Saturday, December 10, 2011

Painting Into The Unknown

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?


  1. Very,very nice! I'm resonating... Oh yes, the strong pull of the neural pathways! And I love that you feel a "permission to wander" finding your own way through; and "not knowing being a threshold of discovery." Lovely! That makes it a little less scary... I find myself in this threshold space as well, in a different way for different reasons and I am actually feeling comfortable with it; seeing what it has to offer. And am feeling ready to wade deeper into that "not knowing" space. It seems to have its own pull as well...

    Love the Buddha face - emerging out of the mist :)

    Thanks for such a meaningful and authentic post...

  2. oh this painting, carole...


    "trust, not assurance glides us past what we know" ... yes!

  3. I love this Buddha image, Carole!

  4. Nice one! Seems a lot easier to slip out of that place than into it... gotta stop judging myself for being judgmental about being judgmental...

  5. Mystic - yes, to give ourselves the time and opportunity to get comfortable on the threshold! Works for so many places in life!

    lynne - thanks, to she of the wonderful faces! so easy to forget about trust until it gets into the blood and bones.

    Kris - thanks so much for your kind words!

    David - I am still giggling at your comment (in a non judgmental kind of way!)

  6. oh gosh, i dont know. LOL.

    you know, there are areas of my life where i plunge in quite readily not knowing and other areas of my life, like buying a house, where i cannot plunge and remain in a state of agony and paralysis. its not all one nor the other.

    lovely painting. dreamy.

  7. Suki - it is true, I think, that we are challenged in different ways, in different parts of our life. That's what makes human interaction so interesting. I can be inspired by watching you do things that are easy for you and perhaps that flips over. And sometimes our fears are warranted, sometimes they are completely without reason in our current circumstances. To figure this out, is walking the thin wire sometimes.

    thanks for reminding us that there are gradations on the spectrum.

  8. "Our usual response to any real sense of not knowing is to shrink back from the encounter"

    Yes! Viruses seem to have gone viral in our posts, Carole! When I shrink back from my experience, I lose that skill of discernment - which I am coming to appreciate as the non-judging judgmental mind. You are re-minding me of this.

    Absolutely love the painting!

  9. it is perhaps the season for viruses? same day, different virus. and now to build our spiritual immunity?? or is that community?

  10. Entering the studio, absent for much of 3 months, I find I have a new relationship with the things left partially done.

    Gone are the little niggling thoughts of "not good enough" and "must fix that". I'm not standing so up close to the work that I can not see it for itself. Gone are my ideas of what the work should be.

    Now, it's "Oh! Well, hello!" Lets see....The dance has become more relaxed. I'd like it to stay this way. This feels like a better fit, the way a comfy old sweater does on a cold night.

    Sometimes stepping back, way back, can bring new perspective.

    Thanks for the lovely thought provoking words and for sharing your painting!

  11. Isn't it wonderful when a book follows you from room to room and into bed! When I need time away from painting I often pick up on my reading again. I find the time away from the studio helps me focus on other things and gives me a new focus, if only for a day or two.
    Are you thinking of attending a London workshop in the future?

  12. wonderful wonderful post and I love the image xox

  13. Leslie - wonderful to have let those niggling thoughts fly off to be with their own kind! Yes, those periods of being away can lend a new eye and a renewed vigour for the work, I agree. so good to see you back again. look forward to seeing you on your blog again!

    Carole - It is wonderful to find books like this, that resonate so deeply. I can remember when I used to read Margaret Atwood and I would feel this sense of loss as I got closer to the end and kind of slow down the reading just to make it last a little longer!

    I would love to attend a London workshop. Most coming up seem to be so far away. But you never know.

    Jeane- thanks! looking forward to more goodies from your studio!

  14. Lovely painting. Judgement is such a complex emotion isn't it? I often wonder how it relates to insecurity, and then for that matter pride.

    The place of not knowing is so hard for me to attain but, that seems to be when the best "work" happens.
    Happy Weekend!

  15. Mary - oh, man I'm steeped in judgment right now! ugh! after an afternoon of painting, trying to move into new territory! Is it a habit? I think perhaps. For me it relates to wanting something to show for my day. And yes to insecurity and pride, I agree.

    Yes, today was a good example of how hard it is to stay in the place of not knowing!

  16. I read this book some time ago.. several years ago and I think I need to read it again as I have been feeling frozen in my studio.. a bit tense and afraid to venture forth.. thanks for reminding how good this book is.

  17. Donna - well, strangely I feel better to hear you say that! I have been having a hard time with new direction, venturing forth, pulling back, so somehow it feels good to have community that says, yeah, me too, I know how that is.

  18. I have twin stepsons who are both artists. You may have just inspired a gift or two!

    Thank you.

  19. Mandy - They will thank you for it! It will reinvigorate their way of working, I think. His newer book "Drawing Closer To Nature" (which is on my list) is supposed to embraced Buddhism a little more and also deep ecology. They can trade back and forth!

  20. This image is striking, subtle and beautiful. I love how you state your dear friendship with "No More Secondhand Art"...I have felt the same way and like others, I'm feeling a draw to open and 'be with it' again. Thank you!

  21. Blue Sky - thanks. I look forward to hearing what parts resonate in particular for you now. Always so interesting to see where we change and how that transforms our relationship with things, ideas and people.

  22. " This quickness is jumpy and often darts several steps ahead to conclusions that are far from accurate." So true, it's always the easier route for me and full of emotion.

    "He talks about working past all points of like and dislike, until the mind lets go of all that." I like this idea of starting from a detached state of mind. It's so hard to let go of the judgement I find comfort in, but I know freeing my self of like or dislike would be a better beginning.

    I really love your work in grey scale with the hints of blue.

  23. Gallery J - yes, me too, "full of emotion" . It is the work of setting intention to get free of like and dislike, a hard one, that I am working on. I expect it takes some time to get there!

  24. "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 SOOOOOO love this. This sounds like a fantastic book for everyone, but I have a coaching client who would really benefit from this (she is a painter)...and well, for me too. Thanks for the recommendation:-)