Artist David Block is thoughtful — in his mannerisms, his clothing choices and the way he presents himself and his ideas. He speaks slowly, as if meditating on his words before he speaks them out loud. Because of this, he comes off as deeply aware of himself and his surroundings.
We meet for the first time at The Assemblage NoMad where he’s performing a set for The Human Experience, which he describes as his “principle music project.” It’s the first time David has been in New York City for months as he travels upwards of 300 days a year. But for someone who is constantly moving, his presence is refreshing.
I quickly learn that David is — in every sense of the word — a creator. He makes music, produces art, designs clothing and jewelry, and owns two lifestyle brands. But these aren’t the things that define him. Rather, he defines himself by the things that inspire him most: the rituals which make up his life and the creative processes that bring his dreams into reality.
I sit down with David and dive into the inner workings of his mind, discussing creating art that speaks a universal language, the importance of embodying our grounding principles and how mindfulness can save us. This interview has been edited for brevity.
Simone Spilka: How would you introduce what you do to a stranger?
David Block: My principle music project is called The Human Experience, but I am a creator. I’m really doing the best I can to step outside the label of what I do, and instead do what inspires me.
I find that when you really step into the role of being a creator, that there are so many dimensions and layers to what you can build — whether that’s socially, musically, for design, fashion or photography. I’ve always just loved creating, really for the sake of creating and for no other reason. Art for art’s sake.
I have seven new albums that I’m working on with different artists from around the world, ranging from Cuba to Barcelona to Indian. The intention is unifying humanity by crossing cultural barriers with art and music. The overall purpose of everything I do is creating a shared sense of humanity, and I believe that to speak that universal language is through the arts.
SS: What do you look for in a collaborator?
DB: I think that one of the things that humans do is overthink. Everything is in our head and we think that we only think with our brain, which is incorrect. You think with lots of different centers: your genitals and your solar plexus and your heart. With the combination of all these things, we make a decision.
I feel into collaborating with someone if it feels good. It doesn’t matter if they’re famous, or if they’re very successful or they went to a good school.
What unfolds from those feelings is, ‘Do they have a foundation of openness?’ Because if you think you know everything, then you’re going to usually have a shitty collaboration. That’s how it goes because you have one person overpowering the other.
SS: You have a deep spiritual practice. How does it come to life?
DB: My practice is simplicity, humility and gratitude. It’s self-inquiry. It’s taking the time to just recognize that there’s incredible beauty all around us, and that’s what I think the great masters were trying to point at.
The seat of the soul is this thing that’s inside of you. Your God-self is in all beings and all things.
Part of what spirituality for is how I wake up and embody it everyday. It can be in every action that I take and every conversation I have. More eye contact, more listening instead of waiting to talk. That’s also how spirituality can show up in a place like New York City.
I wake up and I start working right away, which is actually a habit that I’d like to change. I’ve managed to still integrate my asana practice, breath work practice and meditation practice, and listen to philosophy.
SS: Philosophy is a part of your morning ritual?
DB: If you told people that they needed to exercise their body in the 1940s and you said, “I’m going running,” they’d be like, “Running from what? What are you running from?” If you told them, “No, I’m running because it’s good for my heart,” they’d be like, “You’re on some good drugs right now. That sounds insane.”
We now know that it’s really good for you to exercise your physical body, but how often are we actually exercising our imagination? We’re not. We’re educated to be slave humans, and sleepwalk through our entire life without questioning, “Who I am. Why do I make the choices that I make?”
What’s so beautiful about philosophy is that you can think, “Wait a second…what was before time?” There’s no answer to that, by the way. Einstein said, “What makes science so beautiful are the unanswerable questions.” That’s what makes science even worth it. Otherwise, it’s just numbers on paper. Who gives a shit? We need to exercise our imagination.
SS: What is the best way for you to exercise your imagination?
DB: I think just philosophizing, which is thinking about things that are merely thoughts and concepts, just for the sake of thinking about them.
If you think of what was before time or when science says, ‘The universe is infinitely expanding,’ you might think ‘into what?’ It’s got to be expanding into something. Science is trying to answer these questions, but some of them are not answerable. What happens after you die? I mean, maybe they’ll figure that out, or maybe there’s no way to figure that out. I think that just reflecting on those ideas is the best exercise for your imagination.
We live in the age of information. To discover some of this philosophy one hundred years ago meant climbing in the Himalayas and finding a Sadhu sitting in a cave. You would wait outside his cave for three months in the snow for him to teach you, maybe, one asana, if you made it. That’s not how it is anymore. This is one of the most incredible times to be alive.
The greatest wisdom in all of our humanity, from Taoism to Confucius in China, to the Tantra and yogas in India, to Western philosophy, is at our fingertips.
You have everything now, but most people don’t even take the first step.
The first step in going to the imagination gym is just self-inquiry for the sake of self-inquiry. For no goal. Not to arrive anywhere. You might just invite the muse into your life.
SS: What are the tenants to living a creative life?
DB: There are two major components to creativity. Your mind and your no-mind. Your mind is all of your tools, and your no-mind is where you create from. The no-mind is where all great masterworks come from.
There’s no way that Beethoven was just sitting there and said, “I’m going to write the symphony with my mind.” No, the muse was there and she said, “Hey, I got this symphony for you.” Beethoven’s like, “Great, because I’m deaf now, and I’ve trained my mind for years and years, and now I’m going to unfold this.”
All of the great masters sit down and get in a flow state and they just let it unfold. Creativity comes through you, not from you.
It’s a very big and a very important distinction to make in your journey as a creator.
SS: I heard you sometimes travel up to 300 days a year. How do you find time and space to be creative in states of perpetual movement?
DB: Finding regularity can be challenging for me. Finding any regularity on diet, sleep schedule, creative time can be challenging for me. Safety, stability, security — all the things that humans really love — is challenging for me. In place of that, I get spontaneity and adventure. That’s my trade. It’s also more about larger principles which ground me.
SS: What are some of those guiding principles?
Having a sense of childlike wonder. Every great sage and enlightened master said “If you want to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, you must return to being like a child.”
Celebrating diversity instead of prejudice, racism, sexism or classism.
What makes our humanity so beautiful is that we’re so different.
Forgiveness over resentment. Resentment only hurts the person who’s doing the resentment. It literally does nothing good for you. Thank you, mama.
Unconditional love and compassion for the people who you really dislike their choices and decisions. Just understanding that maybe they didn’t learn to love the same way that we might’ve had the opportunity to love.
SS: How do you — or how can others — bring principles like childlike wonder, understanding of others, compassion, etc. to their everyday lives?
DB: Just practicing moments of gratitude and inspiration. For instance: “I’m so grateful I can walk. I can breathe. I don’t have any major illnesses right now. I have a family. I have community.” I have tons of struggles, I have an existential crisis once a month. But I always remind myself to be grateful for what I have and figure out how I can uplift other people’s humanity.
If we had a world full of people whose focus was inspiring other people to be inspiring, we would not be in the shithole that we’re in right now with an island the size of Texas made of plastic destroying our coral reefs. Cutting down forests to make more crap. I believe that mindfulness is what would solve all of the UN’s goals.
SS: Can you elaborate on how mindfulness could solve our global challenges?
DB: If you want to address world hunger, good luck. If you want to address plastic and garbage and education, good luck. Why don’t we start by addressing at our core why we make the decisions that we make — and watch our poor choices disappear on their own. If we had mindfulness as a pillar for education worldwide, we would have none of these problems.
We have to start mindfulness young because we’re indoctrinating our children worldwide into the beliefs that their parents have.
You learn more in the first two years of your life, forming more neural pathways, than the rest of your life combined. It’s no surprise that it’s really a challenge to deprogram someone who’s had 18—50 years of programming.
Learning mindfulness when we’re young impacts our internal compass, so it says, ‘Wait a second. Those are bad choices that are harming my planet, my home. I’m a guest here.’ How do you act when you’re a guest in someone else’s home? We’re guests on this earth. It’s a privilege to be here.
Change the way that we view reality. Instill a sense of awe and wonder at the majesty that is just breathing and your heart beating without having to think about it. Little things like that. I think that will change the world and create a sustainable world, sustainable existence for everybody.