“Lost in awe at the beauty around me, I must have slipped into a state of heightened awareness. It is hard — impossible really — to put into words the moment of truth that suddenly came upon me then. Even the mystics are unable to describe their brief flashes of spiritual ecstasy. It seemed to me, as I struggled afterward to recall the experience, the self was utterly absent: I and the chimpanzees, the earth and trees and air, seemed to merge, to become one with the spirit power of life itself. The air was filled with a feathered symphony, the evensong of birds. I heard new frequencies in their music and also in singing insects’ voices — notes so high and sweet I was amazed. Never had I been so intensely aware of the shape, the color of the individual leaves, the varied patterns of the veins that made each one unique. Scents were clear as well, easily identifiable: fermenting, overripe fruit; waterlogged earth; cold, wet bark; the damp odor of chimpanzee hair, and yes, my own too. And the aromatic scent of young, crushed leaves was almost overpowering…. Jane Goodall
After many years of practicing artmaking, I began to slip into a meditative space that saw wholes instead of pieces. In the beginning I struggled with craft, with materials and their behavior, with how to represent the world with verisimiltude and grace, if possible. As I continued to paint and grow older, my way of seeing changed. I began to notice how the smallest stroke or color or gesture could change the whole painting. Nothing was insignificant. A painting could be a gathering of disconnected parts or it could be a harmonious and integrated whole. In the beginning I sometimes made that kind of painting by sheer instinct. Others could see what I had done but I couldn’t. Later on I began to observe and recognize a good painting in the process of coming into being.
Something clear and unhampered in me let a good painting happen. They didn’t come into being via heroic forcing. Eventually, after years of looking, I began to see more holistically, and for me that approached a kind of spiritual sight. A non physical vision began to open up, something similar to Jane Goodall’s experience.
That’s why I think the practice of making art is a spiritual practice in the end. That intense, practiced receptivity to the manifest world penetrates deeper eventually, into the wonder and revelation of interrelationships and how they build whole paradigms — ”as far as they go,” to quote an Eastern religious text. Included are all the senses as we receive the impact of their reality. We humans are fortunate to be equipped with the senses, brain and heart to grok the full shock of Creation.
Waking up to the world rarely happens without a practice combined with a natural sensitivity. I’m speaking of adults, of course. Children are naturally swimming in the wonder and poetry of the world from birth, but society soon paves over their wonderland.
Art is a way to return to that mindspace of a child, and with patience and dedication, it’s possible. Art is not the only way to approach the vision of the heart of Reality, as Jane Goodall proves. People from all walks can experience flashes of “satori,” a seeing into the true nature of things. The reverence that takes hold of us at such times is life changing.
This is the “primitive’s” mind, the child’s mind. This, I believe, is the mind needed to live on a peaceful planet.
- Anima Fire is my publication