(I was able to share this with the Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center sangha this morning. It was a real pleasure. Printed here, rather than read aloud, to break a long blog silence...)
I first want to make clear what this title means, or at least marginally or provisionally clear.
I don’t intend to talk about doing Buddhist meditation practices creatively—though that would be fascinating—but rather about approaching the practice of creativity from a perspective informed by Buddhist meditation and thought. And it will require a little bit of personal history and a lot of very specific, self-involved reflection. I hope, though, that looking in will have actually led to reaching out, and that these reflections, once untangled, will be of some use to you.
Wanting to think this idea through with all of you takes me back, to a point in my life during which creative practice in my chosen crafts—composing music and writing words—had notably and completely fallen away. I thought its absence was permanent—and that word is telling—because I’d come to know, intimately, how unskillful the work had become. It devoured everything when it was in process and required intense self-flagellation to rekindle that hungry fire when it was not. And I’d run out of energy for it, or maybe some part of me rejected that particular dance and refused to allocate that energy any longer, not to creativity and frankly not to anything else, either. We could call it clinical depression or we could call it something else, but the affective result was that I was a shadow.
Sitting practice—or rather the ideas behind sitting practice—were the first things that made sense to me in that shut-down state, in that inner environment of having ruled out a creative life. I had run out of ways to justify a practice that propagated a particular sense of self. A story about being a creative type. The work existed, I had come to know in my bones, to prop up the idea that I was the sort of person who made things.
Sitting practice was the first thing that even suggested that experiencing WHAT WAS THERE, always, actually, and already, could have value. My dis-eased perspective would survey the internal scene and ask what I might make out of it. How could my internal reality be used, utilized, deployed, transfigured? Never what was there, only what could be made from it and that view of every state’s potential obscured what every state might just be.
I should stop talking retrospectively, as though I’ve resolved all of this, realized a better way and aligned my current work with that transformed method and ideal. But something has changed over the hours spent on the cushion or in study. Rather than wanting to be the sort of person who makes things, I am tilting towards being the sort of person who lets things be. How can that not also shut creativity down? There is so much to observe in the inner and outer world, to observe in our looking, to experience as our bodies process those infinite impulses and triggers. Why would I want to add to the noise? Or, rather, isn’t making a song or a poem or even a little melody the very definition of getting swept up in ego? Shouldn’t I just be watching the desire to sing until it passes so in its place that glorious equilibrium might arise?
Intellectually it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. But experientially it does, and I lean more on experiential knowledge these days, body and heart over brain. To reference Karmic law: actions ripple out. My father played Chopin my whole childhood. I loved to sing at the piano. I could play a beat. Some of doing nothing is allowing the gravitational pull to those sounds and places, some of doing nothing is allowing them to speak. It is not because I want to have made things that things get made, it is because we can recast ourselves more as conduits than as actors. We can get out of the way and then, in place of our hangups, in place of our desires to leave a trace of our limited ego understanding behind, we might get a song or a poem or a melody, one that articulates all the music and language that has ever poured in, filtered through this momentary arising of self, this illusion of unique perspective. And out the other end we get to say I was here, you were there, I said these words to you and you heard them. But really there was just a drop of color in the ether, neutral ground tilted ever so slightly towards sharing, generosity, towards the tiniest stake in saying I saw this thing and you might like to see it, too.