Sunday, June 1, 2014

Giving Imagination It's Space or. . . the Zen of Creativity

(1)  There was a time where I found myself very much a student of Zen.  It began at an early age when I came cross a book on Zen Buddhist beliefs n the first New Age bookstore in the fairly traditional town I grew up in. I was 12 or 13 at the time. . .

In browsing the pages I found that so much of what I read seemed to go along with what I already felt about life at that early age.  Later, when I moved across the country, I began attending meditations  and weekend retreats through a monastery nearby.  I loved the simple structure of the monastic days/routines such as the rising at 4am for meditation because, as my teacher explained it, "that's the time before the brain kicks in and takes over." There is work, meals, quiet time, meditation and sleep. A simple routine.

One of the most common comments one will hear after such a weekend from the laypersons attending is this: "I wish I could carry this feeling I have when I am here back to my regular life/world/"

(2)  As I tend to spend many hours thinking about, and revisiting, my childhood I can recall that all of my favorite and most creative games (especially those played and created alone) were a product of reworking and recreating their parameters and scenarios time and again. The thrill of pretending to be a Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt is immediate to a 9 yr old boy. . . but it is so much better after weeks of making dozens of tinfoil votive statues and royal jewelry, fashioning a crook and flail and other  treasures out of cardboard, gold paint and plastic gems. . .   and even painting the inside of your closet to look like an Egyptian tomb! That takes time.

Some of those favorite games took years to reach the stage I ultimately remember today. Nothing was ever perfect "as-is" , even in that childhood state of having all the time in the world to indulge our imagination that we sometimes wish for as adults.

(3) There are, in my way of seeing it, many similarities between Zen mind and Child mind. There is a simplicity to both that sort of suspends the normal, over-worrisome adult brain. You know, the one we've all come to  "develop" with all of it's rigid beliefs and time-clock structures.

To be sure, we cannot go back and live completely as a child again and the monastic life is certainly not for most (including myself) but what I can say is that both offer clues and lessons as to how, as an adult, to get deeper into what you wish to ultimately create by letting go of all that keeps you from doing it!

Simplicity is what makes the monastic life work and what creates the feeling of calm and "peace of place.". It is not cluttered, is often cloistered, and based on a very simple and set routine. There is no one in this world who would not benefit from scheduling their creative time a bit more, paring down the distractions and number of people/events committed to,  and saying no to a few of the adult distractions that hobble us all on this path.

And if you can, doing so when the mind is least active, early morning or late night when the world is silent around you, is a good starting point!

From the Child mind there is no one who would not benefit from making time to allow the imagination to just run wild with no time limit/clock and no pressure to "achieve" anything. Not judging the results and working and reworking the creations made while giving them time to develop and become their best.  At 11 years old you don't think, "I need to perfect this game or craft by the time I am twelve or I am done with it!" You just do it because it is what you are wishing to do and you enjoy it. There's the key to adult creativity. . . 

This is one of the main reasons that, on a day where I may have 3 or 4 custom orders to work on or finish, packages to ship and message to reply to, I will often begin something completely new in the middle of it all. If only for 20 minutes or so. . . just to keep the child mind happy too :) 

(4) At the core. . . resilience.

I've never come across anything that can teach someone the workings of this little, invaluable key to life. Mostly because it too is a practice and not truly inherent to most of us. But resilience is a part of both Childhood and Monastic life. Kids usually do not give up on anything if left to their devices AND not made to feel a sense of failure. I am fortunate that despite having a Mother who thought everything creative was a waste of time and/or money, I had a grandmother who was a creative force and who always gave me the loving support needed to keep me going. It is worth mentioning that I also seem to have an inherent drive that kicks in as soon as I am told I can't do something.  So, in that way, I have to be thankful for Mom too. I stuck it out on things I might have given up on because of her negativity.  It's the stubbornness,more than a resilience, I inherited directly from her. :)

In the monastery, if one does not have a focused or centered day. . . or if one has a completely blissed out perfect day of awareness. . . well, in both cases, there is always tomorrow. Because it is all you have to do. Get up and do it again tomorrow. There is no fail or succeed. 

This is how I have approached my creative work/life. Whether today, sales are great, my work becomes more and more requested and desired. OR I sell nothing and no one responds to it at all. It's the SAME to me. Tomorrow will be another day. Get up, put on the hot water for coffee, sit down and create.

(5) The simple,workable equation for deeper imagination is this: . Create, recreate, and then recreate some more.
Or as it might be notated

c + rc2 =  good

Imagination, at it's deepest levels, takes time, space, focus, some form or shape of routine and a commitment to it to access the deepest parts of it. We are all creative, of this I have no doubt. But how deeply we go with it is,in the end, a huge factor in what we create and how much it resonates with the audience or buyer we seek and, most importantly,withiourselves.

The adult measuring stick of "how busy = how successful our life is" is just about as far from deep creativity and imagination as we can get. Don't measure the time spent creating anything in hours, days, years or by a measure of success or failure. Let the timeless child, the queen of years, the infinite soul have reign over that and let the inner monk have his or her due when it comes to creating a bit of practical simplicity, silence, solitude and routine.

(6) A last thought. . .

I know many artists who think the key to a happy and creative life is to seek out everything life has to offer. New people, new places, classes, outings, happy hours, social media, organizations, new experiences and adventures great and small. They're so busy they swear there's a need for a planner and a personal secretary to keep up with it all. They are also, at the same time, always talking about what they want to do with their art, writing that great novel, saying something important, expressing their soul. . .  and vowing how they'll, one day, have a "regular" creative practice. 

I also, as I type, know more than a handful of artists who make their living completely from their art.

I do not know a single person who is a member of BOTH of the aforementioned groups.

<>OOo<> <>oOo<> <>oOo<>

Happy June everyone! May it be the start of a creative and deeply imaginative summer. . .


PS. . . those days as a Zen novice did indeed filter into my world fo creativity too. :)

My mini Jizo statues. Protectors of all spirit travelers, children living and deceased and mothers.