O213: Time Smiles Uncertainly

This invented landscape has about 10,000 layers of oil and wax on it. The foreground is almost carved out of the many layers underneath. In my recent paintings since I took up the brush again, this thicket of brush at the end of riverbed or marsh kept pushing itself to the fore. I lie awake sometimes at night and wonder what it signifies – everything points.


The final composition, shown above, was a somewhat serendipitous outcome that happened when I re-painted the initial sky I had put down. The first and final versions are shown side-by-side below:

When I painted this, my I kept wondering if this was the sort of landscape that old Hsieh Ling-Yun had wandered around in when we wrote this poem.

Written on the Lake While Returning 
   to Stone Cliff Hermitage
Dawn to dusk, the weather constantly changed,
mountain and lake sometimes vibrant in sunlight,

bright sunlight that made me so happy
I forgot about going home.

Leaving the valley at daybreak,
I didn't disembark until dusk,

forest and gorge clothed in shadows,
sunset clouds melting into evening mist.

There were water chestnuts and lotus,
cattails and rushes growing thickly.

I had to push them aside to pass southward,
happy to be reaching my home in the east.

When the mind stops striving, the world's 
     not a problem.
A constant heart won't waver from the truth.

A few words to nurture the living, to say:
follow this teaching if you want to know the way.

Hsieh Ling-Yun (385-433)
Translated by Sam Hamill, in
The Poetry of Zen, by Hamill and Seaton

Just reflect on that the simplicity, the availability of happiness in the mind that says: “bright sunlight that made me so happy I forgot about going home”.

I should end this post now. I should. But I am thinking of a future me stuck somewhere at an airport, re-reading this post. And I think I would like, sitting there secluded among so many people, to be able to read one of my favorite prose-pieces from the Book of Disquiet again:

And the light strikes things so perfectly and serenely, gilding them with sadly smiling reality! All the world’s mystery descends until I see it take shape as banality and street. Ah, the mysteries grazed by ordinary things in our very midst! To think that right here, on the sunlit surface of our complex human life, Time smiles uncertainly on the lips of Mystery! How modern all this sounds! And yet how ancient, how secret, how full of some other meaning besides the one we see glowing all around us!

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


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O212: Constraints of Reasoning

Ernest Becker wrote:

The most important question that man can put to himself is simply this: how conscious is he of what he is doing to earn his feeling of heroism?…to become conscious of of what one is doing to earn his feeling of heroism is the main self-analytic problem of life…human heroics is a blind drivenness than burns people up; in passionate people – a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the hounding of a dog…man has to feel and believe that what he is doing is truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful.


When I look up at the cold, often starry New Zealand night sky, I wonder where Bieke Vandekerckhove now wanders among the stars. She once wrote:

In lieu of fighting against the dark of not-knowing, we have to let ourselves be vanquished by it. I have discovered the art of waiting in darkness. We have to dare to persevere in what appears at first to be only emptiness. There is a world strewn with innumerable wonders that awaits those who have freed themselves from the constraints of reasoning.

Vandekerckhove, Bieke. The Taste of Silence: How I Came to Be at Home with Myself (Liturgical Press. Kindle Edition.

Before meditation, there is a soft wish, a gentle intent, directed to no one in particular:

Thoughts now slow down and between those last lost ones dark blossoms of emptiness unfold – velvety, open, without bounds. “I” loses its distinctness and dissolves into “This”.  Islands of tension become lonely and yield to the soft compassionate calling to release and let go.

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O210-211: Privilege of Darkness

I have given up on painting so many times before, my wife only smiles and waves when she sees me cleaning out my studio – again. This time it lasted about 6 weeks. It was a good break but the first brushstroke that went down again gave me so much joy, it has lasted several days now. Everything I see turns beautiful…


Pessoa wrote:

I realize that the privileges of darkness are vanishing, and with them the slow rivers under the bowing trees of my glimpsed eyelashes, and the murmur of the cascades lost between the soft flowing of blood in my ears and the faint, steady rain. I’m losing myself to become alive.

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


A kind yet steady self-confidence, I have learnt, is something that requires imagination of some sort. It has to be seen as a real possibility, then actualized. It is a wish before it is a given:


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#O208-9: Beginning of Wisdom

Fernando Pessoa wrote:

To think of our greatest anxiety as an insignificant event, not only in the life of the universe but also in the life of our own soul, is the beginning of wisdom. To think this way in the midst of our anxiety is the height of wisdom. While we’re actually suffering, our human pain seems infinite. But human pain isn’t infinite, because nothing human is infinite, and our pain has no value beyond its being a pain we feel.

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


In the forgiveness of “mine enemies” I have found a healing of the heart beyond what I expected. I have a wish for those toward whom I have held one or more grudges:


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O206-7: Just This One Thing

That which is before any trace arises, the scenery on the other side of time’s destruction…is just this one thing. [Keizan Jokin]


You had it all planned?

...But now you start doing random things:
Take trips, order over the internet,
Deviate from plans signed by executive.

You are the assassin, sent to convince him
To set fire to the blueprint.
To his illusion
of security.

© Fritz Jooste

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O204-5: A Way of Dispossession

Autumn was short, winter is just about here. Beautiful crisp days with blue sky. Time to work in the garden, more time to meditate. Both activities lead me to dig up unexpected things.


A long time ago, Honghzhi Zhengue said:

Right here, at this pivotal axle, opening the swinging gate and clearing the way – it is able to respond effortlessly to circumstances, the great function is free of hindrances.

The painting below is not really a success, although I have to say the photograph brings out the worst in it – all the deep rich color of the foreground is lost. But I am logging it here for the sake of my painting log:


We must act with an equanimity that is more important than any action. The question is not what shall we do, but how shall we do. In what spirit shall we act.

[S. Radhakrishnan, Commentary on Bhagavadgita]

On a self-retreat, the mind converges on old familiar themes. The way requires more subtleness, sensitivity than I could ever have imagined. T.S. Eliot knows something about this:

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

T.S. Eliot – excerpt from Four Quartets


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#O202-3: A Deep Quiet

This is yet another version of a scene I photographed many years ago. I have painted this several times in watercolor and oil. One of my oil painting versions was shown in this early post. The image above and below is a much looser interpretation of the scene.

In this painting, I put down that gloomy green cloud and I was just blown away by that orange sky behind it. Especially the subtle soft at the top of the sky.


The source photo is shown below. I still remember the day well, driving home from work, now more than 10 years ago:


Below is my painting number 203. This is an invented landscape – as I have done many times before, I relied on a tried and trusted composition. I put this painting aside several days and then reworked the almost dry paint with a brush, smoothing out some of the more violent palette knife strokes. I am quite pleased with the final outcome:


I will end off this post with a story about the place where the source photo shown above was taken. I already related this story in this much earlier post:

About one kilometre North-East from where the photo above was taken I once walked with the dogs late in the afternoon. The sun had already set and it was getting cold and dark quickly. Winter grasses all around thick and wet with early dew.

I saw an owl gliding along the thin streamline. It was very close and glided very slow, almost hovering. And dark as it was, I could still see clearly as he came past me that huge beautiful head distinctly turn and the cavernous eyes look at me intently. I realized, quite without drama, that something small in me had changed, if only because of the deposit of that moment into the marshland of my memory.

It was only later that I came across the poem “The Owl” by Thorkild Bjornvig (translated by Robert Bly in his book News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness). The poem ends like this:

…then I felt his huge and yellow stare
plant something foreign in me, a deep quiet,
a mad freedom; my heart laughed
when the bird raised his soft wings.

Rilke knew something about sadness:

I believe that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension that we find paralyzing because we no longer hear our surprised feelings living. Because we are alone with the alien thing that has entered into our self; because everything intimate and accustomed is for an instant taken away; because we stand in the middle of a transition where we cannot remain standing. For this reason the sadness too passes: the new thing in us, the added thing, has entered into our heart, has gone into its inmost chamber and is not even there any more,—is already in our blood.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet (p. 35). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

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#O201: Quiet Pine Winds

This is another painting based on an old photograph (shown below). This is about a 10 x 8″ painting (oil on board). I am pushing my skills a bit to use a source image without being controlled by it.

For a recovering perfectionist, this is an exercise in letting go. Music helps, and not being to precious about saving the outcome for posterity. A more than anything, being guided by thoughts of pleasing an imaginary audience watching from the wings.

Below is the first version of the painting, which I originally posted:


After seeing this image on the web, I felt it lacked a bit of unity, so I worked it over with a brush:


The source photo (below) is of a typical afternoon on the South African highveld. As you can see I did a pretty loose interpretation of it. I decided early on that the heart of the image lay in the tinges of orange on the edges of the clouds, and on the russetty nuances of the veld in the foreground.


A poem of Wang Wei, from The Poetry of Zen:

He waits as at dusk, bamboo walking stick in hand,
at the headwaters of Tiger Creek,
leading us on as we listen to mountain echoes,
following the water's way.

Patches of wildflowers bloom.
A solitary bird calls from the valley floor.
We sit evening zazen in the empty forest:
quiet pine winds bring the scent of autumn.

A time of rest and reflection before me, one or two days in – I sense an old forgotten open truth beckoning behind the dance of thought. The body leans towards it and the cells open and call…

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O199-200: Widening Rings of Being

Well, that is 200 oil paintings since I started this blog. These two paintings were also based on photos taken back in South Africa (shown below).

#O200: That Day

I have been thinking about blogging, having/expressing opinions and what – if anything – can be known for sure. Pessoa’s fictional spokesperson had something to say about this:

No problem has a solution. None of us can untie the Gordian knot; either we give up or we cut it. We brusquely resolve intellectual problems with our feelings, either because we’re tired of thinking, or because we’re afraid to draw conclusions, or because of an inexplicable need to latch on to something, or because of a gregarious impulse to return to other people and to life. Since we can never know all the factors that a problem entails, we can never solve it. To arrive at the truth we would need more data, along with the intellectual resources for exhaustively interpreting the data.

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

#O199: Farm near Cullinan

The source photos (old printed copies photographed) are shown below:

In Philip Kapleau’s book “Zen: Merging of East and West” a Zen student had an experience which made him reconsider what can be known with the thinking mind:

I knew tearfully the next day I did not and could not know anything about Mu – that “I did not know” was the answer to every conceivable question. And I went out in the fields at noon among the warm and peaceful birds and insects and grass and I cried bitterly as I saw that there was nothing to hold on to – nothing. And that I had no choice but to submit.

Rumi has the final word today. Here is an excerpt from his poem “A Community of the Spirit” (this copy from Poet Seers):

Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

From Rumi – Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne

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#O198: Stop the Sun!

For the past 20 or so paintings, I worked abstractly – letting the process dictate the final image. In this painting I tried to return to using a source photo but being quite free in my interpretation of it. The source image is shown below.

This photo was taken more than 10 years ago on a farm near Cullinan (South Africa) on which I lived for some years. I now only have an old, stained printed version of this photo.


I often paint twilight scenes, but I am terrified of literal sunsets featuring a visible sun. I believe this is one of my first attempts at rendering a sun in a literal way.


From dawn to dusk: how to be myself? When Nisargadatta was asked to explain the path to Self-Realization, he replied that there was no path, because “what you are seeking is too close to you to allow for a path”.

An old man now, I realize that the act of breaking through the chains of social demands and conventions to free a truer version of oneself is the supreme battle of life and death. Truly, there is no journey more complex, risky and rewarding than gaining, day-by-day, greater congruence between the being you most naturally are and the one you present to your family and society at large. (Jasper Mouton)

Zen master Shunryu Suzuki had something more pragmatic to say about becoming ourselves:

When we ‘just sit’ in meditation, we include everything. There is nothing else, nothing but you. This is shikantaza. We become completely ourselves. We have everything, and we are fully satisfied. There is nothing to attain, so we have a sense of gratitude or joyful mind…we practice like someone who is close to dying. There is nothing to rely on, nothing to depend on. Because you are dying, you don’t want anything, so you cannot be fooled by anything. Most people are not only fooled by something, but also by themselves. We should know whether or not we are fooling ourselves. (Shunryu Suzuki, in “Not Always So“)

But for me the poet always has the last word. Here are some parts of May Sarton’s poem, Now I Become Myself:

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before--"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

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