Coming Up Empty

MBB empty cup

The following post was originally published on November 17, 2013. As we find ourselves once again nearing the busy holiday season, this post becomes relevant to return to. Katherine Moore has been teaching for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body since 2013. You can find her running all over New York City, working as a teacher, choreographer, freelance dancer, and writer. Relax with her at Steps on Broadway on Friday nights at 6:30pm for restorative yoga.

It is at this time of year that I tend to feel especially tired and overwhelmed.  Various projects and work commitments seem to move at lightning speed, and everyone I know (including myself) seems to be in some show  or hosting some event at opposite ends of the city that make it impossible for me to attend all of them. Meanwhile, the holiday season approaches at breakneck speed, and as usual, promises to be both a lovely, yet hectic time of year. I find that my thoughts have left the present, jumped to the encroaching New Year, and before I know it, I’ve convinced myself that the year is over and I haven’t done half of the things I meant to do.

This, of course, is not true. Many, many, many days are left in the year – many days that can be used productively or leisurely, as I deem appropriate.  In my life, I find that it is my creative endeavors that suffer the most when I become overwhelmed and over-booked. As a “sometimes” choreographer, my motivation lacks at these times and inspiration seems hard to find.  Even as I thought about what to write this week for this blog, I found myself coming up empty, distracted by other commitments and worries.

What I try to remind myself at these times is the importance of ritual and practice in the creative process. Research has long shown that talent alone does not produce the best work. The most successful artists of any genre excel in their field due to discipline and the constant rigor of trial and error, in addition their natural talents and inspiration. Creativity is a practice that needs exercise to blossom.

The next book on my reading list is Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Curry. Curry spent over six years compiling information on the daily habits of the world’s most successful artists, composers, and writers.  In an article for Slate, Curry writes:

“This doesn’t mean that inspiration doesn’t exist, or that some work is not more inspired than others. It merely means that you should work each day regardless of whether you feel the urge to; it is the process of working itself that will give rise to new ideas. And with steady application, you can expect to hit inspired patches from time to time.”

When I was going through the MBD teacher training and first setting up a regular yoga practice and study patterns, one of the most striking changes I felt in my life was the upswing of creative, critical, and connected thinking.  The rituals of practicing, writing, and weekend sessions somehow allowed the varied facets of my life to fall under one umbrella that felt more connected and therefore, more fruitful.  After all, a literal translation of “yoga” in Sanskrit can mean “union” or “yoke”.

I understand the teachings of yoga to be just as much a creative pursuit as writing, choreographing, composing, and similar endeavors. The yoga practice allows us to make connections between our bodies and our minds, between nature and art, between science and the shape of our hands on the mat. It has been said that good art is art that makes connections between ideas we wouldn’t normally expect. While yoga isn’t “art” in the sense that we don’t end up with a finished product, I think that the creative thinking involved is closely aligned with the artistic process.  Practicing and teaching yoga gives us the ritualized time and space to think creatively about the world and make connections about our experience in it.

I think where I’m going with this is that those moments of feeling empty and uninspired, especially when we’re snowed under with other work, are perfect opportunities for more practice, and that practice will yield creative thought. Yes, sometimes we have to take a break, step away, and return to our work refreshed, but sometimes we can use that emptiness, that writer’s block, to our advantage. For any trainees out there who are feeling overwhelmed with all the things you think you don’t know, for any teachers who are feeling uninspired, take some time to really be in that void of not knowing. Take yourself back to being a truly empty cup. Get to know that place and then, infuse it with practice.

I think I’ll leave off with one of my favorite quotes by Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

– Katherine Moore

One Response to “Coming Up Empty”
  1. Nicholas Jon says:

    I really needed to read this right now. I’ve been in a state of feeling a bit consumed by the things I do every day – overexhaustion and overscheduling often cause me to feel as if I’m doing things out of obligation or necessity rather than desire. It’s helpful to take a step back and realize that as much as a professional artist’s lifestyle can be frustrating, it is also incredibly rewarding and it’s a privilege to be doing something that I love for a living. Even when I am feeling uninspired or exhausted, the important part is to keep coming back to my work and committing to it — in a way that I truly believe in, rather than simply to get it over with.

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