A few weeks ago, we begin exploring the four basic steps of the creative process (which I called Sponge Work, In the Flow, Insight & Inspiration and Make it Real). So, now, let’s dive into each step a little further – starting with being a sponge – the first step in the creative process.
From the broadest perspective, Sponge Work happens in two very different broad ways:
First, being a sponge is simply a way of being in the world – all the time or at many times. It’s a mindset of openness and a commitment to noticing and allowing stream of consciousness generally in your life, and for the purpose of discovering creative fodder broadly and expanding creative horizons across the board. In this case, the sponge (YOU) is not picky. It may be attracted to certain areas or interests, but it has no specific plan and it is open to all of it – to the whole big experience of life, and to the thoughts and connections that spring from observations, interactions and all sensory and intellectual input.
Second, being a sponge is a conscious decision to adopt this same mindset and commitment, but in relation to something specific like a project or a goal. In this case, the Sponge (YOU) is less general. So, even though it remains open to the whole experience of life and absorbs many things, it actively targets specific areas, means of inspiration and interests. It seeks to absorb, expose itself to and ponder experiences and input within select oceans – the oceans the sponge believes have the right nutrients to spark, develop and expand fodder specifically related to the project or goal.
The big questions around each of these spongy paths are: how to be open; how to absorb; how to allow for new connections; how to encourage inspiration. In other words, what to do, think and feel specifically; and how to get in touch with and be guided by your inner sponge.
Whether you are experimenting with being sponge-like most of the time, or are taking on sponginess for the purposes of a creative project, there are several keys to the “being” of spongeness. They are: Awareness/Noticing, Allowing/Openness and Curiosity
Awareness/Noticing is what it sounds like – but the trick is to shoot for awareness on all levels. To notice everything: What you are seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling (both physically and emotionally); what’s happening in your mind, body and spirit. Here’s an exercise for growing your awareness and noticing skills – I do this for lots of reasons around creativity, but also for honing my skills as coach:
Awareness/Noticing Exercise – The Global Check-In: 5 times per day conduct a Global Check-In. Setting an alarm on your watch or cell phone can help you remember. When your Global Check-In alarm goes off, stop and notice everything. What do you see? What’s happening in your body? Where is your attention? What smells and sounds are around you? Shift your position and notice what changes. What do you see from here? What changed in your body? What is happening right in front of you? A few yards away? Above all, what are you feeling inside? What emotions come up during your Global Check-In. It’s not that I can promise what will happen if you do this for one week. But something will happen. Even if you are highly aware normally; even if you tend to notice everything; the consciousness called forth during a Global Check-In will have an affect.
Allowing/Openness is the practice of not pushing back whatever comes up as you become aware and notice. It’s about allowing things, people, experiences, thoughts and feelings to emerge in full form. It’s about being open to whatever shows up and going with it. Here’s an exercise on allowing/openness that, for me, reduces stress on the spot, and also as a poet and a writer helps me navigate my internal saboteurs – the voices that will stop me from putting the full and raw truth on the page; the voices that will stop me from fulling experiencing the uncomfortable emotions that ultimately become my best work, but only if I can fully feel them and, through that experience, fully realize them on the page.
Allowing/Openness Exercise – Control Freak Vacation: A Control Freak Vacation is making the conscious decision to not have to control anything that is happening within and around you. One or more times a day for one week, take a Control Freak Vacation at a random times. You can determine those times at the start of the week, but the idea is to include variety by scheduling your Control Freak Vacation at a different time each day – perhaps one day it will be in the morning as you’re getting ready for work and the next it will be while you’re driving. It’s great if a couple of your Control Freak Vacations can happen while you are at work (even better in a meeting or conversation). At the given time – NO MATTER WHAT IS HAPPENING – let go and go with. If you are in a meeting and someone is talking and you feel like you just must jump in, don’t. See what happens. If you’re driving and you accidentally miss your turn, keep going and follow your intuition. If you’re scrambling because you’re late getting ready for work, stop struggling and just be with what is. Most importantly, whatever you are feeling emotionally at the time of your Control Freak Vacation, go all the way with it. Don’t shut it down. If you’re sad, stay with the sadness. If you start to cry, cry. If you start laughing because you are crying, laugh. Just don’t re-direct your attention. Don’t try to control the situation. Stay with the flow of things, rather than creating dams that direct the flow.
Curiosity: This part of Sponge Work is simply wondering about what you are aware of and noticing, and wondering about what you are allowing and open to. But it’s wondering beyond the first cocked head and raised eyebrow. It’s about staying with what you are curious about and exploring it fully. Being curious is the key to so many wonder-full things. For anyone out there who is a coach, you know that being curious is really the ENTIRE DEAL. And that getting people curious about themselves is the open door to their greatness which has much to do with their inherent creativity. In terms of Sponge Work specifically, curiosity has the effect of turning your Alive-O-Meter to 11; of engaging you completely in life and in the moment. And, of course, curiosity is a huge part of idea development later down the road. But for Sponge Work purposes, curiosity allows you add new dimensions to everything you see, feel, hear, smell, etc., so that one thing becomes many as you explore it from various angles and perspectives.
Curiosity Exercise – Deep Space Diving: Pick a space. A BORING space. And an UNEXPLORED space. You will have been in the space before, but it’s a space you don’t spend curious time in. A coat closet. The interior of your car. Under your desk at work. Whatever. Just choose that space get into or in front of it, and get curious about it. Become aware of and notice everything, allow and be open to what comes, and start to wonder. Let your FOCUSED mind go. Stay there for a full 15 minutes. After you are done, debrief yourself. What happened? What did notice about the ebb and flow of your curiosity? Then, with what you’ve learned from this experience now fully integrated, take Deep Space Diving on the road. Again, once a day for one week, select one 5-minute period and fully immerse yourself in getting curious about wherever you are currently, whatever you are doing, whatever is around you.
So, those are just a few ways to increase Sponge Work skills and to practice being a sponge. As I mentioned above, sponginess is both a way of being in general (and you can use it to gather general fodder to fuel your creative fire), and also about making a conscious to choice to be a sponge within certain parameters related to a specific creative project. For example: becoming aware, open to and curious about all things dogs because you are writing a story about dogs.
Just remember that Sponge Work is work. It’s doing research, but with a “sponge mindset” so that you are more deeply aware, significantly more open to and wildly curious about what you explore.
There’s a poem I created almost completely after being a sponge at a random time:
I was driving down a busy road and decided to become totally aware. I saw a possum trying to cross the street. I become so, so deeply sad and I opened up to and followed the sadness. I begin to wonder about the possum, about why we build so many roads, about the relationship between man and nature, about responsibility – and I noticed, and felt so strongly, all the reasons why sometimes it hurts too much to look, the reasons for denial and rationalization. I thought about the poignancy of small fragile things (us too) and what we HAVE TO make up about them and us:
What We Made Up
what we saw:
crossing the road
not a car slowing down
to usher him by
how unbearable to be here
what we did:
came to a crawl
endured honking assaults
monitored the crossing
(which was iffy)
a back and forth roulette
with no amount of telepathy
seeming to help
we moved on
as everybody else
what we made up:
fathered other possums
was happy all the days
of his possumy life
crossing roads with
not looking back
and we don’t look back either
and that will mean
we know it for sure.