ZEN PLAY: EXCHANGES ON AUTHENTICITY OF PERFORMANCES

My last post “Authentic Vs. Inauthentic Performance” prompted some of you to send me emails.  I would like to thank those of you who commented on the post as they help me in thinking about all of this. I have chosen three comments to respond to in this post.  In all cases, I have changed the names of the Sangha members.

#1.

COMMENT:  ”Hi Manoj,  fascinating line of thought, to quote Mr. Spock.”,  Mufungo

RESPONSE: It may be “fascinating” because it is…”Most Illogical” to quote Mr. Spock.  Mufungo’s comment suggests to me that she found my post to be entertaining or engaging to some degree and that she may also be doubtful as to whether or not what I said is true or correct.  This is fine by me. Today’s “post-modern” society is characterized by a dwindling confidence in any authority (religious, political scientific etc.) purporting to offer “the truth” on some topic.  Since the term “author” is derived from the word “authority”, writers, such as myself, are also suspect.  I recently read an article called “Beyond Postmodernism? Towards a Philosophy of Play” by Robert Miller, who  points out that readers should remember that what authors (including himself) have to say should be best understood as something to be “played with” rather than some statement of truth. ( http://home.vicnet.net.au/~exist/pdf/2001_December.pdf).  Interestingly,  he also suggests that this is exactly what is encouraged through Zen practice.  Accordingly, I see my posts as being more like an art pieces than articles; where whatever is said is hopefully seen as fodder for “mind play”.  Even though I’m not sure whether or not there is any validity to what I am thinking,  I continue to write as if  I know what I am doing; as if  I was an real author; “faking it”, in other words.

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An essential characteristic of

child’s play is a dimension of pretend—that is, an action

and interaction in an imaginary, “as if” situation.

(http://crpit.com/confpapers/CRPITV34Verenikina.pdf)

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#2

COMMENT: Here is comment #2 from Makita:

‘To educate/clarify the teacher needs to make a point.

The student does not’.

Here is my response to Makita via email:

 

“Thanks for the comment.  Not completely sure of the “point” but maybe that is your “point”.

Maybe you could fill me in when we see each other.  Manoj

 

Makita responded to this via email saying:

“What I meant is just related to Buddha as a “performance artist”.

Every good teacher uses some elements of performance to make his/her point. We can add that when the performance is “sanctified” the essential point most likely would be forgotten. Maybe this is a link to the origin of certain rituals…..

RESPONSE:  Here is my response to the second email:

In the first of Makita’s emails, I was not sure to which part of the blog he was responding.  It turns out that he was commenting on another article “Buddha As Performance Artist” that was referenced in the latest post.  Now I understand where Makita was coming from and appreciate his observation on the topic. I think that his last point is important as it expresses a key point in Thurman’s article on Buddha as a Performance Artist.  In order to convey “knowledge” that goes beyond and can not be expressed in ordinary or “secular” (i.e. dualistic) language, one must use what Susanne Langer calls “presentational” (as opposed to “discursive”) symbols and this is where teaching and art begin to intersect. Certainly Zen has placed an emphasis on “presentational” communication throughout it’s evolution.  According to Robert Aitken (The Gateless Barrier) koan study helps students perform using “presentational” communication.

.#3

COMMENT: (The last email came from Zen-Doe and entails two separate comments.  Here is the first one.)

COMMENT #1:

When I substitute the word “behavior” for “performance,” the idea of “ritual as performance” makes much more sense to me.  Then, the phrase, “Buddha was a ‘performance (behavior) artist’ rings quite true to my understanding of who and what Buddha was.  I think “Buddha as a performance artist” can be misleading and very confusing.

 

RESPONSE: I am guessing that Thurman chose the term “performance artist” on purpose to emphasize that Buddha had to be “artistic” in his presentation of what he had learned to his “audience”.  In other words, Thurman was engaging in the kind of “post modern play” referenced by Miller (see my introduction above).  As the term “performance artist” is a contemporary term, I don’t believe he wants us to believe that Buddha said to himself “I’m going to be a performance artist”.  This was Thurman’s playful attempt to talk about Buddha’s use of upaya (skillfull means).  In other words,  Buddha used “presentational communication” to help the audience understand his teachings.

COMMENT #2:

“Faking it until you make it” certainly may work for some personality types, but not for all.  I’ve been hearing that phrase for 25 years and it has never “spoken” to me as a path I should follow.  I’ve been recently reading about Jung’s various personality types and there are major differences between them in how they understand and interact with the world and their experiences in it.  You having some (maybe a lot of) innate “performance” ability — along with others who may enjoy performing/acting — might be likely to find “faking it” a helpful approach to dealing with inner discomforts, but I doubt that would work for most.

RESPONSE:

I am not surprised that some people find all this talk of “performance” and  “faking it” off-putting.  But, remember it is just one perspective; one among many that could be used to talk about Zen and Ritual.  I recall Roshi lately saying something to the effect that we should always remember that our opinions are only one of the many possible perspectives on an issue, and that we should be open to trying out (playing with) other perspectives.

The term “fake” has a negative connotation associated with it and most of us would not want to be thought of as a “fake”.  However, I would suggest that all of us engage in the kind of actions described in the three articles covered in the post “Authentic Vs. Inauthentic Performance”. That is, we play roles in various social situations even though we are not convinced that our actions in that role are expressing who we really are.  One example of this is when we take on a new role such as being a new parent or a new marriage partner.  When I first started painting I certainly felt “inauthentic” whenever I referred to myself (or was referred to) as a “painter”. I certainly feel like something of a fake when thinking about being Shuso at The Vista Zen Center.   In my first Shuso talk, when I referred to not knowing why I was taking on the Shuso role (and thus jumping into the abyss), it was due to my extreme self-consciousness about my performance and the feeling of not being authentic. in that role.

The first reason I posted “Authentic vs. Inauthentic Performance” is that I am wondering whether that distinction is very useful.  For one thing, when we feel authentic it is because we feel that our performances capture or express our “true” or “inner” self.  Well, we know that from a Buddhist perspective (as well as contemporary social psychology) there is no authentic, real or true self.  In Zen, we are supposedly authentic when we are expressing our true nature (Buddha nature) which is who or what we are without the conditioned self concept that results from socialization.  And supposedly this expression can be recognized by teachers who have supposedly also expressed this authenticity to those who conferred transmission to them.  Often this expression of authenticity is displayed in the context of being tested by the teacher during Koan study.  However,  most long time Zen students  I have talked to portray this as a  highly subjective and arbitrary process.  We can also  look at the number of students who have gone bad after the  authenticity of their expressions have been validated by their teachers.  Also an article by William Bodiford (Dharma Transmission in Theory and Practices), concludes that throughout the history of Zen the criteria for transmissions have been inconsistently applied so that  which student does or does not receive transmission can be best explained by looking  to matters of politics and personal ties than evaluations of performances expressing students’  true nature.

The second reason for posting “Authentic Vs. In Authentic Performance” is that the “performance perspective” on ritual seems to resemble the ideas behind “faking it until making it”  I am going to go in more detail in my next Shuso Talk but Dale Wright seems to suggest that this idea has been incorporated in Zen training since days of old.  For instance he states:

“Ritual practitioners proceed in the ritual “as if” things were different than they seemed before entering the ritual.  They imagine a state of affairs other than common sense would dictate and proceed as if something other than that were true.  Zen practitioners engage in zazen as if they were enlightened Buddhas, and in the act of imagination, something really changes.” (p. 12, Zen Ritual; Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice.)

Is this way of understanding true?  At first blush it sounds like a bunch of hooey to me.  However, because of my interest in art, theater and music , I am willing to explore this new perspective to see whether I might find it helpful in feeling more “authentic” as a Zen student and Shuso.  The journey continues.

AUTHENTIC VS. INAUTHENTIC PERFORMANCE

In talking with others about the idea of “rituals as performance”, I’ve realized that many people are uncomfortable with the term because it implies “acting” or “faking”.  This brought to mind an earlier blog I had posted where I suggested  that “faking it” may not necessarily be a bad thing.  I will probably play with this notion more in upcoming Shuso talks, so I  thought that maybe those who did not read the original blog might find it of interest.  Below I have reprinted most of the original post. I would be very interested in hearing from you about your reactions to this post.  Are there times when you “fake it”?  Do you see this as a problem?  How can you tell if you or someone else is authentic in their actions?  Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman wrote that Buddha was a “performance artist”.  Does that mean Buddha was not authentic? (see:  http://artandzentoday.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1226&action=edit)   PLEASE SHARE YOUR REACTIONS AND IDEAS WITH ME VIA EMAIL OR IN PERSON; I’VE FOUND YOUR COMMENTARIES THUS FAR TO BE VERY USEFUL.

 

1. The first case is a review of the documentary movie KUMARE. by Roger Ebert    http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/kumare-2012  A number of members of The Vista Zen Center watched this film and it has been the object of a great deal of discussion afterwards.

“Growing up in New Jersey, Vikram Gandhi was a typical American kid who resented the way his family tried to enforce Hindu beliefs and practices. He found it ironic that Americans began to popularize gurus and yoga just at the time he was growing away from such things. On a trip to India, he says, he found that “real” gurus were no more real than the American frauds who copied them.

That led him into the deliberate deception that he filmed in “Kumare.” He grew a long beard and a pony-tail, exchanged his shoes for sandals, switched his slacks and suits to flowing orange robes, and started carrying an ornate walking stick. Then he moved toArizona, hired an expert to teach him yoga and a PR woman to promote him as a guru, and began to attract followers in meetings at shopping malls, community centers and around the swimming pools of his affluent clients. His accent was modeled on the way his grandmother spoke English. His teachings were deliberate gibberish: talk of inner blue lights, “finding the guru within,” and chants of fabricated mantras.

At this point in the film, it takes an odd turn. Kumare’s followers believe him without question. They share their deepest secrets with him and visibly appear to benefit from him. These people are not dummies. Mostly middle-aged, they take their health seriously, are somewhat skilled at yoga and follow schedules of meditation. “Kumare” seems to establish that a guru can be a complete fraud and nevertheless do a certain amount of good, because what matters is not the sincerity of the guru but that of his followers.

Gandhi narrates the documentary (in an ordinary American voice), introduces us to followers he’s grown close to, and begins to believe he may have started something that was out of his control.  He tells his followers the time has come for him to leave them. Now they are on their own. He returns toNew Jersey, cuts his hair, shaves his beard, and begins to practice a speech in the mirror: “I am not who you think I am.” Whether he ever says this, and how the movie ends, I will leave for you to discover.

It seems to me that “Kumare” reflects a truth that is often expressed in three words: “Act as if.” If you can act as if something is true, in a sense that makes it true. It doesn’t matter if a teacher’s spiritual teachings have any basis. It doesn’t matter if the supernatural even exists (Gandhi believes it does not). His followers benefit by acting ‘as if’.”

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2.  I discovered that a number of research and therapists in psychology have incorporated the ideas put forth by Hans Vaihinger in his book The Philosophy of “As If”.   Below is an excerpt from  a blog called “Mindfulness Muse” which provides a description of this approach in psychology:

“Most of us have some aspect of our lives or ourselves that we would like to change. Perhaps you have a clear vision in your mind of how you would like to be “different” in some way, yet all of the facts and positive self-talk in the world doesn’t seem to be enough to turn your vision into reality. It is not uncommon to know what we could do to be “better” in regards to some aspect of who we believe/wish ourselves to be, yet knowledge and piles of self-help books don’t seem to be enough. These are the times when it is more important take a step back and try a different approach. The first step is to get out of your mind and take action.

Do you really want to change? Attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors are so closely intertwined that the truth about change is that in many ways you can become different when you start acting as if you are different. This concept is at the heart of Dialectical Behavior Therapy’s (DBT) principle of opposite action.

How to Change Your Life by Choosing New Behaviors

Take a moment to reflect on an aspect of yourself that you deeply wish to change. This type of self-transformation is one that is positive in nature and intended to move you closer toward living your life in accordance with your true values. Consider the person that you believe yourself to be today – in this very moment. Now reflect on the aspects of your core identity that you wish to materialize in your life. Do you wish you were more [.....]? You can be. Stop thinking about it and starting acting as if you already are.

(1) HAPPINESS: SMILE

Do you wish that you felt happier? Less depressed? You have indirect control over your emotions through consciously choosing new ways of behaving. Research has found that the simple behavioral choice to activate your facial muscles into a smile is enough to genuinely make you feel happier. Even if you feel a bit silly the first time you give this exercise a try, do it anyway! That’s what making actual changes through behavioral choices is all about.”

This is one of 10 examples of this approach.  You can read more by clicking here.

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 A while back an artist friend showed me her business card which had “Aspiring Artist” after her name.  I told her that I felt that she was doing herself a disservice by not billing herself as an artist, but had no convincing rationale for my response.  Since learning about “as if”, I think that my response to her made some sense.  Below are a couple of online articles that have to do with becoming an artist.  The first (A) is from The Daily Painter Blog .  The second (B) is from a site called Lateral Action.

(A)

How to Become an Artist, “Fake It”

Tuesday/08/2012 August Filed in: Art Marketing

Becoming an artist is easy. You just proclaim you are. You can not do this if you want to be a Brain Surgeon. You do not need a degree to be an artist. Heck, the best artist are children until a sibling or some bully says their art stinks. Some stop and never return until they realize what happened. That’s what I like about my job. Getting people hooked on art, again. I’m sort of a art pusher, I lurk in the back of art stores looking for people to turn on to art who gave up the dream.

(B)

How to Fake It As an Artist

Have you ever walked into an art gallery and thought “I could do better than that!”?

Or are you a contemporary art enthusiast, tired of hearing people criticize things they don’t understand?

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, you’re bound to have an opinion on the story of Paul O’Hare, a painter and decorator fromLiverpool,UK, who was given just four weeks to transform himself into a fine artist and attempt to fool the critics at aLondon art gallery.

Paul’s story was featured in one of my all-time favorite documentary series, Faking It. In each program, a member of the public was given a month’s intensive training at an improbably difficult profession – and then put through a competitive test alongside experienced pros, to see if they could ‘fake it’ by convincing the judges they were the real deal.

The final test was an exhibition at a London gallery, where Paul’s work was displayed alongside three artists who had been exhibiting and selling work for several years. The work was judged by three respected critics, who also interviewed each of the artists, to see how convincingly they could discuss their work.

 

Paul was clearly feeling the pressure as he was grilled by the judges, and his performance wasn’t perfect. But in the event, one of the genuine artists did an even worse job of explaining his own work – it just goes to show you can’t always tell from appearances. And neither could the judges – out of three of them, only one spotted Paul as the fake.

Takeaway: There comes a point where you have to step out confidently and present yourself to the world as the person you want to be – even though you’re feeling terrified inside. And there are no guarantees that the world will buy your bluff.

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KOAN FOR MANOJ’S SHUSO HOSSEN

It has been a while since I have made any entries here at Art and Zen Today. Now that I am back, I plan to use this site in a slightly different way; namely as one component of a performance art piece that is a response to a Koan given to me by my Zen teacher Jiyu Gage Roshi.

I’ll be working on this Koan in preparation for a ceremony that is called “Shuso Hossen” in the Zen world.  In this ceremony a student offers his or her understanding of the Koan and fields questions from other students about the Koan to demonstrate their readiness to be considered a senior student.  Usually, students are assigned to work on one of the traditional Koans that have been part of the training for Zen monks throughout the centuries in China and Japan.  However, my teacher has decided to explore alternative Koans that speak more to  Westerners living and practicing Zen in non-monastic circumstances.

My intention, at this point, is to frame my response as a performance art piece and use blog posts here at Art and Zen Today as part of that performance.  All of this may change, but for now I see posts in the near future as being directed primarily  to members of The Vista Zen Center and having to do with “my process” as I prepare for the Shuso Hossen Ceremony.  .  It is my hope that my posts will generate comments and feedback from readers that will help me figure out what the culminating ceremony will look like. Here ( in Italics) is my Koan as sent to me by Roshi:

 In our Shuso Hossan ceremony we will be looking at a koan that Manoj has been working with for quite sometime. It is traditional for the person who is the shuso to work on a koan with the teacher in preparation for being asked questions by other sangha members during the ceremony. In our situation I am asking Manoj to work with the Four Vows as his koan. In fact, I gave him this koan in the very beginning of our study together. It came out of my own struggles with the Four Vows. I told Manoj that if he wanted  to be a serious Zen student he would need to be able to answer the question for himself about how he could work with the Four Vows and create Art simultaneously. When I started Zen practice, I felt some guilt about doing my own artwork while there was so much suffering going on all around me. Overtime, considerable time, I was able to resolve those issues in a satisfactory way for myself and for my teacher’s understanding. As Manoj reached the point where I was going to ask him to go through the ceremony with me and the Sangha, I realized this question around the Four Vows would be good for us as a community to look at together with Manoj. In fact, I may use it with other Shusos in the future. We will talk more about this in group discussions that we will be having over the next few weeks and months. So, the koan Manoj is working with is as follows:

A student came to the teacher and said I want to study with you. Fine, you may study with me but, you are an artist and I want to know how you can fulfill your Bodhisattva Vows as a Zen Buddhist while painting at your easel or playing your trumpet. These are the vows I am speaking of: (These are the ones we regularly chant at The Vista Zen Center)

Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.

The dharmas are boundless, I vow to embody them.

The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to awaken..

Who is your picture freeing? What  delusions are your tunes transforming? What dharma gates are being embodied when you sculpt? How does your art awaken anyone, including yourself?”

While most of my previous blog post were directed to anyone interested in the topics I covered, those leading up to the Shuso Hossen will be primarily directed to members of the Vista Zen Center.  Where most of these earlier posts had the flavor of  semi-academic essays, I will endeavor to make future posts shorter and more personal  expressions having to do with  my process of fashioning a response to the Koan. One way for the Sangha to be involved, as per Roshi’s wishes, is for readers to make comments on the posts as they are published.

 

 

REMEMBER TO FORGET THE SELF

In my last blog (some time in the distant past) I promised to delve further into the topic of active or mindful listening.  I still want to do this but in the meantime, this music video came about (see  below).  It was inspired, in part, through reading Zen Master Dogen, but it is not necessarily a “zen video”.  Like everything else (art or otherwise) this video is something that is available for engaging mindfully if you want to.  It’s up to you.  I’d suggest using stereo headphones and watching when you are not busy with other stuff.

 

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MODERN MUD MEN

STILL FROM VIDEO “MODERN MUD MEN”

Over the past month I received numerous announcements that artists were invited to submit work for consideration by the curators of the 2014  International Artexpo  in Spain.  I usually ignore such calls for submissions but the description of the theme for this year’s exhibit captured my interest: Borderland - Hidden Identities & Forbidden Desires

The reason my interest was piqued is that this was the first exhibit where I felt my video “Modern Mud Men” might fit in.  Apparently the curators felt that way also because the video was accepted to be shown.  The exhibit will be held in Zaragoza (Spain) at Club Nàutico De Zaragoza, from the 05 to the 13 of April 2014, and in Almeria (Spain), at MECA Mediterráneo Centro Artístico, during the 11 and the 26 of April 2014 (video screening only).  Since I realize that most of my readers have probably already booked their annual trips to Europe for this year, I made arrangements for you to see “Modern Mud Men” free on this site.

Mud Men of New Guinea

The “Modern Mud Men” video came about after I read a review of a video that someone made about the Mud Men of New Guinea (see picture above).  I set out to try to find this video on the internet but never found it.  What I did find instead are the self-recorded video clips that make up “Modern Mud Men”.  This video is a composite of mostly self-recorded experiences of men enjoying the sensual/auto-erotic pleasures of wallowing in mud.  It provides a rare look at men engaging in an activity that seemly allows them self-indulgent pleasures usually reserved for females. Although I found videos of women wallowing in mud on the internet, they were never alone and do not display the earnestness of the men shown in these clips. In most cases the enjoyment of mud is carried out away from the public’s eye and yet the videos were made public.  The original music that accompanies the video was inspired by the strangeness and yet naturalness and beauty of this kind of play.  Click on link below:

http://vimeo.com/34280061

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ALESSANDRA COLFI: THERAPIST LIVES HER PASSION BY SERVING OTHERS

In past posts I have talked about the Genjo Practice encouraged by Jiyu Gage at the Vista Zen Center.  One manifestation of this practice is what we have called “The Wonder Project” which encourages both creative expression and social action.  One of the members who has been central to the success of this project is Alessandra Colfi who I see as living a life that embodies both the creative and spiritual practices that are the focus of this blogsite.  Today’s post is a reprint of an inspiring article about Alessandra which was just published in THE COAST NEWS.

Brush with Art: Therapist lives her passion by serving others

By Kay Colvin

The Coast News

 

The 13th century Persian poet Rumi wrote “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

Oceanside artist Alessandra Colfi has taken these words to heart in the unfolding of her life’s journey.

Having grown up in the small village of Lesmo in northern Italy, Alessandra spent seven years in Italy’s fashion industry before coming to the U.S. in 1993.

After continuing as Area Manager for an Italian designer brand in America, she felt burned out after experiencing several personal losses.

She turned to exploring art and crafts as a means of picking up the pieces and healing her soul.

By 2000 Alessandra had received recognition for her collage and mixed media artwork and for her line of greeting cards and custom greetings Cardissima™ when she began volunteering time with patients in offering arts and crafts workshops at the former Wellness Community San Diego.

She recalls of the experience, “I felt so moved by the enthusiasm of the patients and by the need… It opened my heart and my creative ability to turn a solitary personal practice into a service and a profession — the best I could have ever aspired to.”

Through a series of events, in 2009 Alessandra began volunteering at SDCRI (San Diego Cancer Research Institute), a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life for cancer patients through cutting-edge therapies and comprehensive integrative approaches. Offering Expressive Arts Therapy group sessions employing visual art, movement, music, drama, Alessandra comments, “I felt very strongly that patients would benefit from a regular, long term program and being committed and engaged in a progressive, ongoing process.”

Alessandra began offering Expressive Arts Therapy “Playshops,” which guide participants to get in touch with their creative, healing energy and wisdom. She says, “My sessions are an opportunity for self-discovery, and to share laughter, joy and hands-on playful time with others. Through spontaneous creativity, children and adults alike experience a deep transformation, which results in increased awareness, behavior modification, reduction in conflicts and improved sense of wellbeing, inner strength, confidence, and resilience.”

She continues, “Expressive Arts Therapy offers a wide array of intuitive, engaging and playful tools to reawaken the healing power from within, to connect with our unconscious where wisdom and awareness reside. What’s important is the process, the discovery and creation, not the product.”

Through SDCRI Alessandra offers several ongoing programs including “PhotoPainting,” in which participants transform experiences and inner dialogues into meaningful images that tell their story; “The Artful Book of Wonders” — altered books as visual journals; “Artful Recipes for Life” — a box filled with unique cards to express qualities to support patients’ healing journey; “The Artful Bra” — channeling healing qualities and personalities into outrageously, over-the-top decorated bras and purses; and “Meditation Bracelets” — inspired by Mala beads, to support mindfulness and patients’ meditation practice.

The programs are free to cancer patients and their caretakers throughout San Diego County with pre-registration required at www.sdcri.org.

 

Alessandra’s most recently inspired project “Hope Made Visible™” is a call to patients in creating prayer flags to share hope, dreams and healing. She shares her enthusiasm, “Through social media and networking, we are starting to receive flags from all corners of the world. Every time we receive a box with magnificent, unique flags with their heartfelt messages, patients feel connected, moved, and hopeful.”

The “Hope Made Visible™” prayer flags will be on display in the Encinitas Community and Senior Center in 2014, after which Alessandra hopes to have them travel to various venues throughout the region. She projects, “Our flags will be a living, breathing, kinetic journal of our hopes, dreams and concerns.”

In addition to her work at SDCRI, Alessandra facilitates her Expressive Arts Therapy program through many organizations including the UCSD Moores Cancer Center, works with individuals with developmental disabilities through the California Mentor program and is a faculty member at International University of Professional Studies where she mentors graduate students, and provides stimulating and competent art education to elementary school children through ArtReach San Diego.

Enthusiastic in her experimentation with all non-toxic materials, in 2007 Alessandra joined her husband William Leslie in creating Paper Sun Lightsculptures, gracefully artistic lighting fixtures currently represented by Mixture, a modern furniture and home accessories store in San Diego, and the Gallery of Functional Art in Santa Monica.

(To see a video of light sculptures created by Alessandra and her husband William,

see “Under Alien Seas” on Art and Zen Today Video Channel.)

With degrees in Linguistics and Fine Art, Alessandra is currently working towards a Doctorate Degree in Expressive Arts Therapy.

Her dissertation explores her thesis that “the Expressive Arts transform the consciousness of individuals from the opposites of co-dependency and disconnect to deep interconnectedness by raising empathic awareness and restoring resilience, which are essential qualities for humans to thrive.”

In the process of helping others, Alessandra has found her passion, her true life’s calling.

Learn more about Alessandra Colfi, her Expressive Arts Therapy programs, her artwork, and her community involvement by visiting AlessandraColfi.com.

Kay Colvin is director of the L Street Fine Art Gallery in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, serves as an arts commissioner for the City of Encinitas, and specializes in promoting emerging and mid-career artists. Contact her at kaycolvin@lstreetfineart.com.

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TRUTH AND FAITH AND “B.S.” IN ART AND ZEN

 

THE GOLDEN RATIO OR GOLDEN MEAN

The post titled “The Evolution of Adagio: A Therapeutic Motion Machine” by guest blogger James Wilson, has quickly become the most viewed on Art and Zen Today during the past 90 days.  A comment on that article from Charlie from Mass. raised some interesting questions about validity of some of the theoretical foundations used by James in the evolution of his “machine”. Specifically, the validity of the “golden mean” or “golden ratio” was questioned.  (Click here to read “The Evolution of Adagio: A therapeutic Motion Machine.”)

 

THE GOLDEN GINGERBREAD BOY


 This got me thinking about the place of “truth” and “faith” in the artistic and spiritual systems we use to guide our practices.  James later penned a response to Charlie’s comment but it could not be posted because I have placed a time limit on comments in order to cut down on the “robo-spam” sent to the blogsite.  

So today’s post consists of: 1) Charlie’s comment on “The Evolution of Adagio”; 2) James’ response; 3) some additional material intended to  help the reader follow along, and finally; 4) some comments by me on how I see the discussion relating to the practices of art and Zen.  Because this post consists of ideas expressed by several different people, I have physically separated each authors contributions to make it easier to follow.  I’d like to thank Charlie and James for inspiring me to sit down and think about all of this. 

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First is the comment by Charles that was published soon after the post on Adagio by appeared in Art and Zen Today.  In his post, James had written about the use of the “golden ratio” in the development of his invention.

Charles wrote:

“The golden ratio is like religion—it’s an old theory which doesn’t hold up under scientific scrutiny. I googled “skeptic ‘golden ratio” and came up with a nice quote from a comment by Phil in Australia:

Beauty like love is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Numbers can’t explain it.

Comment by Phil, Sydney Australia, from the following link:

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4325

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SENT IN BY CHARLIE

The comment by Phil, referred to above by Charles, was in response to an article titled “The Golden Ratio” published on the website Skeptoid:Critical analysis of Pop Phenomena .  Below is one paragraph from the original article that prompted Phil’s comment.  I include it here to help put Phil’s comment into some context.

φ, the golden ratio, and the Fibonacci series are mathematically interesting and do have natural manifestations. That doesn’t mean everything, or even anything else, is based on them. The popularity and “big name” of the “divine proportion” has been the real driver of its pseudoscientific assignment to just about anything and everything. Those whose brains’ pattern-matching software is in overdrive have probably heard of the golden ratio, and so it’s the one they think of whenever they see a rectangle, or a great work of art (like the Mona Lisa, which is not based on the golden ratio), or patterns in the stock market (which don’t exist at all, let alone at the golden ratio), or in the numerology of the Bible (unless any other number is allowed to be considered just as significant). Not every claim about the golden ratio is the result of hyperactive pattern matching, but most are. At a minimum, such a claim is always a good tipoff that you should be skeptical.

The entire article and comments, including the one referenced by Charlie, can be seen at:

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4325

 

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In this section, I have copied James’ response to the comment made by Charlie.  This was not previously published on Art and Zen Today.

 

Charlie,

I agree that discussions around the “Golden Mean” can sometimes lapse into a matter of “faith”.  From what I can tell, science has neither proven anything about it (except it has some pretty amazing mathematical properties), but it hasn’t really dis-proven anything either. 

The way I think of it, and use it, is that when starting a creative project, like a piece of music or painting, it is helpful to the composer or artist or designer to create some kind of “limits”; otherwise the possibilities are infinite and can result in artistic paralysis.  Take 12 tone compositions for example.    Here’s a definition:

Twelve-tone technique—also known as dodecaphonytwelve-tone serialism, and (in British usage) twelve-note composition—is a method of musical composition devised by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951). The technique is a means of ensuring that all 12 notes of the chromatic scale are sounded as often as one another in a piece of music while preventing the emphasis of any one note[3] through the use of tone rows, an ordering of the 12 pitches. All 12 notes are thus given more or less equal importance, and the music avoids being in a key. The technique was influential on composers in the mid-20th century.

To me, Twelve-tone is basically a lot of BS, and it really doesn’t “avoid being in a key”, which was its primary purpose in life.  However, it did get a lot of people to write a lot of music (some good, some not) simply because it gave them a “system” to work within. I.e., it got them to initiate the creative process! 

And, if nothing else, this is the magic of using the Golden Means, or any other system for that matter, particularly in the arts, where, as I said above, the possibilities are basically infinite.  It imposes enough limits that the artist/musician can get his/her hand/head around it. 

If in fact artists and/or architects have and do use these ratios in their work, it is probably for this reason more than any other.  It’s almost like; in absence of any other confining system, why NOT use it?  Yes, it may just be BS, but, then again, it might not!   

James Wilson

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Ok.  Now it is my turn to chime in as Editor of Art and Zen Today.

It is pretty well known that artist’s of all kind often impose systems on their practice that challenge them to go beyond their usual boundaries and possibly attain to highly creative results. I covered this topic in some detail in the post titled “Buddha as a Performance Artist?”  I believe that it is possible to say that these artistic or spiritual systems may be said to foster “mindful creativity” as the term is used by Langer (see   “On Becoming Mindful“  )  But, the “mindfully creative artist is able to use the restrictions imposed by whatever system they are using to foster new ways of imagining that inevitably go beyond that system.

 Often the “systems” evoked for such purpose, whether artistic or spiritual, do not really “make sense” to others and if the system is touted by the user as some sort of “truth”, the chances are that someone will find way to poke holes in it.  I think that this is along the lines of what James is saying in his comment above.

About a year ago I did some googling around the internet looking for artists who explicitly used the Golden Mean concept in their work.  I found one painter who made a big deal of his dedication to the Golden mean ratios in constructing his painting.  It was my impression that he was consciously trying to appeal to buyers who were into new agey “sacred geometry”.   I found his work to be rather boring, predictable and not very creative.  This, I think, speaks to the problem of any “systems” that we impose upon ourselves.  As Jim seems to say in his comment,  “systems” that impose restrictions can lead to greater creativity but not when followed slavishly (i.e. without mindfulness).

The quote from Phil that Charlie included in his reply is actually the last line of a quite long comment response to the article debunking the use of the Golden Mean.  In the next segment,I have included all of Phils’ comment because it seems to me that he provides an example that reinforces my notion that genuine creativity is not found in the “truth” of the system but rather in how an artist uses this system (see insert below). 

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Here I have copied the full comment made by Phil in his response to the article debunking the use of the Golden Mean.  Charlie referred only to the last line of this comment, but the rest of it seems to provide an example of my main point.

 I had a violin maker friend who made every instrument in accordance with golden section proportions. This included sound post positioning, the ratio of string length above and below the bridge, neck length, and the actual proportions of the body themselves.

He had a great deal of success and believed that the proportions were common in some historical violin making.

He also considered the setting of the violin to be very critical and that most violinists hadn’t a clue how to do it. One major difference between a Strad and a cheaper violin, he said, is that if you pay millions of dollars for an instrument, you just might be keen to set it up properly – sound post position, bridge positioning and shape etc

Whether or not Golden proportions help – he was convinced they did – the real magic was in the hands of the maker who completed the task and the final adjustments. I am sure that applies equally to everything from architecture to furniture. Sometimes I think that in attributing success to the golden section the creator of a masterpiece is perhaps a little too modest – or his critic a little too coldly scientific

Beauty like love is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Numbers can’t explain it.

Phil, Sydney Australia
August 22, 2013 11:15pm

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4325

 

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Ok, this is me again.

Ellen Langer’s Book On Becoming an Artist consistently prompts the reader to question any existing artistic systems that they encounter as they embark on their creative journey.( see ELLEN LANGER ON THE “TALENT MYTH” ).   Especially when we are beginners in any realm, we tend to look for some “system” that provides us guidelines for how to proceed.  There is nothing wrong with this, but to the extent that we get “stuck” in the system, our creativity will suffer.  I think that this also  applies to artists who have been creative enough to evolve their own “systems”, so to speak, of making art.  When they are no longer mindful and begin automatically doing what has been successful for them in the past, there is no creative growth.  The ability to push beyond even self- imposed boundaries is why artists like Picasso, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan, to name a few,  are acknowledged as creative geniuses. And, so it goes, I would suggest, in the realm of the spirit.  This brings me to Zen, and most forms of Buddhism generally. 

 

 

Buddhist thought and practices inevitably entail boundaries or limitations.  Furthermore, they often don’t make rational sense and I have heard myself and fellow Zen students refer to various teachings as “B.S.”  The non-rational aspects of the teaching require that the student develop a degree of “faith”, to use the term that Jim seems to use derogatively.  I would suggest that “faith” is only problematic when it stifles mindfulness.  It is important to point out that Buddhist practice does not demand “blind faith”.  Rather it requires a willingness (i.e. “necessary “faith”) to try out a certain viewpoint and set of practices to see whether or how they work in one’s own life.  Buddha famously said something along the lines of the quote below (I don’t have “faith” that Buddha actually said everything attributed to him):

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

 

The Zen literature is especially contradictory and difficult to make sense of because it points out again and again, that Zen is simply a system, and that if you use the system wisely you end up transcending the system itself.  This does not seem “rational”, at least to most beginners. It requires some degree of “faith” to continue with Buddhist practice until one can develop an understanding of how this works.  Eventually, the student sees that there is no set view which is considered to be true and there is no end to discovering this; that is, as you discover new ways of seeing your life, you find that you can not rely (i.e. have “faith in” ) on that viewpoint forever.

 

 To the extent that Buddhist practice leads to a constant re-visioning of one’s self and reality, it could be seen as the ultimate creative practice.  Dale Wright makes this point in his recent book, The Six Perfections.   Interestingly, Wright uses language that is consistent with Langer’s where “mindfulness” and “creativity” are equated. Wright’s book examines the various conventions and guidelines for attaining enlightened “Wisdom” as they have been passed down in Buddhist literature.  However, Wright makes a point of reminding the reader over and over that blind conformity to these strictures is not what the journey is all about.  “Wisdom” says Wright “is the ability to recognized what is and what is not an appropriate guide for dealing with situations skillfully.”  (pg. 233).

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POEMS AND IMAGES FROM FIVE VISTA ZEN CENTER ARTISTS

For a variety of reasons it seems that artists of all types are drawn to the practice of Zen.  For this installment, I asked four other artists from the Vista Zen Center to join me in providing a pairing of poetry and visual images. Each combination is very different from the others but each reflects the committed practice of the artist.  I hope you take the time to savor each of these pairings.

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We begin with the work of Jiyu Roshi, who is the founder and teacher at The Vista Zen Center.  His digital paintings may be seen at his website.

"No Choice?" Digital Paiting by Jiyu Roshi

 No Choice?

The Way is not difficult 

for those who do not pick and choose. 

The Way is not difficult 

for those who do pick and choose.

When you walk the Way,

 just walk the Way.

It is not near, 

it is not far.

It just is.

Just do not get in the way 

of the Way.

Or, Just get in the way

 of the Way.

Either way Is the Way.

Either way is.

Either way

Is neither 

The Way

 Nor not 

the 

Way.

 

I think I’ll go away

Now.

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David Clark’s blogsite “FromThe Lone Oak” is a wonderful showcase of his poetry, often accompanied by visual images.  The image below was created by David on his I Pad.

"Sitting" created by David Clark on his I Pad using "Paper 53 App"

“Sitting”, David Clark

Without Effort

 

Unattended and without effort,

The Earth spins on,

Endlessly describing an arc

Around a star 

That never blinks.

Rain, without urging,

Always finds its way

Back to the sea.

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Jane Mushinsky teaches literature at Mira Costa College and has contributed poems for various publications and poetry readings.  She recently returned from Kenyon Ohio where she had won a spot at the Kenyon Review Summer Poetry Workshop.

Image by Erik Kuniholm and Jane Mushinsky

Still Life

this body i borrowed

eats mostly scraps

seems content

rarely complains.

to keep it neat

i fold it in half, in thirds,

a suit i’m packing for a trip.

this body—not mine per se,

a loaner, the keys on their hook

also not mine—dutifully i wash and wax it,

feeling always the edges fraying,

the delicate etching of rain.

sometimes i look in a train’s window

an unruffled pond or plate glass

adjacent a sidewalk, and see—

not I as such, but this body

going about its business, respiring,

contracting and expanding—

an illusion, I; a conspiracy

the body and the thoughts construct

to feel, perhaps, less lonely,

disparate unmusical spheres.

poor body, a show dog easily lead;

poor mind, banging away in its cell—

no wonder they cling to each other

having nothing in common.

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Jon Wesick works as an engineer but spends a great deal of time, writing, reading and publishing his poems.  More of Jon’s work can be read at:
http://www.vistazencenter.com/vzc-artists/jon-wesicks-poetry-and-fiction   The image below was “picked and chosen” by Jon from Google Images.

 

Chosen by John Wesick

Zen and the Art of Nuclear Structure Physics

The 1p3/2 proton sat in the zendo

of the copper nucleus.

Back straight, eyes downcast,

he stilled his mind to concentrate

on the Absolute and relative.

As the temple bell struck

a passing alpha particle excited

the entire nucleus into a collective,

vibrational state.

“Master! Master!”

The proton burst into Master Neutron’s study.

“I have experienced Oneness!

I now know the Way is like a liquid drop

in which we all move together.”
“Fool!” Master Neutron struck the proton with his staff

sending him into an excited single-particle state.

Nanoseconds later the proton returned to consciousness

looking pale after emitting a gamma ray.

“Your training is to see both Oneness and manyness,”

Master Neutron said. “Recite the Sandokai

and the papers of V.M. Strutinsky until you understand.”

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Steve Wilson is primarily a visual artist whose work may be seen in the Painting Gallery of this blog site.  

"Where Do We Come From? Where Do We Go?", Acrylic on Canvas, Steve Wilson

Where Do We Come From?  Where Do We Go?

Seven Billion of us now

Where do we come from?

Where do we go?

This painting appeared on my canvas one day,

claiming to be a visual answer to these questions.

Maybe it is, but, I can’t put it into words.

I don’t even know how to tell you

where the painting came from.

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Evolution of The Adagio – a therapeutic motion machine

 

 

 

 

Most of you remember a post from the past that looked at the interesting ways that Sean Voisen found to immerse himself in the interstitial areas between art, technology and spirituality.  (See ” Art, Zen and Technology: A Visit With Sean Voisen”)  Today’s post is written by guest blogger James Wilson, who is playing in the same field and looking at similar overlapping areas.

  Yes this is the same James Wilson whose appearance here on earth was largely orchestrated by me in an effort to manifest a life-long playmate. (See “Aliens From Inner Space”)  This is the same guy who used to give me nightmares by shaking his crib all night long in his efforts to “escape” it’s material and confining nature.  He’s been rattling his crib all his life and the post below provides a look at the wondrous possibilities “beyond the crib”.

By James Wilson

When I was still a student in music school at Boston University, I became aware of what I felt to be a subtle motion, or flow, in music that nobody was talking about. It was something slow, smooth, and not a direct component of the usual suspects: rhythm and harmony. At the same time, since I was a student of composition, I was studying the theories of Heinrich Schenker and others who suggested that the great Masters constructed their music with a conscious implementation of “tension and release” within their musical structures. In other words, their compositions would build to a climax, then release the built up tension, repeat again, and so on, taking us, the listener, on a virtual musical and emotional roller-coaster ride. This was also in alignment with what I felt and heard in music.

 

Dr. Norden

Also during this time, I was studying with a wonderful professor at Boston U., Dr. Hugo Norden, who was considered the foremost authority on J.S. Bach, counterpoint, and also on the topic of using the Golden Ratio in music, art, and architecture (“Form: the silent language”, is one of his books on the topic).

The “Golden Ratio”” (also often referred to as: extreme and mean ratio, medial section, divine proportion, divine section (Latin: sectio divina), golden proportion, golden cut, and golden number) is exactly that, a mathematical ratio, which is 1:1.618. In music, Dr. Norden theorized that it was used by the Masters (again, consciously), when laying out the form of the piece they were about to write. Basically, the idea is to lay out a piece of music as a function of time. In other words, if you plan for the piece to last, say, 5 minutes, then at minute 3:06 (1/1.618 = .618 * 5 minutes = 3.1, or 3:06 minutes) the composer would make some extraordinary event occur at 3:06 to divide the time line. This might be a jarring modulation, a loud chord, introduction of a second theme, etc.

 

This ratio was also used heavily in architecture, especially during Greek and Roman periods, and even way before the Greeks! Often this ratio was used as the ratio of width to height, i.e.

1 .618: 1.00 = width:height.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This ratio is also often found in nature!:


 

 

Further discussion of the Golden Ratio in nature can be found in a book by Jay Hambidge, entitled “The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authors such as Matila Ghyka, postulate that the Golden Ratio was used by well-known artists:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With these forces at work, I wanted to design and build a device that would:

  • Visually display the subtle “motion” I was experiencing when listening to music
  • Visually display the up-and-down/tension-release in music,
  • Incorporate the design principles of the Golden Ratio.

 

To do this, I incorporated another concept that has held fascination for me; the sine curve. The sine curve occurs often in pure and applied mathematics, as well as physics, engineering, signal processing and many other fields. Its most basic form as a function of time (t) is:

 

BTW: For those interested in religious symbols, the key idea here is that the sine curve is formed by the circle as a function of time. Circles commonly represent unity, wholeness, and infinity. Without beginning or end, without sides or corners, the circle is also associated with the number one. In other words, “perfection”, when brought into the flow of time = the sine curve!

 

Original "Adagio"

All this put together, resulted in my building a visual device that moves very slowly in front of the viewer’s eyes. I have named it “The Adagio”. A Video of the Adagio in action, along with a piece by Mozart, can be seen HERE.

The Adagio incorporates the sine curve, as well as Golden Ratios in the dimensions of the container, and in the angle of inclination of the sine curve itself. The slow moving line can be speed adjusted to the correct “flow” of the music, and the upward and downward movement of the lighted line follows the tension and release of the music being played while you watch.

As stated above, the original construction of Adagio was purely as a means to visualize motion-in-music, and to encapsulate the up/down emotional tension in music. It has done this beyond my expectations.

However, almost by accident, the Adagio was used in a biofeedback study at Nova University, in 1978. It was a very well conducted scientific experiment designed to differentiate between activities associated with our right brain hemisphere, and our left-brain hemisphere. It was discovered that by activating the right hemisphere of the experimental subjects, the Adagio has stress-reducing characteristics! A summary of the study can be seen HERE.

I finally have time to explore usage of my invention and am doing a “crowd funding” to build a commercial version of The Adagio. My goal is to:

  • Produce a production model that will be more aesthetically pleasing than the original prototype,
  • Produce a production model with greater durability suitable for consumer use, and
  • A production model constructed with readily available components.

Here’s a concept drawing of what I envision this new commercial version of the Adagio to look like:

 

 

 

 

 

(Click the image above to activate)

You can watch the video about Adagio’s history and potential uses here:

Adagio Therapeutic Motion Lamp – Uses in Dance, Music, Yoga, Meditation

 

I would appreciate any comments/observations you might have.

Readers may be interested in a follow-up post called  “Truth, Faith and B.S. in Art and Zen”  Also past post on the flow experience can be located by typing “flow” into the Search Window.( Or see “To Know Flow or No Flow” and subsequent posts on Flow)

 

GAINING TIME AND MINDFULNESS

BHANTE HENEPOLA GUNARATANA

The quote above was embedded in my post “Mindfulness Wars: Langer Versus Buddha?”  It was not until I was proofreading the post that I realized how profound these 5 sentences were.   Interestingly, Jiyu Roshi used this quote as a basis for a talk at the Vista Zen Center a few days after the post had been published and  I found myself feeling a bit embarrassed as I had not printed author’s name, mainly because I did not take the time to look for it.  I later learned that the quote is attributed to Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, whose excellent book “Mindfulness In Plain English” I had read years ago. 

In “Mindfulness Wars”, I described  mindfulness training as a process where one learns to catch themselves (“remembering to remember”) as they drift into prolonged thought-sequences and then refocus their attention on internal  sensations. (See Creative Refocusing)  This kind of training may be viewed as one where a person learns to “awaken” themselves again and again from the “sleep” or “hypnosis” of ordinary consciousness which consists primarily of what might be called “internal dialogue”.  These internal dialogues are necessarily oriented towards either past or future experiences and to the extent that we can awaken ourselves, however briefly, we become aware of (or are in) the present moment as experienced through our somatic awareness. (see The Artist is Present)

Through meditation or some other form of mindfulness training, one can learn, over time, to also “awaken” more often in the midst of daily activities and interactions.  So the “time” that Guraratana is speaking of in the above quote, is the spit second that one gains when momentarily remembering/catching/awakening themselves before reacting automatically and mindlessly to whatever is going on around them.  This split second allows for a consideration of the consequences (for oneself and others) of any mindless reactions and for a creative (i.e. new ) response instead.  This is the choice that Guraratana says is won when we have time to mindfully consider our responses to what is happening to us in any moment.

Although, as seen in “Mindfulness Wars”, Langer’s approach to mindfulness is slightly different, the above description seems consistent with how she describes personal “reinvention” through engaging oneself in various artistic pursuits.  Late in the book is a Chapter entitled ” The Mindful Choice” which begins with a quote from Picasso saying ” I don’t know in advance what I am going to put on canvas any more than I decide beforehand what colors I am going to use”Langer goes on to say the following:

It’s time to get started.  Now that we understand that we shouldn’t worry about what other will think about our first painting, poem, or whatever it is we choose to do, that comparing ourselves with others is not in our best interest, that talent is not necessary, in short, that we are going to engage our creativity mindfully, it is time to go to the store and get whatever we need.  Once we are there however, the simple task of getting ready often quickly becomes daunting.  How do we decide what we need  ….In the face of such uncertainty, we perhaps ought to pay close attention to Picasso’s words, if we are to proceed mindfully, perhaps we shouldn’t be interested in knowing the answers to these question in advance.  We should just buy whatever colors appeal to us, whatever bushes we think interesting, and some surface on which to paint.  (pg. 212)

 

The remainder of her chapter echoes this same advice – decisions are made in ignorance because if we knew what to do we would just do it. Decisions are problematic, says Langer only when we think that we should know, up front, what the right choice is. She goes on to provide an interesting  analysis ( too lengthy to discuss in detail here) of what occurs during decision-making.  The essence of what she says sounds very Buddhist, although she eschews Buddhist terminology.  Her main point is that since we never can know the outcome of any decision we make and since conditions are constantly changing, the best we can do is make whatever decision is called for based on whatever information we have at hand and whatever makes sense to us in the moment.  So, whether we are talking about creating art or any other areas of life, we can always make new decisions based on whatever is happening in that later moment.  Langer argues that neither forestalling decisions (deliberating endlessly with the hope that new information will become available) nor automatically relying on some external rule or advice encourage mindful living.

At one point Langer declares “For some people , then decision-making is not stressful at all, because they are content with whatever consequences result” (pg. 217) .  This, and other comments, sounds very much like they are expressing the Buddhist ideal of equanimity; that is, not being attached to certain outcomes. A famous Chinese Zen poem begins with the line “The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences”.  (Third Ch’an Patriarch Chien-chih Seng-ts’an)  Langer would probably say that letting go of comparing oneself with others, and concerns about how one is being evaluated will lead to one taking themselves “less seriously” and thus, less concerned about always making the “right” decision or choice.

Based on my own experiences with painting, I agree with Langer that this type of activity can  help one to learn not to take things so seriously.  So-called “mistakes” (i.e. “bad” decisions”) can often lead  to later decisions that result in one going in directions never imaged. Furthermore, one can always white-out the canvas and simply begin again, hopefully having learned something from the so called “mistake”.   To the extent that one can gradually drop concerns about how well one is doing according to some set of arbitrary external standards, one can let go and enjoy the process of creating and any choices or decisions that need to be made can become less stressful.

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, I want to reiterate what I said in “Mindfulness Wars”.  The process that Langer refers to as “Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity” can be strengthened  by the kind of mindfulness meditation recommended by Gunaratana in “Mindfulness in Plain English

 

In the long Langer quote, printed above, she seems to suggest that after reading the earlier chapters on letting go of self-evaluation and various anxieties about our creative practice, the reader should now be ready to dive in and start creating mindfully.  But her next sentence suggests that she knows it is not that easy.  Having painted for a period of ten years, I can attest to the fact that every time I approach my studio, I am confronted (i.e. I confront myself) with all sorts of thoughts and worries that can undermined the enjoyment of painting as well as restrict my creativity.

 

 I have read interviews with artists of all sorts and have concluded that such thoughts and worries are simply part of the creative process.  I believe, along with Langer,  that simply engaging in artistic practices for a long period of time can help a practitioner  learn to live with this fact.  But, I also believe that daily mindfulness training can facilitate and deepen this process. 

 

The time that Gunaratana says is gained when we practice mindfulness can allow us to nip in the bud all the creativity-defeating thoughts such as those covered in Langer’s early chapters.  These kinds of thoughts infuse themselves into all aspects of our lives and it may seem surprising that they appear even when we are engaged in activities that we love to do.  I would suggest however, that it may be easier to become mindful about them, and eventually let go of them, when we are doing things we are passionate about.

In the literature promoting mindfulness training, authors commonly emphasize how the practitioner can use the time gained in mindfulness to re-channel  angry reactions into responses that lead to less suffering for themselves and others.  I do not think that it is far fetched to consider such redirection as a form of mindful creativity since the alternative, bought by time, allow for a novel response.  Pairing daily mindfulness training with a mindful approach to fun activities, such as the arts, can provide a practicum of sorts for developing creative mindfulness in the widest sense of the term.  Here one may learn how to extend his or her mindfulness training into activities which require moment by moment decision-making.  By learning to “gain time” through practicing mindfulness in such situations, the practitioner is also gaining skills that can be used in situations where the consequences of his or her choices are perceived as being more “serious.  And, there is reason to believe that the time necessary to make skillful choices diminishes with mindfulness practice (see “Yeah Man: Improvisation in Jazz, Comedy and Zen).

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