Thursday, April 24, 2014
Thoughts are funny things. They seem so incredibly solid and yet, most of the things we think have absolutely no ground when we actually try to pin them down.
This idea of the fluidity of our thoughts comes up in many schools of thought. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is all about changing the way we think on the basis that unhelpful thoughts can cause us a lot of mental anguish where there is no justification for it. Neuro-Linguistic Programming challenges us to use language to shift the way we think. Meditation teaches us to see our thoughts as 'clouds in the sky' - shifting, changing, impermanent.
Our way of thinking is habitual and just like any habit, changing the way we think and learning to let go of our thoughts is no easy task.
As a regular meditator I have spent six years working with this practice. The key instruction I have followed is to 'drop the story-line'. Reading 'My Stroke of Insight' really opened my eyes to how our left brain naturally generates a storyline that's often not true. The storyline is very powerful though because it provide structure and often gives 'reason' for our experience. I've found dropping the storyline extremely challenging because so much of 'me' is wrapped up in it.
In November, however, I had a profound experience whereby I was finally able to let thoughts go for an extended period of time. It was profound in that I was able to keep from getting hooked by the thoughts and as a result I could experience an emotion without all the drama. So instead of 'I'm sad because that person did that thing' or 'I'm angry and hurt because they were so cruel' it was just 'This is what sad feels like' and 'this is what anger feels like'.
Without the thoughts to fuel them, the emotions ran their course quickly and I would soon return to a state of calm and contentment. No extreme feelings one way or another.
For five days this was my experience and in those five days I had a heightened awareness of just how incredible the world is. I've always appreciated nature and the minute there's sun you'll find me outside - but this was different.
I felt like there was no hurry to be anywhere. Just being was enough. And in being I could be absorbed in the way the sun lit the clouds from behind or how the rain sounded as it fell into the tree tops. I found myself noticing more - robins (the English sort) flickering in and out of a holly bush, a parakeet watching cautiously from a hole in a nearby tree, the smell of a fire burning somewhere and how crisp the air felt on my skin contrasting against the warmth of the sun when it broke through the grey mass above.
My wakeful experience ended but I don't feel any loss because I gained something very valuable from it. I know that it's possible to drop thoughts and I understand the descriptions these teachers I listen to are getting at. I have direct experience of the benefit of being able to do this and that in itself has shifted my meditation practice from feeling like I should be doing it to wanting to do it.
In creating this piece of art I wanted to capture the enigmatic smile of the Buddha - a smile that conveys the sense of ease that comes from letting go of the storyline and letting life genuinely touch you.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Last summer I discovered a site called StereoMood. The idea is you type your mood into a search bar and it generates a playlist of songs that should suit that mood. The whole thing is a mishmash of songs based on what other people define as 'happy' or 'creative' and as a result I discovered a wide variety of new music.
At the time the music was definite therapy for me as I was in quite a state due to severe heartbreak and all the general disappointment, hurt and anger that goes along with that. I listened to a wide variety of songs but was seeking out intense music - stuff that matched the extreme emotional swings and roundabouts I was going through.
This song quickly became one of my favourites. It was a specific remix and the whole thing just fit so damn well with how I was feeling. It's one of those songs that makes me wish I could sing. As it is, I sing along with it anyway.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
One thing I really appreciate about Buddhist teachings is the many different ways I come across the same message. Buddhism in itself is just one package for a sort of wisdom I encounter regularly. I find people embracing secular humanism, Socratic teachings or Taoism and the messages are extremely similar.
No formal belief system is required at all, which is the beautiful thing about the human species. We are lovely individuals and for every individual there is a unique path to enlightenment.
In the case of this piece I included a lotus flower because it is a classic representation of this seed of enlightenment all sentient beings possess. The image it conjures is of a seed buried deep in the thick, black mud at the bottom of a pond. With the right elements in place the seed will unquestionably grow and become a full lotus blossom on the surface of the pond.
The lotus blossom doesn't 'spring' into existence but grows over time - sometimes faster, sometimes not so fast. Wisdom is the same. Wisdom is incremental. Someone can have profoundly wise insights and still act foolishly. In fact, until enlightenment is reached, this applies to all of us. We all have these seeds of wise insight at various stages of growth. We feed them through reading, discussion, and exploration of the world around us.
In this drawing I have shown one piece of wisdom I've come to understand very clearly, represented by a single lotus flower. Through listening to many teachings and applying a regular meditation practice in my life I have been able to shift my understanding of this teaching from intellectual to a deep knowing. Like opening my eyes to see what's really there instead of what I hoped to see.
I have come to understand that to be genuinely happy is to have an appreciation for the richness of life and the wonder of the present moment. The idea that if sadness is present happiness can't be limits our experience and traps our mind with dualism.
In a single moment I have experienced joy, sadness, comfort and pain and felt appreciation for the very fact that this is possible. It is possible to feel these things without needing to 'do' anything. The idea that we can only experience one emotion at a time, and in order for one to go another must replace it, causes so much suffering. When we stop 'doing' and shift into 'being' there is this incredibly vast space in which we live life fully.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
This is one of my very favourite songs. I love singing along with it, screaming along with Beth Ditto, sharing all that emotion and intensity.
I haven't listened to it for a while but the other day it came on as I was travelling by train from Waterloo to Wimbledon. Once again, a song I've listened to countless time struck me with new meaning, and I realised I still had more of these drawings to do.
When I'm finished a series or a piece I have a general sense of knowing that it's done. I did do after the last lyrics I published to my blog. They seemed to round out the entire process nicely and I was comfortable.
That being said, I'm flexible and when the inspiration kicked back in as Beth sang with greater intensity, I knew I had more to do.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
For this piece I wanted to create something based on the more traditional look of Thangka paintings. Thangka paintings are classic depictions of various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and mandalas rich in symbolic representations of Buddhist teachings.
The figures in these pieces will have their hands in various placements which are called mudras. Each mudra has a symbolic meaning, such as the warrior spirit of the compassionate being or the balance of an awakened mind.
My favourite mudra is the ground touching or Bhumisparsa Mudra. The story of this mudra is that when Gautama Buddha reached enlightenment he was first challenged by the god Mara. As Gautama sat in meditation beneath the Bodhi tree, Mara threw all manner of temptation and difficulty at him. He insulted him, summoned his daemon daughters to tempt his lust, threatened him with fire and spears and finally, at the very end he challenged his commitment.
Mara asked, "What difference does it make, all this sitting in meditation. There is no proof of your commitment or understanding. You have no followers, no witness to your pointless task."
Is is said that Gautama reached one hand down and touched the Earth, as if to declare that the Earth was his witness. The Earth was his solid support in all he did and the ground beneath him was all he needed for him to see the truth of the world around him free of attachment, lust, desire, anger, hatred, and longing.
The words I chose speak to this presence of mind free from fixation. There is joy to be found in the very act of being alive.
When we view the world with the wonder and fascination of a child it's pretty awesome.
To watch a sun rise or see a flower bloom or see the fine shapes of a thousand snowflakes or think that we have the ability to communicate with people on the other side of the planet in a matter of second or that we can send living beings into zero gravity - it's all pretty damn impressive and wondrous.
And beyond that, even when life is at its most challenging, when we are facing a seemingly unbearable difficulty, we have the capacity, as sentient beings, to work with our minds. We can use these experiences to wake up, to see that we were never only one way to begin with and that life is never black and white but an infinite rich spectrum of emotions and experiences.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
I've been posting 'progress' photos of this piece to my Facebook for the past few weeks. Well, it's finally done! I'm really pleased with it and would like to play some more with the Art Nouveau style. It's one I really enjoy for it's bold lines and play with shading and colour.
I'd love requests for different animals so if you want to see me do anything in particular please post a comment below or send me a message through Facebook.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Pencil Crayon and ink on A4 Bristol Board
The Buddhist concept of non-attachment is often misunderstood in Western culture. For example, I once told a friend I was going to buy a set of mala beads to help me with my meditation practice. Her comment was that buying something wasn't very Buddhist.
I retorted by saying non-attachment wasn't about not owning stuff. I could have a whole house full of stuff but what would be Buddhist of me would be accepting, if that house burned down, the loss of all my possessions.
Since then my understanding of this has deepened quite a bit and I can see my own explanation as quite weak because non-attachment is not rooted in the physical world.
One thing I've learned while on my path is there will be a shift from intellectual understanding of a teaching to a deep 'knowing'. Intellectually I understood that letting go would result in an overall improvement to my sense of wellbeing because obviously, if I put less importance in 'stuff', the loss of said 'stuff' wouldn't bother me so much.
This made perfect sense to me and was reflective of one of the many important lessons my mum taught me when I was growing up. She made it abundantly clear that if my brother or I were to break a glass, for example, it was far more important that we weren't hurt than that we'd been careless. As human beings we had more value than a thing.
Recently I experienced the shift from intellectually grasping this idea of letting go, to a deep 'knowing'. I came to see how attachment has nothing to do with the 'thing', but with our perception of it. To genuinely practice non-attachment we must learn how to view the world without expectation.
It's not about letting go of things but letting go of perceptions and ideas about how the world should or shouldn't be. Effectively, non-attachment is accepting the world as dynamic, fluid, ever changing.
My intention was to capture this realisation in this piece of work. Whether I accomplished that or not is unknowable, but I enjoyed making it and ultimately, that's all that matters.