Meditation & Creativity

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When I started meditating 30 years ago, the first thing I noticed was a great opening of a creative channel, as if suddenly it had cleared and I was able to just write. I had been working on a project, writing three pages, tossing two – and that was much harder going back in the day when I was typing on my beloved IBM Selectric, a miraculous machine, but – let’s face it – unable to delete, cut or paste my writing.

Reams of paper had been deep-sixed and I still had written less than twenty pages of a novel that lived in my head. Frustration Central! But then I took a meditation class at College of Marin from Bliss Bellinger. (Yes, his mother actually gave him that name! What choice did he have but to be a meditation teacher?)

Bliss taught us a variety of meditation techniques, and I feel quite blessed that my introduction was so eclectic. I learned early on that there is no one right way to meditate for everyone.

Finding time to meditate was a little challenging with small children at home, but I did the best I could and noticed the benefits right away. Because I was working on a creative project, that’s where I noticed the benefits first. I felt this creative surge run through me that was completely different from the creative torment I had been experiencing. I sat down and completed a rough draft of the novel in six weeks, and went ahead to fine tune it, completing it to my satisfaction within nine months.

So I am a believer in the creative benefits of meditation. Since then I have attended creativity retreats with Spirit Rock co-founder Anna Douglas, my primary Buddhist teacher and a painter herself. After my first day-long creativity retreat, I came home and started a series of paintings that were light years different from anything I had ever done, and I sustained my focus and worked on them every afternoon, no matter what.

On the retreat we meditated, but we also did several experiential exercises, mostly focused on dealing with our inner critic. We all know that aspect of ourselves! It sits on our shoulder as we pursue our passion and says, “Who are you to (do whatever you are doing)?” “Look at so and so (some wondrous talent)! There’s no way you’ll ever be able to do that!” “Give up! This will never win an award or be seen beyond these walls. Why bother!” etc. You know the drill.

So I will be sharing some experiential exercises in my class, and to the degree I’m able on this post, though sometimes that will not be possible.

In exploring our own creative passions, first we need to name them. For some that may be easy, for others difficult, maybe even scary. Perhaps there is something you have always wanted to do that you’ve been pooh-poohing for your whole life. Or maybe you think “I’m not creative! This is the wrong place for me.” But the creativity I’m talking about is more than just the ability to write or paint. It’s more of a life force coursing through us, playing us like a violin. What song naturally arises from that interaction? That’s what we are going to find out. Perhaps it’s a deep desire to pursue a particular cause. That’s a creative challenge too. How to share the passion you have with others and build caring connection – that’s what we want to explore here.

Even in this naming process, we need to remind ourselves that there is no qualification required to develop a long held passion or a new interest. We only need to bring our meditative don’t-know mind and our compassionate curiosity to our exploration, and a willingness to fail over and over again. Though we won’t call it that!

Finding our passion sometimes is about noticing when we are extra alert, extra joyful, extra sensory. When do our senses perk up, as if we were sleeping dogs who hear the distant voice of our beloved human, and our tails start wagging? That’s what we are looking for: that area of interest that gets our tail wagging, that seems to be calling to us.

We are not likely to discover this in a vacuum. We need to get out and experience life, go to museums, galleries, concerts, plays, take walks in nature, take a class that jumps off the page of the local community education catalog. Letting ourselves follow the lightness of being that arises out of the thought of doing any of those things, or countless others.

But perhaps we already know what it is, have imagined pursuing it but are afraid to name it. We will be doing experiential work to help us embrace and claim that which we have barely dared to imagine. For now, just to recognize it wanting to be named is enough.

We want the dream of this moment. It may be long held, but we can’t just assume that an old dream is still our dream. One way to discover if it is: Notice the tone of the desire. Is it a love of the process or the desire for recognition that is promoting this particular interest. A willingness to do whatever it is ‘badly’ is a first clue to it being a real deep desire, beyond any fear-based goal. If it’s a vision of accolades that sets your heart to trembling, then it’s a waste of time.

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring how to spark our creativity, how to keep the juices flowing, and how to cope with self sabotage in its many aspects.

For now I would like to begin with a self-exploration exercise. This is best done after meditating so your answers will come from the quietest space within you.

If you are interested in doing this exercise, get a notebook or journal, or open a new Word.doc and let’s begin.

Answer the following question as many times as you have answers. When we ask and re-ask we get answers that are not so habitual or ready made. We may even get answers that surprise us.

If I had all the time in the world and all the resources to do absolutely anything I wanted to do, what would I do? How would I spend my time? More specifically, if I knew that I would live to be 200 in perfect health and without any financial concerns, what interests and activities would I want to pursue? (This might be a long list. Mention everything. Don’t hold back! If the idea of living to 200 exhausts or horrifies you, make note of that as well and then go back to the original question. Really let whatever arises to flow onto the page.)

An alternative question that may bring additional answers: Given the above conditions, how would my perfect average day be? What would I spend my time doing?

Follow Up:
Now look at the list, then re-read each statement, close your eyes and sense into the body. Say the interest or activity to yourself again and see if you can notice any subtle or not so subtle sensations or emotions that arise. Make a note of whatever arises, either briefly by the statement, or on a separate page, rewriting the initial statement. Then say it to yourself again, and make any further notes. Do this until you feel you have expressed all that needs to be expressed. Then go to the next statement and do the same process.

This can be an intense self-exploration, so feel free to take your time and do it over a period of days, but don’t forget about it! The information you find here can be rich and pivotal.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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