I can not say enough about meditation, unthinking, unplugging at least once a day. Every day before I begin writing this book or jokes or whatever creative endeavor I am involved in, I journal for thirty minutes and I meditate for thirty minutes. Creativity comes from the Universe, the nothingness, not from the chatter. Look for ways you can reduce chatter in your life. For example, I am a Twitter addict. I know that if I allow myself, I could go down the rabbit hole of Twitter for hours on end, lost in the chatter. But, when doing that I am losing myself. I have to turn off my phone and my computer and allow quiet, space, nothingness to enter. If you can not be in the quiet, the nothingness while alone in your room, how can you live in the pause on stage with a hundred people staring at you?
We humans have experienced a disconnect. We do not perceive the world directly. We have involved the voice, the Ego, in everything. We walk down the street and our brain labels everything we see and experience: ‘tree, dog, rock, wind, car, neighbor.’ We use the Ego as a divider, a go-between , that separates us from the experience. Why can a flock of birds all turn on a dime and suddenly fly in a different direction at once as one organism? Because they feel and act directly, connected to the world and the other birds without interference of a “thinking self.” Birds are not thinking, “Well the last time we went right we hit that strong air current. Was it right? What if they go right and I go left by mistake? The other birds don’t like me.”
Creativity is tied to the spiritual being underneath our human shell: the Tao, the Force, God, the Universe, whatever you choose to call it to get you there. But, creativity is not the only thing that comes from nothingness. Happiness is connected to that spirit under the chatter. Your addictions- drugs, alcohol, sex, food, the internet, whatever ‘owns’ you- can not exist in the meditative state. Happiness comes from putting down your burdens and unplugging. I read a great line once that I can not now find the source of (if you know it, help me): You can seek to solve the problem of your story or you can wake up from your story.
I believe that mediation is often the last piece of advice my comedy students take from me. They watch the documentaries I recommend and read the books I suggest. They carry a joke notebook and a pen and they seek to slow down on stage and embrace the pause. But, when I ask my class, even weeks into the session, who is meditating (even occasionally), I am always surprised by how few people raise their hands. I don’t know why I am surprised. I know the fear of unplugging. It does not present itself to us as fear. We think we don’t want to meditate because it sounds boring or stupid or new-agey or we don’t have time. But, in reality, you know you have nothing to lose to try to unthink for minutes a day. YOU have nothing to lose. The EGO has everything to lose. And it’s the Ego that is telling you meditation is stupid and you don’t have time. I just saw a great lecture by John Cleese of Monty Python discussing creativity. He mentioned studies that show that you create best in an ‘open’ state versus a ‘closed’ state. They recommended meditation to get you in an open state in order to tap into your creativity.
When I was younger, I heard about the vow of silence or poverty or chastity that many monks or religious people take. I could not understand any of these, especially silence. Why not talk? What would going a year without talking do for you? And then I read that when you go so long without talking, your thinking changes. You stop thinking in words. If you see a tree, you really see the tree instead of your brain saying ‘tree’ and experiencing the tree through your programmed previous experience with trees. We don’t really see things in our world. We label and attach our own baggage to everything. The chatter is standing between you and seeing, between you and feeling, between you and truly experiencing. The vow of poverty and chastity I believe to be further ways to unplug from the trappings of the world around you, the pretty shiny things you think define who you are. Eckart Tolle talks about this. We think we are executives or wives or comedians or fathers. We identify with our roles in society and they further bind us to the chatter. Am I suggesting a vow of silence or poverty or chastity? Of course not. But, find ways in your own life to unplug and reduce the noise that is hiding you from yourself.
One of the components of the Buddhist Nobel 8 Fold Path is Right Speech. We are directed to not gossip, lie or speak ill of others, but also to not engage in idle chit chat. No small talk. Why? Because small talk is only contributing to the noise. Whenever possible, be silent. Instead of being so sure you know what a tree is and looks like and does, shut up and experience the being of the tree. Especially if you expect to have any meaningful perspective at all when writing a joke about a tree! Open you eyes and uncover your ears and be in the NOW. Do not be with every tree you have ever seen or climbed or sat under. Be with this tree. Now. Jokes often come from seeing the world in a way that others don’t see it and showing them what you see.
Meditating, unthinking, unplugging will not only change your jokes and your act, but will change your life. I only wish I had known about meditation when I was such a sad and lonely child and tortured teenager. All the medication I was on for manic-depression, all the therapy, all the hospitalizations for suicide attempts and addictions, not one person ever said the word “meditation” to me. Oh, what a different life I would have lead! Becoming a comedian at 19 saved my life because it forced me to experience the world around me in a different way and put me on the path of the Tao without even realizing it. Something happens to you as a person when you learn to take painful events and write jokes about them, when you are forced to really see the world in the now so you can find the funny, when you accept fear and put yourself in terrifying situations over and over and prevail, when you really put yourself out there to find the truth of who you are, being totally honest with yourself and the world about the way things are, embracing the pause, the nothingness. Comedy is a spiritual path that can lead you to the Truth. Or comedy can be another way to feed the Ego and torture yourself, hiding the Universe from you in the chatter.
Take some time and give yourself the gift of nothingness. Turn off your phone and computer, go in a quiet room and sit in a comfortable position and concentrate on your breath for 20 minutes. Let your thoughts come and go and keep bringing your attention back to your inhales and exhales. As I have mentioned before, I like to free-form journal before I meditate to clear my mind of the ramblings and to-do lists. But, you do not have to journal before you meditate. If you don’t, expect to have a lot of chatter in the early minutes of your meditation. If you are new to mediating, this will last longer and come and go. You may have several goes at meditation before you are able to quiet the voice. That’s ok. This is new to you. But, always bring your focus back to your inhales and exhales, lengthening them and making them match in length. This will help to train the voice to shut up. Don’t get discouraged if it’s boring or you can’t turn off your brain at first or you don’t feel like you gotten anything out of it. Be patient with yourself and the process and know that, like everything, it will get easier and more comfortable. Take a chance. Embrace nothingness and set your creativity free.
“Quiet the noise. Take 20 min & sit still. When the noise stops the universe surrenders.” Russell Simmons
“Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” -Jalal ad-Din Rumi
“Embrace the Pause.” -Bobbie Oliver