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How to Wash Away Writer's Block - A Tutorial

Updated on March 14, 2015
The baptismal font from the inner sanctum of the Carriere temple
The baptismal font from the inner sanctum of the Carriere temple | Source

Shower Virtuoso

For purposes other than simple cleanliness, the shower to me is a place of refuge. It is a quiet place I can retreat to isolate myself from the unforgiving rigors of society and pretend to be people I dreamed about being when I was growing up. For instance, some days I am Johnny Cash belting out "Folsom Prison Blues" in an edgy baritone, or Glenn Frey crooning about somebody's "Lyin' Eyes", or even Morrissey purging my woes with "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now." I give very versatile performances, usually finishing off with John Fogerty's "Who'll stop the Rain" right before I turn off the water. There are no encores; mainly because the drought here in California would make that environmentally irresponsible, and there certainly aren't any shower curtain calls.

The shower to me is also a place of inspiration. It seems awfully cliché and trendy to talk about getting good ideas while soaking under soothing warm water, but the shower is always that reliable pinch hitter I bring to the plate with two outs in the ninth when I have exhausted all means to move that tying run over from third base. The shower might not be batting a thousand, but is swinging at least .500 with runners in scoring position.

In other words, the shower gets me over that dreaded writer's block hump when all else has failed, and this is not just coincidental. There is plenty of experimental research to explain why the quiet isolation of places like the shower have been a source of inspiration and enlightenment throughout the centuries. The great thinkers and the great prophets through history have always gone out to far flung locations to better hear that quiet muse, that spiritual GPS put in place to guide humanity that sometimes just can't be perceived in the storm and stress of busy city life. It is our job as writers to tune into this same "still small voice," and at times we need to retreat to some remote meadow, go deep down into a cave, or climb a high mountain peak to hear it. But if all else fails, if you still can't figure out how your protagonist is going to hide the body, get the cookies out of the oven and still make it to the six o'clock PTA meeting, the good old reliable shower may be your key, even if personal hygiene is not your thing.

I know I'm being a bit presumptuous in discussing writer's block. Up until now a deep sense of meekness and humility has made me very reluctant to write about any self help topics or declare myself an expert in anything, except meekness and humility. I tried to corner a niche market writing articles for the meek and humble, in fact, but soon discovered that the Internet is swarming with narcissists who are not at all interested in my meekness and humility tips! So I've decided to abandon my timorousness, join the "experts" club, and pretend I really hold the key to coach you past your writer's block.

Therefore, forget about attending expensive seminars that deal with all sorts of psychological, motivational, cheerleading mumbo-jumbo that wears off almost as soon as you get home. Using my technique you won't need anything more than a little soap and water. Yes, writer's block can be washed off, it's as simple as that, and even if you are H2O intolerant a silent, secluded, non distracting place is really all you need to get past that barrier and get your stubborn pen cranking again.

Jabal Nur, the place of Mohammed's revelation
Jabal Nur, the place of Mohammed's revelation | Source

Shower Science

Just why do the few peaceful moments we spend in the shower every day result in creative breakthroughs for writers and other imaginative folks? In an article published in Mental Floss magazine, Lucas Reilly ascribed this to three reasons; being distracted, being relaxed, and being tired.

Reilly reports that you are much more likely "... to have a creative epiphany when you're doing something monotonous, like fishing, exercising, or showering." Because these tasks don't require much thought, the pre-frontal cortex responsible for "decisions, goals and behavior" relaxes and the "default mode network" (DMN) is then activated, which clears pathways connecting different parts of the brain. This forms new creative neuron connections which the fully focused mind would have missed. While a keenly focused brain certainly comes in handy in very practical situations, it tends to suppress unconventional and creative solutions, which explains why allowing the brain to wander actually makes it more active than when focused on a specific problem.. A study by Shelly Carson at Harvard reinforces this notion in its conclusion that creative people are generally easily distracted.

Relaxing in the shower or any other locale in which the stress, distractions and problems of the day can be put aside causes the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that boosts creativity, and also to produce alpha waves. It has been demonstrated in the laboratory that highly creative people are able to whip up large bursts of alpha brain waves, but these are only present while in a state of relaxed alertness. There are almost no alpha waves manufactured during sleep or when experiencing intense anger or stress.

The third and somewhat surprising condition that enhances creativity is tiredness. Tiredness further weakens the control of the pre-frontal cortex and clears even more pathways for the DMN. Because showers are most often taken early in the morning or late at night, when our brains are most tired and groggy, the synergistic effects of being distracted, relaxed and tired all at once create a perfect storm for especially creative ideas. I understood this quite well even before I read about it, because when I used to work an all night security job I would come up with some really bizarre Twitter "tweet" ideas while showering after I got home. These little bursts of spontaneous brain outpourings elude me now that I no longer work the red-eye.

In a Time Magazine interview for his book "Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation," Washington University Psychologist R. Keith Sawyer explained why The Bathtub, the bed, and the bus (the three Bs) are the cradles of creativity. In essence, Sawyer's work points back again to the relaxation of the pre-frontal cortex and the emergence of the DMN when he explains that taking time off from working on a problem can activate different areas of the brain where an answer to a difficult problem might be hiding.

I discovered this phenomenon for myself one night many years ago when driving home from my job at a bank distribution center. In this case I think we can safely substitute the car for Sawyer's bus, because after you have been commuting long distances on California freeways for several years your brain tends to go on autopilot. At the time I was taking an Accounting course and had been banging my head against the textbook for hours, trying to understand the principles of debits and credits. Finally, right there in the car, pretty much around the moment when I ceased to worry about it, the light in the attic went on and everything I had been frantically, doggedly studying suddenly made sense. Similar experiences have happened to me on several occasions while trying to overcome writer's block. Sometimes in order to fully come to grips with a solution that evades us, as writers we need to back away and let that subconscious network find the solution.

Source

From the Shower Into the Wilderness

Science is gradually unraveling the secrets of how the mind works, but the ancients intuitively understood the key to achieving inspiration without the benefit of knowing about dopamine and alpha waves. Answers to the universal questions explored by writers have also been diligently sought by those men and women of intuition; the inspired prophets of history who helped mankind come to terms with the difficult secrets of our existence here on earth and our relation to the cosmos. Writers and prophets are alike in the sense that we both seek to identify, quantify, explain and remedy injustices and suffering that are part of the universal human condition.

Because there was often no running water available, great prophets of the past everywhere retreated into the wilderness to dream their dreams and experience their epiphanies. The wilderness was much like the shower in the way that it opened up the mind to drift from the particular into the general and in so doing to find "enlightened" solutions to the spiritual darkness that human beings often find ourselves immersed in.

When the Buddha was struggling to find a way out of the suffering that is part of the endless human cycle, when he had sunken to the extreme depths of self denial and self abnegation by practically starving himself to death, he finally located that quiet place in the wilderness beneath the Bodhi tree that was conducive to the calm meditation necessary to open his inner eye. It was in that ambiance of quiet reflection that he at last discovered the great truths and the "middle path" that must be followed to relieve one's soul from the endless cycle of misery called Samsara.

After the Prophet Muhammad had spent endless hours praying for an end to the social unrest, discrimination, injustice and fighting that was occurring all around him, he finally retreated to a secluded mountain cave near Mecca. There in the serene solitude of a mountain grotto he was able to hear the voice of the angel Gabriel, who gave him the answers he was so desperately seeking.

When Jesus of Nazareth was preparing to embark upon his mission to liberate mankind, he too embedded himself deep in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, emerging with the spiritual clarity necessary to do battle with the Pharisees and other hypocrites who cruelly oppressed the population of Judea for their own worldly gain.

Could this be the place where Elijah heard his "still, small voice?"
Could this be the place where Elijah heard his "still, small voice?" | Source

An Interesting Case of "Prophet's" Block

Long before the New Testament accounts of the mission of Christ were written down, the Old Testament prophets walked the Earth, and like their illustrious successor they had a propensity to disappear into the wilderness for long periods of time when suffering from "prophet's block," a malady that arises when the prophet wonders how he is going to carry out God's mission and still keep from getting his head chopped off and put on a platter by some ruler he is denouncing.

When Moses was fleeing the Pharaoh he went into the desert to try to figure out his next move, and his "prophet's block" was overcome by a strange voice coming out of a bush that burned, but "...was not consumed." Some of the skeptics in the crowd might be thinking that maybe Moses had consumed something before he had this remarkable vision, but whatever sparked this source of inspiration Moses went on to successfully lead the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt and on to freedom in the promised land.

My favorite story about "prophet's block," which by extension relates perfectly to writer's block, comes from the Old Testament book of 1 Kings Chapter 19, where we find the Prophet Elijah in the desert, just like many of his kind before and after, fleeing the wicked Queen Jezebel, who had designs on this reluctant prophet that were not conducive to his continued good health. To make a long story short, Elijah's headlong flight finds him on Mount Horeb, the mountain of God, where he enjoys a remarkable moment of epiphany which relates to prophets and also to aspiring writers. I'll let you read these beautiful words for yourself.

And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake into pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

1 Kings 19 11-12 KJV

The nine muses of the Greek mythological tradition
The nine muses of the Greek mythological tradition | Source

Find your Still, Small Voice

Turns out the Lord was in that still, small voice, whether the voice was just random neurons firing away, fueled by biochemical processes, or whether the voice had a deeper, mystical, spiritual source behind it.

Whatever the case, all writers slash prophets suffer from writer's block; those who compose inspiring scrolls of spiritual edification, as well as those who scribble out simple self-help books for dummies or write blogs about baking cupcakes. The task in all these scenarios is essentially the same, and this is the enlightenment of the rest of the members of the tribe of humanity. To do your duty properly in serving the human race you need to get past this writer's block wall and become intimate with your writer's muse once more.

The lesson to be learned for writers here is to stop seeking the muse in big, booming, noisy things like earthquakes, wind, and fire. If you want to get over your writer's block, find a quiet place where you can hear that "still small voice." You might not have any caves in your neighborhood, but you can rediscover the mysterious voice by getting up to take a walk, or sitting quietly in an empty locker room like many athletes do before games, or simply by taking a shower. In any case, retreat to a place where you can get away from the destruction, anger and noise all around you and let your muse come to you. Don't exasperate yourself wasting energy searching in vain for it, but meditate patiently and silently and your muse will flow into your soul on a quiet, gentle, unexpected breeze of inspiration.

Unlike Elijah's, this Earth, Wind and Fire could indeed help you find your muse

Where do you go to find your inspiration?

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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well the "how to" crowd has found a new shining star. Aside from your rapier wit and amazing writing style -- you wrote a convincing and helpful hub here. I think you may have a battle on your hands with the almighty Otay Water District though as this may make you public enemy #1.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I'm busy sucking that lake dry right now Eric Dierker in my search for new inspiration. Pretty soon you will be able to walk across it here to Chula Vista. Thanks for the nice words. How do you like this heat by the way?

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      We broke out the fans and watched the grass wilt.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      The fans are cranking way too early this year Eric Dierker. Good news, they say the ice age is coming.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I usually make a comment on the subject matter of your hubs, but today I'm going to take a moment to mention that you really are a very good writer. Your voice is interesting and carries a reader along on a fascinating and enjoyable journey. That is a gift.....

      I just wanted you to know that. :)

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Bill. Coming from the mentor and inspiration of hundreds, maybe thousands of writers everywhere, that really does mean a lot. Perhaps you will agree with me when I say that good writing is just being honest. Every writer has to discover his or her unique voice. I appreciate you dropping in.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 2 years ago

      Great hub. When I was writing a dissertation 20 years ago, I found the muse hit me up when ironing!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      The muse strikes in strange, unexpected and sometimes awkward places Road Monkey. How do you safely put down that hot iron so you can scribble down that thought without burning down the house? The muses can be playful and devious. Thanks for reading!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I do some of my best contmplating on the toilet, lol

      Great read!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Larry Rankin, that's also a good spot for inspiration. Out with the bad, in with the good.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very useful and interesting hub, Mel. It's especially meaningful for me because I've found inspiration in several of the situations that you describe. Thank you for a great article.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Linda. It's amazing how that works, isn't it? I'm not sure if it is science or something bigger. I appreciate you dropping by!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      A very well written and interesting hub Mel. It's always interesting to hear how and where other writers get their inspiration. My muse often visits when I am waiting in the car for my wife, or if I am sitting in the park or wetlands etc. Nature is always inspiring as is just living your life..unexpected things happen that makes good content. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thanks for reading Jodah. The muse will strike in unexpected places for every writer sometimes. She is a rather fickle gal who pops in without calling first. I appreciate you dropping by!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      I don't linger in the shower long enough to have a eureka moment. Ideas come to me while I'm waiting for a bus, riding a bus, walking for exercise, washing dishes, waking up in the morning, winding down in the evening, or freewriting.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I applaud you B Leekley for being an environmentally responsible person. In truth the Eureka moment always comes when least expected. Thanks for reading!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      I love the flow of your writing and your inimitable style. The gentle humour adds substance to your subjects. I totally agree how a distraction or an unconnected activity can bring about sudden inspiration.

      I'm so glad you explained the Reilly research because I now have proof of something I've long held to be true; that distraction or aversion can make the mind 'click' onto something else. My dyslexic students used to read a lot better when they were reading in drama lessons - they were concentrating on the character, they were being 'someone else' and therefore it wasn't the reading that was paramount in their thoughts. I often said it was because their concentration and stress about reading was diverted; how great it is to have back-up!

      I do find that if I go away and do something else, forget about writing for a while, then ideas return, the muse flows.

      Superbly written hub, interesting content and great style, Mel!

      One of the best hubs I've read in a long time.

      Ann

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Ann, I appreciate the glowing comments. It is interesting you say that, because my youngest son had problems writing as a child when he actually had an assignment to do in school. Then one day I found an angry rant he wrote against me after I punished him for something, and instead of taking offense I was quite thrilled because it was Nobel Prize worthy material. The mind does its best work when it is not trying. Thanks again!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Great example; good for him!

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 2 years ago from Cork, Ireland

      Super cool shower hub :) I also love contemplating and dreaming when taking a bath. Sometimes even sing :)

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Yes CorneliaMladenova singing in the shower is a great way to detoxify the soul. Thanks for reading!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 24 months ago from Orlando Florida

      I never knew that tiredness fosters creativity. I should be the most creative person in the world. I usually eeal with writer's block in the morning when I first wake up. I don't get out of bed; I let my mind drift. the ideas come. then I have to write them down before I forget them. this is excellent. Voted up+++

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 24 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Catherine. I think every writer has a different technique to lock into their muse. I often make the mistake of not writing down my thoughts when I get out of the shower. No telling how many million dollar ideas I have missed because of that. I appreciate you dropping in!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 24 months ago from Fresno CA

      Mel,

      Once again a truly inspirational hub. I think you make excellent points. I often find "light bulb" moments in the place right before sleep, when I'm half awake and half asleep. It seems I can really "see" past all the junk of the day right then. Strange, I'm sure. But it works for me.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 24 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Denise. Sometimes I get bizarre thoughts when I am right on the threshold of sleep also, but then I don't want to drag myself out of bed to write them down. I guess the best writers are all insomniacs. Thanks for reading!

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 24 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Tiredness does bring different ideas and answers we need. The thing you said about the dopamine in the brain is unusual, because I never knew it helped to be creative.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 24 months ago from San Diego California

      The brain is a mysterious beast ladyguitarpicker. I guess part of writing involves learning to tame it. Thanks for reading!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 23 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      I gave you an awesome and up for this, so well deserved. Many times, I have mentioned in my birding columns that the lake is my respite, which is exactly what you are talking about here., It allows me to clear my mind, and allow things to flow, which is why my column in the Stillwater News Press is so popular. There are droves of people on the lake now, not necessarily observing nature, but it certainly has increased. Take it from experience. Everything that you have said here is correct. Again, well done.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 23 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Deb. I am thrilled that your column is such a success. I guess the lake is your prophet's cave where you go to hear that still small voice. I appreciate you dropping in!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 23 months ago from California

      Well I was thoroughly entertained by this very cool and nifty article--my life tends toward the mundane and the tired--so maybe that helps a bit--looking for the small voice but in California the shower is a quick deal--so no voice there these days

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 23 months ago from San Diego California

      Tired and mundane are my two middle names, Audrey Howitt. The still small voice usually takes a while to get warmed up, so California showers are not as fertile ground for inspiration as they used to be, as you say. Luckily there are plenty of other places, taking a walk sometimes does the trick. The key is just to unfocus for awhile, but then again you don't need me to give you any lessons in inspiration, your poetry is very cool and nifty too. Thanks for dropping in.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 22 months ago from California

      I never thought of shower as a time of creativity, this is something to try out perhaps! I usually get good ideas just before I fall asleep, and the next morning I forget all about them lol

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 22 months ago from San Diego California

      I get wacky ideas before sleeping too Svetlana, but who has the energy to get up and write them down at that point? My creativity has been snuffed by a bout of some sort of stomach malady the last three days. Don't eat at Chilis. They're probably a Hub Pages sponsor so I shouldn't be saying that. Thanks for checking in!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 22 months ago from California

      Gosh, sounds terrible. No I will not eat at Chilis thank you very much :) Get well soon, and no more chain restaurants!

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 22 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Very helpful hub that has great examples. I found it to be very interesting about the dopamine. Tiredness is what helps with new thought about what to write.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 22 months ago from San Diego California

      Tiredness helos create ideas for me too ladyguitarpicker, especially the weirder ones. Thanks for droppIng by!

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 22 months ago from Georgia

      I found this to be a very helpful piece on writer's block. I am usually most inspired in the shower. Since that is the way I start my day, the shower is where I order my thoughts and I get the inspiration for some of the writing I have to do for the day.

      Tying the ancient to the present was a very different way to look at writer's block. In fact, I never thought of the story of Moses as that way, but it certainly sounds that way.

      Great hub.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 22 months ago from San Diego California

      Cyndi10 I really do believe the "still, small voice" the prophets heard is similar to the one that writers respond to, and I think we are the modern day prophets, meaning that it is our duty to stand before the thrones of our modern leaders (from the safety of our computers, of course), and shout down injustices wherever we find them. I appreciate you dropping by.

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 21 months ago

      Personally I find my best ideas when I'm commuting to and from home. Public transport is like a heaven to me. I can safely observe other people and wonder about their lives without being constrained by the fact that I look a fool staring into nothingness while I'm doing it. This hub gives other useful places to cure writer's block. Thanks for this!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 21 months ago from San Diego California

      Any place where the brain can turn itself off for a little while to let the weirdness lurking beneath the surface to bubble upward is a fertile idea place, Jonas. It is different for everybody. Thanks for reading!

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 20 months ago from australia

      I'm dedicated to long hot showers, my comfort zone. However, I find myself in the throes of writer's block right now and cannot locate a muse. Great article with much to ponder on - most interesting and informative.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 20 months ago from San Diego California

      Just start writing and the muse will force her own way out travmaj. When you hit a wall go outside and the muse will blow in on a breeze. Good luck and thanks for reading!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 19 months ago from California

      I actually just read an article saying that writing lying down is the best cure for writer's block. It's called "The Anxiety-Busting Writing Combo: Write While Lying Down + Write Only 50 Words". When you lie down, your body naturally goes into a state of relaxation, so your brain is more at ease to create, and 50 words is a very achievable writing goal. Perhaps, showering to combat writer's block is based on the same principle.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      That might work great for some people Svetlana, but I know that as soon as I laid down I would fall asleep. I'm sure there are a lot of techniques that all come from the same part of the psyche. Thanks for reading!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 19 months ago from California

      Hey if it's good enough for Mark Twain, it's good enough for me! :-) The falling asleep issue...is an issue, granted, so maybe it's better in the morning, before you get out of bed? I don't know, I haven't figured it out yet, but it sounds right. Otherwise...I just don't take showers often enough to get my creative juices flowing! lol

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      You look very clean in your pictures and I will leave it at that. How you get that way is none of my business, but you have so completely mastered English that I know you have a deep well of inspiration you draw from.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 15 months ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Hi Mel - I used to love the shower, but have some limitations that have reduced my great pleasure. My juices flow after a period of relaxation from meditation or deep relaxation. Right now, I am having a little trouble getting those juices to move. It comes and goes. Lovely article about relaxation. Blessings, Audrey

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 15 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Audrey. It's great to hear from you. I think the key is to be in a place that is relatively free from external sensory stimulation. I find that when I have problems getting the juices to flow I just start writing, and things come out of the little brains inside my finger tips that I had no idea was there. Thanks for reading!

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