Life’s lesson from Picasso

Yesterday I watched a documentary on Picasso. Picasso was womaniser, philanderer and lier. He made the women around him unhappy.  He also used them as muses for his art.  Of the five most prominent women out of the several, who became his wives or lovers, two committed suicide after his death and two died before him. Only one who had the guts to leave him, made him unhappy.  She was a one gutsy lady!

One the other hand, Picasso died what he loved doing- drawings with pencils, aged 91. Especially towards the end of his life, he started painting prolifically as if he knew that his end was near.  During his early days in Paris, Picasso shared a small apartment with Max Jacob. They took turns to sleep- Max slept at night while Picasso slept during the day and worked at night. These were times of severe poverty, cold, and desperation. Much of his work was burned to keep the small room warm.

The ladies seem to have been dependent upon him emotionally while Picasso was always in love with his painting.  In the end, it seems that his love of painting won over the love for womanising. Of course, circumstances for women were very different when Picasso was a around- they were dependents.  But if a lesson could be learnt from this great painter’s life would be that whether one is a man or woman, one must always have a creative goal or passion that is not dependent upon people.  It is this passion that must last until the end of life.  This is the authentic life.


Speaking lightly

‘The voice does the Buddha’s work’.

Our soul is manifested through the words we speak.  We may be nervous, excited, happy or sad- our emotions cannot be hidden when we speak.  Despite different cultures and languages, we share the universality of human tones – we can identify grief, passion, anger or any other emotion spoken in any language.  I have travelled to 36 countries and  although I do not speak so many languages, I have always been able to tell the emotion behind the words.  Our voices can be used to admonish or to encourage.  Mostly it is the encouraging, warm tones of our voice that does the creative and good work.  Sometimes we are so keen to get our point across that we lose the listener’s heart.

Like emails, words cannot be taken back.  I have heard people lie because they have been embarrassed by what theyhave said in a fit and then do not want to acknowledge those words later.  Words can hurt and stay in another’s psyche long after the speaker has stopped saying them or disowned them.  Through being hurt, I have learnt myself to be soft with words, to speak lightly.

The most powerful thing I have heard about last words came from Benjamin Zander, the British born conductor and music Director of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.  He was describing a lady’s experience of being in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  She was fifteen at the time and with her eight year old brother, on a train bound for the notorious camp.  Their parents had already been taken away separately.  In the train, the girl noticed that her brother’s shoes were missing.  She was angry at him, “You are so stupid.  Can’t you even keep your shoes?”  He did not reply, ashamed and she did not speak to him again.  She of course, meant the rebuke in a big sisterly fashion.  But those were the last words she ever said to him because she never saw him again.  When she came out of the camp alive, the only person from her family to have made it, she made a vow.  Her vow was to “never say anything that could not stand as the last thing [she] ever  said to a person”.

I thank this unknown woman for her wisdom learnt in harrowing circumstances and follow her spirit.

the black swan

Yesterday, I watched the movie, Black Swan, about a ballet dancer who becomes obsessed with her work and appears to be surrounded by disturbed people who in turn have a destructive effect on her life.  This movie deservedly won the lead actor, Natalie Portman, an Oscar.  Seeing this darkly disturbing portrayal, I too began to wonder if I have been guilty of being obsessed with work.  But following our hearts is not about obsession, rather it is about about compassion– for ourselves, for our failings and for others.  In Buddhism, compassion and courage are known as two sides of the same coin.  Compassion without courage may be toothless while courage without compassion could be ruthless.

When we have compassion, our lives begin to move forward and other avenues open up. I realised that having compassionate courage is the path of following one’s heart.  Interestingly, Black Swan’s director, Darren Aronofsky, has this to say about following one’s heart- “I try to live my life where I end up at a point where I have no regrets. So I try to choose the road that I have the most passion on because then you can never really blame yourself for making the wrong choices. You can always say you’re following your passion.”