Lars Schmidt

Contemplative Arts and Challenging Times

The more people do, the more society develops, the more problems arise. The increasing desolation of nature, the exhaustion of resources, the uneasiness and disintegration of the human spirit, all have been brought about by humanity’s trying to accomplish something. Originally there was no reason to progress, and nothing that had to be done. We have come to the point at which there is no other way than to bring about a ‘movement’ not to bring anything about.

Masanobu Fukuoka


Since we seem to find ourselves in quite challenging times, and since I meet more and more people who suffer profoundly by the ways Western societies look at the world and operate, I would like to provide some access to the understanding and approach that can be found through the concept of 'contemplative arts'.

Eventually the contemporary relevance of such an approach will become evident.

A contemplative art can be considered an art that does not have the desire to achieve or communicate anything. It is simply an expression of what is. The concepts of progress or comparison do not apply.

Further, contemplative arts acknowledge that there is only one creative process.
Thus the notion of man, separated from each other and from his environment is being transcended.

Once this realization is being touched upon, the question of me and the other no longer arises in that way. What is there is there, and is being appreciated intuitively.
That is why the great tibetan poet Milarepa stated that 'the notion of emptiness engenders compassion.'
The wish to foster and protect occurs in a natural way.

A while ago, I found myself drawn to and focussing on certain activities and art forms that involved the body-mind in a sensorily very rich way. Activities where constant adjustment and re-adaptation due to constantly changing conditions and input occur.
These would be practices like dance, acting or music making, whereever the aspect of improvisation plays an important role. But also activities that involve a direct interaction and play with nature, like working with animals, gardening, surfing or sailing.

I was following a sense of inspiration and curiosity, and in time the concept and term of 'contemplative arts' emerged. Sure enough I then found that it had already been used, mostly in the work of Chögyam Trungpa, a Buddhist meditation master and holder of both the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages.

Nevertheless, it was evident that these sort of practices lend themselves quite wonderfully to inquire and learn about the approach of a ‘contemplative art’ - to let the moment be whatever it is, without intention or interpretation.
Here the sense of ‘I am doing’ with the time drops away more easily. The boundaries of 'me and an other' resolve. Spontaneous action and complete immersion may be experienced quite viscerally.

Eventually, the essence of the above mentioned eastern concept of 'non-action', of 'doing without doing' reveals itself, and becomes integrated.
However, the inquiry of 'who is engaging in a contemplative art' -or in 'this or that' for that matter- is indispensable, if personal confusion is to be overcome.

And so ultimately, any activity, once the spark for inquiry has occurred, may and will become a contemplative artform.
How could it be different, if you know that all comes from the same source.
It is the approach that changes. The activity might be whatever, from agricultural practices to making love.

Inherently, the very pillars of our worldview of progress and achievement are being questioned:
Who would be making progress? And to what outcome?

Being without intention or purpose, and living for the benefit of all is the same thing.
This is the ultimate understanding that may derive from practicing a contemplative art.

If we define love as the profound understanding that there is no separation, then it could be said that a contemplative art, or contemplation in itself, points at love, and thus may be experienced as teaching about what love is.
The contemporary relevance of such an approach is obvious.

Thus, to sum up the artful way of living and appropriate action with the profound simplicity of a Zen story:

A monk asked the master to teach him.
'Have you eaten your rice?' asked the master.
'Yes.' answered the monk.
'So wash your bowl.'