Last week my spouse and I dined with some friends: one of whom is an artist. During the appetizers we talked about the moment when small self disappears into the act of creating, and indeed, into the object of creation itself: a painting, a bowl, a new song, or a poem. My friend felt that these moments of creation arise from visitations of a muse, who brings inspiration on her own schedule. I said that it is possible to prepare the mind for the moment of creation through sitting meditation, and that these moments of creativity emerge when we no longer cling to the stability and comfort of what we already know. By sitting and watching our thoughts, sensations, memories and wishes for the future arise and pass, we train our minds to discern when we have softened mental rigidity, stepped out of our conditioning, and entered the realm of limitless possibility.
My best writing happens when I have no idea where the pen will lead. Usually it takes a couple of minutes of moving pen across the page before I drop below inner chatter and land where language is so compressed that words transcend their mundane meanings and take on the glow of truth. In the beginning of a five-day retreat, much of the writing practice that I hear from students is an attempt to “figure things out.” But later in the week, when boredom with habitual thought patterns becomes unbearable, the writing practice drops below that constant internal chatter. Startling combinations of images and concepts begin to emerge: a new insight into habitual psychic pain or pleasure pops up. Art, poetry and music germinate in the fertile void.
Zen writing practice, like sports practice and guitar practice, is an endless repetition of routine. When I started practice I believed that I could master the basics and move on to something else, something less mundane than sitting, walking, writing, working, eating and sleeping. The opposite has happened. Even washing dishes, dusting shelves and sweeping floors have become an art form. Meditation frees us from the human tendency to exhaust ourselves, and our planet, with our relentless drive to seek, secure and consume pleasure and to avoid discomfort at all cost. The human mind is bigger than that. When we live below our conditioned beliefs and preferences, we can relax and enjoy our lives. If we are artists, writers or musicians, we can experience every stroke of the brush, every turn of the pen, every riff of the guitar as a primary act of creation.