The creative impulse – is it a hindrance or a part of the Path?
Meditating involves stopping the mind as still as you can. Even insight meditation – the insights into the nature of the mind are designed to lead to letting go of the thoughts and desires. So where does this leave the creative urge? Do you have to give up all your desires in your whole life?
Here is a Sutta description of how mindfulness of body results in the stopping still of the mind, and the detachment from worldly desires and thoughts:
And he remains thus heedful, ardent and resolute, and any memories and resolves related to the household life are abandoned, and with their abandoning his mind gathers and settles inwardly, grows unified and centred. This is how a monk develops mindfulness immersed in body
When one stops the mind still in this manner, attaining to whatever degree of unification one can, a certain kind of emptiness is attained, that feels pure, right and has a sense of coming home. The mind is in fact brighter and happier in this state than any form of excitement and absorption in pastimes can generate. Now, whatever you particular bent is, the creative urge will try to express itself. For some people it is writing or music, for others it is dance, painting, designing etc… Touching on the unified mind opens a space that is ready to work and be filled with your creative bent. Your ‘art’, whatever it is, will flow more freely and purely from this space.
Broken Cistern that cannot Keep Water
In fact, most art is really a way to try and get in touch with some essence that eludes. It does not matter how perfect the artistic expression is, it will always be unfulfilling. No artist paints the perfect picture and stops. No musician writes the perfect tune and stops, their artistic drive finding completion. In fact, good art will always leave the soul hanging in a kind of limbo – it is always trying to express something that is inexpressible. Probably, it is an expression of that deep inner urge towards the centring and unification of the mind that is touched in meditation. Art that leaves you jazzed up and excited is entertainment. Entertainment that leaves you hanging, with the mind momentarily stilled in a Zen koan like awe, is art.
So the bad news is, no art form will ever satisfy either the artist or the viewer. Both, if at all inspired by the art, will continually need to find fresh expression, without end.
The Fount of Living Water
Meditation, which is abandoning all the memories and resolves of the world, needs only be a temporary cessation of mind creativity. If you want to go and spend the peace and space earned on your obsessions or artistic expressions, you should find yourself much more able to do so. Yet, there comes a point where no self expression can compare to the mind that has unified. You will still have to emerge from the meditation. You will still have to work and live in the world. But the importance you place on your expression begins to shift, and it becomes more of a plaything than a driven need. The author Jack Vance hit this zone (he was not a meditator) in his old age, when his books took on a whole new dimension. In his 70’s he had no more youthful desire to change the world or write a masterpiece, and this abandon saw him produce his best work. The archetype bluesman John Lee Hooker was the same. Though always a rich voice and tapping right foot, he produced his most satisfying work in his old age. Perfect as L’Etranger (The Outsider) was, only death made it Albert Camus’ final book, a Camus by the way, who had studied Buddhism in later life. The realisation is that the hanging, hovering stillness of appreciation in any art form, is at bottom just a poor expression of the void in the soul, the non-self, the endlessly fulfilling silent spring of living water at the centre of your being.
They have hewn for themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water, and have forsaken I who am the Fount of Living Water [ Jeremiah 2:13 ]
Below, Drs Holly and Will appreciating some of the work of Sarah Sutro, artist and regular face at Dhamma events in Bangkok. http://www.sarahsutro.com/
(click for larger version)