These writings are part of an ongoing series on the inner process of entering the collaborative creative process. Read more from original post, One Month To Go, and Liz’s perspective on the non-beer fast from Day 8 and Day 14.
I’m gearing up to be extremely uncomfortable for the next three weeks, at least.
I’ve done it to myself. I’ve absolutely chosen this. I can see the abyss from here, while still safely on the precipice. But still knowing it’s coming, knowing I want no other road than directly through the disorienting darkness – I know it still won’t help once I’m actually in the thick of it.
This is the classic thick abyss of the creative process. The summer Artmonks arrive in just two days and we’ll embark on a six-week development period, followed by six-weeks of performing the work. But for me, the first half of the development period is always, without a doubt, the toughest. Luckily, in the first few days, you’re running off the exciting adrenaline of starting a new project, the victory you’ve achieved of just managing to be in the room together at all. But that burns off, and then you’re plunged straight into the darkest part of the forest. This does eventually turn: by week four, things start to shape up and you begin to get your bearings (the compass actually starts to point towards something again), by week five some real decisions can be made, and by week six it’s about finishing touches and embellishments. But in weeks one through three, the name of the game is Ambiguity.
And this Ambiguity is exactly the part that I’m extremely uncomfortable with. The unknown, things that are unfinished, projects that are post-question but pre-answer, being mid-conversation for weeks and weeks, relationships that are in evolution (and the horror that this might be ALL of them) – ugh. For me, that’s the worst. My fellow Artmonks know that one of my greatest strengths and weaknesses is swift decisiveness. I am fine being the one who makes a tough call, often for the sake of moving forward. Often, this pushes us forth, zaps the static energy, gives birth to new possibilities – which I love, and then I feel a proud sense of “a job well done.” But I know that often, I can also tend towards sacrificing the discussion when it’s only half-baked, albeit for the same well intentioned reasons. Patience. Living questions. Staying on your feet while intentionally sacrificing sure footing. These are the things I’m hunting nowadays, and what I have no choice to pursue in the next three weeks.
Yes, there is some comfort in knowing that all who engage profoundly in any creative act, all artists throughout history, have shared this sense. But still, don’t we do it because we have to? We do it because there’s no other choice, but not because it’s fun or ever gets any easier, right? We must start with the unknown, from that place of deep hunger and curiosity. We give up all the comforts of the success of the last project, armed only with our technique, a few fresh ideas, and a whole lot of passion, to enter into the mystery once again. And the spiritual path is like this too, I think. Last year’s revelation doesn’t matter, only the hunt for the next one. No matter how “great” yesterday’s meditation was, when you get back on the mat today, you must begin again. And again and again and again.
At the Art Monastery, we cultivate personal growth and cultural transformation. We believe in this process, in these goals that can never actually be achieved or checked off a list. We’ve set ourselves up to live in permanent ambiguity. And so, since I choose to live here, since I refuse to give up on my inner artist, since I want nothing more than to dive off the cliff at top speed in a few days – I hold on to a few words I read recently in Anne Bogart’s new book:
“Growth is directly proportional to the amount of discomfort you can withstand.”
Hmm. Yes. Here’s hoping.
The other thoughts in my head as I grab a precious few final moments alone, before the wonderful, torrential chaos of another high season begins over here, are my intentions for this summer. Yes, I answered for myself long ago, that I’m sure I really want to do this – but the questions now seem to be: How do I want to do this? and How can I engage in differently from before? I know I’m going through the forest – but Who do I want to be as I go through on this round?
Firstly: I want to get over “being radical,” “being innovative,” my own fears and inner critic that’s concerned with making work that’s “interesting enough,” “smart enough,” “clever enough” – and concentrate on simply making work.
I want to be open to my collaborators in an extremely profound way; I want to deeply release my own ego (and the fears of being judged solely for the final project and thus the terror and desperate impulse to control and micromanage every piece of it) – I want to release all that, and deeply give in to the process of collaborating.
I want to trust the creative impulses of my fellow creators, to allow them to go down new, dark, scary roads, to take me/us in new directions, to places I can’t even envision yet. I want to release what I think the piece is, and be really wide-eyed and open to what WE think the piece is, together.
I want to embrace dissent amongst the group and between myself and the group. I want to cultivate a certain amount of arguments and conflict because I think that on some level, this is the only alternative to totalitarian, unilateral thought – and I believe that these heated discussions will ultimately make the piece better.
I want to be open to the unknown.
I want to trust my fellow Artmonks-in-Rez this summer.
I want to trust the process.
I want to trust myself.
Most of all, I want to push through my own fears & discomfort – and get on with the work.
“To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is.” ~Pema Chödrön