Thursday, May 24, 2012

What is it that thus comes?

The I

This morning I was led to a little story that I found here in Sweeping Zen.  This is a piece of it:
The Chan Master Nanyue  Huairang visited the Sixth Ancestor, Huineng.
Huineng asked him, “Where do you come from?”
Nanyue   said, “I come from the National Teacher An on Mt. Song.”
Huineng  said, “What is it that thus comes?”
The Master was without means [to answer].
After studying with Huineng for eight years, he finally understood the previous conversation.
Thereupon, he announced to the Ancestor, “I’ve understood what you put to me when I first came:  ‘What is it that thus comes’”
Huineng  asked, “How do you understand it?”
Nanyue   replied, “To say it’s like anything wouldn’t hit it.”
What is this "I"?  Any way you describe yourself feels woefully inadequate.

Then on I went to my collage group, where I created a vertical piece.  I'd like to show you a photo of that, but my computer is refusing to do it.  You could see it if you just picked up your monitor and rotated it so the blue patch is in the upper left. But I found I like it turned this way much more.

What we all love about creating collage together is the non-thinking.  None of us tell stories with what we do; we play with shape and color.  Knowing that art doesn't have to be representational is one of many reasons it's good to live in the modern age.  Our assignment this morning was think quilt.  I am also always reminded of Joe Brainard's earnest advice:  just glue something down.

So I began in the upper left, with that lovely piece of blue handmade paper, my intention being Patchwork.  I thought I would work from left to right, one row at a time, the way you make a patchwork quilt.  We all murmured a bit about quilts we knew as girls, when women made quilts out of old clothes, and their function was to keep you warm.  But soon we settled down and the silence became absolute. So often, art feels like a sacred practice.

It seems that the main purpose of any assignment is to give me something to rebel against.  Sure enough, I didn't get far before I felt my plan to imitate a quilt was boring, so I left it.  Then it got to be fun.  Especially when I found the letter i.  I decided the collage was about "The I" - the self, this one, and its place in the universe.  The last thing I did was put the i in what is now the lower left-hand corner.

There is always a lot of space in my collages; I remain intrigued by the space everywhere, inside and outside this body, the idea that the shape of the empty spaces is as important as the images in it. And also, as I face my often-frightening old age (my back really hurt today), I feel better remembering how small I am, how big the universe, how spacious.  Collage is a somewhat more impermanent art than carving stone.  I like that about it, too.

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