Bits of zen flotsam & jetsam from the daily practice of a zen fool with shards of modern Buddhist art from my studio. Sometimes cranky, sometimes inspiring, mostly entertaining.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Perception, Conception and Impatience
I've been reading "The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing The World With Fresh Eyes" by Andy Karr and Michael Wood. I'd say it's an eye opener, but that would be such a cheap bit of foolishness that you would fall to the ground groaning. And you might hurt yourself and possibly require chiropractic care and then I'd feel terrible and, and... That small blathering was brought to you by "conceptual" thought and had nothing to do with "perception" which is what Karr and Wood are encouraging us to practice in this book; to see directly, without the musings of the thinking mind.
But they are wholly more sensible than I am so I'll let them explain the difference between conception and perception (an important distinction in creating art and our everyday lives ): "Visual images appear when consciousness connects with the eye. Mental images appear when consciousness connects with the conceptual (thinking) mind....Usually perception and conception are blended, which makes it hard to distinguish the two....The usual sequence of perception is that in the first moment, there is direct sensory experience. In the second moment, a concept and label arise, superimposed on the direct perception." The book is delicious (without ketchup) and reads like pure dharma slathered liberally with insights about artistic vision.
What came up for me as I read the first couple of chapters and tried out some of the practices was the awareness of my own subtle forms of impatience (not to be confused with the less subtle ones, which to use a Basil Fawlty turn of phrase, are bleeding obvious). And it wasn't really what I'd expected to explore while reading about perception and conception. I thought I'd just get down to the work of actually "seeing". But suddenly it was everywhere (my impatience), just the way I'm in a hurry to get to the next delicious sentence, or the way I want to jump up and try being contemplative (I know, I know, that's ridiculous). But I could just see this urge to get going, what might masquerade as enthusiasm, actually is a form impatience. I could feel the impatience in my body, the edginess of it; in my held breath, the tenseness of face and neck muscles. I could feel how much energy this thief of impatience was stealing from me.
As I went about my week, it was like I carried a flashlight that focused it's brilliant beam on my impatience. It shone on my speech and attitude when I interacted with others. I could feel a grasping, wanting quality in conversations, wanting the conversation to go a certain way. There was a subtle lack of space and openness for things to simply develop. I wanted the same thing from others that I demanded of myself. I wanted things to progress easily in the direction that seemed good to me. Impatience had me leaning into the future, hankering after results.
When I went to my studio space to paint impatience kept me from just being with the canvas, the paint, the partially finished painting. As I oriented myself toward awareness and patience and simply sat for a bit with a painting in progress I sensed its delicateness and vulnerability. I sensed a subtle violence in my impatience, a self centredness. I could see my usual impatient wanting; wanting a piece to be finished, wanting it to be a certain way, wanting it to be easy. It was all laid out before me like a little lesson plan on impatience. I sat a while longer and simply looked. I didn't need to like or dislike. I saw whiteness, patches of green and grey. I let them sink in. I let them just be.
When I took an afternoon walk I could sense that same tenderness, an openness as I looked at the tree branches silhouetted in the bright light along the shore. I could walk quietly and just look. I reminded myself of my intention to be aware, to remember to just see. I didn't need anything to be beautiful or depressing or make me happy. The landscape and I could coexist in stillness and peace. There was pattern and shape and greenness and light.
And so it seems perception holds the hand of patience. And together they offer us an opportunity to walk through this world with an open heart and open eyes. I invite you to take your eyes for a walk through the world with the intention to "just see". You will find a rich and vivid world of detail waiting for you.
Buddhism & Art...if I had to pick two words that give an overview of what I get up to in this world those would be my choices. Buddhism is the ground upon which I rest all else. I like to think it brings me some sanity. It helps me think in some logical way about what I am doing and look at it as deeply as possible. What did I just do? Why ? What's that all about? ...To try and look at my life without sliding over things or fooling myself...To be present for life, not rejecting or preferring one experience over another. Buddhist practice makes my life full and rich, sometimes filled with joy and sometimes with a deep experience of the suffering present in this world.
After all those words does it seem odd to say that it is the simplicity of Zen that appeals to me? This inclination to simplicity pulls me to try and integrate my practice and work, to paint Buddhas, to observe my process as I work.
I am drawn to mixed media, integrating script and words with images and colour.