I have drawn two different lotus plants. Much venerated in Buddhism, the lotus is one of the ‘Eight Auspicious Symbols’.
For my first drawing, ‘Lotus Plant’, I researched and focused on all the interconnecting parts of the plant. Most drawings and paintings of the lotus concentrate on the flower itself; the next part, the stem, is submerged and thus often merely hinted at. And the roots, although many of us will be familiar with them as edible parts of the plant, are rarely depicted in art, since they grow deep in the muddy bed of the pond.
For a Buddhist, this concept of living in three mediums – mud, water, air – signifies a progression. The soul journeys from the muddiness of materialism, through the water-world in which we live and experience our daily, day-to-day lives, and thence beyond, to enlightenment in the ethereal world of light and air. That these parts are all connected, roots to stem, stem to flower, is reflected in my drawing.
My ‘Lotus Pond with Tortoise’ shows the flowering plant, partly in water, and blooming just at the surface. A tortoise, resting on a rock, looks up at the lotus. Such a bright and beautiful flower is an inspiration to all who see it, tortoise as much as human.
In Asian culture, tortoises are sacred. The longevity and tenacity that they symbolize seemed to me to be a wonderful way to celebrate what the birthday of the Buddha means. We need to live long and work hard to reach enlightenment. And if the ageing process is enlightenment in slow motion, as John C. Robinson describes in his book ‘The Three Secrets of Ageing’, then my combining of the symbols of enlightenment with those of longevity expresses this process.
Available at Etsy.
Koi carp, or more specifically nishikigoi are a group of fish that are ornamental varieties of domesticated common carp that are kept for decorative purposes in outdoor koi ponds or water gardens. Koi carps are mesmerizing. People are willing to pay big money for a pretty carp fish. An ‘Agasi’, the blue koi, is particularly pretty. I think I know why.
Some time ago I sat next to a large pond that was filled with koi with beautiful colours and patterns. I looked at them and looked at them. I sat and sat and got mesmerized. I asked myself why I was I so intensely enjoying sitting next to this pond and looking at the slow and gently moving fish? I just didn’t want to go home, I couldn’t get enough of it.
Suddenly I understood. The pond with koi had become my thinking. Each koi represented one thought, a thought that lighted up against the dark, deep pond. Thought swam in and out of my mind and koi carp swam in and out of my vision. The more the fish got used to me and I to them, the slower they appeared and disappeared. Simultaneously, my thinking process became a flow; it slowed down and became less demanding. I became aware of my thoughts coming and going, like the koi. Sitting by the pond and looking at the colourful, smooth swimming fish became a spontaneous meditation.
Has this meditation helped me to understand the obsession with koi and the willingness to spend a monthly salary on a beautiful Agasi? Yes, I do understand now, but that doesn’t mean I became obsessed because that is a choice. However, I decided to draw a koi-series to capture the meditation experience in coloured pencil drawings. Every time I look at my drawing I want to feel that meditation again. And I hope others feel it too while looking at my drawing.
This happened years ago and I’m still drawing ponds with koi. I still must be mesmerized.
The Practice of The Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.
I’m reading about mindful meditation. Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 1600s, promised he would live day and night, in good and bad times, in God. He spent many years practising the presence of God in his life. His key to this practice was that he strove to be consciously aware of God’s presence at all times, which seems the true epitome of (Christian) mindfulness.
To me it means that with everything I do, I ask myself if I’m acting in the best consciousness and ethical conscientiousness. For me this means that I need to be aware and practise self-discipline, carefulness, and thoroughness. It is very easy to wander away from awareness and thoroughness, like with any meditation. If this happens, I bring myself back into the presence of God. It is a wonderful meditation, but not an easy one. Having said that, the more you do this, the longer the stretches of time of being in God, or being mindful, do occur.
I started to read this tiny book months ago, and I do return to it often, because Brother Lawrence’s promise still inspires. To purposefully enjoy God’s presence, or mindfulness, in your life, is like opening up to small miracles. Pouring tea becomes a meditation and so does watering the flowers on the balcony. It is still a bit hard to feel the presence of God while paying bills (and all other worldly and bureaucratic chores ), but to stay mindful, to stay open for the presence of God non-stop is what it is about. And when I succeed, I feel a happy appreciation for the smallest things in life.
Rembrandt’s master work of his son, Titus van Rijn, in a monk’s habit
Is this book only for Christians? Not at all. I recommend it to all people who are interested in the spiritual life. It is about mindfulness in the 1600s. Thich Nhat Hanh says, in one of his many books that I’ve read, that if you need the address of God, he will give it to you; it is Here and Now. Brother Lawrence would probably have said: God’s address is being in the presence of God.