Losing the War of Art
I feel the need to explain the change of my blog’s tagline from “Winning the War of Art” to the current “Creating & Living in the Space Between Thoughts”.
Even though my “Facebook Which Firefly Character Are You?” turned out to be Zoe, the reality is that I’ve never been a very good warrior. I may have a fighting spirit, but when it comes down to it, I really don’t like to fight.
And it’s not that I don’t have discipline either. I do. I hike everyday. I swim 3 days a week. I sit on the cushion daily.
I did try.
When I faced the canvas, the paper, the journal, the clay, and the brushes as a battle that needing winning, ALL THE FUN SIMPLY DIED. I lost not only the war, but my desire to create. And it showed in the works I produced.
So I stopped creating and hence, my absence from my blog in the month of April.
My New Dharma Practice of Creating
I spent last week at Spirit Rock Meditation Center doing a week-long retreat that had a focus on creativity.
But before I get into the details of the week, I’d like to share some of my background with meditation/sitting.
First off, I often refer to ‘sitting’ rather than meditation because meditation implies that I am trying to accomplish something when in fact, the goal is to just SIT.
I was first introduced to zazen (the Zen term for just sitting) when I lived in Santa Fe in the mid to late nineties. I would often sit at the Upaya Zen Center in the evenings after work. When I moved to the Bay Area in 2000, life became overwhelming, and just when I needed it most, I stopped sitting.
However, I never stopped thinking about sitting – just like creating – and in 2009, I decided to pull out my zafu and zabuton (sitting cushions). I created a little space in our spare bedroom for my sitting corner. I’ve been sitting mostly on my own for the past year and occasionally with a group at the Bay Zen Center.
Last week’s meditation retreat was the first retreat I attended in over 10 years. My very first retreat was a three-day sesshin (Zen retreat) in New Mexico, and from what I recall, my experience was like boot camp compared to what felt like summer camp at Spirit Rock last week.
This center is based in the Vipassana form of meditation and has less formalities than Zen so of course, anything compared to a Zen retreat would be like summer camp.
In a word, my recent retreat was wonderful. I could not have asked for a better re-introduction to sitting for extended periods of time. And given my recent block with art-making, creativity as the focus of the retreat was the cherry on top.
We sat for approximately 3 hours, did yoga meditation for an hour, and worked on art journals for 4 hours everyday. All in contemplative silence.
And each evening our teacher, Anna Douglas, would enlighten us with her wisdom on the dharma and how it related to creativity. Many of us in the retreat (we later learned) were artists who felt blocked by our inner judges and critics, including me. Listening to Anna’s talks reminded us of why we create in the first place.
Quite simply, she reminded us that it is always about the process. She said and it resonated in my core: “We are more like verbs, and less like nouns.”
It is the act of creating and not the creation that I ultimately find joy in. It is the act of sitting here and writing, the act of cooking, hiking, swimming, walking, sharing, breathing (insert the verb) that ultimately makes me feel whole.
The Space Between Thoughts
The effects of the retreat are a bit difficult to quantify. I’ve been back for five days and am in the full swing of my daily routines. I have tried to carry the peace and equanimity that I felt during the week. I have made the effort to extend mindfulness beyond the retreat into my everyday life. And yes, that was my ulterior motive: to make everyday life more meaningful.
I have returned to my 30-minute morning sits; the evenings are still challenging but I am making the effort to find time.
The more I sit, the more I readily experience the space between thoughts; that fleeting second when everything is still. And in that stillness, when there is no judgment, no critic, no expectation, no goals, that is when I create.