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Nancy Napier: 500 miles to creativity? Start walking.

I’m “Facebook tracking” two people who are walking 500+ miles across the northern part of Spain over about seven weeks. I expected to be inspired, but not about creativity.

This pilgrim walk from the Pyrenees to Santiago honors St. James, an apostle who preached in the area, returned to Jerusalem and was beheaded by King Herod in about 42 A.D. The martyr’s body ended up in the northern coast of Spain (long story) and since about 800 A.D., people have walked the Camino for inspiration. Today, nearly 200,000 annually come from around the world. I’ve been “following” two friends who walk separately but meet up at the end of the day to share meals and stories with their fellow pilgrims who hail from places like New Zealand, Mexico, Australia and yes, even one from Boise’s north end.

They talk about foot care (a bad blister or twisted ankle can sabotage the walk) as they experience the generosity of people who live along the path, as well as the kindness that pilgrims show each other. As I hear and read their insights, as well as those from books written about the experience, it strikes me that their comments are also useful for creativity.

Slow down and let your mind wander.

Walking 10 or 15 or 20 miles a day takes time (maybe 8 hours or so) and most people spend a good chunk walking alone, thinking … about life and change, about illness or suffering (their own or others) or about not much of anything. They may have some aha moments, or may just learn to be still. Both are havens for creativity.

Do something to get really tired.

Having a physically tired body and mind can help squelch constraints that might hold you back from coming up with new (or wild) ideas. Walking so long over tough terrain is arduous and maybe a bit like that 3am state when all seems perfectly clear (and is not). Not many ideas will pass the feasibility test later but you may spark some in that woozy state that might become better once you work on them.

Take naps.

Creativity thrives on the “almost asleep” phase where you mind is working but you may not know it. Even when you nap, your unseen mind may work on a problem. Don’t feel embarrassed by taking a short one now and then.

Keep it simple.

On the Camino, the pilgrims say that they walk, nap, do laundry, and have a good meal. Simple tasks, done simply. Likewise with creativity. If you can explain your ideas to someone out of your field, like your favorite uncle or smart 12-year old neighbor, you probably understand it. Albert Einstein supposedly said something similar—everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler. I think of it as being simple but not simplistic.

Not many of us can take two months to walk across Spain but maybe we can create our own “Camino experience,” using lessons from others. As the pilgrims say, "Buen Camino!"

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