Today’s post is focused on 2 topics:
- growing out of the mud
- getting started in meditation
I’ve been reading about Grayson Perry – a ceramic artist who won the Turner Prize in 2003 (the most publicised art reward in the U.K.). His story appeals and resonates with me because he had a tortured childhood growing up in Essex, and managed to channel the story of his life into a narrative and personal brand / ‘persona’ – which is expressed through his art work.
He says, “I was a child who was a cuckoo in the nest”. He grew up in a working class neighborhood where his creative talents were not valued. His mother literally ran away with the milkman. Perry suffers terribly when this milkman becomes his stepfather, who turns out to be violent and intolerant. Eventually he goes to art-school, where he finally finds his tribe, and his self expression with ceramics and transvestism. Today, he’s a financially successful, personable super-artist. I call him a super artist because he expresses himself through so many mediums – painting, pottery, fashion design (he designs his own dresses), TV presenting, weaving, and really, his whole life is one creative masterpiece. And all made out of converting mud into gold, i.e. his sad awkward lonely upbringing, into something magnificent and unique. And, also very funny – something that’s lacking in the art world in general.
Above: Alan Measles, the teddy bear he has kept for 50 years. As a child he spun whole worlds of fantasy to escape into, with Measles as a god in those worlds. Measles was given his own blog during a recent exhibition. [source].
Above: Grayson Perry today, with Alan Measles. [source]
A common metaphor and image in Buddhism, in all sects, be it South Asian or Japanese or Tibetan – is that of the lotus flower. It grows out of the mud; the mud is what gives the lotus flower the sustenance to blossom. Same with plants in a garden being sustained by manure – grows out of crap.
1: Lotus flower scroll painting by Sakai Hōitsu, 酒井 抱一 (1761 – 1828)
2: ‘The Novice – Why I Became Buddhist Monk, Why I Quit and What I Learned’ by Stephen Schettini – with a title like that, I had to read it.
3: Grayson Perry: The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl by Wendy Jones – the beautiful, gritty, honest story of his life.
4: Inspired by Perry, I started painting again. This is a few hours in of a portrait I’m working on this week.
5: Bingo, the portrait subject, interrupts the photo shoot for the image that goes with this months post
What appealed to me about Buddhism was its emphasis on getting to know yourself. Perry cultivated self knowledge through his art, and in turn his art expresses that self knowledge. Many people can’t do that. His story and mode of telling today is joyous, humorous and with a one-of-a-kind voice. His art is how he came out of the mud, used the mud. I like seeing stories that show that not everyone needs to pursue a religious or nominally ‘spiritual’ discipline to actualize and express self knowledge, i.e. to get to know themselves. As a Guardian review of his autobiography puts it: he has “put so much more work into understanding the relationship between his life story and his art” than most known artists today.
This resonates with a recent Skype conversation I had with Stephen Schettini – aka The Naked Monk. His life takes a similar flower-growing-out-of-manure theme, one of my pet fave metaphors as I can relate to it so strongly and give me hope! I contacted him after I read his book.
Stephen left his life as a Buddhist monk, and what fascinates me about him is how he expresses himself with his stated ‘mission’: “… to place the ancient texts and our new reality on equal footing, to make life meaningful, better understand happiness (as opposed to entertainment), and above all to make peace with the extraordinary pace of life today.” See more in his bio. (Next months post will describe our conversation.)
On another note – getting back into meditation. I threw out the baby with the bathwater when I needed a break from Buddhist immersion, and I haven’t consistently meditated for 3 years. Buddhist or not, meditation is good for you, and I missed it. I’m too lazy to cultivate a habit like that without something kicking me up the butt; a Buddhist community, retreats etc. provided that. Once I walked away from it, I lamely gave a lot of that up.
So… who could kick my butt for me? I remembered that I had tried a week-long Google Hangouts meditation retreat run by Buddhist Geeks, a few years ago. It really worked! Older gen Buddhists looked at me skeptically when I described it, but really, every generation has been suspicious of the tech at the time, from the printing press to telephones to TV, and, for some, religious or spiritual practice via video-over-IP!
This works for a lazy person like me because its so well organized – their meditation sessions in their Google Calender integrated seamlessly into mine with one click. You don’t need to travel to a center, or search relentlessly for one in your hood that is in line with your values or personal preferences, i.e. meditation center speed dating (that’s tiring).
So I just signed up for the subscription based service for their fall month long session, where the program gives me access to group sessions using Google Hangouts, as well as 1-1 sessions with teachers. All without leaving your home.
There’s 3 programs:
- Establishing a Regular Practice (I signed up for this one)
- Going Deeper
- Practicing Like your Hair is on Fire
Will report back on how it goes.
Please feel free to comment on any topics I’ve raised, and also to share if you have any outlets for expressing your efforts at self knowledge, or just any creative outlet you wish you had explored or are exploring.
For me now, it’s painting dogs.