When I was very young I knew nothing of art. My family and the society in general in which I grew up was not interested at all in anything related to art. It was not until my mid-20s, when I moved into a community that art was a very important aspect of, that I learned to understand and appreciate art, especially classical art.
One of the most important things I learned with respect to any work of art is that we need to give time to it. I will talk here specifically about paintings.
I remember going to the great art museums of the world and seeing that most tourists spent no more than a few seconds in front of a painting. They didn’t give any time at all to actually see what was in front of them.
With some very famous paintings, like for example the Mona Lisa, people come to it, feel an emotion because they are seeing it (no different than seeing a very famous actor walking on the street), they take many pictures, and without really understanding what is exceptional about it, why it is so famous, they go on with their visit. (I actually remember one occasion in which a couple right in front of me – it was always packed – was looking at the Mona Lisa and the girl at one point asked her partner: ‘Why is it so famous?’ And the answer was: ‘I have no idea!’)
But what I learned is that when we are in front of a painting, we look at it and we stay there and allow the painting to come to us. It is not only that we go (in our vision) to the painting, but we also allow the painting to actually reach us, to touch us, to become part of what we are.
One way to do this, to start with, is to bring into mind all the technical information we may have about that particular painting and connect that with the actual painting: who is the painter, in which age the painting was made, what materials were used, what techniques were applied, etc, etc. All this info is an aspect of the appreciation of a painting.
But then, once that is done to one’s satisfaction, we put all that aside, completely out of the way and, in silence, start to penetrate the painting. This is probably the most important part of all: to look in silence, without the comments the mind may produce (such as: I like it, I don’t like it, It is good, bad, this or that).
First, we look at the little details of it (in the case of the Mona Lisa, we look at the landscape behind her, the water, the mountains, the road, the bridge, the sky…) and we stay with that for a while.
Then we look at her and we see her hair, her clothes, her vail, and we stay there. Then we go deeper, and we look at her hands, we stay at the hands, and we look at her face, the nose, the eyes, the lips, and we stay there.
Then (in our mind), we take a step back and we see the whole, without thinking about what we are seeing at all, but just look, feel, sense, connect to it, and we do that for a while.
And then we return to the details, and then again to the whole, and the details, and the whole.
And in this way, we let the painting penetrate our being, and we become one with the painting. (Of course there is much more to ‘looking at paintings’ than this, but this is just a short pointer.)
Why am I saying all this?
Because what I said above can also be applied to the moment.
Any moment, this moment right now!, is like a painting, like a piece of art.
Most people, just like the tourists at a museum, will barely take the time to see and appreciate what is in front of them.
When a moment appears, they will take a quick look at it, if at all, and without actually realizing its miraculous nature, they will quickly move on to the next one, and the next one, and on and on and on.
This moment is a piece of art, but it has to be discovered.
The Mona Lisa is an amazing piece of art, but also, it has to be discovered…it is not so obvious. Without the discovery, it really means nothing or, at most, it has the value that you can tell to your friends: ‘I saw the Mona Lisa!’, which of course, is completely meaningless.
But to actually see the piece of art, to see the beauty of this moment, to see the art that is this moment, we cannot be in a hurry.
Of course living in a big city, having a normal life, we cannot avoid being in a hurry, we cannot stop our lives and live in this constant ‘realization of beauty’. We obviously need our practical lives to continue, but what we usually do is the complete opposite of stopping; we totally ignore the miraculous nature of life in favor of the practicality and usefulness of it. But it is this realization what can give us the sense of meaning we all look for. Without this vision, without that meaning, we will depend on entertainment, food, excitements, thrills, adventures, stimulation and, especially in our times, novelties, to find the depth and richness we cannot find otherwise.
It is OK to be in hurry, to be busy, to do what needs to be done.
But we need to find a moment to stop*, a moment in which we can see, and realize, and remember the amazingness of what is right in front of our eyes.
And so, when we can stop, we stand in front of a moment, any moment, this moment right now, and look at the little details of it; we see the content of the moment. We may see a color, a person, a plant, a bird; we see the leaves of a tree moving by the wind, we see a block of buildings, the sky; we hear the sounds of traffic, or taste our tea, or feel the wind on our skin…and we stay with these for a while.
And then, either with our eyes open or close, we let go of all of these, and in complete silence, we take in the whole, without thinking about this or that, but we allow the entirety of the moment to come on to us. We stop giving names to things, describing them or having thoughts about them, but in complete openness, we let the silence, the space of the moment contain the whole.
And then again we see the details, and then, either with eyes open or close, we return to the silence and the whole, and back to the details, and back to the whole.
Now, to do any of this, a quiet, relaxed mind is absolutely necessary.
Just like we cannot really see a painting when the mind is agitated, in a hurry or upset, we cannot really see the moment unless the mind is more at peace, calm and relaxed. We need time, we need space to be able to ‘see’.
This possibility to create a more quiet, spacious mind is an important part of what my yoga classes are all about.
As we do the gym, as we do the movements, the breathing, the stretching, and the strengthening, we learn to quiet the mind and pay attention to the moment.
We learn to stop, even in the middle of action.
The classes are like a reminder of the importance of ‘seeing’ beyond the practicalities and usefulness of what we do.
Generally, we are so busy that we forget; of course it is natural to forget, but the problem is that without this presence, without this silence, this Being, sooner or later we will realize that life makes no sense at all, despite all the excitements, thrills and adventures one may have.
Sense, meaning, real substance is not in the doing, in the busyness, in the responsibilities, nor in the thrills, excitements or adventures, but in the ‘seeing’, in Being.
And then, as we practice this ‘stopping’ in class, an imprint of that presence remains with us, and we bring that into our everyday lives.
Yes, there are many moments in our day (maybe most of them) when we cannot really take time for ‘seeing’. But there are many small moments, even in the middle of a very busy day – like when we go up or down the elevator, when we drink a cup of coffee or tea, when we need to walk into another room, when we look out the window, when we stand up or sit down on a chair, or thousands of others – when we can allow ourselves to stop and ‘see’.
There is something essential, a fundamental truth right here and now that we don’t notice because we are always so busy, so in a hurry, so engaged with doing and going and getting.
What we miss is the mystery of existence, what actually brings meaning into our lives; the amazing, silent piece of art that is right here, right now.
* By stopping I don’t mean to stop in front of Netflix and watch a movie. Of course it is OK to do that, but that also means to keep going, keep moving, keep the mind busy.