Place Your Thoughts Here- An Excerpt

imageThe following is an excerpt from LA sangha member Steven Saitzyk’s dharma art book, PLACE YOUR THOUGHTS HERE. Steven will be giving a talk: Dharma Through Art at the Westside center on Wednesday, April 20, 7:30pm. 

Things are not difficult to make; what is difficult is putting ourselves in the state of mind to make them.
~ Constantin Brancusi
“My creative process is a meditation.” I have heard this statement often. While art-making and art-viewing are inherently contemplative activities, they are not the same as a meditation practice. They can parallel one another when they invoke a similar state of mind, but it is what makes them different that provides the ability for formal meditation practice to benefit the way we create and view art.
Meditation helps synchronize mind with body, right hemisphere of the brain with left, enhance intuitive and intellectual abilities, and promote clear perception. Much of art is about seeing and experiencing things as they truly are, and enjoying genuine spontaneity and unselfconscious, pure expression. Meditation helps us to better achieve this. It also dissolves creative blockages, reveals the source of creativity, and offers a path toward experiencing the sublime state in which our experience and knowledge merge into one.

Landing in the Right State of Mind

In the absence of a meditative discipline, we tend to create little rituals that we hope will lead to a starting point for our next project or recreate a state of mind to resume an existing one. We are looking for a specific state of mind, or place to land—and not just any place. Our ritual might involve making coffee, having a smoke, returning a phone call, checking email, reading the newspaper, or going for a walk or run. Some of us clean up the work space, organize our tools, spread out our materials, trash something, or scrutinize where we left off. For others among us, stress, excitement, sex, or drugs seem to take us to the states of mind we think we should be in before we can create. Whether we are on autopilot mentally, or focused like starving vultures, we’re looking for an inner landing zone permeated with clarity and confidence. Until we are in that elusive place, we insist that we cannot begin to work meaningfully.
Whatever our personal flight plan is to get there, some of the activities we choose can end up becoming distractions, causing us to go off course or even crash land. We might get wired from drinking too much coffee, get caught up in an argumentative email, trash a project with real potential, or even become habituated or addicted. Distractions and sidetracks are limitless and our landing zones are frustratingly few. The truth is that trying too hard causes the zone to unpredictably slip out of reach or completely disappear. Nevertheless, we keep trying. The alternative is, well, there is no alternative. If there is no landing place, there is no creative process.
image2At this point, some among us push the envelope and fly even higher. I’ve seen many artists use exhaustion or panic as their home base for creating. With exhaustion, we dive into the distractions until they are depleted and we can only surrender. Panic involves not doing any work until it’s near impossible to meet our deadline. At that point, evasions self-destruct because we are confronted with the terror of complete failure. But these methods usually come at a high physical and emotional cost, as documented—and in some cases romanticized—in lives of artists like Caravaggio, Pollock, Rothko, and countless others.

It can be so tiring and disappointing when what we want is so simple: to come home to that place, the zone, our starting point. All we want is a place where we are alive, awake, aware, energized, and not particularly self-conscious. We are happy when we get even a taste of that and ecstatic when we’re fully there. But here’s the strange thing: when we are fully there, we most often don’t know it until we fall out of it and become self-conscious again. Our self-aware selves look back and realize we were there. We were there without self-dialoguing about it. We were immersed in the moment rather than separated from it by observing ourselves. It seems so natural when we are there and yet it can be such a challenge to get there. Why is that?image
“Just be here now.” This is advice many of us have heard. Intuitively, we know our landing place has everything to do with being in the moment. When we are in the now, there is no past or future. Even when our creative process involves drawing on our past history or our future possibilities, they are all brought into the present moment. We have not lost our minds to recollections or anticipations. It is an amazing concept when we think about just being here, but being here now is not a thought. It is an experience. So thinking, “be here now” will not get us to nowness and our landing zone where we can begin our creative process. We could think ourselves into moving toward such a moment, or we might recall being in such a moment, but we cannot create the experience of now with only a thought. It is as if there is not enough space for the experience and the thoughts about it to exist simultaneously. Familial and cultural conditioning, genetics, brain chemistry, lack of discipline or realization, as well as hope and fear all prevent us from being consistently in the now.
Try to be here now as you read this. Time yourself. How long before your mind drifts? Hours, minutes, seconds—or even less— pass. Where have you drifted to? Your grocery list, your next project, your relationships?

Is it hopeless? Are we shut out? Is it fate? Or is there a way we can increase the odds of finding our personal landing zone? Let’s look at the reasons behind our personal precreative process, or rituals. Are they not about clearing the “cobwebs” away and waking ourselves up from our habitual daze? Most certainly, yes. They are also about detaching ourselves from what binds us to the past and future to create mental or physical space so there is room for something new to arise, to be seen and appreciated.

imageIf our heads are filled with mental activity, there is no room for anything new to spontaneously arise. And, if something new manages to squeeze its way to the surface, it is likely to be crushed by the next thought stream. In their own way, our rituals are attempts to provide sufficient space for our incessant thought streams to slow down and become quiet. The key problem is that our rituals often end up feeding our thought streams rather than starving them. They become distractions themselves.
If our rituals are less effective than we would like, then we need new ones that truly lead us to the place we wish to be. Rituals like meditation, meditation-in-action, and the contemplations discussed in the following chapters, all offer the means for achieving sufficient space for distractions to dissolve while allowing originality to spontaneously arise. In other words, they help us find and come to rest in our landing zone.
Bringing a new or different ritual into our creative process can be a fearful prospect. Not because we fear it will not work, but because we fear letting go of the ritual we have in favor of a new one that we have not personally tested. Today, there are numerous articles and studies about how meditation benefits our minds and bodies, so you may be less concerned about whether meditation is effective than you are about whether you will be able to meditate.

An Artist’s Fear of Meditation

Artists approach meditation with all kinds of preconceptions, doubts, and even fears. If you already have a meditation practice, you know there is nothing to fear from it. People who aren’t afraid to start meditation cannot imagine why anyone would. But I have encountered many artists who are afraid, if not terrified, thinking they will literally go mad, turn into some kind of mindless vegetable, or even become a member of some cult. They might think that the inherently pacifying qualities of meditation will extinguish creative inspiration. And deep down, some artists fear that if meditation fosters insight, they might discover that they are wasting time trying to be a creative person. Even if you aren’t afraid of meditation these are important points that need to be addressed.
Fear of meditation is based on deeper fears of change and discovery. As creative people, we wouldn’t imagine this would be an issue, since creativity has everything to do with discovery and change. If you are an art-maker, at some point you rebelled against something in order to be original. You likely experienced this as a fundamental act of bravery. And yet, deep down inside, there is one thing we are afraid to mess with: our creative process. Even though we may have read or heard about how people have benefited from meditation, we fear it will not work for us because—as art-makers—we see ourselves as different from others.
For more see: “Place Your Thoughts Here: Meditation for the Creative Mind,” which can be found at

imageSteven Saitzyk is an Adjunct Professor of Humanities and Sciences at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and International Director of Shambhala Art, a nonprofit arts education program designed to integrate meditation into the creative process. See: He is a painter and author of “Place Your Thoughts Here: Meditation for the Creative Mind.” Please see: and He is one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Shambhala Center and has taught meditation internationally for more than forty years.

One thought on “Place Your Thoughts Here- An Excerpt

  1. Thank you for posting this excerpt. It hold so many familiar descriptions for me as a creative person involved with a visual arts career for 35 years. You even nail why I’m not engaged with that now after developing a deep meditation practice eventually. No regrets at all about either practice! Must read rest of book this summer!