Not Too Tight, Not Too Loose
I am nearing completion of my seventh book, Beginning Again: Reflections on Art as Spiritual Practice. This book has had a long trajectory dating back to the late 1990s. After publishing two academic books with Cambridge University Press, I decided to bring a more personal voice into my writing. My first venture in this direction was Art Lessons: Meditations on the Creative Life, published by Westview Press in 2003. Although it still circulates, that book later went out of print. Because it forms the core of this book, readers familiar with Art Lessons will find similarities and striking differences here.
Over the years much has changed. Most significantly, my exploration of Buddhism, which began in 1975 when I was introduced to zazen, deepened slowly until 2005, when I met the Venerable Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche. Since then, my meditation practice has stabilized and intensified, with regular daily practice and yearly one-hundred-day retreats. Synchronous with this, my studio art practice has become an essential dimension of my spiritual life. While I sometimes feel this is heretical, it is my path.
I am reminded of of an inspiring story about a conversation between the Buddha and a monk named Sona, who had once been an accomplished vina player. (A vina or veena is an Indian stringed instrument.) The monk was subjecting his body to extreme austerities and was frustrated by the lack of results from this training. He was visited by the Buddha, who asked, “When the strings of your vina were very tight, could you play it well?” “No,” Sona replied. “When the strings of your vina were very loose, could you play it well?” the Buddha then asked. “No,” Sona again replied. “But when the strings of your vina were neither too tight nor too loose but more balanced, could you play it well?” the Buddha asked. “Yes,” said Sona. “So,” the Buddha said, “our meditation practice should not be too tight or too loose!” This is my aspiration.