I will deviate from my normal posts of paintings to share some notes about a lecture I would give to my children if they would pay attention (they often do – they are great kids!). It concerns the anatomy of everyday desires such as the desire to buy a new computer game (I am using the game “Far Cry” as an example). Here is how it goes:
I have often been gently accused by loved ones for being too preoccupied with suffering, darkness and even death. Many of my paintings such as this one and this one deal with suffering and uncertainty. No doubt I am guilty as charged. Because, like T.S Eliot,
I am moved by fancies that are curledAround these images, and cling:The notion of some infinitely gentleInfinitely suffering thing.
When I was eight years old, I watched the body of a loved one being lowered into the ground. I have never seen her since. I vividly recall the heart rendering cries of her close companion as the coffin was lowered. These things impact on us if we are sensitive and open to question things, and this changes our view and understanding of life.
At the very least, an awareness of the suffering of others, carrying knowledge that somewhere today someone is receiving news that will destroy their life as they know it, that innocent animals are being subjected to suffering, that somewhere a toddler is alone and confused – all this at the very least changes the meaning of everyday desires:
We also realise the cyclical and never-ending onslaught of desires and the deceptive idea that somewhere in the near future lies a situation where all desires are fulfilled, where we will once and for all be happy and remain so. I know I fall for this almost every week, despite having nearly 50 years of evidence to the contrary.
In his book The Law of Attention: Nada Yoga and the Way of Inner Vigilance, Edward Salim Micheal says:
Understanding death a little better helps one understand life a little better too, and understanding life a little better helps one understand death also a little better, until one finally arrives at discovering that these two conditions mysteriously merge into one another, revealing a state of non-differentiation between them—just as there is only one atmosphere surrounding the globe, unchanging in its essence, whether it is day or whether it is night.
Whenever I stop at a traffic light and sees a cattle truck pull in beside me, empty or full of anxious, gentle animals, I recall something that William James wrote:
The sentiment of honor is a very penetrating thing. When you and I, for instance, realize how many innocent beasts have had to suffer in cattle-cars and slaughter pens and lay down their lives that we may grow up, all fattened and clad, to sit here in comfort and carry on this discourse, it does, indeed, put our relation to the universe in a more solemn light.
He concludes that the acceptance of life on such terms – where we face the suffering of others and the world at large with honesty – impels us, if we are to live honourably, to take our share of suffering and do some self-denying service to others in return for all the lives upon which our lives are built.
Well, to be honest, this is probably a lecture I should practice myself before I could deliver it to my kids. The one who has arrived has a long way to go…