Mindfully Observing and Reflecting with Carlos Muñoz

Mindfully Observing and Reflecting with Carlos Muñoz

Discussion date: Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Peace is every step.
The shining red sun is in my heart.
Each flower smiles with me.
How green, how fresh all that grows.
How cool the wind blows.
Peace is every step.
It turns the endless path to joy.

— Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our sitting and walking meditation, Carlos Muñoz will help us to develop our mindful observation and reflection when looking at works of art. As well as being a long-time practitioner with Still Water and the facilitator of our Spanish-Speaking Sangha, Carlos is an artist who teaches drawing and art appreciation to adults and children. Carlos shares below some thoughts on the theme for this evening:

The Buddha once held a flower of in front of over 1000 monastics. He was silent. The monastics were silent, too. They were trying to decipher the lesson, the take-away message the Buddha was endeavoring to convey. After a very long wait, one of the monks, Mahakasyapa, smiled. Then the Buddha smiled in return. In the Zen tradition, this act of nonverbal communication is considered the beginning of transmission of insight outside the Sutras.

ClujThis Thursday evening we will explore selected art pieces and share our mindful observations. For me, to look mindfully at works of art means to let go of our reliance on cognitive thinking. Instead, we open the doors to deeper awareness. We can ask ourselves about the sensory experiences that are conveyed, such as climatic conditions, time of day, particular sounds, smells, colors, tastes.  For example, when looking at this woodcut by Szabo Bela we can ask:

What time of year and time of day is it?

How would I be dressed if I were in that environment?

What might I be smelling: perhaps earthy smells such as carrots and potatoes, animal dung, human odors, etc. 

What sounds would I be hearing: perhaps bargaining, talking, vehicles, animals crying, church bells, etc.

In a sense the task is to put ourselves into the work of art, to fully inhabit or embody what we are observing. Observing and reflecting has taught me that mindfulness can opens the doors to deeper awareness, greater compassion, and a gratitude-filled life.

You are invited to join us this Thursday.

Two related excepts by Thich Nhat Hanh on art and mindful living are below.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner


Everything We Do Is An Act Of Poetry Or A Painting
From Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

Everything we do is an act of poetry or a painting if we do it with mindfulness. Growing lettuce is poetry. Walking to the supermarket can be a painting.

When we do not trouble ourselves about whether or not something is a work of art, if we just act in each moment with composure and mindfulness, each minute of our life is a work of art. Even when we are not painting or writing, we are still creating. We are pregnant with beauty, joy, and peace, and we are making life more beautiful for many people. Sometimes it is better not to talk about art by using the word “art.” If we just act with awareness and integrity, our art will flower, and we don’t have to talk about it at all. When we know how to be peace, we find that art is a wonderful way to share our peacefulness. Artistic expression will take place in one way or another, but the being is essential. So we must go back to ourselves, and when we have joy and peace in ourselves, our creations of art will be quite natural, and they will serve the world in a positive way.

Poetry, Art, And Meditation Always Go Together
From This Moment Is Full of Wonders: The Zen Calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh

When I draw a calligraphy, I do not think. I know that thinking is sometimes productive, but most of our thinking is useless. When I draw, I just enjoy drawing. When you breathe, just enjoy breathing. When you walk, just enjoy walking. When you look at a piece of art, just look. Learning to stop the thinking takes some practice. We’re used to thinking each moment of each day.

In the Zen tradition, poetry, art, and meditation always go together. The moment when I take a sheet of paper and begin to draw is not exactly the moment of the calligraphy’s creation. Whenever I’m practicing mindful walking, breathing, even while cutting carrots, the art is being created. A work of art is conceived in the depths of your consciousness while you’re not thinking about it. The moment when you begin to draw is only the moment when you deliver the baby you have been carrying. When I produce a calligraphy, what I care about is that the work embodies the energies of insight and compassion that I have been cultivating in daily life.

For me, doing calligraphy is itself a practice of meditation. Each session of calligraphy begins with tea. I never write calligraphy without first having a cup of tea. I need the tea to help me stay awake and draw calligraphy well. Tea and meditation have been together for many thousands of years. Long ago, the monks and nuns who practiced sitting meditation found that if you drink tea, then you can stay awake and you don’t fall asleep during sitting meditation.

I like to drink tea and I drink a lot of tea, so I have a lot of experience looking deeply into it. If you look deeply into your tea, you can see a cloud. This tea has former lives and in one of its former lives it was a cloud. Not that long ago, it was a cloud floating in the sky, having a good time up there. One day it dispersed and was no longer there. The cloud became rain. The rain became the water for my tea. Then, when I drink the tea and begin to draw, the tea disperses and transforms into the calligraphy.

Of course the cloud and the rain don’t really die. There is no dying; there is only transforming and changing. A cloud can become the rain, the snow, or the ice but a cloud can never become nothing. The same is true with everything else, including us human beings. We can never become nothing. We just transform.

When I am making calligraphy, I always mix some tea into my Chinese ink. So, if you look deeply into the calligraphy, you can see the tea inside. If you look more deeply, you will see something else. While doing calligraphy, I practice mindful breathing. I hold the brush and I breathe in for one, two, three seconds. During that time of breathing in, I make about one third of the circle. When I breathe out, I finish the rest of the circle; I take about five seconds to finish it. While I’m breathing in, I’m concentrating on my in-breath. When I’m breathing out, I’m concentrating on my out-breath. Sometimes I smile during the out-breath to relax my body. There’s no tension at all when I draw a circle. So when you look at the calligraphy, not only can you see a cloud, and not only can you see the tea, but you can also see my breath.

The hand that draws the calligraphy doesn’t act alone. It is connected to my whole body, my mind, and all the cells in my body. I like to invite all my cells to join me in making a circle. These cells don’t exist by themselves either. I invite all my ancestors to draw the circle with me, as well as all the people whose lives have touched mine. My whole community is in each calligraphy. Please don’t think that these calligraphies are drawn by one person alone. We as a community have drawn this circle together.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jul 26, 2018


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