The Country They Call Life

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Painting by J. M. W. Turner

Just understand your mind: how it works, how attachment and desire arise, how ignorance arises, where emotions come from. It is sufficient to know the nature of all that; just that gives so much happiness and peace.

— Lama Thubten Yeshe

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“Compassion goes with great intelligence. That intelligence is not the operation of knowledge. Knowledge can solve many problems, intellectual and technical, but intelligence is something entirely different… the problem-solving mind is not the intelligent mind. Intelligence comes with compassion, with love. And when that intelligence is an action of compassion it is global…” — Krishnamurti

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God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

Then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

Go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

And make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you:

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Take my hand

— Rilke

The stage we’re dancing on is vast, it’s infinite. We don’t spend much time contemplating that as we lead our personal lives, but we are mysteries surrounded by mysteries. Our job as artists is to study the mystery and remind people it exists at the base of everything. We work at perceiving it and communicating what we see.

So, you could say our mission is to educate the soul, ours and those fortunate enough to stumble upon our work. Put that way it sounds very noble and elevated, but it’s gritty work. Since life is messy, a lot of mistakes will be made. You will arrive at the final exit door with real scars but being too careful to avoid mistakes is itself a mistake. Courage is required for this expedition called life.

Growing up in a culture that values toughness and the ability to take pain, we have to be careful to protect and foster our sensitivity. Most of us play a bit part in this drama, but we still need to find a way to play it as who we really are. It’s easy to get caught up in the wrong energy fields if we don’t listen to our hearts’ desire.

Ancient cultures merged art, science, religion and practical life. Our modern mindset has a tendency to segregate and compartmentalize everything. Artists, on the other hand, learn to see the links and influences flowing between everything. They develop a vision and an appreciation of passing phenomena and its underlying character and life force.

Artists and creative people respond to a call that is not practical. Nobody says “I want to be rich so I think I’ll be an artist.” What artists are instead saying is they want to lead a life that means something, in which beauty plays a major role.

Creative work requires sensitivity. You have to be able to perceive subtle relationships. Sensitivity is your biggest tool and asset, but having that asset makes it hard to fit into a society organized around money and transactional values.

We naturally want to communicate something that we only know when it comes out of us. That looking and listening essential to the work is feeding and watering our soul and the soul of the world as we work and live that life. It’s more than a career or a job.

It’s a call to our essential nature and to a more beautiful world.

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