory, a sanctuary of quiet, concentration, and potential.
Marie Curie's mystical attitude toward the laboratory never changed. Later, when her laboratory was no more than a drafty basement, and the work of isolating radioactive metals became arduous and frustrating, this private place of work remained a pleasurable retreat from a world of chatter and opinion. The conception of the laboratory as a place of serious play, a continuous present moment that could hold her captive with eternity's questions, was born in her childhood through a simple ritual. It is this dark corner of the basement reserved for private play that most often gets disregarded as we grow up. We peek into the stairway from time to time, but are too busy with the rooms above and their many inhabitants to descend. We forget that it was this secrethaven that fueled our curiosity and imagination in the first place. In this world of information overload and constant communication, it is easy to lose touch with the habit of making time for curiosity.
This book seeks to help you build the private laboratory in which you will reinvent your life. But the grand experiment will not be over when, in eleven weeks, you read the last page of this book. You'll have a box of new tools you can continue to use to hammer out your future. Specifically, there are three things I hope you will take away from this book: first, a clearer vision of what you really want and a commitment to that vision; second, a step-by-step plan for achieving that vision; and third, a daily process that develops strong, healthy work habits and keeps your vision in sharp focus. Of all of these, the daily process is by far the most crucial. For it is in the present moment that creative work happens, and without a rigorous relationship to today, the power of tomorrow is no more than a shadow puppet casting elaborate darkness over all our endeavors. You may use this book to get an inspirational shot in the arm, but the only way for it to have lasting value is by committing to a daily process that will live beyond these pages.
To help you begin the building of your personal laboratory, I'm giving you mine to borrow -- just as Marie Curie's father unwittingly lent his laboratory to his youngest daughter. Use the tools in this chapter as your working laboratory for the next few weeks. When you reach the eighth chapter, you will be asked to assess how this laboratory is working for you and to begin reshaping it into a new process tailored to your creative chemistry.
The Daily ActionThe daily action is fifteen minutes of a focused activity performed every day at the same time of day. Choose an activity that creates an empty, space where your creativity can reassert itself. Let the action be solitary, and process oriented. You are giving yourself fifteen minutes of emptiness within the blur of living. Some examples of daily actions are dancingalone in your living room, meditating, walking, writing in a journal, drawing without purpose, singing improvisational melodies, doing yoga and gardening.
Don't limit your imagination: Invent your own daily action if you feel the impulse. One of my students, Tracy, set up a little altar to her grandmother who had recently died and whom she missed terribly. Her grandmother had always been a great source of inspiration and good advice, and Tracy didn't want to sever this connection to her wisdom. Every morning before she began work on her novel, she sat down and had a conversation with her grandmother. Without making any claims to supernatural communication, Tracy used these conversations to tap into the part of herself that carried her grandmother's spirit and wisdom. Tracy claimed the action filled her with hope and energy.
Nellie, a jewelry designer and sound producer, dragged herself every morning up her fire escape to sit on her roof and watch the sun come up. Though she lived on a busy urban street, her rooftop musings gave her time with nature and a sense of quiet before she began her day.
Victor played his bongo drums -- not complicated rhythms but a single meditative beat. Anne kept a journal that she wasn't allowed to write sentences in -- only drawings, doodles, and lists and charts. Michael walked around his neighborhood watching people and appreciating architecture. Bob stretched to his favorite music. Rita kept a stream-of-consciousness dream journal.
During my interviews with established artists, I found that many of them had their own form of daily action. Mary Gaitskill, the novelist and short-story writer, engages in a type of meditation. Standing quietly, she focuses on her breathing and observes her thoughts and feelings.
"Imagery comes into my mind and I follow it," she explained. "It's like dreaming, only you're conscious. You can manipulate the dream to see where it goes. It's not only calming but it reminds me of the part of me that's always creating stories and images."Creating a Life Worth Living. Copyright © by Carol Lloyd. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.