A Zen Guitar is one of the creative outlets for Nick Palmer. Based a little West of London, one of Nick’s preoccupations of the last three decades has been the source of creativity. Ask any great imaginer about the inspiration for their work and you’ll get dozens of responses: Lovers, the wonder of birth, transcendent experiences, vast skies. Asked about the origin of their creative energy, most artists don’t know. Only those creators with a developed spiritual framework will even attempt an answer and usually attribute their output to a greater power.
This relationship to a creative force and an innate desire to express it remains a mystery to most but it is present in everyone. Speaking our truth is humanity at its most democratic and it manifests in all aspects of our lives. People don’t need an instrument, a brush or a pen to be heard. It shows in how we raise our children, how we tell a joke, how we prepare food and how we word our emails.
This creativity is not just the privilege of humans either. The Giant Himalayan lily flowers once in seven years and then dies. It has always seemed clear to AZG that this exuberance, this beauty of expression is part of the Universe’s splendour.
AZG’s first spiritual insight took place in a kitchen in the North East of England after a heartbreak in 1990. Looking over a desolate winter landscape with a hollow feeling in his chest and in a space between thoughts, he experienced infinity, eternity and Agape in a single moment. Agape is divine love, and it outshone any love that Nick had ever known. Indeed, it became clear at that moment what religious devotees mean when they describe their deities as ‘pure love’.
Returning home a few days later, Nick received a book from his twin sister called ‘The Tao of Pooh’. This charming little book draws a parallel between the simple Wisdom of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and Taoism. The first line of the Tao Te Ching, Taoism’s seminal text reads:
“The Tao that can be spoken of, is not the eternal Tao”
This was enough to redefine AZG’s relationship with scholastics, thought and creativity. It brought a new-found faith in the non-intellectual, the silent and the receptive.
Now Nick tries to be interiorly silent when approaching music. To create a void into which expression can flow, so that whatever is trying to voice itself can do so frictionlessly. Sometimes AZG takes a feeling or a mood to his time with a guitar, and this inevitably changes the colour of what is produced. The song ‘My Father’s Smile’ was born out of deep sorrow, but its sibling ‘Every Single Song’ was the product of emerging optimism and healing.
As an electric guitar player for his whole life, AZG discovered fingerstyle acoustic guitar after the impulse purchase of a Yamaha Silent Guitar. Able to produce the sound of a top quality acoustic, complete with effects gave Nick the ability to create the headroom that characterises a finished recording. Reverb, added to an acoustic guitar to simulate the instrument in a recital space was a creative shot in the arm for AZG. Several years of hard work to learn fingerpicked guitar followed and continues. Nick’s ruling axiom about creative pursuits is that ‘it doesn’t have to be good, but it does have to be said’. This is the democratic pinnacle of creativity. Everyone gets a say. Everyone can express themselves. Ever voice can be heard.
Nick continues his exploration of the source of his creativity with the Zen practise that informed his choice of name for the project. The relationship with thought is a central tenet of Zen, expressed in the meditation, the koan practise and the role of non-verbal experiences in experiences of ultimate reality. Even the title of AZG’s first work ‘Kensho’, is a reference to the moments of spiritual insight that can be catalysed by diligent practise of any spiritual discipline. Indeed, all the esoteric traditions of the world; Contemplative Prayer, Zazen, Sufi rituals, Yoga, Transcendental Meditation all borrow the idea that truth is to be heard when the mind is quiet. To properly appreciate the light of the divine, you must first blow out your own candle. Only this way can expression come from its source and be in accord with the rhythms of the Universe.
These days, Nick continues to write and record music to a small audience via his website and to write spoken word stories for children called ‘The Ten Minute Bedtimes’. The demands of parenthood and a day job in technology means that the time preserved for creativity and expression is more precious. But, by committing to the Zen principle of ‘Beginner’s Mind’ in his artistic development and the source of his energy, AZG has found a tempo that works.