“All authentic creative acts arise from our deepest self, the place where imagination and spirit are born,” writes Peter Levitt, the author of eight volumes of poetry and a professor in the creative writing program at Antioch University who also leads writing and creativity workshops. A longtime student of Zen, he has edited volumes by Thich Nhat Hanh and Jakusho Kwong-roshi. His new book is an innovative resource for anyone who yearns for some fresh sources of inspiration and encouragement. Levitt explains that painting, writing, dancing, sculpting, and all other forms of creative expression are “ways to show love to the world.” They are also pathways to the deep joy that comes from bringing something honest and intimate into the world.
Although plenty of manuals have aimed to encourage our creativity, this one is unique. Along with meditations and stories, it offers exercises from the spiritual riches of Sufi mystics Rumi and Hafiz, poets Pablo Neruda and Allen Ginsberg, the theologian Teilhard de Chardin, the musician Itzhak Perlman, and other teachers, mystics, and artists. We can learn to sit in silence, take risks, feed our hungry ghosts (from the Buddhist tradition and the account of Francis of Assisi and the leper), tap into the fertility of the imagination, make the most of questions, live with mystery and not-knowing, give tender and caring attention to our bodies, have a completely open disposition, nurture our deepest self, and see our creative work as prayer.
Levitt finds parallels to spiritual practices in the habits of artists. When the painter Matisse worked in nature, he would draw an outline around his feet on the ground so that he could return to the same spot the next day. This gave his perspective a fixed point and allowed him to notice over time “what was different in the landscape, and what had remained the same.” Similarly, spiritual practice gives us a fixed point from which to contemplate all the subtle changes taking place in our lives. Levitt offers a writing exercise that uses this approach to notice the consistency, patterns, symbols, and beauty in the world around us.