The Art of Living
“The Art of Living is the only real Art.” This was what my spiritual mentor, Tara Singh, said to me nearly 30 years ago. What is this “Art of Living” of which he spoke? It must be more than just being able to paint a likeness of something, or make some dramatic brush strokes on a canvas, or draw a delicate line to describe some intricate facet of real-life observation. They said Raphael could draw a perfect circle free-handed without the need of a compass. Surely this was a skillful quality of his high painterly genius, but hardly well-rounded enough to fulfill the criteria of The Art of Living.
The Art of Living is an all-encompassing statement, just as Life is an all-encompassing and vast word that goes beyond any limited description. Art, as well, is deep and broad. I see an Art as something well done, mastered, given full attention and respect, bringing great JOY to the one who has mastered the form, and great joy to others who are appreciating the form. The artist gives his gifts so that others may benefit. He or she benefits in the practice of the Art, and the people around the artist benefit by being lifted out of the mundane mediocrity, into a realm of excellence that was hitherto not in their awareness.
This is one of Raphael’s “perfect circles,” but there is more to it than just a painterly prowess. The composition is perfectly balanced; the horizon line and the edge of the field shoulder the space; the babies are real babies, not just depictions of “little men;” the colors are exquisite; the gestures of the figures are classic; the whole is greater than its parts; the sacred geometry is a dynamo that works on us, even though we are not consciously aware of what it is. I would say Raphael is employing The Art of Living in this master work.
Mastery must include a deep connection to altered states of consciousness. What else is there that can lift us up and out of the ordinary, into the God-like? Translation of the Madonna and Child into a form of this perfection is rare. That is why it is considered a “master piece.” I went and looked at it for hours in the National Gallery, and never got tired of my gaze. And I think there would be more I could see, given the opening of my eyes even more to The Art of Living.
The Art of Living is hardly a thing man-made. A drop of water on a leaf—would you consider it less beautiful than a Raphael painting? A random occurrence? Or is it? The order of Nature goes beyond our knowing about it. Science has centuries of study under its belt, but the Cosmos is a mighty big place. It defies the known. Nevertheless, here we are in it, an essential part of the unfathomable whole. And the intricacies of the universe on the micro and macro scale are just as boundless and limitless as the vast spaces of the Cosmos extending to its edgeless and infinite outer regions. We are in a huge Cosmic soup. And even then, we are in a tiny minuscule particle of that soup, simultaneously.
These are my wife’s feet on our wedding day. We were in India and this is the custom, to paint the hands and feet of the bride with patterns of henna on special occasions. One could call this painting an art, a living art. One could question why we seek to adorn the body with intricate tattoos and design? Nevertheless, it is part of The Art of Living. Humans have painted their bodies for centuries. Especially women.
What do these two figures have in common to tell us about The Art of Living? The left is Tara Singh on the mountain of Arunachala in Southern India. I took that photo myself. The right is a Quan Yin sculpture whose original is in the Norton Simon Museum in Kansas City. We have a small replica of her in our living room. Both figures are in a state of total relaxation. No pressure. Nothing particular to say or do— absolutely at peace with themselves in the moment. It is almost as if they are defying gravity, floating above time and space and all earthly concerns. While at the same time, they seem totally surrendered to gravity, and totally comfortable on earth in whatever bodily form is required to be here now in the present. These two are practicing The Art of Living to the ninth degree.
The vision one develops when practicing The Art of Living is totally different from normal attention we give to everyday life. It is almost turned totally around, a complete 180º turn, an about-face, a pivot to let go and free oneself from the normal “bla, bla, blas” of the day. A seriousness of Joy that is not attached to sensation or conditions begins to dawn inside. This is not to say the physical senses are not employed. Rather, they are employed in a more sensitive way, taking into account all that is felt, seen, smelled, heard, and tasted together. Observation is total, not partial, and does not divide the world into compartments and fragments of names and categories. The Art of Living is to see life as a whole.
I painted this Jesus in Glastonbury. It is enhanced by my colorful wife. Relaxed, it is consistent with The Art of Living. This relaxation can be applied everywhere, any time. This is a unique moment in time, but not unlike every other moment in time. The colors come together in this picture. And there is pure JOY. And what greater art is there than the attainment of JOY in all of our earthly affairs? Om Namah Shivay! I am so grateful that Tara Singh awakened me to the only art, The Art of Living, almost 30 years ago. And Sondra Ray rounded out this teaching in my life as my wife, with her insistence for Pure Joy!
THANK YOU for reading, as always.