Letter Three: Buddhist practice and art practice

Hawk, Hawk, Hawk, Teacher, Advisor, Hawk,

I’m sitting on a bench and the river is passing. My advisor has inquired about the relationship between my spiritual practice and art practice. I have thought deeply about them.

Might Buddhist practice distance you from the world as well as bring you into a meaningful encounter with it.

I have felt isolated the past ten years living alone in the city. How can I be surrounded by eight million people yet know so few? I have come to understand I am very much a part of the city, and many have feelings of isolation.

Buddhism has helped me connect to the world. My world is my mind, and I can train to be open and joyful. I can feel sincere affection for hundreds of people I see walking on the sidewalk. The mind can speak without uttering a word. Every day I can give simple things such as advice, directions, or food, or I can help a friend.

This city is my community. When I walk the streets, draw, photograph, write, or make art in my room, I engage the city. Meditation is a practice of letting go and acceptance, and it helps me thrive in this city. My art practice is similar. It gives me the space to function within.

Does your art practice invite your contemplative self into conversation and communion with the ordinary and quotidian places of meaning around you?

For many years I have wandered in the city visiting ordinary places that have become special. Along the East River, there is a sitting area under linden trees where I have spoken to Hawk. Another is located in Washington Heights under large, old, sycamore trees facing the Hudson River and the Palisades. I carry my drawing book and my mind roams freely, silently observing the trees, the water, the sky, the birds. My room is my fondest place. I commune with the city there; the skyscrapers, reflecting and illuminated windows, the echoes of voices, the sirens and horns, and the subtle hues of natural light pouring into my window. The work I do there is a communion with space, a conversation with it, composed in all the imaginary work taking place.

How is your art similar to or different from your meditation practice? Does it open opportunities to be present, awake, engaged in your environment? Does it transport you? Do you hope it shares with others some of the balance or peace, or connect you through art making and meditation? Is it daily? Does it bring you a way to explore and express your spiritual ideas of interbeing, stillness, and communion with creatures?

I have been practicing meditation for three years, and I have a daily practice in the early morning. It feels different from my art practice completing tasks at hand. Before I began studying Buddhism, I did not believe my art had to benefit anyone beyond myself. You wonder: Is it not enough that it helps me alone? I would answer: No, it is not enough.

Meditation is a process of clearing my mind and transcending to another place, another world. I take many short meditation breaks when writing because my concentration is short. When I am engaged in visual work I am not easily distracted and can work in the middle of Grand Central, for example, and feel as though I’m transcending.

The spiritual aspect of my meditation has given strength to many ideas: trying never to hurt others, trying to understanding different points of view and actions, really enjoying people, nature, and speaking with animals. These are not aspects I am trying to promote in my artwork; instead I am trying to strengthen them in the consciousness of my daily life.

Buddhism and meditation have deepened my relationship with Hawk, freeing my consciousness and metaphorically joining Hawk in flight. There is a similarity in images passing unobstructed in my mind while meditating and experimenting in my art. While meditating if I experience a stillness, I might imagine a communion with all the buddhas emanating as a light or a color. I often experience a joy associated with this practice. It is a communion that parallels my relationship with Hawk, which I articulated in my imaginary pieces and current stop motion films.

My artwork has evolved. Stop motion is a middle path between my shapes being permanent and changing. For me, this is similar to the mahayana answer to phenomena existing and at the same time not existing. I am creating forms, but changing them is part of the process for creating the visual narratives. I move the wax in my hands and it becomes a flower. I give the flower to a friend.

My meditation practice and art practice share the idea of all phenomena being mere appearances to my mind. I see hundreds of faces daily; in a moment they are gone. The drawings, sculptures, and writings have been appearances to my mind associated with personal feelings and emotions that I have recorded or represented. My loneliness is transforming into an appreciation of solitude. It is a gift; time to enter a wonderful art program, time enter a spiritual community, time to see others; time to deepen my art practice. Solitude brings others into my life.

The addition of music is a mysterious aspect of my current work. It is similar to my meditation practice, moving me to another place of being, and it closely identifies the feelings I am experiencing at the moment.

_This getting lost—losing time, being out of self (and away from our normal selfconsciousness)—is, for me at least, a profound characteristic of art practice. It is almost trance-inducing, and one does not think of oneself—and often does
not think at all. Rather one is absorbed, lost, and completely in the process of what one is doing or making._

Discarding the ego does seem to place one in the position of having concern for others, and it might be of benefit as the artist transforms into a selfless individual living among many more than his own number, one. Yes, I agree with you.

Do you think, like Kandinsky, that a good soul makes good art? That art-making might make one a better person?
Do you feel resonance with any of these artists in Buddhist or creative terms? Can you see echoes of your thinking or spiritual quest in these pages?

Does a good soul produce good art? I’m not sure. I believe we all have a good soul, but sometimes it hides under our mental delusions. I enjoy looking at the art of others without judging if it is good or not. I love watching people make art. Does it make you a good person, making art? Using one’s imagination can bring out the pureness and wonder within us all.

I feel resonance with Odilon Redon (1840­1916). His early drawings and paintings were dark in nature and inspired by his own misery and engagement with Romantic literature. But at age sixty­four, he painted Buddha in His Youth, a beautiful, colorful painting depicting Buddha’s first sitting. It was autobiographical; the tree is a memory of his childhood home and the painting describes his own transformation that enabled him to come to terms with his painful childhood. [4] I did not have painful childhood; but like most individuals, I have had difficulties shrouded by darkness. I am preparing to add bright colors to my films.

Love,

Tom