Life is strangely disjointed around here with our house for sale, as we are constantly in a state of cleaning up and leaving for an hour here, an hour there. The constant transition from one activity to another makes it more difficult to paint. I find I need time to just mooch and muck about and sit and stare, that an hour here or there just accounts for a lick or two of paint. Starting and stopping doesn't seem too productive. I get to see how I am attached to a certain way of working. Perhaps if I worked this way for a long time I might learn to slip more easily in and out of the painting state? Or is it like meditation? Our qi gong teacher always says if you sit for too short a time, even if you sit 3 or 4 times a day, you are like a pot that is constantly taken on and off the heat. You never get enough heat going to come up to a boil!
We went again to sit with the monks at the art gallery this morning. They were joined by an additional monk today. It is fun to notice that their hair is growing and the new monk sported a hint of a moustache. Ah, the impermanence of hair! One monk put on some sun glasses this morning to cut the glare that reflects off the sparkly coloured sand under the strong gallery lights. He looked quite movie starish. He is the monk who looks slightly grumpy or bored to me but he is always the first to sit down to work on the mandala. The youngest monk who looks so at ease, wandered the gallery this morning with a small digital camera, taking photos of his fellow monks and some of the art work. The hand-out that tells a bit about the monks said he entered the monastery when he was 7. It is fun to look at the monks and observe their very human traits, the physical and perceived personality differences. And yet (as all of us humans) there is that impenetrable aspect to them, the inner part of another human being that we can never know; the complex mix of karma, past experience, inclinations, health, longings, habitual tendencies. We humans are complex little packages.
And as I sat at the Mandala of Compassion I hoped that compassion was being absorbed into my pores, that some invisible, mysterious action was taking place, that a thin layer of compassion dust was settling on me, that I was breathing it into my lungs and heart. Compassion by osmosis ... I imagined something happening that would cause compassion to arise more naturally, more easily in me. I have had this experience in other aspects of my spiritual life, where after months or perhaps years of wanting and trying to accomplish some aspect of spirit (not feel so much anger, or attain more focus) that the strived after quality or desired outcome arrived much later, of its own accord. My teacher has always said this is "the fruits of training" and that the timing is not up to us.
As I sat with the monks I reminded myself to focus some conscious awareness on compassion for myself and others, to bring it to mind during the day. It reminded me to ask the question as I go about my day "how can I be helpful here?" Not in any do-gooder kind of way but in a way that supports people and situations. Sometimes compassion is something that just oozes out of you so that you can empathize deeply with others, someone or some circumstance opens a little compassion gate inside you. Somehow your self protective skin becomes invisible for a time and the deep needs of another are as important to you as your own. Unexplainable, effortless even. No striving. No me, I'm being compassionate, just compassion.
As I watched the monks start work on the mandala I noticed the focus, the attention they devote to the tiny lines of sand they are shaking, with such care, out of the little metal funnels. Just a moments lapse could ruin a line, create an unsightly lump. I don't see any in all their work. I watch as they go over the lines again. It's like practice I think. We go over the same thing again and again, building it up, making it more solid and visible, stronger. Their hands are so steady. They work slowly, with intent. Sometimes I get antsy when I work and have a hard time settling down. Does that ever happen for them, I wonder?
Later in the day, as I leave a shop where I am getting some photo copies of the Green Tara mantra, to use on my painting, I see 2 of the monks, finished work for the day, walking down the street with the office workers. They don't look happy or sad. They are not talking. They are just walking toward downtown, just fully engaged in the act of walking I imagine. No stories, at least not ones I know. Just the swish of saffron and maroon robes and the cool fall air on their bare arms