BY LINDA EGENES

nineanniversariesFor a writer, finding your personal voice is one of the most important parts of mastering the craft. It turns out that this is also important for visual artists such as Mindy Weisel.

An oil painter who in recent years has turned to glass as a medium, Mindy Weisel has shown her work in solo shows in prestigious galleries and is the recipient of numerous awards. Her art appears in the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of American Art, the Israel Museum, the U.S. Embassy, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Archives of American Artists at the Smithsonian Institution.

Yet despite her success, Mindy says she struggled emotionally with each piece to discover what she wanted to say. She feels this struggle has its roots in her unusual childhood.

Born in 1947 in Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in a displaced persons camp, she was one of the first children born to holocaust survivors after the war.

“Growing up as the only daughter of holocaust survivors, I don’t think I had a clue what it meant to live my own life,” she says.

Digging Into Personal Experiences

Mindy WeiselMindy did know she liked her art and literature classes in high school in New York City, where the family moved, and decided to major in art in college. But finding her place as an artist was daunting.

“It was during the time when my kind of art, which is a very emotional, expressive, abstract expressionist painting, was not taught,” she says. “I really struggled with my professors, but despite a lot of crying and frustration, I stuck with it.”

Mindy continued her graduate studies at American University, and with the help of mentors she found there, she established her own studio by age 27 and launched her first solo painting show.

But it wasn’t until she dug deep into her own personal experiences that she found her own voice and gained recognition in the art world.

“Basically after I learned drawing and painting through all the rigorous study—I understood that you could learn all the technique in the world, but if you don’t feel it, no one else will feel it either.”

In 1978 Weisel started a series using her father’s number at Auschwitz, which was tatooed on his arm. Weisel says, “the paintings started out colorful, but I wrote his number all over them and they became blackened out, dealing not only with the destruction of beauty, but to my surprise there was light coming through the paintings—so it became the survival of beauty.”

Created long before there was a holocaust museum, before Schindler’s List, Mindy’s paintings of 1978 were well received by art critics and laypersons alike and were shown in a traveling exhibition in museums around the country.

For someone whose art is so personal and expressive, it’s hard to imagine that Weisel has ever struggled to find her artistic voice. Yet she identifies this to be her main challenge as an artist.

Working in the Moment

Mindy has noticed that practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique has made it easier for her to be in the moment. “It seems to me that the last eight years, since I started meditating, that’s what’s changed. If the art is not coming, I don’t even struggle with it. I simply put myself in a place where it’s possible to make art.”

She’s also more at peace. “I was very much a holocaust survivor’s daughter, running to stay ahead of everything, to fill up the loss,” she says. “And that running had made me very, very sick. Since meditating, I can just be. I take better care of myself, I take the time to meditate, and I love the experience.”

Another dramatic shift for Mindy Weisel is that she is now using glass as a medium. Her colorful, light-filled glass wall paintings are a feast to the eyes.

“This is amazing to me, because I never knew anything about glass,” she says. “I walked into this glass studio, I recognized something, I was ready to learn, and I didn’t doubt it. I can attribute this switch in materials to practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, because it kept me open enough to try it and enough in the present to make it.”

Mindy took classes at Pilcher Glass School in Seattle to learn her new medium, and just a year and a half later, her vibrant, colorful works appeared in a solo exhibition, “Words in a Journey of Glass,” at Katzen Art Museum, American University.

Describing her experience in meditation as a deep, profound, meaningful rest that is beautiful, easy, and simple, she says, “You are in a state of being, of being in the moment, and somehow that lasts—it accumulates.”

Mindy says that this experience of awareness carries over into the process of making her art. “I’m being more present in the creative process as well,” she says. “Work doesn’t have to be so hard. Work can come from a place of flowing, of openness, of responsiveness, of hearing, of listening. You don’t have to fight so hard to get to that work.”

Somehow Mindy finds time to express herself in writing as well. The author of five books, she recently completed her memoir, Making Marks, in which she writes about making marks of longing, of loss, of survival, of beauty.

“I think that’s what my work is about. It’s very emotional, and I’m always thrilled that somebody feels something when they look at it. You can change your mind about things but you can’t change your feelings about things. You really have to understand them. They won’t go away until you understand them.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, August 19, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

My dad holding me at 6 months old

Growing up, I was taught that creativity was a highly prized commodity. My father was a product engineer for International Harvester, designing plows and farm equipment, and earned 22 patents. When he retired from that, he and his brother designed a nifty cable-laying machine that laid wires in the ground while leaving behind only a tiny slit—and is still popular 40 years later. His most amazing creative achievement, though, was a passive-solar home that he designed in 1959 and built out of all-natural materials with his own hands. Our family dearly loved the magical and beautiful home he built for us.

My dad taught us that anyone can be creative. You didn’t have to be a famous scientist like Madame Curie or a famous dancer like Isadora Duncan to be highly creative in your everyday life, he said. He pointed out that the world is filled with people who create amazing things every day.

Yet even as a child it was clear to me that some people come by the creative gene more easily than others. So I was interested to read a new study on creativity by Fred Travis, Ph.D., and Yvonne Lagrosen, Ph.D., published recently in Creativity Research Journal. The researchers found that brain integration is a common feature among highly creative people.

“It’s a simple fact that some people stand out as creative, and we’re trying to tease out why,” Dr. Travis says. “We hypothesized that something must be different about the way their brains work, and that’s what we’re finding.”

Dr. Travis has developed a measure that he calls “brain integration.” He analyzes EEG patterns to assess brain wave coherence (connectedness) in the frontal brain. He also assessed alpha power, a measure of inner directedness of attention, and the brain’s preparation response, which measures how efficiently the brain responds to a stimulus.

In this study, Dr. Travis and Dr. Lagrosen studied 21 Swedish product engineers—who, like my dad, were designing new products as part of their jobs. The researchers found that those with the highest brain integration scored the highest in creativity as measured by standardized Torrance measures — as well as other characteristics of highly creative people such as speed of processing information, speed of executive decision-making and a factor called “Sense-of-Coherence,” which means a sense of being in control of one’s situation.

In previous studies in collaboration with Dr. Harald Harang, Dr. Travis had found greater brain integration in world-class athletes, top managers and professional musicians. In other words, he is finding that brain integration may be the underlying factor that leads to success in many different areas.

Dr. Travis says, “While there’s a common notion that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary for high achievement, some people put in long hours and do not excel. This new research and previous studies suggest that brain integration may be the inner factor that leads to outer success.”

So the next question is—can a person develop greater brain integration, and thus increase their creativity and ability to succeed?

As Dr. Travis points out, the regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique has been found to increase levels of brain integration and to increase creativity in many randomized controlled, peer-reviewed studies.

There are other ways that the TM technique heightens mental abilities. For instance, it helps relieve the mental fatigue that can stand in the way of creativity. For instance, when women are tired or stressed, they can’t be as clear, present or creative as they would like to be.

I found my own creativity soaring when I started to practice TM at age 19. Gone was the writer’s block, the struggle with realizing my inner vision on paper. And as I was able to express my true self in my writing, I felt happier and more self-confident in other areas of life as well.

It is my belief that creativity is an essential part of being a woman—after all, we have the ability to create the miracle of human life. So a practice that allows us to come in contact with our inner source of creativity, happiness, and power is something that can benefit every woman.

So if you want to give your creativity a boost, consider learning the Transcendental Meditation technique and seeing the effect of regular transcending on inner happiness and outer success.

I think that Madeleine L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, says it so well: “But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint or clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.”

Here’s a video by my friend Cheryl Fusco Johnson where I talk about my creative process. Check out other videos of writers talking about their writing on Cheryl Fusco Johnson’s YouTube channel. 

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, May 12, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

In comic strips a light bulb turning on inside a character’s head indicates a brilliant idea. For Dutch artist Jeroen Stok, a light bulb was the idea that set him on his career path as a sculptor and installation artist. Trained as a painter at the Royal Academy of the Arts at the Hague, he spent a year studying art and consciousness at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa (then MIU).

“My dorm room had only one overhead light and I needed a desk lamp,” he remembers with a laugh. “I took a yogurt cup, stuck a light bulb in it, and created wooden base.” From there he started making lighting fixtures from tubes and other found materials that attached to the walls. “In the end I exhibited them in a student show of about 30 lighted wall pieces,” he remembers. “The painting I had studied became three-dimensional.”

Back in the Netherlands, he took a step further into the realm of sculpture. “The pieces that I’d designed for the wall suddenly were standing by themselves,” he says.

Fast forward 20 years, and Jeroen Stok, now 54, is a sculptor in demand, having created dozens of commissioned stainless steel sculptures for cities, villages, and universities, from Amsterdam to the California wine country. Using the medium of stainless steel, his designs evoke the beauty of nature, ranging from flowers to animals to the abstract, from one foot high to 20 feet reaching to the sky.

Sculpting Steel into Art

In his early, uncertain days as an artist, Stok’s sculptures were made of bamboo and paper. Stok recalls a friend advising him, “Why are you working with such unstable materials? You should work with something like steel.” The idea resonated with Stok—his father owned a steel factory. Soon he had learned how to weld and bend the steel to match the images in his mind.

A quiet man with a willowy build, Jeroen says that while working with steel, he has imbibed some of its power and strength.

“In the art world I meet a lot of different people, and I can’t help but notice that artists tend to reflect the quality of the materials they work with,” he says. “People who work with wood are a little softer than people who work with steel. Working with copper can make you feel warm and solid.”

Stok finds that his concepts usually take place around a story, and end up with many levels of meaning. “When I designed a sculpture for Vrije University in Amsterdam, it had a kind of feather shape. It wasn’t until I finished it that I realized that it was an abstract depiction of the wing of the gryphon—the logo for the university. Other people see it as a staircase, the academic ladder in which one scholar stands on the shoulders of the scholar before him or her.”

For Stok, who has been practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique since 1979, conceiving the design is the easy part. “When you start to design something it’s a process of silence, you’re in silence,” he says. “There’s an effortless flow. That’s one side of the coin. The other side—you go into the realm of realizing the art, making it physical, and that is hard labor. You have to bend the steel to your will.”

Going with the Flow

While stainless steel is a rigid medium, in his own life Stok is known for “going with the flow.” He credits his flexibility to practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique.

As an installation artist working with government and civic committees, Stok has to create a design that will satisfy the disparate desires of the committee members, become a symbol of the organization or city, and appeal to the public for generations to come.

This requires a certain understanding of psychology, he says. “You have to first identify who the gatekeeper is, the one who is making the decisions, and then figure out what he wants, what is of interest to him.”

For instance, in creating the three-story steel tulip design for the Netherlands township of Avenhorn, Stok realized that it was the mayor who was driving the project in the last months of his term. Jeroen had the insight that the mayor wanted above all to leave a lasting legacy and therefore would give him greater monetary and creative leeway in designing the project.

“When you meditate, you have a clearer view of what someone is really wanting or meaning,” he says. “Often people have hidden agendas.”

After the committee approves the design and budget, craftsmen cut, weld and shape the raw steel into a refined sculpture. This stage also involves working with craftsmen who may have never fashioned steel into something this complicated before. Stok takes care to meet the workers and their families in their homes, and further motivates and befriends them by posting pictures of the project’s progress on a website.

“Sometimes their families never see the work that they create in the factory, so when they see the sculpture developing on the website, it becomes something they can share, a source of pride for the craftsman,” says Stok.

In the many months it takes to realize the massive sculpture, there is a point where the workers get frustrated and tempers flare. “When you meditate you have less of a tendency to give way to your negative emotions,” he says. “And you can clearly see when someone else is in the grip of negative emotions. You realize that he is not himself at the moment, so you can stay calm and wait until that ends. Then you can talk again.”

A Personal Journey

Despite working with others to create public works for generations to come, in the end, Stok’s art is deeply personal.

“Practicing TM is not only good for my art, it’s good for me,” he says. “I don’t really see my art as separate from my personal life.”

Stok notes that even if you try differently, you end up expressing your own inner state in your art. “What happens in art has everything to do with what happens to you. If you’re in a troubled period, you can see that in your art. If you’re in a blissful period, that’s what is reflected.”

As an example, Stok and his wife were expecting their son when he designed the Avenhorn tulip sculpture. “It was about the blossoming of life,” he says.

Today their son is ten years old, and loves to climb on the public sculptures in town centers, gardens, and malls that his father has created. Living in Lelystad, a village in the Netherlands created for people who live together and practice Transcendental Meditation and the advanced TM-Sidhi program in a central meditation hall, the Stoks find that meditation also helps them to lead a more balanced family life.

In recent years, Stok has received commissions from the U.S., such as two giant steel tulips for the city of Temecula, CA. They were looking for a tulip for their Duck Pond and Veterans Memorial park and found his work on the Internet. Stok attended the unveiling ceremony last September.

In addition to his commissioned sculptures, Stok has also directed a considerable amount of his artistic talent to create better living conditions for handicapped people, and to urban developmental planning.

“Art is a way of giving,” he says. “It’s not about glorifying your ego. It’s a way to touch the hearts of people, to create a good feeling, to make people happy.”

Linda Egenes is co-editor of Enlightenment: The Transcendental Meditation® Magazine. She is the author of five books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 17. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

As my husband and I drove home from a family trip in the light of the full moon, I pulled out my review copy of Jack Forem’s Transcendental Meditation: The Essential Teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and read the introduction aloud. Wrapped in the warmth of the author’s exquisitely crafted story, we were transported back in time to the early days of the TM® program, when Jack Forem first met Maharishi and was inspired to write America’s first book on the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with Jack Forem 1975

Seven years in the making, the original book was published in 1973 by Dutton and instantly became a best-seller and beloved classic, inspiring thousands of people to begin the practice. This new edition, written nearly forty years later and published by Hay House, will capture the imagination of those who started meditating in the early days and those who have just begun.

Filled with inspiring words of wisdom from Maharishi, interviews of practitioners of the TM® technique, quotes by famous people from Einstein to Oprah, and references to the Vedic literature of India—from which this tradition of meditation originated—the book illuminates fundamental principles underlying the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

The book also dives deeply into the scientific research on TM practice, brilliantly distilling dozens of research papers published in leading academic and medical journals. And with Maharishi’s profound insights, it answers age-old questions concerning the goal of life, religion, and spirituality, the psychology of relationships, higher states of consciousness, and world peace.

Jack Forem became a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique in Rishikesh, India, in 1970. He served as the head of the TM Center in New York City and later worked directly with Maharishi writing educational materials, teaching TM teacher training courses in Europe, and leading conferences and seminars on the development of creativity, leadership, and higher states of consciousness. The son of two writers, Jack is a professional writer with a dozen published books.

Here, Jack Forem speaks about his experience in updating his classic work and his creative process as a writer.

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 11.06.52 AMEnlightenment: What were the biggest changes you made to the original book and why?

Jack Forem: I wanted to revise it because I felt there was so much more scientific research on the TM program and global expansion of the Movement now. The first book was fine for its time, but now it seemed too small. It needed to be painted on a bigger canvas.

I thought it would take two months, but it took two years. The deeper I went into it the more I found that was new. When the first book was published, there were only a few research studies on TM practice. Now there are 350 published studies, most of them peer-reviewed. To convey the essence of a research study is not an easy job—it took time for me to understand each study and to make it clear and readable to others.

My process was to interview more people, to read more, and to see if the old things seemed as important as the new developments. Now people are more aware of the value of meditation and the ideas of evolution of consciousness and enlightenment. Back 40 years ago, these ideas were new to most people. So I didn’t want to dwell on the basics as much—I wanted to talk about the deeper aspects.

Enlightenment: What is a typical day like for you as a writer?

Jack Forem: I don’t have a typical day as a writer. I try to put in at least a few hours writing, but some days I just can’t. So much of what you do as a writer is not writing—you think about things, you read, you do research. It’s not like I work from 9 to 12, or 9 to 5. I’ve never been able to do that. It’s not my way.

I once was sitting in a room with Maharishi with a small group of people and we were writing something. Someone said, “Maharishi, we should have a staff of writers working full-time.” And he laughed and laughed and he said, “Writers can’t work full-time.” He looked at me when he said it.

Sometimes I write a quick first draft and when I go back and look at it, I might throw the whole thing away. Usually there’s enough good in it to revise it. Other times I work very slowly, sentence by sentence, and make sure it’s right before I move on. It depends on the material.

Enlightenment: How has the TM technique helped you as a professional writer?

Jack Forem: TM has helped me by giving me deeper insight. Being able to think at subtler levels and to understand what Maharishi is saying has helped me to express the knowledge better.

Sometimes I don’t know what to say when I’m working. Then I will either meditate or naturally let my awareness settle down and that helps me find a direction—what I want to say next or how to say it better.

Enlightenment: What benefits from TM do you notice now compared to when you learned 46 years ago?

Jack Forem: Now I rarely get upset—things are very smooth. But if there is anything upsetting or difficult in my life, meditation helps me dissolve my anxiety or worry; it resolves anything unpeaceful inside.

Basically I feel pretty good. (Laughs.) I wouldn’t have been able to say that before I learned TM. There’s an underlying stability, a sense of Being or pure consciousness, that I definitely did not have earlier.

Enlightenment: What three things would you like people to remember after reading your book?

Jack Forem: First, I’d like people to realize that through this knowledge, enlightenment is a real possibility for anyone.

Second, the technology that Maharishi has developed for world peace is the great hope of humanity and the world. I didn’t fully realize how effective those programs are for creating harmony, coherence, and peace until I started reading the research on collective consciousness. I am profoundly impressed.

And finally, I want people to realize that this knowledge came from Maharishi. He has provided a path to enlightenment and a better world for all of us to enjoy. He wouldn’t have asked for the credit, but I like to give it to him.

Linda Egenes is a professional writer and the co-author of Super Healthy Kids – A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda.

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 10. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Mindy Weisel

For Mindy Weisel, art is about feelings. Take the time she was driving to New York City one winter’s day in 1995 and heard a radio report of the devastating Kobe earthquake in Japan. That day she started an immense painting and collage called “The Day the World Ripped Open” because, as she says, “I’m sure for those people it did.”

An oil painter who in recent years has turned to glass as a medium, Weisel has shown her work in solo shows in prestigious galleries and is the recipient of numerous awards. Her art appears in the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of American Art, the Israel Museum, the U.S. Embassy, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Archives of American Artists at the Smithsonian Institution.

“My process is about what I’m feeling most, what I respond to, and it isn’t always about my own story,” she says. “I care about what is going on in the world.”

For someone whose art is so personal and expressive, it’s hard to imagine that Weisel has ever struggled to find her artistic voice. Yet she identifies this to be her main challenge as an artist.

Drawing from Personal Experience

“I have an unusual background,” Mindy says. “I was born in 1947 in Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in a displaced persons camp, one of the first children born to Holocaust survivors after the war. Growing up as the only daughter of Holocaust survivors, I don’t think I had a clue what it meant to live my own life.”

She did know she liked her art and literature classes in high school, and decided to major in art in college. But finding her place as an artist was daunting.

“It was during the time when my kind of art, which is a very emotional, expressive, abstract expressionist painting, was not taught,” she says. “I really struggled with my professors, but despite a lot of crying and frustration, I stuck with it.”

Weisel continued her graduate studies at American University, and with the help of mentors she found there, she established her own studio by age 27 and launched her first solo painting show.

But it wasn’t until she dug deep into her own personal experiences that she found her own voice and gained recognition in the art world.

“Basically after I learned drawing and painting through all the rigorous study, I understood that you could learn all the technique in the world, but if you don’t feel it, no one else will feel it either.”

In 1978 Weisel started a series using her father’s number at Auschwitz, which was tattooed on his arm. Weisel says, “The paintings started out colorful, but I wrote his number all over them and they became blackened out, dealing not only with the destruction of beauty, but to my surprise there was light coming through the paintings—so it became the survival of beauty.”

Created long before there was a Holocaust museum, before Schindler’s List, Weisel’s paintings of 1978 were well received by art critics and laypersons alike and were shown in a traveling exhibition in museums around the country.

Mindy Weisel: Following Her Heart with Art

Working in the Moment

Yet as her art evolved, Weisel says she continued to struggle emotionally with each piece to discover what she wanted to say.

She quotes the German artist, Hans Hoffman, and the Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who both said that an artist should not have a memory.

Weisel explains, “What that means is that each time you approach your work it should be as if for the first time. So you’re not thinking, ‘How did I make this painting before?’ or ‘What color did I use?’ as that takes away from the immediate experience of making the art. For me, creating art is not premeditated at all. It’s literally surrounding myself with my materials and going right into it.”

“I really struggled a lot to find an honest voice to say what I want to say,” says Mindy. “I noticed that after I started the Transcendental Meditation technique, my TM practice has really helped me be in the moment.” Weisel continues, “It seems to me that in the last eight years, since I started meditating, that’s what’s changed. If the art is not coming, I don’t even struggle with it. I simply put myself in a place where it’s possible to make art.”

She’s also more at peace. “I was very much a Holocaust survivor’s daughter, running to stay ahead of everything, to fill up the loss,” she says. “And that running had made me very, very sick. Since meditating I can just be. I take better care of myself, I take the time to meditate, and I love the experience.”

“Art is the skillful expression of life. The artist, constantly utilizing his creative impulses, continues to draw from the reservoir of creativity present in his own being. This is how his consciousness, bathing in the fresh springs of creativity, rises to the prodigious brilliance of natural creation. Exposed to the beautiful process of unfoldment, an artist, when he opens his awareness to the fullness of pure creative intelligence within, draws together the strokes of inspiration and ultimate achievement and enjoys them in the oneness of freedom.
—Maharishi, 1975

Another dramatic shift for Weisel is that she is now using brilliant-colored glass as a medium. “This is amazing to me, because I never knew anything about glass,” she says. “I’m doing things creatively that I never ever would have imagined. I walked into this glass studio, I recognized something, I was ready to learn, and I didn’t doubt it. I can attribute this switch in materials to meditating, because it kept me open enough to try it and enough in the present to make it.”

Weisel took classes at Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle to learn her new medium, and just a year and a half later, her vibrant, colorful works appeared in a solo exhibition, “Words on a Journey of Glass,” at Katzen Art Museum, American University.

Describing her experience in meditation as a deep, profound, meaningful rest that is beautiful, easy, and simple, she says, “You are in a state of being, of being in the moment, and somehow that lasts—it accumulates.”

Weisel says that this experience of awareness carries over into the process of making her art. “I’m being more present in the creative process as well,” she says. “Work doesn’t have to be so hard. Work can come from a place of flowing, of openness, of responsiveness, of hearing, of listening. You don’t have to fight so hard to get to that work.”

Somehow Weisel finds time to express herself in writing as well. The author of five books, she is currently working on her memoir, Making Marks, in which she writes about making marks of longing, of loss, of survival, of beauty.

“I think that’s what my work is about. It’s very emotional, and I’m always thrilled that somebody feels something when they look at it. You can change your mind about things but you can’t change your feelings about things. You really have to understand them. They won’t go away until you understand them.”

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 3. Reprinted with permission.)

 

BY LINDA EGENES

Sharon IsbinSharon Isbin is considered, quite simply, the leading classical guitarist of our time. Among her many honors, she was named “Best Classical Guitarist” by Guitar Player magazine and is the first guitarist in over 40 years to receive two classical GRAMMY Awards (in 2001 and 2010). A former student of Andrés Segovia and a graduate of Yale University, she has performed to sold-out audiences around the world—from Carnegie Hall to London’s Barbican to the White House. As head of the guitar department at the Aspen Music Festival and The Juilliard School, she has developed an original technique for teaching classical guitar. Yet she doesn’t limit herself to classical music—she has mastered a musical palette that ranges from bossa nova to jazz to folk, collaborating with other guitarists in new ways. Here she explains how she has been able to combine her virtuosity, her technique, and her passion in order to create music that reaches into the heart and touches the soul.

Sharon Isbin Best Classical Guitarist Transcendental Meditation and Music

 

What do you feel has made your music stand out from the crowd?

I explore a variety of genres, from my home base in classical to unusual collaborations in jazz, bossa nova, folk, country, rock, and even film music, performing on Scorsese’s The Departed. But most important to me and to listeners is the emotion, lyricism, sensuality, and passion.

What is your process of interpreting the music that you play? How do you go about it?

I choose music that I love and which speaks to me, and that makes it easy to be expressive. The more I play a new work, the more I discover in it. My goal is to enter the mind of the composer while feeling and expressing the emotion from within. In a way, I explore different characters of a piece much like actors do with a script. And when I choose dynamics and shadings to delineate the different layers and levels of voicing, architecture, and structure within a work, it’s much like a director staging and guiding actors in the foreground, middle, background, etc.

Are there any principles of creativity that you employ when you create an album such as Sharon Isbin and Friends or prepare for a concert performance?

Developing an album is a varied process. For example, my solo disc Dreams of a World (2001 GRAMMY Award) came together from a pile of scores I’d assembled over time, which I’d found to be particularly beautiful and which happened to be all folk-inspired. Journey to the Amazon has music from countries bordering the Amazon, and evolved from making several trips to the rainforest and then performing with a composer/organic percussionist from a tribe in the Amazon, Thiago de Mello, and saxophonist Paul Winter. J.S. Bach Complete Lute Suiteswas a natural after ten years of study with the great keyboard artist/Bach scholar Rosalyn Tureck. When I was invited to make the New York Philharmonic’s first and only guitar recording, I chose Latin music from Spain, Brazil, and Mexico. Other collections include Baroque concerti, American concerti, Latin Romances, etc.

My recent Journey to the New World (2010 GRAMMY Award) is an exploration of folk music beginning in the 16th century British Isles, Ireland, and Scotland and crossing the ocean with the immigrants to the New World. Its centerpiece, “Joan Baez Suite,” was written for me by John Duarte and inspired by music Baez made famous in the early part of her career. When Joan heard it, she offered to sing on the album and performs beautiful renditions of “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Go ’Way from my Window.” Virtuoso country fiddler Mark O’Connor concludes the journey, joining me in the folk suite he wrote for us.

My latest, Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions (Sony), pays tribute to my guitar heroes and includes guest rock stars Steve Vai, Steve Morse, and Nancy Wilson (from Heart); jazz virtuoso Stanley Jordan; bossa-nova singer/guitarist Rosa Passos; and more. The Latin-flavored disc also honors past heroes like Andrés Segovia, with whom I studied; Joaquin Rodrigo, who wrote the famous “Adagio”; and Tom Jobim, with whom I had collaborated.

Do you feel different when you perform a piece by Joan Baez versus a classical piece? Is the creative process any different?

Though I explore a different kind of rhythmic and stylistic freedom when playing with Joan Baez or Steve Vai than I do playing Bach (though Bach’s music, with all its improvised ornaments and embellishments, was the jazz of its time!), my goal is always to make the music sound fresh, imaginative, and heartfelt.

You have been called “the Monet of classical guitar—a master colorist.” Why do you think people have such an emotional reaction to your music?

I love to be expressive on the guitar with lyricism, dynamic contrasts, nuances, phrasing, articulation, and a panoply of colors and timbres. I cultivate these techniques to serve the music and to communicate it with feeling and emotion. For example, I can make the guitar sound like a human voice by connecting notes of a melody with nuances of sound while shaping the contour of the line as a vocalist would do. This also creates a three-dimensional quality and depth.

Sharon Isbin Classical Guitarist Transcendental Meditation TechniqueI understand that you have written a teaching guitar book. Are there new techniques that you have developed and are passing on to your students? What was the process for developing those?

Among the topics I explore with my students at Juilliard and in my Classical Guitar Answer Book are techniques I’ve developed of preparation, memorization, and visualization to encourage peak performance. These are the secrets and methods I’ve discovered and refined over years of performing which I am able to share with others. I find it particularly effective to practice these techniques at the end of a session of meditation when the mind is especially stress free and receptive to suggestions and learning. The end of a meditation is an ideal time, in fact, to plant any suggestion about a goal or task you wish to achieve.

I read that you have been practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique since you were 17. Do you feel that transcending on a regular basis has had an influence on your artistry and work, and if so, how?

Practicing TM has inspired heights of creativity for me on many levels: as a musician, arranger, educator, writer, and artistic director. Because TM is so effective at eliminating stress and distraction, it encourages laser-sharp focus and concentration for any task.

As a musician, TM enhances my mental stamina, memory, concentration, and ability to learn. It puts me in touch with my innermost creative core and enables its expression through music. Most importantly, it facilitates instant access to a state of “cosmic immersion,” that feeling of being in the flow, or in “the zone.” When I perform onstage, I enter a state of being very similar to the one I enter daily when practicing TM. It’s a sense of communion with the energy of the universe, the audience, the composer, and the music—without ego or interference. It’s a feeling of unity between me and the listeners, a sense of “oneness” in which we are all experiencing the beauty of the music together. That sensation is one of the reasons live performances can be so powerful—everyone is focused and transported, and the experience is unique and in the moment, never to be replicated.

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 7. Reprinted with permission.)