Born to a poet and a composer, musician Paul Weinfield jokes that he’s “always been trying to put words and music back together.” The same can be said of his music and Buddhist practice. Weinfield has practiced meditation since 1995 and currently teaches insight meditation at New York’s Downtown Meditation Community. Weinfield spoke with the Tricycle team on Buddhism’s influence on his music and professional life.
Can you explain your path to Buddhism and how you became interested in meditation? I was introduced to Buddhism when I was a teenager by an old alcoholic who worked with me in a bookstore in South Bend, Indiana. He would show up to work barely able to stand from all the booze, but he always asked me how I was doing. At some point, I started telling him about my teenage sorrows, and he told me I needed to practice Zen. He gave me a whole stack of books to read. He wasn’t the kind of person you’d normally emulate, but there was something in that idea of finding stillness that spoke louder than his addictions. I read the books he gave me and started practicing on my own, and immediately my life started to get better.
We all have our different demons; some are stronger than others. And yet, I believe there’s a peace that’s always patiently waiting for us to find it. That thought is what keeps me practicing.
How has that practice impacted your personal life? I don’t think I would have been able to do half of what I’ve done without meditation. When I was younger, I was paralyzed by writer’s block and the fear that I’d never be able to overcome it. What I discovered is that the effort that meditation requires is pretty much the same effort necessary to write or produce anything that brings you fulfillment. In both writing and meditation, you have to make peace with the imperfect nature of things as they currently are, and yet, you have to keep cultivating better things, whether those better things are better words, better melodies, better mind states, or better emotions. Every musician I’ve ever met, whether or not he or she practices formal meditation, seems to secretly understand the relationship between creativity and training the mind.
As for my personal life, meditation has taught me (and continues to teach me) the balance between holding on and letting go. When I sit, I’m forced to sift through the potentials in my mind to see which serve well and which have outlived their use. I think finding and holding on to love is pretty much the same process. So I’m very grateful to have had this precious resource over the years.
What effect has Buddhism had on you as a musician? It’s made me reconsider at every step what the point of connecting with others through music is. Today’s young musicians don’t have time to ask the question, “What do I really want to say?” because their self-expression is already censored by their need to be marketable. What meditation has taught me, first, is how easy it is to lie to yourself about what you feel and believe, and second, what a price of sorrow you pay for living that way. It’s forced me to take a longer road to connecting with others. As musicians, we want to be liked, of course, but we want to be liked for who we are, not for who it’s easiest for us to be.
—Joanna Piacenza, Web Manager
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.