STO 2013 Funding Pledge Drive
Last Updated (Tuesday, 21 May 2013 11:45)
CREATIVITY AND ZEN
Visiting our affiliate center in Savannah on Cinco de Mayo, I was asked to talk about creativity in the context of Zen. In a way, that is a misconstruction, as Zen is the heart of creativity, not merely a context for creativity. So, even to speak of creativity and Zen is to make a separation that does not exist. Nonetheless, here is a beginning attempt to explore the relationship to foster clarity.
Creativity is variously defined in professional circles associated with the so-called creative professions. So-called because creativity has nothing to do with what one does, but is more an attitude of mind, regardless of the specifics of one's activities or livelihood. One definition of creativity in the design profession is making the familiar strange. When we consider what is meant by the familiar, it is seen to be the broad and deep category of everyday experience and knowledge. In fact, all knowledge of our world is, by definition, familiar. Otherwise, it would not qualify as knowledge.
In design school, certain exercises are engaged in pursuing this goal of making the familiar strange, including writing one's signature, which is the most familiar mark one makes on a daily basis. Only writing one's signature over and over, a thousand times — on the same sheet of paper, until it becomes something other than the familiar signature mark: a pattern, a texture. Or in large scale, on a sheet of butcher's paper, using a rag dipped in ink instead of a pen or pencil — a piece of graffiti, crude calligraphy, on a monumental scale. It becomes unfamiliar. Like saying aloud the word "elephant" over an over, until it loses all connection with the reality of an elephant. With repetition words become neutral, abstract—mere sound. Surpassingly strange sound, at that.
Similarly, after sitting in zazen for long periods of time, the familiar context of one's very consciousness—eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind; seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking—becomes strange, curiouser and curiouser. Sensory adaptation sets in on an incremental—and eventually profound—level. Samadhi becomes the platform for kensho—seeing the nature.
Last Updated (Saturday, 18 May 2013 12:44)
TIME KEEPS ON SLIPPING
This line—"Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future"—from the Steve Miller Band's hit song Fly Like an Eagle captured the elusive, ephemeral nature of the present moment. The video that accompanies the song shows a digital clockface with the numbers rapidly cycling, and flowing clouds with the "fly like an eagle" lyric.
But these images, as compelling as they and the accompanying music are, fail to capture the rapidity with which the present is emerging and "becoming" the future. Master Dogen is said to have likened the being-in-time to a snake that is continually molting its skin. The person of the self is constantly re-emergent in time, moment by moment. It is as if time is momentarily re-emerging in and throughout the senses, but we become insensitive to it, blinded by the illusion of continuity.
Like a stop-action-animation of a flower blossom unfolding, unseen and heretofore unknown and unknowable dimensions of existence are revealed by technological advances that allow us to witness such hypnotic patterns of growth and movement in nature. One rather grim, recent series of such images documents the rapidity of decay that sets in when an animal has died, and the local population of scavengers, ants and maggots goes to work, reducing the corpse to a skeleton in a matter of hours, a few days. Seen in sped-up time, even such a grisly image has its own beauty.
But there is no need to resort to such techniques to witness a clear and consistent example of the passage of time, as we conceive it. (Passage of time as we conceive it because the meme that time is passing is suspect. It may be that the witness is what is actually passing—life is fleeting as an arrow.)
Last Updated (Wednesday, 15 May 2013 10:38)