Art and the Practice of Compassion

Compassion is a much misunderstood word. 

From Merriam-Webstercompassion
sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it 
The most important part of this definition is the word others'. This is often how we see the world, especially artists. We see the world as others outside of ourselves and our own creative bubble. And it's often easy to both feel, and have compassion, for these others, but not ourselves.

One of the main tenets of Buddhism is, “May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering.” 

The important part here is, all sentient beings, which includes ourselves. As artists, why is it so difficult to practice self-compassion? How many famous artists were compassionate towards others, yet self destructive, whether through drugs, alcohol, or other destructive behavior?

Compassion needs to start with each one of us by being compassionate towards ourselves. A good example would be in changing how we talk, or thin…

Art and Practice as Clarity

“The progression of a painter’s work [should be] toward clarity; toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer… to achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood.” - Mark Rothko.
This quote came across my desk today and made me think, “This! This is what I strive for.” I think that as artists, we are always striving for some type of clarity
There are various types of clarity, and as an artist, I think it's important to know them so as to use them more effectively. In looking back on my own work, I can see these different types, and even multiples layers of types, in various work I have done.
Defining Clarity
Merriam-Webster defines clarity as:the quality or state of being clear : lucidity. defines it as: clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.
All artists would seem to want their work understood, so clarity of some type is important. But th…

Art and Practice as Anxiety

Anxiety. Even the word itself can throw some people into panic mode. As artists, we are used to living on the edge where anxiety also lives. But we have a choice, a choice to invite anxiety in, or to let it go.
I was recently reading something from a musician who was hired for a big time gig alongside many musicians they had always looked up to. Their first thought was not, “This is great,” but, “What am I doing here?” This is a typical response when we let anxiety take over. 
What am I doing here?

It's so easy to get hung up on this. But the important thing to look at is that someone thought you belonged there and hired you. Now you have a choice: to accept that you belong there, or not. Everyone belongs somewhere, so why not here, why not in this particular situation? Everyone has something unique to offer. Why can't your uniqueness be enough? 
Ah, but anxiety taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, “You don't belong here.” The first thing to learn is that anx…

Art and Practice as Potential

The seed worries not what it becomes, it just becomes. - Singal Rinpoche

Photo by ACI Limited Potential. We all have it. We are all born with it. But as artists, we tend to cultivate it more than others. For what is our yet to be produced work, but potential. 
The key to using our potential is to invite it in, to make friends with it. Too often we become frightened of the what if and chase it away.
What if I was successful? What if I was creative? What if I was open to my own inner thoughts and imagination?
What if we made potential a daily part of our practice? Potential is the seed of creation that we plant in the fertile ground of our minds. But like an actual seed, it needs to be tended, nurtured, in order to bear fruit. 
As part of our daily practice, we should meditate each morning on our potential for the day. Think about what we are going to work on and where we are going to take it. Keep it in our minds, water it with our thoughts, nourish it with work throughout the day. Try this fo…

Art and Practice of Experience

I remember years ago, going through Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, where she described how many artistic people were actually shadow artists. A shadow artist is basically someone who talks about being an artist, but never actually does any art. They may say things like, “When X happens then I'll paint/write/dance/etc.” But X either never happens, or when it does, they change the conditions for when they will actually do their art to something else: “X happened, but I'm still waiting for Y or Z to happen before I can start.”

Mindfulness practice isn’t meant to eliminate thinking but aims rather to help us know what we’re thinking when we’re thinking it, just as we want to know what we’re feeling when we’re feeling it.

—Sharon Salzberg, “Mindfulness and Difficult Emotions

Mindfulness can help us be in touch with our own reality. It's too easy to keep putting things off: “I'll start that new book, recording, painting soon.” But soon can become extended and …

Art and Practice as Grasping

A tree ascended there. Oh pure transcendence!
Oh Orpheus sings! Oh tall tree in the ear!
And all things hushed. Yet even in that silence
a new beginning, beckoning, change appeared.

- Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Sonets To Orpheus

It's the nature of the Universe. 
Nothing is static. 
Nothing is permanent.

As artists it's so easy to fall prey to grasping. Art is hard work. And when we are successful in our work, we want to keep that success. We often want to repeat it. Repeat the work we have done in the past. We grasp and cling to it like a lifeboat in the sea of uncertainty. This grasping is often driven by fear. 

We fear that the muse has left us.
We fear that our success was just luck.
We fear that other artists are passing us by.
We fear that after having success, it will never appear again.
We fear that we are getting old, and therefore will not be relevant anymore.

It's important to realize that this grasping is driven by fear. Once we realize that, we can move past it. Re…

Art and Practice as Symbol

Symbols. As long as man has been around he has been fascinated with symbols. Early cave drawing are often full of them. Indeed, priests, medicine men, shamen, and others have spoken through symbols throughout history. The alchemists, magi, and philosophers were all about symbols and their meanings. They searched for the connections between all things, both the seen, and the unseen.
A symbol can never be fully interpreted. It can only be experienced.P. D. Ouspensky (1878-1947), The One And The Many (PARABOLA magazine, Fall 1999)
P. D. Ouspensky
“The study of symbols, their construction and meaning, formed a very important part of the preparation of receiving objective knowledge and it was in itself a test because a literal or formal understanding of symbols at once made it impossible to receive any further knowledge…” Ibid

The Ritual of Symbols

Spiritual practice is often full of symbols and symbolism. Whatever art you do is most likely full of symbols. For myself, the Gong is very symbolic…