The Whisper in the Gaps
/ Rolf Hind talks to us about where meditation meets creativity in a time of lockdown
One of my first yoga teachers made an observation that has stuck with me. The difficulty with yoga, he said, unlike other things in the world that yell for our attention, is that it whispers. And so its values and message are often ignored or drowned out.
But do not underestimate the importance of the whisper.
In order to notice things that are whispering to us, we need an awareness of the gaps. You might say that our world now is in a “gap,” though it’s not clear yet whether it’s filling time before more of the same, or something different — better, even.
This is where, for me, meditation has come in. I’ve been practising for some years, in different ways, but often working with the advice that you are noticing gaps in your experience: moments of stillness, formlessness perhaps, or the whispered arisings and fallings away of different impulses.
(In our current time, where feelings of anxiety and suffocation can easily arise, I’m making a real effort to notice joy: not to put on a Brave Face or Be Positive, but merely to notice that it is there, in the gaps, and not to disallow it.)
You also, of course, notice less subtle things. At the moment I am meditating in the garden each morning, very early. Partly because I love dawn, but also because the lockdown seems to be messing with my body clock. Now that the trams are less frequent (they run at the bottom of our garden) I am really noticing the birds. I realised the blackbirds’ song is more sweet, clear and relaxed (they say that urban blackbirds normally have a harsh, impoverished song relative to their country cousins.) Sometimes I hear strange whirring from the undergrowth like a camera shutter, which is slightly spooky so I keep my eyes open. I have christened that one the Paparazzo bird.
We have a pair of magpies that nest in our one big tree, and they like to talk to themselves sitting on the aerial on the roof, a stream of tutting and clicking that seems full of intention and character. One of them is sometimes really noisy, and on those days I meditate on the rising physical sensations of my response to that, or to the fact that it is possible to be charmed and irritated by the same thing, depending on what you are projecting onto it. A wider lesson, there.
Then, learning to rest without judgement—even of one’s own judgey tendencies—I can listen to the whole incredible soundscape of dawn. To its depth, height, surfaces, edges and gaps and to my reactions, in sensation, thought and feeling. More than a symphony—a Glass Bead Game. I have chosen isolation before. I’ve been on quite a few silent retreats, and I find them very fruitful and good for me. Enjoyable is not quite the word.
To begin with, on retreat, you notice the gross things: when you’re hungry, when your knees hurt, how annoying someone’s breathing is, where your mind goes to amuse itself (food, sex and travel, in no particular order). Fascinating as the content is, it’s not really important.
Eventually—and it can take days— the mind rests in the subtle place. And at that point, what always happens to me, is that my mind makes something. A poem, a play, a phrase of music, a decision about something that would look nice in the garden back home, a recipe. Any and all of these start to rise unforced, without the pressure that the grind and noise of urban life and career normally bring to bear.
I met a charming, extraordinarily intense Zen priest at a conference a few years ago. There was a discussion about Mindfulness and Creativity going on. He frowned and said little, then eventually spoke up:
“But this is so obvious… Mindfulness and creativity— they are the same thing!”
Keep looking in the gaps.
— Rolf Hind, April 2020
Rolf Hind is a pianist and composer based in London, published by Ricordi. He teaches composition and piano and is a Research Associate at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where he first brought Mindfulness meditation into the School. His compositions have taken inspiration from meditation several times (A Flower in the Next Corner, The Tiniest House of Time, and a “mindfulness-opera” lasting 4 hours called Lost In Thought). He is currently working on a large-scale research project to bring together composers/improvisers who use meditation in their practices to explore the links between.
Rolf is an ashtangi, Buddhist, queer and vegan.