Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Friday, 28 November 2014

So Bad It's Good: Beginners' Mind and a Sense of Play

The wind is howling round. There's a heavy snowfall warning which is expected to last until tonight. The plans to walk over to the yoga studio for a noon hour class were put aside in favour of playing at home. I prepared a few small canvases and splashed around more acrylic paint. When I finished, the estimated 30 minutes of swinging brushes was actually over two hours of total absorption in the process of investigating acrylic paint. Time had become focused; hours vanished. This. This is what has been missing.

One of the art professors at our local arts centre used to say that painting with acrylics is like "painting with snot." (She taught acrylic painting classes.) Ugh. After a few days of mucking about with these plastic based paints, I'm beginning to see what she meant. Watercolours run and flow whether you want them to or not, a quality which means there's uncertainty about the process. Acrylic paints, even if you thin them to watercolour consistency, tend to stay put. Every mark you make stays as it is, so it matters which brushes you use and how you use them. It's difficult to work without a plan and some of us are not fond of plans. On the other hand, it's easy to cover an error or have a change of heart with acrylics because their opacity covers many flaws. These paintings have many flaws.

The point of painting is not to produce work that is good. The point of painting is to paint, just that and nothing more. My paintings are not unique or dramatic or thought-provoking. The subjects are common place. My lack of experience means I'll do poorly,which frees me to simply enjoy the process. It's working pretty well that way, so far. (My go-to failure used to be dancing. I was spectacularly bad at dancing, but I took classes, anyway, much to my teacher's confusion. I don't think I'll ever be as bad at anything as I was at dancing. One has to have limits.)

Years ago, another art teacher, the most difficult, challenging instructor I have ever had, refused to allow me into his Figure Drawing classes. I was more than a little pissed off at that and told him so, because when I decide to study a subject, I tend to research and explore that thing in depth, sometimes to obsession and I wanted into his classes to further that. His only response was, "Don't let me or anyone else tell you how to draw bodies." Other artist friends advised me not to go to art school because "it would suck the life out of me." I didn't understand what they were telling me and was hurt by their comments. Now, I suspect these artist teachers were helping me to recognize the importance of staying in Beginner's Mind and out of Knowing.

We've all heard that term, "Beginner's Mind." Yoga teachers, artists, teachers in general, tend to talk up the idea of Beginner's Mind, often at the same time they are pushing you/us to get better, to change, to improve. The drive to improve is not a bad thing; I'm very grateful for the many things which have been improving for me in the past few years, whether this happened by chance, circumstance or hard work.  At the same time, if we're always reaching for that next best thing, if we struggle to get past the beginning stage of anything, we'll miss Here, Right Now. That's too bad, because Here, Right Now is very interesting. Exploring the moment with an open, beginner's mind allows us to see that we're Special Nothings, being Nothing Special, Ambient Beings in a world full of universes. If we're absorbed in a practice of not knowing, that time we spend fully engaged will fly by and expand simultaneously, just as time expanded and stood still for me this morning. It's an exciting experience. We might as well enjoy it when and while we can.

If I could wield my tray of snotty plastic paints and paint the image of our Special Nothingness what a great work that would be. Or not. I'll never know. In honour of that practice and those teachers, I don't plan to do too much more research into acrylic painting, because I'm afraid I'll lose that edge, the sense of uncertainty which come with doing something unfamiliar. Sometimes, not good enough is just - good enough.


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