Informed by the profound teachings of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal tells us how to unleash powerful creative energy we can use anywhere, from the office to the art studio.
There is little in life that does not require at least some measure of creativity.
Whether you are trying to compose a symphony, write an essay, find a job, cook a meal, or express an opinion, you cannot achieve your goal if you are not creative. But the fruits of your efforts will depend, in good part, on how you define creativity. According to the Dzogchen (Great Perfection) teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism, true creativity has to do with more than just ability or skill, or even actions or behaviors. While those play an important role, creativity ultimately has to do with our state of being.
Creativity can be seen as a state of natural flow, one that spontaneously and effortlessly gives birth not only to manifest form, but to all experiences of body, energy, and mind. This state of flow, which has its roots in openness, occurs only in the absence of hope and fear. It is at once naturally joyful, peaceful, compassionate, expansive, and powerful.
When you know how to tap fully into this open, creative flow, its beneficial qualities can extend to any area of your life. You can paint more masterful paintings. Your music can have more depth of connection. Your writing can be more genuine and moving. You will be able to solve problems at work, resolve conflicts with loved ones, or even shift your thought patterns with more natural spontaneity.
The Wrong Way To Create
Let’s say your creative goal for today is something very utilitarian—to convince your boss that you deserve a promotion. You know this new job opening is meant for you; you have been thinking about it for weeks. But you know skill will be needed to sell the idea to your boss.
If you enter the meeting with him or her feeling positive and spacious, you are far more likely to present a skillful argument from a place of genuine self-confidence, connection, and enthusiasm. These are qualities any boss would treasure in an employee.
Most people, however, seek solutions from a place where the creative flow is blocked and, as a result, their words and actions are contrived and effortful. For example, imagine that on the morning of the day you are meeting with your boss, you wake up in a bad mood. For whatever reason, you are feeling a little depressed, pessimistic, edgy. The problem is self-image; you identify with the negative energy. You think, “I am feeling bad,” or “something is wrong with me this morning.” It’s a familiar feeling of unworthiness we often wake up to.
Let’s say you don’t do anything to clear the negative energy. You sit on your bad mood as usual. As the appointed meeting with your boss approaches, it is from this place of negative self-image that you begin to feel nervous. You sit with agitation and your mind becomes increasingly active. You wonder: “Has my co-worker already been chosen for the new position?” “Has anyone even noticed all my contributions at work?” “That mistake I made last month—will my boss hold it against me?”
If these thoughts continue, then by the time you sit down across the table from your boss, you will actively be trying to hide your fear and agitation. You are dressed professionally, speaking well, expressing all your well-rehearsed arguments for why you deserve the promotion, but the right causes and conditions are not realized internally. No matter how well you smile or speak, your words come out as planned and effortful.
Instead of seeing genuine confidence and enthusiasm, your boss will instead sense conflict and doubt behind a confident facade. At best your boss will assume this is due to nerves. At worst, he or she will conclude that you doubt your own ability to take on new responsibilities. Maybe that promotion is not right for you.
Adjusting Your Focus
Particularly in stressful situations, like meeting with the boss, people tend to focus too much effort on creating results and too little on taking steps that will allow the intended results to spontaneously arise.
If you play piano fretting about what the audience thinks of the music, your notes may come out as stilted. If you paint a watercolor worried about messing up a brushstroke, the finished artwork may lack soul. If you give a gift worrying about how its value will be perceived, the recipient may dismiss it as not coming from the heart. To keep from getting caught up in these hopes and fears, you must first stop focusing so much on the goal.
In football, place-kickers are trained to focus not on the goal but on making solid contact with the ball. They remain conscious of the goal posts, but just before they kick they keep their head down and their eyes on the ball. Target shooters are given similar advice. They focus not on the target but on lining up the sights; the target itself remains a blur beyond the sights. Likewise, even as you are conscious of your creative goal, it makes sense to place your attention on lining up the sights—taking the steps that can cause your desired results to spontaneously manifest.
Think of how you feel as you are helping loved ones move forward in their lives. People who get excited about helping others don’t base their actions on hope or fear and are not concerned about feeling unworthy. They just feel joy and openness in doing a simple task without expectations. If you can have a similar experience of openness in your professional life, you are more likely to land a job promotion. It’s good if you can have fun doing what you’re doing, with no expectations of becoming wealthy, yet still make money. That is what is called a creative profession.
Three Steps to Creativity
Whether you are looking to transform a life of sadness and depression into one of happiness and joy, or you are wishing to take your artistry to a higher level, instead of keeping your attention on the goal, focus on taking these three steps:
1. Clear your inner obstacles
The first step toward unleashing the open flow of creativity is to attain a state of openness. That requires clearing away your negative self-image.
People who are stuck always seem to have excuses for not moving forward. not having enough money or lacking support from loved ones, friends, or colleagues are very common examples. You may think, “I’m not good enough,” or “no one else has done it before,” or “This is not the right time and place.” But whether you have ten reasons or one hundred, external factors are not the real obstacle. The real block is within. It’s not that someone else is in your way—you yourself are the block. You are attached to the aspect of yourself that is blocking the way.
There are many methods for clearing awareness and improving self-image. Talk therapy is one. Practicing yoga is another. on a deeper level, meditation techniques such as the Bön Buddhist practices of tsa lung or the nine breathings of purification can help you clear the physical, energetic, and mental obstacles associated with negative self-image.
Here is a simple clearing practice you can try right now in order to begin the process of unleashing your creative energy:
- • Notice your internal dialog. Are you always telling yourself things like: “This can’t work,” “no one will like it,” “I’m not good enough,” “I don’t have the energy,” or “It’s not worth the trouble.” Identify your primary obstacle. simply being aware that it is within you can help begin the process of unblocking.
- • Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take a moment to feel the stillness of your body. Listen and hear the silence within and around you, and abide in the spaciousness of your mind. rest in this place of openness for a few minutes or longer.
- • Now, from that place of stillness, silence, and spaciousness, bring your main obstacle back into awareness. observe it nakedly, without concepts, judging, or evaluating. This is what I call “selecting” the issue.
- • Take in a deep breath of pure awareness, bringing it directly into the image or energetic feeling of the inner obstacle you have selected. As you exhale, breathe out the blockage and experience it dissolving into space. Be aware of that space and effortlessly rest there for a few minutes.
Repeat this breathing cycle over and over until you start to feel clearer inside. The more you become aware of what is blocking your creative flow and practice clearing it, the more you discover and cultivate a more positive sense of self that is based on the absence of obstacle. This much larger sense of self has nothing to do with identity and everything to do with openness. You are the infinite space that has opened up.
You may fear that without your old, familiar sense of pain identity, you are nothing. But as you clear your sense of negative self-image, you can begin to discover that in its absence, you are everything. A sense of self that is founded in openness is unchanging, indestructible, and confident.
Whatever practice you use, the point is to discover a place of spaciousness within. Give time not only to clearing obstacles but also to becoming familiar with what opens up as a result. every moment you spend in a state of openness is cumulative and supports your ability to be in the flow. Let go, rest in the openness, and become familiar with it. Cultivate confidence in the realization that your true inner being cannot be changed by any force.
2. Open to your potential
If you can successfully clear the clouds of negative self-image and become more familiar with the vast sky, then by resting deeply enough in that space, you will begin to feel an even greater opening and sense of peace. The sparkling qualities manifesting in that space are the light of awareness and potentiality.
so the second step toward unleashing a free flow of creativity is to cultivate and connect fully with that awareness and sense of unlimited potential. once you do so, you can come to realize that not only are you more than you had always thought you were, but your entire world is full of positive alternatives. nothing is missing in your life; you are complete.
Finding solutions to problems may only require a new perspective, but sometimes it requires exploring whole new horizons. For example, in recent months I’ve met many people who have been telling me they can’t find work. But I truly feel that the reason they can’t find a job is only because they are the same person looking in the same types of places where they found no jobs before. The point here is to consciously and energetically let go of feeling not only internally blocked but also externally blocked.
It is very hard to look in a new place for solutions when you are the same old person. When there are obstacles in the way of reaching a professional, personal, or spiritual goal, a shift has to take place within you.
3. Nurture a sense of warmth
Once you have realized a sense of openness, confidence, and unlimited potential, then qualities of joy—what I call warmth—can naturally arise. It is only from this warmth that creativity, finally, will freely manifest. The third condition for connecting with your creative nature, therefore, is to notice and nurture a feeling of warmth.
Just as the sky is the primary source of the sun and the oxygen-rich wind, which in turn give birth to all the flowers and trees, openness is the primary source of confidence and warmth, which in turn give birth to creative and enlightened manifestation.
Warmth is the place from which love, kindness, compassion, expansiveness, and creativity arise. It’s like sitting in a patch of sunlight in cold weather. As the light warms you, you begin to smile. The warmth you experience is a sense of feeling complete or, more specifically, no longer feeling incomplete. You are conscious that any feelings of inadequacy have dissolved and that you are more connected to your true self, so naturally you feel complete.
Once anger is cleared, its antidote—love—can more spontaneously arise. once sadness and feelings of inadequacy are cleared, joy and completeness are revealed. I’m not just saying this; for centuries, yogis and other practitioners have witnessed these results from meditation practice, and my own students have seen such effects within a few days of practice.
When you create more space and awareness, positive qualities naturally arise. The more familiar you become with a sense of warmth, the more often these joyful feelings will be evident. If this warmth is something you have seldom felt before, it’s only because you have never before provided the space for it to manifest.
If you feel the stirring of joy, just be aware of it. Particularly feel it in your heart, and allow it to expand throughout your body—through your blood, your skin. Feel all the billions of cells in your body communicating with each other through this joy. Let your voice speak from that place, and you will feel warmth reflecting back on you from the people you speak with.
This is something you’ve wanted and needed all your life, and now you are feeling it. Warmth is not goal oriented; it is about connecting with your very being. Creativity flows from here.
The Life of An Artist
People often make the mistake of trying to act creatively before cultivating a sense of warmth. As a result, like the nervous person trying to fake confidence with her boss, they have only limited success. It is only once the clouds have dissolved, revealing the clear, vast sky, that the warmth of the sun’s rays can nourish your creativity.
At any given time, consider what stage you are in, and do what you can to move the process along. Try to focus more on what works, rather than what is not working for you. don’t force creativity before its time.
Once all the right conditions are in place, unrestricted creative flow often comes spontaneously. If not, there is no problem with inviting it, reminding it, bringing in a little energy as a booster. If you set up the right conditions, focusing in all the right places, the intended result will come.
Whenever I create a piece of calligraphy, for example, I avoid engaging with the intended outcome—hoping the finished image will be beautiful or fearing I will miss a brushstroke. I connect, instead, with stillness, silence, and spaciousness. Then, from within this open awareness, I feel a sense of warmth. I see the paper and hold the ink-filled brush in my hand. only then, from that place of warmth, do I allow the brush to meet the paper. The stroke of the brush is the manifest act of creativity. With each stroke, the openness, awareness, and warmth are already in place and fully ripened.
Spontaneous action is joyful action, and that is true creativity. Whether it is a great artist immersed in the act of painting, a mother embracing her child, or a bodhisattva expressing compassion to sentient beings, full immersion in the creative flow brings a sense of freedom, playfulness, and joy.
If you create from this place, hours can pass without your noticing. You go beyond time and space. You have many enlightened qualities during that timeless moment, and those qualities are far more valuable than any product you create. People who are exposed to your product may feel something of what you felt in the act of creation, just as one can feel the depth of rembrandt’s experience captured in a self-portrait fully 350 years after he applied the paint strokes. But for the creator, the creation itself is not as important as being in the moment of creating. That is the life of an artist.