Saturday, December 12, 2009

What the Buddha Sewed

Here's a new bit of art (16x16" mixed media). It builds on the "Blue Enso Buddha" I did a while back. I've been working with texture, something I've always loved but never seemed to be able to execute to my satisfaction. Ah the distance between expectations and results! Often a very long car trip between the two. But the first step is to wake up at the wheel and realize we're stuck somewhere on that dark little stretch of road . Mostly we start honking & complaining or put our foot wildly to the floor and hope by some miracle we end up where we want to go. Or maybe our style is to put the car up for sale and say we're never going to get there anyway, what's the use?

But in reality it's not about the expectations or the results. We can waste a lot of time and energy getting hung up at those little detours. It's really about the process, the open road, (please no tickets for an over metaphor violation!)

It's about keeping our eyes on the here and now. By simply doing our work, focusing on the task, whatever it is, we not only enjoy the journey but we build patience and perseverance. These are the gifts of any continued work. And in time we'll get where we're supposed to be going. It might be a destination we never imagined. The principle of the spiritual life at work here is: ultimately we're not in control. We do our part and the rest takes care of itself. It takes most of us humans a life time or three to get this.

In addition to my work with texture, old sewing pattern pieces have been calling to me lately. I bought a few, ages ago, at Ruby Dog's in Vancouver, because I loved their transparency and the words and symbols on them. I knew they'd find their place someday. Recently they have surfaced on the top of the flotsam & jetsam pile and I am delighting in them. In fact I think I might have to get me down to a local thrift store and snag a few more!

The other element of this painting is the enso (Japanese for circle) which symbolizes enlightenment, strength and emptiness. Creating an enso is a whole meditative practice, a serious calligraphic art but my relationship to them is simply personal. I have no training in the traditional aspects of how to execute them. I have been mixing my "enso" paint with a gooey substance called tar gel and love the shiny, viscous quality that materializes. I like the juxtaposition of the shiny raised enso against the matte textured background. It's a strange pleasing tension, a slightly surprising combo, not intentional in any way but the result of messing about with materials. It is a following of an intuitive sense, I suppose. So much of what we do, we don't really understand.

So that's been the studio fun lately, following this thread of texture and pattern bits and tar gel. It feels personal and authentic which Leslie Avon Miller talks about on her blog when describing her "mark making" process. It's as if after some time, things start to come out of you, that are you. They are not repetitions of things you have seen or art work you admire, but your own unique voice. It takes time to get there. Lots of just mucking about, lots of false starts, frustration and exploration and garbage cans full of stuff. And we can't make it happen, force our will on it. It's like anything we do in life really, perhaps all of life, for that matter. It takes time for things to brew and steep, to percolate and mature, like any good life sustaining drink worth it's sipping power.

It's also about developing an inner confidence. Not in a prideful way, but in a way that we come to believe in ourselves, in a way that we trust and have faith in what is happening inside and around us. Our friend, the Tibetan teacher, talks about this inner confidence in relationship to our attitude toward life; how we need this to develop our practice. We become the little zen "engine that could". It is not enough to get caught up in the suffering. We need to apply this antidote of inner confidence. And the close room-mate of this inner confidence is faith, I think; faith in the fact that life is not out to get us and that life unfolds as it should, bringing us what we need.

How is your unfolding process going? Things coming out crumpled? Still tumbling around in the dryer? Or perhaps you're holding up something lovely that you never imagined you owned and are as surprised as if you were looking at the laundry of a complete stranger?


  1. I love this one... and what you say aswell. I know there was a point (and i never noticed at the time) when I stopped 'doing' calligraphy & became a calligrapher... that inner confidence & belief in what i do... that equates to life & self too. I keep looking & seeing more detail... will you be doing prints? (could you email me price of original if still available, don't know if funds will stretch! thanks)

  2. What a wonderful, thought provoking post. Your work is stunning, but I love how you tied dharma in with the images and invite us deeper. I am not sure where I am right now. In the midst of flotsam and jetsam, not feeling especially creative or energized, and learning to be okay with that. So often, I am a worker bee and of late it feels like I am more of a wanderer. it is all good. you invite me to be where i am, no matter what and enjoy the journey. no resistance...

    love the thought of the little zen engine that could.

    many blessings on your lovely work.

  3. In a previous, not so distant life, I used to be an artist also . . . and kept this gem from my art teacher, David Middlebrook, at San Jose State University: "Do the work, it will teach you". I have gone back often to David's words. One can only plan so much. At some point, it is about starting, and letting process unfold, clear of too many head schemes.

    Love your images, by the way . . . Such a wonderful way to express your love of the Dharma, and to make it visible for the rest of the world!

    Deep bow,


    PS- also, i included you in my recent post on "15 Great Women Buddhist Blogs" :)

  4. Hello and thanks for the wonderful input.

    Suzi: I love that thought "when I stopped doing calligraphy and became a calligrapher" And this just happens at some point, doesn't it (and we can nurture it). I totally get this because I used to sheepishly mumble "I do some art". It felt so pretentious for me to say "I am an artist" which I actually say sometimes now!

    Jan: I hear a number of people going through dark patches these days. Maybe it's that season of darkness? And there it is, simply the counter point to light which as you comment "you are learning to be okay with" That's it, isn't it. Being okay with whatever arises.

    Marguerite: I love that short, pity slogan "Do the work, it will teach you." That reminds me so much of Daido Loori's sentiments in "Zen & Creativity" And thanks for including me in your list. I did pop over to your blog and loved the directness and pragmatic nature of your posts.

    Bows all round!

  5. Thanks for the beautiful post and artwork too!

  6. I am a big fan of the Enso and love painting it. For me, to paint them is a form of meditation. The sumi ink is so unforgiving and it forces me to embrace the moment completely and not think of anything else.

    As you said, the process is the bridge that melds our mind to the here and now.

    I love how you have done your Enso. It has so much energy.