These introductory Buddhist lessons for creativity are wonderful tools applied to your art, your life, or your meditation practice alone.
Since merging a serious Mindfulness approach with everything I do, my creative process has been evolving. Thankfully, this basic Buddhist lesson has helped me to boost creativity
The 4 Noble Truths and How They Relate to Creativity
The 4 Noble Truths are one of the first things you are introduced to when exploring Buddhism. They are simple ‘facts Of life’ that, when accepted as true, help us lead a humble and thoughtful approach to life.
These are more than Buddhist lessons for creativity – these are Buddhist lessons for everything.
The 4 Noble Truths are:
- Dukkha (Suffering)
- Samudaya (Suffering has an origin point)
- Nirodha (Suffering ends)
- Magga (the Path)
Below, I’ll be picking apart each one and what it means to me and my creative practice.
Dukkha – Suffering
The word suffering may seem dramatic. So for creative efforts, we can use a word like ‘struggle’.
Any creative person can relate to the creative struggle. The back and forth pulling of an idea. Or the imbalance of ambition to tool set. Or even simply getting your art seen… Creative struggle is real.
The first noble truth, Dukkha, tells me that this struggle is inevitable. Before I can hold a finished product, I have to accept the struggle along the way. Before my final manuscript is printed – I will shed tears and rip some hairs out.
A masterpiece painting could be on the artists 8th canvas of the day… The 7 struggles along the way is the art.
Samudaya – The Origin
The second noble truth is an acknowledgment that the suffering and struggle has an origin point. That emotional reactions often have more behind them than the simple reaction in the moment. They are a culmination of our life experience, and our natural cravings.
To apply this to a creative practice, we have to recognize that the ‘struggle’ we may feel along the creative journey – is a far more comfortable struggle than the one we use art to distance ourselves from.
We also have to acknowledge that our artistic taste is not just sheer happenstance. We like the things we like for a reason, and digging into that can make your own creative work that much stronger.
For example, one artist can channel the memory of their grandmother in the use of the colour pink, while another can express hatred and betrayal through the same pink that decorated their wedding day of a now broken marriage. Everything is subjective, and individuality is traceable especially through art.
Nirodha (Ending the Struggle)
The third noble truth is a powerful one. It is an acceptance that our suffering, or struggle, will end or dissipate. Hardships pass, and new ones arise – yet each one eventually subsides.
This sounds glorious, but it isn’t quite as glamorous as crossing the peak of a mountain and gliding down the other side. Instead, it sometimes can only happen through “Letting Go.”
By letting go, especially in my creative practice, it has allowed room for the struggles to not seem so daunting. Choosing the right thing to let go of – in my case, perfectionism and distractions – allowed room for more enjoyment in my work.
Magga (The Path)
The fourth noble truth is what ties it all together for me. Magga, is about leaning into the journey instead of the destination. No suffering, and no struggle will simply disappear. There is a process, a journey, and a path that leads to the release of that struggle.
Specifically applied to creative work, I like to compare this to “The Hero’s Journey”. Where the hero of a story sets off on a grand adventure to discover or retrieve something. Only in the end, they learn a valuable lesson they were too sheltered to see before the big outing.
A classic example of this being Dorothy having the Red Slippers all along. The scarecrow, tin man, and lion all had exactly what they needed too. Yet, they all needed the adventure to open their minds to the idea of these things.
I may make mediocre work. I may write mediocre articles. This very article could be that mediocrity I mean – but writing it and posting it is going to be a part of my path. My past works that I look back on with a cringe, was all part of an important hero’s journey.
How to View Our Creative Work With These in Mind
To move forward in a creative life that respects these 4 Noble Truths, I simply have to utilize these truths in how I frame my work.
These Buddhist lessons for creativity have helped me learn:
- Accept that I will struggle along the way, and even fail at times.
- Finding the Deeper Themes Consistent in My Work
- Letting Go of the Habits Causing Unnecessary Struggle
- Respect the Entire Creative Journey, Not Just the Success Story
This simple framework for my creative work to sit within will help me foster mental clarity around what I want to make,and what I want to go deeper on.