Zen Moving Meditation: Painting on Burlap

Mr. Potato Head PaintingThis moving meditation post is inspired by a recent painting experience of mine and the following Alan Watts quote:

“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes.  Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”

I get inspired, artistically, by things all the time.  Mostly my students.  But in this instance I was walking through Walmart and saw some burlap that just struck my fancy.  I liked it because it was stamped with a white kind of filigree design.  “I want to paint on that”, I thought to myself.    I went about my shopping and at the last minute circled back and picked it up.  Why not, it was like five bucks or so?  And, I’m very into texture right now.  I told myself that “it was just an experiment.”  I approach most of my art now as an experiment.  No need to get worked up about anything anymore.

Well, the burlap sat in my house for many months.  Some less months ago, it finally got taken out of its package and dabbed with water to try to get the folds out.  That didn’t work.  So, later it got stretched on the wall – where it stayed, staring at me – for some more months.  Art is a lifestyle!  Sometimes I would just stare back at it.  Two can play that game.

Like I said, I really don’t get worked up over art.  It comes with time and patience.  The most important aspect is showing up in the studio to work and then so many ideas flood into the brain.  So much so, that I never bother anymore to record them.  I know that on whatever day I am doing the art there will be a wonderful idea waiting for me.  This I think is a Zen aspect of doing something for a really long time.

Finally.  After the traumatizing relative left my house, the PTSD subsided, and all the stuff left my house (including the TV), in the silence and not distracted by the clutter of life, I could hear the burlap calling my name.  I guess it had been waiting, ever so patiently, for me to be ready.

An idea.  A really, really wacky idea formed.  I began painting on the burlap as the idea was forming.  I really don’t plan anymore, I have faith that inspiration will happen and if it doesn’t (rarely), one can always paint over it.

Painting on burlap is challenging.  It is very texture-y and hole-y (not to be confused with Holy).  One has to really get into the holes with the paint brush.  So as I was mindfully and blissfully painting away (at a snails pace), I was struck by the idea that the arduous task of painting on burlap did not bother me in the slightest.  It was more like fun.  Many, many years ago, I would have abandoned the project within a few moments, but today – I am different.

As the painting progressed, I (or inspiration) assigned me a harder task.  Paint crisp shapes on the burlap.  That noise you hear is many artists across the world laughing hysterically.  Have I mentioned that Creativity is a difficult Master?  Sometimes I want to call her the B-word.  I have instead mastered growling and mumbling to myself.  Because she is just so awesome; I cannot call her names.  Somehow, I think that would be sacrilegious?

I experimented briefly with whether or not painting a crisp line was going to be possible – and it was.  I began filling the canvas with crisp edges.  Somewhere in the process I was again taken by how much this almost impossible task did not bother me.   I found myself rather enjoying the slow, time-consuming task at hand.  In the silence, at the canvas, having a most awesome Zen moment (hours), just doing my thing – I was being.

For many, many years now and maybe even since the beginning, art is for me a moving meditation.  Yes, I do think about things here and there, but the Zen is there from time to time also.  Painting allows me to glimpse the Zen mind, if brief and fleeting.  Now, if only I could take the same approach to doing my taxes?

Moving Meditation Assignment:

  1.  Find something that activates your Zen mind.
  2.  Do it. 🙂