Friday, May 16, 2014

A state of unknowing: An epiphany of art, magic and spiritual awe

Squiggly lines or trees in love
CC Jean Stimmell: 5/9/14 behind my house
Creativity, the hallmark of being human, is more a function of tapping into a state of unknowing  than an expression of intelligence or the ability to think rationally.

Accessing this state of  unknowing is important to artists as I have noted previously in The Tao of Seeing where I quote artist, Lauri Doctor, about what inspires her art: The only way I know how to access what’s elemental, dark, mysterious and universal– is to myself work from a state of unknowing..” 

Moreover, working from a state of unknowing is fundamental to both Buddhism and Taoism. Entering such a state requires learning how to be really present in the moment which, except for young children, doesn’t come naturally; it requires extensive training. Monks must learn how to disconnect their rational brains along with all categories of thought to achieve this state which Alan Watts calls “letting your eyes see for themselves.”

According to Watts, it is only by bypassing the thinking brain that we can access the real world, the pure world of the Tao, a wiggly universe without form which is like “a cosmic Rorschach test”. This is what the world looks like to us if we are truly “awake,” truly in the present, truly beyond the contamination of our socially constructed rational world.

In such a state, our world looks like “a blotching ink stain.” Out of this blurry ink splotch, we create our own human reality by seeing into it what we want. Alan Watts tells us that by this act of creating something out of nothing we perform maya, the world illusion.

Alan gives us a unique, at least in the western world, vantage point to challenge our conventional sense of reality and the nature of creation itself. That’s what I want to write about today.

 What Watts is talking about  isn’t esoteric or old-wife-tales magic but how our brains actually work, creating what we perceive of as our human world  from the formless world of chaos resulting from countless random stimuli that rain down upon us every moment of our existence.  It’s not surprising then, according to Watts, that is ability to create something our of nothing – to create Maya – is a shape-shifter  which can also be defined as art; and not only that but magic.

This impulse to enter a state of unknowing which produces epiphanies of  art, magic and spiritual awe is of the utmost importance: In fact, it is the essence of  modern human consciousness according to a fascinating book I am reading, The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art by Lewis-Williams, David.

For the rest of the story, see Part II of this blog

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