Painting as a Meditation Practice

It’s been a year since I created my piece entitled “Compassion”, and I thought as an annual remembrance, I would share a bit about my process for creating this particular work. In February 2015, there was a local call for artist entries for artwork for a new extension to the Philadelphia Convention Center. The due date was in a couple of weeks, so I was feverishly trying to create a painting before the deadline. I thought I would paint a local iconic scene of cherry blossoms in bloom along the Schuylkill River waterfront.

cherryblossoms

I started on this idea only to find myself feeling disconnected to the piece. I noticed I was tense while creating it and even holding my breath. One morning, in order to breakthrough the tension, I just painted over it without much thought. I released all of my tension in a few broad and quick brushstrokes and some scribbles with pastels. It’s amazing how therapeutic letting go in this way can be. I also decided to no longer enter my work for the Philadelphia Convention Center. The pressure was too much for my creativity and I just was not having fun.

Abstract

Breathing easier, I took a step back and a whole new scene started to come through on this abstract background. If you look at the above closely, what do you see? I saw an outline of the Buddha sitting in meditation under the moon.

I didn’t go right ahead into creating this scene, rather I sat with it for about a week and kept it in a location in my apartment where I would see it daily. It was in my main space, and in between Netflix show binges, I would glance up at it from my couch and let my imagination simmer. This was very different from my approach to most of my other paintings. With my other paintings, I would get a creative spark and as if almost possessed, I would work on them non-stop until they were complete, getting lost in the process and often forgetting to eat, drink water, or even to sleep. This painting was calling for a different approach. I decided to make it a meditative practice in mindful creation.

I spent about 5-15 minutes everyday working small details into the painting. I did so at a slow and intentional pace and kept notice of how I was feeling and breathing and if my mind was wandering. I would not work on it any longer than 15 minutes at a time. This was particularly difficult at times, because I really like to fuss until I feel like I am at a good stopping point, which can sometimes take hours. So it was a real practice for me, and I would wager that I kept true to it 80% of the time. Progress not perfection, right?

lotusdetail

As the painting slowly came to life over the course of a couple of months, I found myself drawn to the chant, “Om Mani Padme Hum”. This particular verse is about opening ourselves up to be more compassionate and loving people, essentially to be more Buddha-like. I found myself humming and singing this chant while I was painting. It became such a ritual, that as a final touch to the background, I decided to handwrite the chant.

sutra

I was able to write it out 108 times, which is the traditional number of times a chant is repeated for some specific spiritual reasons. I also added 4 versus of the heart sutra, in honor of a fellow artist, Louise Beckinsale, who passed away very suddenly last March. The Heart sutra is “Gate gate paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.” This sutra roughly translates into ” Gone, gone, gone beyond, so completely gone beyond, oh what an awakening.” I felt it only appropriate for her passing into the beyond.

I still have the original of this work today, and will be showing it at a few upcoming art shows this summer. My hope is that this piece that is so special to me finds it’s perfect home.

compassion_700_web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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