Art and Spirituality

In one of his talks, Adyashanti says that all spirituality shares in common the practice of stillness and attention. Good writing really stems from exactly the same thing: having enough inner stillness to be an observer, and being attentive to what is arising in the moment. It is always about allowing life rather than resisting it.

In a YouTube video my beloved and I watched recently, a French reporter asked Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, what link she thought existed between artistic expression and spirituality. Julia answered that they are inseparable. If you increase your spirituality, your creativity will increase. If you increase your creativity, your spirituality will increase.

What do we even mean by creativity? It is our unique expression of who we truly are, expressions that can be manifested in a thousand different ways, many of which have nothing to do with formal art per se. In thinking about my writing and digital art in relation to my own journey, I agree completely with Julia because I think both routes, if taken seriously, require one to be in touch with one’s authentic self, the part that is in alignment with our divine nature even if it is never referred to as such.

Here is the funny/super great thing I have noticed as my spiritual practice has deepened. I’ve stopped worrying about the product, and am greatly enjoying immersion in the creative process. As Julia encourages, I am willing to write bad first drafts, lots of them, so that I capture the essence of an experience, and then come back to tinker with it later. I am finally writing every day, both the 3 pages Julia recommends and my poetry, by staying open to what I’m experiencing and noticing the details without getting distracted or overwhelmed by various forces trying to pull me into some kind of unnecessary drama or story. This is not to say that I never follow bad energy now, knowing full well I should just leave it alone but then doing it anyway, but it does happen far less frequently than in the past, and if I go into a spiral after getting emotionally triggered, writing is my way of allowing whatever emotion is being felt to be expressed in a nice, quiet, safe, peaceful environment where I can regain clarity. In any case, the beautiful as well as tragic experiences of life are less resisted, I find, within the spaciousness that a blank sheet of paper provides, and there I am able to discover “what’s really going on for me.”

And then there are those times when something so profoundly moving and transformative occurs that it pushes me right up against the limits of language, as though all of the words must dissolve into light in order for the experience to be conveyed to the reader, yet words are the tools we must use. It is in the formless magical process of pulling elements together into a metaphor to attempt to convey such feelings that I often feel an almost overwhelming appreciative awe at the relatedness of everything, yet also this yearning to more fully allow that which I can sense just on the other side of my words. In this deep reflection and listening, I am sometimes then given a gift of understanding which I never really expected.

For me, writing is kind of like meditation. It isn’t always easy to completely relax, random competing thoughts or worries arise and seek attention, but when I am centered, moments of pure bliss sometimes show up as well. It’s not something I can go running after by developing a “method of relaxation blissing out to metaphor.” I do know, however, that the more open I am to what is, the more often these periods of deep peace and real joy with writing tend to occur. It’s like a quote I heard listening to a recent Jack Kornfield podcast. “Enlightenment,” wrote one master, “is an accident. But certain efforts can make one accident prone.” Creative writing is definitely on the list of “certain efforts.”

©John Greenleaf-Maple – text and art 7/18/17

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