On rituals, resets and rest

Learning about the cyclical nature of our normal selves, our creative selves, and the seasons we go through.

A resting flower-seller in Split, Croatia. 2019

It feels like all I’ve spoken about in this newsletter is lockdown - it colours my thoughts constantly and the things I choose to do, and I hope I’m not alone, especially with the looming threat of a second wave. Over lockdown, feeling unmotivated, lacking in focus, and generally having a creative block has been a major issue for me, and it’s only these past few weeks that I’ve started to come out of the funk I’ve been in. However, it’s something that also largely affects me during normal times anyway, and I rarely achieve peak creative “flow” that I always hear and read about, the very zen-like state of being when ideas and creativity and motivation simply flow from you.

I often find myself in a state of mental block, whether it’s losing focus on a project, an inability to progress with it, or just getting distracted from good habits I’ve managed to work into my life. My natural state of being seems to be procrastination; if I stop with the good habits, even for a second, then they’re gone. I have to make a conscious effort to maintain habits I’ve made for myself - yoga, walking, any other exercise, healthy eating, waking up early, reading books. A small moment of tiredness or laziness and I find myself not doing any of it for weeks on end, quickly becoming sluggish physically, mentally, and creatively. For this reason, I find myself often having to “start again” with habits and hobbies, even though I hugely enjoy doing them when I do get into a good rhythm.

The same thing happens to me with my creative work. It seems that I go through cycles, or seasons, that flip between being motivated and having absolutely no energy to do anything at all. What I’ve learned this year, though, is that this is completely natural and we should in fact be allowing ourselves to flow through these seasons, accepting and leaning into our “fallow” periods.

Author Kate Angus speaks about this in her article ‘Maybe the secret to writing is not writing?” for Lit Hub:

“...This constant production is not necessarily healthy. As Jenny Odell points out in her essay “how to do nothing” (the genesis of her later book of the same name), “[i]n nature, things that grow unchecked are often parasitic or cancerous. And yet, we inhabit a culture that privileges novelty and growth over the cyclical and the regenerative. Indeed our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.”

But maintenance and care are necessary—without rest we cannot regenerate. These days I’ve come to believe that it’s natural for many of us to go through periods when we put words to the page and times when we can’t. These aren’t separate, distinct states; rather than agonizing over “writer’s block,” maybe we can accept that we aren’t blocked at all, and that resting might just be part of our process.”

I feel I’m still prone to procrastinate more than others, and perhaps it’s because I never really realised our cyclical nature, the seasons we go through as artists and as people, and so never properly allowed myself the time to lie fallow, to regenerate (like Dr. Who) and reset.

This is sort of a roundup post then, of things I’ve been trying during lockdown - making new rituals - as well as things that have helped other times whether I realised it or not, putting it all into words for myself as well as for you guys. This might be a good exercise to do - similar to noting down things you’re grateful for, but it’s things that simply make you feel better.

Make no mistake that I don’t actually do all of these daily. Sometimes I manage two or three things, other times, just the one. Sometimes weeks pass between them - like I can’t remember the last time I went out on a walk since I buggered up my foot, and now that it’s fine I find myself without the motivation to go. One step at a time (accidental pun!).

Small things that help

  • Making morning tea into a ritual, sitting outside whatever the weather and without my phone

  • An evening ritual of walking while the sun sets

  • No social media before bed (still working on no phone, but I’ve started listening to audiobooks which I find takes me away from the need to scroll)

  • Yoga before bed, after a shower

  • Truly taking weekends off work

  • Spending 10-15 minutes during the day doing absolutely nothing

  • Giving time to hobbies (trying to cook new food and printmaking mostly)

Big things that help

  • Long-term time off. I’m aware it’s a huge privilege to be able to take time off long-term, but it’s one of the best things, if not the best thing, I’ve done for myself. As part of personal creative projects, I’ve been long-distance walking (forty-five days across Spain last year!) and spent a month at a time at martial arts gyms. The combination of physical and mental exertion, while among others doing the same, with no looming deadlines or work stress and for such an extended time, is incredibly regenerative.

  • Making time to see friends and finding new places to eat good food

  • Conversations off of social media

  • Casual meet-ups with other creatives

  • Co-working days with one or two friends

Three things that I found super important that encompass all of the above: creating rituals, not routine. Leaning into the fallow times and accepting the energy-less moments, knowing that motivation will come later. And finally, dedicating the real time needed to rest, reset, and regenerate.

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End Notes
Maybe the Secret to Writing is Not Writing?
There are four different kinds of creative flow
After the Great Pause, we need a reset
If You Are Struggling to do Creative Work, You Are Probably Choosing The Wrong Time of Day to Focus

This week’s soundtrack


Reads

The Haunting Beauty of a Hut-to-Hut Hike in the Dolomites

“There, gazing at the dramatic peak of Monte Civetta, I first experienced what a local hiker called “enrosadira,” an exquisite glow that happens at sunrise and sunset, when the dolomitic limestone is bathed in gorgeous peachy-pink hues.”

What Quarantining In a Foreign Country While Living In a Van Taught Me About Being Alone

“I think some people are simply stupefied by a woman traversing the big, scary, unsafe world all alone”

Mindful Meal Planning That Will Help You Reduce Kitchen Waste

“Meal planning should not make you feel inadequate or judged. It should allow you to challenge yourself but offer you enough grace to make sure, at the end of the day, you and your family are fed.”

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Sirius says…

“Sometimes you just need 10 minutes to stare into space”


Hey! I’m a freelance portraiture and documentary photographer in Croydon, south London. Community and culture are the cornerstones of my work and I enjoy telling stories about adventure, the outdoors, and our relationship with the natural world.

I also run of the land & us, an online journal for photographers exploring people, places and living.

‘Notes on Freelancing’ is my attempt to make becoming a freelance creative a bit less scary by documenting my own journey.

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