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  • Erin Whitten Crysdale

Creative Flow and Meditation, Eight Years In...

My art is largely influence by my meditation practice. I first started meditating 8 years ago as a means of essentially “hacking” the creative process that most people know as “flow”. Being in this kind of creative state is one of the reasons why I return to painting again and again. Frankly there is nothing like producing something while in flow. But like most people, I found getting into flow a tricky process which was achieved more by luck than by design. Getting pass the negative self talk, the to do list pondering, the recollections of conversations or conflicts from past years and other junk that rolls around in one’s head can be a challenge. So I read and read about creativity and tried lots of suggestions including classics like morning pages, drawing and painting exercises, etc. But it wasn’t until I read about meditation and the number of creatives who meditate on a regular basis that I thought Eureka! I’ll just meditate and become a better artist. Little did I realized my meditation practice would become the backbone of my life and indistinguishable from my painting practice.

My intro to meditation, which I continue to practice today is based on the Tibetan Buddhist teachings. The result of meditating has been multifaceted. My ability to get into flow comes easier, but it has also made my attachment to flow much less a priority. I can’t say I'm a better painter, but the experience of painting is better. I don’t struggle as I used to. My painting process has become a mirror of my meditation process. They seem to inform and support each other.

When I first began meditating it seemed a daunting task. I had tremendous resistance and often struggled with boredom. But over time I realized that on the days I don't meditate, my brain is like a snow storm. When I do sit, I don’t filter what’s happening with negative adjectives. I’m not running around like a "chicken", I’m not sorting chaos, I’m not overwhelmed and most importantly…and this is the part where I connect back to my painting….most importantly, I start to notice things. And not the things I aways notice, but the things I’ve edited out of my experience; the things in the gap of my awareness. This is a kind of quiet inspiration that isn't fleeting but has traction and steadiness.

Every meditation is different. Each day, new insights and minor shifts in my practice create expansive changes. This is in keeping with the act of painting. Each painting I do, brings new insights and minor shifts that I get to chase down and grow from. Meditation allows me to be much more available to the people I know and don't know. Instead of being entirely self centred, I now try to look at the world around me and take it in with more equanimity, compassion and openness. The world becomes a lot less black and white and I can, as hokey as it sounds, dwell gratefully in a kind of unknowing. I think this unknowing allows for creativity or new ways of thinking or seeing to come forward. Another invaluable skill I now have is that I can exist separately from my paintings. What I mean by this, is if someone doesn't like my work, it's not a reflection of whether they like me. I'm not vulnerable as I once was. On the canvas, I'm not saying anything new, it's just new to me and my process. Meditation has allowed me to know that lots of the themes in art that I am expressing and experiencing have existed in other forms whether in dance, poetry, writing, philosophy etc. When a piece of art "lands" for someone, it isn't because I've said something new, but because I said something that resonates with a kind of knowing, or thought the viewer of my work already felt, contemplated or was about to contemplate on their own. It's just not about me which is a relief and it's also incredibly gratifying to know that my visual language connects with another person. This is the point of art in my opinion. To truly know we aren't alone or separate but part of some kind of whole. Early on when I first started meditating, I had a strange new appreciation for poetry. Never before did I enjoy it, quite the opposite. When suddenly I started to hear and connect to it. I don't know if this is typical or unique to me, but I felt like someone was writing my visual experience of the world and I felt both grateful and I felt a connection to the poet.

Probably the biggest impact meditation has had on my work is that my paintings have a lot of heart. You aren't likely going to get a lot of intellectual musings in my art. Despite being a voracious reader and lifelong learner, it's just not part of my art process. I am interested in the intersection of things. Where we connect regardless of personal narrative, background, race, gender. My intellect turns off until the discerning stage of the painting when I look at composition, value, and other specific and necessary elements. The fact that I can put heart on the canvas without feeling vulnerable is a direct byproduct of a strong, consistent practice of meditation. I would encourage all people to try meditation, but especially anyone in the creative field where the more you paint, the more neurotic you can become. And trust me, anyone working in the arts knows of which I speak. It is a universal problem for most artists, and it simply gets in the way of flow and can suck the life out of the creative process.

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