Four Lessons I Learned in the Doldrums

In nautical terms, being in the doldrums means that your sailboat is becalmed, in windless conditions, and is rendered motionless and still. It has been described with great eloquence in literature, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner immediately coming to mind:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

I think we often hit this space in our creative lives as well. Whether it be writing, painting, composing or choreographing, there can come a time or even a season when our creative energies are rendered motionless and still. It is in these doldrums where I have bobbed and meandered aimlessly these past few weeks.

It’s not for lack of subject matter. It’s not for lack of projects or tasks on my to-do list. What is it, then, that causes the winds of creativity to calm – the voice of passion to quiet? In Coleridge’s story, the killing of an albatross by the mariner is blamed for the ship falling into the doldrums. Perhaps it is some albatross of our own making that preys upon the creative mind and causes it to become lost in a sea of thoughts – paralyzed by a force of our own nature.

I’m left to wonder if – rather than kill the albatross as the Ancient Mariner did – we should instead look to his ability to fly despite the absence of wind and seek to draw inspiration from the vast landscape that stretches out before him. Is it possible that the brief pause in our forward momentum could be part of the grand design – meant to take us on an inward journey toward meaning and understanding rather than toward a port-of-call? Here is what I have learned from my time in the doldrums

  • Being still does not mean you are not growing. Remember, the tree grows rooted to but one plot of land.
  • Allowing and embracing quiet stillness often enables us to hear a softer voice, guiding us in a more subtle, gentle fashion
  • Being surrounded by “water” yet not finding any to drink can lead us to new and exciting discoveries for uses of “water.”
  • Be careful of slaying the albatross. He could be your greatest teacher.

Wishing you fair winds and following seas.


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