I’ve been practicing and teaching yoga and meditation for two decades. Mindfulness and creativity have always been intertwined for me because taking vague ideas from the inside of my brain and transforming them into words can often be challenging. Meditation has taught me to stay present even when creativity is elusive or uncomfortable. I’m also a loyal Wu Tang stan, so when I heard RZA released Guided Explorations, an EP of meditations for creatives, I felt like the muses' light was shining right on me. I couldn’t wait to talk to RZA about it.
RZA’s meditations were produced as a collaboration with Tazo Tea. And while artist collabs with corporate entities can feel like gimmicky, thinly-veiled brand ads, this one feels extremely right — RZA wastes no precious time prattling on about herbal infusions. He’s serious about his Shaolin practice, a Buddhist martial art, and he gets right down to combining storytelling and mindfulness practice instruction to get artists focused and inspired. We like that energy for tea-lovers.
Guided Explorations may not be what you usually think of when you think of guided meditation, though. There’s no bird songs or measured, monotone yoga voices, and RZA is not trying to lull you into a contented coma. The point of Guided Explorations is to get you grounded enough to tap into wisdom and then spring into action. Essentially, RZA wants to teach us to use mindfulness as a practical tool for getting unstuck.
“The goal is to unlock your hidden potential,” RZA tells Mic. “For some people, that means that you already know how to do something but you don’t do it enough because you’re hustling or distracted. These guided explorations will give you a boost of energy.”
The set of recordings, then, is meant to help you clear out creative blocks and get to work in a really practical way. “In the episode called, ‘Making Moves,’ the point is to walk and look,” he says, referring to the last track on the EP. “Art is a record of your experience. Use your experience.” RZA uses a combination of stories from his own life paired with suggestions about how to use them in yours.
“I lived in NYC for many years, and I never noticed that there was a view of the Verrazano Bridge that could be seen from my projects,” he tells Mic. “The people in the projects would be selling drugs to each other and pissing in the elevator, and they didn’t even notice that they had oceanfront property. You have to get perspective.” RZA describes one of his most salient goals for this project was to help listeners calm down enough to look around and see the world with fresh eyes.
In an effort to take a mindfulness journey with RZA, I listened to “Making Moves,” as I walked on the Mississippi River Levee in New Orleans. I take this same walk every day, sometimes twice a day. I know every bend in the river and every abandoned industrial warehouse. “Look closer,” RZA says, through my headphones.
“Chaos is like waves. There are always gonna be waves. You have to learn how to ride them."
A bird is perched on a piece of driftwood. He looks like he’s surfing in the wake of the industrial barges, an unlikely waterpark. He’s working hard to stay afloat, but it looks kind of fun. I was, it appeared, in RZA zen mode: Seeing the obstacles that could distract us as challenges we can handle. “Chaos is like waves,” RZA says, when I speak to him later. “There are always gonna be waves. You have to learn how to ride them. A lot of people crash into chaos instead of riding the waves, but you can learn to ride them using awareness.”
Guided Explorations drew me a map that also has a moral to it – chill out, get to work, and do it righteously. RZA tells me that this idea comes from the Bhagavad Gita, a collection of Hindu holy scriptures. It’s one of the sacred texts of yoga, and teachers often use it to explain the concept of dharma to students: the idea that every person has a duty or a destiny to fulfill in this lifetime. RZA expands on this idea: The point is not to just do your duty, he tells me; it’s to, “do the righteous deed that you must.” And having a righteous duty, my friends, ain’t nothing to fuck with.