I have never really seen myself as an artistic, creative person. Most of my friends tried to counter that point by bringing up my background as a dancer, but that never really worked for me. I see my dance as a sport, rather than an art or a way to express myself, because my strength as a dancer lies in learning and performing choreographies, and not making my own dances as a way to express myself through the movement. Similarly, I enjoy all kinds of handcrafts, but I always have instructions that I follow in order to make them. So, I didn’t see myself as an artsy person. Flash forward to my time in Ecuador, I don’t really think I would declare myself an artist, but I am definitely really happy about ideas that flourished in my mind during my time here. I have written five songs, started my project of the United EX-YUth, thought of a plot for a children’s book, came up with a model for a social enterprise and had a bunch of crazy ideas that I will probably never implement, for I don’t have neither the skills nor the time to do them. One would say that mere ideas are irrelevant, abstract, not making any impact on the world – all of that is true. I know I would be a lot cooler if I actually started an enterprise or wrote a book, but I am honestly so excited about this change in me.
The answer to where this creativity came from, what unleashed it, how it came to be – is really simple. It is down time. Now the way I define down time is the following: a time that was not scheduled for anything, during which you aren’t doing anything that would conventionally be regarded as useful, productive or relevant. For down time to work even better, you are not supposed to feel guilty about indulging in down time. For more precise examples of down time, think of sitting in a bus for an hour every day or washing the dishes for an hour and a half (and yes you can argue that washing the dishes is useful, but go with the flow, okay?). Exactly these activities are a part of my daily and weekly routine. Used to the schedule where every single hour was planned out, where there was no time to waste, at the beginning of my year I was frustrated by how much time I am "wasting" every day. I was thinking about other activities I could do at the same time in order to maximize my time so I downloaded a bunch of TED talks and podcasts to listen to while I am "not doing anything important". I listened to quite some, but there were also moments when I forgot my earphones, or my phone was low on battery etc. and all of a sudden there were more and more bus rides or dishes without anything "productive" about them. Slowly, I started enjoying the process and I felt less and less bad about "wasting time". Gap year skeptics will see this as the fulfillment of their biggest fear about gap years – that it makes students lazy, makes them get used to a life without learning and ultimately, makes them not want to go back to school. I am nowhere near that – I read books and academic articles; watch crash courses and documentaries; learn how to code, and also, learn a bunch of things through the official structures of Global Citizen Year (that’s what all of the blogs are about). And I am so excited about going to university that I even have to remind myself too many times not to live in the future. Anyways, going back to down time – I started enjoying it, and down time reciprocated by helping me unravel the creativity within me, that I believe we all have.
So how and why does it actually work? I recognize big differences in my mind and thoughts. To most of the people who have asked me about my experience I have told I am living a lot more slow paced life. All of those who have known me before, will probably remember my infinite plans, agendas with hardly any blank space, organizational skills and, sadly, stress. I bought an agenda before the start of the program, out of habit. I use it to write down the memories from the year. I reversed the process – instead of writing before the actual thing, not to forget to do it/attend, I write reflections afterwards, not to forget the moments I enjoyed. Similarly, my mind stresses and plans less; reflects and appreciates more. My mind is at peace. It is free to wander around during my bus rides, while my hands are washing the dishes, before I am about to fall sleep. It wanders around and is able to reach the places within me and the world that it couldn’t go to before. And on that journey, it reaches some really cool ideas. That’s all the magic, honestly.
Every time I told my friends about this, as my favorite learning outcome of the year, I have told them that I really hope I will be able to take this skill, the ability to have and indulge in down time, with me to college. I finally have a couple of ideas about how I could do that, and I kindly ask all of you to message me during the next year, reminding me of this blog post and asking if my mind is free to wander around once in a while.