Anyone who has persevered in the arts (or healing, sports, or any such area of devoted interest) acknowledges the need for dedicated learning and intense practice. We know that we need to master the skills and build the muscle memory and strength at the mind-body level.
Yet, to take things to the next level, repetition alone is not enough.
Something more is required. We frequently hear advice along the lines of ‘get into the flow‘, or ‘find the zone‘, or ‘get yourself out of the way‘. For, what is required is for us to become one with the experience; inviting in a grace and inspiration to bring forth the highest possible in the moment.
Regardless of whether our endeavour is a creative pursuit or a mundane, mechanical task – when we pay attention – we notice that the space which we operate from is as critical to the outcome as our actual ability, practised skill and execution.
As Hazrat Inayat Khan hinted:
It is not solid wood that can become a flute, but the empty reed.
Wu Hsin also pointed succinctly with:
Perfect archery has no archer.
Scot Barry Kaufman, in his HBR article, “Why Inspiration Matters” states:
“To become personally inspired, the best you can do is set up the optimal circumstances for inspiration. As a society, the best we can do is assist in setting up these important circumstances for everyone. An easy first step is simply recognizing the sheer potency of inspiration, and its potential impact on everything we do.“
However, even if one be convinced of the ‘sheer potency of inspiration‘, we still face a huge challenge: How does one “set up the optimal circumstances for inspiration“?
Here is where we can turn to a beautiful poem that describes a methodical process to this end. ‘Poem of the Woodcarver’, by Chuang Tzu (from ‘The Way of Chuang Tzu’, by Thomas Merton) is a masterpiece treasured by many artists and teachers. It has been a personal favourite for a long time and I quote it below:
by Chuang Tzu
Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”
Khing, replied: “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.
“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.
“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
“If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits.”
So now, the next question that usually arises after reading the above is:
How do we incorporate this wisdom into our life?
Simple rituals can help set a mindful tone and clarify our focus.
For example, habits, such as decluttering, lighting a candle, playing soft background music, meditation or prayer before we begin our work, can all help.
Importantly, like ‘The Woodcarver’, starting with a clear intent to clear our inner space and inviting the highest to come through can significantly change the quality of whatever it is that we are expressing, doing, or making.
Drawing on my extensive experience with healing processes, I felt using NOW Healing with statements inspired by Chuang Tzu’s sage advice could lead to a powerful, useful practice. Used regularly, this meditative piece could aid in facilitating inspired work.
(It lends structure to my own approach to healing and the various creative mediums I play with. Though, I feel its relevance is not limited to any particular field but extends to all form of authentic expression and offerings. After all, as Rumi said, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”)
Sharing the process I came up with below, for those who think along similar lines:
b) As you do the above, “Enter the command”, i.e. mentally say the first statement from the list below. Inhale and release a deep breath as you do this.
c) Do this for each of the 21 statements, going through them slowly and mindfully. You may want to record the statements below in your own voice for regular use.
- Align to Wholeness Now.
- Disentangle from all outer temptations and distractions Now.
- Disentangle from the need to look or be busy Now.
- Align to ease with non-activity Now.
- Align to patience Now.
- Align to deep listening of inner guidance Now.
- Disentangle from all conscious and unconscious vested interests Now.
- Disentangle from all conscious and unconscious fear and anticipation of judgement, criticism and rejection Now.
- Disentangle from all conscious and unconscious craving and aversion for praise, riches, popularity, and fame Now.
- Disentangle from all limitations of body-mind identification Now.
- Disentangle from all thoughts, fears, expectations, and projections of audience response Now.
- Align to inspiration Now.
- Align to emergence Now.
- Align to flow Now.
- Align to seeing with Wholeness Now.
- Align to clarity Now.
- Align to inspired, skilful action Now.
- Align to best possible effort Now.
- Disentangle from all conclusion, judgment, attachment, or investment in the outcome Now.
- Align to easeful surrender, peace and fulfilment Now.
- Reintegrate Now.
I trust that you will experience a wonderful spaciousness, lightness and ease by this point. May this provide you with just the right space and state to proceed as per your own inner guidance now.
If you experiment with this process, I would love to have you share what followed in the comments below. And if you enjoyed the article, please do pass it on!
“My sculpture can last for days or a few seconds –
what is important to me is the experience of making.
I leave all my work outside and often return to watch it decay.”
(Land Art and Quote ~ Andy Goldsworthy)