The past two months, I have spent most of my time at Zen Mountain Monastery, either in residence there or participating in sesshin - a week-long, silent meditation intensive. (I calculated that I have spent almost an entire month in silence recently) An extended period of residency is something that I have looked forward to for a long time but, as the mother and homeschooler-in-chief for two children, it was not available to me. When my nest emptied, I leapt at the opportunity. Be assured that there were some "watch what you wish for" moments - the schedule is demanding and sleep is not high on the list of things valued. But, as one of the novice monastics put it, "In the midst of the crazy post-election horror, I live in the god realm." And it is true - to live among people whose main purpose is to find their way on the bodhisattva path is quite something. Things are not perfect and people are people no matter where you go, but at least they are trying. It makes a difference.
Now that my studio is upstate near the Monastery, I find myself making new connections between what happens on my meditation seat and in the studio. The past two years of art making have been difficult for me. It feels like I woke up one day to discover that all my energy and ambition to create massive public participatory projects disappeared in the night. Believe me, I tried to conjure it up again. Those kinds of projects and that kind of energy felt so comfortable and familiar and safe but, honey, that train has left the station for good.
So now what? It has been two years of answering that question. Two very uncomfortable, unfamiliar, scary years. After many wrong turns and dead ends, I finally feel excited about working again. I am not sure that what I am doing right this minute is IT but I feel confident that I am on the path towards something meaningful. I trace this shift back to something that happened in my sitting. It is so basic that to type it out sounds like, "well duh!" but it was a shift that I felt in every cell of my body. In fact, I think I grew slightly - I am not kidding! I think the weight that this realization lifted caused me to become slightly taller as a result. I put that out there just in case anyone is feeling like they could use an extra 1/2" or so.
The shift has to do with motivation. For a very long time and in some deep place, my motivation for making work has been tied to this idea about myself - who I am and how I work. This is an essentially incorrect place to work from, which means it was fundamentally unsustainable, as I discovered so painfully. To make work from an idea of "I am an artist" is a misunderstanding. I had attached even more to that statement - I am artist who has # of exhibitions/projects/commission per year. I am an artist who gets shit done. I am an artist who will be famous and sought after. There's probably more but those were some biggies.
The big shift was that, in a moment, I realized that I could drop all of that away and just make the work that needs to be made. I almost wrote "simply drop all of that away" but it wasn't simple at all. In that split second when it all came clear to me it was perfectly simple but the snarling, entangled, epic battle that raged inside of my head for two years felt anything but simple.
Of course, I have already forgetten about all of this but then I remember. And forget. And remember. It's simply like that.