Johnson, Galen [faculty advisor, Department of Philosophy]
flute, meditation, Zen
For almost two years now, I have been involved in hand-crafting and playing my own Native American-style flutes. In the course of that time, this hobby has gradually merged with my interests in mindfulness and meditation practices to produce a unique result, nearly a fully fledged form of contemplation in its own right. For me, flute making and playing have become inseparable and vital components of a seamless process, one whose various stages can all be undertaken as occasions for the application of meditative techniques. Defining meditation in essence as the expansion of awareness in any activity—whether focused on a specific object of experience (such as the breath or a sound), or maintaining more of an “open” focus on the field of experience as a whole (mindfulness)—this project examines in detail how each step of the artistic process becomes a meditation, from the initial phases of design, through construction and tuning methods, to the actual playing of a finished instrument. It also presents a series of flutes that I have completed over the course of the year. As there is little information to be found in the Native American traditions themselves about flute playing as a tool for meditation, an extended comparison is made to the musically and structurally similar Japanese shakuhachi flute; for the Zen monks who play it have used it as a primary means to realize and express enlightenment for hundreds of years. Lacking any formal meditation techniques for the Native American flute as already given, I explore the possible applications of the more systematically developed suizen, or “blowing meditation” practices of these monks to my own experiences with playing the Native style flute, touching on such topics as breath control and awareness, creative spontaneity, and concentration on basic unity in the immediacy of experience through the medium of sound.