Monday, April 19, 2010

In a Nutshell

My obsession this morning? What to say to 260 undergraduate students that they don't already know, or aren't already learning from what I am sure is a fine faculty of teachers? As I mentioned Saturday, I'm headed up the coast to Santa Barbara today, to speak to those undergraduates--and perhaps a few graduate students and faculty--at the College of Creative Studies. It's a larger audience than I'm used to, and an audience of a different kind, younger, doubtless extremely smart and well-informed, otherwise they would not have even got past the admissions standards for the University of California.

So I found it harder than usual, in the course of my sit this morning, to practice that "Not now" with which I have been taught to discourage the brain from processing its thoughts. It was busy preparing for this different challenge, wanting to get it right. What will these students need, other than what they are already being taught, in order to find happiness and self-fulfillment out here in a world that is not always as welcoming to your creative newcomers as they would like to believe? The most important tool I myself have acquired along the way is the mind. I will have done something useful, I think, if I can convey the necessity of a tough, resilient, open, infinitely curious mind--a mind that is tough enough to withstand the buffeting of the often unfriendly winds of contingency they will meet, and to "persist" even at the most discouraging of times.

Is such a thing possible to acquire? I want them to know that it is. To understand that mind differs from the brain that is properly fed by their classes, that it is more expansive, encompassing every aspect of the human experience--thoughts, feelings, sensations within and beyond the body. That, undisciplined, it is capable of directing our lives without our knowledge or permission--sometimes in counter-productive if not outright destructive ways. So it's important to know that I have one--a fact that I sometimes forget, along with the vast majority of my fellow humans: we do easily "lose our minds"! It's important to know what it looks like and how it behaves, to be able to watch it in action.

And important to know how to train it. First of all, to know that it can, indeed, be trained, like the proverbial puppy-dog, to do those things we want it to do and refrain from doing those things it would happily do of its own accord: run off an play, dash across the street in front of oncoming traffic, piss on the carpet... Having discovered, for myself, that meditation is one well tested way in which the mind can be trained, this is something I can offer to those students, not as the one and only approach, but has one that has been proven successful over centuries of practice.

And, yes, I can share with them my understanding that practice is not only the key to meditation, but also a perfect model for the creative process--to show up, as I like to say; to sit down; to get focused and concentrated; and to persist. The mind, clearly, when properly used, is the most powerful of all creative tools. If I can get this idea across, I will have served my own purpose, and hopefully that of my listeners tomorrow.

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