Getting Centered Again When You Feel Scattered by Working on Your Thing

If you’re new, your “thing” on this blog is your creative process, your practice. It’s not any one work, rather the way you make art on an—ideally—ongoing basis.

Life tends to scatter and distract us. It’s not anything nefarious, just how humans have evolved. We’re built to favor the shiny things that keep popping up, like a new season of Bojack, or suddenly-released Prince archives.

I start to feel unfocused and anxious after a lot of that, though, and you may, too. What helps is knowing I have this thing to work on, that sustains me just a bit through creation. It’s the best kind of tired, the most satisfying reward, and it helps me feel—for lack of a non-mystical term, centered. Basically, the opposite of scattered. I’m calm and open to experience.

No artificial colors, additives, or flavors needed, it’s just you and the work and feeling a moment of zen.

A Quick Miyagi

To make things is to become emotionally involved. I’m not sure it’s possible to be dispassionate and produce things that are worth a damn. But my main concern with losing it is to find ways beyond or out of that state.

Breathing is always good for centering. Centering is the practice of withdrawing your attention back inside yourself. When you feel scattered and stretched, if you can pull back emotionally, you’ll feel better able to cope. It’s an easy borrow from meditation: close your eyes, take a deep breath, hold it for a half-second, let out the breath, wait a couple seconds, open your eyes. Sometimes that’s literally all it takes to become calmer and more focused.

Don’t take my word for it, it’s classic Karate Kid!

Wheel Spinning

Almost 50 years ago, Blood, Sweat & Tears released a song about how culture goes in cycles like a wheel, swinging left to right and back again. It’s natural to feel stuck, sometimes. It’s harder to know at those dark moments that I won’t be there forever. It’s a big picture perspective that serves me well, when I can remember it.

Another idea I’ve tried to keep in mind is that of Taoist or Zen balance, that what may seem good or bad or fortunate or tragic today can easily become the opposite tomorrow. So it isn’t worth the emotional capital it takes to dwell too intensely on any particular event in our lives.

Of course, we’re only human, and not very good at a wide or long perspective on existence. It’s easy to become roiled by life, politics, and customers.

We need these little reminders that life is never on rails, nor traveling in one direction, forever.

When It Goes Wrong

It’ll happen. Despair and work from the depths of your being go hand-in-hand. From time-to-time. What can you do?

The stark option is to quit, stop working. Do something else with your free time. It’s an easier way, at least at first. The itch will be there at the back of your consciousness unless you channel it into another pursuit of making things.

The obvious answer someone with a blog writing about creation and art will say is that you have to keep working. It’s obvious because the idea surrounds us, culturally. I’m a big fan of “JUST DO IT™” as it applies to life in general, don’t get me wrong. But try something else.

Stop.

Not forever. Just for now. Look at everything you’ve done, and everything you want to do outside your routine. Breathe deeply, steadily. Try to imagine you aren’t attached to any outcome. Remember that you’re just doing the work and the process is your discipline. Discipline has its own benefits, creation has its own benefits, regardless of how bad it is, or how wonderful it is.

Then start working again. Just do it.