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Lions Roar : September 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 79 ILLUSTRATIONBYSETHSMITH IT IS ALMOST THIRTY YEARS SINCE I wrote my first book review. I was living in a battered little apartment on the Lower East Side of Man- hattan, and the street noise floated up from far below. “Works! Works!” cried the dealers on the corner. “Mr. C—Co-caine!” Meanwhile, I was studying Sharon Olds’ The Gold Cell, reading the poems over and over, and taking time to notice what I noticed. Thoughts and impressions jostled in the air around me—a rowdy buzzing contradictory chorus. I watched them shift around the big pale room. Let the flies settle, I told myself. Let them find their way. By which I meant: Take it easy; don’t give way to panic. Let your own ideas gather round. Name them, claim them; let them find some kind of order. Relax a little. You’ll know what to say. Where that calm voice came from, I have no idea. It was cer- tainly not what I’d been taught at school. In my teenage years (I’m talking of an English Catholic boarding school, circa 1971), the emphasis was on effort, concentration, visible obedience. Openness and receptivity would have been construed as laziness. Work, after all, was expected to be work. Such writing as I did was timid and constricted, bland, perfectionist. But I am older now, thank God, and if there is one thing I have learned it is the value of receptivity and trust: the tender serendipity that can be found in slowing down, in simply listening. In Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, the poet Jane Hirshfield quotes Pablo Picasso: “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from no matter where: from the sky, the earth, the piece of paper, a passing fig- ure, a cobweb. That is why one must not discriminate between things. There is no rank among them. One must take one’s good where one finds it.” Buddhist artists of whatever stripe (singer and performance artist Meredith Monk, poet W. S. Merwin, Hirshfield herself ) have learned this lesson well, their creative work sustained by the resonant “emptiness” of the meditation hall, their daily practice opening over and over into inspiration. My friend Susie Patlove, a Tibetan Buddhist and poet, says, “I don’t know what creativity would look like, if I hadn’t been sitting for forty years.” Often, as she sits on the meditation cushion, she finds herself presented with a line for a poem. Later, back at her desk, she searches for words to describe her experience during meditation, even while admitting that it is essentially “unsayable.” In meditation my friend is willing, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, to set down the glass Reviews IMAGINE: HOW CREATIVITY WORKS by Jonah Lehrer Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012; 279 pp., $26 (cloth) REVIEWED BY CHRISTIAN MCEWEN