Monday, June 8, 2015

Nature, The Ultimate Artist And Teacher?

Kanaskin Lake, BC
I think the artistry of nature has always astounded humans.  To view its sheer vastness, its startling beauty can leave us with only an oooo or an awww coming out of our cake holes.  A lot of art is either inspired by the natural world or seeks to imitate it.  As an abstract artist I'm not so interested in art that seeks to imitate the natural world though I can see how an image of a stunning scene above the couch would bring peace and joy to a home.  I am more interested in the translation of the natural world by the artist into form that evokes some feeling or response in us.  But that is my particular preference. Art is like spiritual practice in a way.  No one thing suits us all and so the many expressions of art. In a recent talk, Stephen Batchelor commented that the Buddha said his teachings were like medicine. Batchelor reasoned that not everyone has the same "illness" so not everyone needs the same medicine. So for art, if it feeds our soul, not all of us are nourished by the same thing. Even the same person may need different food at different times. Sometimes our soul requires peace, sometimes fiery inspiration.

Above Dawson City, Yukon, after midnight
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, a teacher in the Bon tradition, likes to remind of the healing and nourishing qualities of the natural world, how just a short time connecting with the natural world can improve our state of mind and health. The earth can ground us, the sun can warm us and inspire joy, the water of a stream can remind us of the natural flow of all life.  A big sky offers a feeling of spaciousness and the wind shows us how things just move on through.  We can focus on these aspects of the elements to help us become more spacious, inspired, grounded or flowing or we can simply experience it all without thought and be nourished by it's wise and welcome presence in our life. Especially if we spend a lot of time indoors (and most of us do) or in cities, it can be interesting to commit to spending more time immersing ourselves in the natural world and experiment with its impact on us.

Rain passing through at Kinaskin Lake
As I travel through northern BC and the Yukon I am struck by the sheer expanses of untouched wilderness. With less tree cover than I am used to in the rain forested area where I live my heart is deeply touched by the spacious feeling of the big sky.  There is a drama to this landscape, it's wild openness, it's ability to startle, it's rough beauty. One feels a privilege in being able to witness it; to see the alpine tundra with it's permafrost along the Dempster Highway, to see a Ptarmigan half white still from winter, flowers bursting everywhere, wise about the shortness of opportunity. Vastness and drama are the words that come to mind when viewing this landscape.  One gets a sense of the forces of nature, the strength and intractability of the natural world.

Tombstone Park, view from Dempster Highway
To spend time in this open place, to watch weather pass through, experience the strangeness of 24 hours of light and it's effect on the body, to watch bears saunter out to the road with little regard for our presence, reminds me of our smallness in the grand scheme of things.  Someone recently remarked about all the talk of "saving the planet" but in fact what we are really concerned with is saving ourselves.  When you see the vastness of the natural world one senses the planet will survive despite the grave damage we may do, that it will remain in some form long after we have, in our greed and ignorance laid waste to ourselves.  If this sounds negative in some way, it is not meant to, it is simply a reflection based on the seeing the strength, intractability and vastness of this landscape.  With a bow to the unknowable source and presence of it all.