5 Buddhist Principals for Creative Professionals

The Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles

While I dutifully sit daily for 20 minutes of Buddhist readings and meditation, I often leave my practice on the cushion when it comes to starting a new creative project. Funny, but the procrastination I feel before I sit down to write is very similar to how I feel before meditation: I don’t want to do it. It’s work. It’s active, not passive. I want the creative inspiration to just flow to me. But it doesn’t always work like that.

My friend Victoria Imperioli, theater and interior designer, always brings her practice to work with her. She and husband Michael Imperioli, celebrated actor and writer, are Tibetan Buddhists and followers of Garchen Rinpoche. Her philosophy is seamlessly engrained in her work life. Victoria’s process in her design work for the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles illustrates some key principles of Buddhism and creates a framework for approaching a new creative project.

Victoria explains:

1. (Right) Intention: When she starts a new project, she starts with “an intention to maximize the end-users’ time in that space and to surrounded them with beauty and inspiration.” She considers how she can elevate the space out of the ordinary and into the profound. She doesn’t start with a thought about how this will improve her career or how much money she’ll make.

2. Being Present: Attentive listening to your client is a great gift to people in the age of digital media. “What do they want, and what will the space be used for? Is it for a few people or many? What will they be doing — writing, thinking, communicating, celebrating? Should it be fiery and stimulating, or calming and contemplative?” For a writer for hire, I would interpret this as giving your total focus to your creative task — close your email, turn off your phone. Be present to your writing. You really don’t need to stop and see who “liked” your Facebook post this morning.

3. Mindfulness: After information gathering, step away and clear a channel for the space to speak to you, for the “big idea” to come to you. “Get out of ordinary mind.” This may be meditating, going for a walk, or doing the dishes. In other words, sitting there thinking as hard as you can about the idea doesn’t always leave the space you need for ideas to arise. I have a friend who says “take an action, take a nap.” It seems counterintuitive, but it works.

4. Patience: Do your initial outline, sketches, or draft. Then step away for a few days or weeks, and let your ideas incubate. That first creative outburst can look very different when you go back to it. I’m sometimes overly excited about a new idea and send it to the client before it’s ready. Give it time to germinate.

5. Non-Attachment: “Be flexible. Though you don’t want to betray your creative gift, compromise is part of most creative projects for which you are being paid.” Don’t get so attached to your vision, so ego-filled, that you can’t take on others’ suggestions or needs.

And a last thought: wear the suit of perfection loosely. It’s the enemy of creativity (and of a content life). “Perfect” isn’t always possible, or preferable. Maybe that flawed piece of wood is exactly what will give your design character and make it unique. Just like human flaws do.