Dharma Topic: Our Life is a Work of Art

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Dear Still Water Friends,

It has been a tough week for me — my planswere disrupted by the worst cold I’ve had in years. In addition to coughing anda sore throat, for several days it has felt like my thoughts were swimmingthrough molasses.

This frustration with not getting things donemade me more aware of the push inside me to get things done: all my plans andprojects.

One of the things I’ve learned from thepractice is to be wary of plans and projects. Yes, we need them, but also, wevery much need to be present, to be with what is, whether it is the frustrationof a cold, the quiet joy of flower watching, or the exhilaration of a projectcompetently completed.

In Peace is Every Step there is a lovely essaycalled "Our Life Is a Work of Art" in which Thich Nhat Hanh highlightsthe sometimes subtle difference between mindfully being with someone orsomething and trying to "profit" from it. When we are trying to gainsomething from the interaction, we distance ourselves from it. When we aremindful our actions arise from a deeper place:

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.

This Thursday we will begin our Still Waterevening at 7:00 pm with an hour of sitting and walking meditation. After themeditation we will read the essay, "Our Life Is a Work of Art," andshare our experiences and reflections.

You are welcome to join us at any time. However, you will cause the leastdisturbance to others if you can join us before our first sitting at 7:00, orduring our walking meditation from 7:25 to 7:35.

Warm wishes,

for the Still Water Working Group

****** Our Life Is a Work of Art, from Peaceis Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh *********

After a retreat in southern California, an artist asked me, "What is theway to look at a flower so that I can make the most of it for my art?" Isaid, "If you look in that way, you cannot be in touch with the flower.Abandon all your projects so you can be with the flower with no intention ofexploiting it or getting something from it." The same artist told me,"When I am with a friend, I want to profit from him or her." Of coursewe can profit from a friend, but a friend is more than a source of profit. Justto be with a friend, without thinking to ask for his or her support, help, oradvice Is an art.

It has become a kind of habit to look at things with the intention of gettingsomething. We call it "pragmatism," and we say that the truth issomething that pays. If we meditate in order to get to the truth, it seems wewill be well paid. In meditation, we stop, and we look deeply. We stop just tobe there, to be with ourselves and with the world. When we are capable ofstopping, we begin to see and, if we can see, we understand. Peace and happinessare the fruit of this process. We should master the art of stopping in order toreally be with our friend and with the flower.

How can we bring elements of peace to a society that is very used to makingprofit? How can our smile be the source of joy and not just a diplomaticmaneuver? When we smile to ourselves, that smile is not diplomacy; it is theproof that we are ourselves, that we have full sovereignty over ourselves. Canwe write a poem on stopping, aimlessness, or just being? Can we paint somethingabout it? Everything we do is an act of poetry or a painting if we do it withmindfulness. Growing lettuce is poetry. Walking to the supermarket can be apainting.

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