Saturday, March 31, 2012

Developing the Abstract Eye

The main reason for our inability to experience Spiritual Reality, is our conceptualization/objecti-fication of the World, and at the foundation of this is our identification with Ego – our “separate” selves. We perceive Reality as objects, and we think of ourselves as objects. This can be overcome.

We mentally (and largely unconsciously) wrap all we perceive in layers upon layers of concepts. These wrappings are not only the words and ideas we superimpose upon all things, but also the emotions and opinions that go with them. In such a way Truth is veiled from our eyes and souls. The world we see is a reflection of the world in our minds. Instead of receiving what IS, we perceive what we have learned and our self-centered relationships to it.

How then, can we remove this obstacle to the Light? Well, why not look at abstract art? In figurative works of art, there are often a story-line taking place in time and space, and there tend to be objects which we know by name and experience. Looking at such a piece we find ourselves go into thoughts and memories. We might ask ourselves what the image is about, and what it means? In either case, the forms in figurative art are familiar to us, and they are hard to watch with the pure and virgin gaze we need develop for spiritual progress.

When we behold non-figurative and abstract art, the game is very different. Here, the nameless, unknown, or uncertain forms, do not as easily give rise to conceptual thinking. They may suggest or remind us of objects we know, but abstract works lend themselves a lot better to an open mind. The trick is to keep the verdict at bay, and to let things remain what they are – unknown. While our minds struggle to understand what they see (in the “meaningless” jumble of color and form), we should give them a fight, and let the work remain abstract – keep it in the shadows of Mystery.

Even if we succeed in doing so, we typically fall into another trap, which is that of judgment. We like this, we don't like that, we would have preferred it another way, or we are disturbed by a lack of balance, too much pink, the frame, or any other of a million reasons. Here is where we must be vigilant. Whenever we notice these judgments, we should try to let them go, and re-focus our gaze on the art before us. Remember, we want to see what IS, and get away from what we THINK about it. This may of course take some practice.

The mechanisms of mind, including the Ego itself, are much like little children. When we give them a finger, they are happy for a while, but will soon start bothering us about the rest of the hand. It is fortunately also true, that if we ignore them, they will raise their voices for some time, but eventually quiet down. With no confirmation at all, they turn all silent and crawl into a corner somewhere.

As we become experienced with watching abstract art, we tend to discover other pleasures, than those previously known to us. There arises a joy in watching the balance of composition by itself, and the play of simple fields of color, and brush-strokes, are suddenly enough to bring great and satisfying experiences. The openness and suggestive power of nameless forms is a great adventure to the mind, and we learn how to receive the artwork without interpretation. This is a great step. Those of us who have learned this skill, have a great tool when tracking the steps of The Lord, and those who doesn't might still have some leads on where (how) to look.

Now let's leave the gallery and go for a meditative walk in nature. While we see trees, bushes, rocks, sky, lakes, and all the other things we know, we can learn how look at them as we do an abstract piece of art. Think of them not as these things you have knowledge about, but perceive them as patches of form and color that together make up the undivided weave of reality – the very fabric of Creation. We are so accustomed to evaluate and judge that, even were we to walk through untouched lands, most of us would fall into these habits of “too barren, too dense, too green, too chaotic, too murky, etc”.

Allow me therefore to repeat: The world is not a piece of art for you to judge as a critic. It is not a meal cooked to please your personal taste. The world wasn't molded to suit your specific body or mind. The world is the reality from which you have grown, just like the straws of grass on the ground. For you to even think about judging it, or having opinions about it, is great and swollen pride. For millions of years it has prevailed, silently, perfectly, until right now, when you and I come here and start uttering our preferences, as if they somehow mattered. Who cares if we dislike the autumn, if we find birches more pleasant than spruce, or robins more likeable than crows? Life is not about our opinions. If we can bring ourselves to understand that, we may also be able to behold nature (and art, and people) with less of a labeling and judgmental gaze. Again, it is about being receptive to what is. It is about listening with our eyes, and to do so as if all the forms of life were equally important.

If we practice this, and continue to do so, there is a great chance that the Lord will let His Presence be known to us. All things in Nature sing His tune, and when we become aware of that, we also hear that same voice answering from within. That's the first step of true freedom, and a spring of deep and saturating joy. Whenever we make an effort to listen, we can now make out the Piper's flute on the wind, unwrapping the veils of Paradise, and its piercing benevolent Beauty!

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