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January 1, 2019

Lived mindfully, life is a living work of art

Living in sync with our true selves and being guided by the spirit within allows us to follow whatever unfolds in its natural sequence. Without trying to control the chaos of life with the left brain’s overthinking, our right brain flows from thing to thing, perceiving, sensing, and connecting. When given the time, the right brain dreams of infinite possibilities, and feels the energy and inter relatedness of everything’s pure essence. Being in the flow allows us to find our unlimited creativity and imagination to write a story, design a house, paint or sculpt a work of art. Research and analysis are left-brain activities that utilize higher thinking skills. But creating from the right brain’s flow connects the heart-brain with all of our senses.

In 2019, wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in the flow as often as possible? That’s when we’re fully focused and lose track of time, magically creating our most inspired work. If not interrupted in creative concentration, we can work in a frenzy till the project is done. For me, I can get lost in the process of writing, and a painting meditation is a spiritual experience.

I’ve always admired the Chinese tradition of painting the “Four Gentlemen” or “Noble Ones.” Since their beginning in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), they have represented the seasons and been used in teaching because they embody all of the brush strokes. Most importantly, they represent Confucian qualities Chinese scholars strive to attain. In the frigid late winter, the plum blossom blooms brightly against the white snow, representing inner beauty, humility, and endurance. The spring orchid’s delicate petals exude fragrance and nobility, with leaves that dance gracefully in the breeze. Summer bamboo is flexible and strong. It inspires the cultivation of tolerance, honesty, and integrity. Its hollow stalk symbolizes an open mind and represents the finest of men. The auspicious chrysanthemum blooms in the autumn and represents the virtue of overcoming adversity. While most flowers wither and die from frost, chrysanthemums continued to flourish.

Ever since the eleventh century, the Chinese “gentleman scholar” has become cultivated and well versed in the “Three Perfections” of poetry (“painting with sound”), calligraphy (“beautiful writing”), and painting (“silent poetry”). All expressive art forms expand creativity, discipline, ethics, and minds. Since calligraphy’s beginning on oracle bones (Shang dynasty ca. 1600-ca. 1100B.C.E.), it has developed into a supreme, revered artistic expression because it reveals its creator’s true nature.

Confucian scholar, Yan Xiong offered these thoughts:

“Speech is the voice of the mind; writing is the delineation [hua: painting or picture] of the mind. When this voice and delineation take form, the princely man and the ignoble man are revealed.”

As in Zen Buddhism, the wisdom of poetry in a painting is transmitted in silence, mind to mind. Unspoken, wordless forms of communication lead to self-awakening. “The Three Perfections” and other arts like tai chi, qi gong, dance, and music have their own rhythm and flow. Self-expression is the goal. But it’s also important the artist first feel peaceful and in balance as they begin.

Kim Hoa Tram, Chinese-Vietnamese Poet and Painter wrote:

“Led by our karma, we come to this life.

Loaded with karma, we depart from this world.

In life, so many anxieties, a lot of confusion

We simply cannot free ourselves from the perplexities of delusions.

Perhaps, in this state of confusion, the Way (Dao) [to spiritual enlightenment] will sprout forth.

Chinese “flower and bird” paintings not only inspire the onlooker with their aesthetic appeal. Each work of art also holds the power to transform artist and onlooker through the artist’s feelings and intention. Chinese artists taught me the importance of being peaceful and centered, in a Zen state of mind, before beginning to paint. So I taught my students in schools and art centers (and at Killington Summerfest for a dozen years), to first “grind their cares away” with ink sticks on ink stones, two of the “four treasures of the artist’s studio.” The meditative pause, grinding one direction and then, the other, allowed time to breathe, relax, and release all earthly concerns. We laid out rice paper and picked up the brush (the other two “treasures” of Chinese artists), took a deep breath, and began. In a peaceful state, good feelings flowed from deep in the heart, through arm, hand, and brush, onto rice paper with every stroke. Why is the artist’s frame of mind so important while creating their work? Artists have the power but also, the responsibility to imbue the painting with positive feelings because the viewer, whether they know it or not, picks up the artist’s mental state. That’s why my intention is that my paintings serve as a blessing in people’s lives.

Some strokes are genius, others, not— we may wish to paint over or erase, although I told my students: “There are no mistakes; only opportunities to grow and expand.” 

What a beautiful and empowering thought it is to know we have the power to create and become our very own living masterpiece. Some stand out with their vibrant colors, from fuchsia to chartreuse, while others are delicate, soft, and subdued.  Brush strokes may vary from staccato to long.

Life is a living work of art. Each day holds countless possibilities to become like the artwork we most admire: uplifting, inspiring, that gives us all hope. May your life be filled with grace and joy each day you’re in the flow. Happy 2019!
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s Gulf Coast.

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