Stillness and Creativity

Silent Mind vs. Creative Mind
Silent Mind vs. Creative Mind

I just returned from a sessionabout the silent mind and creativity. It was given by the Little Bangkok Sangha, a group that invites everyone in Bangkok who is interested in Buddhism to come and reflect upon a specific topic. This time around it was about creativity and the practice of meditation. Or as they put it…

Meditation is ‘just watching’, or is making the mind still on an object. At first glance this should stifle creativity. You are disengaging from the mental processes! Or does disengaging from conscious mental processes open up the unconscious creativity?

Where does creativity come from? Could it be the still point in the heart of consciousness? In which case should you stop the mind, or engage the creative process?

Music, Art, Dance – none of these were allowed to Buddhist monks – are they a hindrance to the practice?

During the brunch buffet that preceded the session, I got to know some of the attending people. It struck me how rich and developed everyone’s background was. Engaging them in conversation was no problem at all, despite my wife’s concerns about me not engaging people enough outside of the house (admittedly I am a little reclusive). These people were from all around the world – UK, China, Australia, America, Thailand – and all had fascinating backgrounds that touched their inner creativity one way or another. I immediately connected with all of them and found already I had made the right choice to attend. I discovered that human connections like these are as fascinating as piecing together elements for an artwork.

The session itself only upped the ante.

Several TED talks about creativity intersected with open discussions from the audience about what creativity means, how it relates to the human condition (anguish and or suffering) and how it manifests itself. What is creativity? Does everyone have it? Does creativity drive us to express ourselves better or does it mentally and emotionally destroy us? True to the creative process itself, the discussion was so organic, we never got to the real question whether meditation and creativity oppose each other. But for myself it crystallized one aspect of creativity: it helps us express ourselves and make sense of our reality. The intensity at which we pursue our creative impulses depends on whether we’ve had a brush of enlightenment within our lives.

Let me put it this way. If you have ever had a near death moment in your life or a point where you felt an overwhelming sensation of peace and happiness, to the point where nothing mattered anymore, you had what I would call a ‘brush of enlightenment’. I had it in January 2001. Something utterly incomprehensible, yet utterly fulfilling filled me for a few minutes. No fear or discord in any way was related to this tsunami of joy that washed over me and until this day I cannot explain it, but it happened. And it changed me and my life forever. I gave up my life. I went to Africa. I met my wife. We traveled with our beautiful son and now I’m here. On that one day 10 years ago I felt if I died I would have lived a full and complete life. Every day since is gravy. Bonus. A life without regrets. For many artists such a moment is a creative nirvana. But such a moment can also cause anguish and torment for the artist every moment that follows afterwards. Some of them even commit suicide.

I do not pretend to know all the answers. Like everyone else I am only one person on a path to happiness trying to make sense of it all. But I do feel somehow that meditation and the creative process are in fact one and the same. Meditation is the practice of observation and letting go, accepting  whatever sense or thought arises and examining it to truly understand yourself instead of reacting to it. Creativity for me is the practice of sensing the world around me, art from others, the inspiring beauty and the mundane reality and allowing it to flow through me in the form of a creative process. In meditation I may not be expressing myself literally, but there is still an understanding that the path to enlightenment (or the ‘holy wow’ moment) is more important than reaching the goal. In art it is the same.

The process is what matters, not the final product.

In understanding that it’s not that ‘brush of enlightenment’ or ‘inspirational in-the-zone-ness’ that I should be chasing I detach myself from possible artists’ anguish or buddhist suffering. Instead I remain an enthusiastic and happy artist and a content and patient meditative practitioner.  If either one is rewarded by a popular sentiment (or even a ‘Like’) is out of my control anyway, so I’ll leave that up to you…

…but feel free to let me know :)