December 12, 2012: Can Meditation "Fix" Creative Restlessness?




If you are creatively frustrated and are looking for meditation to make your creative restlessness go away, I say, instead: Embrace it.

In The Dynamics of Creation, British psychologist Anthony Storr says that artists create to arrive at a sense of order in a chaotic world, to seek status and prestige, and other psychological reasons. (I’m using “artist” in the broad sense to refer to visual artists, writers, musicians, etc.)

But perhaps the best reason, he concludes, is that creatively inclined people are simply blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with a creative restlessness, or a “divine discontent” that makes us want to create something. This artistic discontent is useful because society needs art, music, books, and other creative works for entertainment, comfort, and catharsis. What a perfect equation: some of us needing to make stuff, while others need the catharsis and fulfillment offered by creative works.

If you are a person with creative ideas and inclinations who talks yourself out of creating because you think your ideas or talents aren’t good enough, or because you don’t have the time you think you need, or because you don’t have the support of others…try believing in yourself instead.

Do what you are programmed to do. Find a way, find the time, find the space. Give yourself permission to create. Use your meditation practice to help sit in compassionate awareness of the stories you’re tempted to tell yourself about why you shouldn’t be creating. Learn with your meditation practice to drop those negative storylines, or at least to not take them so seriously. And then go back to being the artist that you are.

December 8, 2012: Lovingkindness Meditation




For this drawing I drove last year to Davenport and parked in an area along the river called the “Gold Coast,” where charming Victorian homes in various states of repair dot the hillside overlooking the Mississippi River. 

After I drew the house I decided to use the image for our Christmas card, but I couldn’t resist adding the Buddhist metta (lovingkindness) meditation along the side. The metta meditation can be so powerful; if you haven't already, I invite you to memorize it and incorporate it into your meditation practice.

Here’s a description of the metta from Quiet Mind: a Beginners Guide to Meditation, compiled and edited by Susan Piver (Shambhala, 2008):

“The Pail word for lovingkindess is metta. The practice of metta helps us honor the urge toward happiness in both ourselves and others. We develop the ability to embrace all parts of ourselves: the difficult aspects as well as the noble. As we continue practicing from that base of inner generosity, metta gives us the ability to embrace all parts of the world” (p. 55).

And, from pp. 58-62:

“Begin by sending metta to yourself:
            May I be free from danger.
            May I be happy.
            May I be healthy.
            May I live with ease.

“Move on to someone you find inspiring or to whom you feel grateful. This person is called 'the benefactor.' Bring this person’s presence into your mind, and direct the metta phrases to him or her:
            May you be free from danger.
            May you be happy.
            May you be healthy.
            May you live with ease.

“Next, move on to a beloved friend, sending an unconditional lovingkindness to that person in the same way:
May you be free from danger.
            May you be happy.
            May you be healthy.
            May you live with ease.

“The next person is called 'neutral.' This is somebody you neither like nor dislike. If you have trouble coming up with a suitable neutral person, try thinking of a clerk you’ve seen at the supermarket or perhaps someone who walks his dog past your house. Again, use the same phrases you’ve used before, but this time directed to the neutral person:
May you be free from danger.
            May you be happy.
            May you be healthy.
            May you live with ease.

“Now you’re ready to send lovingkindness to someone with whom you’ve had difficulty or conflict. To send lovingkindness to difficult or threatening people is not to forget about your own needs. It doesn’t require denial of your own pain, anger, or fear. Nor does doing this practice mean you’re excusing abuse or cruelty. Rather, you’re engaging in the marvelous process of discovering and cultivating your inherent capacity for unconditional love.
May you be free from danger.
            May you be happy.
            May you be healthy.
            May you live with ease.

“In the final phase of the practice, we move on to offer metta to all beings everywhere, without distinction or exception:
May you be free from danger.
            May you be happy.
            May you be healthy.
            May you live with ease.

“In lovingkindness, our minds are open and expansive – spacious enough to contain all the pleasures and pains of a life fully lived. Pain, in this context, doesn’t feel like a betrayal or an overwhelming force. It is part of the reality of human experience and an opportunity for us to practice maintaining our authentic presence. Every single one of us can cultivate lovingkindess and wisdom so that happiness becomes our powerful and natural expression of being.”

November 13: Happy Endings/Beginnings




I've noticed in my own life and among my friends and family that happy endings/beginnings seem to transpire most often when dreams are kept alive...but not forced. Buddhists call this “non-grasping,” and it is an important way of being that helps us reduce our own suffering. If we want something too badly, we suffer while our coveted dream eludes our grasp. In fact, it is said that when the Buddha was asked to summarize his teaching in one sentence, he said, “Nothing whatsoever should be grasped at or clung to.” 

November 6: Light and Love Surround Us




With the time change in early November comes a bit of melancholy as the sun begins to set to early in the day. Last year at this time I sketched a corner of our kitchen to remind that no matter how short the daylight hours, light and love still surround us.    

October 23, 2012: What Fuels You?



The irony of making a living as a freelance writer can be that you end up having so little time for your own creative writing projects…maybe even less time than when you did something else for a living. That’s why I have an “art first” policy, which means that I try to get up early on weekdays and spend my first waking hour on a personal writing or art project. The next half-hour is reserved for meditation combined with exercise, preferably outdoors. This time of making stuff, meditation, motion, and marveling (have the yellows ever been this brilliant in October?) – provides the fuel for the day.

October 16, 2012: Looking and Seeing


Sometimes I hurry through a busy day and realize I did not experience a single moment of true present-moment awareness. But fall colors have a way of reminding me to look, and not just to look, but to really see. And drawing what I see takes me even more deeply into the moment. I drew this tree a year ago but I still can feel the warm October sun on my back and see those deep shadows in front of me.

August 30, 2012: What Surprised You Today?

Years ago I heard about a Basque spiritual tradition that can help us capture a little mindfulness in retrospect. Here's how it goes: at the end of the day, either write in a journal about the questions below or gather with someone and ask each other to answer them:
  • What surprised you today?
  • What inspired you?
  • What moved you?
  • What made you think differently?
Okra is one of my recent surprises. How about you?

August 18, 2012 Real But Not True

 
Who among us isn’t occasionally led around the nose by our own strong feelings of aversion or wanting? In this April 18, 2012 podcast on Tara Brach’s web site, Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche, in conversation with Brach, explains how we can be compassionate with feelings that are “real,” yet gently examine them to see if they are “true.” Sometimes our strong feelings come from past experiences that are internalized in the body, he says. Rather than suppressing or overriding them, we can take them seriously, gently examining them to help ourselves determine whether they are real and true – or real but not true – before we take action.

As an illustration, Rinpoche humorously describes the compassionate, mindful internal conversation he had with his feelings after he found himself unable to cross a glass-floor sky bridge between buildings in Thailand.

I’ll definitely be taking a look at Rinpoche’s new book, Open Mind, Open Heart: Awakening the Power of Essence Love.