The great challenge of all creatives is to marry heaven and earth. Making ideals work in the grit of the daily slog.
When I first had the idea to open an art gallery the vision for it came gushing in a wave of glory. I was driving across the state of Florida to help my Dad who’d recently had a stroke. You’d think the idea had been borne on the wings of angels I was so enthralled.
I leapt out of my van in a podunk town south of the Lake Okeechobee to call Ann from a pay phone. Yep, it was that long ago. It was late, possibly midnight, possibly later. I was breathless to get the idea out.
“I’m going to open an art gallery!”
Ann, despite only having been dating me for a month or two — this round, we’d dated in college, 15 years earlier — got swept up too.
“I’m in! I’m doing it with you.”
At that mid of night moment we had only the rush of heightened blood flow coursing through our brains. The idea seemed lofty, inevitable. As though the resplendent glow from its halo would part the world’s waters for us.
Six or seven months later, Studio E Gallery opened for business in a small coastal town. Or, as a local called it, the town of the newly wed and the nearly dead. The typical homes there were so small that only retirees and young couples sought them out.
No idea births on this planet without labor pains.
In that half year we got frenetic. We hustled our way into a space, we hustled our way into artists’ minds.
An artist we convinced to be among the six featured artists at our opening has sold well over a million dollars of artwork through our gallery in the ensuing twenty years. But no one could have predicted its success. Most galleries curl up and die a few months or a few years later.
What I mean by hustling our way into an artist’s mind is this: We were nothing — a non-entity — the gallery didn’t even exist when I spoke with artists. It didn’t even have a name.
We had to implant the likelihood of success into their heads! No easy feat when we came without experience, without credentials, without even art degrees. We had to galvanize each artist in the early days. We had to get them to believe it was worth their sweaty effort to produce their best work for us — and fast.
Because the clock was ticking, the opening was right around the corner.
Every idea gets earthbound fast. You either love the process or you don’t. If you’re not excited with the path there then that idea isn’t for you.
Or wait until you alight upon a path that intrigues you as much as the end point.
When we weren’t running around to art fairs to find artists we loved, we were in the thick of the hunt for space. And after we had the space we were dawn till way past dusk ripping up everything in that space that didn’t work for an art gallery and carting it to the dumpster. Which was most everything.
Art galleries are lean clean spaces. This space was not that. Not at the beginning. But at the end it was.
It took weeks of demolition and scouring and scrubbing and painting to convert that space. This of course was after months of research and paperwork and running around.
And yet — this was not work. It was exhilarating exhausting creation. When you are creating something from scratch you deplete yourself scrabbling the components together. It’s as though you mine the earth for the raw materials with your bare brain and your bare hands. And then you assemble them into the closest Frankenstein monster of a similarity to your idea you can.
You dreamed of a diaphanous water nymph; you end up with a clunky manbot cobbled together from rusted parts. Instead of gliding across the surface it stomps in the shallows shoreside. But it moves! It’s alive in its own manner!
And you brought this thing to life with sweat and cunning.
Creation at its core is the hardest nonwork you’ll ever do. Eventually, with refinement, you’ll see that water nymph emerge . . . It took us ten or eleven years before we stood in the gallery of our dreams. Each year, each iteration, each near-death event that we survived brought us closer . . .
The only way to your dream is mano a mano with whatever materials you can scrounge. All creation is like this. You work it like a pro. All in. Fingers in the dirt, working your environment with all you’ve got, till you unearth what you need. Piece by piece.
When at last you stand up and gaze at your creation, damn!
You did it.
You created like a god, taking a wispy idea from the thought-o-sphere and wrestling it all the way to Earth. It’s here on this planet now because of you. Your labors brought it forth. It’s not work. It’s a love child. It’s an offering to the divine. It’s something you fucking created from nothing.
Take a bow.
Excerpted from a bookito in progress: The Way Of The Creative
Join the email list below to be notified when it launches.
Mollie Player has a way of drawing out stories you don’t expect to reveal, insights you didn’t know you had.
Check out this in-depth interview below, from Mollie Player’s book The Power of Acceptance: One Year of Mindfulness and Meditation. Woven into the narrative in The Power of Acceptance are interviews with six long-time meditators. Each has a strikingly unique perspective to share. I’m honored to be one of them.
She’s been one of my favorite writers ever since I read You’re Getting Closer: One Year of Finding God and a Few Good Friends.
Before that even.
A few years ago we stumbled across each other’s websites somehow — you know how it is in the Internet Era, you’re never quite sure how you wormed your way to where you landed. However it happened, whoever found the other first, no importa! What matters is I found a soul compadre. A female inverse doppelganger of sorts.
What Mollie does exceptionally well is distill her esoteric searching into human-shaped vignettes that pull you in. She is real. You sense her quirky as clearly as you feel her relentless seeking.
Whatever situation she’s in, she pulls you into the reality of it — while deftly sweeping you up in her greater purpose.
Enjoy the interview . . .
MEDITATION INTERVIEW #2: The Artist
For twenty years, Evan Griffith and his wife have owned and operated a sizable art gallery in Palm Beach County, Florida. Evan is the consummate artist: deep thinking, profound, highly excitable, and just the right amount crazy.
Author of Burn, Baby, Burn: Spark the Creative Spirit Within, he’s also a talented writer. His blog, The World Is Freaky Beautiful [now Notes For Creators] is a passionate exploration of the intersection of creativity and divinity.
Here are his answers to my questions.
How long have you been practicing meditation? What was your first experience of meditation like?
In my teens in the ‘70s, my very conservative yet searching Christian mom brought me to a yoga class that ended with meditation. Later in high school and college I sporadically experimented with meditation.
By my senior year I became so enamored with the possibilities that I created an independent study course in Human Potential with a friend — approved by the college! — that focused heavily on exploring different types of meditation, yoga, guided imagery, affirmations, New Thought books, sleep experiments and more.
It sounds so normal now, but it felt daring at the time, a little less than four decades ago.
The most memorable early meditation I can recall was with a candle—simply focusing on the flickering flame. We were high so it really doesn’t count. But it intrigued me enough to want to try it in a normal state of mind. Once I did so, mind-altering substances utterly lost their appeal. To me it was the difference between a sloppy beer-party tryst and falling in love. Deep, life-long, love.
What made you continue to meditate?
From my earliest meditation attempts in college, I took to it right away. Even while experimenting with different forms of meditation, I felt profoundly at home in the process. From then on, meditation was a part of my life—though I didn’t develop an ironclad daily meditation process until many years later, after an intense spiritual experience.
What is meditation to you?
More specifically: An enveloping shift sparked by single-pointed attention in silent stillness.
You start with you and your little mind silent and focused, and when it goes well you spring through a cosmic bliss portal.
Describe for me your meditation practice. Do you focus on a thought or image, or just not think at all?
My favorite practice is what I call love zazen. In zazen you sit comfortably and attentively. As thoughts come, you notice them, then let them go.
My method is similar: First, you sit quietly and comfortably, engendering a feeling of love or appreciation in yourself. This becomes quite easy once you get the hang of it.
If you’re having difficulty with it, though, conjure up someone you adore. Or something you relish doing. Or a favorite place, a treasured memory, or an experience charged with affection. Focus on that person or experience until you feel washed in appreciation or love.
Then focus on the sensation, and let go of the image that sparked it.
Next, begin to observe your thoughts. One by one, notice them, then consciously fill them with the love you’re feeling.
Often thoughts of things you’re keenly grateful for will come up. Love and appreciate them. If a thought about some difficulty in your life arises, let your loving appreciation sensation surround it, too. Find something to appreciate about that difficulty. Appreciate the hell out of it!
As you do this, whatever rises up in your thoughts will whisper away, and you’ll be left with just the loving appreciation sensation. I swear by the moons of Jupiter that I’ve resolved more issues this way than by any other method. If I miss a day of this practice, I miss it in the way you miss a person; I’m actually sad about it.
Another favorite meditation of mine is a listening meditation — simply sitting comfortably erect, and listening. You become attentive to the sounds surrounding you, as well as the sounds and feelings within you.
If you’re out in nature you might hear a brook, birds, a dog barking, squirrels skittering along tree branches, wind picking up and dying down, blowing through and around what surrounds you.
If you’re in a more urban environment, you’ll hear cars and people and snatches of conversation. You’ll hear sirens or music or doors or creaking.
I’ve practiced this in New York City on Ninth Avenue with jackhammers going — it still works. After a while you’ll start hearing the beat of your heart and the coursing of blood through parts of your body. A little while longer and you’ll swear to God that all the sounds are being orchestrated together. You begin to feel part of a great symphonic movement that is being played through all the elements of Earth.
Is there a learning process to meditation?
Yes! It’s primarily learning to relax into the process. And learning that sitting in silence for five or twenty minutes — whatever your commitment — is meditation. Regardless of outcome.
Many people think they’re doing it wrong … they’re not.
Sitting softly erect, going calm, slowing your breathing down, focusing on the method you’ve chosen is all it is. Even when you feel unfocused much of the time. With practice, the pauses in between mind sparks become longer, more sensuous. You begin to feel the space between your thoughts … and it’s voluptuous. Rapturous even.
In time that spaciousness envelops even your thoughts. It’s a loving saturation that comes to permeate the entirety of your being. Soul, mind, body, the external world … they all meld into that loving, saturated emptiness.
I use the term emptiness because that space is devoid of markers. It’s a complete absence of all the things we normally associate with existence. And yet emptiness doesn’t do it justice. Because it’s also dense with life energy.
What might you tell a new meditator to help them through the first part of the learning process?
I would tell them to take it easy. Flubbing it is meditation!
Pick whatever method feels natural to you and go for it. Fifteen minutes of Internet research will reveal at least fifteen different methods. There’s no wrong way to evolve your way through your meditation practice. Try as many methods as you need.
You’ll find yourself coming back to one or two favorites. That’s your cue. Explore those that intrigue you most.
Have you ever experienced a healing through meditation, bodily or otherwise? Can you tell me about it?
I’ve experienced many healings that I associate with meditation — bodily, financially, creatively, relationally. I even credit it with helping me find my life partner.
The first time I realized meditation could be used for healing was while reading a magazine. I think it was a yoga magazine, or Oprah’s magazine — something with a cool spiritual slant.
There was a brief article about how meditators could stop headaches.
Immediately, I sat up a little straighter.
I’m a meditator! I thought. Why can’t I do this?
I decided to try their simple process: After my first inkling that a headache was coming on, I stopped everything and got into a meditative space. After going deeply into my meditation, I brought my conscious awareness into, rather than away from, the point of pain.
Then I visualized conduits and pipes running through the area of pain with pressure building up in them. Then I imagined myself turning a valve to off gas the pressure, releasing the tension, releasing the pain.
The very first time I tried this, it worked! Maybe only a month or two into experimenting with this game I never had a headache again.
Techniques like these are counterintuitive. We’re always shrinking from pain. We unconsciously tighten up around the pain points, in an attempt to block them. But meditators — people with sufficient practice accessing that deep state of consciousness where reality plays out fluidly within the body-mind — can transform the pain with their focus.
Incidentally, I’ve described this process to a number of people over the years. I’ve never seen it work for a non-meditator.
Regarding other types of bodily healing, years ago I settled into a simple pattern whenever I would feel some kind of distress coming on: At the earliest opportunity I would drop into meditation and bathe the area with love and healing. Then that night before falling asleep, sitting in bed, I’d drop into meditation again.
At the end of my usual meditation practice I would envision healing … and then fast-forward to the morning. I’d see myself waking up and feeling wonderful—amazing—having almost forgotten that I even had an issue.
Then I’d see myself remembering the issue and smiling, thinking to myself, Oh yeah, that’s gone. Love that process. I love how things work out so freaking well when I set the intention deeply.
With this, I’d lie down and drift off to sleep.
This process has worked astoundingly well for me, to the point where I can go years without getting sick. It’s only when I get cocky about it and don’t go as earnestly deep in my visualization that I seem to have issues.
Sometimes we talk about meditation as if it’s a similar experience for all. And we now know that the same regions of our brain are activated no matter which practice we use. What do you think: how close is what one person calls being “in touch with God” to the feeling experience another has of mere “rest and relaxation”?
It’s like sex. There’s a commonality. But within that commonality there’s a widely diverse experience, from rote to ecstatic.
Belief matters, even in meditation.
Intention and expectation frame the meditative moment intensely. Once I believed it possible, asked for it, and then went into meditation allowing for a deep spiritual connection, that’s what I got. My God was it ever mind blowing. Even now, sometimes it feels as though my neural circuits are being overloaded, in the best of ways. As though my own wiring is being rewired into something better.
Do you have a particularly fond memory of a meditation experience?
Here’s a funny experience that happened with my friend Gil, who was in the independent study course with me. In a book we read by channel Jane Roberts and spiritual entity Seth we read that in a rare instance someone expands too quickly in consciousness — and then bursts out of existence. It’s as though their body was not equipped to handle the sudden energy surge.
This became a running joke with us. As in, “Watch out, I’m feeling the meditation vibe tonight; I might combust at any moment.”
Late one night we both decided to go down to the lake and sit on a berm and meditate.
That night was windy as hell. In Florida we get these intense storms, and this was the precursor to a particularly intense one. No rain yet, just wind that was whipping limbs and trees around. We settled down to meditate, but after a short while I became uneasy — wildly uneasy. It just felt off, eerie.
We were in the pitch dark, side by side just a couple of feet from each other. The wind had picked up even more. I wasn’t gripped with fear as much as foreboding, as though something terrible was about to happen.
I opened my eyes and glanced at Gil. I could only see his silhouette, but he seemed to be deep into his meditation. Not wanting to disturb him, I silently got up and headed back.
My girlfriend was in my dorm room and I spilled out how relieved I was that she’d shown up—I was that unsettled.
Maybe five or ten minutes later, Gil comes bursting into my room, flinging the door open so violently he almost destroyed it.
“Whoa, Gil, what’s wrong?” we both blurted out.
As soon as Gil could regain his breath, he huffed out: “Jesus, I thought you had combusted!”
How often does meditation feel good in the moment? How often are you itching to get out of the chair?
It always feels good to me. I drop very quickly into the meditative moment. I almost never find myself itching to stop soon — but I would certainly allow myself to do so if I were having difficulty.
I don’t set a timer or have any kind of prompt that ends a meditation session. I simply stop when it feels right. Consequently, a meditation can be just a few minutes to twenty, thirty or even forty minutes long. Most of my night meditations probably last twelve to twenty minutes.
During the day I am apt to drop into very short visualization-type meditations to suggestively pre-cast how I’d like an impending experience to turn out (a meeting, a negotiation, a conversation, an activity) or to ask for guidance or a solution to an issue.
Sometimes I may be getting away from meditation and more into asking. I guess you could call it prayer. But I see it all as part of a continuum so I rarely make those kinds of distinctions in my own mind.
What about when you’re depressed or angry or in a bad mood? Does meditation still help you feel better? How often does it help you get out of your rut? How often does it fail to do so?
Some form of meditative or contemplative or envisioning moment is my go-to method for any and all stresses. As well as all joys and triumphs and satisfactions. There’s nothing in my life that I don’t take into my practice of silence. It is that helpful.
The more I bring with me into the silence, the easier life unfolds. It’s that simple.
It is so effective a process for the turbulence that comes my way, that I know almost no other way to deal with issues. I say this with great respect for the importance of exercise, sleep, nutrition, expression and loving relationships as other pillars of a well-lived life.
I’m powerfully drawn to writing meditations as well. In fact, many days a week I write a Vision Page in the mornings. I also practice moving meditation, most commonly through walking. While driving I often speak affirmations aloud.
What’s the best thing about meditation for you?
That it is so interwoven with the rest of my life that I can take it with me wherever I go.
What are your spiritual beliefs? Are they grouped together as a recognized belief system of any kind?
I draw from many sources, Eastern and Western, contemporary and traditional. Though my beliefs align closest with New Thought spirituality, I’m open to wisdom from a wide range of paradigms.
My mother and brother are traditional Christians and I love talking to them about their experiences. But I also incorporate aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism and Daoism. I am especially drawn to contemporary spiritual voices from the last one hundred years, including channeled material. The Abraham and Esther Hicks duo is a favorite in that area.
There’s not an issue in my life that I don’t resolve first through a meditative-spiritual frame of reference.
To try to put it succinctly, this is how I view reality:
— This realm is a playground of creation.
— It is malleable, though as with any game, there are powerful guidelines.
— We come here to hone our creation power … and to play in whatever ways are most compelling to us.
— We choose to be here.
— We are souls within souls within souls within the Ultimate Soul.
— In the greater reality everything is permeable; we all ultimately overlap in soul consciousness.
— We live many lives, in many dimensions, going from adventure to adventure.
— Life is eternal and joy-seeking.
— We are growth-oriented beings.
— Our soul-minds mold our experiences, including the events and people that come into our lives, and it is our task to learn how best to do this.
— Love, generosity, creativity, exploration, appreciation, enthusiasm, kindness, compassion … when we live these highest of qualities we have the greatest well-being.
— Giving is receiving (and receiving allows others to give).
— Ultimate reality is beyond my comprehension; even so, I can grow ever more in tune with the Divine Mystery at the heart of all creation.
Excerpted from The Power of Acceptance: One Year of Mindfulness and Meditation by Mollie Player. Check it out.
When you begin your important work, do you remember to summon?
Do you ask for the crackling electricity of your genius to manifest through you as you work?
Do you envision greatness springing from your fingertips?
When you sit to write that legal argument do you invoke the fullness of your powers?
When you settle in to practice that presentation/talk/song/skill, do you gather the forces at your command?
As always, as ever, this post is to remind myself — in a way that will be useful for you too. Too often I rush into my work without taking that nano-moment to summon my best. Too often I come into my work scattered. Never in the history of humankind has this born good fruit. What I want to ripen grows naturally from single-pointed immersion.
I have a simple new mantra now, one that is handy for the multiplicity of endeavors we engage in a day:
Joy through me.
Genius through me.
You know this to be true. There is free-flowing jazz-sipping delight-bringing energy within that can be called forth. You can infuse it into your work, cast it outward into the product of your focus.
Whether you are going into a meeting or entering a Pilates class, you can summon your best. It’s there, waiting to be released.
Unleashing the creative spirit within is simplicity itself. It’s accomplished in a focusing moment. You activate it by request.
(Impishly delivers too. Your inner spirit is playful, devilish even.)
When I sit down fingertips at the ready on my laptop, I whisper to myself: Joy through me. Genius through me.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s aloud or in the quietude of my mind. It matters only that I am narrowing my attention to the matter at hand —
By doing this I am connecting to the essence of what I most want coursing through me as I engage in the activity before me.
You’ve seen the pitcher rotating the baseball in his hand before winding up. You’ve watched the tennis pro bounce the ball twice before tossing it aloft to serve. You’ve witnessed the chef sharpening knives–
It’s all in the service of what is to come.
The same is true for you and me. If we take a nano-moment to prepare ourselves, we can more easily access the best within us.
Summon . . .
Request . . .
Envision . . .
The clarity alone will be your bridge to the kind of work you wish to put out into the world.
Have you ever followed a guru or a mentor?
I’ve given my power away to lovers and spouses. I’ve sat by the phone. I’ve waited for permission.
I’ve turned in work and awaited, trembling, the judgment of others. I’ve given away my power subtly, with a glance that was perceptible to no one. And I’ve given it away overtly and shamelessly, for all the world to see.
Exile, failure, and banishment can be good things sometimes, because they force us to act from our own center and not from someone else’s.
I applaud your story of how you hit bottom, because at the bottom there’s no one there but yourself.
From Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work by Steven Pressfield
In your ruthless quest for efficiency don’t eject what is effective — like I almost did.
Do you do this?
You come to your work space. You set your bag down. You move items on your desk, just so. You prune your work surface the way bonobos harvest nits from body hair.
Pen, planner, sacred rock, work station, you want it perfect before you launch into your creative work.
I eleminated this fliff fluff by doing the setup the night before. This way I could come to my desk al dente, ready to bite into my project! Oh, had I ever outsmarted my distracting ways. No more would I fritter precious minutes while arranging and sorting. Nay. I would leap like a rock wallaby and ascend that much faster to my creative peak.
I’ve got a tight timeframe to write in the early morning. Forty-five minutes at best most mornings, before I dash off to the gallery. So it felt important to open that creative work window a bit wider.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
When I leapt straight into work something odd happened. Nothing. Nothing happened. Lots of nothing in fact.
It turns out the get-started ritual is a powerful trigger. It’s a step-by-step auto hypnosis. When I come to the desk and clear the space, I’m clearing my mind. When I put items in place — the laptop, my notes, my phone off to the side — I’m turning on the parts of my brain that sparks lightning.
It’s like revving an engine. You can’t do that till you’ve unlocked the car, strapped in, started her up, engaged the gear shift, hit the gas.
That’s the efficacy of repetition. I’ve repeated those simple preparatory steps so often that by the time I’ve booted up the laptop my brain is primed to produce. And it gets right to work.
It’s like a horse let loose from its stall after anticipating release — yet having to wait for the fumbling owner to slide open the barn doors, amble to the pen, unlatch the gate…. It will dash for it once allowed.
Without the hypnotic pre-work actions my focus just isn’t there.
A note for you: If you’re having difficulty launching into your creative work, maybe you need to find ways to ease into it.
If an artist, simply make marks — on paper, on canvas, on board — till your creative self engages.
If a writer, maybe it’s writing 3 paragraphs as fast as you can about whatever.
If you’re not engaging with your work soon after starting, consider crafting a satisfying ritual to ease your way into your work — something that slows your everyday persona down and allows your creative side to take the reins.
A get-started ritual could be the key to your best work. Your consistent best work.