creative samadhi

meditation

Many moons ago, I did a 200 hour yoga teacher training at a yoga studio in NYC. I had been practicing yoga for about three years at that point and was ready to deepen my practice. I fell in love with this studio right away. It was two blocks from my job so getting there was easy, and I was there as often as I could be. The walls were painted in the most vibrant colors, and every corner of the space exuded pure joy. I walked in with a broken heart and walked out with an open heart. This studio had healed me.

So, with a lot of gratitude, I decided to dive headfirst into this training, committing to several months of weekends at the studio. As students, we were given many assignments that were beyond the physical practice of yoga. One such task was to memorize (and chant) a mantra all about samadhi. I wish I could remember the exact mantra, but unfortunately, all I remember is how hard it was to wrap my head around the concept of samadhi.

Defined as “the highest stage in meditation, in which a person experiences oneness with the universe,” samadhi seemed completely out of reach to me. Samadhi is the endpoint, the ultimate, the goal, the union, the big finish. How on earth was I going to get close enough to understand it? At that point in my life, I probably wasn’t going to get close enough, but I could still be curious.

I reached out to one of my teachers and asked her to tell me more about samadhi, what it is, and how to get there. Her answer surprised me. To her, samadhi was teaching. From the moment she chanted the first om to the final savasana, she was in a state of pure samadhi. As a very fortunate student of hers, I completely understood her answer. She was a very gifted teacher and had to enter another state of being to deliver the classes she was teaching —  classes where her students felt inspired, open, and fearless.

To this day, I continue to reflect on her answer and realize that samadhi must not be that far off from being in a state of creative flow. In this state, time does not matter, fear does not exist, there is a feeling of fluidity and motion. You are a creator and you are in the zone.

As you can guess, this is also not an easy state to achieve. Like meditating to the point of samadhi, or deepening your physical asana practice, it requires commitment. I hesitate to use the word effort, but I think practice and repeated action are key. My teacher was teaching in a state of samadhi because she was very experienced and had put in a lot of time, both in her own practice and in the practice of teaching others.

Is there such a thing as creative samadhi? I think there might be. To me, combining the concept of creative flow and samadhi is not only finding a rhythm in your work, but finding a union between your work and your self. It’s more than doing something well, it’s about doing your life’s work.

Something big to think about and reach for, right? Remember, I’m on the journey with you.

Some further reading:
The Hidden Art of Achieving Creative Flow via zenhabits
Samadhi: The Height of Divine Consciousness via Sri Chimnoy
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Beautiful meditation photo courtesy of Moyan Brenn

Posted on May 14, 2014 in creativity 0

3 relationships to fear in the creative process

A few weeks ago, a friend with whom I talk about all things creative asked, “What do you like to write about?” I had an easy answer for her — fear and creativity. At that moment I was certain that everything I was writing about was related to the creative process and how scary that was. Most of what I was thinking about was related to being afraid to put myself out there, feeling like whatever I was creating was not worth reading / seeing / experiencing, etc. I just kept thinking I wasn’t good enough and I shouldn’t even bother.

Once I said this out loud and had a chance to think on it for a few days, I realized something. While I may have been thinking about fear and creativity, I was actually experiencing fear and distraction.

For what feels like years, I have allowed distraction to sneak in at every possible turn. Between social media outlets like Facebook & Twitter, ridiculous amounts of content on Netflix (The West Wing, Mad Men, Breaking Bad!), and the seemingly infinite availability of information about what EVERYONE ELSE on the planet is doing right now at this very moment… well gosh, it’s enough to make your head spin. It’s also enough to make you lose hours, days, weeks of your life and have nothing to show for it. That’s kind of a huge bummer.

After having a few days to let that depressing thought sink in, something else hit me over the head. This is really about fear and desire. I thought about what I am afraid of — right now. Every single thing is wrapped up in what I really want. Every one. If it’s what I want and I know it, then why is it so scary?

I wish I had the answer.

This is all a process for me, and I can only outline what I’ve stumbled across so far. My relationship to fear has been evolving a lot recently, and I know it will continue to do so over time.

I leave you with a few ideas to ponder if you are experiencing the same sorts of relationships to fear:

Fear and creativity. Just make work, lots of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, it’s all helping you learn more about your process and your art. I’m currently trying to practice this and it is not easy. I am choosing to listen to this voice: Do it anyway.

Fear and distraction. Turn off social media, turn off the tv. Set a timer. Find a creative space and go analog with a paper and pen, no wifi, and if it’s up your alley, listen to some classical music. Go somewhere unfamiliar and just be in the space. Break patterns, disrupt from within.

Fear and desire. If you really want it, go get it. And if you need to get there, draw a map in the form of small, actionable tasks. If you can’t think of any, contact me and I will make you a list!

I hope this gets you started on something you have been wanting to work on. It’s something I’m chipping away at every day and learning as I go. That’s why they call it a process.

Posted on May 6, 2014 in creativity 0

daily rituals

dailyrituals

A few days ago, I had my first post published on The Pastry Box, a website that shares one thought each and every single day from a diverse group of people working in the creative and web industries. My submission was about perfectionism, inspired by the number of tries it took me to get to the perfect post. As a reader, you got to experience the fruits of those “failures” in the form of last week’s blog posts. My post about not getting too attached to ideas came after, and I think it was a decent culmination of what I had learned.

One of the my favorite points that I shared in that post about perfectionism was the following:

Cultivate a creative routine. I try to write daily in my journal. If I don’t have time, I only write a few sentences instead of a few pages. It still counts. Make creative acts part of your daily routine, no matter how small.

Daily journal writing has been a critical part of my creative journey. I’ve written in journals on and off since I was a child. I have many journals that were never finished and even more that were written in from cover to cover. Some have lines, some have squares, and some are blank sketchbooks that are used for sentences instead of doodles.

Last summer, with a group of 9 other creative women, I read The Artist’s Way, and committed to spending 12 weeks waking up every day and writing 3 pages of stream of consciousness thoughts (aka Morning Pages). By doing this with a group, I had the motivation to keep going, and the support of a small community of peers to share in the experience. It was a good way to revive a lapsed writing habit.

I should share that I didn’t go the full 12 weeks, I stopped about halfway through. I stayed in the group and admitted that I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t the only one. But there were plenty of women that kept pushing and were having massive creative breakthroughs. For some it was beyond creative, it was life-changing.

I had to stop because the pages were making me angry, and I didn’t want to face what I was writing, or where I was and what I was doing. So I gave up. Which, if you know me at all, you will know that I do that a lot. But… again, if you know me at all, you also know, it is part of my creative process. Yes, that is a breakthrough for me.

I picked up that journal again months later, and returned it to its place as a daily ritual. I made some other adjustments to my creative process along the way. I know that I need to get up and move my body almost every day. So writing in my journal has become something I do first thing in the morning after I work out. But the ritual doesn’t necessarily start there either.

I’m currently reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. This is a book that is turning my creative world upside down and each day I absorb more is a complete thrill. Twyla talks about her own daily creative ritual. She says it starts the moment she gets into a cab to go to the gym at 5:30 in the morning. You’d think that as a dancer and a choreographer, it would begin the moment she entered the studio. That’s how she begins her book, in a white, empty studio — her version of a blank canvas. But she clarifies, it is that act of getting in the cab to go to the gym, where she warms her body, a necessity for her to approach her own creative acts.

For me, the first step in my creative process is putting my running clothes out on the bathroom counter before I go to sleep at night. When I get up in the morning, they’re ready and waiting for me. I get dressed and go for a run outside and get to experience the following: fresh air, sunlight, clouds, wind, smells, sounds, and best of all, the feeling of a moving meditation.

In the last week, I’ve started listening to audiobooks during my run, which may seem trivial, but it is a way to take one of my favorite activities and imbue it with even more creative inspiration. It has been exactly one week, and I am not sure if you noticed, but I’ve been writing like crazy.

Last year I read Thrive by Brendan Brazier, an inspiring vegan athlete, and he talked about how his best writing happened after a good run. I believe him.

Now when I write in my journal, it’s after I’ve gotten up, out, and moved my body. It goes hand in hand with my chocolate, raspberry, and kale protein smoothie. Sometimes there’s music, sometimes, there isn’t. I use a specific kind of pen. Sometimes I write a lot, and sometimes not much at all.

Some days, like today, I am so excited to write that I basically outline my larger thought that I choose to share with you via this blog.

It’s always different, and always evolving, as a creative process should.

But it starts with a daily ritual.

Posted on April 28, 2014 in creativity 6

don’t get too attached to ideas, just create work

Back in my college days, I was very into photography. I was taught by a wonderful teacher who was, like any art school professor, a bit of an eccentric. He only wore black clothing: black t-shirts, black jeans, black cowboy boots. His thinning gray hair was tightly pulled into a knot atop his head and he was obsessed with all things Japanese. He was fairly tall and would have most definitely been “Big in Japan.” You get the idea.

Photography class was awesome. It was in this class I truly embraced being an observer of people and a storyteller — skills that I use to this day in my life and work. There were many valuable lessons and skills learned in this class (like critique!), but I want to focus on this one:

You have to produce a TON OF CRAP in order to create something beautiful or worth looking at / thinking about.

Yes, my friends, we are going back in time to the 1990s, where digital cameras either didn’t exist or were crazy expensive. And iPhones? Forget it! We’re talking FILM, baby. And lots of it. My photography adventures were exercises in bulk rolling my own film cartridges, taking copious amounts of pictures, and poring over contact sheets for that ONE (two if I was lucky) image that was fit for print.

In the end, even those images were probably crap, but the experience of all that shooting was invaluable. I learned to stop trying to take the perfect photo, to study scenes from multiple angles, and to generally be more comfortable with being all up in people’s faces. By producing tons of work, I was increasing my chances for success — that is, to get to the images that truly resonated.

There’s a great story in the book Art & Fear about a ceramics class that was divided into two groups: one group was tasked to make the perfect bowl, while the other group had to create as many bowls as possible. At the end of the semester, they would be graded on who actually did make the perfect bowl. As you can imagine, the group that produced tons and tons of bowls (and probably a lot of crap) had mastered the technique and made a pretty damn perfect bowl.

I’m trying to apply this same thinking to my writing lately. I think most of it is crap, but I just keep putting the words and sentences together because I want to see what I can reveal in the process. I encourage you to take this high production approach to something you’ve been noodling on lately. I’d love to hear more about what you discover.

I leave you with this photo I took of my niece on my last visit home. I just love her expression, but as you can see, it took quite a few photos to get there :)

babybaby

Read more about the bowls story from Art & Fear on lifeclever’s blog.

Posted on April 25, 2014 in creativity 3

when the muse appears

3547128317_04b011457fI bought my first domain name (ahem, this one) in the winter of 2000. The name was sort of arbitrary and somewhat inspired by random cool stuff I was starting to see online. There was significantly less “stuff” online compared to today. Up until that point, I had been using server space on my university server. I had a URL with a tilda (~) in it and everything. Since I had graduated several months before, I just assumed it was time to find new digs for my online world.

The domain sat dormant for months until some changes in my environment, both personally and professionally, caused the muse to appear. Oh, the muse. She is ever so fickle and has this funny way of appearing at the most unexpected times and disappearing in the blink of an eye.

At that time, I worked in a small design studio that was deeply inspiring to me. My coworkers and I were fast friends, and we had a place to play. And when there’s room to play, there’s room to create. The muse was in full swing and she and I had a ball together. With her energy around, I worked tirelessly on my creative efforts. Whole days and nights spent at the studio, playing just the right music, and taking brief breaks at the coffee shop next door or the record store at the end of the cobblestone street.

I was someone who made something and it felt damn good.

Buoyed by this creative energy, I made bigger changes to my surroundings, including a move across country. The muse did not join me. In fact, it seemed as though she stayed away for quite a while. Years, in fact. Where inspiration once lived, there was now a void.

After more moves, more changes, and more recoveries from various failures and rejections, that crazy muse showed up again. And, as always, in the most unexpected of ways. Something came across my plate and I said yes. More like a “why not” type of yes, but a yes nonetheless. Saying yes brought her back from the recesses of wherever she had gone to, and once again, it was salad days. Inspiration from all angles, the motivation and discipline to go all in.

After many creative adventures, and not unlike the time before, she quietly slipped away when I wasn’t looking. And once again, I felt the void. I wasn’t satisfied with the state of things this time around and decided to go looking for her. Over the course of what felt like years (and probably was years), I searched high and low for her. I asked everyone who would listen if they knew where she was. I searched in books, on the internet, in my living space, the library, in museums, theaters, and cafes. My efforts were in vain.

So I stopped looking and started working. Very small tasks, extremely baby steps but with great intention. Even the tiniest of efforts can make a huge difference. I started to feel her energy once again. I felt things shifting, doors opening, lights turning on.

I realized that she was there all along. The muse had never left.

And so, my friends, when you find your muse (and you will if you haven’t already), the first thing she’ll probably say is…“Ready when you are.”

Photo courtesy of Nina Matthews on Flickr.

Posted on April 22, 2014 in creativity 3