Equilibrium. In a society that has dedicated nearly every part of itself to that which is exciting only, polarized, winged out, extreme fun, fastest, cutest, hottest and Way Superluscious!, the word “Equilibrium” is synonymous with “Bor-ing!”. Yet, I have learned a great secret. Nature hides her greatest treasures behind a veil of boredom, where it will always be safe from those who are not ready to appreciate a thingʼs quiet magnificence and for whom serenity and deep inner peace mean toe-tapping, waiting for something exciting to happen. The very word “Equilibrium” is such a veil of boredom, waiting for anyone who has exhausted himself with the exciting life, and wants only a deepest sense of innermost peace of heart and of mind. Equilibrium is a wellspring of profound nourishment. It is its own kind of delicious. It is delicious innermost peace, and takes us quietly and individually to what all the exciting happenings promise but cannot deliver.
Equilibrium should be the most revered word of all words. It is what makes art compelling, what turns procreation into unimaginably sweet lovemaking. It is the sweet part of a chocolate covered cherry. Equilibrium is what is delicious about food, what is so great about pulling the covers up under our chin after a hard day’s work, and, sadly, what we are after when we turn on the television but rarely get. It is what we are looking for when we put on a CD to listen to our favorite music, pick up a Sunday paper or reach someone on the phone that we are wanting to talk to. It is the sweetness in a first kiss and a deep, heartfelt hug. Equilibrium is what we discover ourselves to be when we become Awakened. It is always there, in every imaginable disguise, in every successful work of art, ready to give to us, once again, that special feeling of being ourselves and loving it. Equilibrium is Who we all are, in essence, in Reality. It is the only Absolute, the only Actual Constant, the Unified Non-field Phenomenon that alone gives us rest from the endless uncertainty of relativity. It is filled intrinsically with love, compassion, the uncountable, uncreated possibilities – indeed, it is Creativity. Equilibrium is Awareness Itself. Focusing this principle on painting, we may continue where we left off.
Awakening means beholding without separation from whatever is before us and therefore seeing, feeling and knowing our oneness with it. A feeling of separation from whatever is before us is proof of illusion. The process of painting is a process that leads us directly to Awakening. The process of painting leads us and our viewers away from illusion, out of trance, into beholding. Each painting that we succeed in developing to resolution takes us Home, to Equilibrium, or Awareness.
When High Renaissance painting created a life-scale, realistic image of people on a stone patio overlooking a great and believable landscape, the artist was not attempting to fool the viewed into thinking that it was real. No one ever tried to walk into a Botticelli painting to look for a bathroom. The great artists of the past who used “realism” were attempting to make the statement, “Look, this looks real but it clearly is not reality.” In connecting these particular dots, his viewers had to see that what we called physical reality, too, is temporal and therefore not reality, but an ever-changing, perfect illusion. Reality is not an illusion in the sense that it is not really there. It is an illusion in the sense that it is only there for an instant before being replaced by the next instant where it is once again gone forever, illusion in the sense that human beings culturally view it as separate from ourselves, distinct objects in time/space.There is literally nothing to hang onto in physical reality because it exists only for the briefest instant. These instants happen so rapidly that they appear to be a constant, like a movie frame speeding by yet appearing coherent and continuous. It was the energy contained within that truth that drove Botticelli to master absolutely every aspect of painting in order to teach us all. He mastered composition, drawing, symbolism, painting, color harmonies, play of light, and the focusing of the life force itself through himself and into his figures. It is for this reason that we cry when we see all of this perfection at once. So do we cry when we see this perfection in ourselves as purest and eternal awareness in the medium of self-expression we call energy, or “physical reality.”
Let us look at the next aspect of our painting. We have touched upon the understanding that the act of painting causes the painting to become our polar other half, because each perceptual moment must add up to one whole. We, (as we define ourselves) plus what we are momentarily perceiving, equals zero or Wholeness. This is because our concept of our self as a separate entity and our conception of what we are looking at, is a singular whole, torn into two seemingly separate parts. This creates polarity, (+) and (-), although not in so simple an array. The painting is our polar other half, our virtual energetic lover or spiritual teacher. When we have completed a painting that works perfectly for us, to pull up a chair, grab a cup of tea or coffee or water and drink the image in, literally cancels our idea of who we are supposed to be, and delivers us to a state of oneness with what is before us. In this way, viewing our just completed painting is energetically indistinguishable from being in an Enlightened state, or being with a person whom we are in love with, or being with an awakened master whom we implicitly have surrendered our trust to and therefore opened our hearts to. In all three cases we are in a place where we have no resistance to whatever is before us, and so we receive it fully as communion. In other words, we willingly melt into oneness with what is before us because we have found a situation that we can fully trust, our love, our spiritual teacher or our recently completed work of art.
Not only is this moment to be savored, but it is a key part of what the process of art is all about. This is also why artists put integrity most forward, as an essential ingredient of art and being an artist, so that a viewer may trust the sincerity of the expression and therefore have no reason not to trust the artistʼs sincerity. Artists uphold integrity as an essential aspect of their art work because the work of art is to be used as a red carpet to lead themselves and hopefully some viewer to a moment of Awakening. A work of art is a sacred entry door to Awakening and must be pure of heart and spirit so that it may serve in this most important function. Art is energetically and spiritually functional. In this way we allow ourselves to melt into oneness with it. Art is trustworthy.
Finding a perfect moment of being in love with someone, or finding and sitting before a spiritual teacher is more difficult than finding or creating a work of art. There are places one can go to find art, and spaces one can create to make art. Time, on the other hand, for creativity in this society, must be insisted upon. There is no allotted time in this society for spiritual creativity. However, if we go to a museum of fine art and sit before a painting, go to an exhibit or to a café that is displaying works of fine art, we can let down the shields, and open ourselves to oneness with what is before us.
This moment of receptivity is vital to our survival and to our sanity. Art gives anyone who cares to look at it a drink of oneness with the universe. Whatever is perceptually before us is the sum of our entire perceptual universe. When we are receptive to whatever is before us, we are as Awakened as any Awakened master. Wholeness is wholeness is wholeness, regardless of the supposed “size” of the whole. The room that we are in is what we did with the Universe at large. We transformed it into a living room or subway, as the case may be.
It is the task and pleasure of the artist to lure the viewer not only into oneness with the work of art, but that the content of the work of art has some potential of spilling out into the world that the viewer is not so eager to embrace. I will give an example of what I mean.
In the 1960ʼs when I was a student of art at SUNY at Elmwood in Buffalo, New York, across the street from the College was the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. In a world of newly existing supermarkets, crass radio and television advertisements, the Albright, as it was called, was a sanctuary that I greatly needed to visit as often as I could. I drifted among the Alexander Calder mobiles and the Karol Appel three-inch-thick paintings, the Cézannes and the Miros, the John Singer Sargents, and even the portrait of Rosamond Crocker by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and my heart was opened wide. I was there because this was the only air I could breathe.
One day, however, I made my pilgrimage to the Albright. When I went inside and went into the room that was such an oasis of soulful works of contemporary art to me, I was surrounded by my first encounter with Pop Art. There, in the only hiding place I knew from the hammering world of commercialism, was art that had transformed itself into the supermarket I was running from. I was shocked and furious that my sacred space had been marauded, that the outside world had somehow taken over my only hiding space and now I was trapped. There was no place left to run and hide from the world that I deeply resented.
I left the Albright, and went away feeling hurt and tricked by the only people I trusted, other artists. The reality of what I had witnessed did not penetrate my consciousness until a few days later, when I went into a giant new supermarket to buy food, and suddenly stopped and beheld the supermarket, now a colossal museum of contemporary art! It was there that, as a young art student, I had my first realization of the power of art to transform that which we despise, into that which we behold. Beholding means to transcend judgment and to be what we see.
This recollection shouldnʼt imply that the creation of works of art only takes place on the outermost edge of what people know and love and accept, and that art forces a viewer into a new perception of that which they previously hated. We expand the size of the island of collective consciousness as a kind of landfill that extends the island of human consciousness out a little farther with each work of art. I think of the Beatles song, “Lovely Rita, Meter Maid.” This kind of oxymoron means that consciousness actually looks at the beauty of the meter maid, instead of choosing a cartoon concept of the meter maid issuing tickets as a mean person with a nasty job. This causes the human collective heart to grow and include in its embrace oneness with one who had been previously left out of the realm of beholding. Of course, the song mentioned resonates not only with meter maids, but with all who are left out of our love, and so elevates us to where anything left out of our love may be slowly included. The Beatles said that it is alright for us to include those left out. The song opens our hearts as a work of art while at the same time being playful with the universe at large. If this is currently not a direction in which art wishes to head, we may see that humanity itself felt a desperate need for this quality of art, as the entire world was swept away by the Beatlesʼ loving message. That their message of love took the world and transformed it into a hopeful, marvelous, even magical place, implies that humanity can be brought to life and hope by art, and that the role of art need not be limited to criticism of human values, but can include leadership for them.
A work of art causes the parameters of humanity’s willingness to behold, to grow and include more and more and more. This does not limit the artist to shock value or pushing into viewers faces that which they dislike or are currently appalled by. Art has a soft side that reminds humanity that any subject, if we open our hearts to it, can melt our crystallized fears. I am here reminded of a little known, but in my opinion great artist and great human being, the late Patti Chastain Haag. When she came to my Energy Art Studio as a student of painting and as a studio member, she said “I’ve worked in an office all of my life, and I know that I want to be a painter, because the only time Iʼm happy is when Iʼm using the whiteout.”
Patti Haag was a woman who was legally blind. She saw the world as a blur, and could see clearly only from an inch or two away without her glasses. I had taught her to paint by filling each brush stroke with the energy of her intent, and she, taking this quite literally, developed a painting style of filling the brush with a given, specific color, standing back, and swatting the canvas with her intent, all in a diagonal gesture from upper right to lower left and downward on a two-foot-square canvas. In this manner, she looked at a subject or recalled it, and made such swipes until the canvas was filled.
When a viewer looked at the canvas, one saw an abstract painting of diagonals. But standing back fifteen feet or so, one beheld an impressionist painting of her subject, such as, rose petals lying on a dark mahogany dining room table, or the rainbow colored display of light on a white wall after the light had traveled from the sun through her cut glass ornament hanging in her window and projecting the colors onto a spot on the wall.
On one occasion, Patty showed me her latest painting. As I stood far back, I slowly realized that these great swipes of color, with an inch-wide brush that drummed once every half minute or so onto her canvas all assembled themselves into a realistic, very, very close-up painting of blades of grass dappled with light diffracting morning dewdrops. In that instant I realized that I was seeing through this great and courageous womanʼs eyes, “my” face buried in the morning grass, and I remembered how far I had strayed from the innocence of my own beholding of the wonder of all things. It brought tears to my eyes as I realized how innocent and great a painter and courageous a human being I was with.
I included this recollection of Patti Chastain Haag because art should, above all, never shy away from beauty as a general philosophy. Art is great enough to continually include both forgotten beauty and as-yet-unimagined beauty, as well as in-our-face reminders of things that are unbearable but true.
They say that no one ever saw a sunset until Constable painted it. Prior to his work, sunsets meant “put down your hoe and get the horses back to the barn while there was light enough to see by.” It was not something you sat there and gazed at until it went down in all of its splendor. To bring this revolutionary perception of the beauty of a sunset into our time frame, it would be similar to a great musician making a beautiful piece of music created entirely out of the sounds made from peopleʼs alarm clocks accompanied by the sounds made by car alarms, all woven into a beautiful symphony. One could then say, no one ever heard an alarm clock or car alarm until this personʼs symphony was created.
Love, after all is said, is beholding. Beholding is not allowing our consciousness to slip down into a corridor of free association and identifying with that internal movie at the expense of no longer seeing what is before us in Reality. A given Reality may be misinterpreted as a bore, but that is choosing our mental/emotional creation of reality over reality itself. Enough of these choices and we have missed our entire life. Whatever is before us is not only all that we actually have, if beheld, its magnificence will reveal itself to us. Again, try to pull aside the curtain of boredom. There is always a treasure waiting behind it.
Love and presence are the same. There is no such thing as automatic love, any more than one can develop a great style of painting and then knock out works of art thereafter. Art cannot be created without presence in the fullest degree. There is no substitute for love. Love means to stop, and drink that which is before us into our definition of Self. That and that alone is love. Saying “I love you” is no substitute for beholding and too often is substituted for beholding whoever is before you. “I love you” is best proven with a gaze, eye to eye, that is held long enough to actually see the person before us as a mysterious blossom of conscious presence, a kiss or an embrace where the energy differences flow into completion and oneness. Similarly, painting is best when genuinely seen. A good way to view a work of art is to pretend that you yourself just finished making it. Pull up a chair to admire “your” work, for, indeed, it was created by the only Self there is, the same Self that you refer to as I, as well. It felt the same to be Botticelli as it does to feel like being you. Awareness is a singular phenomenon, which we all share and refer to as I.
When we see the actual painting of Van Goghʼs sunflowers, or his old worn boots, we are again reduced to tears, the love and beholding is so overwhelming, the defenses of this master were so dissolved to presence before that which is. By allowing ourselves to sit before or drink in the painting of Van Goghʼs boots, we are taken deep into the self and taste the sweetness of our oneness with this man. Time, space and any illusion of separation melt away. Viewing a work of art is a pathway to awakening.
end of chapter 4
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Cover painting by the author.