Painting Meditation (written 2015)
If asked how I'd like to spend a summer day, I'd probably describe some comfy spot in the shade, free of mosquitoes, with a jug of lemonade and a book at hand. Yeah...that would come pretty close. And there may be times like that this summer, or a few hours maybe here and there if not a whole day at a stretch: the shade, the book and the lemonade are relatively easy to arrange. However, no matter what my preferences, there will also be days with mosquitoes, days spent on home projects in the hot sun, and rainy days. There will even be days without books, much as this gives me pause.
Recently there have been a few home-project days as we undertake the painting of various sheds scattered around our acreage, as well as freshening up the house deck. I'm not a great painter, but at least outdoors the spills can mostly be cut off the next time we mow the lawn, or buried with a skillful rearrangement of driveway gravel. And it is an opportunity to engage in painting meditation.
This begins with letting go of preferences. Letting that fantasy of books and lemonade drift away and coming here, to the brush in my vinyl gloved hand, the liquid strokes on less than perfect wood, the drip of sweat running from under the glove as I lift my arm, the flies tasting and tip toe-ing.
I have plenty of time to think about impermanence. We've had to replace some framing pieces on doors and edges and there the wood is smooth and fragrant. In other places, there are deep grooves and crumbling patches where wet and time and insects have eaten into the wood. Spiders scuttle out of corners, their homes disturbed. The skin of my own arm, rising and falling, is a network of fine lines. Age and even the beloved sun at work here. These are not the round, smooth arms of youth.
The hours pass in waves of changing sensation, moving from sun to shade, to sun. The kitten slapping at my ankles for attention, leaving pin prick holes in heat swollen feet. Unpleasant. The sharp sweet smell of sun warmed grass. Pleasant. My hat glued to my head with moisture. Unpleasant. The slow progress of paint strokes. Neutral maybe? Pleasant? Knees creaking and complaining a little, as toes bend and slide uncomfortably in cheap plastic clogs when squatting is required. Gravel digging into flesh, grinding on knee bones when I switch to kneeling. Unpleasant. Then the sweet stretch of a tired back as I stand. Ah! Pleasant. Nerves jangling when I have to climb a ladder unstable on uneven ground, and then reach at odd angles for peaks and corners. But safe on the ground again, admiring my handiwork...yes, pleasant.
Even so pass the moments of every day, but this one measured in the dips and strokes of brush on wood, in the sameness of activity is like placing my mind inside a smaller room for a time. The input is less varied, and so for a bit, like the precious silent days of a retreat, I am held in a space where observation of the moment is simple. The quick arising of aversion and clinging seem to slow down so I catch them easily like lazy flies in the heat. I'm standing in the sands of a just turned hour glass: the sense of motion a tiny distant vibration rather than the rush of the last grains, which is often the feel of more typical days.
There is satisfaction, yes, pleasant, in the final cleaning up tasks, in the moments of reflecting on a job completed. And then a moment to notice: the spiders making their wary way back up the walls of the sheds marring the finish or getting mired themselves, the kitten returning to sniff at the paint and leaving tiny blue paw prints on the grey boardwalk as she saunters away. All things are impermanent. This day of painting meditation itself giving way tomorrow perhaps to books, lemonade and shade.