In my fairly inward life as an artist, I’m pleasantly surprised by the many forms which my “teachers” assume. Sages appear and vanish when I least expect them. Their lessons aren’t to be missed for there’s always a gesture, a style or a thread to be mildly embellished. Any artist who denies that their most prized masterpiece wasn’t somehow inspired from a master before them earns my immediate suspicion. We’re on the lookout always. The switch can’t be flipped to off. Such was the situation one afternoon last week as I was enjoying the insights of Roshi Joan Halifax, a Zen teacher and medical anthropologist. I happened upon an interview with American Public Radio’s Krista Tippet as the two dissected the concept of a term referred to as “compassion fatigue.” While I found their conversation fascinating, the teacher for me appeared in the form of an engaged audience member named Asha. In speaking up to address Halifax, this young lady shared her personal weariness resulting from many years in public service in the midst of folks “dedicated to NO”—dedicated to fighting against something. This weight, for her, prompted a self-inquiry of how one might instead commit to living YES? It’s not the first occasion I’ve heard such a probing, but I’m not certain the topic has ever greeted me in such an articulate manner.
No new taxes. No spending cuts. No super-sized soft drinks. No guns. No controls on our guns. No. No. No. We’re drowning in the negative. A battle, a cause awaits at every corner. You name it. A national election only accented the drawn lines. This combat is often all-consuming, scooping up our very best. We finish the day exhausted and empty. It took a perfectly posed question from a distant conversation to open my eyes to this familiar existence in which I find myself. This armour is heavy on the shoulders. No matter how many times I remember to turn my attention back to the things that really matter, I’m repeatedly lured—by some breaking news or some squawking political commentator or some random hurdle of the day—to put the gloves back on. Perhaps, as the gal in the audience suggested, it’s time to shift gears and instead “dedicate ourselves to YES.” No time like the present to commit to the positive. I find some relief in the simple act of just putting this concept down here on paper. Of course, stringing a few words together is the easy part. Playing out such a shift in deed is where the sweat comes in.
I’m in the habit of making photographs, not advice. But, I do sense another way in relaxing this self-imposed burden of having to fight all of the world’s problems. There’s a dark and a troubled side of life. But, as the tune rambles on: “There’s that bright and sunny side too.” Despite our best intentions, we can only do so much. Children seem to have a natural instinct to accentuate this bright side. They focus on what’s happening front and centre. There’s empathy, but there’s also a more commanding force for savouring the moment at hand. They don’t allow all of their energy to be spent on struggle. Of course, their plates are generally less full. They have all the time in the world for paying attention to their friends and family. But, the lesson they offer here isn’t to be denied. I wonder if we all might breathe a bit easier if we were to arrive at one “global” matter which speaks to our heart and at which we then skilfully direct our focus. Such newfound space might permit a return of our attention to that which gets buried in the clutter—our personal life. What happens when we direct fresh energy back to listening compassionately to what our children and spouses have to say or to looking closely into the eyes of an aging parent? Going forward in this light presents authentic work, but I sense too, a real possibility for strengthening our personal base and beginning to experience natural breakthroughs along the path.
So then, what’s your “YES?” Rather than looking at life as a series of problems to be solved, we should make a commitment to changing the filter. Instead, wake up each day and enjoy that cup of tea with our teenage daughter, pick up the telephone and personally reconnect with a friend, linger with a book or recipe, venture outdoors with the dog in the snow. We begin to move the mind instead towards life’s remedies. A mild embellisher I clearly am. I confess. But, be it through images or through words, some merits simply demand sharing.
images: Susan Currie