the awakened ear

While the emphasis of this website and blog is on the visual arts, from time to time offerings of other ways folk attempt to express the direct experience of inter-being are included. (Haiku poets Gabriel Rosenstock and Ron C Moss, for example.) This is the first time I have featured writing about the art of listening with the entire constellation of cells called a body – a somatic listening from silence that erases the perceived separation between the hearer and the heard in the same way that the awakened eye erases the gap between the observer and the observed.

I know of no one more capable and qualified than Suprabha Seshan when it comes to speaking and writing of these things. Suprabha is an environmental educator and restoration ecologist living and working at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary in the Western Ghat mountains of southern India – a community that has been focused on plant conservation and nature education for 40 years. She is an an Ashoka Fellow and a winner of the Whitley Award, the top prize from the UK for nature conservation. I first met her at Brockwood Park School – she is an alumna of the Krishnamurti Schools – and later, on visits to the Sanctuary, had the delight of witnessing her relationship with her jungle environment. She is clearly a woman in her element!

 

Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

 

This post is a teaser of sorts – a sampling of excerpts from her article The Music of Everything – which was recently published in EarthLines Magazine. I hope you’ll click through to this page to read the whole piece, and see more of Meena Subramaniam‘s wondrous paintings.

 

Elephant, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

 

I sing to elephants. It’s what I do. I sing because I like to, and because I believe my elephant neighbours are comfortable in my singing presence. I sing all the time, and it’s when I sing that I know more precisely how I feel. My own speech never does justice to my thoughts and emotions: always a little clumsy and coarse, somehow inadequate, and inexpressive. It’s different when I sing. My utterances are more in tune with my intentions.

I also sing to the langur across the river, and the whistling thrush when he graces this ridge where I live. I sing to treefrogs in the monsoon. I sing to hornbills when they swoop by, matching their cackles and caws, so they swing their heavy-beaked heads to look at me. I sing to hill mynahs all through the winter, my favourite of all musical pleasures. I sing to crows several times a day. As they increase in number in this once crowless place, signifying changes both local and global, the crows here hold lessons in ecology, as well as in musical discovery. As do the macaques, with their so-called commonplace behaviours, and commonplace sounds.

 

Meena Subramaniam - The Wood Life

 

To live for long years in a place works the body, the vocal chords and the mind in a specific and exact way. Epigenetics is real. We are shaped by our environment, by everything and everyone we touch and are touched by, as well as all the stories and messages passing through. The body receives, remembers and transmits, evokes meaning through its very receptivity and eagerness to relate. The jungle tom-tom beats daily, not as the stereotype of a dark man beating a drum to warn other humans of portentous events, but in the million messages, prompts and invitations that pack any column of air or ground. The land, the forest, this community are all abuzz with vibrations: little sonic ripples, and dances of molecules. The art of listening is to be open to these, to become aware and conscious of the effect of them on your supremely conscious body. For life (tissues, cells, organs, bodies and minds) is suggestible. And moreover, it suggests. Not just now and then, but continually, through touch, movement, speech and song, wave and particle. It is a fact that all living beings are tuned in.

It was in going to the wildest places on the land by twilight, and many times in the night, often by moonlight, when my eyes fell quiet, that my ears opened out and shot through a sonic barrier to confound the rest of me.

To experience directly without recourse to authorized systems of knowledge is to be adrift in the open ocean, no anchor, no bearing, no rescue ship in sight. To listen to the night sounds of the forest is a particularly disorienting experience. The ventriloquists are busy, the eyes are dimmed, and the cranium is resonant with its own music; but the main problem is in accessing any thread of meaning. When I fully experience this lack of meaning, when I am aware of my utter lack of comprehension, when I cannot find a single marker or orientation to direct my mind, I can feel the physical impact of every sound, and also of every thought.

Given time, and a settling down of our ideas and preconceptions, we would perhaps have recourse to that infant wisdom we all came into this physical world with, that rippling openness to all sensory stimuli, that vibrant sea of awareness in which every sound causes a unique impression in our minds. When one is rested in this, as little children are, a different depth of discernment is born, and the more direct it is to one’s own experience, the more subtle the discernment is.


Weaver Ant

How to hear an ant:

To hear them one has to be prepared to hear nothing, or what appears to be nothing, silence. One has to get past the tinnitus, past your baseline brain sound, past the wordstream, past the big sounds in the environment, past the littler sounds, then the fainter ones, and further, further and further, and still further, softer, quieter, until you go so far out and so far in, past the sound of the mist, past the sound of the sun, past the silence, past the confusions. Did I actually hear that, did that actually make a sound, did I just make it up, am I hearing what I think I’m hearing? Then you will hear the ant.

The Music of Everything


Painting by Meena Subramaniam – The Wood Life, acrylic on canvas

meenart.in


earthlines magazine


education for wholeness


 

the mark of non-creating

When we trust our creativity we encounter a supreme kind of enjoyment – an amazement at the natural unfolding of life beyond our ordinary way of looking at things.
– Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Jigme Namgyel (b.1964) is the present Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.  He is also an abstract expressionist painter.  Kongtrul Rinpoche views creativity as “something very large – the essence of everything.”  His training in the arts began at an early age with the practice of calligraphy, music, ritual dance and other traditional Tibetan arts.  After his introduction to Western culture, Rinpoche became increasingly interested in modern art, particularly abstract painting and the work of Picasso and Kandinsky.  He began painting under the guidance of his teacher, Yahne Le Toumelin in the mid 1990’s.

This post introduces a new page on the site –  a talk given by Jigme Namgyel as a companion to his 2008 exhibition Natural Vitality at Tibet House, New York. Gratitude for his kind permission to share his wisdom and inspiration here!
Enjoy these excerpts, and read the entire talk here.

 

Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

 

Art, when it is free of such notions of beauty and ugliness, ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ can be used to express this complete experience of mind. When art evolves from this understanding it provides the possibility for those who see it to also experience the natural and unfabricated nature of their own awareness.

Imagine a life without music, without sculpture, painting, poetry, theater or dance. The purpose of art is to reflect and enjoy the richness of the world – not just what we think is ‘good’ and ‘pleasing’ – but the entirety of human experience. The primordial instinct to express creativity has been part of the human appreciation of life since the cave men. Creativity expresses itself at the very beginning of life – it could be said that our first cry is our very first song. But we really engage our creativity when we begin to play. […]

When we speak of natural creativity and its expression we are not talking about something separate from our own mind and experience.

The energy put into the creation of art reflects our own richness and in turn communicates this richness to others. When we appreciate a beautiful piece of art it is not limited to the piece itself – we experience the process that the artist went through as well; it is a transference of consciousness. Whether we are an artist or a spectator we feel the creative energy. When it has been formalized into a piece, the artist’s energy has not become the piece itself – but the piece is blessed by the creativity of the artist.

We usually think of creativity as ‘belonging’ to the artist. But in a larger sense creative energy is innate and spontaneously present, not fabricated by hammer and nail. It is unborn, with no center or boundary, yet nothing exists outside of it. The mountains, oceans, the sun and moon, the seasons arise spontaneously from it. What has become ‘our life’ – everything we are and everything we have been since we stepped into this world – is spontaneously present. Our genetic make up – the egg and sperm of our parents – arose from and is encompassed by the creative energy of our basic nature. The great Buddhist practitioner Kunchyen Longchenpa said: “The universe is spontaneously present, who could have created it? It is the grand production of its creative energy.” And all appearance is blessed by it. […]

Just remember, this natural energy created the entire universe – a humbling thought that puts our own artistic creations in perspective!

My instruction from Yahne [Le Toumelin] reflects a discipline that integrates the view of meditation and art: She would say: “When you get attached to anything that emerges on the canvas, destroy it!” I would watch her create something beautiful and then paint over it or scrape off the paint. “Destroy, destroy, destroy.” This is not to say that beauty or attachment to beauty is a problem. Destroying them is not an aggressive act, an annihilation of self or a rejection of experience. It enhances creativity. It is a natural wearing away of attachment and becomes a part of the creative process itself – a way to engage bigger mind. The more I do this, the greater the satisfaction. I am not fixated on creating something ‘good’ or ‘pleasing.’ My interest or focus is on the process of creating and connecting to my natural creativity. The main discipline is to let go. […]

When I have exhausted my fixations through the process of destroying I let the painting be. At this point I have reached what I call the ‘mark of non-creating’ – a state of uncontrived creativity where the artist just steps out of his or her own way. When I find that I have arrived at that point I just drop any activity – stop – and leave the painting right there without trying to improve or manipulate it. I never judge my paintings – I always appreciate and spend time with them because I appreciate where they come from. […]

I feel in awe of the whole process – not in a narcissistic way – but of the expression of this primordial creativity.

When it comes to art, the process we engage in is reflected in its expression. If we trust in the basic nature – it is communicated. If we are insecure and self-conscious – it is communicated. Ultimately, because everything arises from the creative nature of primordial mind, there is nothing that is more profound, miraculous or ‘creative’ than anything else. […]

– Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Continue reading here: on painting

Image and text ©2015 Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel
http://www.kongtruljigme.com


Relevant links:

Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel at the artisans’ gallery

creative energy : the essence of everything

the art of disciplined freedom


Natural Vitality - Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Natural Vitality:
The Paintings of Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel


 

the zen of camerawork

Gratitude to Roy Money for his thoughtful offer to share his article Minor White and the Quest for Spirit here, knowing it would be of great interest to readers of this site, and also to Christine Cote, editor and publisher of Still Point Arts Quarterly where the article first appeared. This post is a teaser – you’ll have to click through to the page to read the whole article and view more of White’s photographs. You will not be disappointed!
 

Minor White - Empty Head, 1962

 

Minor White was one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century and he generated considerable controversy in his last years for the promotion of spirituality. I met him early in my introduction to photography and admired his work. I recently renewed my interest in him because of a developing involvement in Zen practice and efforts to explore spirituality in relation to my own photographs.

Minor was not only an important artist but also a teacher, editor and curator, and his language of spirit and spirituality came at a time when it had declining credibility in the art world. Though this language had a certain resonance within the wider cultural scene of the sixties it was an early and continuing theme for White that was no doubt stimulated by the challenge of living as a homosexual in an era before gay rights. Spirituality has long been associated with finding relief from the misfortunes and injustices of the social world, as well as finding purpose in the midst of uncertainty and doubt. Of course spirituality has also been an ageless source of inspiration for artists exploring the uncharted domains of human awareness and creativity.

Many people are unaware of the importance of spiritual and metaphysical issues in the development of modernist art. Indeed there was a reluctance of many artists to talk about this, for fear it would be misunderstood. Picasso is credited with saying “Something sacred, that’s it… We can’t say that… people would put a wrong interpretation on it. And yet it’s the nearest we can get to the truth.” (Lipsey) In that sense Minor White’s concern with spirituality was mostly notable because of ways he made an issue of it. […]

– Roy Money, Minor White and the Quest for Spirit

Continue reading …


Image: Photograph by Minor White, Empty Head, 1962
Sourced from the public domain.


Related pages and posts on this site:

John Daido Loori – let your subject find you

Minor White – equivalence: the perennial trend

Deborah Barlow – the daylighting has begun

Roy Money at the artisans’ gallery


Hokusai says

 

Hokusai: Hawk on a Ceremonial Stand

 

Hokusai says Look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.

He says Look Forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself
as long as it’s interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient,
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive—
shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.
Wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books.
It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your verandah or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
are life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

 


The poet Roger Keyes is an American professor of East Asian studies. This poem is apparently his cross-media translation of the art of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) into poetry.

Sourced from a year of being here – daily mindfulness poetry by wordsmiths of the here & now.

Gratitude!


Image: Katsushika Hokusai, Hawk on a Ceremonial Stand, Ukiyo-e

Source: wikiart


From the bookshelf: Hokusai, by Gian Carlo Calza


the measure of a moment

Artisans and artists whose work is an attempt to express the inexpressible will often speak about their practice as a settling into the moment, a relaxing in the now, or even as a dissolving into wild unknowingness – and creating from that far side. Years ago I came upon a way to explore the intimate and fleeting moment; I began painting the exhalation of my breath. I reckoned that the length of one exhalation – as laid down in one simple brushstroke – was a pretty good portrait of a moment in my life, and a measure of my essential ‘beingness’.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Breathscribe Series - Desert Breath

 

But when I read Ruth Ozeki’s novel A Tale for the Time Being, I had to rethink my moments. Turns out that in the Zen view of time one exhalation of my breath would amount to not one, but hundreds of moments. In a revealing note at the end of the book (Appendix A: Zen Moments) Ozeki fleshes out the Zen view of time. It’s mind-scrambling, like most things Zen:

The Zen nun Jiko Yasutani once told me in a dream that you can’t understand what it means to be alive on this earth until you understand the time being, and in order to understand the time being, she said, you have to understand what a moment is.

In my dream I asked her, What on earth is a moment?

A moment is a very small particle of time. It is so small that one day is made of 6,400,099,980 moments.

When I looked it up afterward, I discovered that this was the exact number cited by Zen Master Dōgen in his masterwork, the Shōbōgenzō (The treasury of the True Dharma Eye).

Numerals resist the eye, so let me spell it out in words: six billion, four hundred million, ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty. That’s how many moments Zen Master Dōgen posited are in one day, and after she rattled off the number, old Jiko snapped her fingers. Her fingers were crazily bent and twisted with arthritis, so she wasn’t very good at snapping, but somehow she got her point across.

Please try it, she said. Did you snap? Because if you did, that snap equals sixty-five moments.

The granularity of the Zen view of time becomes clear if you do the math*, or you can just take Jiko’s word for it. She leaned forward, adjusting her black-framed glasses on her nose and peering through the thick murky lenses, and then she spoke once more.

If you start snapping your fingers now and continue snapping 98,463,077 times without stopping, the sun will rise and the sun will set, and the sky will grow dark and the night will deepen, and everyone will sleep while you are still snapping, until finally, sometime after daybreak, when you finish up your 98,463,077th snap, you will experience the truly intimate awareness of knowing exactly how you spent every single moment of a single day of your life.

She sat back on her heels and nodded. The thought experiment she proposed was certainly odd, but her point was simple. Everything in the universe is constantly changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.

That’s what it means to be a time being, old Jiko told me, and then she snapped her crooked fingers again.

And just like that, you die.


Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being


 

The Awakened Eye - Willy Tjungarrayi

 

Will I ever be able to look at the paintings of the Western Desert artists the same way again? If one fingersnap equals sixty-five moments, surely one dot would amount to something similar. So, how many moments are portrayed in a work like this one above, by Willy Tjungurrayi? Or the one below, by Lily Kelly Napangardi?

 

The Awakened Eye - Lily Kelly Napangardi

 

I know this much – one of my exhaled breathstrokes is equal to around seven fingersnaps. That means each complete painting portrays many days’ worth of moments. Was I present at every miracle moment? I doubt it.

But something in me suspects that those Aboriginal artists were, and are, and that they would agree 100% with old Jiko, and Zen Master Dōgen.


 

Today

I
do not
want to step so quickly
over a beautiful line on God’s palm
as I move through the earth’s
marketplace
today.

I do not want to touch any object in this world
without my eyes testifying to the truth
that everything is
my Beloved.

Something has happened
to my understanding of existence
that now makes my heart always full of wonder
and kindness.

I do not
want to step so quickly
over this sacred place on God’s body
that is right beneath your
own foot

as I
dance with
precious life
today.

– Hafiz

Translation by Daniel Ladinsky

See more at Poetry Chaikhana


* 1 fingersnap = 65 moments and 6,400,099,980 moments = one day, so 6,400,099,980 divided by 65 = 98,463,077 fingersnaps per day.


Zen Master Dōgen


the way of nen