This is part 9 of a series. Here are Part 1 & Part 2 & Part 3 & Part 4 & Part 5 & Part 6 & Part 7 & Part 8


It’s a Wednesday, and I’m staring at the screen, trying desperately to get the creative juices flowing. It’s a Wednesday and I’m staring at the screen, with no idea how this is going to go. Nor is this a new thing, because every time that I begin to to write or tell a story, I have absolutely no clue where or how to begin, or what I’ll say.

All those words I put together, all those images, sensations and memories I conjure for you – the ones that somehow have led folks to say very complimentary things about this series? The ones that catch your attention, and also the ones that end up up sinking into the depths of your mind, yet will surface when you least expect them?

All of those. All of that.

I have no idea where it comes from. None at all, and yet rationally, I know it must come from somewhere, some kind of alchemy of experience, talent and years of putting one word in front of another. I don’t even know if I’ve repeated myself, re-emphasised points over and over again, or used the same phraseology over and over again.

It’s as if I’ve stepped blind into a dark room.

And in that kind of scenario, all you have available to you is yourself, isn’t it? The room’s so dark that you can’t even comprehend what might, or might not, be present for you to use. You have no frame of reference.


Theoretically, you could step further in, stumble about, try to find a way to locate a wall or something. But anything could be in that room, from a predator, to a pit yawning inches away from you. In that sort of situation, it’s best to proceed slowly – and in fact what you want is to somehow achieve a sense of where you are, without moving. Without betraying yourself to any monstrous hungry watchers, or tripping any any traps.

I’m correct in that – and in thinking you want to keep living, right?

So what do you do, given the principles I’ve outlined in these posts?

Rather than attempting to extend your awareness outward, use what you have. Notice your breathing, the way you’re standing. Soon enough, you’ll begin to notice things about yourself, you’ll begin to feel your senses sharpen, as the distractions of the external world are somehow no longer there.

With nothing to focus on, your eyes will be moving, pupils expanding, trying to get as much light as possible. Your body will begin pumping stress hormones to organs, ready for fight or flight. Everything you are, will want to do something – to change the circumstance to your advantage.

And here’s where it gets difficult, because you need to not do. You need to observe only, and you will find that change happens without you doing anything, because the universe is always changing, always moving.

And this might sound counter-intuitive, a little like I’m advocating laziness or procrastination. I assure you, I’m not – as terrible procrastinator myself, I recognise that procrastination happens because you’re actually afraid to fail. There is a difference between procrastinating, and being a procrastinator – if you’re putting something off because you dislike it, because you don’t want to experience the drudgery of taxes, housework, homework or whatever, then I salute you.

I salute you because you’re human. Because avoiding unpleasantness is very sensible indeed, on some level.

But if you are a procrastinator, it is often because you don’t want to fail, because part of who you are, is what you do – what you can give to the world, and if you fail at that, your self-esteem takes a hit. So you put off the inevitable failure until the last minute, and then get things done in a mad rush of adrenaline because it overpowers that potential doom.

Or you don’t do it, because why the hell bother, you’re going to fail anyway, and it’s just more evidence that you’re a shit person, isn’t it?

I’ll lay odd that both of these positions are familiar to a good chunk of readers right?

But I’m not suggesting we indulge in either of them – quite the contrary.

Because everyone would like to be an expert, to know exactly what to do, the precise arrangement of actions and thoughts to Get Shit Done. That’s why there’s so many How To books, manuals and courses. I’ll bet that’s why some of you started reading this series. Hell, I gave you basic exercises and such like early on, didn’t I?

The funny thing is though, that experts and novices are not that far apart – the financial experts who precipitated the economic downturn knew their stuff. The Captain of the Titanic knew his ship. And yet, disasters still occurred – precisely because something changed, and rendered their expertise irrelevant. But they were experts, and they had weathered many things – pulled things out of the fire many times before.

This time however, all those processes did them no good – indeed there’s evidence that their expertise, their knowledge of how to Get Shit Done, actually made things worse!

So let’s go back to that dark room, shall we?
Actively not-doing means precisely that – you strive not to do anything but observe. You take all the sensations, all the things you perceive, as things in themselves. But you do not react. You focus solely on allowing your body to adjust, to do what it wants, to try and frantically sort out the stimuli. You ride the adrenaline, you observe it. Think of it as a kind of tantra – the exquisite delaying of action, until the precise moment when its coming is inevitable. Then, all that action is compressed into the last moment.

Or, to put it another way, not-doing frees up a lot of space – you can act with more information than anyone else in the room. Think of the professional athlete – most of them, particularly in tennis, cricket or baseball, operate at speeds of fractions of a second, and yet they are professionals precisely because they are able to bring all that training to bear in the last possible moment – the rest of the time is observation.

The same thing applies with storytelling – the delayed action of pregnant pauses and observing your audience can enable you to tell a better story. The delaying then, almost seems counterintuitive to what we’re being enculturated with right now – streaming video, instant bank transfers, online downloads.

The ability to act instantly, as soon as possible, is feted, but in terms of both storytelling and sorcery, delay truly is your best friend.

Which is why I’m not going to tell you the rest of that story until next week!