Every day for 20 years I would say, ‘what am I gonna do next?’ That’s how I would ask for inspiration. I don’t have any ideas myself. I have a vacant mind, you know; in order to do exactly what the inspiration calls for. And I don’t start to paint until after I have an inspiration. And I make up my mind not to interfere. Every new thing in the world is come upon by inspiration…
The only thing you can think about painting is that you want the painting. You see we get everything we want, so you have to keep in mind [the painting]. And you want it to appear to other people. That’s all I think when I’m painting. Don’t think any other thoughts. And the worst thing you can think about when you’re working – at anything – is yourself. You start thinking about yourself and it stands right in the middle, in front of you, and you make mistakes…
I used to meditate. Until I learned to stop thinking. Now I’ve stopped thinking. Don’t think of anything. Before you train yourself to stop thinking, there’s just all kinds of stuff going through your mind. Not anymore. Nothing goes through my mind…
[You need] an empty mind so that when something comes into it, you can see it!
done by Chuck Smith and Sono Kuwayama
at Martin’s studio in Taos, NM, November 1977
When I teach, I spend a lot of time describing our misuse of the mind and the way we bring ourselves to suffering when we try to ‘figure out’ our life, rather than simply to ‘be’ in the present moment and allow ourselves to be led by something other than our thinking. What happens, at least some of the time, is that people will look at me as if I’m a little zany. ‘What are you suggesting?’ they may ask. ‘I’m not supposed to think?’ As if I’m crazy. As if I’ve just suggested they try to drive their car with a blindfold on.
It’s not that we try not to think. And it’s rare for humans to get to the place of not thinking described by Agnes Martin. But what we can all move toward is the experience of a clearer mind, and with the progressive clearing of the mind, the experience of being able to see the mind, rather than to be identified with the mind.
I am not my thinking. My creativity does not come from my thinking. What I have to express that is worthwhile does not come from my thinking. My relationship with my fellows does not live in my thinking. My experience of the world does not live in my thinking. My experience of God does not live in my thinking.
My thinking is a tool, to be used sparingly and only when appropriate. Have a look at the work of Ms. Martin, the brilliance of it, the intelligence of it; then listen to the interview referenced above. Begin to allow for a distinction between intelligence and thinking. Imagine a mind empty enough that you are able to see the vision nature has waiting for you.
Truth is not to be found in my thinking. My life, my creativity, the Truth of me is elsewhere, but is always available to me. I simply need to be willing to step out of the thinking and ask, ‘what am I gonna do next?’
Today I will practice living from something other than my thinking. Rather than ‘figuring out’ an answer to an apparent problem, I will ask for guidance from something other than the mind. I will be present to the world, and choose again and again to step out of my thinking and into the moment of my life. If I am stuck, I will ask for an intuitive idea, and I will follow it, even if it makes no sense. Especially if it makes no sense.
Agnes Martin (b. 1912). White Flower, 1960. Oil on canvas, 182.56 x 182.88 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum