We arrive in a rush. Body fluids, limbs testing out boundaries. Taste, smell, feel, hear, see–all in a rush to apprehend reality. Deep within the cave of our being, we seek out the gold. And there it is!
I wonder how many of us filled with awe as the moon passed in front of the sun. While the trees, birds, animals, people and clear blue skies were the familiar objects that they had always seemed to be, for a brief space of time, all of that altered. Suddenly everything was different, and we looked a little differently at each other. We were in it, as one, together. What a wonder!
Just a day later, at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, opposing sides converged. Slogans, diatribes and tear gas filled clear blue skies. Suddenly everything was different, and in that place, people looked at each other as us and them, as right and wrong. What despair, anger and fear!
The temptation to prophesize and fortify our fabricated points of view is strong. But we can take a giant step back from that kind of confrontation, and instead, see, hear and taste with courageous attention.
A monk once asked Zen Master Yung-ming, “What is the great perfect mirror?”
The Master replied, “A broken earthen pot.”
May we, all together, find wonder and truth, and the wisdom to make amends!
As a naturally creative type of sentient being, we humans seem to thrive on hope and imagination. What if? What if I wrote a novel about ______? What if I began my next sculpture in just this way____? We reach out and extend ourselves into wondrous possibilities.
I don’t know if this would be considered blasphemy among creative types or not, but after a lifetime in the arts, both as a writer and sculptor, I am compelled to say that hopefulness and imagination are useful to some degree. And then they are not.
What is it about these two thorny words, “hope” and “imagination”, so alluring for their blossoms, but oh so difficult to handle without getting hurt? For some reason I think of that quintessential old Hollywood image of the tango dancer with a rose between her teeth. Oh so thrilling in the moment, in part because of the delicately delicious moment and in part, because of the understanding that the dance will end, and no doubt end differently than planned.
The usefulness, or to use a less pragmatic term, the lovely thrills of hope and imagination are that they set us in motion, and they set us off with a question, What if?
However, the benefits are brief. I’ve heard it said about tango dancing that it is an absolutely perfect two-and-a-half-minute love affair. So too with Hope and Imagination. They provide that oh-so-vital spark, but then it’s time to get down….and just do it. To engage in the business of craft.
In other words, the question “What if?” needs to transform into the question “What is this?” From then on, we are immersed in the doing, making, being of our artistry. As we write, sculpt, live, all that transpires feeds into the creative work. If we spin out (so to speak) into too many “What ifs?” we will never “do” anything at all. And therein lies the essential risk.
To access hope and imagination is wonderful, but it is also wonderful when we know how to let them go, thank them for the dance and then go ahead and make the most glorious work of our lives.
I thought I’d share some thoughts and images about the evolution of clay. In a nutshell, it is the earth grinding its jaws in its sleep. Multiply by billions of years and this clay was born out of disintegrating rock, which, as it decomposed, deposited alumina and silica particles into quiet deltas, valleys and riverbeds. A simple, patient math equation: stone + time = clay.
And then there is the evolution of artistry. A wad of clay + inquisitive fingers = this Buddha figure. That, of course, is the short version of the story. I suspect that the longer version predates clay by a long shot, going back all the way to the Big Bang, actually just before that, whatever that was.
Anita Feng has crafted in Sid a delightful jewel that captures both the classic story of the Buddha, as well a deeply personal and familiar reflection of the story in a contemporary retelling.
Sid weaves the traditional tale of Siddhartha, the Buddha-to-be with the story of Sid, an everyman who finds himself waking up amid the reality of work and family life in the modern world. Returning to the standard tale with careful consideration of the relationships in Buddha’s life—to his wife, parents, and child—Feng’s narrative embodies the Mahayana perspective of living one’s enlightenment in the world.
Beautifully told with a blend of poetic prose and verse, Sid teaches that the key to the story of the Buddha’s life is that the story could be about any of us.
He sits rooted to the iron city bench, riveted as completely as the bolts holding his seat together. For hours night shadows perform silent movies under a street lamp. A cool breeze wraps itself around him like a scarf.
Just then, a solitary rabbit hops lightly across the grass. The rabbit pauses to turn and look at him. His eyes, this close. Sid’s eyes, just as close. Though they are of different species, they recognize each other. All the dots connect. And then the dots disappear.
This doesn’t seem to surprise either of them. Two sentient beings gaze at each other at the shimmering gate of dawn. The morning star picks the lock, and leaves them as they are, open and shining free. He looks up and sees a star. Instantly, city gates and cerebral chains crumble. He and the star both fall together into what feels like a great ocean of being. Sid marvels at the brilliance of this momentary world. Looking about him, he sees glistening beings going to work, the tips of every blade of grass brushed alive by the glow of streetlights, each reflecting the universe, just as it is.
Just so, just now, it is a clear, bright day. He smiles. All the stars in the universe say, Yes! And precious beings everywhere turn as one, nodding in complete accord.
(from somewhere in the instantaneous universe)
The morning star looks down and sees it all happen in 3-D, High Definition real time—Sid cut free of the phantom iron chain strung between his shoulder blades and his high-stakes, demonic dreams.
Like the greatest Houdini of all time, the Enlightened One has released the leaden bar over his own eyelids and opened his eyes wide. And he has seen the morning star. Finally.
“Took you long enough to look up,” the star says.
“Took you long enough to rise,” Sid says right back.
Both within and without. I’ve always been intrigued by the classifications of artists as being in one of three realms: beginning, emerging and established. May we all aspire to the first two and remain highly suspicious of the last!
Here is a new piece, more abstract and at the same time, I would suggest, more real.
but, we are a captive audience of standardized icons and story lines! What to do? Tell it new. Show it fresh. What else could we ever authentically do? Tricky parts: trusting that, trusting that, trusting that.
I’m reminded of drawings that my daughters did in their early childhood. Such conviction and surety (and purity!) in those portraits.
I’m reminded of a few of the earliest raku Buddhas I made and realize now, that it might be a good idea to revisit that squishy, likeness-free realm!