Thursday, September 1, 2011


E. Ethelbert Miller asks: "Buddhism seems to embrace change. How has your writing changed over the years? Might you reach a point where there is no need to write and you replace your computer with a small flute?"

It's highly unlikely you'll ever see me wandering around in a robe and playing a flute. But I've joked with my family since my 1997 trip to Thailand that maybe one day I'll go back there to join a monastery and ride elephants again. (See photo below.)

On a more serious note, what Buddhist practice helped me do is take an attitude of non-attachment toward my work. Earlier in my life, especially in my teens, I was obsessed with publishing. These days I still publish a lot, but whenever I finish something new, "I'll let go" of that work and turn immediately to my next assignment; or, if I'm between assignments (which is rare), I go back to a regular workout schedule, and study (philosophy, Buddhist writings, Sanskrit). Daily practice helped me long ago to separate the vanity-drenched ego from what I do. It also taught me how to have no expectations for the work and devote myself completely to the joy of the creative process (which is all about problem-solving, and exercising a skill learned over many decades, which in itself is pleasurable), deriving all my fulfillment, sense of "reward," and personal gratification from just doing the work to the best of my ability at a particular moment in time. I know the value of what I've done and do. I don't need any outside or external validation for that. My sense of "I," as a Buddhist---who and what I am---is not tied up with my creative work when it leaves my hands. And after it leaves my study, I tend to forget about it so that I can move on to the next project. Every Buddhist is acutely aware of change and impermanence.

Movement is the essence of the universe. So for an upasaka (lay follower) like myself, I try never to feel too high when things are "good" (as the world judges such things) or too low when things are "bad." That kind of yo-yoing up and down has never appealed to me.
Few "professions" put pressure on the ego to quite the degree that the arts do in America. Far too many artists invest their sense of identity and self-worth in the popularity or reception or worldly "success" of their work. As a Dharma follower, I see the ego, self and "I" as illusory constructs. So there is no static or essential (in the sense of an essence or unchanging substance) "identity" to interfere with my total immersion in an in-progress work. That's why Reb the Coffinmaker in Oxherding Tale says, "I didn't do anything. Things are done, that's all." I create because it's fun to do so. Period.

For these reasons I strongly recommend the practice of meditation to everyone involved in the arts.

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