. . . painting is something that happens between the colors… you have to leave them alone so that they settle the matter between them.
Last summer my husband and I planned a trip to London. We had to organize a promotional event for my book, Bringing Mindfulness to Life, at the Triratna Buddhist Center in Bethnal Green, and I look forward to combining it with friends and enjoying some of the cultural offerings in town. We had booked tickets for a prom concert and I was particularly looking forward to seeing the “Momentarium” art exhibition at the Lisson Gallery, by a painter I was increasingly admiring, Christopher Le Brun. I was / am enchanted by his work, the lack of irony, the immediacy and the presence. I resonate with the liveliness and confidence of gestures and the attitude of open, unconscious play – all qualities I aspire to in my own works and meditation. I had studied his work online and was looking forward to meeting the large, bright, almost wall-sized canvases in person. But in the end, I never got to see his work: our visit coincided with the most intense heat wave the UK has ever seen, and all trains to the south were canceled – the railways s were deformed by the heat.
I am often drawn to writing about the connection between mindfulness and the climate emergency, which is really the huge underlying challenge of our time. But I promised a second part to my previous article on Layered Simplicity, which explores the overlap of meditation and art-making. Last time, you may recall, I presented some guiding principles relevant to both areas:
• Connect to your intention and hold it lightly
• Trust the rhythm of your swing
• Let everything be quite ordinary and based on the senses
• To get lost
Now, here's another piece of advice, relevant to the conundrum of where to focus your creative energy in the face of so many alarming and pressing concerns:
• Believe that you are making a contribution
It may not appear like this in an immediately obvious way: how is spending countless hours on your cushion or filling reams of pages with words or paint helpful for the survival of life on Earth or to achieve greater social justice? Well, I firmly believe that the qualities you cultivate in this way are transferable and are necessary for a resourceful, courageous, authentic and meaningful life. To give just one example: when engaged in meditation or creation, you tend to focus on one thing for an extended period of time, unavailable for attention-grabbing media distractions that otherwise flicker. endlessly before your eyes, undermining your continuity of purpose. You are more likely to bring this pinpoint attention to everything else you do, and others will pick it up by being around you, or exposing themselves to your artwork, writing, or other expression. creative.
• Leverage collective intelligence: learn from and with others.
You can engage in your chosen art primarily solitary or collaborate with others. Either way, you don't have to be cut off from the immense resource of collective intelligence. Neuroscience is now less concerned with treating the brain as a single entity, but with how “intelligence arises within the brain-body system as a whole, and between a group of minds that influence each other. others ". . . . Ideas can jump from brain to brain and take root in collective thought patterns. (Critchlow, 5)
Most people find meditating with others to be very supportive – our minds are in sync and supported in a shared energy field. This experience of interconnection does not even depend on being in the same room at the same time. You can give your meditation a big boost when you think of your sangha: friends, teachers, and archetypal figures who give you, in somewhat mysterious ways, direct access to shared states of calm, insight, joy, etc
There's no point in trying to be original, but there's a lot to be gained from studying the masters of your discipline and channeling their influence. Try meditating like a Buddha, painting like your favorite artist of the moment – guess who mine is, or writing like Margaret Atwood. Fortunately, Christopher Le Brun has a rich and well-built website, and I've watched him talk about his art in some of the videos listed. I would like to introduce you to some of his ideas and draw some implications for the meditation life and my own artistic creation. It's my way of tapping into collective intelligence, of opening up to the wider network of shared experiences and knowledge.
I put art in a place where it needs no explanation. It can be surrounded by thoughts and references, but it doesn't need justification. It would take away the mystery.*
There are well-documented physical and mental health benefits of meditation, but I guess what keeps people engaged in a long-term practice is much more inscrutable. When we meditate, we escape the tight, neat labeling and efficient organization that characterize much of our material functioning and make room for other dimensions of being.
Intelligence in painting is not skill—it has to do with the senses, the judgment of his hands. Your hand develops memories of doing things that have their own truth. . . . Painting is a sensitive recording of touch.
Meditation begins with the body. Will Johnson, a meditation posture expert writes:
By creating an awareness of sensations, accepting them exactly as they appear, and then yielding to the current of change that can be felt to drive them, we create a stable base from which we can then expand outward, including the ever-changing sounds and sounds. views into the world around us in a state of mindfulness.
The body bears the imprint of our lived experience and if we ignore it, our experience rests on thin and fragile foundations. When I paint, I often listen to music – it helps the body stay free and responsive, letting the action become danceable.
When I use a brush, there is a bit of me in it and a bit of accident.
I like that: a bit of me and a bit of accident. The “piece of me” in meditation could be a kind of decision; a conscious orientation to the breath, or kindness, or remembering something I'm grateful for. Or it may be a decision to give some space for the gentle exploration of a difficulty. From there, things happen unpredictably, and I do my best to be present as it unfolds.
I paint moments. The fact that I don't know what it is doesn't matter. . . . If you realize an idea you had before, it's boring. The painting is so extraordinary all the time – I love seeing it unfold before my eyes.
Like Le Brun, my favorite gesture in painting is the simple vertical line, like an exhalation, and it will be repeated, again and again, building a continuity of presence.
You can create anything from your imagination – you can choose joy, unless it bothers you.
Mindfulness has a mirror aspect, an objectivity that can appear cold and detached. Perhaps that's why it fits in well with our modern culture, which is characterized by cynicism about anything religious or overtly positive. But isn't joy what we secretly long for? Try smiling the next time you meditate.
Worst of all is the beautiful passage of paint. The beautiful piece must go. The moment I let go, I begin to say what I really mean.
I kinda know what he's referring to here: clinging to a precious little nook can interfere with the direction the painting or meditation wants to take. But I also think it's okay to celebrate successes in the process. The layers of the artwork are created by making choices: keep or enhance what you like and paint over what seems detrimental. And the traces of these unwanted elements are important, they are what give a richness of texture, a gritty vitality.
What must go, both in artistic creation, writing, meditation or any other creative activity, is the attachment to a result which is reflected on "me". Le Brun's work communicates this spirit of freedom and risk-taking, of openness to the unknown. It says something interesting and insightful about the endpoint of a painting; he will ask himself the question:
Is painting independent of me?
At some point in the meditation it sometimes becomes clear that nothing more needs to be done; "you" can rest. We can then let the spontaneous play of appearances unfold. The great eighth-century Buddhist master Padmasambhava put it this way: “Like clouds in the atmosphere that are self-generating and self-liberating, you should look at your own mind to see whether it is so or not. (Padmasambhava, et al.)
. . . If they're fit to leave the studio, if they're ready to go, that's a good feeling.
Likewise, it's a good feeling to end a meditation – or an article – as a gift to the world, independent of “me”.
* All quotes are my transcriptions of Christopher Le Brun's comments in the films on his website. They may not be 100% accurate.