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 giclée 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.