This past Sunday I wrote briefly about our chat with An Duplan ––– mainly, how we touched on the importance and power of beginner's mind as a way into the creative process. A more thorough excerpt from the interview with Duplan, which appears within Issue No. 4 - Summer 2018, below. Portrait by Emily Fishman.
All of our best,
February Twenty-fifth, 2020
"The awareness itself is the thing that unifies us. It requires this sense of trust, or faith that the awareness is enough."
- An Duplan
Isaac: I was reading through your essay, “A Love Song to Dean Blunt in Three Parts” again last night, and there was one particular passage that stuck out, and seemed quite relevant: “Having obligations to other people is part of the beauty of being human, there is no way to be fully human in isolation from other humanity.” Do you remember when you had that epiphany, or first had that thought? Maybe it wasn’t just one moment . . .
An: That’s something I think about a lot. I was thinking about it five minutes ago, in response to something you said, but I don’t remember why. Sometimes we talk about ethics as things you’re supposed to do or ways you’re supposed to act. For instance, don’t eat meat, or don’t do this, and refrain from that –––– different restraints and constraints. Or alternatively, things that you should do ––– always say hello, for in- stance. But I’m also interested in a version of ethics that is more freeing than that.In order to articulate this in the way that I want to, I have to take a slight detour, and then hopefully bring things back around again.There are all types of connections ––– for instance, and most immediately, the three of us have a connection because we’re all occupying this space, and working on this interview and photo shoot together. But we could also enumerate the more obvious and physical connections: we all have noses, we all have eyes, and we all have homes, presumably, yes?
An: But then there are also some things that make us the same that would be harder for us to articulate, right? And that if we took away our noses and our eyes and our love of poetry, then there would still be something that would connect us, and maybe that would be consciousness ––– or something like consciousness. I’m interested in a sort of ethics that comes without effort, by virtue of being aware of the things that are the same between us.
Isaac: So what do you do with that awareness?
An: Well, that’s the thing. It’s not a doing. The awareness itself is the thing that unifies us. It requires this sense of trust, or faith that the awareness is enough.
Emily: It’s almost like everybody makes the agreement that we’re going to take away the noses and the arms and the legs and just look at this core component and the similarities, and not have to wade through the superficial, or the surface level comparisons.
An: Right. And if you’re in this place of awareness, and I’m in this place of awareness, then trust feels like the wrong word too because that’s a doing. It’s more like . . .
Isaac: It doesn’t show itself until it’s needed.
An: Until it’s manifest, yes, exactly. I’ve always been really interested in this idea of doing and not doing ––– as a way of life, as a place to be. To consistently be thinking, what does not doing look like now?
Emily: When are you not doing?
An: Exactly. When am I not doing? I’m trying to do not doing all the time, even if it’s paradoxical. For instance, what is it that I’m doing right now? I’m talking and I’m doing, but I’m trying to at the same time have doing, or whatever is done come from a place of allowing whatever is going to happen to happen.So the trust aspect relates with not doing, and still trusting that it’s going to be ok. Trust is just being there ––– you need the trust to get there. Once you’re there, there’s no trust or not trust between you and the other person, because you’re already in that space that’s been created by trust.
Emily: It’s like the conversations that just kind of flow in a way . . .
Emily: You don’t have to put any effort in.
Emily: And you can just connect on a very base level.
An: Totally. The feeling of no effort, and that no effort can still somehow lead to this very wonderful conversation.
Emily: Because it’s not about the words sometimes, right?
An: Right. And maybe the words are some of the surface level bit that we were talking about, right? Which is not bad at all, it’s quite wonderful, but then it’s all also . . .
Emily: It’s a means to an end if you wanted to call it anything.
An: Yes. And it’s all part of the phenomenal world.
Isaac: So how do you know something has worked, or when a connection has been made?
An: What do you mean?
Isaac: If we’re existing in this space ––– this space of not doing, and it’s not about what’s said on the surface, but it’s about something deeper, then what happens when we exchange things, create things, and these things get judged and evaluated on their merit –––– whether it’s poetry, art, or a story. And some are judged as better than others, or some work and some don’t work, but how do you know when they’re working, and why is that?
An: I want to answer this in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m copping out of an answer, but I think if something is working, then it had to have come from me successfully not doing it. For instance, when I’m writing a poem, I can always tell when I’m forcing and when I’m allowing. I’ll sit here with a notebook and with my pen and just wait. I wait for an indeterminate period of time, and then a line happens.Things are working when I’m sitting here, and before I’m even conscious of writing a line down I’ve written a line. Especially in moments when a poem starts flowing, and I feel as though I could take it in all of these different directions, I start to imagine, What kind of poem is this going to be? If I know what kind of poem it’s going to be, or if I have a preconceived idea, then I lose interest in the poem. I just don’t want to write it anymore. So instead, I just wait, and I know that it’s working if I can truthfully reflect in on myself and say that I didn’t force the poem.
Isaac: You don’t want to get too far out in front of yourself.
An: Exactly. And this happens to me not just writing but also walking around or talking or doing anything. I want to avoid those moments when I can see myself acting. For instance, right now you’re aware that it’s Isaac who is sitting there, you’re also aware of yourself and your body and space, and you can see me, but you also have a sense of yourself as well. And perhaps in your imagination and at the same time, you can also see yourself later today, eating something or talking to some- one in an hour or something like that, right? Your possible future selves, to an extent, are available to you right now. And you, as your current self, could choose to actualize any number of those selves. For instance, you could think, I’m going to be Isaac who talks to my friend Lisa in an hour, as opposed to Isaac who eats pizza in an hour. As your current Isaac self, you have a chance to decide. In essence you’re extending what- ever your needs and desires and motives are in this moment into the future. None of this is good or bad, I’m just interested in what these ideas mean.
Isaac: Yes, in some ways. It makes me think about what athletes would call in the zone, and being locked in in that way, right? And I’m tempted to compare that idea, the idea of being in the zone with where we started, concerning cultivating beginner’s mind. So my question would be, how can you be in beginner’s mind and also in the zone at the same time? And what would that feel like?
An: I think those things are the same, no?
Isaac: You think so?
An: I think so. If they’re not the same, then they feel very related to me, as though one would bring about the other.
Isaac: I was looking at being in the zone and having Beginner’s Mind as being two different states, but I’m interested to hear how you think they’re the same? Maybe you’re right.
An: Well, now I want to hear about why you think they’re different. I promise to tell you how I think they’re the same.
Isaac: Well, to me, when you’re in the zone, you’re acting on and with what’s already known, usually through the intuition.
An: In the zone.
Isaac: Right. Whereas, when you’re walking around with your brain activated in the learning and receptive mode, then you’re moving through the world with this sense that something is going to inform you,and give you something new that you don’t have. So those seem like different ways of moving through the world, at least to me.
An: Totally, I feel that. I think the way that I have understood or experienced beginner’s mind is that because you’re a beginner, you don’t know what to tune out and what not to tune out, right? And everything is equally important, because you don’t know that strategically you should be paying attention to only a few select things, right? It’s more beginner’s mind because you’re not being selective about anything, you’re allowing everything the same weight as everything else.
Isaac: That’s true. It’s a little abstract, so difficult to articulate.
An: It’s extremely abstract.
Isaac: I think if we’re talking about being locked in the zone, then we’re also talking about winning or losing, so you’re blocking out things are not to your advantage to winning, right? So the question would be, what does being in the zone mean if you’re not actually competing? Because you can’t be competing all of the time, or can you?
An: Well there are many ways to be in competition. And this goes back to ––– believe it or not, tennis ––– and the mental aspect of the game. For instance, let’s say it’s the last point of the game, and you’re about to win, and so in your mind you could be thinking, Ok this is the last point of the game, I’m about to win. For me, if I’m in that state, I’m going to fucking lose. Because there’s too much happening.