Mind Work

A Conversation with 'Mind Work' Author Peter Clothier

Intimate Portraits, Authenticity, and Shedding Delusions on the Path to the Creative Core

By Chris Dunmire | Posted 6/1/12 | Updated 9/8/20

Mind WorkMy grateful appreciation to Peter Clothier for answering these questions about his book of essays, Mind Work: Shedding Delusions on the Path to the Creative Core, and for permission to reprint several thought provoking pieces including Today Is Thine: Tempus Fugit and Not Just a Number on Creativity Portal.

Q: What does authenticity mean to you?

A: Authenticity is the process by which I pay mindful attention to what is going on at any given moment in my heart and mind, in order to connect through them with my fellow beings in the world. It's a process because it is never static, but constantly in flux. Authenticity is something bigger than honesty, because it's a window to the soul. It's the revelation of the fullness of a being, nothing held back, nothing distorted, nothing unsaid.

Q: Why is it important to you in your work as a writer?

A: From earliest days, as a poet, my work has been a medium through which I seek to find the truth about myself and put it out into the world. I learned a long time ago from a Huichol Indian shaman that they do not, in their culture as we do in our Western traditions, "give" a name to a child. Instead they ask the child: Tell me who you are. This is what I ask of myself and other creative people, so that we can share our humanity and learn from each other. As a writer, I have always followed the adage: How do I know what I think 'til I see what I say? Writing is a journey into the self—not for the sake of self but in order to become a better and more generous human being. The more I know about who I am—including the less glamorous and less laudable parts!—the more I have to share; and the more I know what work remains to be done.

Q: Why should it be important to other creative people? How can you tell if a painting, for example, is authentic?

A: It's sometimes easier to tell when an artist or a writer is being inauthentic: the work simply doesn't ring true, it's more about the correctness of being a painting or being a poem than it is about the authenticity of its creator. I have come to distrust Literature and Art—note the capitals: literature and art are fine! I'm much more interested in learning who you are than how well you can say or paint it. Looking at art, for me, is much like meeting a person: a holistic experience. I know when they're telling the truth and when they're holding something back. I know when there's something they don't want to me to see, when there's some place they are simply afraid to go. The whole body speaks. So it is with a painting. There's no one definable thing that tells me it's authentic, it's a whole complex of information. You can feel it in a painting—even a single show-off brushstroke can throw the whole thing off. Interestingly, you can't be half-way authentic: it's all or nothing. That's what I want from a painting. Everything that can't possibly be faked.

Q: In your Mind Work essay "Why Me Why "Not Me"? you write, "The more intimately I manage to expose that inner self, the more you will find yourself in me—and, of course, vice versa. This, for me, is what all expressions of human creativity are about." Can you say more about this?

A: All creative work, as I see it, is about sharing with each other what it means to be a human being, how to learn more about it, and perhaps even how to be a better human being as a result. Humanity is that part of us that we all share, the common ground. It's also the core of our being, and lies at the deepest level. That's why my purpose is writing is to mine the inner being—and the deepest place I can reach is that within myself. I simply can't know others at that depth of being. So I keep digging...

Q: In your "Self portrait: Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)" essay, you wondered if you could publish the words of such an intimate, revealing, and, literally naked self-portrait of yourself. Why did you wonder, and what led to your decision to go ahead?

A: It gives me pause, to reveal such intimate things about myself. But the fact is that throughout my life, I have lived with body issues, about this physical thing I walk around in. It's not something I'm proud of, but that's the way it is. I suspect—I know—that many of my fellow human beings deal with the same issue, day-to-day. We learn to do it even as little children, tiny creatures living amongst giants. We wonder about ourselves, and we compare. Am I fat, too thin? Too short, too tall? And so on... especially with the most intimate parts! There's a lot of shame involved, which can be quite wearing on the psyche. But as with the inner parts, so with the outer: I discover that the more I can bring myself to reveal, the more I find I share in common with my fellows. To show the body, especially where there has been shame involved, is a deeply healing process. We discover that we're not much different from each other, and that the small differences matter little anyway.

Q: In the essay "Another Go-Around?" you describe your struggle with calling yourself a "Buddhist." In the vein of being authentic, is there value to (or need for) identifying with labels at all? Are we incomplete or diminished in some way by simply 'taking what's useful and leaving the rest'?

A: I don't think of it as a "label" so much as a commitment. In using the word Buddhist, I embrace something greater than myself, even as I surrender something of that small self, the ego. I do think that we, in the contemporary world, have come to attach too much importance to that individual self, too little to the greater body—be it a religious or a social one. We tend to duck out of commitment out of the fear that it ties us down or requires sacrifice. A good example, I think, is the state of personal relationships, where many of us deprive ourselves of deep, lasting commitments because we fear that they will somehow diminish us, asking us to compromise some part of ourselves in favor of the relationship. We forget that our fullness as human beings depends not only on ourself, but others. Hence that sense of isolation from which so many of us suffer. It can feel good to "belong."

Q: What are the main delusions you would you like to see us shed as a society?

A: The top of my list would be the delusion that I am right and everyone else is wrong. Then comes the delusion of the "American dream," with all its attendant concerns for material wealth and possessions. The delusion of ownership. The delusion of ego. The delusion of power, and the striving for it. The collective delusion about our planet, that our resources are inexhaustible and that their exploitation is our right. That seems like a good, modest list! Okay?

Q: What's next for you, Mr. Clothier?

A: I'm nearly finished with a new book based on my "One Hour/One Painting" series, in which I invite small groups to sit with me in front of a single painting in a museum or gallery for a full hour. It's part meditation, part contemplation, and it's intended to encourage, particularly, slow looking; and, more generally, conscious living. The book is called, in fact, "Slow Looking." I'm also actively working to find new venues for "One Hour/One Painting" sessions, because they offer me the best opportunity to pass on what small amount of wisdom I have managed to put together in my years on this planet. I hope to be doing more of these. And, of course, I'll be continuing with the work on my daily blog, "The Buddha Diaries."

©2012 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.

Next: Today Is Thine: Tempus Fugit

More with Peter Clother

Peter ClothierPeter Clothier writes chiefly about art and artists in Southern California. He has published widely in national magazines, and is the author of David Hockney in the Abbeville Modern Masters series. ...

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