Bringing a New Paradigm to life
Opening to creative flow:
An Interview with chela Rhea harper, heavy metal musician and creative alchemy coach
flow and chinese philosophy:
An Interview with edward slingerland, professor of chinese philosopy and author of ''Trying not to try''
The ART of IS with Stephen Nachmanovitch:
An interview with the author discussing his book, performing and teaching improvisation, and the future of our biosphere
Unleashing Creative Flow
A Crooked Tree by Kathryn Edwards
Mantra by Robert Brown
The Creative Flow by Adriana Colotti Comel
Guardian Angels by Susan Hillbrand
Painting in Suspended Doing by Majio
It is when we act
freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.
Superpowers do exist:
the Gift of flow
A book review, by Ariela Cohen
the artist of possibility
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Flow and chinese
The art of is with Stephen Nachmanovitch
An interview with the author , by Robin Beck
membership & calls for
Flow and chinese
An interview with Edward Slingerland,
by Ariela Cohen
A Look Inside
the Creative Issue
Unleashing creative flow
An interview with Chela Rhea Harper,
by Jeff Carreira
The editors can be reached by email at:
Cover image by
Chris Fuller, Unsplash.com
Designed & Published by
mystery school Instagram account
mystery school Facebook page
mystery school YouTube channel
Adriana Colotti Comel
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We are very pleased to present to you the first issue of The Artist of Possibility, a quarterly publication devoted to communicating views and perspectives that demonstrate the emerging possibilities of a new paradigm. In every issue, we will present you with voices that provide fascinating clues as to what the next phase of human growth will look like.
Our inaugural issue centers on the theme of unleashing creativity flow. This feels like an appropriate first theme for a journal that is committed to shifting the paradigm of humanity. No endeavor requires more creative energy than a paradigm shift.
Our first interview is with Chela Rhea Harper, a heavy metal rock musician and a creative alchemy coach. Chela is a remarkable young woman who exemplifies three attributes that are crucial for those of us who want to act as agents of a new paradigm. Namely, a remarkable propensity for spontaneous creativity, a deep commitment to supporting the growth of others, and a living connection to the higher power of creation. It is a pleasure to introduce you to Chela and her work, and to use her story to explore how we can unleash our own creative flow.
Our second feature is based on an interview with author and professor of Asian studies, Edward Slingerland, about his book Trying Not to Try. In this book, Slingerland shares the philosophy of flow as it is expressed in the Chinese spirituality of Lao Tzu and Confucius. Along the way, we learn about the qualities of flow and debate whether flow can occur outside of some shaping container.
Our final feature is an interview with Stephen Nachmanovitch, a student of Gregory Bateson, in which we discuss his new book The Art of Is, improvisation, and the future of our planet.
Finally, our issue is rounded off with a number of wonderful contributions from our members.
We are so happy to present you with the first issue of The Artist of Possibility and we would love to hear your thoughts after you’ve had a chance to read it.
You can contact the editors here.
A Note from the Editors
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It is possible to get out of the way and allow our inner mystical revelations to emerge through us, in words, in art, in movement, even in theories and conceptions.
— jeff Carreira
a note from the Editor's
Don't miss our second issue, due April 1st 2020, featuring an article on Conscious Contentment by Jeff Carreira, an interview with Michael A. Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, and much much more!
The Artist of Possibility is offered free of charge. Subscribe here to receive your quarterly copy:
NEW ONLINE JOURNAL:
The Mystery School for a New Paradigm publishes an online journal containing articles, interviews, art and poetry that express and explain the emerging possibilities of a new paradigm.
In our pages, you will find information about the ideas, people and perspectives that are catalyzing new ways of seeing, feeling and acting in the world.
Each issue of The Artist of Possibility
will include the voices of some of today’s most respected paradigm shifting luminaries, as well as contributions offered by our members.
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to Creative Flow
An Interview with
Chela Rhea Harper
An Interview with
Chela Rhea Harper
by Jeff Carreira
INTRODUCTION: When I first spoke with Chela Rhea Harper I realized that her career as a musician and a creative alchemy coach was driven by her discovery of the deep wellspring of creative potential that lies inside each of us. I’m not a musician, but I do speak of spiritual awakening as a kind of existential flow state in ways that are similar to how I’ve heard musicians speak about their playing. Spiritual awakening liberates us from existential fear and allows us to live spontaneously, flowing with the outpouring of each moment, embracing life without hesitation or inhibition. This state of spontaneous flow gives us access to a capacity for profound levels of creativity and peak human performance. In this interview, Chela Rhea Harper shares her own experience of deeply creative flow states and how they are attained.
The Experience of Spontaneous Creation
Jeff: Chela, you've been a professional musician for nearly a decade. Maybe you can tell us a little about how your professional life as a musician got started.
Chela: I came from a family of musicians and I always dreamed of becoming an international touring musician. The opportunity to go on tour happened because someone discovered me on a small website I had created for musicians to collaborate with each other. I think the site had four members at the time. I really didn't think anything would come of it. But then I received an email from a popular Nu metal band called Coal Chamber.
The email mentioned something about wanting to talk to me about my career. It said, “We have some important news.” It seemed a little strange, almost like spam. Normally, I wouldn’t respond to something like that, but I did this time. I called them and it turned out to be an amazing opportunity. I went from working a day job in a bedding store to touring the world, in just a few months. It was pretty amazing to start that way.
Coal Chamber was an internationally recognized act that I had actually been a fan of in high school. They were from L.A. I was from Canada. It was a huge jump from playing in local bands and small bars, to that, but I ended up playing bass with Coal Chamber for three years during their international reunion tour.
After I finished with Coal Chamber, I was approached to play with a band called White Empress. This was exciting because rather than learning previously written material, I had the opportunity to contribute creatively and write my own bass lines. After White Empress, I played in another band, a goth rock band from South Africa called The Awakening.
Jeff: In addition to your professional touring career, you also have your own musical project. Can you tell us about that?
Chela: I started a solo project called Sarasvati, and for me, that was a project that came into being because I wanted to do something from my heart and without needing to impress anyone, without needing to sell anything. Something that was only in fulfillment of my own deepest intuition and creative desires. I think I was twenty-one when I started that project and before that, I had often played in bands that left me feeling a little inadequate, and where I wasn't able to express myself creatively. Starting this project gave me an outlet for full creative and authentic self-expression.
Jeff: If people see photos of you on stage, or videos of you playing, they would probably assume that you were born with a naturally extroverted personality because of how you outpour onstage, but that’s not actually the case is it?
Chela: No, definitely not. Growing up I was profoundly introverted and, in some ways, I’m almost more introverted now. I've learned to express myself and socialize, so I appear to be less introverted, but I'm actually still very shy. And yes, when people see me on stage, they think I must be this totally eccentric spinning-around-the-room type of person, but I’m not really.
Jeff: It is fascinating to learn that you’re actually a shy person. So how did you find the courage to let go on stage?
Chela: That was completely by accident. My mom was a musician and she would often play shows. I would go to the shows and dance around and get really into it. And dancing like that, I felt less shy. I didn't feel like I needed to reserve myself because I was so excited and moved by the music. Once when I was very young, I had the opportunity to go on stage with my mom and her sister to sing backup vocals to an audience of about 5,000 people. I got up on stage and I was intimidated by how many people there were, but I was so committed to expressing the beauty of the music, that when I opened my mouth, I just felt free and in flow. That feeling became the driving force of my life. I just wanted to keep engaging with it.
Jeff: So, from that early age you experienced an unleashing of creative flow and that experience has guided you to this day, and now your work is dedicated to inviting others to unleash their own creative potential.
Chela: Exactly. That experience planted a seed that just continued to grow as I did. As I got older and started to write my own music that space became my first love. And it just grows each and every time I experience it. I was very naturally drawn to create from a space that was spontaneous. Sometimes when I write vocal melodies for a song, I don’t even want to hear the song first. I just hit the record button and the play button at the same time and sing as I hear. I just allow words, or even just sounds, to come out, and I don’t even care if they make sense, in fact they almost never make sense. I'm just allowing the sounds to come out so the melody will flow naturally. Later I can use the melody and put my thoughts into it, but the initial take is purely spontaneous. I’m just listening and witnessing what comes through me… I can't even describe that. It's just a beautiful experience.
Flow States and the Expansion of Human Capacities
Jeff: I would say that one way you can understand spiritual awakening is when the gap between you and the emergence of this moment diminishes to zero. We are conditioned to hold ourselves a little bit back from the moment. We create a sort of buffer so that we can see what's happening and have a little bit of time to prepare and respond. That allows us to feel safe. The spontaneous flow state you’re talking about means giving up that space and entering directly into the stream of creation until you become one with the emergence of the moment. When we experience this, we realize this is what it feels like to be truly alive. To be alive in this way, there is a vulnerability we have to be willing to endure. In another conversation we had, you mentioned a time when you experienced this kind of spontaneous flow while playing with Coal Chamber. Can you tell us about that?
Chela: Yes, that was my second experience of that spontaneous flow. Leading up to the tour with Coal Chamber, I became very anxious – a bit unstable and ungrounded. I felt like it was all more than I could handle. I was doubting myself even though I was practicing every day. I was doing all the things I was supposed to do. I was really prepared, but I was terrified. The first show we were going to play was opening for Marilyn Manson and people that know the genre probably know Marilyn Manson even if you don't like his music. You can imagine what it was like for little small town me to be opening for someone like that. But even that didn’t compare to how nervous I was about our second show that was going to be played in front of tens of thousands of people during a festival in Australia. I was nervous and I felt like I just had to be perfect. I had to fill the shoes of the bass player that had played with Coal Chamber for 10 years. That was the person everyone really wanted to see, but they weren’t going to be there. I just didn’t think I could live up to it. I just kept building up doomsday scenarios in my head – it was becoming traumatic. I was in trauma even before stepping onto the plane to Australia.
In was in such a state of panic that I just quit my job at the bedding store. I was 26 years old and I didn’t know what else to do. I was so scared. So, I called my mom and she drove three hours to pick me up from the store and I never went back. I was experiencing such an extreme amount of panic and stress. Then I went to L.A. and met everyone. I wasn’t eating or sleeping and I was so nervous but I was starting to warm up. The people in the band were really nice. I was starting to enjoy the experience but then, two days before the flight, I stopped sleeping completely and got sick. I really didn’t sleep for the whole plane ride and, at that time, I was also afraid of flying.
Fast forward to me standing backstage at the show. I've got my bass in my hand. I've got my outfit on. I've got my makeup on and I'm starting to really jump into the role of this person who's going to get on stage. I was so tired and so I just let go. I just let the fear go. It wasn't a conscious effort. It was more like I was just too tired to be afraid. I grabbed the curtain and looked outside and saw all the people in the audience. It was at least 10,000 people and something just came over me. It was an unusual feeling of comfort, relaxation and complete trust that I was in the right place. I was still nervous, but I surrendered to what was real, and to being in the right place. That feeling of surrender carried me through the entire show. From the moment I got on stage, I felt comfortable and poised and confident. Which is not something I generally feel in front of a large group of people. I just stepped out onto the stage and it was like the music was playing itself the whole time. That is one of the only shows that I didn’t make a single mistake on stage. It was an incredible experience of flow. I felt moved by it.
Jeff: I want to use that experience to jump into a little conversation about the nature of flow states with you. As I said, I see spiritual awakening as a kind of existential flow state. I got very interested in flow states because of something that I experienced in a theatrical improv training I did once. Our exercise was to perform a scene of a group of architects sitting at a table. At one point someone said "Where is Frannie. We need her," and I heard coming out of my mouth, "Oh she just left for coffee. We should send someone to get her." I was stunned because I didn't know where those words came from. They didn't come from my mind. I hadn't thought about them beforehand. They just popped out of my mouth as if it were true. It was like the scene needed that line, so it pulled it out of my mouth. Which reminds me of how you just described feeling like the music was playing itself.
So later, I started reading more about flow states and I read a beautiful story of Laird Hamilton who's a professional surfer and he was the first person to surf a really big monster wave when nobody thought it was possible. People were watching from the beach as he disappeared into the tube of a gigantic wave. Everyone thought he was going to die, but then he shot out the other side. It was the first time anyone had surfed a wave that big. Later, he described how he went into the tube and slipped into a flow state where he felt completely calm, completely one with the wave, and he knew that everything was going to be fine. He instinctively just reached his hand back and dragged his hand through the water. And that drag was exactly what he needed to ride the wave without getting tossed into broken pieces. When people asked him how he knew to do that, he said he didn't know, it just happened.
And years ago, I read a story about a group of fire jumpers who airdrop into forest fires by parachute. They were in a fire when the wind changed, and the fire started moving right toward them. They were running for the safety of some distant rocks, but the fire was moving so fast there was no way they could make it in time. One of them spontaneously shouted, “Stop and dig” and a few of them started digging a whole to lay in. The fire blew over them so fast that it didn't burn them. Unfortunately, the ones who didn't stop never made it to the rocks. Today, this is a technique that firefighters are trained to use in similar situations. Again, when the fire jumper who shouted ‘’stop and dig,’’ was asked how he knew to do that, he said he didn't know how to do it. It just happened.
One of the things that is so amazing about flow states is they give you access to capacities and wisdom far beyond what we are used to. Our normal range of abilities pale in comparison to the capacities we come in contact with when we let go. My experience, like yours, has been that things happen in that kind of flow state that I could never have done with just my skills and effort. You could never have played the way you did at that festival just by trying. You needed to let go for that to happen.
I know that you are a meditation coach and I believe that spiritual pursuits like meditation can help us learn how to let go into flow states and, ultimately, that leads to the emergence of capacities and possibilities that don't exist otherwise. This is part of what I would say it means to be an artist of possibility. I would love to hear you speak about your experience of expanded human capacities as a result of entering flow states.
Surrendering to the Force of Creation
Chela: When you try to figure things out and direct the creative flow or try to control it or place expectations on it, it chokes out the flow. Through meditation practice, you really learn to become an observer and a witness of your experience. This is so crucial because it is what allows you to develop the ability to let go of control in the creative process. It allows for the emergence of what I’ve heard you call, the creative impulse. That force is always at work, but when we try to control it, it doesn't flow. It starts to get stuck, and we experience that as resistance or blocks. We need to stop trying to be creative in some forced way and learn how to maintain an environment that ignites and sustains creative flow. What really drives me is helping people optimize their own creative flow because I genuinely feel that the purpose of this life is to be able to creatively express ourselves fully and authentically.
Jeff: Beautiful. You and I resonate so well in that. I believe our fulfillment comes from making our biggest contribution – from what we're giving to this world. In my experience, that's where fulfillment is found. Part of why I'm driven to the kind of work I do is because it liberates people to give more of themselves. It liberates them from the false ideas and insecurities and fears that keep us small so that we never see what's really possible for our life and for us. Anything I can do that can help someone realize their full potential is beyond gratifying to me.
Chela: I believe that we’re all creative. That is what is so incredibly fascinating and beautiful to me about being human. We have this ability to co-create and to be a vessel for creativity to emerge into the world and to move from Spirit through consciousness and into matter. We ourselves are instruments that can be played by the universe. I am so drawn to that creative spark in everyone. I usually work with musicians, actors, performers, comic book writers and authors – people we would tend to label as creative, but I believe that all people are creative. Many people don't think they’re creative and they don't think they have anything to create, but everyone has something to create. If we think we need to produce something from scratch out of nothing, it’s intimidating. That belief can cause resistance. But if we realize that there's something that animates the entire universe, there's a creative force that is within all things, and that makes the world and the universe continue to evolve and to create and recreate itself, then we see that there is a desire, a deep desire within all things to create in some way. What I want to do is help people connect to that force and learn to trust that process so they know that if they open themselves up to it and surrender to it, that something will happen.
At first, it may not be easy because we have put up walls of fear that prevent us from giving up control. There is a process of transmuting that fear into trust and into love and into a partnership with creation. When you go through that, you enter into a collaboration with something else, a greater creative force in the universe that can move through you.
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Do Exist: The Gift of Flow
By Ariela Cohen
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We’ve all heard of stories of ordinary people accomplishing amazing physical feats. Like a mother conjuring superhuman strength to rescue her child from under a pile of concrete. Or a good Samaritan who displays lightning-fast instincts, pushing someone away from a moving vehicle.
Well, according to Steven Kotler, director of research for the Flow Genome Project – a global organization studying peak performance and optimal well-being – these are examples of our inherent superhuman potential.
Indeed, in his book, The Rise of Superman, Kotler introduces the power of Flow and its effects on human performance. This book is an easy and fun read full of suspenseful stories of action and adventure athletes accomplishing incredible feats in impossible circumstances.
For example, there is the story of surfer Laird Hamilton, who pulls out a novelty move on his surfboard while faced with a death-defying wave. This is a move that Hamilton never thought of, nor practiced before, and that allowed him to successfully surf a wave that would have previously been considered impossible to surf. With this move, Hamilton completely restructured the surfing community’s view of what’s possible.
There’s also the story of professional skateboarder, Danny Way, who jumps across the Great Wall of China with a fractured ankle from a trial run the day before. He not only lands the jump with his fracture but then decides to jump again, not once but four more times! Kotler shares the skateboarder’s response when later asked about his success: "When I’m pushing the edge, skating beyond my abilities, it’s always a meditation in the zone." Pretty gnarly if you ask me! Especially if you consider that Way has a self-proclaimed fear of heights.
Or the story of Dean Potter, who, while free-soloing Mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia (that is, rock-climbing without ropes or gear), listened to a ‘voice’ inside of him during a rockfall and decided to go against his training by kicking outward instead of using the recommended technique of making himself small. This move would end up saving his life, as Potter managed to avoid being hit on the head by the projectiles. Potter’s description of that ‘voice’ is then described in the book as follows: "When I’m really in tune with it, really deep in the zone, I get to a place where I disappear completely, where I merge with the rock, when time slows down, my senses are unbelievably heightened, and I feel that oneness, that full-body psychic connection to the universe."
Potter’s description is also in line with Flow research findings in the field of psychology, which are also presented in the book. Indeed, psychologists Abraham Maslow and, later, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, found that flow states were characterized by the following: an expansion of self or a falling away of the ego, an altered perception of time, and a sense of unity and meaningfulness in life. They also found that such an experience would linger in a person’s memory, providing them with a sense of purpose.
The book also touches upon the main difference between a meditative state and a flow state: Flow, as opposed to meditation, requires that we respond quickly to circumstances through action and decision-making. This makes sense as athletes in Flow need to make split-second, life-saving choices, while such applications are not required in a meditative state.
Additionally, from a neurological perspective, Flow is characterized by the activation of low alpha brain waves and high theta waves (the latter of which are abundant during deep sleep and deep states of meditation). While alpha waves allow for relaxation / contentment as well as greater alertness / split-second decision making, theta waves are linked to intuition and the generation of novel ideas. The simultaneous activation of these two types of brain-waves is said to boost creativity, just as engaging in creative activities is said to stimulate these brain-wave patterns.
The book concludes with the assertion that cultivating these states of flow, in which the impossible can become possible, may very well be what the world needs at this time. Kotler explains: "What the world needs most is Superman. What the world needs most is us." In essence, Kotler’s book is about human potential, and to me, it’s also about a mysterious experience that leaves such an imprint on people that they may be willing to face death for a taste of it, and, in so doing, come to discover the full measure of what they’re capable of.
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by Ariela Cohen
In our review of Steven Kotler’s book "The Rise of Superman", we looked at a Western psychological conception of Flow. Now, we will explore a more Eastern conception on this topic; one that has been articulated centuries ago in foundational texts of Chinese philosophy.
In this article, we will take a close look at Edward Slingerland’s book "Tying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity," with additional insights from an interview that we conducted with the author. Slingerland is a professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. One of his areas of concentration is Chinese thought and religious studies.
Let’s start off with two concepts that are central to understanding Flow in Chinese philosophy: Wu Wei and De.
Slingerland describes Wu Wei as an effortless, unselfconscious ease of being that has a signifcant social impact. More precisely, Wu Wei, in its traditional understanding, has to do with being in line with the will of Heaven. It is the means by which one becomes a perfected human being who is embraced by others because of his or her ability to ground goodness and value in the world. De is the charismatic power that one exudes in the state of Wu Wei that is very attractive to others.
In our interview, Slingerland says:
''Wu Wei literally means 'non-doing' but a better translation is something like effortless action. It's a state where you don't have a sense of exerting effort. You don't have a sense of self-consciousness. You lose a sense of yourself as an agent and yet everything flows. Everything goes very smoothly, very effectively in the world. If you're in a social situation, you move through it very gracefully the whole time, without any feeling of doing something. It seems as if it just happens by itself. That's the state of Wu Wei.
The early Chinese think you get a certain power when in Wu Wei that they call De - unfortunately, it’s pronounced "duh" in Chinese modern Mandarin. It is usually translated as virtue, but it really means charismatic power. So, De is this power that you have when you're in a state of Wu Wei.
De is something we can actually see. You radiate De when you are in Wu Wei and when you're not, you don't. The Chinese have a religious explanation for that. They think that when you're in Wu Wei, you're in harmony with heaven. There's a supreme being in the universe that gives you De as a sign of its favor. It's a little like a star on your head that says 'This is somebody we should follow, this person's OK'.''
So, in the Chinese tradition, Flow is seen as a way of being that is in line with a divine concept of social morality and that is often found amongst those that exude a certain je ne sais quoi.
Now, one may ask what the main differences are between Western and Chinese conceptions of Flow. Slingerland clarifies this for us:
''The Western views of Flow settle on complexity and challenge. That is, Flow is characterized by activities where we're constantly challenged and where the challenge gets greater as our skills improve. It's got to be a complex activity. That's what Flow is all about: Hitting that sweet spot of challenging your own skill level.
In the Chinese conception of Wu Wei, the hallmark is being absorbed in something bigger than yourself and something that you care for or value. So, being absorbed into some kind of valued whole. And for the Chinese, this was a religious whole. It was a Tao; a way that is in line with the will of heaven. But I think for contemporary people, it could be a variety of different things. Any sort of framework where you get meaning.''
So now that we have a better understanding of Chinese views on Flow, how does one go about attaining such a state?
Well, according to Taoism for example, trying to grasp at this state is a sure way of losing it. In this tradition, it is believed that a person of highest virtue simply acts, but does not reflect, nor train, nor exert conscious control. Hence, Taoism dismisses the need for practice or ritual in order to attain Wu Wei, contrary to Confucianism.
Indeed, in Confucianism, it is believed that nobody is born with the refined casualness and gracefulness characteristic of Wu Wei states. Confucianism believes in the development of an intelligent spontaneity through ritual, as practice would eventually allow for cognitive control systems to become activated more naturally and effortlessly.
This is an interesting debate, and one that Slingerland addresses in the following way:
''When you're talking about Wu Wei in the Chinese context, you're talking about social and moral skills such as being a good person or being in the world in the right way and, when it comes to that, internal motivation is crucial. So, there's a distinction between skill and a technical craft and what we'd want to call virtue or spontaneous goodness.
And so, the kind of Wu Wei that is really cared about is this kind of virtuous Wu Wei where your internal state matches what you're doing on the outside; and it has to or it wouldn't be real.
That's the tricky thing because if you're not generous, you could imagine doing generous things to try to make yourself generous but it's hard to know when that transition is going to happen. When do you go beyond just going through the motions and actually start to feel the real emotion?
The Taoists would say that that transition never happens. They say that if you train, if you learn the ritual of being generous, you're just going to turn into this hypocrite who can go through the motions and never feel the real virtue. Taoists see this as an enormous problem. Their strategy to deal with it is to undo cultivation and rely on something inside you that can lead you into the right type of way.
In Confucianism, on the other hand, you can't be spontaneous until you've trained for a long time. This is the picture of Confucius at age 70, when he's trained in the ritual and trained in the classics to the point where he's internalized Confucian culture completely and then he can be flexible. He always knows how to adapt into a new situation. He even potentially can tell when it's time to change ritual or to continue observing a particular ritual. He knows because he's mastered the Confucian way. In this case, training is a strategy for cultivating spontaneity, but the spontaneity and skilled mastery only manifests once the training falls away.
So, there is a back and forth between trying strategies and not-trying strategies. I think that none of these methods ever wins because they influence each other to a certain extent. They depend upon one another, and each one is appropriate for different situations and different people and probably different life stages.''
In any case, whether through practice or not, both Taoists and Confucianists believe that the ultimate attainment of virtue comes with the realization of Flow. And Flow always implies the shutting down of mind (called the cold system) so that the body (the hot system) can take over. Slingerland explains:
''What Wu Wei represents really is the harmony of these two systems; when the cold system has properly reshaped the hot system so that it can now run on its own. It doesn't need conscious monitoring anymore. And so, you've become a generous person and you don't have to think about generosity, you don't have to stop and say 'There's a person in need, I should be generous.' You just hand over the money or you do the generous gesture without thinking, and this is Wu Wei fashion. It's the Chinese belief that that's actually the most reliable type of person you want to be around. The person who has to think about it, or think about rules, or do calculations is actually not really virtuous.''
The Chinese conception of Flow opens up some interesting comparisons with ideas from other traditions, such as: 1) the similarities between De and spiritual transmission - the undeniable and palpable power that some spiritual teachers, saints and mystics have; 2) the debate surrounding the need for effort and practice in both the Chinese tradition and the Eastern non-dual tradition.
Lastly, it appears that Flow is a universal human experience that has captivated our imagination for thousands of years. It is interpreted differently from one culture to the next and its interpretations seem to affect what possibilities and human capacities it unleashes.
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the art of is
The Art of Is
with Stephen Nachmanovitch
by Robin Beck
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INTRODUCTION: In stumbling upon Stephen Nachmanovitch’s newest book, The Art of Is, I was immediately captivated by how he weaves musical improvisation into an expression of living life as a form of art in itself. In this sense, Stephen is an embodied expression of creative flow, and views it not as an activity to engage in but as a disposition from which he lives life. Because of his mastery of language and deep insight into the nature of our interconnectedness, I was less surprised to discover that he was a student of Gregory Bateson, whose work has impacted so many academic fields and forever changed the way I personally relate to life and living. In this interview, Stephen discusses his book, performing and teaching improvisation, and how we might relate to the biosphere in a future that will require an inherent recognition and awareness of the relationships between all living and non-living systems.
Robin: Stephen, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, it's a pleasure and an honor to talk with you. You're a performer and teach internationally as an improvisational violinist at the intersection of music, dance, theater and multimedia arts. You're the author of two books, Freeplay, and your newest book, The Art of Is. You graduated in 1971 from Harvard and in 1975 from the University of California, where you earned a PhD in the history of consciousness for an exploration of William Blake. Your mentor was the anthropologist and philosopher Gregory Bateson. And you have lectured and taught widely in the U.S. and abroad on creativity and the spiritual underpinnings of art. Is there anything else you wanted to bring up about your background as it relates to your latest book?
Stephen: Well, one thing about my background as it relates to my latest book, The Art of Is, is that I was once a baby. And of course, this is something that I share with 100% of all human beings. But the quality of communication that we have or can have as artistic human beings arises from having been a baby. Because we can all make noise, we can all communicate directly without even having any words. We have an immediate sense of meaning in our communications and other people may have an interesting time deciphering that meaning, because as adults we like to decipher things, we like to see one thing as a code for another. But the speech of a baby is direct and isn't a code for anything, it is itself. That's really the root of what I've learned to do as a musician. And it's at the root of what I've learned to do: teaching and improvising in the biggest sense of the word. And not just with musicians or actors or people who perform on stage, but people in any walk of life who want to be able to communicate and understand each other completely and fully and live creatively. We have that capacity to express what is within us and what is between us directly without having a dictionary.
I'm interested in artistic creation, but I'm interested, far beyond that, in the art of being a human being at this very difficult time in human history. And to see ourselves as able to listen, respond and have a conversation with the world, to see the world around us as alive.
Robin: So often we feel isolated in what it is to be a human being. And like we're searching for meaning constantly. And you seem to point to listening as being one of those crucial components for understanding why you're here and how to participate in that relationship.
Stephen: Yes. I mean, we're very busy destroying the biosphere and the root of our destructive impulse doesn't have to come out of meanness or a destructive personality. It simply comes out of our tendency as human beings to regard ourselves as a thing bonded by skin and as an entity rather than being in conversation, in listening and responding to everything in the world around us.
So what we learn from artistic creation, whether it's improvisational or more composed, is to be in some kind of dialogue and multi-log with other people who are different from us, with the world around us, with the natural world.
Robin: You seem to point to this relationship aspect, or this improv, as being a natural state of the universe. One quote I have from you here is “how unoriginal to make everything out of formulaic building blocks, but it seems to have worked for 3 billion years. Improv, even of the traditional kind, is still creating new never to be repeated patterns playing out through the context and circumstance of the uncountable leaves in view on the mountainside, each one is a different type. This is how nature and evolution improvise us”. And so it's interesting that we tend to think of improv as this moving into a state where we create something. But you seem to be pointing to it more as a natural process of the universe that we are entering into a relationship with, becoming aware of.
Stephen: Absolutely. I mean, in America, you say the word improv and people immediately think of improvisational theater, which is usually comedy. One of the great gurus of improvisational comedy was a man in Chicago named Del Close who trained many of the actors of the second part of the 20th century. And Del Close said that your job as an improviser is not to come up with clever lines. Your job as an improviser is to make your partner's shitty lines sound good. It's quality, whatever our medium is and wherever we find ourselves, to be able to have some kind of chivalry, some sense of listening to others, listening to what is around us and responding to it, rather than to be a stand-up solo, or “I am producing something”. And even if you are a single person who is standing up on stage producing something, you're in a state of continuous interaction with reality. All time and all space focused in on the people we are with at the moment.
Robin: You point towards a universal tendency I’ve read about among improv artists about saying yes to whatever presents itself in a given moment. In terms of being onstage with improvisational theater, you never deny something that's offered, you always say yes. And it seems to be universal in this play that you're encouraging in the book, to say yes to whatever might present itself in a given moment.
Stephen: I think that's usually true. However, it's also true that life presents us with a lot of situations where we have to say no. And human beings often get put in positions where they have to resist and they have to set limits and they have to say no. But to find the effective way of saying no often still requires listening and paying attention to the context around us and being able to respond.
Robin: You teach improv as well, which almost feels like a meta-skill, like how to have a good conversation or how to listen. And I love how you relate to teaching itself as a form of improv in saying that education “should always be interactive, interpersonal and exploratory and where it will lead no one can predict. Merely transmitting information is not teaching”.
Stephen: I do two kinds of teaching. One is standing up and giving lectures and the second is leading workshops. And obviously in lectures, I stand up and I'm saying words as we are today because we're talking through the computer. But in a live workshop, as I've gotten older, I found that I need to say less and less. And what I've really learned is to just keep my mouth shut as much of the time as possible. And occasionally I've been able to really say absolutely nothing the whole time and let other people act and encourage them.
I tell a story in the book about my teacher, Gregory Bateson the anthropologist, and I was his teaching assistant in graduate school half a century ago. And so one time, we were in this seminar and there I was, you know, a bright young man, and I was showing off my knowledge. I was making a little speech to the students about whatever it was that we were talking about. And then when the students left, Gregory pulled me aside in the hallway and said, "You monkey! I had a nice, juicy silence cooking in there and you had to stick your feet in and muck it up." I eventually learned from him about allowing people to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable, allowing the silence to soak into the room so that other people eventually speak up or act or perform or do whatever they do, regardless of the setting. It's really fascinating to stand back and watch.
And that took me a long time to learn because if you're verbal and articulate and you're there because you presumably know something, our society is set up so the teaching is there for the person who knows something to transmit it. But that actually isn't the way it works. It's a collective enterprise in which we're all participants, and whether you're a teacher, a musician, a performer, a professional of any kind, people are coming to you for something and you think you need to provide that something. You think if you provide more words, then the people are getting their money's worth. And certainly this student who's standing up in front of the class giving a report feels a lot of pressure. However, things get much more profound when the person is able to step back and say less and allow silence to work for everyone in the room.
Robin: You talk about Gregory a lot in your book. There’s a piece that sums up your focus of the book nicely where you state that “context is everything. The important thing isn't to tell the perfect story. It is to tell the story the people in front of you need to hear. And to do that, you must first understand who stands before you”. And, you also say that we must combine old and new, prefabricated and invented, transmission and absorption, blending seemingly opposite functions in the intimacy of mutual presence, and that this balancing act is The Art of Is.
Stephen: As human beings, our default mode for communicating with each other is conversation. At some point somebody becomes a leader or a teacher or something like that, and of course people who learn about leadership realize that it’s not shooting your mouth off and telling people what to do. Leadership involves listening and interacting and knowing who is there and what's going on. So it's all mutual learning. Now, with the presence of the media, you and I are having a conversation and this conversation is being recorded. And if you put that conversation out on a computer network for people to listen to, that's really great. But it does become a one-way communication. And television and really all of our media, I mean, all the way back to print and before that, tended to be one-way communications. And it really requires the element of live interaction to bring us back to the place of mutual learning.
My writing a book is a hugely interactive and fluid activity. It certainly isn't putting words down on the paper or on the screen one at a time. But then it does come out in a printed form and it looks like words coming out one at a time. I mean, one of the interesting things I've discovered was with the longevity of my book Free Play, which came out 40 years ago. Just a couple of years ago, I was in Japan and interacting with people who had read the book in English or in Japanese, who brought up really fascinating discussions. And I realized that there was a 35 or 40 year feedback loop between the time that I first had those ideas - even though having ideas is the wrong word for it, but we don't have a good word in our language between first having the ideas and writing them down and eventually publishing them and letting go of it - and then people finally reading it. And now we're having a discussion all these years later and it comes back on me that this is actually what I do it for: to participate in that really long feedback loop. It's very satisfying because it brings any form of writing that you do, or music, or whatever the medium, as a form of conversation and mutual interaction. And then it goes through a stage of being media that seems to be a one-way communication, but eventually we find ourselves together talking all these years later. And that's what's really interesting to me.
Robin: So how do you see the work that you do in relationship to the larger question of how humans can foster a deeper relationship with the Earth?
Stephen: It’s the power of art. It's the power of artistic communication, even if that communication doesn't fall into what we traditionally call the arts. It's learning the lesson of relationship and interactivity with the world and learning that no matter how wise we think we are, we can't control the world and we can't communicate one way and be listened to without the feedback loops coming back, without the interaction. The more we learn that, the more humble we get in our connection to the physical, social and biological world. And art gives us a window, often a multi-dimensional window, into those kinds of relationships. Certainly in fiction and in movies we can step into another person's skin, into another person's reality in ways that we normally can't. And we can have conversations from a different point of view. And a lot of the destructive activity that's going on right now arises from people incapable of seeing anything other than their own point of view. So there's a lot to do and a lot to learn.
Getting out of the rut of being an individual is really important. And that's where a lot of Buddhist practice has been helpful also. Because like the teachings of Gregory Bateson, a lot of Buddhist practice is about learning the emptiness of inherent existence. Like I'm talking to you through a computer and the computer is a material object. But the aluminum of the body of the computer came from one place and it was mined by people and they have their stories. And the plastic comes from other places and they have their stories all the way back to the forests in the age of the dinosaurs. That became the petroleum that then became part of the plastic and the whole cultural development of computers. So the computer is full of infinite stories. The only thing the computer is not full of is an independent, separate existence all by itself. The computer only exists in those stories and in those interactive activities. So now, for example, you probably hear my landline ringing.
And if we were talking about another subject, I would just ignore the phone and listen to it, and listen to you. But here we are and we heard the phone ringing and that's part of the ecology of happenings around us. It's part of the ecology of information. And the person who's on the other end of the line, whoever that may be, who's talking to my answering machine now, is part of a story that's connected with me. And so, that also is the emptiness of inherent existence that the phone ringing is a signal for connection, even if you choose to let it go and not pick it up at the moment.
Robin: So I found your description of it, of what would normally be considered noise or interruption, very beautiful. And I remember you mentioning in the book that you asked Gregory Bateson what is beauty? And I believe his answer was recognizing the pattern which connects. And that, in and of itself, points to that greater context in which we're having these discussions. We can learn from things that are normally considered trivial.
I was particularly excited to talk with you because I've studied a little bit of Nora and Gregory Bateson's work as it relates to what we could refer to as the paradigm of the individual achiever, and how I believe that you and others are attempting to articulate a new paradigm of interconnectedness and oneness. How do you view improv and the work you do in relationship to bringing about this new kind of interaction with life?
Stephen: Let's say all of artistic activity falls somewhere on a continuum or a hybrid identity between improvised and composed. And the improvised always brings us to a place of interaction, to place of listening to whatever it might be, the telephone ring, the noise of the city or of nature outside, the voices of our companions that we're interacting with or collaborating with or arguing with, and to improvise is to have a conversation. And, at the same time, all artistic activity involves a compositional element where you take the products of that conversation and you may edit them, select from them, put some things aside and concentrate on other things. And whether it's music or another medium, everything that we do - whether it's a fully notated score by Beethoven or a totally improvised conversation like the one we're having now - lies somewhere on the continuum between having plans and purposes versus being open to the information that's coming in right now.
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The Artist of Possibility is a publication of
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A Crooked Tree
by Kathryn Edwards
When I had the opportunity to ask Nora Bateson how she would visually depict the new word she created, Symmathesy, she said it would be a crooked tree. Nature shows us many wonders that we can learn from. A crooked tree is an example of a deeper question. How did any tree become crooked when others surrounding it have not? We are not accustomed to thinking in terms of the deeper more complex inter-relational aspects of what we see and how we experience our reality and more importantly how we are learning from one another as happens in nature.
Symmathesy: the process of contextual mutual learning through interaction.
by Robert Brown
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Mantra shows metaphorically, a kite floating effortlessly in the still center within the rotating storm of the ego. There is no movement at the transcendent underwater part of the kite string, where being is anchored in the stillness of the Self below. The mantra moves from the gross (kite) to the subtle in the sea bed. The insert painting is transcendent to the larger image. (30"x 30" Oil)
The Creative Flow
by Adriana Colotti Comel
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Weaving a tapestry of Shades of light that have colored my life in the flow of merging my feminine and masculine energies with passion and fire where authenticity and wholeheartedness have guided me to express through different mediums from ceramics, theatre, energy work, journaling, writing and more… I arrived to this Members Circle.
The guided meditations and teachings of Jeff Carreira inspired me to continue in a flow of creative endeavors to deepen in my awakening. I can see what the path has been and where it takes me in this multidimensional fashion where I continue to expand in consciousness and find more truth and freedom of being.
I am a bridge of light indeed. My connection with source, divinity, the infinite universe flowing through me bridging the divine with the mundane in a giving and receiving dance with other co-creators, horizontally in the field of conscious contentment where I live as of this world but non from this world.
The adventure of being human, and for this, profoundly grateful and in awe for the wonders of the nature of this paradoxical and beautiful world where the sacredness of life is often forgotten.
This body of mine as a vessel in a lattice of light and energy that is the way my consciousness has organized itself contributing to the whole of the field of consciousness as a unique piece of the puzzle that is interconnected with everything else.
We live in this infinite universe where the energy of love is the glue that keeps it all together. Bountiful abundance where we are not allowed to forget that we are never alone and always embraced by a cosmic warmth of openness and expansion where we are free to explore the creative possibilities of our existence.
This is our playground for now where we abide in an ever expanding universe going into the specificity of particular lives that weave personal universes of significance and depth.
It is in this context that as a celebration I want to share this first of several poems to come that were born during this period of participation in this Members Circle.
I AM the particle, I AM the wave
Relaxing in consciousness
I AM the bottom of the ocean
The wrinkles on the surface
The water of the flowing river
The tear rolling on my cheek
Abiding in consciousness
I expand and float
The joy of presence
The mystery of meditation
The Milky Way … my nervous system
Stars and neurons
I AM the particle, I AM the wave
Moving in the eternal moment
Everything is here, including me
I live in the space between the words,
in the silence between the breaths
I touch reality sinking into space
I transcend the corners of the soul
I organize files in consciousness, I feel clearer
I AM the particle, I AM the wave
In the sea of consciousness,
Sorting out, harmonizing, articulating
Sitting still I feel energized
My daily life is the same flow of meditation
Focused, inclusive, dancing with life
From the hub expanding concentric circles
As a pebble falling from above in a quiet lake
I access multidimensional layers of sensations
From the physical, emotional feelings
To the energetic and spiritual
Evolving a sensual experience of reality
The mystery of life unfolding
The body knows the secret is allowance
Spiraling in time, multiple points of light
Glide in my sensual encounter with life
As an enlightened galaxy touching eternity
Multicolored feelings, shades of light
The line between inner and outer space is blurry
I become intimate with myself and others
Where the presence of shared moments feels delicious
Uniqueness dances with Interconnectedness
In the shifting relationship with the world
I AM the particle, I AM the wave
I feel as a rock in the river
caressed by the flowing water
Awareness observing I am in the miracle now
Light flows from above and from the earth into my core
I AM a bridge of light radiating
I reinvent myself in the process
Unexpected, Unimaginable, Magic,
I embrace uncertainty
I renew my unique expression
As the universe flows through me
Glimpses of the mystery unfolding
In a perennial dance
I hold the tension of the paradox
It feels like looking in a shattered mirror
Wanting to grasp multidimensionality
Radical acceptance of what is makes it whole again
I find peace bridging the extremes now
I am the vessel of transformation
Open to Infinite Possibilities
Is “the other” the One asleep?
She is awakened by loving caresses of “the enlightened” One
They become One in the process
I dive into the complexity of sensations
I learn and feel lighter
I AM the particle, I AM the wave
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This image is personifying the concept of Mother as a living breathing womb of creation. The relationships within all life including nature (plants, animals, landscape), humanity (civilizations) and beyond (spirits, astral, and etheric) all carry sacred connections that are continually birthing anew; forming and integrating both knowable and visible as well as unknowable and invisible transcendent awareness.
Release and call forward a flowing creative unique vision as you breathe in to the poem
Mother Earth is Having a Cosmic See-Section
A day of old - not fun - not comfortable
Can it go away?
Potential of possibilities stuck in a loop of old thoughts - dead thoughts
A life that no longer exists yet lingers - Why?
We are ghosts of our own past
Heavy frequencies of ancient statues
Blind to our own possessions
Stuck in the shadowy realm of misunderstandings
As our frequencies rise the past calls out —
Don’t forget the discomfort —
The movement of skip-trip —oh watch your step
You might fall
from the calcification of habit
A new day — refreshed — content
Will the moment stay?
Potential of possibilities flowing in a spiral of new perceptions —awakened inspirations
A life that wants to exist. How?
We are an ecosystem of complexity
A thread in the web of a delicate Life sentence
Living womb of intricate identities
Lineage of infused interwoven foundational roots
As our frequencies rise the future calls out
Don’t forget the past —
Allow it to
from the illusion of separation
Breathe - Breathe - Breath of transformation
Align the pure perpetual sacred point to the inner heart chamber of convergence
Penetrate - the circumstantial portal
Dislodge - the desperate despair
Remove - the augmented tumor of turmoil
Throw yourself over the threshold
Trust will tenderly catch you
Mother Earth is having a Cosmic See-Section
Life Save Her
Pioneering continues transforming the alchemical gold of our language
Words Transmuting ………………………………………
A New vibration - New territory - New frontier
by Susan Hillbrand
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Painting in Suspended-Doing
Across all eras, in all cultures, the creative arts have manifested works that are beyond normal consciousness. The practice of any art form has enormous potential for initiating breakthroughs in our habitual ways of perceiving the world. At this time in history, in order to solve problems of a scale we have not known before, we must practice perceiving the world and ourselves in radically new ways. Direct Realization speaks to the edges of a new collective paradigm.
At the center of meditation in the Direct Realization practice, there may be another aspect to consider. When paired with an arts process, we may open the way for new kinds of creativity. There is a dimension of practice, well known in the cultural arts of Japan, that has been an enigma for me since I first experienced tea ceremony, calligraphy and archery at Zen Temples while living in Kyoto. It is the practice of non-doing. As I understand non-doing, I am cultivating a willingness to release the power of my influence, habitual behavior that I have cultivated all my life, in order to explore it. Or I might even attempt to engage with art materials at the interface of my release of control.
Working with Jeff Carreira has encouraged me to not only experiment with my own process but with the process of the painters who come to paint in my studio. Almost two years ago I offered exercises and meditations from Direct Realization and the Opening to the Infinite Program to introduced a different access to the creative process. One of the results everyone agreed upon was they felt more available to resources beyond their usual arena. This year with Mark-making we are continuing to explore an engagement with materials and methods beyond the creative process dominated by the customary training in the visual arts. In this program we surrendered to what we are calling the field, that consciousness which we are all a part. Along with a strong component of mutual learning, we are finding something fresh and authentic showing up in our work.
An example of the experimental reframing is the work we do with Notan-a Japanese word that means holding as a whole the extreme dark and light in a visual image. There is a subtlety here that is not simply a concept of design or composition. It is about learning to see past the negative space of background, which brings us into the territory of learned separation establishing unconscious polarity. When we view our color images in black and white we can see the notan discernibly, which more clearly exposes degrees of balance/imbalance, stasis/movement and content that could be missed in the isolated object. The notan is also a metaphor for seeing not objects or oppositions but a larger context. This work with my painters has intensified my own pursuits in this area.
The meditation I used with my five paintings adventure of suspended-doing was a concept I learned in aikido, which combines keen alertness with a relaxed flow. Jeff Carreira named it for me as effortful-effortlessness. This kind of audacious proposition needs to be cultivated and it takes an ardent discipline to stay in a meditation of allowing-the-field and at the same time an easeful responsive flow.
When painting, knowing when to stop is one of the biggest challenges. It is a given that one wants a piece that works; a piece that has a certain resolution when finished. In the mark-making endeavor the end seems to come arbitrarily and the challenge is to suspend our usual desire and expectation. That means painting without preference, letting the decision points determine themselves. This feels counter to all previous navigation devices in painting, and at the same time it is possible to achieve. It brings out very different insights and results.
Because I was more concerned with being available or allowing the field to work me than to engage line, color or form for a purpose, the resultant paintings were done in a tenth the time. They were large paintings, all different from each other. What interests me was my reaction to the finished work. I did not identify with them as being a part of me, as often is so with a finished piece. I simply had little or no attachment. In fact they continue to startle me as I see them sitting around the studio, often for a nano-second I wonder where they came from.
I do not know if these pieces reflect the field or non-doing, but in the last few months when my painters did the effortful-effortless meditation and played with these concepts in terms of mark-making there was a stark recognition of honesty and immediacy in their work. I noticed for myself an expanded creativity. It has been an interesting endeavor with no definitive conclusion but this process is well worth refining and pursuing.
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Painting One, acrylic on canvas: 36” X 54” X 2.5” marked
Painting Three, acrylic on canvas: 36” X 48” X 1” marked
Painting Two, acrylic on canvas: 36” X 48” X 1,75” marked
Painting Five, acrylic on wood: 30” X 44” X 1” marked
Painting Four, acrylic on canvas: 36” X 48” X 1” marked
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