5 Minutes with Yumi Sakugawa
The L.A. based artist unlocking creativity through meditation
hometown: Orange County, CA
personal mission: To awaken the divine feminine through shadow integration, art magic rituals, meditation, mindfulness practice, storytelling, and creating connections within the community.
big question: How can we collectively shift from RESISTING existing structures to CREATING a completely new structure?
When did you start meditating?
Around pre-puberty onward, I’ve on and off dealt with serious depression. I was in a really dark place after college when I accepted a job teaching English in Japan — I didn’t have access to therapy or the medication I had been taking for the last four years, and I also didn’t have access to my usual support system and community. Also…I was terrible at my job.
Serendipitously, a colleague of mine who was really into yoga and mindfulness kept talking about this book by new age author Eckhart Tolle. She leant me a copy of “A New Earth,” and that was my first introduction to the idea that “You are not your thoughts, you are the space between them.” I was like — What?! How is that possible?! It changes everything…all of these depressed, self-loathing thoughts I have, they’re not me. It was such a huge relief. Around the same time, I read David Lynch’s book “Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity.” That was also illuminating; from an artist’s perspective, he talks about why meditation is so important, not just for your health but also for your creative process. Having those two works come into my life during a really heavy time, I felt like I had no choice but to throw myself into meditation completely and to see what happens.
How has meditation affected your creative process?
Initially, it was a form of survival just to get through the year of working abroad…Over time, I could feel a really visceral difference between a day when I meditated and a day when I didn’t meditate. Just a complete difference in focus, presence, and happiness. It’s gotten to the point now where I can’t imagine not meditating; it’s a daily thing that I do like brushing my teeth and showering.
Meditation sharpens your intuition. It helps me tap into that non-verbal, non-linear brain that’s just able to access ideas. It grows that trust between myself and my creative decision making process, where I don’t have to weigh plan A and plan B in my head rationally. More and more, I’m able to make decisions very quickly — “I’m gunna go with this because it feels right.” That intuitive sharpness informs everything: what you do as your creative career, what kind of projects you take on, who you collaborate with.
What would you say to someone struggling to unlock their own creativity?
I always tell younger artists — well, all artists and all humans — to meditate, if you’re not already. You’re going to need it for the rest of your life, so you might as well start doing it now. The creative journey can be a roller coaster with a lot of uncertainty, and meditation is this wonderful anchor to your mental health, your creative flow, your intuition.
Make, make again, make some more
Whatever grand artistic ambition you have, what is a smaller version of it you could finish this year, or in the next month? If you want to become a novelist, how can you finish an essay or a short story? You can totally do that. I feel like it always just comes down to finish a project, share it with the world, and then repeat the process. That’s really all there is to it.
Connect with your people
There are all these bullshit artists myths like “One must suffer for your art,” or “Being an artist is this lonely, depressing journey” and I’m like, No! It’s kind of amazing how people project this scarcity consciousness onto me and other people and artists in general.
Find your tribe — ideally both online and in real life. Whatever medium you really want to work in, seek out events and community gatherings, find and make friends who are also interested in doing what you’re doing. That really helped me in my 20’s; I consciously made a decision to seek out other artists, and people shared resources with me. From there, that ecosystem of relationships just keep growing.
What are you working on next?
I just have to geek out about my favorite self-help book of all time, which is called “The Big Leap” by Gay Hendricks. He breaks down the things that we do into “Zone of Competence, Zone of Excellence, and Zone of Genius.”
Zone of competence is stuff anyone can do, like answering emails, putting together a powerpoint presentation…that minimal, easy state. The next phase, Zone of Excellence, is something not everyone can do. You’re good at it, you’re rewarded for it, you’re recognized for it, but it’s not your soul purpose — isn’t that heart breaking? Maybe you’re working as an acting coach, but really you’re supposed to be an actor. Or maybe you’re really good at being an employee for a prestigious company, but you’re zone of genius is starting your own company. Gay Hendricks keeps saying the most dangerous zone to stay in is the Zone of Excellence.
I think about that a lot — if I’m honest with myself these days, I’ve been avoiding my zone of genius. There’s a book proposal I’ve been working on, and it’s a narrative driven, full length book that explores family and personal issues in a way that’s a lot more intimate and really experimental…it’s a sci-fi self-help novel! I’ve had this idea for two years — I’ve finished a first draft, and now I need to get to a second draft, which will bring me closer to having to work on the book…and it’s terrifying. But I need to do it.
Yumi Sakugawa is part of enso’s Shared Mission Network: a group of diverse leaders collaborating around impact. See sharedmission.co
enso is a creative impact agency. We create and scale impact through shared missions with innovative companies, foundations and nonprofit organizations. See our work at enso.co and our thinking at medium.com/enso