Saturday, August 06, 2011
Bugs, Sweat & Tears
I met some veteran plein air painters in a local Japanese garden where I started this painting. I had so little confidence, I brought some cheap inkjet paper to paint on. The paper actually melted under my wet brush, forming little pills all over which I tried to make into leafy looking, outdoorsy things. But wait! There's more! Everything kept moving and changing before my eyes! And there's so much of it! Painting en plein aire there are no boundaries to help focus your attention so you have to concentrate like never before. All of your senses sharpen dramatically. You're aware not only of your composition, but also of your immediate surroundings. What creepy crawlers are sharing your spot with you? It's enough to make a grown woman cry. This reminds me of my first summer sesshin at Hokyoji in southeastern Minnesota.
In August at Hokyoji the fields are lush, bursting with wild flowers and wild life. It is a magical sight to behold. Early in the morning the valley is shrouded in fog that burns away as the sun comes up revealing a sea of spider webs and dew. August is the peak of bug season. I can tell you I have never been so awake as I was that summer. I was frantic, relocating bugs and spiders from well-trodden pathways where priest and novice robes would certainly brush through their webs and carry them to an uncertain end. And of course during zazen I was wide awake to note any "wildlife" that might be wandering near my zabuton. The mice at Hokyoji are not those cute little gray city mice either. Those guys are big, brown ones and they are not afraid of humans who sit perfectly still for hours on end. Sleep during zazen? Who could possibly sleep?!
I spent the past year and a half helping to sew Zen priest robes, from the Okesa all the way through to the under garments. They are not my robes. While I am happy for the person who will one day wear them, there is still an ache in my heart, a sadness over the path I'm on and the one I couldn't take. Buddhists (the ones I know) are a bookish lot. I like books okay, but I'm wary of an identity that depends on books. A wild flower can teach us more than any amount of words could ever convey. A simple wild flower in her Okesa made from spider silk and dew, dependent on nothing but the earth, sun and rain. If I were to fashion an identity, that's what I would choose— a simple wild flower. In the end I don't care about words. I wouldn't choose to spend my last breaths with a book, thinking or talking about some bookish ideas. I would choose to hold and smell and feel a flower and to marvel over every wondrous facet of it's being.