Plan For Spontaneity

Jan 03, 2024
José James was gracious enough to let us take a picture with him after the show.

On a recent sparkling winter night, I snuggled into a corner table with my man and two friends on the mezzanine level of The Dakota Jazz club here in Minneapolis. José James was in town for his Christmas show. Christian Sands, one of the most incredible pianists I’ve seen in a while, accompanied him. The dance between José’s vocals and Christian’s keys was the highlight of my holiday. I love jazz. I love the way it travels out to infinity and back, the way it tickles forgotten corners of my mind and evokes a cascade of emotions.

The spontaneity of the music happens because the musicians have planned so well. It sounds like they’re freestyling and riffing all over the place, and they are. But the spontaneity comes out of the structure.

Freedom is a core value for me. I don’t do well with too much structure or routine. But after all these years starting and running businesses that can support my autonomy and freedom and keep me out of “a day job”, I’ve come to realize how much I need a plan. I need structure so that I can be spontaneous.

It’s taken a long time to develop the scales I need to play so I’m free to express what’s in my heart. Like José and Christian were doing on that December night. They were full of spontaneity from decades of a dedicated plan.

To cultivate more spontaneity and freedom in my life, I start with a broader view. Where am I headed? What do I want to do, be and have this upcoming season? Then, I consider what daily actions will get me there. This is the plan. I used to resist this. But now I understand the important role it plays. The structure of my plan also leaves time to jam on whatever is bubbling up for me. This could be a different piece of writing than the one I’m working on or, it could be totally unrelated - like just now. I took a break from writing this post to dust the wood railings in my home. I caught some dust bunnies in the corner of my eye after we took down our beautiful Scotch Pine Christmas tree yesterday. Cleaning up those clumps of dust got them off my mind and the physical activity allowed me to process some ideas about this content. I sat back down 10 minutes later to write again. The clarity probably saved me 10 minutes or more of going down a rabbit hole, gazing off into space or falling into the dreaded “researching on the internet” trap.

I found an incredible sense of freedom from a comment a meditation teacher made at a 10-day silent retreat I attended in the jungles of Thailand years ago. He said, “as soon as you notice your mind has drifted, bring your attention back to your chosen point of focus. It could have been a few minutes, a few days or a few weeks. As soon as you notice, come back.” It was a revelation to have someone suggest that it’s okay, even human and typical, to drift off course for weeks or even years at a time. Just come back as soon as you’ve noticed that you’re off course.

Because I have a plan, I can get back to it as many times as I fall off. Rather than not having a plan because I want to be free. It’s taken me a painfully long time to figure this out.

But I need a plan that’s compelling enough to draw me back in from the ridiculous amount of distraction that bombards me daily – from both within and without. It can’t be a “should” or someone else’s plan. It needs to come from my heart. 

Tuesday is my project day. Nothing gets on my schedule on Tuesdays. Uninterrupted writing time. I love it. One Tuesday, my cousin sent me a text saying she was in town and going for a walk with my neighbor who is also her friend. They invited me along. I broke my rule and headed out into the woods with them and my dog. I “lost” a couple of hours of writing, but the conversation we shared and the time in the woods allowed me to mine for deeper stores of creativity than if I pushed myself to create when I wasn’t in the mood for it. The spontaneity fueled the plan. It works both ways. We need both.

That’s the dance. I have a big goal. I have a plan for the action steps to take to get there. And, I like to riff. It’s as satisfying as listening to these accomplished musicians following their muse, taking us on a sublime ride and landing back on the dot of that final note.  I trust I’ll land back on track because I’ve laid down these intentional tracks with a heart-centered plan.

I’ve been spending the last six weeks exploring, molding and crafting my big plan. I’ll share my process throughout a series of posts. New Year can feel like a lot of pressure so that’s why I like to plan in 90-day chunks to align with the season. Plus, nature’s new year is February 10 (the Lunar New Year) so there’s still plenty of time to get clear, get a plan and have fun dropping into and out of it as I feel inspired.

José James was gracious enough to let us take a picture with him after the show.

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