“Thoughts think themselves” is a phrase you hear in Vipassana (Insight) meditation retreats and courses. If you manage to quiet your mind enough to see how it works, your experience might be that thoughts pop up into your awareness without any “inner C.E.O.” controlling them. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that has bearing on my process of doodling. And speaking of doodles, below are a few of these spontaneous, unpremeditated doodles I call “Chimera Spoor.”
I’ve written that doing these doodles was like being an empty vessel for a “force” exterior to myself that did the drawing. But the truth is more complex. Although I’m not usually trying to determine in advance a particular outcome, it’s not an “anything goes” endeavor either. I’m negotiating with my subconscious, not giving it full rein. The Surrealists were interested in this negotiating process, sometimes to the point of elevating the nature of the unconscious or subconscious mind above that of what we would typically call our “normal waking mind.”
That’s not my approach. There’s nothing necessarily valuable in the unconscious. A lot of what’s most deplorable in our species is bubbling in our unconscious. Remember “Monsters from the ID” in the old sci-fy film, Forbidden Planet? As the Buddha taught,
If you encourage unskillful thoughts and emotions, those are the neural pathways that will eventually be strengthened in your mind.
In the field of cartooning, Robert Crumb, revolutionized comics, using a cartoon vocabulary that had roots in Disney and American advertising to expand enormously the range of expression of the medium. He’s been a big influence on me. But his insistence on following wherever his subconscious led him gave rise not only to sublime comics, but also to pornography, sexism and misogyny, and sadistic images.
In Kamma and the End of Kamma, a book that my local sangha, the Philadelphia Meditation Center, is currently reading and discussing, author Ajahn Sucitto shows how we create our own mental climate from our actions and our intentions.