Recently, I was given a gift to attend a two-day workshop with a master painter, Jeffrey T. Larson, who paints in a realistic style.
He started out by instructing us to “first hit the precise high and low notes”, match colors with the strongest or weakest elements in the image, then work the gradients in between. This breaks down the painting into pixels making it less likely to get lost in the small details to begin with.
The discussion he presented also flowed along with his understanding that he will never be able to capture the exact image. His painting will always be a series of unique gestures or “mistakes” as he said.
How often whatever is seen is already changing, I thought. The next thing he mentioned was the fact that the skylight overhead was already presenting a new reflection as the day passes.
We watched as he started with a blank canvas, adding bright colors and alternating with the darkest areas. It appeared to me his notes were perfect, his vision excellent. I innocently asked him, “Do you have perfect vision?” Everyone laughed. I was thinking about how I have glasses and bifocals and he did not wear glasses and appeared to have perfect vision for his task.
It occurred to me as I sat there aware of the breath, breathing in and out, that the high notes or low points in the body are also being understood and that with awareness the gradients of feeling or leaning in any direction are happily understood. Each stroke is like each breath as one tunes into the rising or falling of the abdomen.
Jeff continued to gently repeat, “just hit the main notes, then you can move on later.” This clarity of purpose is also clear in the first jhana: just focus on the breath, then when you have ascertained what is mind and what is body, you will see cause and effect, and on and on.
Our assignment was to paint a turnip. Using a small case of old paints I picked up twenty years ago at an estate sale for a dollar, I selected primary colors, mixing them to match the purple note, the shadow gray, etc. My palate became full of various spots of mixed colors. I wondered as I stirred: what is the right note? I glanced back and forth from the sitting turnip to my canvas. Hmm, I compared the turnip color to the colors on my palate trying many times to match the color.
Jeff came along at the end of the day, and gently picked up my brush, and in a few minutes put each high point and each low point on the canvas. He put bare white right where it needed to be, dark purple, a mustard yellow, and jet black on the bottom. He quietly handed my brush back to me, and I humbly understood him.
I’ve followed instructions in meditation, but wasn’t getting how to paint until he showed me: First things first.
After working all afternoon, I could see what a skill it is to understand color, mix colors, and stand there all day putting dabs of paint on a canvass. How does one learn this except by practice? Can one allow the information to pass through and see clearly? Yes, but the stirring and mixing takes time and practice. The application of the brush stroke and how to blend precisely takes experience.
It was much simpler to sit back and look around the room at all of the people painting in silence and see the changing colors in each person bending toward their palate, squinting, and leaning toward their canvass dabbing on a small spec of paint.
I pulled up a chair and sat watching. The eye organ meets light and it passes through a tiny place inside the head, which separates it out into gradients. How wonderful. The empty canvas of the eye organ meeting with awareness already paints everything in total perfection. With that noticing, equanimity arises and there is just seeing the hand, the knee, all the colors in perfect flowing union.
The entire world is a canvas.
Here is an expression called “Council of Being”, about knowing within and without and neither within nor without in a dynamic and moving way. The light in the center of the void has a pull and curious illumination. The black and white coloring represents the dualistic universe of expression we often live with. The monochromatic nature of this picture made the piece especially meditative because there was little color selection, making the process continuous as I worked my way around a spiral.
The beads appear alive with the movement of entering each bead on the in-breath, and on the out-breath pulling the thread out the other end. I enjoy this process, it is one of the most pleasant processes and my favorite art form. Since each bead is tiny, about one millimeter, concentration needs to be steady in picking up each one and sewing it down one or two at a time. Each bead is a void, and not a void, and neither a void or not a void. I reflected on this piece during the recent eclipse and thought I would share it with you. I also made a maple frame for the piece as the maple seemed right for its plain expression.
The other day I opened a book from the neighborhood library, which I frequent, and it said:
“The atomic proposal that the most energy arises from the smallest bit of substance was a logical offense, but quantum physics held even bigger offenses in store. Truly big energy, the evidence from quantum mechanics suggested, comes not from matter at all, but from empty spaces between the particles of matter. Break up an atom, our littlest item, and we get our biggest bang (to date). But within the spaces of an atom, or in spaces without atoms, quantum physicists said, lie far larger fields of energy. The most comes not from the least, but from nothing at all.” *
There certainly seems to be a lot of nothing, and it is helpful to see how much nothing there is and how freeing it is and how few people see this, actually see it, and then it seems that is also nothing too, so the something’s are such flashes and in between the spaces of some things there is more no things than what we can comprehend, it has to be a total bodily Knowing of all-ness in no thing, sort of.
I suddenly remembered a little drawing I did years ago, pictured here. It came along as I was looking at thoughts, and in between thoughts.
I felt delighted to be kind of understood for a moment, how simple this is, how quantum physicists are looking into this. I already know this, and liked reading it again. Hmm, he implies there is nothing there. The Buddha also knew that that wasn’t the end; that he had to go further. He was even offered a position as a teacher from the teacher he was working with but he knew nothingness was not going to satisfy. I closed the book and put it back gently.
The absolute truth is the only satisfaction as it arises moment by moment.
And, it ain’t nothing, and it ain’t some thing, and it ain’t really something and nothing, so that makes it hard to write about. It ain’t even it.
*from, Magical Child Matures, Joseph Chilton Pearce, page 94
Let me find willingness in unwillingness
Let me find happiness in unhappiness
Let me know clarity in confusion
Let me feel peace in frustration
Let me see no one in seeing someone
Let me find serenity in being overwhelmed
Let me absorb pain in releasing suffering
Let me accept change in the field of unwavering truth
Let me be me within the expectations of others
Let me feel free within the roles that I play
Let the fabric of life be a pattern of playfulness
Let learning unfold with ease and wonder in the midst of chaos
Let the middle come into view within peripheral vision
Let courage arise in the face of fear
Let striving fall as inspiration grows
Let trust arise in the face of suspicion
Let old habitual patterns be seen as the friends they once were
Let gratitude express itself in resistance
Let the mystery unfold with penetrating awareness
Let presence be
If I could paint a picture
I would paint it –
Instead of sitting here and seeing all the different ways to paint it.
If I could paint a picture I would paint a picture of my 9th grade art teacher sharing how everything is art and calling me a “Smart Ass” when I handed her a white canvas.
If I could paint a picture you would see a sister saying to me that I am not an artist because no one buys my pictures.
If I could paint a canvas it would involve a flash animation of infinite variation, with sound and light displaying and tweening each sequence with splashes of vigorous Knowing.
If I could paint a picture you’d be in it, and then again, and again because now you‘ve
If I could paint a picture I’d like to show you the mirror in your heart in each cellular division and transmutation lifting you out of any idea of the picture.
If I could paint a picture of myself the canvas would not be big enough nor small enough, it would be a burning canvas with a paint called no-thing.
If I could paint a picture, you’d see your pain and want to touch it with love and devotion. You’d caress your sore selves and see them heal in disappearing wonder.