The Illusion of Reality and the Obstacles to Creativity

“Sit down before fact like a little child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, following humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.” ~T.H. Huxley

One of my favorite Mulla Nasrudin stories is from The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin by Idries Shah.

A student asked Mulla Nasrudin: “Who was greater: the one who conquered the world or the one who could have but didn’t?”

“I don’t know about that,” replied the Mulla, “but I know a task that is infinitely more difficult.”

“What is that?” they asked.

“To see things as they really are.”

Mulla Nasrudin was right, of course. We seldom see things as they really are. Instead, we see things as they seem to be. We expend all our mental and emotional energy evaluating the actions and words of others and reacting to them. Unfortunately, our perceptions are often false.

Meditation, on the other hand, is a systematic and sustained effort to see things as they are. One of the simplest ways to do this is to be aware of the incoming and outgoing breath. Focusing attention on the breath is the most effective way to develop stillness of the mind.

Initially, to feel the natural breath, you may have to sit in a silent and solitary place with eyes closed. If you cannot feel the natural breath, you may have to breathe slightly fast or deep. Most important, whenever your attention wanders, smilingly bring it back to the breath. Not once or twice but again and again. And again.

This patient and unflustered effort is not easy; indeed, you’ll require great persistence to continue this practice. For most people, progress is slow and uneven.

To succeed, you have to overcome the obstacles that will prevent you from meditating, which include:

  • Inability to focus
  • A tendency to be constantly distracted by the buzz of urgent but trivial tasks
  • Susceptibility to information overload
  • Procrastination
  • Fear of failure
  • Lethargy, mental sluggishness and drowsiness
  • The need for instant gratification
  • Addiction to easy but destructive pleasures such as alcohol, tobacco, television, and foods rich in sugar and fat

These obstacles block us not only from meditating but from every endeavor that is meaningful to us such as creativity in any form, a health regimen, a spiritual path or any other course of action that will result in long term growth.

The best way to defeat these powerful foes of creativity is to strengthen mental awareness and insight. As Robbie Gass advises, “Like any ability or muscle, hearing your inner wisdom is strengthened by doing it.” So the first step on the path of creativity is to develop focus, to “centre yourself”.

Therefore, if you have been finding it difficult to write or paint or compose, try this: Before you begin, meditate for a few minutes on your breath. Seat your body like a rock and let your mind flow like water, undeterred by the turbulence of thoughts. Observe your breath and allow your mind to free itself from the relentless cacophony of thoughts. Then let your fingers fly on the keyboard or let your creativity flow on paper—like a rainbow-kite in a sky with no limits.

March 2011


Rohi Shetty is a medical doctor, Vipassana meditator, writer, editor, translator and blogger. His short stories and articles have been published online and in print.

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3 thoughts on “The Illusion of Reality and the Obstacles to Creativity

  1. Hi Manjula,
    Thanks for your perceptive question.
    Meditation and all creative efforts require both: Flow and stability.

    Stillness and flow emphasize the importance of interdependence.

    In meditation, we experience this principle of interdependence constantly; for instance, the intimate connection between the body, the mind, and the breath. Each influences the others – there is a dynamic interplay between them every month. If the mind is disturbed by some thought or memory, it can influence the body and breath and vice versa.

    So we need to balance the flow with stability.
    Too much flow ==> distraction or agitation
    Too much stability ==> sloth or drowsiness or mechanical effort

    Similarly, our daily meditation affects the quality of the rest of the day and vice versa.

    So flow and stability are equally important in everything we do.

    And yes, Aneeta is right. The fever of creativity has to be balanced by the stream of tranquility.

  2. Seat your body like a rock and let your mind flow like a water,undeterred by the turbulence of thoughts. can you explain please.

    • Hello Manjula,

      Welcome! Since this is Rohi’s story, I will leave him to explain what he means by the text you’ve quoted.

      I take it to mean that when you’re suffering from writer’s block, take a moment to rest. Once you’re calm, it’s much easier to write. I may be completely wrong, but let’s see what Rohi has to say.

      Lovely to have you here.

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