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The Serendipity of a Bean Salad 

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It was the last thing I expected to do. There I was, standing in the foyer of my home with my husband and two children, in a circle, holding hands. Earlier in the day I had debated whether we should go on a family outing or stay home and clean the house. I had even taken a moment to visualize the joy of spending a splendid day together outdoors. But then I realized we would be returning to a messy, disorganized house. I wondered how I would feel if we spent the day cleaning instead, and started the week with an orderly home environment. Which vision was empowering? My picture of a smooth Monday morning, with no last minute search for misplaced items, which leaves me stressed, was indeed empowering. A clean home won out.

So, there I stood with a timer in my hand, announcing 15 minutes of silent clean up. I had never heard of silent clean up, but the thought jumped into my head and I grabbed it. The plan was to move through the house putting things back in their proper “homes,” and if you picked up someone else’s things you were to bring them to that person’s room. Thankfully, I didn’t have to explain the object of this game nor the benefit. My children didn’t care—the novelty of the silence enticed them. We started, moving with a quiet purpose, everyone picking up the ruins of some other day’s play and activity.

At the end of the 15 minutes, my son confidently informed us that we needed another 15 minutes of silence so each person could clean up the items that had arrived in their bedrooms. So we did another round. And another. Two hours later, there was my home, more organized and cleaner than I had seen it in weeks—and everyone had participated.

I was thrilled as I walked past the living room, its rug free of toys, and I joyfully gazed at my sewing table with absolutely nothing on it. I was basking in that buoyant feeling of virtuous cleanliness. I went back to my room to attend to some final items, and several minutes later headed for the kitchen to make dinner. Passing the living room again, I stopped in my tracks. The sewing table was now veiled in linen fabric, crowned with a wooden toy. The linen was anchored to the floor with my sewing scrap basket, a bag of recycled papers, and various other objects. And where were my children? Inside this fort vigorously discussing where some item should be placed!

I was struck. There it stood, like a signpost: the abundant flow of creative energy. Loud and clear it spoke. “The creative process uses every opportunity to create.” It doesn’t wait for the right time. It doesn’t fit into some nice comfortable idea of what creating is. It doesn’t keep a schedule. It is constantly flowing, constantly moving; it is a wave. My children were inside that creative flow. They didn’t seek it out or work hard to find it, as we adults often do, but simply had an idea and acted on it. There was no good or bad value judgment attached to the idea. To them it was just their play—what most children do if they are given the time and environment. The open space we had created by cleaning was simply an invitation for creative energy to create something else. Why was I surprised?

But I was. The juxtaposition between the clean empty space and my children’s play had opened my eyes. I realized we often want to incorporate creativity into our lives, like it is something that we have to get. Yet, it is a state of consciousness—always available; flowing, rushing onward. That signpost begged questions: How aware could I be in shifting my consciousness so that I could access the inherent flow of creativity? Isn’t the ability to shift consciousness itself a creative act that makes of our daily lives a living art form? What open space internally or externally could I generate to be attuned to creative energies moving within me?

I contemplated the wanderings of my creative self from the young person who went to art school, so many years ago, to my busy life now as mother, spouse, and coach. It seemed I would need more unstructured, unscheduled time to get in touch with my creativity these days. Then an avalanche of thoughts about time flooded in: saving time, having time, making time, time management. But maybe, I mused, what I really need is attention management. Shifting consciousness has little to do with time.

Days later I was sitting with my daughter, who was eating bean salad at a grocery store’s dining area. She was eating one bean at a time. Clearly, I was going to be there a while. What to do with my attention? I could easily allow myself to get frustrated; I had limited time and a lot of shopping to do. I could focus on that, but I didn’t want to rush her lunch. We hurry enough, I told myself. Instead I asked myself, “How can I be open, here and now?” I began to focus on my surroundings, observing the people around us. Who were they? What were their stories? Who was that older man flirting with an older woman with no smile on her made-up face? How did the people who walked by treat those they loved? Did any of my fellow shoppers still have their dreams? And for those timeless minutes, I was lost in the richness of wondering.

I left that lunch table astounded. We adults search so hard to be creative, and to enjoy the feelings of freedom and aliveness it is supposed to provide. Oftentimes, we think we will only be able to enjoy that if we have or make more free time. Yet I had chosen to focus my attention, to genuinely wonder, to spin story plots—and by doing so, accessed the realm of the creative. I conjured an experience of wonderment for myself that day. I had chosen to let my daughter eat her lunch in peace and taken those few moments during a shopping trip to consciously create.

Nowadays, instead of thinking about how much time I have or don’t have, I notice the quality of my attention and my openness. I truly believe that creativity is a level of consciousness, and like all states of reality, is available to us at any time—if we allow ourselves to enter it. Time, that thing we are always trying to control and find more of, I see, is truly a capricious illusion that dominates our thoughts. Those experiences with my children confirmed for me that what we are looking for dwells within. For when we permit ourselves to be open, to see from different perspectives than we usually do, we are drawn into the creative flow and have access to new possibilities. It is in that playful place we allow ourselves the luxury to know nothing and see everything.

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