Sunday, August 19, 2018

Embodied cognition, Painting and Heartache.

This last year has brought me all kinds of opportunities for growth. At this ripe old age I would say that heartbreak in life is unavoidable. Heartbreak is just the process of us learning to accept the joy that comes and eventually goes in life. The gifts the universe gives us are all transitory... and if we cannot gracefully accept that all things must pass, than those gifts become barbed hooks and tear us apart as they move out of our lives again. If we can open ourselves to joy without attachment then they become waves, washing over us, and we can be open and aware of all of the new joys that are constantly becoming  available to us.

Negotiating that sometimes frustrating, and at turns transcendent act of awareness is what the practice of painting is about for me. Not everything I paint is great, not everything I see is great, but if my awareness is great and my acceptance of things as they meet my reality remains steadfast, then I feel like I am actually giving a gift back to the universe. My awareness is a gift of gratitude to the wonders of our world. The breathing leaves and skipping birds, the dark resting stones and the bright clear sky, the bent grey branch and the folded yellow petals, and maybe most wonderful, the way all these parts move with each other, breathing the same air, allowing the same precious rays of sunlight to bend all over them. Ugh. Its almost too much.

The other wild thing to me is that most of my life doesn’t feel like this. Mostly I’m stressing about work or stuck in traffic or trying to figure out how to communicate with my children, or just feed them before soccer practice. I often feel frustrated and overwhelmed, or all out scared as hell. I’m sure we share some of those feelings, however for many of us there is a practice that allows us to pause, breathe and be grateful. This practice often allows us to bend or stretch time and heightens our senses, as well as quieting the inner voices that sometimes are no help at all really.

There is a short list of things I do that really make me feel better when those stressors and negative voices get out of hand.

1)    talk therapy
2)    running
3)  spending time with friends and family
4)    drawing and painting

Your list is ( I’m sure ) different, but if your at all interested in how to make creating art into one of those tools in your life, then join me, ‘cuz I’m ‘bout to get into it again. This time by using examples of actual paintings that I may consider good or sometimes even not my faves, and doing my best to explain how my mind, body and the space around me interact to create not only that painting but the opportunity to open that moment up to my awareness., as a practice of gratitude.

Here we go. The image to the right is a portrait of the west facing slope of mount hood. There I was, a year ago, hoofing it through the dust. I was carrying a heavy heart, and my paint box, not light physically or emotionally. I carry the weight of my eroding marriage with me, as I look over the glacial landscape trying to find something I wouldn't mind staring really hard at for an hour or more. but everything looks gorgeous. How to choose? This is one of those moments I just gave up and sat down and started painting. and its one of my favorites. so much light and surface, it scared me. There was no simple one thing to look at. but the hill, scoured by ice all killed me. the small life that fought for it, came up all around me. It told me that it is ok to fight for daylight. get your green wings out in the sun, even for a few weeks. This is a barren moonscape graced by the strongest little green living things. I say thank you, to the sun and the earth, and I put the pigment on the paper. The image is what it is..what you see. But there is no way to accurately express the multifaceted sensory experience of life. Yet, we keep trying.

 fast forward a year, and one of the coolest things I've had the experience to learn happened in a workshop at Catlyn Gable school, in a workshop led by Rachel Nelson,  during traverse portland, all about...

1)your mind
2)your body
3)everything else

"Cognition does not begin and end in the brain, but actually is conducted in concert with the environment and the physical body."

 now it's all I think about when I'm painting. my mind wants to see things, and see them clearly. But my body has it's own agenda...breathing and feeling tired, hungry, and waving in the breeze, like a filament of a barnacle. MY BODY IS HUNGRY...MY MIND IS ALSO HUNGRY...and the space around me acts out its own impulses, that my brain and body respond to. The Wind or rain could change my mood or ruin the excursion for me. It is the space around me I am here to capture, or to experience. The act of observational painting is the very act of becoming aware in real time of the shifting space that is our very being, the nerves and thoughts and emotions and urges that flow like a rushing current though our bodies and minds, into and out of the space all around us. Mind, Body and Everything Else all three work on me equally, and my identity, the decisions I make, have no firm boundary between them. My decisions are not made just in my head, but in the intersection of these three vectors and so I am greater than just my mind, I am greater even than myself.

In the moment of this painting, I had sat down on some rocks beside the Wilson River. I had never been to this swimming hole before, and all my senses were open. My mind was in a childlike state of learning, taking in the bird songs and the shapes of leaves, because it was a new space for me. I was eating some salami, and crackers, looking up and down the  bank, joyful and grateful, for the love in my life. Belly full, Mind calm, and the world around me becomes the main thing. I accept the world around me and put pigment on paper.

 I would miss out on most of the joy in my life, if not for painting. Painting reveals how temporary everything is. I may return to the same views to see the seasons changing. The leaves drying out and the clouds growing dark, or the ground growing warm and soft and green shoots striking out again.

 Even in the course of a single painting the light is never the same as when I began. The practice of awareness through impermanence helps build in me, a sense of gratitude for the moment as it is happening and an acceptance of change. The two being linked, awareness and a capacity for joy and an acceptance of life slipping through our fingers.
 The reality of things as they appear, is not the same as how they are. There ARE multiple realities at work. My perspective is unique. The sun screams through space, and we, on earth, scream around it. Light does not stay static. Only by accepting change can we paint life. None of my paintings look like reality, as it might be captured by a camera, but all of my paintings capture the emotional state of the hand. That kind of arty sentiment I would have rejected as a younger man, but now I can hear it. Not to say that the emotional state could be universally interpreted, but it is embedded in the color choices, and strokes, and by recalling the moment of craft, I can recall the emotional state.

The practice of true and open presence, in nay form has the capacity to change our lives for the better. Being aware and connected, allows experiences to be more clearly imprinted in our memories, because it allows us to take more of our experience in. That practice is carried into all aspects of my life. So thanks saved one more soul today.

Embodied cognition, Painting and Heartache.

This last year has brought me all kinds of opportunities for growth. At this ripe old age I would say that heartbreak ...