Ready Your Retreat

September 25, 2020
Sam Marfleet

Hard work doesn’t teach you when to retreat, and, ultimately, that is what limits your creativity.

I’m learning the dumb way. As SamLearns branches off into new and exciting avenues—YouTube, community building, study guides—the weight of my core commitments—newsletter, Twitter, work—has tripled. 

I don’t have enough time. Don’t know where to focus. Don’t know what to write about.

My response has been predictable: gas up, grasp tighter, girdle thine loins; but I’d be embarrassed if you knew how many hours I’ve spent staring at a blinking cursor.

The truth is, there is no brute-forcing your way through creative slumps. 

Alas, can’t squeeze one more rep out, bro. 

No, the process doesn’t admit of that. The creative process is one of revealing the unexpected ways in which the world can be made simpler and more beautiful. It transforms a laundry list into an adventure. A series of birthdays into a coming of age story. 

And it demands your utmost curiosity and sense of adventure.

Sometimes our mind just isn’t right.

You cannot trick yourself into finding the world interesting. You cannot pretend to absorb the subtle patterns of life long enough to fake a masterpiece. You cannot pretend to find beauty.

Sometimes our mind just isn’t right. 

What you can do is retreat. Put the pen down. Step away from the desk. Go find some beauty. 

Take heart, this isn’t laziness. Finding inspiration to compress into art is part of the process.

And while you’re out there, experiencing life, separated from the busywork, maybe then the real work begins. You know what I mean. The work you’ve been putting off. The you-work.

Maybe then you can get your mind right.

Scares the shit out of me, too.

But there’s the idea: palingenesis. It means rebirth or continuous recreation. Scholars of myth argue that palingenesis is how the world works. Continuous birth beating back the clutches of death.

The funny thing about it is that, as self-obsessed egos, we forget that life goes on. We identify our end with the end of the world. We become fearful to grow—pretending that we can cling to the old ways. We become jealous and cautious. Our consciousness grows dim. All because we forget that, after death, is birth.

So when I’m burnt out, when I fear I’ve fallen off, when I find myself grasping to hold the old edifice together—grasping for relevance—I remind myself that all things pass and are born again. And that the most creative activities start with a death of some sort.

And I let go.

“The passage of the mythological hero may be over-ground, incidentally; fundamentally it is inward—into depths where obscure resistances are overcome, and long lost, forgotten powers are revivified, to be made available for the transfiguration of the world. This deed accomplished, life no longer suffers hopelessly under the terrible mutilations of ubiquitous disaster . . . it becomes penetrated by an all-suffusing, all-sustaining love, and a knowledge of its own unconquered power. . . The dreadful mutilations are then seen as shadows, only, of an immanent, imperishable eternity”
- Joseph Campbell