the first dive
He whose happiness is within, whose contentment is within,
whose light is all within, that yogi, being one
with Brahman, attains eternal freedom in divine consciousness.
When I first heard about meditation, I had zero interest in it. I wasn’t even curious. It sounded like a waste of time.
What got me interested, though, was the phrase “true happiness lies within.” At first I thought it sounded kind of mean, because it doesn’t tell you where the “within” is, or how to get there. But still it had a ring of truth. And I began to think that maybe meditation was a way to go within.
I looked into meditation, asked some questions, and started contemplating different forms. At that moment, my sister called and said she had been doing Transcendental Meditation for six months. There was something in her voice. A change. A quality of happiness. And I thought, That’s what I want.
So in July 1973 I went to the TM center in Los Angeles and met an instructor, and I liked her. She looked like Doris Day. And she taught me this technique. She gave me a mantra, which is a sound-vibration-thought. You don’t meditate on the meaning of it, but it’s a very specific sound-vibration-thought.
She took me into a little room to have my first meditation. I sat down, closed my eyes, started this mantra, and it was as if I were in an elevator and the cable had been cut. Boom! I fell into bliss—pure bliss. And I was just in there. Then the teacher said, “It’s time to come out; it’s been twenty minutes.” And I said, “IT’S ALREADY BEEN TWENTY MINUTES?!” And she said, “Shhhh!” because other people were meditating. It seemed so familiar, but also so new and powerful. After that, I said the word “unique” should be reserved for this experience.
It takes you to an ocean of pure consciousness, pure knowingness. But it’s familiar; it’s you. And right away a sense of happiness emerges—not a goofball happiness, but a thick beauty.
I have never missed a meditation in thirty-three years. I meditate once in the morning and again in the afternoon, for about twenty minutes each time. Then I go about the business of my day. And I find that the joy of doing increases. Intuition increases. The pleasure of life grows. And negativity recedes.
rubber clown suit
It would be easier to roll up the entire sky into
a small cloth than it would be to obtain true happiness
without knowing the Self.
When I started meditating, I was filled with anxieties and fears. I felt a sense of depression and anger.
I often took out this anger on my first wife. After I had been meditating for about two weeks, she came to me and said, “What’s going on?” I was quiet for a moment. But finally I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “This anger, where did it go?” And I hadn’t even realized that it had lifted.
I call that depression and anger the Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity. It’s suffocating, and that rubber stinks. But once you start meditating and diving within, the clown suit starts to dissolve. You finally realize how putrid was the stink when it starts to go. Then, when it dissolves, you have freedom.
Anger and depression and sorrow are beautiful things in a story, but they’re like poison to the filmmaker or artist. They’re like a vise grip on creativity. If you’re in that grip, you can hardly get out of bed, much less experience the flow of creativity and ideas. You must have clarity to create. You have to be able to catch ideas.
I started out just as a regular person, growing up in the Northwest. My father was a research scientist for the Department of Agriculture, studying trees. So I was in the woods a lot. And the woods for a child are magical. I lived in what people call small towns. My world was what would be considered about a city block, maybe two blocks. Everything occurred in that space. All the dreaming, all my friends existed in that small world. But to me it seemed so huge and magical. There was plenty of time available to dream and be with friends.
I liked to paint and I liked to draw. And I often thought, wrongly, that when you got to be an adult, you stopped painting and drawing and did something more serious. In the ninth grade, my family moved to Alexandria, Virginia. On the front lawn of my girlfriend’s house one night, I met a guy named Toby Keeler. As we were talking, he said his father was a painter. I thought maybe he might have been a house painter, but further talking got me around to the fact that he was a fine artist.
This conversation changed my life. I had been somewhat interested in science, but I suddenly knew that I wanted to be a painter. And I wanted to live the art life.
the art life
In high school, I read Robert Henri’s book The Art Spirit, which prompted the idea of the art life. For me, living the art life meant a dedication to painting—a complete dedication to it, making everything else secondary.
That, I thought, is the only way you’re going to get in deep and discover things. So anything that distracts from that path of discovery is not part of the art life, in that way of thinking. Really, the art life means a freedom. And it seems, I think, a hair selfish. But it doesn’t have to be selfish; it just means that you need time.
Bushnell Keeler, the father of my friend Toby, always had this expression: “If you want to get one hour of good painting in, you have to have four hours of uninterrupted time.”
And that’s basically true. You don’t just start painting. You have to sit for a while and get some kind of mental idea in order to go and make the right moves. And you need a whole bunch of materials at the ready. For example, you need to build framework stretchers for the canvas. It can take a long time just to prepare something to paint on. And then you go to work. The idea just needs to be enough to get you started, because, for me, whatever follows is a process of action and reaction. It’s always a process of building and then destroying. And then, out of this destruction, discovering a thing and building on it. Nature plays a huge part in it. Putting difficult materials together—like baking something in sunlight, or using one material that fights another material—causes its own organic reaction. Then it’s a matter of sitting back and studying it and studying it and studying it; and suddenly, you find you’re leaping up out of your chair and going in and doing the next thing. That’s action and reaction.
But if you know that you’ve got to be somewhere in half an hour, there’s no way you can achieve that. So the art life means a freedom to have time for the good things to happen. There’s not always a lot of time for other things.