Image by Dame Laura Knight
“This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled. But there are moments when we can… reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah.”
~ Leonard Cohen
“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love”
~ Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ (1880)
To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.
— Claude Monet
The practice of making art is a way to perceive reality without labeling what we see. Somehow we need to feel the full impact of contact with the world. The habit of naming everything walls us off from life. This practice is axiomatic to painting, but I believe it’s is also fundamental to the other arts.
The childlike mind that receives the full force of the essence of every experience, of every sight, loses its powers of receptivity as it gains language that can rationalize, explain and dismiss what hurts or lacks context. Learning to actually see what strikes your retina is basic training for a visual artist. It’s a meditative vision that must be developed. It dispels boredom and reveals the surrounding miracle.
But, writing also benefits from detaching from language in order to connect more deeply with things. Watching how words, ideas and reactions flood the mind upon the prompting of the most subtle experience shows how smothered one is by thinking in words.
Meditation peeks under this heavy carpet of cognition, showing how conditioned and hackneyed our responses are. Fresh contact with the world is rare. Learning to be an artist is more than a technical education, it’s a process of becoming childlike again. It’s relearning how to see, and to see with love.
The word is obviously not the thing, but we forget that. We think we’ve got a hold on the thing itself when we only know what it’s called. Maybe that’s why our minds grasp so tightly to our native language. We don’t like being dislodged from our entrenched and accepted world view. Meeting a different construct is disorienting.
I don’t know why but I like that particular kind of ‘mindjolt.” I like the experience of cultural relativity. I enjoy visiting different visions of reality.
In any case, writers can benefit from visiting the wordless meditative space just as much as anyone else, in spite of their need for a deep understanding of language and its extensive toolbox.
Language is also music, in a sense. It communicates through its aesthetic as well as through its ability to name concepts, emotions and physical reality. It’s a tool as well as an artistic creation. Language is to a writer what paints are to an artist.
But first the mind must be capable of receiving unfiltered and unscreened experiences of life. The trick of bypassing words can be imitated by some drugs, but I have more faith in simple meditative self awareness. We simply need to see our self constructed screen and how it distorts and hides the world from us.
Our job as artists of any kind is to deepen ourselves, to cleanse our personal organs of perception. Unless we can see the world, we are not qualified to talk about it.
Vision is required to reflect on life. We are not photographic machines. We have innate personal optics and tendencies that go to form our unique view of things. But it’s essential to be able to see with the least interference possible.
A meditative mind is basic to creativity.
- Anima Fire is my publication