Beauty, Art And The Meditative Mind

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Image by Zita Steel

Something we were withholding made us weak until we found out it was ourselves — Robert Frost



We sometimes think that being mindful means being critical of ourselves and very watchful. We think that meditation provides us with a big brother who is going to watch over us or whip us into shape if we do something wrong. But mindfulness practice is not about punishing yourself when you lose track of your breath or your thoughts. Mindfulness does not criticize or set conditions for you. Nor is it about rewarding you. Rather, it is helping you to discover the alertness that already exists in your mind, by dispelling the dullness that has covered it up. — Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

from the book “Mindfulness in Action: Making Friends with Yourself through Meditation and Everyday Awareness”

Perception of what is lives in a different mindspace than judgement and valuation. The creative mind is a meditative mind, even when the thing created is explosive and dramatic. In meditation you learn that your usual ways of controlling yourself are counterproductive. Your habits of self criticism and self measuring close the door to real meditation.

It’s no different with any kind of creativity. A meditative mind encourages creative energy. Physical and mental energies cooperate, forging a path they can flow into.

The cat-o-nine-tails of self criticism kills the freedom to experiment. There’s nothing worse than a teacher who condemns your initial efforts, before you can get a sense of personal way to create.

Freedom needs to play a large role from the first step, whether you are meditating or making art. Creativity stays in a kind of action/observation mindset. The first thing you learn in meditation is all the ways you are not meditating. If you want to leap over that stage of observation without judgement, that’s where you’ll get stuck. You eventually learn to let yourself be what it is you are. Not wanting to see it is protecting a false identity. Seeing it without trying to change it is meditation.

Art presents you with a lot of craft to learn. In that process you will notice personal talents and preferences, but also tics and unexamined formulas. Going slow, paying close attention to the thing coming into being as well as qualities of feeling in the body-mind will lead you through a series of surprises all the way to completion. If you don’t surprise yourself, if you don’t learn anything new, you may have created something pedestrian.

That happens. Next! Not every piece is a masterpiece. Most are not, in fact. That’s why you have to have an irrational love of the process. That love is what separates the wheat from the chaff in anything you try. If you don’t love the materials, the mood, the discoveries and the tools of the trade, maybe you should look elsewhere.

Of course, there are rules of the road that it behooves you to learn in any metier. Until you reach a certain level of expertise, it’s hard to judge if it’s for you or not. But if you don’t feel an attraction to the practices and energies around an activity, there’s no shame in following a different path.

I can think of a thousand things that don’t attract me. I never wanted to be a race car driver or long distance swimmer, for example. Your instincts will point you in the right direction, and then “you have to have nerve,” as Georgia O'Keeffe says.

Nerve is one of the requirements of being an artist, a requirement that isn’t discussed a lot but that is always noticed. A tame, obedient artist is a contradiction in terms. Yes, you have to learn the rules. They exist as a basic framework, but once incorporated, they can be dispensed with or turned inside out if necessary to create something that fosters seeing anew.

The mind that sees everything in black and white, right and wrong can’t meditate any more than it can create. The mind that keeps the door open to subtleties and gradations can move with more agility in the mental and creative realms.

We don’t know when we’re young how inflexible our minds have become through growing up. The myriad things we accept without question have made us a little stupid. Meditation and creativity pose endless challenges to our arrested development.

They help us look and grow more facets as humans.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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