Sometimes, when you look at something you’ve created and it appears perfectly fine and then later, other things happen to come along that say the work needs something more- that is alright! During my recent visit to look after my sick and elderly parents, I found many newspapers that reading now, suggested something darker was happening then- things that would be unacceptable now. So upon return, I decided to use those historical references to my painting of the city of Jaisalmer in North India which I had made in January 2009. I decided it was perfectly fine to revisit memories and through my art, to be exorcised of that past. Although upon first glance the painting glitters and there are flags reminiscent of festivities and brightness, but when one looks carefully at the newspaper cuttings, darker images emerge out of the surface.
Here is a reminder of the painting looked like for almost five years before-
I know I can’t take it back to where it was and now it reads differently, so I have to accept it is now where I am. Art is an expression of one’s life and one can’t be too precious about it. This work is also a representation of my eye problems because now my art has to be more tactile and contrasting. Have you done something like this?
We are living longer and there are more old people than there were before. However, our perception of a youthful culture is a vision distorted by advertising and media. Sometimes, one can look at these images and imagine that one can do anything. In fact you are even told that one can and should try to do everything even though one is older. I was looking at my photos of youth and compared them to what I look like now. Although I love myself- young and old and have no regrets about how I have lived my life, I definitely know that I have less energy than I had 20 years ago. My time has become very valuable and this is now the time for the most powerful word that I can use. Yesterday, I had stupidly made an arrangement for entertaining someone. I felt dreadfully tired. I know that 20 years ago, I would have gone to the opening of an envelope but now saying ‘No’ is the best thing I can do. So reluctantly I rang up and cancelled the arrangement after apologising. I realise that what I could do years ago is not the reality now and now the best word I can use for respecting myself and my body is a ‘No’.
(Lotus flowers in Kew Gardens. Photo credit: Author)
Earlier I wrote about the four universal sufferings that human beings experience, no matter what their status, wealth or fame. Buddhism says that these are the sufferings of life, illness, ageing and finally death. The lotus flower is especially significant in Buddhism. Mired in the muddy pond, beautiful blossoms bloom, undeterred. Life is like that- we live in world with evil, suffering, corruption and injustice but we can still blossom despite it. In fact, the ‘muddy’ world allows us to show our brilliance and creativity just like the relationship between the lotus and it pond; and the ‘muddy pond’ of our world supplies us with the right materials to manifest our highest potential.
Lotus is the only flower that carries the mature seeds inside it, signifying the simultaneity of ’cause and effect’ i.e. whatever you ‘sow’ you reap instantly in that it ingrains a particular effect on you. Thus, whatever you think or do, creates the instant effect of changing something inside you whether it is immediately visible or not. We can learn from the lotus flower that by having positive and creative vision and taking action, we are instantly changing ourselves and our world.
Daisaku Ikeda, the Buddhist philosopher, says-“…we can transform the sufferings of being born into this world into the joy of living life to the fullest; the sadness and loneliness of ageing into the pleasures of fostering the younger generation; the challenges of illness into an opportunity for elevating our state of life; and even the sorrow of death into a song of eternal triumph”.
It is said that you should be nice to people on your way up in your job as you will probably meet those people on your way down. This applies not only to work but to life. Buddhism tells us that we are not separate but people with the same problems- life, ageing, sickness and death- no matter who were are. You can be the Prime Minister of a country but you will still suffer from the problems that life, ageing, sickness and death throws at you.
I have had people in my life who have been really bad towards me. I realise now that they were immature or probably suffering deeply themselves to treat others like this. However, I made the humiliation and suffering they inflicted on me as sources for further creativity. ‘Turning poison into medicine’ as Buddhism says. These people will also go through these four universal sufferings- the same as me. As Nichiren says in this beautifully evocative piece of writing-
“How long does a lifetime last? If one stops to consider, it is like a single night’s lodging at a wayside inn…Once you awaken to the uncertainty and transience of this world, you will find endless examples confronting your eyes and filling your ears. Vanished like clouds or rain, the people of past ages have left nothing but their names. Fading away like dew, drifting far off like smoke, our friends of today too disappear from sight. Should you suppose that you alone can somehow remain forever like the clouds over Mount Mikasa?
The spring blossoms depart with the wind; maple leaves turn red in autumn showers. All are proof that no living thing can stay for long in this world.”
Therefore in life, it is best to tread softly as W B Yeats has said. To treat our fellow passengers in this passage of life and time with respect while respecting ourselves too. For even if we don’t meet them again on our way down or up, we will always meet the four sufferings. When someone disrespects me, I always tell them but then I let it go like the autumn leaves that blow away in the wind. In order to respect your own creativity and life, I have learnt to let go of these people and what they did or said and felt so much better for it.