Saturday, October 03, 2009

Thoughts Come & Go

I participate in a Buddhist study group that meets monthly. The group has gone through several metamorphoses over the years, including new faces and new formats. It seems to be in stage of quickening. With a core of people who have attended regularly for some time now, a bond has grown out of the nurture and support we find together. It's a gratifying experience to grow together in spiritual study and practice, and especially so when disagreements arise and are embraced with such patience and care. I have been on the receiving end of that patience and care more often than not, and I can only pray for the capacity to give that gift back to the world.

Recently my turn came to guide our discussion. For most of the week I struggled to find something, some engaging topic to share, feeling pretty inadequate in the midst of these accomplished, articulate people. I pulled stacks of Buddhist books from the shelves, flipping through their pages, hoping to find a word or phrase or topic that would inspire. Piles of books full of rich, scholarly commentaries and nothing stood out to me! In mounting tension and desperation, I dropped my quest for a topic and immersed myself in a painting. Aah! Sweet respite!

Actually, I started and finished this painting many years ago. It was exhibited locally and even received an award. But the painting always bugged me; it never really felt complete. I had been reading about meditation, about the state of concentration called samadhi, and that's when this painting was born in my bewildered mind. I imagined my mind as sharp and clear and cool, hence the crispness of the still life, with it's icy blue and white. If you look closely though, you can see variation in the blue tones— some are warm and some are cool. This contrast gives depth and dimension to the sense of temperature. The harsh contrast of cool white light with the warmer shadows also contributes to the chill aloofness of the painting. For information about purchasing this painting or giclĂ©e prints click here.

I have a tendency to throw myself completely, to the exclusion of all else, into whatever I'm doing at any given time. So when I encountered zen practice my life came to a standstill. I stopped painting. I had been increasingly uncomfortable with the watercolor milieu, with it's competitions, egos and painting for shows, and unable to see and feel the great hearts surrounding me at the time. So off I went. Nothin' but zen. My new zen acquaintances stared blankly back at me whenever I mentioned anything about art making, as though they had never heard of such a thing and didn't really care to either. But I have digressed.

All those books I pulled from the shelves in search of a discussion topic and none of them spoke to me! But the painting I pulled out to assuage my worries about having nothing to share, did speak to me. A vision of a bright orange butterfly had been appearing in my cool aloof painting for several weeks. And so that's what I did. I put away the books and painted the butterfly. I imagined the cool vajra mind transformed by the fragile lightness and warmth of this butterfly. Small as it is in the expanse of icy blues, the warmth it embodies is a personal reminder of patience, compassion and joy. All it takes is one tiny movement of the mind and the balance shifts, the whole picture changes.

When I came to the study group I felt relief— I had let go of my striving for a topic and brought just myself and my meditation practice. I came with a bell and one simple intention— to sit still, looking directly at the mind. I read a few instructions from a mahamudra meditation manual and we sat together. Meditating on thoughts may sound crazy, but just try it. Can you see a thought? What color is it? What shape? Is this a thought? Who is that voice in there? Does it have a sound? When we discussed our meditation experiences my relief deepened, seeing the kindness and patience of them all, as they received my earnest and at times overbearing beginner mind.


  1. Thank you for following my blog. I will come back and look at yours when I get more time. It looks very interesting.

  2. Do you have a copy of the original one without the butterfly? It would be interesting to see them side by side.

    I like the metaphor of the painting as your mind.

  3. Dear spldbch,
    The original painting was one of three that I did— all variations of the same image sans butterfly. You can see the other two on my web site by clicking the Original Watercolors link in the sidebar.

  4. Beautiful picture and beautiful post - such clarity and heartfelt expressions.

    "Letting go of striving", immersing in the creative flow and letting it speak, and "just sitting" speak to my heart. It really speaks to me about "just listening" for that internal voice from which everything that is needed arises...And trusting that "intuition."

    Lovely, Christine

  5. Hi Kris - I just tried to send you a comment through your web site and it wouldn't take it, said there was an error or something. So I thought I'd leave this message here :) This was the message I was trying to leave you:

    Your art is beautifully luminous! So crisp, clear and clean. It definitely accomplishes what you hope it would: "awakens the heart to simple beauty", and it is truly inspiring - a true reflection of the "spirit" within! What a wonderful offering... Christine

  6. Dear Christine,
    Thank you so much for sharing your response to my artwork. Kandinsky describes the intent of artistic expression as to "call forth corresponding vibrations of the soul". Response is such a wonderful gift!

  7. Hi Kris, I read this Kandinsky book a long time ago at college but I must look at it again. Your post has made me stop and listen for that intuition before I rush to start work on paintings. Thank you for enlightenment.