Thankful for you.
It feels like it’s been quite a while since the last issue of Beginner’s Mind — and it certainly has. In America, we celebrated Thanksgiving not too long ago and I’d like to take a moment to say, thank you to you, the reader, for holding me accountable and providing me the space to share with you my thoughts.
What are you thankful for?
There’s no such thing as and
This issue was inspired by a recent interaction with somebody I connected with over the internet. I sent them an email asking if they would be interested in talking about Zen and Creativity, to which they responded very boldly:
My first reaction is that there is no such thing. There is no zen AND anything. The AND implies a separation. To my understanding, creativity, zen, ads, washing the dishes, cleaning my cat’s litter box, these are all intimately interconnected and fundamentally there’s no difference whatsoever.
Of course, this might be just a matter of linguistics, however, I think there’s deeper teaching here.
Distinction is an illusion
As I delve deeper into understanding my creative process and contemplative practice — I’m able to recognize the consequences of living in a deluded state that sees things as this or that. And this very distinction is what causes thoughts to arise such as good, bad, black white, this that, that in turn transform to immense angst and a desire to be anywhere but here.
Accepting that distinction is not real but merely an illusion unlocks creativity, dissolves imaginary boundaries that have been constructed, and welcomes the possibility to meet life with spontaneity and ease.
Fostering creativity and opening doors to the world around begins by recognizing this duality and understanding that there’s no distinction between creativity and the mundane — no separation between creativity and us. There’s a strong shared belief that to induce creativity, a particular process and formula must be followed. However, creativity is not an intellectual process but something intuitive and non-linear.
Taking refuge in the ordinary and the mundane — going for evening walks and inhaling the cool breeze, we recognize that we exist in unison with the world. We experience the nature of things and can realize that our creative process is no different than the songs of the birds or the garbage man. We bear witness to the creative manifestations that unfold every second of our lives and thus creativity no longer resides as something separate from us that must be pursued. Rather, it is always here.
Creative freedom is something many of us long for — the autonomy to do what the will demands. Dissolve this longing and creative freedom hits us like a bucket of ice-cold water and suddenly one can understand that there was no creative freedom in the first place to obtain.
And although what is being proposed here sounds quite obvious and almost-too-simple, it does require a willingness to spend time in silent solitude; a time to familiarize ourselves with the cobwebs, centipedes, and critters that have long been taking residence right beside us. It requires discipline and patience. To sit still with zero expectations to do or gain anything but rather just experience what happens. Paradoxically, even desiring to be calm, creative, focused is already counterintuitive, because once again a particular state has been isolated as there to obtain.
Discipline as self-care
So how can this be cultivated? How exactly can we be more creative in our affairs?
Discipline and consistency.
Discipline carries strong negative associations that are militant, rigorous, and constraining. Discipline is not a constraint but a way of following through with what we’ve found to be important to at some point in life. And putting our discipline into practice when tired, weary, exhausted, motivated, happy, sad, is a form of self-care.
Embrace this discipline and practice without intellectualizing it.
Poet, Walt Whitman says
You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers, and water-craft; a certain free margin, and even vagueness — perhaps ignorance, credulity, — helps your enjoyment of these things.
And John Daido Loori writes in response
The less we know, the less we’ll try to intellectualize our experience. Intellectualizing closes many doors.
Distress is nothing to be proud of
There’s something fascinating about the tormented creative that suffers at the expense of their work. My favorite artists often devote themselves to documenting the trials and tribulations of the human condition, things like heartbreak, loss, death, angst, anger, etc. And there’s something special to acknowledge here and champion — the vulnerability for somebody to find solace in creating despite unfortunate conditions. However, this state of mind is nothing to aspire to achieve.
It’s become a trend recently to parade one’s own insecurities and anxieties and wear them as a badge of honor. And although there is something to be said for being comfortable with opening up and acknowledging feelings — a fixation with a fixed identity can be constraining.
A cultural commenter Ayishat Akanbi has something to say about this.
The fixation with your identity limits your identity.
Attachment and fixation to identities and conditions, influences and shapes what we read, who we empathize with, and how we perceive the world. Neither Ayishat Akanbi nor I, are suggesting to forgo identification with certain things — but rather to acknowledge but know when to drop these identities.
This brings to mind David Bowie, known for the various characters that he played throughout his artistic career. In his music, we can recognize the recurring reinvention of his personas — always staying fresh and in tune with the times. Never once attaching to a particular decade but always drawing from the world.
Creativity is about being in contact with reality and tuning into the subtle gentle moments that occur in the threshold of our lives.
Language is very powerful and the vocabulary we choose shapes our reality. The words we use influence our reaction to the world. And what we choose to identify with can be limiting and isolating.
Photographer Sally Mann, in her documentary What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann — walks us through her creative process. She mentions that at times when she’s in her darkroom processing her photographs, specs of dust get in her work but rather than seeing them as other — she embraces the blemishes and honors them.
There’s no distinction. Her photographs are collaborations with the process.
They’re not photographs and processes.
There is no and.
Thanks for your support and for continuing to engage with what I write.
As always, please email me with questions, thoughts, or ideas, or comment below.