There are a multitude of approaches to self-discovery.
Creative expression through writing has is one such pathway that
has the capability to open a window to one’s soul. Peter Levitt
writes and teaches poetry and prose based on his decades-long study
of meditation and life philosophy. Introspection is integral to
During our discussions about the seven attributes
of conscious activism I asked Peter how he teaches his writing students
to get to a place beyond their egos. His comments about one’s
personal imagination tapping into a universal imagination provided
valuable insights to the process of introspection. Peter considers
writing to be an act of consciousness and therefore a spiritual
practice. He told me:
It is a practice through which we can “re-cognize,”
which means to know again, the full extent of what we really are.
There are techniques available through which the imagination can
help our boundaries to dissolve and reveal to us the oneness of
all life. The imagination is the place in which all boundaries,
which are usually determined by the restricted sense of self that
our ego promotes, can disappear. That’s why writing, or
any act of imagination, can be such an important practice; you
can write or paint or dance your way into a larger understanding
of what you are, what Suzuki-roshi called Big Self.
The Internal Autocrat
One of the things that keeps us from realizing
this is that we live with a kind of a totalitarian dictator in
our own psyche and, as you know, dictators are always on the lookout
for anything that threatens their lock on power. That’s
why they develop so many ways of checking on their citizens. But
it’s not uncommon for us to have a relationship with our
own egos in which the ego structure is like the totalitarian dictator.
When the ego is unhealthily situated in our psyche,
it sends out what may be considered thought patrols, expression
patrols, to distract or limit our knowledge of our deeper selves
so that we don’t imagine or create anything that conflicts
with the ego’s ability to maintain its power as head of
state. Let’s call it “the state of things as they
are.” When we practice a liberation pathway of personal
exploration and expression, however, the form of expression—working
in conjunction with the imagination—can find ways around
the ego’s constraints and subvert its control.
The spontaneous mind and the creative expression
it depends upon are pretty darned smart and are almost always
an element of that pathway. Being open to all possibilities is
crucial to creative expression, but it is terrifying to the “head
of state” because one of the possibilities just might come
to life and dance its way out of reach of the ego’s control.
When you follow your writing to the place where
you start to touch the depths of what you, and all of life, really
are, you go to ground level, so to speak, the ground of the imagination
where everything may be found. Once you do this you have dropped
beneath the level where the ego can maintain control of your attention
in the usual way. Then you cease to hear its constant mantra,
“What about me?” Instead, you are present with what
the imagination gives you, to help you realize your true nature.
Writing that speaks beyond the needs of the writer’s
ego is rooted in this larger ground, speaks from this larger ground,
and is recognized in the larger ground of the reader’s imagination
as well. This tends to be the writing that lasts. After some practice
in writing techniques that develop spontaneity, people develop
the ability to write from what might be thought of as their unconscious
and intuitive depths while still using all the craft and skill
available to their conscious mind. This is a thrilling and necessary
ability to cultivate—being aware and conscious while having
full access to your intuition and unconscious mind. There’s
a current that flows through us when we’re in such a deep
relationship with ourselves, and through ourselves with all things.
Some people have called this current life itself.
As this ability grows strong, a wonderful and
comical thing happens; the ego notices it no longer has our full
attention, so it starts to take credit for our work. “Hey!”
it shouts, “Look at what I’m doing! I’m writing!”
Always on the lookout for control, it redefines itself in terms
of the liberation for which our deepest self has worked so hard.
But it’s good when this happens because the idea and experience
of self has expanded through the creative act and the ego starts
to relax. It’s on the side of its own liberation now.
However, it still needs to be helped along. This
is as important for social activists to attend to as it is for
artists. If we forget, the ego might begin to consume our activity,
cloud our vision and, in the end, create the kind of confusion
that undermines what we are after. Of course we need a healthy
ego, at least one that is facing the right direction and is beginning
to look out of a window with a bigger picture before it.
The broader, universal imagination expresses
itself through the individual imagination, just as the totality
of what makes life possible is expressed through everything that
exists. It works exactly the same way. What we are calling the
imagination wants to be known. This is one of the reasons it gives
us its gifts. It wants to be known, and it wants for us to know
the totality of what we are as well. It wants us to understand
that, in the end, those two things are the same.
There’s a wonderful and provocative teaching
on the nature of creation that comes from mystical Judaism. According
to Genesis, the Divine Plenty (which is a name for God that can
also be related to the imagination) created the heavens and the
Earth and all things in six days, and on the seventh it took a
rest. But why did the Divine Plenty create all of this? If it
is really Divine, and Plenty—the Whole, the All—why
would it create anything? Doesn’t being All mean that you
already are everything and are complete? Why “individualize”—
why make grass? Why make beings with consciousness of their own?
The teaching from this tradition is that the
Divine Plenty wanted to be known. And both words are important
in this teaching: wanted and known. Our creations are also rooted
in a desire we have to be known—known to ourselves. And,
like the creations of the Divine Plenty, they are vessels of awareness.
Creating such vessels, with this motivation at the root of our
activity, is part of what it means to be made in the image of
Through the creative process, the imagination
makes it possible for us to know, and thereby return, to the One
we have always been, though we’ve been separated from it
in part by the dualistic thinking that supports the delusion of
a permanent, separate self. This delusion is the product of our
old friend, Mr. Unintegrated Ego. But it takes an act of consciousness.
“Act” is the key word here. Human beings have always
intuited the oneness, or wholeness, that is ours. Artistic expression
is one path by which we are able to satisfy our longing to return.
Insight opens your mind.
An open mind leads to an open heart.
--The Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu