The prevalent sensation of oneself as a separate ego enclosed in a bag of skin is a hallucination which accords neither with Western science nor with the experimental philosophy-religions of the East. Alan Watts
The byline of this blog page is "the intersection of Art and Spirituality" and that is going to be my topic today. In the practice of art, as in the practice of meditation, one comes to realize that there are two components of every human being. There is the ego and there is the soul. Mystics recognize the soul / ego relationship, so do artists of all stripes.
The ego is always comparing itself to something or someone else, the soul recognizes the one-ness in all of creation. Ego is that voice in your head that responds to cultural conditioning that tells you you are not enough, not attractive enough, not fit enough, not successful enough, not wealthy enough. Ego keeps the self-help business going full throttle. Ego is all about the outward facing person. My inner being is closed off to you and everyone else by my ego. Yours too.
But ego is necessary. Ego is the basic structure of consciousness. Ego is what enabled you to form as a person as you were growing. You defined yourself as being like this or that one and different from this or that one. Ego maintains an organic structure of differentiation that enables you and me to function in the world. Ego helped, and continues to help, you make important choices. The problem arises when we begin demonizing and condemning, when the ego overshadows all other input. The first three painting I am presenting today are done, as always in oil paint, but the colors are all translucent and so they look like water colors. The light travels through the paint bounces off the white paper and comes back out. Lest is seem like I take myself too seriously, I will add that they remind me of melted Jolly Rancher candies.
It is useless endeavor to fight the ego in the open; like a wounded hydra, it produces two heads for every one cut off. We must not indulge in self-scrutinization; we must not concentrate upon the problem of egocentricity. The way to purify the self is to avoid dwelling upon the self and to concentrate upon the task. Abraham Joshua Heschel
When we drop into the physical act of doing, we start to quiet the ego’s running commentary and start to just “be” who we are.
About a week or so ago I had a chorus in my mind asking me why I was bothering to do art work anyway? My success measured by exhibits and sales is nil. These days, we are all stuck inside, no one is showing any work. I have a LOT of artwork all over the place. And on and on. When I got to "who says my work is any good anyway?", I did what I knew I must. I went to the studio and started to paint.
“So whenever that brittle voice of dissatisfaction emerges within me, I can say "Ah, my ego! There you are, old friend!" It's the same thing when I'm being criticized and I notice myself reaching with outrage, heartache, or defensiveness. It's just my ego, flaring up and testing its power. In such circumstances, I have learned to watch my heated emotions carefully, but I try not to take them too seriously, because I know that it's merely my ego that has been wounded--never my soul It is merely my ego that wants revenge, or to win the biggest prize. It is merely my ego that wants to start a Twitter war against a hater, or to sulk at an insult or to quit in righteous indignation because I didn't get the outcome I wanted. "At such times, I can always steady my life once more by returning to my soul. I ask it, "And what is it that you want, dear one?" "The answer is always the same: "More wonder, please." "As long as I'm still moving in that direction---toward wonder--then I know I will always be fine in my soul, which is where it counts. And since creativity is still the most effective way for me to access wonder, I choose it.” Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Soul on the other hand is not an either /or proposition. Soul always answers “and, and, and”. The soul opposes nothing. When soul is in the lead we simply are. As a meditator, I experience soul when I drop into the center, everything is allowed there. I resist nothing, I retain nothing. While I am in the soul/center, there is no winning or losing, no celebration of success or despair ( or excuses or self comforting) in defeat.
Doing is everything. . . there is no being behind doing, effecting, becoming; "the doer" is merely a fiction added to the deed—the deed is everything. Friedrich Nietzsche
As an artist, I experience soul when I am painting and allowing everything that arises. When I am in the process of painting, as in meditation, I become aware of presence. I am, you might say, in the presence of presence. When soul is in the lead we simply are. Seeking light in my heart I find this simple form, I find simple pleasure.
When there is no more separation between “this” and “that” it is called the still point of Tao. At the srill point in the center of the circle one can see infinite in all things. Chuang-tzu
Coming out on the other side of this is a giant truth that is hard to comprehend; I am not my gifts, neither are you. I can call myself an artist, I can produce art. My being is not that. Artist is an attribute of being. My gifts and your gifts, are the means by which our consciousness moves out into the world. We all hold a piece of the universal. We are, each of us, important because we are part of the whole. As I worked on this piece I was still excavating the peace and light carried deep within.
I have been thinking and seeking out teachings on “being”. I am challenged to just "Be". This involves pausing. The word pause is both noun and verb, because it is a state ( a temporary state) and an action. To hit the pause button is to suspend, to quiet the mind, allowing us to be still, to listen. When we pause, interrupting the commentary and the competition, we put the ego on hold. By pausing we can make art, time, space. We can make our lives sacred. If you look closely, one of these images has a bit of tracing paper where it should not be. Normally, I would re-take the photo. At this time, the painting is MIA. I have looked and looked. I have looked for it everywhere but where it is. I have held up publishing trying to find it. I give up. When it shows up I'll re-take the photo and replace it here.