Reflecting on the Relationship Between Art and Meditation

Here are three areas and life lessons that meditating and making art both teach:

Close Observation

Most of us think we know what the world looks like, but if we examine this assumption we learn it is not as true as we thought. For example if you try and draw a tree you discover that your idea of what a tree looks like and the way in which it actually exists physically in space are very different, and that in order to get to the “real” tree and draw it accurately you have to let go of your idea of the tree and look closely and clearly with your eyes.
In a similar way we may think that we know ourselves well, we think we know who we are. However, when we start meditating, which is partly the discipline of witnessing and observing our mind and self, we discover that the person we think we are and the person that we actually behave like are actually very different. Meditation teaches us the bitter-sweet art of seeing who we REALLY are and trying to bring our self-image and behavior into an authentic and genuine communion.
Both making art and meditation have made me find simple objects and activities very interesting and fulfilling as there is always endless detail and nuance to observe and enjoy. Last Friday I took a bit of time off and went to sit down in East Coast Park and just look at the sea, listen to the wind in the trees and observe the play of the afternoon sunlight across the landscape. I can’t imagine a much more fulfilling time.

How to See Through Difficult Times

If you have ever tried to create a piece of art work you will know that often (though not always) there is a time when everything about the picture seems horrible, ugly and awful, and where the critical voice in your mind is telling you that you may as well give up and trash the whole thing, and that you also may as well give up art too. After a while as an artist you come to expect this ‘phase’ in your work to complete a piece, and you know that the main thing to do is “keep calm and carry on”, steadily working through this phase. You learn that it is part of a natural cycle, and when it happens it just indicates that you are at a certain stage of the creative process. You don’t panic, after a while it can even be enjoyable in a funny way.
Similarly as a meditator you learn that sometimes your mind just goes through dark phases. Sometimes you know the reason, sometimes not, but either way you come to understand through sitting with these dark phases in meditation that they come and go. They are just a part of the processes of life, like the weather; sometimes sunny, sometimes thunderclouds. Either way there is no need to panic, just be present with it and allow it to work itself through your system in a non-harmful way.

Understanding How Beauty is Both Spontaneously Ever Present, and at the Same Time has to be Worked at and Re-created all the Time

As an artist you learn through observing things from multiple angles and points of view that everything has its own type of beauty. As a result, wherever you look you can appreciate something about what you see. At the same time actually creating a  beautiful and authentic piece of art work is a very demanding endeavor requiring a lot of effort physically, mentally and spiritually of the artist. In this way beauty for the artist is something that s/he can always see in what s/he observes, but at the same time the creation of beauty is always effortful and challenging.
Really with meditation practice it works the same way, after meditating for some time you get to a stage where even if there is pain and confusion in your mind, there is also an ever present stillness and beauty that is available to you at all times, you just have to remember it. However, in another sense the daily process of thinking positive, acting out of integrity, creating harmonious relationships often seem to take just as much work and effort as they always did!
This seems to be the paradox of both outer and inner beauty; they are ever present and yet they demand constant effort to create and recreate. However, being in touch with the ever present aspect of inner and outer beauty (which are really states of being) helps us to keep even-minded amidst the struggles and strains of trying to effort-fully create a beautiful inner and outer life for ourselves and others.

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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