One of the most distinctive things about human beings is our imagination. We can invent things that never existed before. We can discern relationships between seemingly unrelated things. There would be no scientific hypotheses without a little imagination. With imagination we can make up stories about people who don’t exist and things that never happened. We can even hold things in our mind that are totally untrue or even impossible. And we can draw pictures of them. Although this can be quite entertaining, it can also be dangerous! So sometimes we need to just sit down and shut up and see what reality is like when we are not imagining it into existence.
Yesterday Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh ( who I was privileged to meet up with back in 1968 or 69) sat in front of a crowd of folks in Boston and did nothing for almost half an hour.
There is an art of doing nothing, and it is not just about meditation. It is also about being able to wake up with no plans.. and no fear of no plans, no compulsion to fill the time with doing SOMETHING. Being alive to the moments as they come. So alive, in fact, that a whole day becomes just one life-filled timeless moment. What is there to do? Nothing. Go!
(Actually, I am not yet very good at doing nothing. But I’m working on it. Oh, wait! I think maybe I’ll just let it work on me…)
Over the past 3 days, I have spent a lot of time driving my little black rental car through the southern French countryside. It is beautiful country. And we are not talking delicate beauty here! No, this is a strong, robust beauty that has held up well to the abuse of human occupation over 300 millennia. Even our attempts to construct a modern road system keep running up against things like massive rivers and towering rock faces that stretch for hundreds of yards.
That, in any event, is my explanation for why me and my petite voiture kept going in circles. I was lost several times, and I mostly just enjoyed the view. But today when I was searching for the little auberge I had booked for my night’s rest, I did not enjoy it so much.
My adventure has fostered a deeper respect for our ancient forbears who managed to navigate this countryside without maps or GPS. But then… they would have seen, heard, felt, and smelled things that I totally missed as I whizzed through in my closed compartment with wheels.
Watching a group of European Buddhists perform traditional Tibetan dance this past weekend, I was particularly taken with the bearing of one of the men as he danced. Tibetan dance is very different from most classical forms of western dance. I had a few lessons some time back and found it challenging but intriguing.
What struck me about this one dancer last weekend was the way he was fully grounded and yet buoyant in his bearing. Tibetan dance incorporates heavy footfalls and slow turns on one foot followed by light, even placement of the next foot. And yet the head and shoulders must be lifted. It is a tough combination.
I think I might try Tibetan dancing again someday…
The word “original” comes from origin, the source. Today I saw some truly original art In a couple of caves here in France’s Dordogne valley. Thinking about the absorption of these prehistoric artists as they etched images into limestone with sharp flints or applied black and red colors, probably by a technique I used to describe to my anthro students as “spit painting”… I was overwhelmed. Although I cannot know exactly what their motivation was, I can know without a doubt that this was something important.
As someone who struggles with drawing or painting BIG, I was also impressed with the scale of many of the paintings and etched drawings. Of course, they are still far from life size, so maybe these ancient painters actually thought they were painting in miniature…
The image above includes some curious elements that are referred to as “technoformes”. These were new to me, and I found them fascinating. I don’t know what the experts are positing as their significance, but I can’t help seeing them as structures, maybe of wood and other perishable materials. Maybe the first architectural drawings?
As soon as I crossed the frontier from Spain into France yesterday, I started trying to get my brain wrapped around all the signs and conversations in French. I took 3 years of French at university, for heaven’s sake! Where had all of that gone?
Buried. Covered in the dust and debris of disuse.
I had been having so much fun in Spanish! I could carry on casual conversations and eavesdrop in cafes. I was even beginning to throw in the local expression “Vale!” It translates roughly as “okay… yeah… sure… got it!” I was looking for opportunities to use the question form (“Vale?”) or the doubled form (“Vale, vale!”).
And now I am in France struggling to excavate a language I once thought I would be pretty good at. When I hear the words, I get it. But when I try to speak… I am just hoping this will get a little better during my few days here.
Today I saw Miro. The Fundacio Joan Miro is a museum and art center built specifically to house the works of this prolific Catalan artist. He lived from 1893 until1983. One of the few pieces of art I had in my living space as an undergraduate was a framed Miro poster. His art has resonated with me for a very long time.
in a video showing an aging Miro at work in his Mallorca studio, the artist talks about how the initial marks on his paper or canvas are unplanned, and that the painting then develops around this initial figure. I was struck by the similarity to Japanese painting. Zenga is “bold and immediate, and almost always created spontaneously, in a single breath.” On the other hand, in nanga, each brushstroke suggests the next. “New visual tensions are created as the painting develops” (John Daido Loori, “The Zen of Creativity”). Miro traveled to Japan and so this influence is not surprising – only delightful.
Like Picasso, Miro fearlessly experimented with many different artistic media and even spoke of his paintings as poems. Maybe haiku…