I am book obsessed lately, not with all books, but with one in particular. "No More Secondhand Art" is becoming a dear friend to me lately. Perhaps more than a friend... It comes to bed with me most nights, follows me around the house, keeping me company if I sit down for a little rest during the day, languishing lazily with me in front of the fire in the evening. I like to think we are enjoying each other's company. My pen wanders hungrily through it's pages, picking it's paper brains. I have abandoned all prissy concern for bookishness and leave the tender little volume haphazardly propped open like a small tent. It is constantly whispering the contents of my mind into my ear. How does it do this? It speaks so deeply to how I regard art; every adjective, every verb showing how the bodies of art and spiritual practice fit so beautifully together.
The mind I have come to inhabit in this life time is quick. I say that not in a pride-full way but as an observation. It is simply a characteristic of my mind. And it has been my observation that this quickness does not always serve me well. This quickness is jumpy and often darts several steps ahead to conclusions that are far from accurate. This quickness skims speedily along the surface, often missing the depth of perception that slower, more measured minds wind themselves around quite naturally. With this quickness, comes the quickness to judge. And of course, measuring and assessing of things in this life has it's place, but judgment has this dirty little connotation, don't you think? It wanders recklessly through my life leaving it's shrapnel deeply embedded.
In creating art, I have come to learn that judgment engenders a lot of frustration and paralysis. It's like a pesky virus that once it has infected the mind, is difficult to kick out. "No More Secondhand Art" has several virus busters for us judgmental types (which includes most of us humans to one degree or another). The section I am really rolling around on my palette right now (cheap pun intended) is one on approaching the unknown. It reminds me a little of how the Buddhist teacher Dzigar Kongrtrul works. He talks about working past all points of like and dislike, until the mind lets go of all that.
Here' how London talks about beginning an artistic encounter (the blank page/canvas) : "Our usual response to any real sense of not knowing is to shrink back from the encounter" Don't we do this in so many ways in our life, all the time?? He goes on to say, "As a consequence we are likely to fall back upon tried ways and disengage with the actual circumstances we find ourselves in, and rerun past scenarios." I'm thinking here of the depth of habit, the strong pull of those neural pathways. And London goes on to tell us what street corner this dumps us out on, all confused and grumpy: "The failure to make contact with the reality we are in causes us in turn to feel out of our element and disempowered. In this dispirited state we certainly do not feel in the mood for creative play or adventures of the imagination." Man he has nailed this one for me!
I think I have been wandering around in this dispirited place for a long time without clearly knowing how to get out, or not having the patience to explore the corridors that lead out. London has given me permission to wander around and know that it's okay. I can just wander around, paint brush in hand exploring the delicate crevices of my own judgment until finally judgment gets tired and bored and the space of "not knowing" quietly sneaks in. I am seeing that it takes a long bit of time of just mucking about to leave the halls of judgment and just be there with my experience of paint and canvas. And that's okay. It may take you minutes to get there, it takes me a long time. London points out that one experience is no better than the other (thanks Peter, I'm so used to judging my judgmental nature as bad (sheesh that's twisted)).
London goes on to talk about how to "use" the facility of "not knowing" wisely. "Instead of allowing not knowing to paralyze forward progress, we can see not knowing as a frame of mind that occurs at the boundary line between all that is known and all that is yet to be known... This is the fruitful departing edge for all that leads to discovery." I love how he can encourage me to come willingly to the edge of what usually provokes fear. This is the place "where newness enters" he reminds us.
He makes a number of comments that have been helpful for me in actually looking forward to plunging into the deep pool of the unknown. Here's a few:
"when all is empty, all is ready"
"trust, not assurance glides us past what we know"
"fear is the symptom that great things are being confronted, the boundaries we take to be safe, good and real."
"it's the pregnant silence around which the world turns"
"it's the zero point from which new things spring"
So are you ready to join me in the place of "not knowing" or do you already slip into this place with ease?