Here’s a question: where does great art come from?
It’s not the materials and devices used to create a work of art (though that’s part of it). It isn’t the lived experience of the artist, either, though that, too, plays a role.
No, it can’t be either of these things, because if ten people go through the same experience and are asked to make the same type of art about it, the quality will vary dramatically.
Okay, you say, isn’t it how much they’ve practiced?
In part, yes, but practice merely grants technical competence. Practice can create the structure of a masterpiece, but won’t give it a soul.
What, then, is the secret to great art? What makes a masterpiece a masterpiece? What separates Kendrick Lamar from countless cookie-cutter imitators?
Is it inspiration?
What is inspiration?
If you closely examine the language around inspiration, you’ll find some very interesting terms: I had a spark of inspiration, there was a stroke of genius, it hit me in a flash, it came to her all at once.
A spark, a stroke, a flash. All at once.
All at once.
The Himalayan tradition of Hinduism specializes in Mantra Yoga, where the practitioner receives a mantra, or sacred chant, from their guru. This mantra is repeated hundreds of thousands of times, first as a mechanism to calm the monkey mind, and then as a vehicle to plumb the mind’s deeper levels.
At a certain point, though, the mind becomes completely still. It enters – it becomes – a timeless, depthless, infinite singularity. At this level, the mantra drops off, and the seeker becomes one with what is sought.
Accessing this state of consciousness is likened to entering into a secret cave full of indescribable treasures. It is said that a tremendous amount of information (in the terms of the tradition, a bindu) can be transmitted (in the technological West, downloaded might be a better word) in an instant. This information, which is said to be at the unconscious level of mind, will then percolate up into the subconscious and conscious minds, and is then expressed via speech.
The Tibetan Buddhists tell of a similar dynamic, where senior lamas will doze off during rituals, only to awaken with an entire sutra downloaded in their heads. Indeed, the famous Nagarjuna is said to have studied with the bodhisattva Vajrasattva in an iron tower for 40 years, only to come down and find no time had passed, like he’d learned everything all at once.
All at once.
I, as some of you may know, love to freestyle. In many ways, it’s my oldest form of practice, and I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Recently, I’ve developed the ability to spit what’s known as double time flow, where you essentially divide a bar in half and put two bars into it.
In plain English: double time is where you rap really fast.
Now, hearing rappers do this on a prewritten song sounds very impressive, and it is. Doing this on the fly, though, is a different beast entirely. You have to speak incredibly quickly, subtly modulate your breath so you don’t run out of air, keep a beat and cadence, and – and! – say things that both rhyme and make sense.
Double time freestyling is actually a fascinating phenomenon from a linguistic perspective; you’re saying rhythmic, rhyming, logically sound sentences, but your rational brain is unable to think that quickly, and is actually a hindrance. You’re not speaking in the way you speak in a board meeting; you’re actually closer to speaking in tongues. You’re, to use the terminology of rap, spitting fire.
Where is this fire coming from?
It’s not coming from the conventional you: your historical self structure and your rational mind. This, as already mentioned, is a hindrance; you can’t spit fire and cognitively think about it at the same time. The bandwidth of your attentional system (something I’ve discussed on here before) is simply too low. In fact, when freestyling, you frequently end up surprising yourself with what you say.
No, the fire comes from somewhere else, somewhere divine. In the words of J Ivy:
I’m not just another individual
My spirit is a part of this that’s why I get spiritual
But I get my hymns from Him
So it’s not me, it’s He that’s lyrical
I’m not a miracle, I’m a heaven-sent instrument
My rhythmatic regiment navigates melodic notes
For your soul and your mental
That’s why I’m instrumental, vibrations is what I’m into
These bars express, from a Christian perspective, the transcendental nature of the inspiration that lies at the heart of all artistic genius. To put it bluntly: the ego and self structure are not the locus of origin for a masterpiece.
A masterpiece comes from the Source.
What is the Source?
There have been many words for it, many names across faiths, cultures, and centuries. God, Allah, Yahweh, Brahma, the Dharmakaya, the Ground; all of these, for all their differences and contradictions, are all pointing to the same thing, the same immanent majestic totality that lies within all of us.
The Source is nondual and dual, all at once.
The Source is within time and beyond it, all at once.
The Source is heaven and hell, all at once.
The Source is everything and nothing, all at once.
The Source is the perfect pause at the start of Adele’s Hello, the interweaving brushstrokes that flow through Van Gogh’s Starry Night, the sublime precision of Michelangelo’s David, the timeless power of Rumi’s poetry. It is the root cause of every work of art, the beauty behind everything beautiful.
Even all this, though, isn’t the best part.
The best part about the Source?
It is inside you, always, and the only thing you have to do to find it is to be right here, right now, and see what it means to let everything happen all at once.