Enforced Restraint as a Creative Practice

September 27, 2022


Recently I took a week-long fast from reading. Let me tell you, it is hard. In all truthfulness I slipped a couple of times and found myself scrolling for a few minutes “just to check in on my closest friends.” I also found myself halfway through a news article that popped up on my phone before I realised what I was doing.  We often hear about the foibles of social media, but reading can often be an escape hatch for the creative mind too. 

I did not realise how much I use reading as an escape from reality until I challenged myself to this reading fast. Fasting has been seen as a spiritual practice most often associated with the fasting of food. Fasting is a way that we empty our self so we can be cleansed and filled with something different. However, there are many ways that we consume. I consume massive amounts of content from other creatives daily. When I’m not focused working on a daily task, I can be found listening to music, reading a book, scrolling social media, listening to a podcast or audible book, or scrolling the internet about a topic that sparked my interest. The activities I participate in for fun mostly include consuming creative work made by others, such as going to museums, eating out, and watching movies. My purpose for a reading fast was to empty my life from creative content created by others.

Fasting from this consumption allowed me to empty myself, but more importantly it made room to listen to my own creative voice. When those in-between minutes haven’t been filled with the creative content of others, I find myself in this very odd predicament of having all this time on my hands that I don’t quite know what to do with. I found myself filling out paperwork that had been in my to-do pile for ages. I washed the dog, organised my office, and ran errands. I ate more intentionally and went to the gym in the middle of the day to swim laps. I also sat and watched the wind blow through the trees in the back yard and was frustratingly bored.

What’s interesting is that I found it very easy to fill up that extra time with “suppose-to-things”-jobs and tasks that adults ought to do. What I found to be exceedingly difficult was to fill some of that extra time with writing, making art, planning out projects that live as vague ideas in my mind, or taking concrete actions that support my creative plans. Essentially, I traded one distraction for another. 

Even when I intend to act on my creativity, I didn’t quite hit the mark. I spent two hours watching paper marbling technique videos and researching paint marbling supplies. I still haven’t bought any of the supplies, and this vague idea I have that utilise paper marbling is still in the dream phase. To top it all off, some nights I dragged myself into bed at quarter past eight because I was so exhausted, I couldn’t keep my eyes open another moment. I woke up the next morning with a pounding headache. 

Part of the fasting process is detoxing, and there were days I felt absolutely rubbish. My brain was frazzled and exhausted and by the end of the day even my body just wanted to sleep. It amazes me what lengths our body and mind will go to avoid confrontation. When all those distractions have been removed all that was left was me. I had to stand and face the reflection of the mirror and most of the time it was much easier to run errands then face myself. However, this pointy end is where the magic lives. 

Enforced restraint brings you to the cliff face where you must choose. Are you going to turn around and go back to that uncomfortable, ill-fitting existence, or do you jump into the unknown? A season of enforced restraint on any area of your life is a powerful tool for change and birth. Once you have ran around doing all the suppose-to-things eventually you get still and quiet. And it is in this still quietness that you hear your own voice and the voice of Creator. You begin to commune with creativity free of the pressures of performance and ego. It is in this place that authentic and truthful work is found and created. 

Restraint of any kind is a kick start for creativity and is a necessary part of the creative life.  What in your life could benefit from a season of enforced restraint? Is there an issue or an idea that you just can’t seem to get over the line? Try a day, or a week of fasting from content consumption and I can pretty much guarantee you will find the solution you’ve been looking for. At the beginning when you are in the detoxing phase it can be rough, but push through because on the other side is an abundance waiting for you.

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