To reconnect with nature and with the past, we recently visited a few burial mounts near Ootmarsum in Twente (NL). This is a protected archaeological site and visiting this sleepy site feels as if one enters a thin place.
Here was found the ‘Man of Mander’, a shadow figure in stone (body imprint in stone) of a person almost of 2 metres tall and having no feet. He has probably been a Stone Age hunter or farmer. As a burial gift, for the Afterlife, he carried a stone arrow head. Why his feet are missing asks for careful analysing. One explanation could be that he was encouraged by his tribal members not to dwell on Earth as a spirit, instead to journey to the After Life.
This area has had its burial chambers too, or ‘hunnebedden’ in Dutch, but they have long gone. Farmers and builders were, like us, eager to re-use large stones for building a nearby church and a pigsty. This sounds grinch-worthyand it surely is, but stones have a habit of looking perfect for re-using.
Standing there, in the cold, enchanted by the place, I read a poem about the burial mounts written by Mr. B.W.A.E baron Sloet tot Olthuys (1807-1884). The poem describes how the poet stands, like we did, near the burial mounts and muses about who lies there ‘sleeping for centuries’. All the sudden the poet becomes aware of a man. The man starts asking him questions. How is to believe in one god instead of many; how it is to work for another instead as for oneself? Is the poet as free and as in harmony has he, the Stone Age hunter, feels? I loved reading this poem because of the importance of empathy and asking questions (Cognitive Archaeology). Studying the unwritten past is like looking into a mirror and seeing our modern life and conditioning reflected. Asking questions to those living in the past is making an effort to step outside oneself, which is a very difficult yet wise thing to do from time to time.
Sashiko is a form of decorative reinforcement stitching from Japan that started out of practical need during the Edo era. Sashiko works with modern and traditional patterns. ‘Wind Blown Grass Motif, or Nowaki’, is one of my favourite patterns. Nowaki stands for a late autumn (fall) wind-storm in the countryside, or a typhoon, especially one that blows from the 210th to the 220th day of the year. Sashiko’s Wind in Grass is a static and repetitive pattern, yet it charms.
The last time that I enjoyed looking at the wind playing with grass was during my summer holiday. I was standing in front of a window of a holiday cottage and noticed how the wind was playing with an ochre coloured field. The light was so special because it cause waves of wind to colour the cereal field deep ochre with silvery patches. Swirling patterns kept me wondering whether the wind was sending me a message, an unidentified written message in the most elegant but quicksilver characters that were erased as soon as they were written in the tall grasses.
I liked making a ‘Wind Playing with Grass’ display that is closer to my experience in which the wind was writing a message, playing with the grass. I remembered that I tried to ‘get’ the message that the wind was writing in the grass, but of course I couldn’t. Or maybe I could. I concluded that the wind wrote, with in silvery waves, ‘Happiness’ in all possible languages in that mesmerizing field of cereals.
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.