Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Art of Zen


An old post written a couple of years ago as summer faded into autumn, but perhaps worth repeating for this week's Writers Island prompt: magic


I have a small paper board, square and framed, made of magic stuff. There is a tapered Chinese paintbrush near it and a shallow bowl that holds water. When you dip the brush and pull it slowly over the paper, the lines appear almost black. They gradually fade to grey and then disappear altogether.

It’s called a Zen Board. No matter what you paint there–a mistake or a masterpiece–the lines become paler and vanish. Nothing stays, no matter how unsatisfactory, no matter how perfect.

It’s a concept I struggle with, that of inevitable change. I don’t mind when the flawed pictures I make fade out of existence. In fact, the lines disappear so slowly that often I become impatient. When I create a thing of beauty, however, I am loath to see it recede. I am using the Zen Board to teach myself to let go of both with equal ease.

Nature is appraoching that same space now as one season ends and another begins. Its Zen Board is the foliage. The maple leaves will soon trade their summer green for the brighter hues that last only a short time before fading into nothingness. Sumac will burn briefly scarlet, poplars will flaunt their yellow banners before dropping them to the ground in pale heaps, and the tall meadow grasses will turn golden under the waning sunlight.

As beautiful as summer is, with its warm days and fragrant flowers, its symphony of bird song and cricket chirps and frog chorus it, too, will pass away. Winter will draw new lines, starker ones, and paint the landscape in shades of grey and of deep purple and sable brown. Then, even as we watch, the dark marks made by the winter months will in turn fade and spring will take up the brush to paint the leaves and flowers anew.

If we let it, nature can show us that impermanence is not bad in and of itself. Knowing that something is fleeting can ease an intolerable situation and give us hope of respite. We may yearn for what has gone or wish for more time to savor what we don’t wish to lose but we are also shown that we can treasure the moment. We can look around us and realize that now is the time to appreciate and that now includes the past and the future as well as the present.

Endings teach us about beginnings. Beginnings teach us that all things come to a close. As we cycle in and out of all our life stages, the lines we drew so darkly at first (as though they were permanent self-borders) become hazy, making way for new perspectives, new horizons. We find that our very lives are Zen Boards and the brush strokes that trace our thoughts will fade and be drawn again, over and over.

18 comments:

Jeques said...

I am enriched reading this piece: my mind and heart is satiated by your wisdom. You have written it so well passing on the wisdom to your readers. I find enlightenment in your words.
The referrence to the season is perfect to fully illustrate your thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

I wish you well.

~ Jeques

Cricket's Hearth said...

This was a beautiful piece to read. And what a totally different perspective on being able to let go and move on. Thank you. Blessings, Cricket

riseoutofme said...

How very true and a timely reminder for me ...

Too many times we get stuck in what we perceive to be permanent ..

And then the gratitude of the impermanence ..

Thank you.

anthonynorth said...

You've captured the idea of the cyclic very well. So often in the west people fail to understand this simple concept.

Crafty Green Poet said...

very beautiful and wise words, we do forget too often that every thing is transient

Mother of Invention said...

Absolutely! I've never seen or heard of a Zen board but I love the analogy. The old adage that the only thing that is constant is change.

pepektheassassin said...

I absolutely LOVE this piece, and the wisdom it holds. Thank you so much for reposting it for WI. I love reading your other posts (will spend some more time with you, and if you don't mind, I will add you to my links).

pepektheassassin said...

BTW, I also have What the BLeep Do We KNow....

Rambler said...

nature has its own way of showing us its magic..

tumblewords said...

I've never heard of a Zen Board but it sounds fascinating - your post is wonderful and the words are a treasure.

LittleWing said...

i wonder is it all about the brush?

meggie said...

I loved reading this. A reminder that nothing stays the same, & always to 'catch the joy as it flies'. Beautiful writing Pauline.

Pauline said...

Thank you all for the kind comments.

It can't be all about the brush littlewing - someone has to wield it, no?

rebecca said...

"We find that our very lives are Zen Boards and the brush strokes that trace our thoughts will fade and be drawn again, over and over."

What a lovely piece and for me a new way to look at life. Thank you for that. I not only enjoyed reading it but learned from it as well.

Your piece also reminds me very much of a piece I wrote "The Felling of a Tree," -- it has so many similarities!

paisley said...

i am mesmerized by the zen board.. i have never heard of one,, and will now have to find one... what an excellent concept,, mistake or masterpiece,, all things fade to gray, then fade away... i want to learn to apply that in my daily life.. thank you so much for this whole piece,, but especially this.....

gautami tripathy said...

Cycle of life..I see this post as that. Nothing stays forever. Fading away to eternity.

Thanks. You made me think.

keith hillman said...

It seems as if we have all learned something from this article and I thak you for that.

Jean said...

J'aime beaucoup tout ce qui est Zen , de la mystique jusqu'à l'art .
Je vous remercie pour tous vos commentaires si gentils .

Ce matin , une Pauline a envoyé un mail me demandant mon adresse .

Are you.....122@gmail.com ?

Je vous souhaite une belle journée .