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.
When I found Alanon, it became my whole life, going to meetings and working the steps became second nature to me. It included a way of being and operating in life that made sense, was moral, and allowed for all things to be included in it. So, my whole world was Alanon, then whatever happened, happened in Alanon. What I see happening with others around me is that they see “their” world. What “they” have to do, what “their” family is like, and what “they” think, and then they try to squeeze Alanon into that.
Alanon, or sangha or community or This way of walking is too big to squeeze into a myopic way of seeing the world.
I have some friends in Alanon and I’d usually ask if we could get together over the holidays, but was told by each of them that they are just too busy, things are too hectic and stressful. They have family obligations and such things, and this told me that Alanon still isn’t big enough, it still isn’t a big enough umbrella to support doing things in a different way.
I realized this year that this has been an annual occurrence. However, this past year, early in the holiday season, a different group of friends invited me to get together to support one another in the hardships that we each experience during the holidays. Wow! It was so refreshing to be with others that felt that being in Alanon DURING the holidays would give them the strength they needed to be with and support their families. They needed to put out that umbrella first.
I found that I had to allow Alanon to get so big that my entire life could fit into it. I thought for a long time that I had to squeeze Alanon into my busy life, but Alanon is bigger than that. Alanon has room for anything. I have found that there really isn’t any need to compartmentalize life to such a degree that spirituality is over here and family is over there. It is all spirituality.
If someone told me this years ago I might think I have to “make a bigger commitment” and that seems heavy because it feels like then you have to go on a diet or something. All I’m suggesting is to ask yourself if there is any stress in working the program the way you are doing it. Can you see that your life is IN God every minute and in every step? Trying to isolate yourself from Alanon (or sangha or community) will create tension because running around, trying to please, keep things together, and orchestrate special events all alone creates an ongoing havoc and strain.
Some old friends say, “Well, I’m glad you see that there are different ways to work a program and you have your way and I have my way.” That’s true! What do I know? For all I know their unwillingness to come together during the holidays is their process of expansion. I don’t know. It isn’t my business.
My experience tells me that we can see that it is already being taken care of, we are being cared for in God, as a child of God, there is no need to worry about anything, we can lighten up by being IN the program and letting the program grow in us. So in one sense it is all okay, but on another level there is a conscious shift that may need to happen.
So, how big is your sangha, your home group, your family, your community?
I’m so grateful that when I started to go to a meditation center and start meditating there, (and they have all these rituals and all), my sangha felt very large. That way when they did things that didn’t work well with what I needed to do in order to live in balance, I could see that AND continue to walk in the shoes that I had to walk in, and do the things I had to do. They had a program for study and it didn’t work with being a mom and doing what I needed to do at home, so I was able to go to the center and let go of the regimen that they advocated for practice and work out my own schedule and way of being because what I saw felt VERY BIG, and therefore more flexible.
And, when times got tough, that was a reason to go to meetings (meditation center for silence, retreats, or Alanon groups) more often, and speak with people that were available.
When someone says something is coming up and it’s going to be a tough time, and then, they go on to eliminate the sangha or community from the process: my experience has shown me that this is a sure way to suffer.
And, I know even still, that suffering will also lead, in time, to more suffering and eventually bring one closer to realizing that which is always available and being shown all along. So, it’s not all bad. It’s all good in an underlying way, because whatever you do or wherever you are–you are IN. It is bigger than most realize; so why not allow your way of being to widen now instead of later? Why not embrace the world as your community?
Expose your wounds,
gashes and craters
to the elements.
Bathe in the frozen snow,
and scratch against the ice
with your swollen hands and feet.
See those bubbles of exasperating sighs
within your tense conflicting muscles.
Try and hold that repetitive pattern
of survival, and hope, and longing,
as your fingers leave the edge,
with not a fall from grace,
but into that dumb luck
of finding what you only
thought you never knew.
by Constance Casey 12-23-2009
Left side of the neck and throat area plays some intense rhythm,
strumming down the ear, in and around the tonsils
then deep base strings in the heart area,
clenching with grief,
and tension releasing through vibrating sensations of pulling,
inner re-organization…of dreams — what sings this?
whatever – willing – being with
“selfing” brings along undoing, being with unknowing
each day brings less and less of any “me”
look inside and see scattered bones,
some cleaned out archaeological dig site long ago trampled and forgotten.
The trauma of selfing,
of building some-such-thing
is remembered deeply.
Unwinding this pattern tunes attention at every key moment,
singing chords of spine and vertebrae and marrow,
seeing the sun rise to melt any frozen limbs of innuendo.
Listen up! It’s open season on ideas.
Right in the center.
It has its own agenda,
“do not seek answers” is what Rilke said.
A tentacle arm softly unfolds,
It can’t help Its wise molecular muscles made for touch
and all along, feels and knows, and understands and sees through and through,
again and again,
with all the more clarity and gratitude
and no direction, friend.
By Constance Casey 11-12-09
Cleaning, moving, smoothly, mindfully.
All is expression
Keep it simple
Less is more
Less to remember is best
Less to do is best
Fewer places to go is best
Needing less is best
Smooth flowing relinquishment
Then all flow
Focus on being, let mind be
Big thoughts are trouble
Little hidden thoughts need air
Big thoughts clamor for attention
Little thoughts get none
Big thoughts eat up little thoughts
Little thoughts hide
Big thoughts have big disguises
Little thoughts are alone and naked
Big thoughts push and shove
Little thoughts sit quietly wondering
While walking with a friend yesterday, she asked me if I believe in karma. I immediately replied, “Yes”. And I knew that it wasn’t a belief, it’s a presence or knowing within that in each moment there are new births taking place, and I need to be aware of the degree of wholesomeness or unwholesomeness, the leaning in or away with intention.
My personality generally prefers to stay in the background and operate independently. In fact, it was probably this aloneness that brought me in and through knowing the dharma on an ultimate level.
But now that I know the seamless connection with all beings there is a strong tendency to back away from any possibility that I might be involved in harm. Not wanting to create or cause harm is an even bigger motivation for my doing things and/or not doing them more than ever before.
Any unfinished business is here for review and to be seen. These meditative reviews happen all the time. Some listen and participate and some don’t.
Even the Buddha was continually concerned with karma. There is a story I heard about how the Buddha had headaches and felt it was due to an event that happened in a past life. There are levels of learning that continue after enlightenment that involve all kinds of karma.
Wisdom comes along in the most serendipitous ways if we are open to it.
Being more aware of this happening, I felt grateful for being with Steve Armstrong last month when he talked about this. He outlined eight different kinds of karma:
- weighty karma
- proximate karma
- habitual karma
- reserve karma
- reproductive karma
- supportive karma
- obstructive karma
- destructive karma
Here is a link to the talk on karma:
(He outlines the different kinds of karma during the second half of this talk).
This dharma really points out the necessity for mindfulness always, no matter what, no matter how enlightened you are or not! I need to look closely at my participation in each and every moment, each and every relationship. It can be beneficial to back away and review with compassion and patience so we can understand more about what is going on.
It seems to me that monastics who have gone through the stages of enlightenment continue to practice diligently for the rest of their lives because they know that the human condition is a condition of variable intensity and that awareness will pull one to greater and greater clarity all the way to the moment of death.
I’m not an expert on this. I just want to include this dharma talk as a gift to you to help you in your process. Allow this knowing of karma to lift you up with awareness and pull you toward knowing your true nature, and so that you can find gentler and more sane ways to be and operate in an insane world.