Road to Ithaka

I had a long battle on my hands to get the above painting to reach the impact it was leading me to. It took several sessions over a week and in the end I was happy with the outcome, but I think the canvas felt like the old man in Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea after he at long last landed the big fish he had been fighting so long.

Here is how it started: during a recent morning walk around “Lake D” near Hamilton, New Zealand, I took some promising photos.

I chose this one to base a painting on:

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I was interested in the play between shadow and shade. I expected two challenges: first, how to make the large area of shade in the foreground interesting; and second: how to handle all that green without the painting being too cool and pretty.

Here is my first effort:

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Initially, I was quite happy with this outcome – happy enough to sign it. However, the next morning when I saw it in the sober light of the morning I scraped most of it right off. I felt the picture plane was too flat – the eye was not really going anywhere. And all that yellow green was a bit horrible.

So I took some of the trees out at the right, warmed up the tree shadows and introduced a far vista with some cold clouds:

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I felt much more satisfied with this version – it had an old world, gritty and deconstructed look that I strive for in most of my work. I had also put much more colour into the shadows. I felt I was done!

Not yet. Once again, the next morning I noted the similarity in the shapes and spacing between the four trees  (above, top left) – it looked like something made in a factory. I know similar repeating shapes with equal distances between them are a big NO in painting composition.

So once the paint was tacky again, I repainted that portion and put in some finishing touches:

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Now I felt there was an unspoken message, a mystery (will this path take me to those far hills and those clouds?) and much for the viewer’s eye to complete. I am quite happy with this effort.

Thinking about the long, tortuous path that a painting sometimes follow to its final resting place, I was reminded of the beautiful poem by Cavafy:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
...
...
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. 

(this copy from C.P. Cavafy poems, 
Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard)

 

Thanks to all who have encouraged me with likes and comments. A special thanks to those who follow my blog . I wish all of you happiness and contentment.

If you are interested to see more of my work, follow me on Instagram (@fritzjoosteartist), or to view or buy my work, please visit my gallery on Daily Paintworks.

Glory to Dappled Things

In the most recent leg of my painting journey I started to follow a method in which I first do a pastel study of the subject I have in mind. Once I have the concept nailed down in the most abstract manner possible, I decide if it warrants a larger version in oil.

Oftentimes the pastel version is so abstract that it is not fit for public consumption. But sometimes it is a real honey (and even more so in a frame, even an inexpensive photo frame):

 

In the case above, this was based on some memory notes and photos of the Waikato River’s edge – one of my favorite spots just a few minutes walk from my home.

Now, when doing the oil painting I put away the photo entirely and just use the pastel as a reference. I try to keep the paint as thin and dry as possible at the start, with the brush moving all the time. At the end I put in a few juicy highlights:

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I have been pondering this strange universe even more than usual. I often watch debates about the existence of a higher being. In meditation all those questions disappear into the most beautiful silence, something indescribable in its sacredness and generosity. Right here now.

Belief in a higher being or not, I will always – in my moments of solitude – sing praise to dappled things:

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The image above is another oil version of the dappled shade in the shallows on the banks of the Waikato River. I sing praise in my own way, in agreement with Gerhard Manley Hopkins:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                     Praise Him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 
this version copied from Poets.org

Thanks to all who have encouraged me with likes and comments. A special thanks to those who follow my blog . I wish all of you happiness and contentment.

If you are interested to see more of my work, follow me on instagram (@fritzjoosteartist), or to view or buy my work, please visit my gallery on Daily Paintworks.

Lost in Landscapes

I have been busy in the studio of late. With the assistance of my beautiful wife I recently migrated from my old drafty and leaky studio to one in my old office. Complete with air conditioning and without leaks! With better lighting and more warmth I now manage to paint into the night…

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Another big step I took was to start putting my paintings up for sale online through the Daily Paintworks site. The paintings shown in this blog post all sold recently and it was with happy sadness that I sent them off. They are selling dirt cheap but I am so glad that others can share the joy I get from creating these paintings.

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Juggling life between work and painting, stress and friction builds up quite quickly without a discipline of a tempered pace and self-awareness. There is also the potential to lose the golden thread of creativity and spirituality completely. The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki warned against this:

When we are too involved in the idea of time, or taking care of the material world, we will lose our way. A disciple will not be a disciple when he is completely involved in dualistic practice, involved in a busy life in the busy, mundane world.

Shunryu Suzuki, in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

I find when things hum along, waking up to the fact of my existence as often as I can provides a source of energy, joy even. These are the moments of awareness that constitute a full, appreciated life not spent in forgetfulness.

From an old post of mine: “Lying awake at 2 am, I think again of Pessoa and his wonderful prose. He wrote:”

To shrug off all duties, even those not assigned to us, to repudiate all homes, even those that weren’t ours, to live off vestiges and the ill-defined, in grand purple robes of madness and in imitation laces of dreamed majesties … To be something, anything, that doesn’t feel the weight of the rain outside, nor the anguish of inner emptiness … To wander without thought or soul – sensation without sensation – along mountain roads and through valleys hidden between steep slopes, into the far distance, irrevocably immersed … To be lost in landscapes that are like paintings … A colourful non-being in the distance …

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

Summer has come to New Zealand!  I hope you enjoy this excerpt from a poem by Shinkichi Takahashi:

The Position of the Sparrow (last verse)
...
Because the whole is part, there's not a whole,
Anywhere, that is not part.
And all those happenings a billion years ago,
Are happening now, all around us: time.
Indeed this morning the sparrow hopped about
In that nebulous whirlpool
A million light years hence.
And since the morning is void,
Anything can be. Since mornings
A billion years from now are nothingness,
We can behold them.
The sparrow stirs,
The universe moves slightly.

Shinkichi Takahashi, translated by Lucien Stryk in 
Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breezes Enter

Thanks to all who have encouraged me with likes and comments. A special thanks to those who follow my blog . I wish you happiness and contentment.

If you are interested to see more of my work, follow me on instagram (@fritzjoosteartist), or to view or buy my work, please visit my gallery on Daily Paintworks.

The Truth Dawns

It feels as if for the longest time I have been wrestling with the challenge of painting honest landscapes. Time and time again I fall into the clutches of the picturesque, the “pretty landscape”. The past week I have been back at work on this analysis.

The challenge I set myself was to dissolve the landscape I had in mind – a view of the mountains near my home with a semi-invented foreground composition – into something more abstract. My first effort came out like this:

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Mountain View I (Oil on Canvas, 11″ x 14″)

I was pleased with the outcome, especially the warm, rich and juicy foreground. But that horizon line immediately cast the image as a traditional landscape. I set to the problem with pastels, this time using only blocks of color with little or no lines:

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Mountain View II (Pastel on Canson paper, 8″ x 10″)

I liked this one a little more. But I am quite comfortable with pastel, so this felt like cheating.

I went back to oils, this time taking away the option of lines by using only the palette knife:

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Mountain View III (Oil on Canvas, 8″ x 10″)

I felt I was getting somewhere, but was weary of the palette knife – it very easily becomes a gimmick or mannerism that an artist cannot escape from, like an actor associated with a certain role.

Finally, as the weekend approached, I resolved the idea with an image that I really love:

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Mountain View IV (Oil on Canvas, 8″ x 10″)

There is little left of the original concept, except color, rhythm, harmonies. Who knows how I will feel about this image in a week’s time? I know I felt good, relaxed and happy while doing it and after doing it. It is a good sign, but I know that art is an ever moving target, a mystery that deepens infinitely.

I have been reading The Philosophy of Samuel Beckett, by John Calder. Initially a somewhat dry read for my engineering brain, I started paying better attention in the chapter “The failure of art”. Calder quotes Beckett:

…to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world and the shrink from it desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, living.

By Beckett’s measure I guess I can say the past week I failed several times, and currently with attempt IV I am under the illusion of having succeeded. Slowly the truth about this journey dawns:

Slowly the Truth Dawns

To wake, and know
your heart sinks
dark and heavy,
hardening into stone...

Slowly the sea lifts its waves,
slowly the trees turn red in the gorge,
slowly the fires begin to lap in hell,
slowly the truth dawns...

Olav H. Hague, translated by Robert Hedin, in
The Dream We Carry

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

Blue Mountains Dreaming

I have been dreaming of mountains, moonlight and clouds. During the recent full moon I stepped outside at 2am. Stars abound in the New Zealand sky, clouds scurrying along the Hakarimata mountains across the river. What a universe!

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Acrylic on Canvas Paper (11″ x 14″)

Lady Izumi Shikibu lived at the border between the 10th and 11th centuries.  She must have dreamed of mountains and moonlight as well. She wrote:

I go out of the darkness
Onto a road of darkness
Lit only by the far off
Moon on the edge of the mountains

Izumi (translation by Kenneth Rexroth, in 
One Hundred Poems from the Japanese

 

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Pastel on Canson Paper (8″ x 10″)

Through busy days and dreamy nights, I keep pondering meanings and purposes – those of life, business…and painting. At times it feels as if a huge purpose holds me safely in its sway. Other times I drift as a leaf in a late afternoon storm. I try to live upright through both these views of life.

In his wonderful book The Silence of the Animals, John Gray writes:

Godless mysticism cannot escape the finality of tragedy, or make beauty eternal. It does not dissolve inner conflict into the false quietude of any oceanic calm. All it offers is mere being. There is no redemption from being human.

 

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Pastel on Canson Paper (8″ x 10″)

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

A Sense of Something Hidden

Coming back to my blog after yet another long absence, the memory of one of Wendell Berry’s poems – A meeting in a Part – pop’s into my mind. In the poem, the narrator tells of a dream: he runs into an old friend, one who has passed already to the other side of life.

The poem concludes with:

Yet I, the changed one,
ask: "How you been?"
He grins and looks at me.
"I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees."
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Pastel on Paper (8″ x 10″)

The past few weeks I have been in-and-out of a cycle of painting and reading. I am healthy, my family are healthy, my sons proud and showing signs of temperance and self-discipline – the sort that the Bhagavad Gita says leads to the ensuing of “a discipline (yoga) that ‘destroys all sorrow'”.

Life is joyfully sweet with swirls of  anxiety and melancholy that blows at times through my days. I keep being amazed by the urge to create, and the fragile line between using my painting to achieve a state of “being nobody, going nowhere”, and working with a strategic, commercial fragrance in my mind – however faint – while I work.

Recently I enjoyed Richard Holloway’s autobiography Leaving Alexandria. For most readers the final chapters dealing with the onset of disillusionment with the church – and perhaps even his faith – are probably the most gripping. But what lingered on in my mind was the impact of his childhood wandering in the hills above the Vale of Leven, north of Glasgow.

Holloway’s reflections on these childhood wandering are especially poignant for a landscape painter:

How can you make yourself one with a landscape? You can tramp over it, become so familiar with its contours that you never need a map, but you can never possess it. It is always eluding your desire, just out of reach, beyond your possessing. I did not know the word at the time, or the idea behind it, but on the hills I was experiencing latency, the sense of something hidden behind what is seen.

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Oil on Paper (11″ x 14″)

I find in my own landscape paintings, when the right chord is struck, I am immediately immersed in a melancholy memory of schoolboy afternoons spent alone in the woods near my home. In a way, each of my landscapes contain something of my childhood.

In the excellent writer’s book Bird by Bird,  Annie Lamott advises aspiring writers:

Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.

I guess in my case the same applies to painting and the source of the visual imagery that lies behind many of my invented landscapes.

The monk Nõin lived in the eleventh century. It is important that he lived. He wrote poems. He wrote:

As I approach
The mountain village
Through the spring twilight
I hear the sunset bell
Ring through drifting petals.

(translation by Kenneth Rexroth, in 
One Hundred Poems from the Japanese

 

Thanks to all who have supported my blog through follows, comments and likes. Without your motivation there would be nothing, I suspect. I hope you are happy and content.

 

A Kind of Tenderness

My most recent paintings are once again based on scenes from my morning walk up Driver Road.

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Below are two photos that served as source material for the paintings above:

Pessoa wrote:

Peace at last. All that was dross and residue vanishes from my soul as if it had never been. I’m alone and calm. It’s like the moment when I could theoretically convert to a religion. But although I’m no longer attracted to anything down here, I’m also not attracted to anything up above. I feel free, as if I’d ceased to exist and were conscious of that fact.

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

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In my back studio I often meditate as the New Zealand winter afternoon turns stormily into dusk then dark. Dark inside – pitch black if not for the small  candle and gas heater spreading warm yellow amidst the shadows. Outside rough jerking wind-sound and trucks on River Road.

But inside on the out breath all clarifies into a deep peace the colour of a winter sky in a painting out of Africa. Thoughts still move like northern lights across the mind screen.  Breathing deep into the hip sockets, the pelvic bowl expands – becomes a Milky Way. Another out-breath….and then the bell.

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Pessoa continues:

Peace, yes, peace. A great calm, gentle like something superfluous, descends on me to the depths of my being. The pages I read, the tasks I complete, the motions and vicissitudes of life – all has become for me a faint penumbra, a scarcely visible halo circling something tranquil that I can’t identify. The exertion in which I’ve sometimes forgotten my soul, and the contemplation in which I’ve sometimes forgotten all action – both come back to me as a kind of tenderness without emotion, a paltry, empty compassion.

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

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

Where Movement Ends

Winter has come to New Zealand, and with it grey skies, moody days and biting cold on my morning walks. I have fallen into a steady meditation schedule,  early morning in my studio, my light the glow of the gas heater. Sacred minutes. My cup runneth over.

The urge to paint is back – after almost half a year. My paintings make me happy. In the half light of the days I peer into the emptiness at which they point.

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Mixed Media on Paper

I have been vacillating about my blog forever. Not routine procrastination, just doubt about the need for this world to have one more blog post released onto it. Most of all I am stalled by the lack of a strong opinion about one side or another, having seen all sides have a backside, and the artificiality of the personality and its opinions.

Gearing up to write a blog post became for me almost an act of in-authenticity. In the words of  T.S. Eliot, the action of one who prepares “a face to meet the faces that you meet”.

Not to imply anything, but my doubt about speaking or staying silent reminds me of the near silence of T.S. Eliot at the outset of his career as a poet and critic. Perhaps he too was stalled by the notion that any venturing out in the gesture of opinion was a move away from authenticity.

In the brilliant book, The Invisible Poet, T.S Eliot, author Hugh Kenner wrote that the study of the philosophy of F.H Bradley helped Eliot by freeing him:

“…from the posture of the ironist with his back to a wall, by affirming the artificiality of all personality including the one we intimately suppose to be our true one; not only the faces we prepare but the “we” that prepares; …A view of the past, a view of himself and other persons, a view of the nature of what we call statement and communication; these delivered Eliot from what might have been, after a brilliant beginning, a cul-de-sac and silence.”

 

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Pastel on Paper

On my walks I think about authenticity and its ghostly fragility. I am not surprised that the concept provided enough material for Lionel Trilling to write a fascinating book about Sincerity and Authenticity. In my reading, Trilling regards authenticity as a more mature cousin to Sincerity, which is dismissed as a social construct:

In short, we play the role of being ourselves, we sincerely act the part of the sincere person, with the result that a judgement may be passed upon our sincerity that it is not authentic. (Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity)

Authenticity takes us in a different direction:

A very considerable originative power had once been claimed for sincerity, but nothing to match the marvellous generative force that our modern judgement assigns to authenticity, which implies the downward movement through all the cultural superstructures to some place where all movement ends, and begins.

(Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity)

 

This is part of the same discussion in which Trilling quotes (again) Eliot:

‘The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality’.

 

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Pastel on dark blue Canson Paper

Should we speak or remain in the authenticity of silence? As always, Rilke has the last word on this. In his poem, “We must die because we have known them”, he ends with:

...
But the grown man
shudders and is silent. The man who
has wandered pathless at night
in the mountain-range of his feelings:
is silent.

As the old sailor is silent,
and the terrors that he has endured
play inside him as though in quivering cages.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

 

Thanks for visiting my blog! Special thanks to all followers and supporters who have recently encouraged me with kind and thoughtful comments.

 

 

Road to Character

Phew – life moved really fast these first two months of the year! In my last post, I showed a few works done using Acrylic on paper. To be honest, I have always been a bit of a snob in my attitude towards the use of Acrylic paint as compared to Oil paint.

It guess it is a combination of the “plastic” nature of acrylic, combined with the quick-drying nature of it. And then there is that luminous, mystical transparency of oil paints. However, I have had some success with Acrylic done on paper (normally heavy Fabriano Hot Press Watercolor paper), and here I would like to share some of these with you.

These next two paintings were inspired by a view of farmland just west of Hamilton, New Zealand. I was driving on the freeway and as I glanced to the side I saw this open farmland, divided into blocks, with the sun and shadow playing on it.

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Acrylic on Paper, 66 x 44 cm
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Acrylic on Paper, 50 x 32 cm

The painting below is an invented landscape. It started off as an abstract but – as so often happens – it slowly evolved into yet another landscape!

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Acrylic on Paper, 66 x 44 cm

The weeks since the start of the year have been quite a ride. Last December, a close family member passed away after a long, brave battle with cancer.  The few and short interactions I had with her and her two young, brave children in the last few days of her life had a profound impact on me.

I decided to deeply review and look into my own life, including my health, fitness and my personal direction in life. As I hinted in my last post, this drive has had an interesting cooling effect on my enthusiasm for painting, which has since evened out again.

I am now about two months into a surprising change in my life path. What started initially as an attempt to get rid of near-chronic fatigue has morphed into a passionate drive to improve my health, fitness and baseline level of happiness – in short, my total way of being.

I started with a zeal for weight-loss and fitness, but one of the first five lessons I learned centred around the brevity of inspiration. It runs out way before you reach the goal. So I soon realized any long term transformation – if it is to be lasting and significant – will be have to be based on humility and patience. In fact – character transformation, rather than body transformation.

In the book The Road to Character, David Brooks writes:

The humble person understands that experience is a better teacher than pure reason. He understands that wisdom is not knowledge. Wisdom emerges out of a collection of intellectual virtues. It is knowing how to behave when perfect knowledge is lacking.

I have managed to sustain this transformation drive now for almost two months, and I have learned many lessons on this first part of my journey – some expected and some surprising.

Although my blog started as a painting-related thing, I would love to share some of the insights and lessons learned on this journey with the followers of my blog in the hope that it may inspire you and allow you to learn from my experience. So watch this space!

In one sentence I will give you the key to absolute spiritual freedom: to be a self-actualized being, all you have to do is know, feel, think, and act like one.

Roy Eugene Davis – The Book of Life

If you are primarily coming to my blog for the sake of the paintings – I will continue to post some of my recent works, but be prepared for some motivational reading also!

Before I go – an excerpt from a poem by Wang Wei:

...
Oftentimes - with joy in my heart -
Alone, I roam here and there.
It is a wonderful thing
That I am aware of myself.
When the streamlet ends my trip
I settle down and catch
The moment of rising mists.
Now and then I meet
A furrowed dweller of the woods.
We chat and laugh;
Never do we want to go home.

Wang Wei, quoted in
Creativity and Taoism, by Chung-yuan Chang

It is a wonderful thing that I am aware of myself!

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

 

 

 

Among Shadows and Ruins

In my last post I showed some of my recent paintings done on paper. These were in watercolor and pastel. At the moment, I really enjoy working on paper – just something about that natural texture and light weight of paper. However, I have become a bit impatient to let the watercolor dry before I go over it in pastel.

So…I dusted off my old bottles of Acrylic paints and started playing around with it. Not expecting anything to come out of these play sessions, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the combination of Acrylic and paper.

The images in this post are some abstract works (size about 50 x 33 cm) that have come out of these play sessions – some of these have been getting quite a lot of pins when I posted them on Pinterest, so I guess I am not the only one liking them!

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I have also posted some of these on my formal website, and in doing this I found that putting a border around the image gives a much better indication of what the work would look like when it is framed with a mat behind glass. In the case of abstract work, I have always found that the border makes up an intrinsic part of the composition, so it is quite important to see it with a proper border.

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A good break over the new year, together with increasing exposure to sunlight, nourishing but sparse food and lots of exercise has enabled me to put some distance between my demons and my angels. At the moment I am living with my angels mostly, but in the end I realize – they are all mine. All part of this particular life as a sentient being on a ball twirling in a corner of the vast eternal universe.

When consciousness can relax into the simplicity of bare presence, something opens up. We are in harmony with a greater intelligence, or more accurately, the illusion that we are separate from this falls away.

Tollifson, Joan. Nothing to Grasp (pp. 103-104). New Harbinger Publications. 

With a more energized viewpoint, I noted that my need to go into the studio has ever so slightly diminished – like everything else this will change – but for now I am keeping a curious eye on it. I have learned not to overthink these changes in my internal seasons too much. Besides, thinking is quite overrated. To quote Tollifson again:

Some of our thinking is useful and functional, but we can notice that much of our thinking, maybe most of it, does nothing but generate suffering and confusion. With awareness, we can begin to feel when thought ceases to be useful, when it slides over into obsessive rumination. The more we pay attention with awareness to any thought process, the more we can become sensitive to where it ceases to be functional. Ultimately, the clearest and most truly creative decisions, discoveries and breakthroughs come from a place totally beyond the thinking mind.

What I have learned to my surprise (again!) over the past few weeks is that a healthy, nourished body exposed to a lot of sunlight really does tend to host a more positive, healthy mind. The old “healthy body, healthy mind” cliche, a bit more personally experienced.

But there is something of benefit in all internal seasons. What beauty is there not also in the spirit in repose, slightly reflective and objective. I can only imagine the mood of Pessoa when he wrote:

The more I contemplate the spectacle of the world and the ever-changing state of things, the more profoundly I’m convinced of the inherent fiction of everything, of the false importance exhibited by all realities. And in this contemplation (which has occurred to all thinking souls at one time or another), the colourful parade of customs and fashions, the complex path of civilizations and progress, the grandiose commotion of empires and cultures – all of this strikes me as a myth and a fiction, dreamed among shadows and ruins. But I’m not sure whether the supreme resolution of all these dead intentions – dead even when achieved – lies in the ecstatic resignation of the Buddha, who, once he understood the emptiness of things, stood up from his ecstasy saying, ‘Now I know everything’, or in the jaded indifference of the emperor Severus: ‘Omnia fui, nihil expedit – I have been everything, nothing is worth anything.’

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

 

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