"It's not a spectator sport!"

As I�m writing this article I am enjoying my "Little Zen Calendar" quote for the day: "Zen is like looking for spectacles that are sitting on your nose."

A good little joke. The spectacles are sitting on your nose, you can�t look for them because you are looking through them. It�s easy to understand someone who slips their glasses up on top of their head, and then forgets them. Then you can look for them and find them. Happens all the time. You walk around your house looking for your glasses until someone tells you to feel your head. A typical lost & found situation; something was lost, then it was found.
Enlightenment is different because nothing is lost. The glasses are sitting on your nose. You are already looking through them, so what�s the deal in looking for them? Enlightenment is your birthright, your very nature. It cannot be lost because it is like the wetness in water, an integral part of your being. It is not away from you, so it cannot be found.

Creativity cannot lead to enlightenment because nothing can lead you to where you already are, but creativity does have certain similarities to the experience of self realization, and that�s worth exploring.
This thing we call creativity is also part of you, part of the whole of existence. Like enlightenment it cannot be found, but it can be accessed. Thinking that this small part will lead to the whole is as silly as thinking that a change in prescription of the glasses on your nose will help you look for them. A new prescription can only help you look through them.

Because creativity has certain similarities to enlightenment, it has some worth in exploring as a metaphor. It has an enormous worth in exploring simply because it is fun. (Be here now.)

I�m a woman, and I�m enlightened. I�m very interested in spreading my experience to others. To this end I hang out with two basic crowds: spiritual seekers and fiber artists (spinners, knitters and weavers). Of the two crowds the creative people are by far the most fun. Teaching them is a delight because they actually want to learn. I am just back from a spinner�s and weaver�s conference in Montana. While I was there I couldn�t help but notice the difference between this creative gathering and the spiritual retreats which I attend.

The most striking difference is the smiles. I wouldn�t say that the creative people smile more than the spiritual seekers, but their smiles are more grounded. They are more relaxed; they know who they are; they are certain of their space in the group. Skill is appreciated through the actual, physical results of the hands.

Spiritual people have a more difficult go of it. There are no real criteria for belonging or for success. The uncertainty shows in subtle ways. Spiritual people walk around smiling and oozing peace and love; but I always feel a hidden franticness there. This is because the spiritual seeker is looking for something they think they have lost. They don�t even know what it is that they have lost, but they have given it great value and made it so complicated that it can never be found.

The creative person, on the other hand, is involved avidly and continually in finding. You should have seen the delight on the faces of everyone at the spinner�s and weaver�s conference as they found another fiber, a new color, an interesting technique. These smiles were genuine clear down to their toes.

The spiritual seeker�s smile usually has a touch of hypocrisy to it. The commodity is so unrealistic that participants have to pretend they are finding it. They are smiling peace and love, and still know that hate and fighting lurks inside them like a snake. The smile is a cover-up, and thus, is usually bigger and brighter than the average smile. Smiling these smiles is exhausting and often leads to a great let-down after the retreat is over.

The creative person faces no let-down. My fiber artist friends are back home from their retreat and already busy, still smiling because they have a new color or technique to work with. Time to make something to show at the next retreat.

Another difference I�ve noticed is that the spiritual seeker cannot stand the slightest setback. A setback to an artist is just another step in their creation. Sometimes it becomes the creation! A setback to a seeker is a disaster.
I feel so bad for my spiritual friends as I watch them beat themselves up over every single fault that they discover in their inner worlds. It�s brutal out there. People hating themselves because of their hate, and angry at themselves because of their anger, and criticizing themselves about being critical! If you ever watch me at a spiritual retreat you will notice that I usually give up on the crowd pretty quickly and sit down quietly with my knitting.
In contrast I feel so happy for my creative friends as I watch them struggling with a new technique or medium. With the creative crowd there is a certain enjoyment in failure. It�s a given that your first attempts are going to fail. Being clumsy is a good excuse to laugh. The bigger the failure the bigger the story that you get to tell later. The failure is just a step on the road to success.


Creativity brings out a person�s humanity in a natural, beautiful way. We evolved over centuries to be social creatures who belong to a tribe. Today�s world is big and mixed up, but there are still tribes all over the place. Creativity brings you into one of those tribes with an unbreakable bond.

Fiber artists have their own tools and language. The potter has his language. Same with dancers, painters, animal lovers and any other type of creative act. The language and the act brings people together.

Spirituality does not have this same bond. A spiritual belief buys you a very limited tribe with strict rules of conduct. Beliefs are the roots of all wars. Spiritual folks are all suspicious of each other�s attainments and beliefs. But have you ever heard of a war between quilters? It couldn�t happen. A rich, white quilter from Boston USA could meet a poor, black quilter in South Africa and there would be an immediate bond brought to them by the fabrics and thread. A handspinner could sit down in a crowd of other spinners with no common language and be best friends in a minute.

I find this continually in my own life, and here�s a little story. As a creative person I am totally obsessive. For my booth and demonstration at the fiber conference I needed little bowls to spin cotton spindles in. I called up my potter friend to order some bowls and found out that she had just blown up her studio! A terrible disaster from which she was busily trying to recover in time to make more pots for a coming show of her own. There was no chance for me to purchase the bowls I needed. (I must point out briefly that my potter friend wasn�t beating herself up trying to figure out "why" this had happened to her. She knew why. It was aerosol cans which must have heated, and they blew up.)

So I decided to make my own little bowls. I�d never done pottery before, but the thought of failure was no deterrent. I found another potter who sold me some clay and I set to making little bowls. I quickly discovered that I needed something that turned around if I was going to make round pots. Then I hit on the idea of sticking my spindle wheels into the end of a drill, holding the drill between my legs, and throwing pots on this little electric potter�s wheel.

My pots started coming out round and I went crazy. I made bowl after bowl after bowl, lining them up in a row, petting and cooing over them, showing them to everyone I could find. I splattered clay over everything on my porch and ruined three pairs of pants. Good thing I�d only bought five pounds of clay because I couldn�t stop until every last speck was gone.

During this time I was also making frantic phone calls trying to find someone with a kiln who would fire my pots for me. On the day my last little bowl came off my drill I found a willing potter and made an appointment to have my bowls fired. I warned him that they were pretty silly looking bowls and headed over to his house with my tiny treasures lined up on three trays.

It turned out that my new friend had a master�s degree in ceramics. Yikes! He made beautiful art pots, thin and round with perfect curls and designs. He put my little pots into his kiln, segregated onto their own little shelf. I could hear his beautiful pots snickering and sneering at my bowls as he closed the door of the kiln. My babies were pleading with me sadly as they were locked away, we were completely outclassed.

Nevertheless, my new potter friend and I had an immediate bond. We ended up glazing with each other and talking for hours because of our connection with the clay. He a fundamentalist Christian with a master�s degree in art, me a novice-potter, Zen mystic. There was no war between us, only the love of turning the world into art. We were immediate members of a tribe. The creativity caused all divisions of class and religion to drop so that our humanity could make a real connection. It was true love on sight.

This is the power of creativity to bring forth humanity. It often comes through what we like to call the "dark side" which is no more than our ability to be mistake-ridden. Hide this reality and it becomes the subconscious, celebrate it and it becomes your enlightenment. If we use all the parts of our being as raw materials then we can remain imperfect and still be creative lovers.

You have to be a bit crazy to do it though. You have to let the obsessions come forth and risk the unknown. As Rumi says,

There is a wild frenzy in my head
of birds flying, each particle circulating
on its own.

Your hair!!!
Those who are calm and sensible
are insane!


People always say, "I want to be a writer." But they never say, "I want to give up all recreation in my life and sit for hours on end in front of a computer, all my spare time, and struggle with words." People say, "I wish I was creative." But they never say, "I want to sit for hours, working one stitch at a time, rip it all out down to the mistake, and knit it up again, all the while never knowing if it will fit or what it will look like when I�m done." But this is the nature of creativity. I think that most people want to have already written a book, or to have already painted a picture.

This �already-finished-thing� is the idea of enlightenment. This is what people want from enlightenment: to have all the decisions already made, all the answers filled in, all the uncertainty gone, the purpose clear. But enlightenment is just the opposite, and that�s why we run from it with eternal gusto. Realizing who you are means realizing who you are. You are a being in a flow. Each decision is just one little step in the dance of life. Each answer is only for that moment. There is no certainty, no purpose except what you create. You have to put one foot in front of the other, and then do it again.

Each person is creative whether they want to be or not because life demands it. A day lived is no more than a stitch in a sweater, a dab of the paintbrush, a turn of the potter�s wheel. Mistakes are possible at any time, yes. But we are surrounded by such a symphony of color, texture, and sound that the next moment could hold any surprise. This is life. There is no way to still it. Control is an illusion. We are the paintbrush, the painter and the paint. Might as well walk around with the big silly smile on our faces.