Over the last decade, my life-long journey as a visual artist has been given new dimensions by my deepening practice of Vipassana, or insight, meditation.
Insight practice has gradually changed my sense of my artistic work into more of offering or gift, less of a commodity.
It also is clarifying what I mean by making artwork that invites people to awareness of their experience of a place, at a particular moment.
For example, “WISHING. YOU. A. WISH. MOMENT.,” is an art installation I recently placed in the intimate New Media gallery space of one of Seattle’s lesser known treasures, the Jack Straw Cultural Center near the University of Washington.
This installation was my first artwork completely tied to my meditation practice. My intention was to gently envelop each visitor in a set of circumstances that invited them to be fully present, aware of unfolding moments calling their attention – not as an interpreter or outsider, but by becoming fully present and potentially experiencing a continuity of awareness.
This decade-plus involvement in mindfulness meditation is just one of the tributaries that has fed my creative endeavors, while I’ve explored the twists and turns of life and living it fully.
Other important parts of my life have been my family and raising two sons, time spent in the beauty of the wilder environment, and interest in the social and cultural happenings of our community and the broader world. As an “artist-of-the-world,” I have endeavored to help make the world a better place.
My list of interests is long, and it translates into a layered and networked pattern that weaves into my life. And it is a path.
My Vipassana meditation practice has come to run beneath all that I do and experience as an artist, wife, mother, community member, while building a more expansive, all-encompassing life path. This path has blossomed especially through the strength of the vipassana community in Seattle.
Vipassana means to see things as they really are, and through this seeing, to live life informed by knowledge of reality as moment-to-moment experience.
Teachers say that awareness of each present moment is like a “match striking the side of the box, resulting in flame.” When we’re aware many moments of experience happen: of hearing, seeing, smelling, moving, touching, tasting, feeling or thinking.
For me, practicing to develop compassion and wisdom in the face of the true nature of reality is coupled with living my daily life. I’ve increasingly learned to live by the precepts, the ethical guidelines of Buddhism, and also by developing the paramis, which are beneficial qualities including generosity, virtue, patience, and energy.
To support my vipassana practice I attend weekend Seattle Insight Meditation Society non-residential retreats. I also complete a minimum of one or two yearly residential retreats, either locally at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center or further afield at Insight Meditation Society or the Forest Refuge, both in Barre, Massachusetts. I also meet with weekly and monthly sanghas in the Seattle area.
All of these activities create a parallel layered and networked pattern that has become the primary warp and weft of my life’s fabric.
Some would say that the making of art is the ultimate moment-by-moment practice. But I have come to understand that for me, this is no longer so. My mindfulness meditation has become my ultimate practice.
As my practice reframes my art endeavors, and as I increasingly view my work as an offering, it has changed the nature of what I create.
For instance, in the installation mentioned, “WISHING. YOU. A. WISH. MOMENT,” I tried to turn viewers toward their own moment-by-moment experience of the work, rather than toward forming an opinion of it.
I was one of four visual artists-in-residence for 2015 at the Jack Straw Cultural Center, which focuses on the production of sound in all forms.
To give people a toehold into the intent of the artwork, I began by planting a seed for non-practitioners, through the title and explanation of the artwork posted outside the gallery door. The title referred to how people tend to focus their mind leading up to making a wish – a cultural experience common to blowing out candles on a birthday cake or throwing a coin into a fountain.
The seed I planted merely opened the idea of concentrating one’s mind while in the gallery.
My installation intentionally offered a situation — sound, light, and object intertwined – choreographed by its placement in the gallery to consciously draw people in.
The piece’s intention, for viewers to become aware within themselves in each moment, and perhaps also aware of their minds, is quite different from the purpose of most art shows and artwork.
More typically viewers are busy interpreting artworks, trying to understand the content and place it within a personal or larger context. More often than not viewers end up with an opinion of the work’s meaning, and usually, deciding whether they like it or not.
To help you understand what I mean, I will shift to a description as if you were actually experiencing this installation:
You enter a dark, quiet room but notice there is a dramatically lit sculptural object diagonally across the room. Your eyes adjust, and perhaps you perceive a faint sound in the room not unlike wind or perhaps the ocean. There is no other sound except ambient sound from the street outside. The sculptural object draws you across the room. What is this? What is happening here? It is so quiet in here.
Once you walk across the room you see that the sculpture is made of bright, highly polished metal, encased by stacked layers of warmly colored wood. This is like a well, you think. As you look inside, you see the interior is also highly polished and cone-shaped, tapering down to a dark circle at the bottom.
Light reflects in shifting rays around the cone’s surface. Then you slowly notice very soft sound emanating from the well. Layered, changing sound. Murmuring voices underneath wind chimes, rustling leaves, and other sounds coming in and out of range.
You can only hear this only when you are standing at the well. The sound changes, broadens and deepens if you lean into the well opening. The volume is never very high but sometimes it almost fades to nothing.
Then a water drop, and a soft, sweet word, floats over the surface of the sound. “Wish,” you hear.
It is at this point that you might make the decision to stay, to relax, and to fall into the sound composition.
This brings you to the very experience of standing there. Ultimately it brings you to what is happening in your mind – your thoughts, how your body feels standing there. The range and depth of the actual experience is in each person’s hands.
In the end, all I wanted people to take away from this installation was their experience.
After seeing it, one non-practicing friend sent me an email that warmed my heart. He wrote, “What I liked most was the experience over a half hour of having my senses sharpened to it. When I first went in I couldn’t see much and the sound seemed so subtle. . . after a while the room brightened and I could begin to hear. After 30 minutes the room was brilliant and the sound almost deafening! Wow.”
Others shared that they had experiences of being focused, of resting their mind in the moment, of being aware in different ways.
What more could a girl ask for?