Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Ce qui dit la pluie
This morning I read a beautiful expression of encounter with flow – or undivided awareness – in the activities of music-making and drawing. I’d like to share it with you. It reminded me of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous comment, as quoted by Henri Matisse:
At last I don’t know how to draw!
Unfortunately I can’t offer a sample of his music, or an example of the drawings, but here’s the ‘confession’ – from Dustin LindenSmith, one of the editors of the brilliant online Nonduality Highlights daily newsletter. It articulates to perfection the focus of this website and blog …
I had two quite glorious epiphanies this week while practicing two of my main passions: jazz tenor saxophone and drawing. In each case, I experienced several blissful moments of what behavioural neuropsychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow.
While playing a slow blues in B-flat with my Hammond B3 organ quartet, I felt the music come through me completely unhindered, without any of my own conscious psychological involvement. For three or four minutes, I became lost in physical time and space, just hearing the notes of my saxophone being played to me as if in a dream. Improvising jazz can be a terribly cerebral exercise when playing a complicated tune. But in this instance, I exercised no personal interference with the notes that were played; they just flowed naturally through me, without my control.
Later in the week, while sketching somewhat aimlessly, I realized that if I changed my hand position a certain way and then removed my brain’s focus from the motor control of my hand, I could just “see” the image I wanted to draw in my mind’s eye, and watch my whole arm move in harmony with what I was seeing. As long as I maintained my focus of awareness on the “seeing” instead of the “drawing,” the image I saw in my mind was exactly replicated in graphite on the page. But “I” didn’t “do” a thing to draw it. It just happened.
The common aspect of both of those experiences? I think I was just getting out of my own way. For several glorious minutes this week, I got completely out of my own way, and let life be lived as it always is, but without my own conditioning or desires or influences laid on top of the experience.
The artisans whose work is featured in this site’s artisans’ gallery all speak – in varying ways – of their practice in these terms. They notice that their creativity depends on nothing so much as their absence.They speak of a mysterious immersion in their work to the point of personal disappearance; a nondual encounter where observer and observed, subject and object, cease to be nouns separated by time and space, and are replaced by creative, dynamic action – by seeing, drawing, painting, making…
Are you familiar with this ‘flow’ in your creative work, your passion – or in your life in general? How would you express your experience?