Cultivating IMAGINATION: Guest Blog from Founding Artmonk Nathan
A decade ago, I was 26 years old and seeking new ways of experiencing the world. I suspected that there might be ways of organizing human life that were different from the nuclear-family model I grew up within; which felt lonely, like it was missing something. Missing the point, missing perspective.
I was also dabbling with making art, but suffered from oppressive self-criticism. I was starting to be conscious of a recursive loop of questions that had been bothering me subconsciously for a while. How does the way we live relate to the way we see the world? How does the way we see relate to what we make? How does what we make relate to how we live, and how we see?
Ok, so it’s 2008. This is before Obama, before Occupy Wall Street. This is in the middle of the biggest global financial crisis since the great depression, but those are only words to me. I quit a frustrating job a couple months ago. I just started making money as a freelance web developer. Faking it until I make it. I’m about to graduate from a Green MBA program in Seattle. I just went on my first meditation retreat. Oh wow… Last year was my first trip to that thing in the desert… Burning Whatsit.
In 2008, I spend a significant chunk of my energy dealing with anxiety and depression, which I’ve come to accept as a fact of life. Meditation gives me a little space from these afflictions, especially when I do it for an hour or two a day. Out of that tiny gap of relief from my own suffering, I’m starting to see that my deepest, heartfelt yearnings have to do with making art and living in a community. I’ve already been trying to live in accordance with my values, mostly through my daily habits as a green consumer and bicyclist, and I’m starting to feel how shallow these efforts are given the scope of the world’s problems.
Then I meet the Art Monastery Project. I move to Italy for two years to explore what it means to be an Artmonk. I help organize Artmonk retreats. I join the Board of Directors. I experience what it is to make real the dream of a radical alternative lifestyle with diverse, creative, maddeningly inspiring and challenging new friends.
The Art Monastery Project and the constellations of brilliant beings that surround it taught me fundamental things about devoted modern contemplative life:
how to get out of the way of what’s unfolding effortlessly and
how to summon the strength to take action and nurture the will to continue.
To invoke the muse when I’m lost and
to reach out to my sangha when I’m stuck,
but also to accept that things are happening all the time below the surface of my consciousness,
and that sometimes it’s best to lay fallow for a while.
Now, in 2018, I’m 36, and I spend every single day with a kind of intentionality that, while far from perfect, would impress 26-year-old me. I have a routine that involves making art (video games, virtual reality experiences, sculptures, drawings), meditating, practicing martial arts, and political organizing. I get lost in social media, but not too lost. I get overwhelmed by despair and anger at the world, and I crave obliteration through alcohol or through binge-watching what must be some of the greatest video content in the history of the universe, but I only indulge once in a while.
I don’t live in a physical Art Monastery,
but I am an Art Monk,
and a monk without a monastery will make one,
even if only a magic one of the mind.
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