Extract taken from Letters to my Son by Kent Nerburn
"I can measure my life by the moments when art transformed me—standing in front of Michelangelo’s Duomo pieta, listening to Dylan Thomas read his poetry, hearing Bach’s cello suites for the first time.
But not only there.
Sitting at a table in a smoky club listening to Muddy Waters and Little Walter talk back and forth to each other through their instruments; listening to a tiny Japanese girl play a violin sonata at a youth symphony concert; standing in a clapboard gift shop on the edge of Hudson Bay staring at a crudely carved Inuit image of a bear turning into a man.
It can happen anywhere, anytime. You do not have to be in some setting hallowed by greatness, or in the presence of an artist honored around the world. Art can work its magic any time you are in the presence of a work created by someone who has gone inside the act of creation to become what they are creating. When this takes place time stands still and if our hearts are open to the experience, our spirits soar and then our imaginations fly unfettered.
You need these moments if you are ever to have a life that is more than the sum of the daily moments of humdrum affairs.
If you can create these moments—if you are a painter or a poet or a musician or an actor—you carry within you a prize of great worth. If you cannot create them, you must learn to love one of the arts in a way that allows the power of another’s creation to come alive within you.
Once you love an art enough that you can be taken up in it, you are able to experience an echo of the great creative act that mysteriously has given life to us all.
It may be the closest any of us can get to God."
Increasingly I am noticing the word Zen appearing at the beginning of any number of activities. It would appear that if you prefix anything with the word Zen it increases its meaningfulness.
Think about it Zen walking, Zen shopping, Zen doodling, Zen knitting, Zen cooking, Zen blogging even. I am sure there are many more. Now do not get me wrong I am fully aware that any activity can become meaningful if it is practised mindfully. That said it is important to note that it is not so much the activity itself that creates the meaning, more the fact that the person engaging with it is fully present. This is because they are no longer distracted, they are in the moment and therefore released from guilt, resentment and fear. Activities do not become deep and meaningful because we give them fancy names; they become deep and meaningful because of how we engage with them and the impact they have on our souls.
One activity that takes me beyond myself is singing. When singing I can feel totally connected and yet at the same time completely free. I have had some incredibly powerful experiences while singing; experiences that were more than mere pleasure, they were transformative. In recent times I have been exploring singing more deeply. This has been primarily through the singing meditation I have created and begun to share with the wider world. I have also recently attended several workshops that have used sound and the voice to touch those hard to reach spots within all of us. I have enjoyed each session immensely and felt that I have reached some amazing places at times. I have also met some very interesting people at these events and gained so much from my interactions with them. I attended an “overtone singing” session, which was amazing and a lot of fun as well as a workshop on Solfeggio singing and another that incorporated singing bowls. All these touched me on a deep and profound level and got my creative juices flowing. I am somebody who really connects with sound; it touches those creative elements at the core of my being.
Thankfully we are not all the same and many folk are touched by other creative activities. Increasingly I understand how different people are in the ways that they connect to and express who they are. Yes we are made of the same stuff and yet we think differently, we feel differently and we express ourselves differently. I celebrate this.
The thing is to find what connects with us, what wakes us up, what connects deeply with us. The key is to increases our sensitivity to life and therefore enable ourselves to truly express who we are and to share it with the world. Whatever gifts and talents we have and we all have them, they are not for us to keep, to be hoarded selfishly, they are there to be shared with everyone. I believe that this is what the epistle Paul was hinting at in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 when he talks of the variety of gifts that the spirit gives to each individual. These gifts are not given for the individual to use selfishly or to give them a privileged place in society but for the good of all. The gifts are given to the individual for them to express in life itself and for everyone to benefit from them.
This summer we witnessed some immensely talented sporting individuals fulfilling their potential and sharing it with us all. Their achievements lifted the whole nation. Creativity has the ability to do the same. I believe that it can do more than this though; I believe that it is also a pathway to the sacred. Every religious tradition gives credence to the idea that art pleases God and that our spiritual journeys are both fuelled and enhanced by creativity. As Kent Nerburn said in his letter to his son "It may be the closest any of us can get to God."
The creative process is born from life itself, but how does it come into existence? Why did I wake up on Monday morning with this need, this desire, to explore creativity? It did not merely grow from me, it seemed to come from a place somewhere beyond, but I am not sure where.
The ancient Greeks believed that the Muses were the sources of creativity. They believed that these Goddesses would come to a person in the night and whisper an idea into their ear. I find something very beautiful in this mythos and it does seem to reveal a universal truth. Seemingly something comes to us, in our subconscious, while we sleep.
Now please do not get me wrong I do not believe that a little winged creature flew into my room during Sunday night and whispered in my ear. Of course this is not what actually happened. And yet somehow these ideas do seem to be whispered into the ears of our hearts, into our souls, the core of our beings. Somehow this creative idea burst into my consciousness as I awoke on Monday morning.
This mythos speaks of a creative process that begins and ends beyond the individual; it speaks of an alchemy of brain, experience and wisdom that adds up to more than the individual who created the work; it speaks of a greater mystery. There is something divine occurring in the process; there is something at work here that calls the creation out of the individual; there is something going on here that is more than self, that cannot be controlled. I know myself that some weeks I am so full of ideas that they are seemingly bursting out of my ears and yet other weeks the well is dry. Some days I am completely blocked and then suddenly, as if something had just whispered in my ears, the idea just comes bursting out of me and I start writing again. Could this be God? Is God controlling this? Who knows?
Personally I do not hold with the view of a God who controls all our interaction, nor do I have a deistic understanding of a Creator who started the process but then left life to get on with it. Nor am I an atheist or even agnostic, I know a Divine presence in life. I believe in the Divine Lure of Love. That the Divine lures life on, that we are co-creators, with all of life in a universal process. I sense this divine presence within me and I experience it in life itself, particularly in creativity or in deeply felt interactions.
The Unitarian process theologian Henry Nelson Weiman (1884-1975) defined God as a process that leads people to act in ways that sustain and nurture life. Creativity is at the heart of this. Whenever we create we turn our whole selves inside out. This enables us to become aware of who we truly are, thus revealing what sustains and nurtures us. When we create we allow others to see deep within our humanity, thus enabling them to widen their view of human need and possibility.
Also whatever we create only becomes complete when we share it with others; this blog is only complete when you read and perhaps respond to it. Such creations are meant to communicate beyond their very selves. Weiman called this “Creative Interchange”. We all create and we all pay attention to the creations of others; we are all craft workers and craft consumers.
By you reading this blog that I have created we are engaing in creative interchange!
When we interact with one another’s creations we are deeply engaged with one another and all of life for that matter. You can pre-fix it with the word Zen, but I do not think it is necessary. When we create we open windows into each other’s humanity. As we do so we create windows that can lead to a deeper understanding of what sustains all life. This I believe leads us to living a life that is for the good of all and not just ourselves.
We are all born with the ability to create and to appreciate the creativity of others. We are all craft workers and craft consumers. As we create and consume we experience a sense of interconnection with all of life, which enables us to nurture and sustain our world. For it is up to us to do so as we dance our dance with the divine creator.
I am going to end this little chip of blog with some words by Desmond Tutu
“We were made to enjoy music, to enjoy beautiful sunsets, to enjoy looking at the billows of the sea and to be thrilled with a rose that is bedecked with dew...Human beings are actually created for the transcendent, for the sublime, for the beautiful, for the truthful...and all of us are given the task of trying to make this world a little more hospitable to these beautiful things.”
You are all beautiful...never forget that...it will bring you closer to God...