#O162: For Ilse

I seldom paint in a high key. When it works, it makes it all worthwhile for me.


When the day turns olive minutes after the sun sets, I walk the garden and dream of Pessoa’s dreams. He wrote:

But suddenly, and contrary to my literary intention, the black depths of the southern sky – by a true or false recollection – evoke for me another sky, perhaps seen in another life, in a North traversed by a smaller river, with sad rushes and no city. I don’t know how, but a landscape made for wild ducks unrolls across my imagination, and with the graphic clarity of a bizarre dream I feel I’m right next to the scene I imagine. A landscape for hunters and anxieties, with rushes growing along rivers whose jagged banks jut like miniature muddy capes into the lead-yellow waters, then re-enter to form slimy bays for toy-like boats, swampy recesses where water glistens over the sludge that’s hidden between the black-green stalks of rushes too thick to walk through.

I fear the days are passing too fast. So often I forget myself for hours on end. Where was I yesterday, walking amidst the crowd? When I come back to myself I am welcomed by a familiar sense of courage – second by second, anything can be faced.

I hesitate so often, carving just one more figurine before returning home. Rumi wants me to stop this:

Say Yes Quickly (excerpt)
Forget your life. Say God is great. Get up.
You think you know what time it is. It's time to pray.
You've carved so many little figurines, too many...

Tomorrow you'll see what you've broken and torn tonight,
thashing in the dark.
Inside you there is an artist you don't know about.
He's not interested in how things look different
in moonlight.

Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

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Ilse, ou sus, ek hoop jy word vinnig beter. Jy is altyd in my gedagtes.

#O161: Only Don’t Know

From an old notebook:

Find the viewpoint that has no perspective. Look at the afternoon rain with eyes of infinity. No comment – not a word about the joy brimming over inside.


Pessoa wrote:

The abstract intelligence produces a fatigue that’s the worst of all fatigues. It doesn’t weigh on us like bodily fatigue, nor disconcert like the fatigue of emotional experience. It’s the weight of our consciousness of the world, a shortness of breath in our soul.

Ryokan had something to say about one particular Autumn Night:

Autumn night - unable to sleep, I leave my tiny cottage.
Fall insects cry under the rocks, and
The cold branches are sparsely covered.
Far away, from deep in the valley, the sound of water.
The moon rises slowly over the highest peak;
I stand there quietly for a long time and
My robe becomes moist with dew.

Ryokan, One Robe, One Bowl

If I read this with imagination active, it takes me subtly, beautifully into silence where there is no pleasure and no pain.

Apologies to all those who follow and comment on my blog for my lack of response over the past week. I am barely getting to make one post a week. Life passes by like a field mouse not shaking the grass…

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#O160: We Whisper in Their Presence

A small playful landscape done on board with palette knife.


There are times when each detail of the ordinary interests me for its own sake, and I feel a fondness for things, because I can read them clearly. Then I see – as Vieira said that Sousa, in his descriptions, saw – the ordinary with singularity, and I have the poetic soul that inspired the intellectual age of poetry among the Greeks. But there are also moments, such as the one that oppresses me now, when I feel my own self far more than I feel external things, and everything transforms into a night of rain and mud, lost in the solitude of an out-of-the-way station, between one and another third-class train.

Fernando Pesoa – Book of Disquiet

In his poem “Autumn Sky” Charles Simic writes:

The stars know everything,
So we try to read their minds.
As distant as they are,
We choose to whisper in their presence.
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#O155-159: The Same Fatal Joy

In Cavafy’s poem “He Vows”, he writes:

Every so often he vows to start a better life.
But when night comes with her own counsels,
with her compromises, and with her promises;
but when night comes with her own power
of the body that wants and demands, he returns,
forlorn, to the same fatal joy.

It feels it is this way with my painting – I vow to push through and become proficient with abstracts, yet I always return to the same fatal joy of the wetland landscape of the inner mind.


Below are some abstracts I made – it remains an interesting, hard journey for me:

And one more landscape that did not make the front page:


Every morning I bite off a chunk of Fernando Pesoa’s Book of Disquiet. With the right mindset, one finds in it images that takes the mind to stillness and wonder:

I feel my head materially supported by the pillow in which it makes a valley. My skin and the skin of the pillowcase are like two people touching in the shadows. Even the ear on which I’m lying mathematically engraves itself on my brain. I blink with fatigue, and my eyelashes make an infinitesimal, inaudible sound against the felt whiteness of the pillow’s slope. I breathe, sighing, and my breathing happens – it isn’t mine. I suffer without feeling or thinking. The household clock, definitely located in the midst of the infinite, strikes the half hour, dry and void. Everything is so vast, so deep, so black and so cold! I pass times, I pass silences; formless worlds pass by me.

Meditation keeps pulling me into silence and boundaries not yet transcended. Slowly, as I return, time and time again, to the conditioned self which lies inside those unmarked boundaries, it becomes more known, tolerated, accepted.

Nisargadatta said:

Understand that the mind has limits. To go beyond, you must consent to silence. [I am That, (74)]

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#O151-4: A Love not Known

I am amazed at how hard abstract painting is for me. It requires a balance of control and abandon as well as a balance of self-confidence and self-criticism that is very taxing on my nerves at this stage of the journey.


After such struggle, how freeing it is for me to suddenly switch back to the old familiar childhood landscapes that lie dormant in my mind:


In the Book of Disquiet, full of strangely haunting prose images, Fernando Pesoa writes:

I see life as a roadside inn where I have to stay until the coach from the abyss pulls up. I don’t know where it will take me, because I don’t know anything. I could see this inn as a prison, for I’m compelled to wait in it; I could see it as a social centre, for it’s here that I meet others.
At times the old familiar life, waiting by the roadside inn, gives way to the the most simple yet profound beauty and happiness. The walk with the wheelbarrow back to the compost heap, the 18 steps from my desk to the printer. What stupendous reality flows into these senses! What is this I?
I keep realizing – for now – that the spiritual life is a losing game. You win by giving up; and by watching your self hide those things – down there in the subconscious – the things you feel you cannot give up. Beyond ownership lies what?
Nisargadatta said:
Just look away from all that happens in your mind and bring to it the feeling “I am”. This “I am” is not a direction, it is the negation of all direction. Ultimately, even the “I am” has to go. But bringing the mind to the feeling “I am” merely helps to turn the mind away from everything else.
Questioner: “Where does it all lead me?”
 Answer: When the mind is kept away from its preoccupations, it becomes quiet. If you do not disturb this quiet and stay in it, you find that it is permeated with a light and love you have never known; and yet you recognize at once that this is your own nature. Once you have passed through this experience you will never be the same again.
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#O150: It sees Me

It feels like I am still finding my feet again after a break in painting. Some strange combination of urgency and anxiety about my paintings seems to have left me – I don’t know for how long and if it is to the benefit of my art or not.


This version was painted over my earlier painting Another Road (Oil Version). The images below shows the progression to the current version. Although the two photos were not taken in the same light situation, you can see what an amazing effect the sky has on the landscape – showing yet again that our perception of color is very relative to what we put next to it.


This morning I wrote a letter to my son who is away on an 18 week Venture School experience. At the school they spend most of the time outdoors and have almost no access to technology except during school lessons which mostly happen on weekends.

Knowing how much my son likes technology, I expect that the experience will be challenging to him. As I was closing off my letter, I thought long and hard what advice I could give him. I know he is resourceful and intelligent – any Pollyanna-like words would be met with an eye-roll. I ended my letter as follows:

… always keep practicing and strengthening your self-awareness. Watch and observe your moods, your thoughts and emotions and learn that you are more than those things. As your self-awareness grows, so will your happiness, compassion for others and your ability to meaningfully influence others. Keep asking how you can be the best version of yourself, then leave the rest up to the Creator.

Nisargadatta said:

You can do nothing to bring [Self-realization] about, but you can avoid creating obstacles. Watch your mind, how it comes into being, how it operates. As you watch your mind, you discover your self as the watcher. When you stand motionless, only watching, you discover your self as the light behind the watcher. The source of light is dark, unknown is the source of knowledge. That source alone is. Go back to that source and abide there.

I am That (42)

I found that some poetry can act as pointers to the silence, the source that Nisargada alludes to. Some may not agree with me. But read the following poem intently while observing the mind. See if the mind goes – perhaps just for a split second – to silent emptiness at the end of the last line.

Street Crossing
Cold wind hits my eyes, and two or three suns
dance in the kaleidoscope of tears, as I cross
this street I know so well,
where the Greenland summer shines from snowpools.

The street's massive life swirls around me;
it remembers nothing and desires nothing.
Far under the traffic, deep in earth,
the unborn forest waits, still, for a thousand years.

It seems to me that the street can see me.
Its eyesight is so poor the sun itself
is a gray ball of yarn in black space.
But for a second I am lit. It sees me.

Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robert Bly in:
The Half Finished Heaven

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O149: I came to Myself

First day painting in weeks. A landscape that turned into a seascape along the way this afternoon. Beautiful day. So glad to be alive.


Dante wrote:

In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear.

from Dante’s Divine Comedy, this copy from Poetry in Translation

Ecclesiastes 1.9 and TS Eliot said it better than I ever could, but here goes for today: How life turns and returns to the same familiar scenes! Always dressed in the fashion of the day, but “in the middle of the journey” I realize more and more that I have seen it all before. The same dramas at home and work, the same actors at meetings – regardless of the country in which you do business.

It becomes clear: I can end up pushing plates and condiments around on the table until I die, or at some point one can get up and walk into the sun. And you do this despite the fact that you are still conversing at the table. Always when this happens (yes, this realization also comes and goes), I go to the same old old simplicity. Each time the spiral moves up a notch.

What is MY simplicity? I return to my little black book with the distilled pearls from Nisargadatta’s I am That. For the past few days now, I have been returning as often as I can to my self – not the the one apart from others – but the perceiving center, the sense “I am”. Will I persevere? Let us see…

In one of those quirky synchronicity happenings – right after the first morning I returned to my book of notes from I am That, I saw that Open Window, a blog that focuses largely on the writings of Nisargadatta, was so kind to follow my blog. Everything points.

Moving an inch closer to your real self is not at all complex. It can happen in inches, and when you do, the Universe trembles slightly. Nisargadatta gave this supremely difficult, supremely simple formula:

Stop making use of your mind and see what happens. Do this one thing thoroughly. That is all.

I am That (43)

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