This is the next excerpt from Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape with Figures:
“When I opened my eyes this morning a softly glowing red sun had apparently just been hung in the pine trees like a Japanese lantern. It appeared to get caught in a gentle updraft, however, that floated it slowly up through the trees and kindled the glow to ever greater intensity until it burst into flame and I had to turn my eyes away.
Since I’ve been here and have fallen into the habit of waking up early without any compulsion to get going, I find I think in a different way. I’ve discovered that it’s as much a mistake when you first wake up to shift your mind directly into high speed as it is to try to shift directly from neutral into third in a car with a manual gear shift. It’s better to let the mind idle for a moment or two, then back slowly out of your dreams with a glance at them to see if there’s anything you should take with you, then turn onto the road and get going gradually. The thing that’s so nice about starting out so early is that there’s no traffic at that hour.
To drop the analogy, perhaps it would be more accurate to say not that I think in a different way but that instead of thinking, I feel as if my mind were being thought through, as ears are heard through. There is no effort involved, no scowling concentration. It i s definitely not a passive daydreaming, however, in which you abandon yourself to undirected mind-drifting. To try another analogy, it’s more like sitting very still, relaxed but attentive in a deep forest, waiting and hoping to hear a hermit thrush.
Daydreaming takes place on a superficial layer of consciousness. The kind of spontaneous thoughts I’m talking about well up from a much deeper level, which explains why they surprise you: you didn’t suspect they were there. I’d like to appropriate George Fox’s word and call them ‘opening’ but that would sound pretentious. His openings were on a deeply spiritual level, glimpses of impersonal truth, relevant to humankind as a whole. I can’t claim that the ideas and perceptions that come to my mind are either momentous or original. They may be quite simple, even banal to other people, but they have given me certain insights about myself (usually not flattering ones) and about life in general which have meaning and impact for me. The fact that they would not stand up under critical evaluation does not bother me as it would have once. I’m not looking for an intellectual argument or trying to prove anything. It’s pleasant just casually to turn over in my mind whatever I happen to find there. Even though it may be as unexceptional as a periwinkle in a tide pool, it seems to have a vividness, a freshness, that makes me feel more deeply rooted in living, which is not true of the thoughts I squeeze out by force.
There are specific reasons, I’ve decided, why early morning is the ideal time for this kind of activity – or rather, inactivity. In the first place, by getting a head start on the day you escape the sense of haste and pressure and tension that goes with them. And therefore, even though you sacrifice a couple of hours or more of sleep, you feel less tired.
Physical comfort, if not an absolute requisite, is decidedly a help. Comfort means, at least to me, having my feet up and a soft but firm support for the back. So sitting up in bed without being harassed by the thought ‘It’s time to get up’ is conducive to the proper state of mind. (Of course, I could do the same thing at night but I wouldn’t be able to keep awake.)
It’s curious, this relationship between thinking and posture. In a relaxed position and in regard to the kind of thinking I’ve been describing, I feel as if my thoughts were rising slowly up my spinal cord and unfurling like fern fronds inside the base of my skull. (I can’t seem to get away from similes.) If I’m doing something that requires intellectual concentration such as reading a book whose meaning is hard to grasp, I automatically sit at a desk, or not so much sit at it as hunch over it, and it seems to me I can feel my mind throbbing until I sometimes have the uncomfortable sensation that antlers are starting to grow out of my head – and antlers don’t become me as a female.
Not that I think intellectual thinking is an exclusively masculine trait, and intuitive thinking is a strictly feminine one. I believe the type of thinking one prefers is a matter of temperament.
It rather worries me that in our cultural set-up we all feel more or less compelled to drive our minds like automobiles. Some people love to drive, are very skillful drivers and have a good sense of direction. They keep their machines in topnotch condition and never lose control. They get precisely to the place it is important they should get to and by the shortest route. There are, unfortunately, an increasing number of appalling accidents because not everybody is a good driver.
There are some artists who operate this way, who manage to force their work ahead to a specific destination. For them, it is obviously the right method and they utterly scorn ‘waiting for inspiration.’ But it’s too bad that old cliche has come to be used only with belittling intent. From what I have observed of certain dedicated and productive painters and poets and other artists, ‘waiting for inspiration’ is a very difficult discipline. It is preceded by years of hard work and practice in striving to master their medium, and often each new project is preceded by a great deal of more or less laborious brainwork. Yet this is in some ways the easiest phase, I’ve been told by more than a few. The really trying phase comes when they must cease their own efforts and simply wait for the work to ripen. To force it, they have learned, is to produce a stunted piece of work.
This period of seeming procrastination and shiftlessness has nothing in common with a carefree vacation. It requires a constant receptivity and alertness to catch the moment when it is time to start bringing the work to light, and if the waiting period is long, an almost superhuman patience.
Later. A sailboat just came by the Point, tacking back and forth against a head wind, and I can’t resist one more analogy: there are occasions when the mind should be handled like a sailboat rather than an automobile. You can’t produce a great painting, for instance, without that X factor called inspiration anymore than you can sail a boat without wind. If there is no wind, you are becalmed. You can get out the oars and row, but that is a tedious process and you’ll be exhausted before you get very far; or you can simply wait patiently, hopefully and watchfully for the first stirring of wind. When that moment comes, if you’re not alert, your sail will flap futilely. It is essential to know how to catch the wind in it, to make the most of it while it lasts, and never let it spill out.”