Ritual and Routine

A characteristic of the traditional spiritual life is the use of rituals and routines: for example, a daily pattern involving the Prayers of the Hours. It may be thought that rituals and routines constitute some form of “psychological prison”, stifling creativity and personal growth. However (as Monastics and Hermits have long known), this is not the case.

In “Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work: How Artists Work” by Mason Currey examines the working routines of more than 170 of the greatest philosophers, writers, composers, artists and creative minds ever to have lived. See http://masoncurrey.com/Daily-Rituals (which includes links to reviews and commentaries). The author’s website is http://masoncurrey.com/
Daily rituals 1
For a detailed review see http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/05/daily-rituals-creative-minds-mason-currey ; see also http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/06/15/the-daily-rituals-of-creative-minds/

“’Daily Rituals’ features such beloved creators as T. S. Eliot, Honoré de Balzac, Sylvia Plath, Alexander Graham Bell, Frank Lloyd Wright, Tchaikovsky, and Georgia O’Keeffe. But more than a mere voyeuristic tour of creative routines, what makes it particularly enjoyable is that Currey manages to take these seemingly superficial rotes and weave of them something so rich and representative of the human impulse for creativity, at once incredibly diverse and uniform in its compulsive restlessness.”
Daily rituals 2
Currey concludes that the keys to creative work are:

1. Be a morning person
2. Don’t give up the day job
3. Take lots of walks
4. Stick to a schedule
5. Practise strategic substance abuse
6. Learn to work anywhere

The use of “strategic substance abuse” will be of limited value to the Hermit! Although Currey is essentially referring to the use of coffee.

The important of a strict regime has been tradition in both eremitical and monastic life, and has a value well established by psychological studies.

“It was William James, the progenitor of modern psychology, who best articulated the mechanism by which a strict routine might help unleash the imagination. Only by rendering many aspects of daily life automatic and habitual, he argued, could we “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action”. (James fought a lifelong struggle to inculcate such habits in himself.) Subsequent findings about “cognitive bandwidth” and the limitations of willpower have largely substantiated James’s hunch: if you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work. Don’t consider afresh each morning whether to work on your novel for 45 minutes before the day begins; once you’ve resolved that that’s just what you do, it’ll be far more likely to happen. It might have been a similar desire to pare down unnecessary decisions that led Patricia Highsmith, among others, to eat virtually the same thing for every meal, in her case bacon and fried eggs.”


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