The creative spirit creates with whatever materials are present. With food, with children, with building blocks, with speech, with thoughts, with pigment, with an umbrella, or a wineglass, or a torch. We are not craftsmen only during studio hours.
… if we keep drawing ourselves into center again and again, everything seems to enhance everything else… The activity seems to spring out of the same source: poem or pot, loaf of bread, letter to a friend, a morning’s meditation, a walk in the woods, turning the compost pile, knitting a pair of shoes, weeping with pain, fainting with discouragement, burning with shame, trembling with indecision.
— M.C. Richards
Everybody, that is, everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, it is separate from themselves, it is not real but it is really there.
— Gertrude Stein
I read this and think of Leonard Cohen’s lovely notion of poetry as “the Constitution of the inner country.” For me, living an unbelonging life in a country other than the one in which I was born and raised, poetry has been an increasingly vital portal to that inner landscape of freedom that Stein contours…
— Maria Popova
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Spiritual teachers first have to address all the misconceptions and mental blocks to realization that just about everyone has. The problem of the invisible belief systems and how they prevent clear perception is basic. We are instructed to notice how the ego appropriates and relies on a cluttered and rigid inner structure for its illusory identity.
If we refuse to re-examine our inculcated assumptions, we can’t begin to approach the coveted spiritual state.
We must first become “empty,” spacious. Meditation is just mental house cleaning, using very unfamiliar strategies like non interference and neutral attention.
That state of mind is close to creativity in that it listens to the inner world without judging. The inspiration of the artist does not come from the ego, it comes from respecting and listening to inner prompting. Creativity seeks inspiration while it keeps checking what is real, realer and realest.
I agree with Gertrude Stein that living in a romantic culture not your own is somehow helpful in that task. Your imagination wakes up when you’re surrounded by things you don’t quite understand. An over explained world is a dead world, just as a mind cluttered by unexamined beliefs becomes moribund. A fresh mind keeps looking and “re-looking.”
It’s a mistake to allow the ego to pretend that it created anything out of itself. It can’t actually do that. It needs to wait by the lantern until the hibernating genie decides to emerge and then befriend it. There are ways to call it forth by relaxing, listening and keeping certain rituals, equivalent to rubbing the lantern.
The genie is a little bit unsocialized and unpredictable, but it has the magical powers to create insight and beauty. Hand in hand with creativity goes fresh attention, looking and listening anew, again and again.
An artist needs a fresh and open mental space to work from. It’s not so different from the act of meditation. We artists are always looking for our own reality and meaning. We discover what we’re about through connecting to our own depths. In giving ourselves to this work we offer more life to the world.
Solar System quilt by Ellen Harding Baker, 1876 — a labor of love seven years in the making, which she used to teach women astronomy in an era when they were barred from formal education.