The Creative Experience, a Mystical Experience: Bernstein & Richards

Composer Leonard Bernstein speaks of the creative process in light of the making of connections.

I sit for long nights all by myself and don’t have a thought in my head. I’m dry.  I’m blocked, or so it seems.  I sit at the piano and just improvise—strum some chords or try a sequence of notes.  And then, suddenly, I find one that hits, that suggests something else.  The whole point of composing, you see, is not to find one chord or one note you love.  It is only when they progress to another chord or note that you have meaning.

“Leonard Bernstein at the Piano, Making Annotations to Musical Score.” Photo by Al Ravenna, World Telegram staff photographer. Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.

He comments on how this making of connections occurs.

The mind, where all this creativity takes place, is an immensely complicated circuitry of electronic threads, all of which are connected at a certain point and are informational.  But every once in a while, there is something like a short circuit; two of them will cross, touch, and set off something called an idea.

This is the most exciting moment that can happen in an artist’s life. And every time it happens ….I say ‘Gratias agimus tibi.’  I am grateful for that gift, for those moments,  just as I can be terribly depressed by the moments in between when  nothing happens.  But eventually those two strands will come together, a spark will fly, and I’ll be off, sailing, my ego gone.  I won’t know my name.  I won’t know what time it is.  Then, I’m a composer.”  And a mystic.  Beyond time. 

I often tell my students when you can ask: “Where did the time go?” you have just had a mystical experience.  Bernstein names that experience very vividly.  Creativity becomes the place where the Divine and the Human meet.  A mystical experience therefore. 

“Mother and Child.” Painting by M.C. Richards. From a private collection.

MC Richards reports her experiences birthing art this way. 

When I am painting, I have sometimes this extraordinary experience.  My ordinary consciousness transforms into a participation in the colors themselves.   Live in the gestures of the brush, my arm moving, the colors streaming and overlapping and separating and flooding the plane with their light and dark.  I am so moved by the transcendence of this Color Experience—so delivered over into another realm that is real and not made up—that I am sometimes overcome with awe and appreciation. 

What is this awe but prayer and thanksgiving?  It is to this condition that our meditations may aspire: to bring us to the Door, to the Crossing Point, where we may stand in the full dimension of reality: outer and inner, yellow and the Being of Yellow.*

*M. C. Richards, Imagine Inventing Yellow: New and Selected Poems of M. C. Richards, pp. xif.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion, p. 129.

Banner image: “Nerve Cell Stars” Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Queries for Contemplation

Have you had experiences while in a state of birthing or creativity that echo the testimony of Lenny Bernstein or M. C. Richards?  How are you changed by such experiences?

Isn’t it interesting that both artists want to utter Thank You and Gratitude for such experiences, Bernstein sings “we give you thanks” and Richards asks: “What is this awe but prayer and thanksgiving?”  It follows that the Via Creativa deepens our sense of awe and of gratitude.

Recommended Reading

In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.

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4 thoughts on “The Creative Experience, a Mystical Experience: Bernstein & Richards”

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      I do understand. There is something soothing and transportive about rhythmic movements. It may call on our earliest comforting in a rocking chair, or being bounced or swayed in our parents’ arms. I instinctively bring on the bouncing when I need to comfort an infant. It works. The baby goes off to “no mind”. I wonder if the repetitions keep our left brain busy so our right brain can lead us into ‘No mind”.
      Please keep juggling, and open up the realm of “No mind” on behalf of all of us.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  1. Avatar

    The word that comes to mind is synchronicity. It’s next to impossible to describe, but you know when it happens.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Not that I am going to try to describe the indescribable, but when I experience what I think you mean by synchronicity, it feels like another realms opens up around me and through me. Its as if I am living my life in a verticle, singular shaft of energy and suddenly it opens up to a sparkling sphere.

      Well, you had to be there…..but there is something that happens around us when a moment clicks into eternity!
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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