Sunday, April 26, 2009

The beauty of impermanence

The Navajo and the Tibetan fine and exquisitely beautiful sand paintings have multiple aspects in common. The act of creating the painting, emphasizing great patience, is one. The use of rich and traditionally meaningful symbols is another. The variety of strong colors, produced from the riches of the earth surrounding the artist is a third. Yet perhaps the most important shared element is that the focus of the paintings is not on art per se, but is found within the spiritual understanding embedded deep within the philosophies of these cultures.

Both emphasize the oneness of all creatures, living and inanimate, of the earth. And both cultures understand that change is the only constant. There is no permanence. Impermanence is found in our bodies, in the sky, in the seasons, in everything. To abandon the desire to control that which surrounds us, to merge with impermanence, is to become one with each other and with all.

The sand painting's particular spiritual lesson is that, upon completion, it is transformed and returned to the nothingness with which it was begun. There is no need to hold on to its image; it provides a message or a truth at one time and in one single place within a continuum. The ego of the artist is submerged to the message.

I look at the many items in my home and my history with which I surround myself, some with wonderful memories, some for current use, or for enjoyment, or for knowledge. I have no wish to give up what I consider the best of these items (and unfortunately I don't seem to have the energy to give up the worst of them). But I worry about having the false assumption that by holding onto these items I therefore do not lose that which I cherish. Perhaps more accurately, it may be that what I allow myself is the pretense that I can maintain control of all parts of my life, when, in fact, these assumptions produce exactly the opposite results.

I love computers and electronic gadgets, and find them delightful companions and useful tools. In spite of that, it was with much hesitation that I finally allowed myself to become part of the great Facebook stream, with its interconnectedness and the delightful way in which we can peek into others' lives and share pieces of our own with large groups of people we both know and don't know, all of whom called "friends," and all at the same time. But the Facebook attempt to connect the whole world, literally, with a 6-degree site where one can sign up, is also based in the false assumption that we can in this rather impersonal way truly share with others. The most troublesome aspect of this new form of communication (and I still have many additional concerns) is that once something is written, it presumes permanence; the thought cannot be wisked away with the wind to be transformed into a different form of energy. What is communicated sits on its site, with the ability to be seen by the entire world, for all time (or at least, for all computer internet time).

What made me think of the beauty behind sand paintings was a series of little frustrations that appeared in my life recently. Nothing of any importance, nothing life shattering nor even anything particularly hurtful. Just an annoyance here and there that sat with me. There wasn't a companion nearby to whom I could speak my frustrations and who might gently prod me with both a sympathetic and yet tolerantly and slightly amusing reaction, pricking my own balloon and letting out my air of annoyance. And so, the frustrations grew to an uncomfortable sensation and needed to be dispersed. How lovely to allow the wind to carry our voices, both our happinesses and our angers as well as our smaller annoyances. The old tradition of writing something down and then disposing rather than sharing it inappropriately, is also a way to throw it to the wind. It concerns me that too many of these frustrations can so easily be formulated on a communication tablet such as Facebook, without the ability to be dispersed with the energy the earth. Instead, they can be seen and recreated and remembered and perhaps inaccurately reinterpreted with each re-reading.

I want to learn to express my deepest beliefs using the wisdom of the sand paintings, patiently creating a message for each moment and for each very specific period of time, and then allowing that message to return to nothingness, to an integrative universal knowledge.



making the impermanent permanent
A Sacred Art by the Tibetan Lamas of Drepung Loseling
Wallace Ben sand painting, the place where gods come and go

2 comments:

Hannah said...

Oh, You brilliant woman. I loved, loved, loved this post. Thank you.

Lena said...

I cried when I read your comment, Hannah.