Dancing with your Dragon

This dragon hoards the treasure inside of me. My fears, the things that make me righteously angry, the negativity I project onto others - these become the dragon that stands between me and my enlightenment.

In mythology East to West, the dragon is an archetype of the most unreasonable and formidable foe. Dragon scales are impermeable except for … one weakness. Sometimes the hero needs close observation and a clear mind to see the one gap in a dragon’s armor. Other times the dragon’s scales have developed as protection against the blows of life. Once I lay down my defenses and show kindness, the dragon can remove the burden of their frightening suit of armor and be light and free. They don’t scare anyone anymore. Sometimes we befriend the dragon, sometimes we fool it long enough to get the treasure, sometimes it needs to be slayed.

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These are some of my reflections as I work on this dragon from my recent painting. He guards the pearl of wisdom and dances around Vajrasattva, bodhisattva of purification in Tibetan Buddhism.

How do you dance with your dragon?

Darkness in Perspective

Am I afraid of the dark? Or am I limited in my perspective?

The painting I am working on now is a Cosmic Green Tara. She is in the vastness of outer space, which appears to our eyes as a dark color.

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The first stages of painting the background seemed like smoke in the darkness. I was nervous and resistant as this was the first time I had painted outer space. The deeper I worked into the painting, the more it developed into something new, beautiful and captivating.

The unknown, the things we can't see clearly, the things we don't have a context for yet - these often appear as darkness and we may feel an aversion to them. The darkness has more to do with our point of view and what is familiar to us. How often my world changes when I get to know someone or something better.

 

You're not Alone

One of the best parts of starting a new painting is putting my team together. Assembling my resources, calling in the troops.

I really never do it alone.

And when I thought I had to do it alone in order to be authentic/original/creative – I was hardly doing it and tying myself up in knots in the fruitless process.

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To create the team behind a new piece, I gather references, usually from more accomplished artists than myself. On the easel this week, Faith Stone’s book Drawing Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is on the left and Robert Beer’s Buddhist Art Coloring Book 2 on the right.

I hope some of their grace will rub off on me. And I hope my work will express my gratitude as we all reach for a new level.

Who’s on your team?

Grateful for the Crux

“What if this is the crux?” I asked myself as Deepak and I went through our morning workout. Again and again I asked just a little more of myself.

The crux is the hardest part of the rock-climbing route, or anything that we do. It is often the point of no return. Once you make it through the crux, the end is in sight. And there could be more than one.

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Sometimes I am in the crux all day long.

In working, in playing, in loving, in living – if we are really doing it, we will come up to the crux.

The crux brings me face to face with my perceived limits. But I take a break - take a breath - and a solution is here. Usually it is an inner solution of clarity and release, a subtle shift.

This is exactly the process for a breakthrough. And it all started by getting to the crux.

Buddha's Moving In

“It’s not personal” – I tell myself this all the time. “It’s not about me, it’s about something bigger.” Painting a Buddha or deity is not a personal endeavor – it’s universal.

When we meditate, we bring our awareness to the subtle inner work of being present and open to a flow of higher energy. It is a way of developing ourselves so that we can truly be of service to others.

It is the same thing with spiritual art, whichever side you are on – making or viewing. My art mentor Faith Stone talks about this process:

“Your goal is to try to stay out of the way and let the Buddha be expressed - not you. Essentially you are creating an environment for the Bodhisattva (enlightened being) or Buddha to reside or take form.”

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When you bring a piece of sacred art into your home, the deity or higher energy is moving in! As a meditator, I see the sacred art throughout my home as a reminder of the practice I did that morning and take a moment to reconnect to this higher awareness.

In sacred art class at Eldorado Ashram, we finish a painting session with this dedication prayer offering up the merit of our actions to the liberation of all beings. This part of class always feels like a celebration and release - because it’s not about me.

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Talent, Skill & Effort

Sometimes I only have a 30% chance of making art, doing yoga or something else productive. The things I want to do be the person I want to be. The trick of it is to convert the 30% inspiration into 100% action.

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Talent and inspiration are not the essence of making art. They are the initial impulse, sometimes a random bonus. The sprinkles on the cupcake.

“The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is ONLY developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”

- Will Smith

Angela Duckworth quoted Will Smith in her book Grit, where she explores the science and psychology of high achievers. She comments:

 “With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”

This reminded me of Swami Rudrananda’s meditation teaching:

“Effort over time equals growth.”

How we relate to and harness our effort matters so much more than pure talent.

It's time to break the rules

Sometimes I'm just dying under the weight of these rules. Not anyone else's rules - my stupid rules. The boundaries I place on myself. The rigid definitions and impossible principles that are holding me back in my creativity and happiness.

Elizabeth Gilbert had a great metaphor about this in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Highly recommended!). She talks about the martyr and the trickster. The martyr puts themselves on a pedestal of principles where they are bound and tied, a clear target and easy shot. The trickster, however, sneaks around, seeks out the opening in a situation, and has fun in the process. Gilbert talks about the martyr on the front lines dying for their cause while the trickster starts a profitable black market on the sides of the battle.

It's time for this martyr to break the rules and get a little tricksy. Here are some rules I broke recently and had a BREAKTHROUGH in my art:

 1. Don't make the same painting twice.  From left to right, a copy of the tiny bamboo bookmark that inspired the paintings, first version 2014 and second version 2017.

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  2.  Don't copy someone else's painting.  Top row: Robert Beer's Milarepa drawing and Faith Stone's. Bottom row: unknown Milarepa thangka and my thangka.

 2.  Don't copy someone else's painting. Top row: Robert Beer's Milarepa drawing and Faith Stone's. Bottom row: unknown Milarepa thangka and my thangka.

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3.  Don't paint from photographs. My photo on left the inspired the painting on right. I have also copied a Georgia O'Keefe painting in the background ;)

How have you broken YOUR rules lately?