It gives me great pleasure to welcome Dharmavidaya to this blog. I first met Dharmavidaya on a psychotherapy training course in 2006 and not long after that I asked to be his disciple.
He has a deeply rooted faith which underpins his other work. It’s always risky to put words into other people’s mouths, but if I had to frame that faith in words I would say that “all things flow from Love”. His answers to the questions below are comprehensive and well worth reading slowly.
Dharmavidya travels all over the world, teaching Buddhism and Buddhist Psychology, he has eight published books including his first poetry collection Her Mother’s Eyes and Other Poems, and Love and its Disapointment: the meaning of life, therapy and art. He has three children, three grandchildren and two more on the way. He is vegetarian. He enjoys travelling, gardening, woodsmanship, and photography.
You can befriend him on Facebook, or follow his Facebook page: Writings from David. The Huffington Post listed him as one of the 12 top Buddhists to follow on Twitter – @dharmavidya. He also keeps a blog on typepad.
Thank you for joining us, what drives your creative work?
Challenge. I generally write against something. This is not to say that what I write is negative, simply that I need a reason to write and the reason is generally that something is lacking, something asserted is wrong, or simply that something wonderful can be bettered, or, at least, played with in new ways. Creativity is dialectical. I do not think that I ever have the last word, but I have a duty to advance the discussion.
Also, personal experience. My book Who Loves Dies Well followed and records the death of my mother with whom I was very close. My autobiography, which will come out next near, has helped me come to terms with the death of my father. The poetry book, “Her Mother’s Eyes” which is on the point of publication is an anthology of my struggles with real life – war, cruelty, love, absurdity and the elusiveness of our efforts to make sense of it all.
The process of producing poetry is something that is particularly difficult to understand. It is like a state of possession. I have, on occasion, woken in the middle of the night with a whole sonnet waiting to be written. I wrote another sonnet about this experience. One is, as it were, flooded by poetry. Sometimes one goes long periods with nothing, then, unexpectedly, I am writing several poems a day, on a wide range of themes and in diverse styles. It is an experience of being taken over by the Muse, a bit like channeling.
Then a very important area of creativity is my relation to spirituality where I have been in dialogue with angels since I was an infant, but this has, gradually, brought me into deeper and deeper contact with people. Writings sometimes grow from shorter pieces – talks I have given, for instance. But a talk is personal. It is a function of that situation with those particular people. To turn it into a book chapter is almost a contradiction of terms. It is more a case that what was in a talk may stimulate me to think what a book audience might want. I am well read in my field, but my writings are not generally scholarly. They come from inspiration. Even when I read a scholarly book, I am looking for the person of the author in it. I want to know what brought him or her to life, what challenge made them write, what the angels are telling
I could go on, but I think what emerges from this that could be relevant to your readers is the elements of, firstly, inspiration coming when for one reason or another one’s ego gets out of the way, and secondly, conflict or counter-point where stimulation comes from the creativity or opposition of others and the whole process has the character of a dialogue of emergent forms. I suppose that this means that I do not really experience the drive to create as something that comes from within myself. I need the stimulus of an other. The creative individual is borne of a creative culture or community, which is also one in which authentic conflict can flourish.
What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?
Well, I suppose, something like, “You’ll be surprised”. Really, I do not think that there was a beginning. If what you are asking is what advice would I give, it would be “Err often, fling yourself at life, know triumph and disaster and taste them to the full, and, if you survive and can express what remains with you, you may get somewhere and be half useful in the end.” Above all, although one can and does copy many models, one has to get beyond them somehow. One has to get to the point where it no longer adds up. When one falls into the stew-pot of contradictions that one cannot master, then there is some hope of creativity. Short of that one’s writing is just too self-satisfied. I have written an awful lot of rubbish in my time and thrown far more in the bin than I have ever published.
How do you keep creating when things get difficult?
There are two different kinds of difficulty. There is writer’s block and there is the difficulty of life. Difficulties of life are often a stimulus. A more apt question might be “How do you keep creating when things get easy?” That is much more difficult. People tend to die spiritually when life gets comfortable.
Actually, in my life I can distinguish alternating phases. There are times when one is under a lot of pressure of events and it is as if a lot piles up waiting for attention. During such time one creates, but one also knows that a lot is being put on the shelf to be dealt with later. Then there are slacker periods when things forgotten resurface and those can be times when one does some more radical thinking or receives more profound insights. Things re-arrange under the pressure of the stacked up material getting loose. This wouldn’t happen, however, if the intervening times had not been a struggle.
Writer’s block is a different kind of phenomenon. It does not afflict me much. When I can’t write I just do something else until the Muse shows up again. However, she is never away long because there is always something that needs dealing with.
How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?
Creating one’s life and creating artefacts are two things, but there is an endless dance between them. They never let go of one another. My life is as a Pureland Buddhist teacher and in Pureland I have discovered what is really the key to much of my creativity. This is the notion of the “bombu”, the idea that we are all fools and villains in various ways. My poetry expresses this and my psychology explains it, but there is no escaping it. It is an altogether more liberating idea than the idealism that pervades most contemporary spirituality and too often renders the latter effete and disconnected from real life. Actually as I reflect upon your question I become less sure that there is a “rest of my life”. My life is an adventure. I am constantly travelling, literally and spiritually, having interesting encounters, getting lost and found again; writing is just the running commentary. One could always do with more time, but even that deprivation is grist to the mill.
What is it like to send your work out into the world?
Generally a relief, as when children grow up and start taking responsibility for themselves. It is more a problem when one’s work comes back. If you are creative then each work is a stage. Each book is a kind of therapy. After it I am a changed man. Ten years later somebody asks me to come and give lectures on the theme of the book I wrote back then but I am no longer that man. Writing that book edged me on and then there was another one and another one. Sometimes people who like one of my early books come and chastize me for writing subsequent ones that do not say exactly the same thing. If I only knew to say the same thing there would have been no point in writing again. Nowadays my books go out into other countries too and this is a joy because it makes me more international – a liberation – and brings me invitations to travel and meet people. I really do have the most enviable existence. The meeting with another soul is such a treasure. Much of my life is now spent going about in this way, but it is not seeing the sights that interests me, it is meeting the people, each with his or her own special passion.
What was the best advice anyone gave to you?
When my mother died she left a note. It included the injunction “Take time to smell the flowers, dear”. One of the poems I have written contains the line “all the flowers you have kissed are blooming now in heaven”.
What helps you to pay attention to the world?
Awareness derives from wariness. At the simplest level, we pay attention so that we do not fall down holes or get eaten, and also so that we can catch our dinner, find a mate and care for our dearest. I try not to let my sense of awareness rise too much above that basic level. That is where the energy resides. Being modern, sophisticated persons, I cannot rape you, eat you or recruit you in the hunt for another prey, nor you me. Instead we do interviews, have complex discussions, and exchange verse, but I know that the libidinous purpose is never far away, despite the refined style of our discourse. What helps is to stay in touch with the animal while still listening to the angels. The latter arrange things in most unexpected ways and there is
always something new to learn. So I do not need help. The world is always butting in, or dragging me along.
Thank you for the opportunity of this interview. I think that the work that you are doing is hugely important. Facilitating the process of artistic creation, cultivating the written word, seeing the unity of art and spirit, these are the kinds of things upon which the higher evolution of humankind depends. We live in an age that has become overly materialistic. The death of dialectical materialism has only led to the rise of undialectical materialism which is not going anywhere. Somebody wrote a book saying that we are at the end of history – I certainly hope not. Cherish the contradictions. Foster the spaces where something of the Beyond can come into our midst, and you will be doing a service to future generations, the value of which surpasses your imagination. Thank you very much. – DB
Thank you, some really interesting thoughts there, as usual, take care.
Kaspa & Fiona