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  • Elise V Allan

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Pooh Bear And Spaciousness In Time


First posted February 2018

I would have been at my job today, interviewing, but for the extraordinary weather conditions here at the moment. Glasgow has come to a halt with heavier snow than we’re accustomed to. I love snow. I don’t drive, so my delight with it hasn’t lessened with growing up. What I like best is when the sun shines and our usually dull grey city is transformed; the local park was full of children on sledges and on my second outing, someone on skis passed us. A well wrapped up baby had been sat down in the snow, and she was astonished and ecstatic, and a small boy, who’d been sledging, was sitting on a bench and giggling so hard that we laughed too as we passed him.

I’ve just had an extremely busy few weeks, with a fair bit of overtime in my job, and working non stop trying to keep up with all my commitments, every minute of the day. Not enough time in the studio, but there’s been one other thing I’ve missed just as much: pottering time. It aligns to a certain extent with incubation time, one of five stages of creativity described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

It’s described by Pooh Bear in The House at Pooh Corner*, when he describes his approach to writing poetry: “Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things that get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” I have my mum’s old copies of Winnie the Pooh books and what has stayed with me from childhood is the sense of spaciousness within time that they evoked. Pooh Bear sitting on a warm stepping stone halfway across a stream in the sunshine singing a verse of a song that’s come to him, then wondering what to do that day. In contrast, there’s Rabbit “who never lets things come to him, but always went and fetched them.”

We are educated to go and fetch everything, never to set out to do Nothing**, and never to let things come to us.  But there’s a second, more directional element to receiving inspiration as described by our Bear of Very Little Brain. “All you can do is to go where they (the poems) can find you.”

Not surprisingly, Pooh Bear’s recognition of the need for Yin to balance Rabbit’s Yang has been explored before in a book that I recall was called The Tao of Pooh.

Here are my three favourite places and ways of doing Nothing, to arrive in the most receptive place inside. If I get time for doing Nothing, along with time to paint, and time to Get Things Done I feel more complete. These are all solitary activities; doing them with company doesn’t take me into that receptive spaciousness where ideas can incubate.

1. Pottering about in the house, swapping cushion covers, moving a vase of flowers or a pile of stones from a window sill to a shelf…

2. Walking through the park especially the part where there are trees on either side and it feels like I’m in the countryside. There’s a moment, often when I’ve almost reached the top of the hill, when the noise of surface mind can sometimes vanish and silence, despite birdsong, distant traffic and the wind in the trees, seems to plop into place.

3. Gazing out of the windows at the back of my house, watching the birds at the feeders. Our regulars are two robins, two blackbirds, lots of bluetits, coaltits and sparrows, a few collared doves, wood pigeons and magpies, and we’ve also had visits from a thrush, and a goldfinch.  And we have a cheeky squirrel who tries to destroy the feeder most days. With a hot cup of coffee and time gazing out the window watching them, I’m in bliss.

* The House at Pooh Corner, by A.A.Milne. Not to be confused with Disney’s Winnie the Pooh who is an entirely different character. 

**Just before Christopher Robin has to go away to school, he explains that what he likes best in the world is to do Nothing.

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