Observing the Path: A Personal Perspective on Meditation and Creativity
“Observing the Path: A Personal Perspective on Meditation and Creativity”
Over the years, I have often reflected on the lyrics of poet Robert Hunter’s song Ripple. In one of the latter verses of the song he states:
“There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night. And if you go, no one may follow, that path is for your steps alone.”
In Hebrew Kabbalah, there are specific words for this idea of a path that is for your steps alone. The Sefer Yetzirah (see commentary by Aryeh Kaplan), one of the foundational texts of the Kabbalistic system, refers to this type of road as a Netivot, which is a personal path, as opposed to a Derekh, which is a public road. These Netivot are the 32 paths of the tree to be explored in the process of developing a more complete awareness of the scope of life and being. One’s relationship and understanding to the various paths on the Tree of Life are referred to as being Peliyot, which has the connotation of being hidden, concealed, and transcendent. The idea is that the paths are within you, ever present, ever expanding, and for you solely to etch out as you grow in your ability to express life more fully. As Hunter states, that path is for your steps alone.
How this relates to me in this current time is that I have never been public about my interest in meditation as that relates to my music. If you were to run into me at a gig, or other public forum, it’s not the first thing I am going to talk to you about. Actually I probably won’t talk to you about it at all! There is a time and place for that sort of conversation, which is dependent upon the capacity and interest of the participants. If the conversation is there, and seems necessary, then I will engage it. If not, I am just as comfortable talking about sports, music, politics, or whatever is present.
The sense that I needed to write this article and go into a bit of detail about my practice came about through the release of my first album, “Echoes of the Ancestors”. For the first time, in public, I went into detail about the inspiration, and origins of my compositional process, and how my interests in various forms of meditation influenced that process. Yes, I have written several articles on the subject of meditation, but I have always been wary of the idea of promoting myself musically as a meditation practitioner. There are a lot of misconceptions and preconceived notions that I feel may come with that, so instead of fearing the misconceptions of others, here I will lay out what that path looks like for me.
I didn’t come to meditation practice through a yoga studio or a New Age movement. Meditation has been an interest of mine since early childhood. My father would tell me stories about Tibetan yogis as well as other traditions. I also had an uncle who studied the Vedas with a Guru for a couple decades. I had other family members as well who influenced my interest in mysticism through a shared experience of life and stories. This all piqued a deep interest in me as a child. One story in particular that I was told around the age of 6 always stuck in my mind. It was about a Tibetan Lama in training, who was put in a dark room for several weeks, in which his intuitive consciousness was expanded significantly, and his third eye was awakened, after which his perception of the world was changed significantly. I would later learn that this is a common practice called a “Dark Retreat” in the Tibetan Bon Dzogchen tradition. One aspect of the dark retreat is to recognize the nature of reality as a projection of Mind. When one develops a deep foundation of the Emptiness of Mind, one in turn can also work with the Something-ness of Mind in a different way, recognizing the base of Emptiness/Self-Arising wisdom as the natural state.
It would seem that this idea of Emptiness/Self-arising wisdom was present, though subconscious, for me early on, and there was an understanding of a later direction to be developed within me. Around 17-18 years old, I began to get deeply into the idea of becoming an empty vessel, receiving the creativity that moved through me as a musician, writer, and in general all facets of my life. Instead of depending on a forced recognition of mental constructs, I would wait patiently for the ideas to come to me. That process encompassed all aspects of my life, from creative pursuits, to day to day living. The intention was to hold my mind in silence, and then observe what arose. Those observations were then put to the test in the real-world to see their validity. For instance, I would have a notion that a friend was thinking about me, and needed something, and then within an hour they would call me or I would run into them. I would have a sense that I needed to be in a specific place at a specific time, and I would follow that intuition to see what the experience brought. Other thought experiments included being aware of thoughts that passed through my mind and questioning their origin, and then in turn observing the emotions, words, and actions of those around me to understand whether the thought was originating within me or another person in the room. The underlying premise of this was that thoughts are shared between groups of people, and thought is not something that belongs directly to you, or emanates in you, but rather is received by you. The brain is viewed as a receptive antenna. In terms of creativity, I would feel like the seed of an idea was expanding above my head, and then I would just be open to it, listening to what came out of it musically, or otherwise. Referring back to the chorus of the Robert Hunter song Ripple, he states“Ripple in still water, when there is no pebble tossed, nor wind to blow.” I wasn’t attached to the idea of an absolute truth, but rather an openness to what is present, and what is revealed as life presents you with various opportunities, challenges, and adventures.
From doing these experiments, one can observe that there is a play of objectivity and subjectivity in both Life and creative process; not that either of these are really separate, for what is life, if not a creative process? Meditation is no different. . The idea of meditation is so often associated with primarily the idea of being empty and clearing the mind, that people often forget to notice the richness of the Something arising from that Emptiness. There is a diversity in the meditation process, and that process can take on many forms. This is where the utilization of symbolism can become a highly useful tool creatively. It is pure psychology; a tool for both understanding and then utilizing the Mind as a creative agent. There is a long standing tradition in both Eastern and Western meditation practices with respects to the use of symbols and images in meditation practice. The renowned psychologist Carl Jung wrote extensively on this subject in his works Psychology of Religion East and West, Psychology and Alchemy, Aion, Mysterium Coniuntionis, and other works. Many of practitioners of the Hermetic tradition of Qabalah (non-Jewish Kabbalah) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were highly influenced by the new field of psychology, because they recognized that it was in line as a science with the work the meditation traditions had been doing for centuries. A tarot deck properly understood is an amalgam of symbol sets to be held in the mind and meditated. Astrology, when understood as a psychological tool for reflection, can become something quite different than reading your weekly horoscope. It is a play of archetypal images that relate to each other in an array of ways, leading the receptive mind through many corridors. These corridors can lead to deep wells of creativity that are latent within the collective subconscious. The nullification of the sense of self through the detachment process of meditating all things as Emptiness is then understood as a necessary step to delve deeper into these wells, without confusing one’s “I” as the source of the images, sounds, or other input. The stream is moving through you and you are the process by which it becomes manifest. Referring back to the dark retreat; one learns first hand through the opening of visionary states that seem so real and literally in front of you, and yet, all of this is a projection of mind, in many respects beautiful, useful, and fruitful, but nonetheless a projection of mind.
I could go into more detail, but the point is, meditation isn’t just a bunch of New Age savants, or sexy girls in yoga pants sitting on a yoga mat chanting OM, drinking wine, and feeling blissed out. It’s also not just some long bearded yogi sitting on top of the Himalayas in a loin cloth, removed from society blissed out. Meditation, if you are serious about it, is intensive work on all levels, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It is a constant process, here and now in every moment, in every facet of life. It is Awareness in the truest sense; you are becoming more acutely aware of the world, and how you relate to it, work in it, and work with others. You are meditating right now as you are reading this article. Five minutes from now when you are taking a shit, browsing Facebook, and thinking about your day, you are still meditating. The only difference between you and the yogi on the mountain is your level of awareness of the process. The presence of those so called higher states is already there within you. This is where there IS a difference between you and the yogi on the mountain; but only in degree of awareness.
Even if the “higher-awareness” is already there latent, it still takes constant years of work and discipline. There is no easy ride, or magic pill to undo the training of the filters that have been developed in your being. No hallucinogen is your permanent portal to enlightenment. And for that matter, it is no use to sit in front of a Guru for years, basking in their consciousness, believing you are further along than you are, and then falling on your face every time you leave their presence and can’t hold it together. The work is yours, and the path is long. As i mentioned initially, you are engaged in the Netivot, the personal path, and that path is Peliyot, hidden, concealed and transcendent. You are transcending the filters that have been built, and it is these filters that make the natural state of your pure, open awareness appear to be hidden and concealed. It is within you, and for you solely to etch out, and uncover.
Meditation is not an escape from your problems; actually, it’s quite the opposite. When one comes into a school of advanced practitioners, all of your muck is going to be drudged to the surface. One friend of mine referred to it as taking a shower, saying that the first several years of your practice is like taking a shower. The action of the teacher or teaching is not to take you away from your “problems/karma”, but rather to put you right in the eye of the hurricane to deal with them head on. That sounds heavy, but don’t make it mystical. Go inside your emotions, and see what is behind them. Go into your thought patterns, and see what is at their root. In everything you encounter in life, go to the root. Look at your self-image, and deconstruct it to its root. If you go deep enough, you will perhaps find that Emptiness is the root base, and all else is Self-Arising wisdom in its many forms across the whole spectrum of human existence. This does not deny the richness of the experience of all facets of life; it encompasses them from their source. The source of both the path and the pursuer of the path, the realization of Om Tat Sat in Sanskrit, the Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh in Hebrew, I AM that I AM, the functioning unification of force and form, a direct recognition of the non-duality of being, while giving duality it’s place to play as well.
Contemplate and create!