09/17/2012 12:43 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2012

Parable of the Pear: The 'Not Doing' of Creativity

In the fruit bowl this morning, between the blushing nectarines and the tart granny smiths, rested a pear, succulent in its golden skin and as smooth as an airbrushed fashion model. Purchased green and hard days ago, the pear had matured into perfection that can only be attained, moment by moment, with time.

The same can be said for creativity. Oh sure, I believe in disciplined determination and repeated practice, whether at the piano, the easel or the computer keyboard. And I've rhapsodized about creative time management, which comes down to clearing sacred space on your calendar just to work on that poem, script or needlework. But it can be hard to command yourself, "It's Thursday, 10:37 a.m. Be creative!"

Creativity requires the fallow time of not doing nearly as much as the doing. And that, my friends, can be the most difficult discipline of all, particularly at mid-life with its multiple demands of home, work and everything in between. Balance, the most elusive of qualities, is the ultimate goal. Without it, creativity becomes impossible, and even turns to drudgery.

For the type-A among us who live for our to-do list checks and self-issued gold stars, not doing is hard work. We come by it honestly. My mother, a child of the Great Depression, found virtue in that first load of wash clipped to the clothesline soon after the summer sun broke the horizon (and the last load had to be taken down, folded and put away before evening dew). It was far better to plant, fertilize and mulch the roses than to stop and smell them.

The creative life, however, demands a gentler touch than the one that grips the plow, as I learned this summer. I've been scaling a mountain of projects much like Sisyphus with his boulder. Demands and deadlines keep shifting, leaving me sliding me back to base camp instead of striving for the summit. In the midst of all this, I've tried to keep up my usual pace on the creative side -- the "for me" writing that feeds my soul, while the other takes care of the mortgage, taxes, health insurance and grocery bills. I thought I could do it all, but the fact is there are only so many hours in the day. Even when I skimped on sleep, I could only accomplish so much with a brain as mushy as an overripe melon.

I tried, really I did! It was a creative essay I almost wrote about the chipmunks in the backyard (nature's opportunists, darting across the sun-warmed cement of the driveway toward the sunflower seeds that spilled from the birdfeeder... ) that stopped me. I could certainly do better than that, but only with enough time -- not for doing, but for not doing.

Inspiration shares a common root with the word breathe, the notion being that we are inspired by spirit's breath, which is not the hot, urgent panting of a tyrant with a stopwatch. To be inspired requires time for quiet, reflection, and rumination.

The pendulum, of course, can swing too far toward procrastination, but frankly I do not worry about that. I trust the muse won't be put off forever. When an idea, opportunity, and just the right time coincide, something truly special can happen. That brings me back to the pear in my fruit bowl.

Such perfection, I knew, would not last. Even a half day could put it over the edge to over-ripeness and the bruising pressure of its own weight. And so I had pear slices for breakfast, eaten slowly at the back door as I watched the birds at the feeder and, yes, the chipmunks darting across the backyard for their share of the seeds that fall to the ground. It was a delicious moment, meant to be savored. I recognized its meaning immediately.

"Why, yes," I thought as I nibbled the last of the pear quarters. "What a perfect day to write -- just for me."