#O196-7: Release that Dream

I went away, and all my paintings were lined up for slaughter. Then something happened to me. Late at night I fell to my knees in a foreign room – and when I returned they had all become beautiful, beyond my adjusted beliefs.

Fernando Pessoa wrote prose that make me long for a homeland I never knew:

I’ve lived certain moments of respite in the presence of Nature, moments sculpted out of tender isolation, that will always be like medals for me. In these moments I forgot all of my life’s goals, all of the paths I wanted to follow. An immense spiritual tranquility fell into the blue lap of my aspirations and allowed me to enjoy being nothing. But I’ve probably never enjoyed an incorruptible moment, free of any underlying spirit of failure and gloom.

Pessoa, Fernando. The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Modern Classics)

#O196

Pessoa continues:

In all my moments of spiritual liberation there was a dormant sorrow, vaguely blooming in gardens beyond the walls of my consciousness, and the scent and the very colour of those sad flowers intuitively passed through the stone walls, whose far side (where the roses bloomed) never ceased being a hazy near side in the obscure mystery of who I am, in the drowsiness of my daily existence.

#O197

In the beautiful book “The Poetry of Zen“, the thirteenth century sage Ch’ih-chueh is quoted as saying:

The failure of the Zen path comes from teachers without deep attainment, just setting forth sayings and showing off knowledge to capture students, and from students with no great aspiration just following popular fads and current customs, content to sink themselves in the domain of intellectual knowledge and verbiage…The ‘teachers’ and ‘students’ bewitch each other.

Another sage (Yueh-lin) is quoted as having observed with regards to talking about Zen:

Ninety percent accuracy is not as good as silence

Alphaville sang this poem:

Hello today 
Open your eyes 
The snow is falling just like leaves 
Aquarian warriors rebuild the ship 
Mr rainbow is gone

Hello my love 
Here's to your heart 
Unfold the lillies in the deep 
The season's over, the shores are sealed

Now ashen roses rain on the fields 
Innocent dreamers, look what you've done 
Now it's time for the phoenix to fly 
Hello today

Wake to the dawn 
To meet the guardians of the isles 
The valient captains will rule the seas till the comets return 
Hello my love 
Here's to your heart 
Release that dream into the world

Join in the air race, leaving tonight 
How does it feel to follow the light 
Beautiful dreamer, it's up to you 
If we glide through the glamour of love

We believe in our dreams 
Reaching out for above 
We believe in our dreams 
Reaching out for love

Songwriters: Bernard Lloyd / Marian Gold / Ricky Echolette
Fantastic Dream lyrics © Rolf Budde Musikverlag Gmbh

 

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#O194-5: This Other Way

Journal entry: The past two weeks my enthusiasm for painting has just evaporated. These are my last efforts and they were finished last weekend.

#O195

Pessoa wrote:

Clear things console me, and sunlit things console me. To see life passing by under a blue sky makes up for a lot. I forget myself indefinitely, forgetting more than I could ever remember. The sufficiency of things fills my weightless, translucent heart, and just to look is a sweet satisfaction. I’ve never been more than a bodiless gaze, whose only soul was a slight breeze that passed by and saw.

#O194

More and more these days the familiar face of my expectations and demands move me to take a refuge in meditation, calling out to the spacious infinite arms at the end of thought:

Of Mere Being
The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

Wallace Stevens
(this copy from Poetry Foundation)

At times my meditation feels like it is going nowhere. I am awake, open, aware. But no direction or progress seems apparent to the thinking mind. I take comfort in the path that others have walked.

In his book “Novice to Master“, Soko Morinaga writes about his extensive meditation experience in a Zen monastery:

Despite my unrelenting persistence at sitting, every night I would grow hazy and doze off so that my zazen was far from strong and clear.

He continues to describe how he made matters worse by not eating enough as a means to keep him awake while meditating at night. He reached the end of his resources:

Then, one night, all of my ammunition was exhausted. I lost all sense of wanting enlightenment; to continue seeking satori was inconceivable. Gone was the physical and mental energy necessary to maintain a level of consciousness in which one tries to verify with the eyes and hear with the ears…My whole body was a mass of sheer pain…As if consciousness were lost in a fog, all was hazy.

Suddenly, under some impetus unknown to me, the fog lifted and vanished. And it is not that the pain in my own body disappeared, but rather that the body that is supposed to feel the pain disappeared. Everything was utterly clear. Even in the dimly lit darkness, things could be seen in a fine clarity. The faintest sound could be heard distinctly, but the hearing self was not there. this was, I believe, to die while alive….I only know that when I came to myself, I felt tremendously happy!

Morinaga goes on to write:

By meeting what you are faced with right now, though, in this very instant, completely without judgement of evaluation, you can transcend by far all question of cause and effect. You may be working in the kitchen or sweeping in the garden or cleaning the toilet or laboring for somebody else, but you do it without consideration of its relative merit. That means simply doing with all your might, becoming one with whatever situation in which you find yourself in this instant. I would like for you to clearly know that there is this other way of living your life.

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#O190-193: Resuming my Existence

In his poem “The Man Watching”,  Rilke says: “When we win it is with small things, and the triumph itself makes us small”.  Much food for thought there – what then, is worth really wanting? If I pursue the thought “what do I want?” all the way down the labyrinth to the place of not knowing, many certainties start unraveling.

#O190

Rilke’s letters make it clear that he needed to be alone in order to fall into such a condition, to exist solitary in an imagined cocoon so that he could come apart before coming together again. In this raw, naked, fragmentary state of mind he felt both too vulnerable and too repulsive to be near anyone, except a servant. [The beginning of Terror].

#O191

Pessoa wrote:

For a long time now I haven’t existed. I’m utterly calm. No one sees me differently from who I am. I just felt myself breathe as if I’d done something new, or done it late. I’m beginning to be conscious of being conscious. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll wake up to myself and resume my own existence. I don’t know if that will make me more happy or less. I don’t know anything.

#O193

Reaching a place of “not knowing” is good for me. It makes me “see deeper into paintings” (Rilke).

#O192

For me, my featured painting for this post (directly above) touches that sweet spot between image and emotion. The way the red peers through the more muted, dark colors suggest something poignant that I cannot quite put my finger on. It relates to what Robert Henri wrote:

That time we sat in the evening silence in the face 
of the mesa 
and heard the sudden howl of a pack of coyotes, 
and had a thrill 
and a dread which was not fear of the pack, 
for we knew they were harmless. 
Just what was that dread — what did it relate to? 
Something ’way back in the race perhaps? 
We have strange ways of seeing. 
If we only knew — then we could tell. 
If we knew what we saw, we could paint it.

Finally, I will end of with one of my favorite poems by Transtromer:

Storm
The man on a walk suddenly meets the old
giant oak like an elk turned to stone with
its enormous antlers against the dark green castle wall of the 
 fall ocean.

Storm from the north. It's nearly time for the
rowanberries to ripen. Awake in the night he
hears the constellations far above the oak stamping in their stalls.
 
Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robert Bly in
The Half Finished Heaven.

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content.

 

#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.

159

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:

155-framed

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)]

I hope you are well -thanks for visiting my blog!

#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.

o151

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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O145-148: The Great Yes

This is an abstract in which I have deviated a bit from the color recipe I used in the past few paintings. I quite like this color scheme – reminds me of the Karoo desert somehow.

o148

Below are a two more small landscapes I did along the way. With the thick impasto reflected light is quite a problem and unfortunately the photos do not really show the paintings off very well. But there you have it!


 

Looking back over a few of my earlier posts (does anyone else ever do that?), I looked at one of my earliest attempts at abstract painting, and I found the following paragraph still applies:

When I watch those spontaneous, vivacious people on YouTube splashing away to create massive Acrylic abstract paintings within an hour or two, I go green with envy. And yet, part of me embraces the anxiety, the constraints, the hesitancy that makes me what I am. This is my road to walk – may I say “Yes” to it!

Che Fece…Il Gran Refiuto
For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,
he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say no. Yet that no—the right no—
drags him down all his life.
C.P. Cafavy, translated by Edmund Keeley
This version copied from PoetryFoundation.org

Many thanks for all of you who encourage me with likes and comments, and a special thanks to those who follow my blog.

#145: The Heart Knows

This is an abstract that got away from me. I took a photo of the painting at this stage of finish, but then went and fiddled with it the next day and messed it up. At least I have a photo!

#O145.JPG

I am slowly, painstakingly joyfully inching my way through my doubts and lack of experience toward an art that expresses the emotion that lies behind each and every silly landscape I have ever tried to paint. The heart knows where it wants to go, but there is so much that needs to be unlearned, so much that has to be taken on trust in order to get there.


Tomas Transtromer also knew something about trust:

 

Schubertiana
...How much we have to take on trust every minute we live in
  order not to drop through the earth!
Take on trust the snow masses clinging to rocksides over the
  town.
Take on trust the unspoken promises, and the smile of
   agreement, trust that the telegram does not concern us, and
that the sudden ax blow from inside is not coming.
Trust the axles we ride on down the thruway among the swarm
  of steel bees magnified three hundred times.
But none of that stuff is really worth the trust we have.
The five string instruments say that we can take something else
   on trust, and they walk with us a bit on the road.
As when the lightbulb goes out on the stair, and the hand
  follows - trusting it - the blind banister rail that finds its
  way in the dark.

Tomas Transtromer (translation Robert Bly), from
The Half Finished Heaven. Line breaks here are my own.

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O143: The Strangest Sea

An abstract made on a beautiful blue afternoon. Not 100% happy with the patterns and balance of the scratch-marks, but there is promise in the rest. I will keep on chugging away at this one for as long as the canvas can take it.


The slow and hesitant switch from planned and controlled to a more intuitive form of painting has been a wild and mind opening ride for me. Working on a painting in an intuitive manner takes a deep form of trust. Trust that the image is already there, waiting to be teased out; trust that my own view of what looks and feels “right” is enough and valid. It takes trust and one operates on hope, from one painting to the next.

Emily Dickinson also knew a thing or two about hope:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
this copy from Poetry Foundation
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#O142: Empire of Dreams

This is an abstracted landscape I painted a week or two ago. I am pleased with this painting – specifically how it abstracts the landscape almost completely, but not quite.

o142

 

I love how Charles Simic’s poems transcend and transport across time and space in the blink of an eye. Here is his poem “Empire of Dreams”

Empire of Dreams
On the first page of my dreambook
It’s always evening
In an occupied country.
Hour before the curfew.
A small provincial city.
The houses all dark.
The storefronts gutted.
I am on a street corner
Where I shouldn’t be.
Alone and coatless
I have gone out to look
For a black dog who answers to my whistle.
I have a kind of Halloween mask
Which I am afraid to put on.

 

this copy from Poetry Foundation

 

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#O135-9: A Standing Ground

In the past few weeks I have had some ups and downs but always I seem to gravitate toward more abstract images. This painting was a tough riddle to solve but I am quite happy with it.

o139

Below are some other paintings I completed along the way. Most of these were done whilst I was in a somewhat dark and confused mind space about where to go with my paintings. In these situations I remain hopeful and always heed the advice of Masefield:

Therefore, go forth, companion: when you find
No highway more, no track, all being blind,
The way to go shall glimmer in the mind.


The past week I have been on leave at the beautiful Coromandel coast in New Zealand – taking a break from work and painting. For someone with my history of being obsessively driven, this stepping away from pressure always leads to  – paradoxically – anxiety and, for the past two nights, insomnia.

Funny life – I just finished reading Bruce Springsteen’s honest autobiography Born to Run, and was struck by how he was afflicted with anxiety attacks seemingly after he had caught the wave of incredible fame and success.

I have learned a lot about facing anxiety directly, head-on, through meditation and being with what is. David Loy writes beautifully about anxiety in the larger context of life:

Anxiety is a school which roots out everything finite and petty in us…the path of integration is an awareness that does not flee anxiety but endures it, in order to recuperate those parts of the psyche which split off and return to haunt us in projected, symbolic form…The way to integrate anxiety is to become completely anxious: to let formless, unprojected anxiety gnaw on all those finite ends I have attempted to secure myself with.

David Loy – Lack and Transcendence: the Problem of Life and Death in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism

Paging through my little blue book of quotes and poems, I came across this poem by Wendell Berry which features anxiety and – in my mind – also points to a simple returning to “what is”:

A Standing Ground
However just and anxious I have been,
I will stop and step back
from the crowd of those who may agree
with what I say and be apart.
There is no earthly promise of life or peace
but where the roots branch and weave
their patient silent passages in the dark;
uprooted, I have been furious without an aim.
I am not bound for any public place,
but for ground of my own
where I have planted vines and orchard trees,
and in the heat of the day climbed up
into the healing shadow of the woods.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn
and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.

 

I hope you are happy and content. Thanks for visiting my blog!