I am helplessly seduced by
solitude, silence, stillness
but sooner or later
I get horny for creativity.
Sutra is a Sanskrit word that can mean thread, (sew, stitches) or spiritual teachings. Since I was on retreat at the remote Krishnamurti Uttarkashi Retreat at the time, both meanings are relevant to this piece.
Walking in the high Himalayan forest I was enchanted by the pieces of bark that would fall from the trunks of huge trees and lie scattered on the forest floor like small sculptures in their own right.
I had no art materials or equipment with me. Everything used in this piece was either scavenged from the roadside, under the trees, beside the River Ganges, or bought in the village market.
340 x 900
Stitching, gilding, assemblage
Khadi paper, hessian sackcloth, threads, river stone, old cotton dhoti, recycled cardboard, tree bark*
*Bark from the Chilgoza Pine – Pinus Gerardiana – which is native to the northwestern Himalayas. The fragments in this piece were gathered in forests near Uttarkashi, northwest India. Chilgoza Pine is a cousin of the Lacebark Pine (a native of northeastern and central China) and is also found in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan.
I’ve tried many ways. I delight in “Seeing-Drawing”, the wonderful meditative practice I learned from Frederick Franck on one of his retreats and also from his classic The Zen of Seeing. I’ve tried just about every form of visual poetry: color, tone, texture. They have all been effective to a degree. Frederick Franck used to assert that the inexpressible was the only thing worth expressing. I took this statement as a koan as I explored ways to express that ineffable quietude.
It wasn’t until my practice distilled down to the essential life-tide of beingness that I approached real stillness, real quietude.
One soft succulent dawn in India I asked myself, “How would I express that which is most fundamental to my life?
What would that look like?
Breathe in. Breathe out and let a line flow… and again, and again, again.
I drew my breath.
That was how it began – by just putting down a simple horizontal line every time I exhaled. On the inhalation I paused; returned to my palette.
The line drawn, or painted, was as long as the out-breath, or as long as the paint in the brush lasted.
It didn’t take long for the breath to take over. As I gave myself over more freely and openly to its movement, it rose up and wrapped itself around me. It picked me up and melted me into its rhythm.
I had entered breath’s temple of quietude and I was nowhere to be found.
There was only this breath-breathing Beingness.
my brush is my suijo
breath-prayer for Miriam
Let’s talk about some piece of music or work of art that comes out of connectedness with Stillness, or Presence. To some extent, the work of art or the piece of music still carries that energy field. It can put [one] in touch with the deeper dimension within. But there’s a little bit of an opening required. If there’s only the density of the ego, then the transformational possibilities of art or music are not realized.
A little opening is required in the viewer, or the listener, and then it can be quite a wonderful thing to listen to music or to contemplate a work of art. You can be transported, if only for a moment, into that alert stillness out of which it originally came. That’s a beautiful thing.
Another aspect is ‘losing oneself’ — going too deep, almost losing oneself in the ground out of which creativity comes. In the creative process, there’s always a balance that’s needed, so that you don’t lose yourself in Being. It could happen to an artist, it can happen to some people who awaken spiritually — they suddenly plunge so deeply into Being that they lose all interest in doing. […]
As long as you go within, and give form to that which is resting in the formless, be used by it — so that through you it can come into this world of form. Don’t stay down there and lose yourself in it — that’s not necessary. […]
You can see it wherever it is — no matter in what form it is hiding. You can see the truth shining through wherever it is hiding.
– Eckhart Tolle
Artwork by Robert Ryman
John Daido Loori, Roshi, Think Non-thinking, 2000
Sumi-e on paper
The still point is at the heart of the creative process. In Zen, we access it through zazen. The still point is like the eye of the hurricane. Still, calm, even in the midst of chaos. It is not, as many believe, a void to retreat into, shutting out the world. To be still means to empty yourself from the incessant flow of thoughts and create a state of consciousness that is open and receptive. Stillness is very natural and uncomplicated. It’s not esoteric in any way. Yet it’s incredibly profound.
. . .
“I find myself agitated most of the time,” said a young man, so it’s difficult for me to sit. What would you suggest I do?”
Eido [Shimano] reached for the pitcher of water that was sitting next to him. He lifted it with a swift jerk, causing water to spill. “What can I do?” Then he jerked the pitcher to the right. Again water spilled. “I don’t know what is happening.” Again to the left. “I can’t settle down.” Again to the right. Suddenly he held the pitcher high above his head and in a deep voice shouted, “TIME TO SHUT UP AND SIT!” and slammed the pitcher on the floor. He reared back, stared at the pitcher, pointed at it, turned to the audience, and said, “Look, it’s still.” Again he folded his hands, lowered his eyes, and became silent.
– John Daido Loori, Roshi
Source – both of these passages come from The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life by John Daido Loori, Roshi