The Decider, 2010, gold leaf and acrylic on plywood
My friend Jeanne recently asked me if I'd read Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now—she'd started listening to it on audiotape, read by the author. It's a book I've had in mind to investigate at some point, so I found it on youtube and listened to two chapters before remembering that I had the book on my shelf (I pick up books second hand, or at garage sales and free piles, and then forget I have them, apparently). The sub-title of the book is "A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment"—so, you know—easy peasy. The message of the book is nothing new: your brain and its chattering is not you. Your ego is not you. Your true essence doesn't care about winning arguments, or looking a certain way, or how big your house is. Your brain is preoccupied with all things past and future, but true peace and true joy are to be found by ceasing to resist what *is* and by being present in the moment, in the now. Because we really have nothing else, but... right... NOW.
Good thing you have me to masterfully distill the book down to its essence—now you don't have to read it.
Because I'd started meditating last year, I was well aware of the concept (and the reality) of the endlessly chattering mind—the inner dialogue—the incessant, sometimes obsessive thoughts that we are all prey to (What should I eat for lunch? Why would she say that to me? Next time I see her I'm going to... I hope that thing tomorrow works out. Man, that hurt me when that thing happened. I have to stop being so... do we need to buy groceries today?). Plus I'd started reading (but never finished) Buddha's Brain, which discusses the neuroscience behind exercises such as meditation and the ways in which you can change and shape your brain physiologically, thereby changing your experience of life. As far as I can see, practicing meditation is a way to strengthen that part of your mind that is not babbling endlessly... the part that can observe the chattering.
With these things in mind, I was walking home one day last week and decided to try and be "present" and in the now as best I could. I attempted to simultaneously pay attention to my breath, my steps, the air, the smells, the sounds, the waving leaves of the trees on the street... you get the picture. It's not easy to sustain, but it does seem to shut the brain up pretty fast. After I'd done this for a half a block or so, all of a sudden an intensely beautiful, luminescent hummingbird appeared suspended right in front of me. I moved toward it, and it didn't fly away. It stayed there for long seconds before finally taking off. I was stunned.
As soon as the hummingbird flew away I started thinking excitedly about how I was going to text Jeanne to tell her about what had just happened, mentally composing how the text would read—then I laughed out loud at myself because THERE WAS MY CHATTERING BRAIN AGAIN.
I poo-pooed meditation for most of my life—it's funny how easy it is to dismiss something you've never tried and know nothing about. An ancient practice of prehistoric origin, no less. I thought it had something to do with calming down or relaxing, which naturally I deemed "not for me". Sam Harris, the man who made the meditation/mindfulness app Waking Up that I now use, says that "meditation is not about creating a pleasant state that you struggle to hold on to for 10 minutes, or an hour". It's more (to my mind) an exercise in building a stronger relationship with the part of your mind that can observe your pain, or your mood, or whatever your state may be, as opposed to the part that identifies with the state and gets lost in it. This, I've discovered, is invaluable when it comes to feeling less fucked up.
Sam Harris again: "Mindfulness eventually becomes an antidote to your psychological suffering. It's not that negative moods and emotions no longer arise—but when they do, you can drop back and merely witness them. You can't always do it perhaps, but you can sometimes do it. And then you can do it more and more. What happens is that your own psychological suffering becomes a mindfulness alarm, which reminds you to pay attention. And when you pay attention, it actually helps. That's the sign that your mindfulness is becoming a useful skill".
Sam Harris, by the way, is a neuroscientist, a philosopher, and a big critic of religion—his first book The End of Faith (2004) was on the New York Times bestseller list for 33 weeks. I mention this for those of you who might like to know that he isn't some namby-pamby guru-type sitting on a mountaintop. I don't know a lot about him, but I do know that he has debated Jordan Peterson, and that's good enough for me! I really like his Waking Up app and it's the first one I've opted to pay for.
There are a lot of things to disregard in this world, or dismiss out of hand because they're too weird, or too hippy-dippy, or simply unfamiliar to you. A lot goes undiscovered. Maybe you identify so strongly with being rational or scientific that you won't deign to consider anything that smacks of "woo-woo". That's unfortunate. Anyhoo... watch this Ted Talk! It's not about meditation, and it's super interesting:
My Stroke of Insight–Jill Bolte Taylor
On the slab at the moment... what I am currently calling "Project No. 2", using the 42" wide roll of BFK Rives paper that I invested in a few months back. It's... taking a long time. Moving verrrrrrrrrry slowly. So naturally, it involves a lot of self-flagellation over what an unproductive artist I am. Hmmmm–hmmm–hmmm–hmmm–hmmm–hmmm (that's me with my fingers in my ears, humming so that I can't hear myself).
And now, a plea for help. A couple of years back I self-published a book of paintings—100 Days of The Artist is Present. That run sold out long ago and I'm now seeking a "real" publisher. Jill Margo over at GOOD helped me (immensely) improve upon my book proposal, and I've been plugging away at contacting both agents and publishers. I realize that this book is not a money-making prospect for anyone, so I won't be shocked if no-one bites. But I'm-a gonna try.
If anyone reading this has any—I repeat, ANY—knowledge of the world of art book publishing and can give me any leads or ideas, I would be forever in your debt. THANK YOU.