paper bags and cardboard
Every other year, Shambhala Art teachers and graduates come together for a retreat to contemplate the Dharma Art teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, share inspirations and explore personal and collaborative projects that relate to these teachings. The Shambhala Art program is a series of experiential workshops that explore our perceptual and creative processes that spring from the meditative mind, and is meant to introduce us to working with our art and life as meditation in action, with appreciation and non-aggression. In Los Angeles, it’s offered as a five day intensive, biennially.
Coming To My Senses
Here I am. This retreat is themed, “True Perception”. Deciding on calligraphy as my framework to explore this theme, I wonder “what does my calligraphy look like? How does it feel? What is True?” Make a mark.
Sometimes I am fully present and synchronized with my senses, materials and process, and then, I notice self-referencing and commentary come up… “This is going great, this is shit, is anyone else noticing how amazing this light is?” I get irritated at the commentary, and then remember to let it be a gentle reminder to come back to my senses which connect me to Now. Over and over again.
Genuine art tells the truth
~ Chogyam Trungpa
Seeing Things As They Are
Relaxing with my mind and heart as they are is easier said than done. Make a mark. It can be challenging to let go of the sometimes hidden, sticky goal of wanting my marks to be “good”, which means to me, a visually pleasing composition made up of impressive marks of varying sensibilities. Nothing particularly wrong with that! Can I accept that part of me, too?
How can my marks and gestures be authentic? If they are true to my experience, they are. Brushing black ink on white paper requires confidence because what I put down reveals the truth of the moment, which can feel very raw and exposed. That word “confidence” has shifted for me over the years. What used to mean a certain determination and knowledge about what I’m doing now has many more facets since I’ve become a meditation practitioner. Including, feeling my heart and relaxing with whatever is there – which might be embarrassment, bewilderment or not knowing. What is true? But it also means curiosity, wonder and wakefulness. So “confidence” means to me: “connecting to now”. (NOW! Nownownownownownow)
The Creative Process
After two days of tracking my gestures with ink on a giant page I decide to change media, using the stuff I have on hand, which is a stack of clean cardboard, brown paper tape and crisp white paper lunch bags. There is no hope involved in these materials. Actually, there is always hope! Anything can be transformed into something beautiful or, simply appreciated for what it is.
I have no experience with making cardboard into “art”, so expectation of any particular outcome is automatically quieted. All I can do is play, which is an activity of total acceptance and involvement in what the materials present to me each moment. What if I cut a little window here?
Play lacks the aggression of trying to achieve something. There’s no room for judgment or bias in a field of questions that generate new questions. The warm color of paper tape is exactly the color of the cardboard so it disappears – and it sticks perfectly! Can it be a hinge? These brittle paper bags tear along the folds – what if I cover the window with the paper….
The Power of Display
Rotating the cardboard and paper sculpture in silence, the afternoon sunlight pouring through its hidden windows, I slow w a y down as I start to see it better, and the turning produces surprising shadow and light shapes that completely stop my mind with its magic. It’s sort of a slap in the face reminder of how ordinary and available beauty is. Actually, it feels tender to experience this. The quality of my attention has the power to alter my experience in profound ways. What is here when I get out of the way?
The eyes that see something fresh and unexpected are primed by the practice of letting go of bias, coming back to the present moment, again and again. Chogyam Trungpa termed this “ordinary truth” which is simple, direct and part of our everyday life.
We have to be honest, real, and very earthy; and we need to really appreciate things as they are. They are so beautiful and wonderful already, but in order to appreciate that, it takes time and discipline – so much discipline.
~ Chogyam Trungpa
Art In Everyday Life
Shambhala Art is a practice of open curiosity and a reminder that Square One, or Now, is always available, always fresh. A very good way to go about my day. And this discipline of meditation and meditation in action, no matter the medium, is simple and powerful and sustaining. It’s not about making anything, really.
Art is the refining of the sense of truthfulness.
~ Willa Cather
“The practice of dharma art is a way to use our lives to communicate, without confusion, the primordial and magical nature of what we see, hear, and touch.”
~ Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Quotes by Chogyam Trungpa are from True Perception copyright Diana J. Mukpo.
Anne Anderson Saitzyk is a painter and arts educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, Steven. She came across Shambhala Buddhism through a program called Dharma Art in the 90’s – attracted by those two words put together. She’s since become a student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, a Shambhala Art teacher and enjoys being involved in all aspects of the Shambhala Community, currently co-coordinating a new Shambhala center near Venice, California. www.shambhalaart.org
This month begins the new Creativity Lab at Westside Shambhala. The tag line is “exploring creative processes that arise from meditative space”. We hope to see you there. It’s scheduled for the Second Saturday morning of each month and will be facilitated by L.A. Shambhala Art teachers and guests.