When I turned 30 I got a tattoo: The word “lila” in Sanskrit. Stifle your groans until you hear what it means. I came across the word in Stephen Nachmanovitch’s brilliant book Free Play, The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts:
“There is an old Sanskrit word, lila, which means play. Richer than our word, it means divine play, the play of creation, destruction, and re-creation, the folding and unfolding of the cosmos. Lila, free and deep, is both the delight and enjoyment of this moment, and the play of God. It also means love.”
Now that’s something I want on my body as a permanent reminder. Because isn’t that our highest aspiration as artists? Not just as artists, as human beings, no matter what path we’ve taken in life.
It seems to me that the act of loving creation — and I don’t mean loving in a saccharine way; it can be challenging, terrifying, ugly — is the most fundamental of human drives. I might even say it’s what defines us as a species. And when we tap into that kind of creation, we feel truly alive. Free. Weightless. Inspired.
When we’re making a film, painting, writing a song, building a house, starting a company, or embarking on any ambitious type of creation, it’s easy to start thinking about everything that surrounds it: The edit is going so well, maybe we can get into Sundance! I need to reach out to that curator I met last summer who’s tight with Larry Gagosian! If we can close our series A round, get a $50 million valuation, then in two years our IPO… Shit, did I remember to pay my credit card bill?
When the mental hamsters start running, it takes us out of divine play. And we need to find our way back to lila. It can be the most difficult thing we do as creators, but we all recognize it when we’re in that free and deep state of flow, and that’s where we need to live. It’s a state where we have nothing to gain and nothing to lose. The work exists only for itself. And at that moment we’re in harmony with the folding and unfolding of the cosmos.
So let’s do it today. Let’s create something. Lila.