Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Contemplating earth

Yellow Triangle - c. 2006
 I awoke this morning musing on the elemental qualities of earth. To skillfully work with this world a clear understanding of the elements and how they work helps. 
So it is not surprising that so many contemplatives have spent time observing and reflecting on the qualities of earth, water, fire, wind and space.  Indeed cultures as diverse as Chinese, Celtic, Native American and more have some system of understanding life based on these elements. 
In a world where we are less in touch with our place in nature and move at a fast pace with no time to ponder these things, it is possible to lose touch with this wisdom.

I have been studying the Tibetan Buddhist system of the Five Elements.  In that system, the elements are a mandala working on three levels of existence, the coarse or physical level; the subtle or emotional/mental/non-physical level; and the secret or awakened wisdom level.

Earth is the most solid of these forces.  Indeed it is what provides ground, solidity and structure to everything. We speak of "feeling grounded", of someone as being "down to earth" or having an earthy nature when they manifest some solidity and a sense of genuine presence.  

Life & Death - c. 2012
 There is also a quality of abundance and generosity in the bounty of earth.  Everything comes from the earth, and returns to it as in "dust to dust." Chogyam Trungpa in his book, True Perception, describes earth as like a rotten log, falling apart that has become a haven for creatures and from it sprouts new trees and mushrooms. A sense of richness and fecundity are evoked in this image of the cycle of life & death.

In our bodies, the earth quality is our bones and muscles, socially it is organizational structures.  Without these structures we could not be functional either personally or as a society. Indeed it is the structures that define the functionality of the form.  Unchanneled wind/action or water/emotion or fire/passion can be ineffective, or worse, destructive without the support and structure of earth.  Resting on earth and trusting its stability allows us to build and create what is needed from the bounty it provides. When earth is out of balance, greed or rigidity can manifest.

Ultimately the awakened quality of earth is a sense of equanimity, that everything can be borne, as the earth supports everything on its surface without discrimination.

A Delicate Balance - c. 2012

These qualities are what emerge in the images I have prepared for the upcoming exhibit, Earth, Water, Fire at Aryaloka Buddhist Center, Oct. 5-Nov. 14. 

How do you see the element of earth manifesting in the world around you?  I'd love to read your comments.

My next post will be on the element of Water.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Upcoming Earth, Water and Fire Exhibit

October 5 - November 14, 2012

I will be exhibiting a series of photographic prints on paper and canvas, centered around the theme of earth, water and fire. Most of these were taken as part of my graduate work in 2006-2007.  My masters portfolio centered on contemplative arts practices, and more specifically photography as a tool for contemplative looking.

Earth, Fire, Water - photo montage

My art is grounded in a practice of looking, an active engagement with the phenomenal world; to look at a leaf, light on a lake or litter on a city street… to look at life; all this is part of my contemplative art practice. To look, really look, I don’t mean just glance, for “to really see takes time,” as Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “like to have a friend takes time.” It requires slowing down, opening up a non-judgmental space where genuine contact can be made. It is as Robert Irwin’s biography title states, “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees.” It is seeing with all the senses, a process of synchronizing mind and body.

Clouds on Water - c. 2006

 My photography is integrated into the larger context of years of meditative practice as a Shambhala Buddhist.  The teachings on art and meditation of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Shambhala Buddhism; a poet and interdisciplinary artist in his own right, are at the core of my practice as an artist and teacher.  His book of collected teachings on art & meditation, True Perception have been influential in my approach to this work.
These images are part of a larger inquiry into the nature of the Five Great Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Space), as part of my study of Vajrayana Buddhist philosophy. The entire manifested universe is composed of these elements.  They form a mandala of energetic qualities that manifest on the coarse, subtle and secret levels in all aspects of life; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  Understanding their nature we can more skillfully work with the world as it is.

I will follow this post with more on the elements in the coming days.  

For more information on Robert Irwin, I highly recommend his biography