Between the Present and the Possible: The Zen of Creativity

The greatest artists know that they bring nothing to the marble, and nothing to the canvas.The sculpture is already in the marble, the painting is already in the canvas, and it’s already in the paint. The greatest artists are obedient enough to the work to let the work reveal itself; it’s in their obedience to the work that the hidden work within can be discovered.

 

By Duane Toops

If you’re at all familiar with any of my work or creative endeavors you know that one thing that I really harp on is learning out loud and documenting the process.

Even though I’m committed to documenting the process, I’m not always great at actually doing that. I don’t always document as much of the process as I probably could.

For example, usually when I make a video, or record a podcast, or write a blog or an article, the subject matter is something that I’ve already been thinking about for a while. In other words, you don’t really get to see the idea as it develops, and you aren’t really involved in that developmental part of the process. You don’t get to witness the idea taking shape, or be involved in that pondering.

Sometimes viewers and readers get to see glimpses of it but, mostly they just kind of get the end result or the finished product.

I think a lot of times those early creative stages of an idea’s conception is when I’m at my most “spontaneous.” What I mean is, I don’t spend a lot time looking for things to write about, I don’t actively go looking for things to make videos or podcasts, I’m just driven by curiosity and the whimsy of inspiration.

As I’m reading, listening to podcasts, having conversations, something grabs my attention, sparks my interest, ignites my curiosity, and then I start thinking about it and exploring it. I start researching and making notes and playing with the idea until it’s starts to take shape.

Michelangelo wrote,”The greatest artist does not have any concept, which a single piece of marble does not itself contain within its excess, though only a hand that obeys the intellect can discover it.”

Elsewhere Michelangelo writes that, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

The greatest artists know that they bring nothing to the marble, and nothing to the canvas.

The sculpture is already in the marble, the painting is already in the canvas, and it’s already in the paint. The greatest artists are obedient enough to the work to let the work reveal itself; it’s in their obedience to the work that the hidden work within can be discovered.

Now look I’m not saying that I’m some great artist; I just barely know what I’m doing. But, I guess in a weird way, I think of myself as a kind of sculptor. I try to let the idea tell me where it wants to go and how it wants to appear. I try to let the curiosity take over and I just keep chipping away until that something reveals itself to me.

I think my curiosity is constantly trying to teach and tell me something, and I just do my best to listen, learn, and to let it speak. What this means for me is that most of the time I never know when this idea—this inspired curiosity—is going to show up, or where it’s going to come from. Most of the time it’s in unexpected places.

For instance, last night I was scrolling through my Instagram feed being completely unproductive, completely un-creative and completely un-artistic, when I came across a post from Daniel Midson-Short.

He was talking about planning, looking-forward and having something to look forward to.

Daniel explained that even though we talk about being mindful and being present, sometimes we can get a lot joy and happiness when we look forward and have something to look forward to. He alludes to the fact that sometimes we are actually happier in the anticipation of something than we are when that something arrives. Something about that really caught my attention. I thinks it’s partly because that perspective emphasizes the process more than the end result. It emphasizes the journey more than the destination.

I was having a conversation about creativity on Twitter with another YouTuber who calls himself Jason Now What. It was really insightful because I realized that sometimes I think I’m more obsessed with being productive than I am with being creative.

Productivity and creativity overlap and correspond, but they are not synonymous. Their trajectories are different, because productivity is results-centric, creativity is process-centric.

I think there’s also something very Buddhist and very Zen about this as well.

Implicitly it recognizes the fact that reality, more often than not, never matches our expectations. We get so attached to our ideas about the way we want things to be or our expectations for the way we hope things will turn out that when things don’t turn out that way and we experience that disjuncture, we also experience a lot of suffering.

But, that doesn’t mean that I think we shouldn’t make plans, or that we shouldn’t look forward, or even that shouldn’t have something to look forward to. I don’t think that being mindful and being present are necessarily antithetical to planning and looking forward. The key is not to get so caught up in planning and looking forward that we neglect the present, that we neglect the process.

I think another key is not to get so attached to our plans that we cause ourselves unnecessary suffering when our plans fail or change.

As Michelangelo says, “Every block of stone has a statue inside of it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Sometimes it’s different than what we expected, sometimes it’s different than what we planned, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a masterpiece. It just means that the real joy happens in looking forward to the process of discovery.

I think we have to learn to relish both the present and the possible. I think meditation and creativity are practices that invite us to sit within the tension of the present and the possible, the tension of the already and the not yet.

That tension between is something I want to continue to think about more. I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

 

Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall

 

 

Did you like this post? You might also like:

 

 

Fat Shaming is Real.

  [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image=""...

The Witness: Living Through the Trauma of Watching Domestic Violence. {Part 1}

  By Erica Kaufmann “Objection!” The defense attorney interrupted. “The response is irrelevant to the question!” “Sustained,” said the judge, looking down at her. She knew him, went to school with his son, and she imagined his big belly underneath his black robe,...

How Chilling Out Gives Us Equanimity

  By Lee Glazier I dig tranquility. It's probably my favorite (uh, I don't know what I'd call it) I guess, maybe virtue (in the parlance of our times). I'm a Dudeist priest and I've practiced Zen and Taosim on and off for a few years, but if I had to slap a "serious"...

A New Year with Our Beautiful Old Selves.

  By Tammy T. Stone Plain and simple: our thoughts are never entirely new. Imagine if every time you had a thought, a little fact-checking creature inside of you rang a gong and shouted, “Unoriginal thought! The thought you just experienced already occurred at place...

Comments

comments

Duane Toops

Columnist at The Tattooed Buddha
Husband, father, fledgling Buddhist, struggling meditator, writer, and content creator. He has a BA in Religion, has taken the Precepts and Refuge vows in the TsaoTung Chan lineage, and is currently completing an MA in Humanities.
(Visited 52 times, 1 visits today)