Shambhala Hosts Panel on Creativity at AU

2013wi_AW_MysteryRock_590w(image courtesy of the artist)

On February 23, members of the Shambhala Center gave a presentation at the Katzen Museum of American University on the subject of Art and Meditation. The talk was in conjunction with an exhibit of work by Andrea Way (link to The artist uses meditation as a key part of her creative process and wanted a gallery talk on that subject. A quick internet search by gallery staff found the Shambhala Center and an invitation was extended.

Our DC Director Jayne Sutton gathered a posse of likely suspects–members that had a relationship to the arts and might be willing to talk about it. The final roster included Brian Harris, Brian Sano, Steve Wanna and myself. We were told the format was simple. Jayne  would introduce us and lead a brief meditation. Then everyone would talk for a few minutes about their lives as meditators and artists. Finally, we would open it up for discussion. Bam. No sweat.

Preparation was half the fun. Basically it involved meeting at a restaurant, eating, drinking and talking. Possibly there was some group-talklogistical planning in there too. We met twice, just to make sure that our lively discussion eventually moved to the subject at hand. The venue was appropriately enough, Shangri-la, a Nepalese restaurant in Bethesda.

I didn’t do much more preparation than that. But on the day of, early in the morning, I had an attack of nerves and got up to work on what I was going to say. I printed and folded the results into thirds and placed it in my backpocket. A type of security blanket in case my mind went blank when it was my turn to speak.

I came early to the museum to check out Andrea Way’s work. She does incredibly intricate drawings in pen, ink and acrylic. They have many multiple layers and hundreds of carefully drawn fine lines that form fabric like patterns that never quite repeat themselves. Looking at them gives an impression of looking into a vast deep space, that is often is contained within  a grid or rows of mystifying mathematical characters. This obsessive and exhaustively demanding work would probably be impossible without some type of meditation. And indeed Ms. Way practices Zen meditation before working and uses yoga to keep energized and flexible after hours bent over her work. I imagine her drawing yet another line she has repeated in a similar fashion ad infinitum over several months and just simply enjoying being in the moment with it. Ah, what a beautiful line she tells herself. But, for my part,  I am glad that she has taken the task upon herself and my job is just to stand back and enjoy the finished product.

The gallery was empty when I arrived and the rows of chairs set up for attendees looked quite daunting. Would anyone show up? Will talk-with-audiencewe be talking to ourselves? At ten minutes of a few people showed up, looking quite lonely surrounded by empty chairs. But quite suddenly, people started to arrive and most of the seats were filled. After Jaynes’ introduction, I spoke first, mostly focusing on my study and teaching of Shambhala Art, with a not-so-invisible ulterior motive of promoting an upcoming workshop.  Steve Wanna then talked about his work with music and the ‘blank mind’ that a creative moment necessarily entails. Brian Harris, who has a long background with design and the visual arts spoke how when he first started to meditate he began to question his motivations for doing art at all, but then later discovered a newfound confidence. Finally, Brian Sano spoke  about finding his practice of Miksang (contemplative photography) at the same time he found meditation.

The best part, was the enthusiastic response.  The question and answer period was very lively. A lot of people it seems are asking themselves the same question: How can I live mindfully as a person and as an artist? The discussion continued after the event with informal chatting and sharing of business cards. I left with a new determination a) to update my art website that I have been ignoring for a while before some of these people go take a look at it and  b) to relax more and let my path of an artist unfold in the direction it needs to go. In a world of enormous distractions, being able to still simply create something, whether a piece of music, a painting, or an apple pie, is still one of the more profound joys that one can experience.

by Tom Semmes