A group of us had walked along a narrow path to a deserted beach near Zihuatanejo, Mexico, which in 1971 was still a village of only several thousand inhabitants. The moon was brilliant, and the ocean glistened with reflected light. Inspired by the moonlight, the waves and the soft sand under my bare feet, I began to dance. As I moved, I was working through problems which felt tangled. These were thoughts for which I could find no words, but which my body moved through as I danced.
Many years after that night on the beach I began to practice Tibetan Buddhist shamatha meditation, and I experienced an enormous breakthrough . For years I had been struggling to complete my novel, Longing. I had written four drafts ,but they were brittle. I could not get beneath the surface. After a few weeks—or perhaps months—of intense shamatha practice,I was able to get beneath that frozen surface. Heart and insight began to expand and soften. I threw out the first four drafts, and the fifth became meaty, fluid, and real. It would take four more rewrites to get Longing into its final form, but the fact that meditation practice gave such power hooked me.
Last summer as I meditated inside the Stupa at Shambhala Mountain Center, I had a similar kind of illumination. I had been attending a weekthun, a weeklong meditation intensive, sleeping at night in a cabin where I snuggled under layers of blankets, absorbing the beauty of the land, the wilderness, the mountains. All this had prepared me for the Stupa, which emanates a feeling of tremendous brilliance and purity. As I meditated there my mind, often cluttered, anxious, and diffuse in daily life, seemed to transform in an alchemical way.
Thoughts grew so clear. Ideas became objects which I could shift and maneuver inside the luminous space of my mind. Visualizations were lucid. Words, visual art, music, life changing decisions, all could flow more easily in this state.
For me there was a connection between that moonlit night on the beach, meditation practice, and the illuminating experience within the stupa. While the dance and the stupa experience were brief , they fostered creativity y that came from a deeper source in which body, mind, and spirit are connected. Regular meditation practice, far more gradual in its effects, is like a log burning after the flame has been lit. For me, the matches igniting the flames were dance and the stupa experience, while meditation is like the burning log which sustains my own writing.