Naropa Magazine Spring 2013
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Monk at Boulder Theater

Archaeology of an Artist

By Lindsay Michko

This March, Naropa welcomed the return of internationally recognized contemporary performer Meredith Monk, as the 2013 Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism Distinguished Guest Lecturer. A longtime friend of Naropa, Monk first became part of Naropa Institute's faculty in 1975 and, inspired by the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, soon began studying and practicing in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition.

Monk's eventful residency began with a solo concert at Boulder Theater, co-sponsored by Naropa's School of the Arts, and continued with an interview on American Buddhism and creative expression in the 21st century, as well as the multimedia lecture, "Archaeology of an Artist."

Lama Sarah Harding, associate professor in religious studies, facilitated the interview of Meredith Monk, taking a closer look at creativity and spirituality in today's American society. She highlighted the Western European tendency to separate spiritual practice and creativity, as well as the related myth of the "troubled artist," which suggests that creative inspiration derives from suffering or neuroses. Offering an alternative perspective, Monk likened contemplative practice to performing and art making, noting the necessity of beginner's mind and pinpoint awareness. She asserted that the practice of making art is, in and of itself, a contemplative practice.

In "Archaeology of an Artist," Monk addressed her artistic process and trajectory over the last five decades. Her mother's side of the family being very musical, Monk began experimenting with her voice from an early age. Trained in the Dalcroze Eurhythmics tradition, she honed her experience of music and rhythm through aspect of Monk's work. Her characteristic experimentation arose in part from the exploratory environment of New York City in1964, where many artists pushed past the creative boundaries of their forms. Monk reminded us that the Western tradition is one of very few that separates the art forms into different disciplines, a separation very much challenged during this time.

More process-oriented than product-oriented, Monk explained that she views each piece as its own world with its own set of rules. Trying to "start at zero and walk through the fear of not knowing," Monk places her trust in the material, listens for what the piece wants, and tries to bring that world into this one, aiming for a different balance of elements each time.

The weekend workshop, "Uncovering Treasures of Body, Speech, and Mind," which Monk co-facilitated alongside acclaimed performance artist Lanny Harrison and Acharya Judy Lief, explored the arising of speech from silence, moving from the body and breath to sounds, words, and language. Deepening understanding of the power of sound and voice and their connection to meditative awareness, the workshop addressed the question of how to develop true and genuine expression, through the practice of meditation, sound and voice exercises, dialogue, and discussions.

The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism promotes the benefits of Zen Buddhism, meditation, yoga, and related Buddhist practices in a manner complementary to modern American society. Past Lenz Foundation Distinguished Lecturers at Naropa University have included Gary Snyder, Joanna Macy, Paula Green, Jan Willis, and Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara. In addition to the lecture series, the foundation also provides support for the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation Residential Fellowship for Buddhist Studies and American Culture and Values, an opportunity for faculty and other professionals planning sabbaticals to spend a semester on the Naropa University campus conducting a research, social action, or other project that relates Buddhist philosophy and practice to an aspect of American culture and values.

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