The sublime gift


Dear Artist,

With my weakness for studying creative people, asking trick questions, and listening to dreams and rants, I’ve decided that some artists are blessed with a sublime gift. It’s not of talent (that’s another issue) but of attitude. Further, I don’t think many, if any, are born with the attitude I’m talking about. I think some simply adopt it, often by trial and error. To set the record straight, I’ve met lots of people who don’t have the sublime gift at all and yet are highly realized and happy. You don’t have to have the sublime gift to succeed, but it helps.

Chant 2, 1967 Emulsion on canvas 231.5 x 231 cm by Bridget Riley (b.1931)

Chant 2, 1967
Emulsion on canvas
231.5 x 231 cm
by Bridget Riley (b.1931)

My sublimely gifted person shows a steady, workmanlike curiosity for the uncovering of his or her self-anointed processes. While the outward appearance may be a simple case of smug self-satisfaction, a closer look reveals simple task absorption tempered with the humility that comes with studenthood. Many, I was surprised to find, show an innate understanding of the methodology behind the practice of meditation. Indeed, meditation is now being revalued as one of the great tools for clearing the mind for higher purposes and actions. Have you ever heard of “MBSR”? It means “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” and is currently enjoying a growing number of enthusiasts. According to recent research, this sort of meditation actually changes gray-matter density, setting it up for action in the “here and now” rather than in the historical past or the fantasized future. When worry dissipates, action begins. Lower stress means higher creativity. My sublimely gifted individual moves in a world of individualized, progressive exploration, divinely unimpressed by falling roof-beams. And while my sublimely gifted whiz-bang may be capable of multi-tasking, he’s also a “one thing at a time” kind of guy.

Cataract 3, 1967 Emulsion and PVA on board 221.9 x 222.9 cm by Bridget Riley

Cataract 3, 1967
Emulsion and PVA on board
221.9 x 222.9 cm
by Bridget Riley

Perhaps it’s the sensitively laid-back meditative state, whether from Buddhist teachings or plucked from the rich storehouse of need that gives steadiness and accomplishment to an otherwise sky-falling life. Task absorption and focus result in refreshed habits of perception. In my findings, limited and anecdotal though they may be, pretty well every winner in pretty well every field turns out to be what is known as a “good study.” That quality, perhaps more than any other, brings on the sublimely gifted life.

Best regards,


PS: “Mindfulness meditation helps to reduce stress by providing insight. It’s often our habits of perception and attitude rather than the circumstances themselves.” (Lucinda Sykes, Toronto physician and MBSR course leader)

rileyEsoterica: “Task saturation” is a term used in the airline industry. It’s where a pilot (and often the co-pilot) suddenly have too many things going on and find it difficult to make wise decisions. Sadly, it’s frequently mentioned as a cause in crashes. Pressure interferes with the ability to prioritize. Funnily, “too many things going on” is also a condition of the creative and inventive. It’s a wise artist who learns to manage her own pressures.

This letter was originally published as “The sublime gift” on February 25, 2011.

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“Focusing isn’t just an optical activity, it is also a mental one.” (Bridget Riley)



  1. Yes, focus is essential and how you get there is the problem. Worries and issues will infect the work. Though I am always aware of Picasso’s saying that you need some adversity to have power in the work. I am paraphrasing here.
    I did meditate for many years. Not doing that presently, but my stress level is so minimal and my creative level is so high that I don’t feel the need.

  2. Barbara Belyea on

    This posting explains what I’ve practised years as a survival technique: the alternate rhythm of work and rest, and knowing when to shift from one to the other. Huge stress is generated by facing the blank page or canvas and having nothing inside to express. My form of meditation is simply to walk away from the problem — to walk outside. It’s possible to alternate with housework or some other kind of “useful” activity but this choice misses the point, which is to rest by slowing down and breathing a lot of fresh air.
    After enough of this resting you will know without any hesitation when to return to work. Without thinking consciously you will have figured out exactly what to say.

  3. Mindfulness practice would be well in today’s world for many reasons. A critical mass of individuals with inner calm – think of the possibilities!

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Oil on Linen
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