In trying to re-inspire myself as I undertake another large creative endeavour, I have re-read my master’s thesis paper, which touches upon creativity as a spiritual practice. I need to remember my bigger why -- 'art as path', because the final destination of this new project is deeply uncertain. I've copied and pasted the parts of my 13 204 word paper that stuck out to me most on this round of reading below:
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To summarize; before Zen the mountains are mountains and waters are waters. After that first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters. After enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.
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Ultimately, I’m interested in the connection between an engaged creative practice and inner-awakening. In making art as a legitimate path to self-realization, which is obviously an endeavour far beyond the reach of this film. Yet I strive to use creativity as a spiritual practice. Spirituality being defined as self-realization or enlightenment, rather than anything associated with religion which I consider an externally imposed belief system. In Michel Foucault’s 1984 essay What is Enlightenment, based on Immanuel Kant’s answer to the question two hundred years earlier, he defines “Enlightenment” as an attitude towards the present moment where one is released from “the status of immaturity.” This immaturity does not imply a lack of physical growth, but a “certain state of our will that makes us accept someone else’s authority to lead us in areas where the use of reason is called for.” Foucault sides with Baudelaire’s belief that the only sphere in which one can “face the task of producing himself,” is art. While we are obviously born human, these philosophers state that it takes a creative practice to become human. Foucault even explains how one can stay immature and unenlightened; when “a spiritual director takes the place of our conscience” — when we govern ourselves according to the map of religion instead of observing the territory of our lived experience. Essentially, I’m using my own challenging and ecstatic lived experiences as the entry point to self-inquiry and freedom.
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The notion of art as a path to enlightenment, and a keen awareness of the present moment being the gate-less gate to this ripened consciousness, extends far beyond Western philosophers. Author and spiritual teacher Adyashanti writes, “in order to discover our autonomy, we must be free from all external control or influence. If spirituality is to be meaningful, it must deliver us from all forms of dependence — including the dependence on spirituality — and help awaken within us that creative spark which all beings aspire to. For the culmination of spirituality lies not only in discovering our inherent unity and freedom, but also in opening the way for life to express itself through us in a unique and creative way.” Adyashanti’s perspective on spirituality resembles Foucault’s understanding of enlightenment. It’s not merely about discovering liberation, which is just the doorway of self-realization, but also “an act of courage to be accomplished personally.” Enlightenment is awakening to the integration of divinity and humanity.
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When artist, poet, and spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy was asked if a work of art can manifest a higher state of consciousness than the artist himself has actually attained, he responded:
An artist, just like an elevator, can go very high for a fleeting second and create something very high. Then, the next moment, he can drop. But even if he falls as a human being, the thing that he has achieved remains at its original height. Perhaps the artist will never reach that same height in this incarnation again, but his artistic creation remains. When Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” he was in a very high consciousness. But did he remain in that consciousness? When you read the whole of Endymion, you see that there are many lines that are not at all good. But the first line is so powerful. He reached that height for a fleeting second and wrote an immortal line, but then he fell down most comfortably and stayed there. But his achievement remains immortal.
While I do not claim to be creating at the level of Keats, I feel the same way about certain lines of my film script. Being creative has begun to resemble, in its positive effects, my spiritual practice and earlier work as a Yoga teacher and Reiki master. Creativity as a spiritual practice ensures a personally significant relationship to the universe — a kinship to the source light. After receiving the poems, their lines revisit me and the subsequent revelation is no less sublime, much like the spiritual mantras of my past. For example, when I am in a unitive state of consciousness, connected to everything within and without, I often hear the line of my first video poem, “that golden blanket that goes on forever.” Or when I can be with a powerful emotion until it is completely transmuted, I hear my epilogue, “I’d rather be a poet, than prove a point.”
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When Chinmoy was asked what the supreme goal of art was, he answered “Self-discovery, or God-realization, or Life-perfection.” Note here how Self, God, and Life are used synonymously. Chinmoy also noted markers for a soulful work of art that was created from the inside out. “Even if it just touches you, immediately you feel a sense of illumination in your entire being. It’s like a big, surging wave that spreads all around and inundates everything, washing away all impurity. Immediately your being becomes radiant, illumined and totally transformed.” Thomas Moore, American psychotherapist, former monk, and author of A Religion of One's Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, agrees with Chinmoy. He writes about the deep purpose of art being a house for spirit. That art, is not merely an expression of the artist but a form of power, that can be transferred to the viewer and offer healing. He goes further suggesting that art can literally absorb particular rays of astronomical bodies and should be revered as these literal presences. While I may never reach this level of transformative and healing artwork, these descriptions on what art can achieve, precisely align with my personal creative philosophy.
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I have chosen to group my work amongst artists who prioritize their inner life. This shift in consciousness and revival of spirituality is really the call of the times. A society of self- realized individuals don’t require babysitting. Thus, the ways of enlightenment should be reflected in documentary practices, rather than our current climate, highly concerned with honouring our differences (think, ‘identity politics’). And while there is a crucial place for noting distinctions, there must also be a place for art to support the ‘mature’ individual Kant proposed, one free of unquestioned constraint. May we all look within and create without, in a manner perhaps best summarized by renowned Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. “I believe that the justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline, but is rather the gradual lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”