"With a Mind as if Empty"
Last Saturday, a group of art lovers gathered in one of the galleries of the Orlando Museum of Art to write about what they were seeing or feeling or reminded of as they stood before a work of art. Some amazing writing came out of that morning. And I like to think part of it was the preparation we did prior to writing. We first examined a chapter from a book of writing prompts called Twelve Doors:Writing for Pleasure, Self-Expression, and Insight, which begins with a quotation from Henri Matisse. About painting Matisse said, “It is necessary to present oneself with the greatest humility: white, pure, and candid with a mind as if empty.” We talked about the importance of dropping thought when plunging into any creative process. Psychologist John Welwood says that the deepest creative realizations emerge out of what he calls an “alert empty-mindedness.” And we also talked about “self-arising wisdom,” a notion from the Buddhist tradition that suggests that innovation and insight emerge out of silence and mental openness.
Many artists share the belief that any practice that helps you tap into empty mind is beneficial to a creative practice, whether it be painting, writing, composing, or performing music.
Such practices include meditating, chanting, dancing, listening to music, walking in nature, praying—and looking at art. And that’s exactly what we were at OMA to do on Saturday. Give ourselves over to looking deeply and quietly at one painting, and see what arises. As John Welwood says, “It helps to let ourselves not know before we can discover anything new.”
Before exploring the gallery, participants were told not to think too much about what they were “supposed” to create. They were invited to remain open to the inner space that houses the unique impressions of awareness. They were encouraged to let come out what wants to come out— ideas, images, stories, or memories. It was an opportunity slow down, get quiet, experience their unique wisdom.
And so without any knowledge whatsoever of artist biography or technique, participants got quiet and looked; they really looked. And finally, they wrote.
And boy did they write.
What they created in our short time together was quite remarkable—thoughtful, observant, and moving. I think a few of the writers were surprised with the words that came out of them so quickly. And that is the miracle of empty mind.
If you, too, would like to experience the joy of letting your unique wisdom spill out onto the page, join us next month on February 3 when, once again, we’ll use art as a form of meditation that leads us to writing that is pleasurable, expressive, and insightful.
So join us on Saturday, February 3, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., at the Orlando Museum of Art. Easy registration here.
“self-arising wisdom” – Buddhist tradition