I attended the San Francisco Zen Center yesterday evening. I had a wonderful time sitting in the location where Shunryu Suzuki first established the Soto Zen practice in the United States. I had read his biography over a year ago, The Crooked Cucumber. It, in combination, of Natalie Goldberg's books (on Zen and Writing) were the two influences that prompted me to delve into Zen Buddhism.
Now, I try to go to the Northridge Beginner's Mind Zen Center when I have time and sit occasionally at home or in other meditation groups some of which are not necessary Buddhist but fill my need for sangha (like minded community).
My current question is centered around my experience as an artist and how to navigate the dance making process while not succumbing to the whims of the ego (a big No No in the Buddhist world). This line of questioning actually started about a year ago, when I first created this blog. The challenge of being a performing artist is inherent in the art itself. Dance is a live art form dependent on others. If I were just a poet, I could feasibly write and write and write without ever having to show anyone and then allow my work to be found in a trunk after I am gone, not caring whether they publish a series of books from the vast amount of writing or simply stick it in the recycle bin.
Being a poet seems like it would be so much simpler in that way. I wouldn't have to be around when others read it, I wouldn't have to worry about renting a studio or theater or gathering dancers to volunteer their time and talents for my vision. A poet can work alone, at any time, day or night without hindrance.
But, I am a performer and a creator of performance. And, here is the crux of my suffering, I want people to want to see my work and (gasp) like the work.
I haven't quite sorted that out yet. In the worst case it is because I am egotistical. The best case is that I have a mission to bring joy and mindfulness to the world through dance. The trouble comes when I can't tell which is the driving force.
Am I merely a self centered egoist? Or am I the ultimate altruistic artist?
Why am I driven to do what I do?
I need to spend a lot more time figuring this out and ASAP. Because, in the meantime I am suffering. I suffer each time I feel a pang of envy, or a shake of insecurity. I feel it when I bristle upon hearing of others success and in all the hours I plague myself with self doubt and dislike for the work I create. I am suffering, and it is ugly. I don't like admitting it. I am embarrassed. But, this is the truth, and I gather that this is the truth for many or even most artists.
We may not know why we are driven to do what we do and I believe losing the context of why we create plays a large part in our suffering as artists. I am fortunate that I make my living teaching therefore I don't have to make money with my art. But, it still feels overwhelmingly important to me. And, I want to make sure it is important for the RIGHT reason. Not to feed my ego but to feed my spirit and the spirit of the dancer and audience members (more on that coming soon).
Here is a list I have come up with to help me determine whether I am working from a healthy or detrimental place. Perhaps you will enjoy the list as well.
Signs that I am an egotistical artist:
-- Focus on the other: sometimes I catch myself thinking too much about what other people are doing with their dances. This should be irrelevant. It is one thing to observe and enjoy; it is another to use these opportunities for either self validation or flagellation.
--Frustration with the product: The product is irrelevant, art making is about the process. The dance should be nothing more than the residue of the creative experience.
--Identification with the dance: I am not the dance. My success is not tied to the success of the dance. There is no success to be attained.
--Desire for validation/accolades: This is a big one for me. I want people to tell me it was good! I want people to like it. But, I need to rethink why I want a positive response. It is because I hope to create art that touches the hearts of the audience or because I want praise.
Signs I am an altruistic artist:
--Enjoyment/witness of the other: In watching a dance artist I am inspired to continue my path with the new insight from those around me.
--Joy of Process: I know I am in the right place when going to the studio or rehearsal is fun! And, even problem solving is fun.
--Focus on the Message: I create dances with a message (sometimes for me sometimes for the world). When I am creating from this place, it takes ME out of the equation and puts the goal of the art at the forefront.
--Self care/ Self love: I know I am working from a healthy place when I can offer myself deep compassion through the struggles that are inherent in a creative process. When I forget to forgive myself/love myself/have patience with myself then I am in a fighting place. I am fighting with my ego that has expectations that are unhelpful to the process.
In short when I am creating from this place....