Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Life returned without any reason

Life returned, without any reason (after Boris Pasternak). 14"x11". Oil on linen. 2013.
The concept of being fully present in here and now -- aware, mindful, fully alive in the present moment, undistracted by stories of past and future playing themselves out in your mind; this idea seems to be one of the major themes of our age. 

And all too often, it seems to imply that every one of us ought to find this ability deep within oneself, in one's heart of hearts, independently of the environment, far away from any external influences. 

There is a lot of truth in this, but don't you feel there is also a contradiction here? A contradiction which might be resolved at some level of zen mastery (I wouldn't really know), yet quite acute for most of us: looking for ability to be fully present in the universe by fully withdrawing into one's inner self?       

The thing is, this state of mind, this experience of being fully alive in the present -- it does come (unforced, untrained, childlike) to all of us in some moments; emotionally charged moments when everything seems to align to heighten the experience of life. I don't know about you, but I have a special reservoir for such moments in my memory, many of them from the far-away depths of my childhood; memories I used to call upon to save me in my darkest nights. I say "used to", because I have now (kind of) learned to re-create this inner state without anchoring it in any specific moment of my past. 

I have learned it (to some extent; I have way to go still), and I try and share it through paintings -- like this one above, "Life returned without any reason", painted after Boris Pasternak, who was a real, unsurpassed master of living and sharing these moments -- probably my single most important teacher in the art of living them. And this brings me to three things I really want to say here.

The first is, I believe one needs these naturally occurring, unforced moments of joyful heightened awareness (rather created by the world for you than found within yourself) in order to learn it as an inner state; and it's probably as necessary to "feed" your inner self with such genuine moments as it is to feed your body with real food. After all, that's the whole point of here and now, isn't it: that you are not alone, isolated within yourself; there is this whole universe ready to create such moments for you, if you just let it. But you can certainly help it by going somewhere new, and beautiful, and interesting, at least if the environment you live in doesn't give you enough of them.      

Secondly, these moments, and this inner state, can be shared; which is to say, one can live such a moment and experience this inner state of awareness through someone else. And art -- music, poetry, painting -- is the major, if not the only, means of communicating them. Or, if you will, of creating the humankind's shared reservoir of these brightly alive memories. This, I think, was one of the impulses behind the impressionists' movement away from stories and towards "here and now". The bottom line is, this infinite shared reservoir is there for every one of us; and neither of us has to be alone within oneself while it is there.   

Last (but by no means least), nowadays (thanks to the Impressionists' achievements), the skill of impressionist painting can be learned by anyone (before you ask: no, it's not a matter of talent). It's not even that hard (much easier than photography as far as I am concerned). It won't get you to the high shores of today's art world, but it is one of the most straightforward and enjoyable paths towards these here and now moments, since the very process teaches you to be highly aware of your constantly changing environment: the movement of light, the swish of leaves, the smell of air. And as a bonus, you have a memento of this moment right there on your canvas, to return to whenever you feel like it.

The bottom line is, I guess, one doesn't really have to rely on oneself alone, to go deep within oneself, to find this inner "here and now" state of being fully alive. Both miracles of nature and sublime creations of human spirit are there to help you along.         
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