Saturday, April 26, 2014

ARTICLE ~ Instructions for the Artist ~ No 4, 'Put your Awakened Mind to work'

The fourth in a series of articles based on Dogen's Instructions for the Tenzo, exploring how it might be applied to artistic practice and work in general.

'Put your Awakened Mind to work'

I have by no stretch of the imagination 'seen things as they really are' Though I do have an intuitive vision for what it may be like, and I've been lucky enough to find the Dharma as a means of moving myself towards it. So, whilst I'm not fully awakened, my eyes are open and able to see, if not fully comprehend, should I wish to. The desire to see things clearer is awakened in me, even if its still quite densely foggy most of the time. Whatever state my 'awakened mind' has reached, Dogen suggests it should be put to work within my day to day life.

To have any degree of insight, you have first to be able to see, to actually notice and interpret your ordinary everyday life from the perspective of the Dharma . It is, after all, right there before our eyes, yet mostly we blink and miss it, because the 'awakened' part of our mind is not yet substantial enough and is less accessible to being put to work.
Whether we are creating a meal, or creating an artwork it is no different in terms of what we practice. The same general human neuroses, mental habits, self esteem issues, emotional mood swings, fluctuations of feeling are there regardless of lifestyle or circumstance. I can go from elation to frustration in the space of a second, be very still and concentrated one minute only to be tense and restless the next. To start a morning feeling inspired and on a creative roll only to be wallowing in despondency, feelings of stagnation and worthlessness by the end of the day.

Spotting these shifts of mood and being able to respond creatively and with sufficient agility to transform them, is the bread and butter of everyday spiritual practice. It requires confidence in oneself, not just as an artist, but also as a spiritual practitioner. What throws our state of mind and emotions into such states of turmoil?  It's usually a 'wordly wind' making itself strongly present in our mind. There's a need for praise, or to avoid blame, the desire for fame, or to escape shame or guilt, you've lost something you loved, or gained something you wanted, experienced great pleasure, or strong aversion to a painful situation. These 'winds' can suddenly rise up and blow us off course at any time.

When one of them gusts through the artistic process, questions of 'I want' or 'don't want' will undoubtedly be fouling and clogging up the aesthetic air. Worldly winds are generally instantly recognisable. they are just that very obviously 'worldly'. They are neither good nor bad, just unhelpful if one wants to encourage spiritual progress in oneself.  Making a negative judgement any time they should appear, tends to only compound the issue, by introducing further 'blame, and 'pain' on top of what is already all too present.  As these issues arise during the day, an artist, or anyone for that matter, has to train themselves not only to spot the 'wordly mind' when it is present, but then to put their 'awakened mind' to work, in order that a healthier perspective can be reestablished.

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