by Alan Friedman

"Write me an article right now", Rob said. No warning. No time to let a subject present itself. Just write it. But that would be like . . . spontaneous, huh? I don't do spontaneity. Oh yeah? Well, guess what.

Tayu has constantly been reminding me to stay in the present moment. I can't taste yesterday's salmon or tomorrow's pizza, I can only savor right now. It is wisely said that our only "cash" is in the present moment, with the past being a canceled check and the future an IOU. Writing last week's article would be like reading last week's newspapers (I've done that too!). I wish I could read next week's newspapers, but that's a different article.

Usually I have mulled things over for weeks before sitting down to write. Usually I've had a chance to consider the subject from various angles, to ruminate, to jot down ideas about it, and to fall in love with certain phrases.

But where do those ideas come from anyway? Not from that part of me that mulls things over. They just arise from some deep, secret subterranean passage that connects me with the "Creative Source". At the moment they arise, they are fresh and startling to me, and then, after fondling them long enough, I begin to call them my own and to say that "I" created them. If they were fresh once, why can't I dis-cover some fresh ideas right now?

The truth, I suspect, is that we all have that connection all the time but experience it mostly when the "small I" shuts up and gets out of the way. (One of the primary prescriptions for spiritual Work).

For the past several days, I've been at a very fun stage in the design of a vibration monitoring circuit. I play with it like a child, and ideas for new features "arise spontaneously": Why not use those spare channels to monitor bearing temperature and battery voltage? How could it display real-time graphics on the text terminal? Why couldn't the gain and time interval be programmable? A splash of solder, some quick programming, and an hour later a new feature is thrilling me. I've chosen to stay up as late as 5 a.m. working on it because it's so fun to be creative. Now I remember why I'm in this business.

There's something about the creative process that enlivens me, whether it's circuit design, throwing a pot, seasoning a bouillabaisse, or writing an article. Sure, there may be some ego investment in the end result, but it feels like there is a joy that is prior to any external reward.

There! Feel that! It just shut down again. The "small I" began to jump in and babble and the static left me without any more ideas. "Writer's block . . ." The signal fades in and out on the "receiver" that is my unblocked creativity.

Some people call this creative state "flow" or "the zone" or simply "being in the mood." I know you know what I'm talking about. The question is, how does one cultivate it? How can this state be achieved at will, and what would it be like to remain in it much of the time?

This state seems to naturally arise when there is an absence of "self talk" or "inner dialog", an absence of externalized judgments ("what will the neighbors think?"), an effort of Will to stay in the present moment, and a willingness to just be an instrument, to let the natural joy of the universe be expressed through oneself.

Oh yeah, now what am I going to write about?