Place Your Thoughts Here, Part II
The second of two excerpts from Shambhalian Steven Saitzyk’s new dharma art book
by Steven Saitzyk
“Just be here now.” This is advice many of us have heard. Intuitively, we know our landing place has everything to do with being in the moment. When we are in the now, there is no past or future. Even when our creative process involves drawing on our past history or our future possibilities, they are all brought into the present moment. We have not lost our minds to recollections or anticipations. It is an amazing concept when we think about just being here, but being here now is not a thought. It is an experience.
So thinking, “be here now” will not get us to nowness and our landing zone where we can begin our creative process. We could think ourselves into moving toward such a moment, or we might recall being in such a moment, but we cannot create the experience of now with only a thought. It is as if there is not enough space for the experience and the thoughts about it to exist simultaneously. Familial and cultural conditioning, genetics, brain chemistry, lack of discipline or realization, as well as hope and fear all prevent us from being consistently in the now.
Try to be here now as you read this. Time yourself. How long before your mind drifts? Hours, minutes, seconds—or even less—pass. Where have you drifted to? Your grocery list, your next project, your relationships?
Is it hopeless? Are we shut out? Is it fate? Or is there a way we can increase the odds of finding our personal landing zone? Let’s look at the reasons behind our personal precreative process, or rituals. Are they not about clearing the “cobwebs” away and waking ourselves up from our habitual daze? Most certainly, yes. They are also about detaching ourselves from what binds us to the past and future to create mental or physical space so there is room for something new to arise, to be seen and appreciated.
If our heads are filled with mental activity, there is no room for anything new to spontaneously arise. And, if something new manages to squeeze its way to the surface, it is likely to be crushed by the next thought stream. In their own way, our rituals are attempts to provide sufficient space for our incessant thought streams to slow down and become quiet. The key problem is that our rituals often end up feeding our thought streams rather than starving them. They become distractions themselves.
If our rituals are less effective than we would like, then we need new ones that truly lead us to the place we wish to be. Rituals like meditation, meditation-in-action, and the contemplations discussed in the following chapters, all offer the means for achieving sufficient space for distractions to dissolve while allowing originality to spontaneously arise. In other words, they help us find and come to rest in our landing zone.
Bringing a new or different ritual into our creative process can be a fearful prospect. Not because we fear it will not work, but because we fear letting go of the ritual we have in favor of a new one that we have not personally tested. Today, there are numerous articles and studies about how meditation benefits our minds and bodies, so you may be less concerned about whether meditation is effective than you are about whether you will be able to meditate.
An Artist’s Fear of Meditation
Artists approach meditation with all kinds of preconceptions, doubts, and even fears. If you already have a meditation practice, you know there is nothing to fear from it. People who aren’t afraid to start meditation cannot imagine why anyone would. But I have encountered many artists who are afraid, if not terrified, thinking they will literally go mad, turn into some kind of mindless vegetable, or even become a member of some cult. They might think that the inherently pacifying qualities of meditation will extinguish creative inspiration. And deep down, some artists fear that if meditation fosters insight, they might discover that they are wasting time trying to be a creative person. Even if you aren’t afraid of meditation these are important points that need to be addressed.
Fear of meditation is based on deeper fears of change and discovery. As creative people, we wouldn’t imagine this would be an issue, since creativity has everything to do with discovery and change. If you are an art-maker, at some point you rebelled against something in order to be original. You likely experienced this as a fundamental act of bravery. And yet, deep down inside, there is one thing we are afraid to mess with: our creative process. Even though we may have read or heard about how people have benefited from meditation, we fear it will not work for us because—as art-makers—we see ourselves as different from others.
Editor’s Note: To read more from Steven on this subject, check out the full text of his book Place Your Thoughts Here: Meditation for the Creative Mind, which can be found at Amazon.com.
Steven Saitzyk is an Adjunct Professor of Humanities and Sciences at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and International Director of Shambhala Art, a nonprofit arts education program designed to integrate meditation into the creative process. You can read more about this work on their website: www.shambhalaart.org. Steven is also a painter, and the author of the book Place Your Thoughts Here: Meditation for the Creative Mind. Please see www.stevensaitzyk.com and www.facebook.com/placeyourthoughts/ for more about his artwork and writing. Steven is one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Shambhala Center, and has taught meditation internationally for more than forty years.