A large number of people end up as adults who have little or no sense of themselves as legitimate creators. This blog explores the idea of creativity in its widest sense (painting, dancing, felting, cooking, writing, poetry, film-making etc.) and starts with the question 'how do we inhibit and block our naturally creative response to life?'
Genuine art has the power to awaken and liberate. The renowned meditation master and artist Chögyam Trungpa called this type of art “dharma art”—any creative work that springs from an awakened state of mind, characterized by directness, unselfconsciousness, and nonaggression. Dharma art provides a vehicle to appreciate the nature of things as they are and express it without any struggle or desire to achieve. A work of dharma art brings out the goodness and dignity of the situation it reflects—dignity that comes from the artist’s interest in the details of life and sense of appreciation for experience. Trungpa shows how the principles of dharma art extend to everyday life: any activity can provide an opportunity to relax and open our senses to the phenomenal world. Reposted from Mairi Campbell's facebook page
I would like to thank all of you who have visited this blog over the year. Knowing that, from time to time, people come in here and read, or to look, means a lot to me. It helps me to feel connected to the wider world, as I attempt to carve my way into this new creative life. Thank you. Happy Solstice!
You often hear people say this when they're watching very skilled musicians, or perhaps an artist doing a portrait on the spot. But I read somewhere once (probably in Indirect Procedures?) that the reason that very skilled people 'make it look easy' is because for them it is easy. They don't push beyond what they can do easily. They don't strain for notes that they can barely reach, or try to play faster than is comfortable; they play completely within their comfort zone. Which seems to fit with Paul Ortel's idea about 'following the juice, following the fun, looking for the stream that is open'.
It all goes against the cultural grain about practice and effort and strain and difficulty and misery and depression and impossibility. But perhaps all the torture and strain arises out of not understanding how you get in your own way with all your intentions and trying; all your concepts and plans and desires.
The more I abandon any idea about making art that I can explain, or hold up against other artists, the more I feel free to explore. And the more I stop thinking about whether or not the songs that have started coming follow the form that songs are supposed to, or use progressions that accord with music theory, the more they start to become free just to be themselves.
It's like thinking that you saw a bird of paradise flit across the edge of your vision. My most recent song is pirouetting in delight that I'm no longer asking it to be good or bad. It suddenly feels so free...
I recently found myself starting to write songs. Or, should I say, some songs recently wrote themselves. I fell in love with some chords and let the words come.
Follow the juice. Outsmart yourself by following the fun.
Look for the stream that is open.
And then? Well, then I wanted to share them. How revealing is that? How tortuous for the ego? Not just the fact that my voice is still finding itself and goes thin and cracks when I sing 'in front of people', but now the song itself has come from me. Could anything BE more revealing, more terrifying?
But the desire to share what had appeared was even stronger than the shrieking ego. Luckily for me, I've begun to understand the difference between playing for a random audience, and being witnessed by Authentic Artist participants, who have all been introduced to the idea of receiving what you offer without feeling they're expected to say something encouraging or make a judgement.
I had two opportunities to do it this week. And I noticed something interesting. That after I'd sung the song, and it had been received, everything went calm and peaceful. There was nothing. Like, nothing. Whatever it is that the ego so fears and dreads about the very idea of exposing itself, of being unprotected 'in front of' others, is a chimera, a puff of hot air.
You sing the song. Your voice shakes, it isn't perfect. No-one laughs, no-one says, how brilliant you are. It all just is. In its right place in the world. Received, shared, heard. End of. So different from what we've all been brought up to associate this kind of thing with - Is it good? Do a number of people agree that it's good? Will you be recognised, celebrated, will you make money from it? Even if you are going for the recognition thing, the truth is that some people will like it, and some people won't. Your responsibility is to let it come, and then share it. The end.
It seems that the more I share what comes, the freer I become. When I'm locked up in my head, keeping it all to myself out of fear and hesitancy and self-consciousness, sharing it seems like unimaginable exposure - a source of potential danger to the fragile ego. I feel as if my whole self, my integral being, my sense of wholeness, is under threat at the very idea of sharing what's come through. But when I actually do it, in a sense, nothing happens. And then I think, oh, if that's all it is, well, I can do some more, and do it without fear.
When I'm all tangled up in emotions created by unexamined demons running riot in my subconscious, I'm unable to perceive the reality of the situation, which is that it's not any kind of deal at all, let alone a big one.
The world is, in fact, entirely neutral. The clouds are not concerned about my petty, inward-turning fears. The rain falls, regardless, and will return my precious painting to the earth within minutes of my laying it on the ground.
Locked up in my internal vacuum, I've somehow learnt to believe that the only thing that will validate my creative courage is applause. But that doesn't seem to be how it works out. Even if I get the odd pat on the back, the world is largely indifferent to me, and to my endeavours. The only applause I truly need is applause from myself. Not for being special or clever or different, but for having the courage to continue making the work, regardless of what comes out, regardless of whether or not it gets attention.
The conversation is between me and the universe, not me and an imaginary audience.
I'm really quite pleased with this 'three pieces of work a day' thing. It makes me do something when usually I would have decided that it's too late in the day (literally, not metaphorically!); experiment with colours that I think I don't like, work with ideas that usually wouldn't have occurred to me. Basically, do more stuff, and think less about it. Good.
I've been looking for so long for some kind of container for my daily process... one that's loose enough to allow me the sense of freedom that I crave, but structured enough to make something happen. This month I've started an arbitrary idea of producing, or at least working on, three pieces a day - and it's working surprisingly well.
It's strange to watch the way that even a completely made up thing like this seems to fool the mind into thinking that it has to do what it's told. When I can do anything, I often don't know where or how to start, and quite often, distracting myself like crazy, I end up doing nothing at all. But this seems to tap into that completion thing; the observation that human minds seem to respond to the idea of finishing things (you try to get to the end of your list; think you'll just finish off that last X before you have a break...).
The inner beagle is a joke now in my house about this structure! In the same way that people who have dogs say that they have them to make them go out for a walk every day, I have to walk my inner beagle three times a day.
'A piece', incidentally, can be a line of water colour or a circle made with chalk - if I'm busy it can be the quickest thing imaginable. It's amazing how often just 'having' to do this gets me started....
'...Music does not touch merely the mind and the senses; it engages that ancient and primeval presence we call soul. The soul is never fully at home in the social world we inhabit. It is too large for our contained, managed lives. Indeed, it is surprising that the soul seems to accommodate us and permit us to continue within the fixed and linear identities we have built for ourselves. Perhaps in our times of confusion and forsakenness the soul is asserting itself, endeavouring to draw us aside in order to speak to our hearts. Upheavals in life are often times when the soul has become too smothered; it needs to push through the layers of surface under which it is buried. In essence, the soul is the force of remembrance within us. It reminds us that we are children of the eternal and that our time on earth is meant to be a pilgrimage of growth and creativity. This is what music does. It evokes a world where that ancient beauty can resonate within us again. The eternal echoing of music reclaims us for a while for our true longing.' John O'Donohue, 2004:67, Beauty Harper Perennial .
It occurs to me that one of the things that perhaps might be happening when you first start painting (and perhaps forever, I'm not sure...) is that you actually have to get used to the sort of stuff that comes out.
Whatever the idea or conceptual intention for your painting may be, perhaps the thing itself, when it comes, is always something of a surprise, even a shock (unless, I suppose, you find something you like doing and then just keep repeating it).
In response to that shock various things might happen. Your critic might rear up and start the judgement game. Your perfectionist might start her nitpicking ways. You might feel depressed, or dissatisfied.
But what if all of this was just an afterthought, a reaction to the surprise of creativity, the shocking reality of radical novelty? Perhaps we don't expect to shock ourselves, to find ourselves the source of something previously unknown.
I'm completely amazed at how often I see, with hindsight, that I've unconsciously assumed that I've finally 'found the focus' for my work, or the way of working that's going to make it all happen as I want it to. I feel all the time that I'm struggling towards some better way of working, something clearer, filled with less doubt - some kind of path, or at least a direction - something that will feel a little easier.
For a moment, it works; the painting that comes out pleases me, or the combination of elements and activities leads to something that I want more of. Then I find myself saying, ok, this is the way I'm going to go, this is how it's done, this is the process that yields the results I'm looking for.
But, in fact, it isn't. For a moment, the process I chose worked to produce something that satisfied or excited me, but it wasn't because that process was my 'answer'. It was a moment when different possibilities came together in a way that was productive. By definition, that moment will never happen again, and that combination of elements will never realign in quite the same way.
So my task is not to find my correct process but to somehow learn to intuit/respond/feel/judge/perceive an appropriate action or response is every moment of my practice, of my life. And then to trust, and have confidence in that intuitive responding-in-the-dark. It's constantly shifting and varying. The skill seems to be learning how to ride a wave, how to stay upright on my board, as the water constantly shifts and changes beneath me.
This continual, unconscious hankering for something stable reminds me of one of the Buddha's most fundamental insights. He pointed out that, although all of our life's experience teaches us, again and again and again, that things are constantly changing, we still persist in believing in the possibility of stable states; happiness, health, contentment etc. For some reason, we don't seem able to cope with the reality of constant flux, despite looking at it every single day of our lives....