The power struggle between the mind and the heart

Last night I attended a thought-provoking discussion on what hinders our ability to build capacity — spiritual, mental, intellectual. The brief answer was: a power struggle. I was reflecting on the self-prejudice we subconsciously impose on our inability to recognize our inner wisdom and inner value.

Ivan Lloyd painting a portrait of Abdul-BahaToday, I read a most intriguing interview with a very interesting and talented artist, Ivan Lloyd:

I read an interview with John McLaughlin, the jazz guitarist, where he said that when he got on stage before an audience he strove to achieve a mental state where he was in total communion with God before beginning the performance. He said success with such a mental state was rare but achievable. Is this the same thing as your “familiar space”?

I can’t say it’s like that for me, because improvising as a painter differs from the precision demanded of musicians. It’s more about warming up as I proceed to work. For the first half-hour I’m dealing with that conversation in my head, you know, that inner voice that brays like a parent. Instead of trying to suppress the dialogue I let it ramble on until I don’t listen anymore. About the same time, my brush strokes become automatic and there’s an inner peace. That state of being has little do with identity, let’s say, me the composer, or me the artist. On the contrary! The thought process is more of an intellectual hindrance to the creative process. Rather than impose my imagery on the canvas, I strive to be an instrument, or conduit, for images to manifest from another plane, in spite of my ego. It’s a fluid organic process and from that point of view it is that “familiar space,” that inner sanctum, if you will.

In that case you would advocate artists should practice some form of mental exercise or yoga as a way to silence the babbling that goes on in the mind; babbling which interferes with the creative process?
The creative process is so uniquely individual, each person approaches it differently. I don’t recommend yoga or mental exercises to quieten that babbling brook we call the thought process. You can’t silence or subdue this phenomena without concentrated breathing exercises, leading to deep meditation, which implies shutting down the senses to outside stimuli, in which case you’d be in no condition to paint. The painting process in itself is good enough therapy, and letting go of preconceived ideas is helpful in achieving the same results, without meditation.

So, I am reflecting on the power struggle between the mind and the heart… Indeed, the way to win this battle is to let go of the battle. Because, as the presenter last night paraphrased the Buddha, “The moment you thought you’ve got it, you’ve lost it”.

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