On the impact of creative hobbies on developing concentration

jhanic ceramic, modified 4 Months ago at 7/26/23 6:57 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/26/23 6:57 AM

On the impact of creative hobbies on developing concentration

Posts: 39 Join Date: 7/25/23 Recent Posts
Hi all,

I recently posted about some experiences I had on retreat, got some good responses (thanks shargrol, olivier and martin)! Something I hadn't discussed was the impact of taking on a creative practice in my life has had on my concentration practice.

My concentration practice methods are primarily a fusion of TMI and Rob Burbea's work, leaning a little more heavily towards Rob Burbea. I really enjoy the active shaping of consciousness towards samadhi that Rob encourages, and TMI has good pointers for concentration at the tip of the nose which I also enjoy. Prior to my retreat, I my practice was very intermittent (maybe like 15 min a few days a week, if that), but I'd gotten deeply immersed in developing my creative hobby in pottery (specifically throwing on the wheel) which I've been doing now for about a year. Funnily enough, I got interested in wheel throwing 3 years ago but didn't have time/opportunity for it, precisely because of a concentration talk where Rob compares meditation to wheel throwing, which I'm going to do below as well. I'm not great at it, but I'm quite far from where I started about a year ago. Same for concentration (but that's been a 4 year on and off practice).

One of the cool things about wheel throwing is that it is A LOT like concentration practice. In wheel throwing, the first step to making any piece is to get clay to the center of the wheel as it's spinning. This is a key step in the wheel throwing process as uncentered clay means your piece ends up looking janky, and subsequent steps in the wheel throwing process (such as trimming off excess clay once you've created the initial pot) become almost impossible (but not impossible) without well centered clay from the first step. In this video: https://youtube.com/shorts/pWWa1B9qAHk?feature=share, the first few seconds show the clay going from just on the wheel to centered. If you keep watching the video, everything looks easy and elegant, precisely because she centered the clay properly at the beginning. 

The biggest meditative teaching I got from pottery was the idea of "right effort" (going to bastardize this a bit, so apologies). Within the "centering" aspect of wheel throwing it, initially you've got to apply a good bit of effort to actually move it to the center, but it needs to be "right effort" that is not wasteful or too little. Too much effort and you'll end up hurting your hands or continually push it off center (basically overshoot), but too little effort and you'll just not end up with centered clay (undershoot). Once you have some skill at centering, you can even play games and intentionally knock it off center to try and bring it back to center. Same analogy for concentration practice (at least up to access concentration). The analogy is that effort levels need to be dialed in just right for the current state of mind that we're in. 

In addition to this there are a lot of gifts that developing a creative hobby brough to my meditative practice:
  1. Once I started enjoying the creative practice, I also learned what "flow" or being immersed and enjoying the activity feels like. 
  2. Enjoying the practice itself without it needing to get the finished form I had in mind
  3. Enjoyment in the foundational practices (like scales in music) knowing that it's adding skill to your overall ability
  4. Knowing that this is a lifelong conversation with the art style and that my understanding will change and evolve. Having all the answers right now isn't super important as long as there is love and deep interest in what I'm doing, everything else will fall into place as long as keep practicing but also remain intelligent, discerning and get help for my blind spots.
All of these gifts actually really helped me on my retreat and I'd frequently bring up the analogy of how I approach my hobby to meditation. It really has transformed my practice from being one full of effort where I was just looking at enlightened masters, being jealous, falling out love with practice because I couldn't get there ASAP, to enjoying and being deeply interested and committed to the journey with far fewer expectations on how my practice "should" be.

Anyway, this isn't really a jhana post or anything but more a discussion on how things outside of meditation can really improve our relationship to meditation. Curious to hear others thoughts on this as well.
terry, modified 4 Months ago at 7/28/23 2:21 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/28/23 2:21 AM

RE: On the impact of creative hobbies on developing concentration

Posts: 2389 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
   The way to introduce non duality is to take a proposition acknowledged as true and then argue for its opposite being true as well. Hui neng would respond to practical questions with absolute answers, and absolute questions with practical ones.

   The thesis in  your well written well organized post (mea culpa, mea maxima cuilpa) is that practicing a craft is an aid to meditation. My contention would be that meditation is an aid to crafts.

   The sufis and early christian mystical teachers generally practiced a craft and taught spirituality to their disciples along with their craft as masters of that craft. Sometimes teaching symbolically and sometimes quite practically, but always both as non dual adjuncts. Physcians in particular, but we had omar the tentmaker, attar the perfumer, and even paul the weaver. Many disciples made carpets and prayer rugs. Zen made a spiritual power of chopping wood and hauling water, and practiced and taught many arts and crafts.

   There’s a lot of chatter about “the flow experience” in which sense of self and experience of inner commentary and judging is absent, a condition many try to achieve through meditation. Typical examples are of craftspeople absorbed in their work. We see the desire for flow experience in the practice of watching media with its voyeurism and lack of personal reflection. In playing games, doing puzzles, addictions. And in the pursuit of meditative goals and experiences.

   The problem with meditation as such is that teaching it is a no brainer. “Just sit” you can tell someone and in its brevity and directness this advice cannot be surpassed. Sam harris, a meditation teacher, feels that paths that stress absolute truth do not serve many who are given the answer and recognize it to be true but cam’t immediately process it and need practices which provide some scaffolding for a gradual realization. He acknowledges that this realization is so gradual that likely virtually no one ever actually arrives and all are on the way. I’m reminded of thich nhat hanh likening the ideal of non-violence to navigating by the north star: the objective is to head in a certain direction, not to arrive at the star.

   I’ve  been a silversmith and lapidary off and on for decades and full time for the last dozen years. I’ve taught a dozen young people how to make silver jewelry and a few how to grind rocks. It’s always a matter of paying close attention, not doing too much and not doing too little. Silver smithing involves countless tools and time honored techniques. There is silver itself, which works like a dream; like precious metal it can be folded and shaped, wrestled and wrangled (unlike gold, ptooey! - 14k is 57% precious metal and might as well be brass for all the pleasure of working it). And rocks are a whole ‘nother world, revealing their beauty as you open them up (“cleave rock, and I am there” says the gospel of thomas).

   Between sessions I take the girls out to another building whose sole furniture is a pool table, and I reinforce the lessons about paying close attention, lining everything up and striking without overthinking it. If you rush the shot you haven’t taken every pain to get everything exactly right. If you overthink it, the essential confidence and natural physical ability - “beginner’s mind” - can’t operate. That’s the flow state, not overthinking it, but bringing all of your abilities to bear and then executing with no hesitation, no reflection. Whether the result is a graceful success or a clanging failure is all one. It’s all about being there. Like michael jordan once said, “even my mistakes are perfect because I learn from them.”

   My best student, “beauty,” is also a yoga teacher. (My second best student, “cutie,” helps tourists kill fish.)

    Nietzsche once said something about the enlightening effect about doing anything for a sustained length of time. When you devote yourself to a craft even if you are using your mind extensively to solve emergent problems you are still in that flow state where your self and attendant reflecting mind are totally dissolved in the unity of the experience itself. You don’t even know you were happy until later, when you reflect on it. In fact, I find that a long session of productive work in a flow state leads to a subsequent state of prolonged satisfaction and enjoyment of simple pleasures. 
Smiling Stone, modified 4 Months ago at 7/28/23 4:13 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/28/23 4:13 AM

RE: On the impact of creative hobbies on developing concentration

Posts: 332 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Nice to see you post, Terry !
And I enjoy practical, down to earth wisdom when I see it..
terry, modified 4 Months ago at 7/28/23 1:57 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/28/23 1:57 PM

RE: On the impact of creative hobbies on developing concentration

Posts: 2389 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
<br /><br /><em>practice is enlightenment</em><br /><br />~dogen
terry, modified 4 Months ago at 7/28/23 2:00 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/28/23 2:00 PM

RE: On the impact of creative hobbies on developing concentration

Posts: 2389 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
<br /><br /><em>practice is enlightenment</em><br /><br />~dogen

I see the buggy software hasn't improved...
Chris M, modified 4 Months ago at 7/29/23 5:07 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/29/23 5:07 PM

RE: On the impact of creative hobbies on developing concentration

Posts: 4888 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
terry, maybe you could spend a little time using the editor. It will help you eliminate most of what you're calling "buggy software."

While the software here is indeed sub-par, knowing a bit about how it works can make things better.
terry, modified 4 Months ago at 7/30/23 4:25 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/30/23 4:25 PM

RE: On the impact of creative hobbies on developing concentration

Posts: 2389 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
it's the editor that is buggy

but I get your drift

edit or be edited...

can't find the emojis either or I might have indicated a sense of humor