“She pointed to the sky. ‘There,’ she said. ‘Up there. That’s where the words you need will come from, the words that’ll say what’s in your heart–that’s where they live.’”
This piece of a story from Frank Delaney’s Ireland startled a memory last night when my husband read it to me. I remembered preparing to teach my first class–a weekend program in Atlanta, Georgia, on the topic of meditation and artistic practice. How would I talk about these two practices that are the foundation of my aesthetic life? For me neither practice is based in intellectual formulation. I prepared by learning to relax in the face of great anxiety. I wouldn’t have described it that way at the time. I simply followed the only two instructions that penetrated the panic. First: “Teach the same way you paint.” OK. I trust the blank space of the canvas and the painting follows from that. How does that translate to teaching? Next instruction: “Lie on your back on the ground and look at the sky.” Oh. The instruction was so strange, it seemed utterly reliable, and I followed it without fail, sometimes for only a minute or two, every day, despite overwhelming embarrassment. In the end curiosity trumped panic. I learned something more about space: to be present–which requires a subtle absence–and to be available–which is an intelligent awareness. Like the sky in the story, space–of a room or a canvas– holds all the information needed, in a new kind of language that wants to be translated on the spot.
Over the years I have appreciated space as a repository, as an inexhaustible resource, as inspiration (breath), as a source of invisible vitality, and as the most mysterious factor in painting and life–empty of definition, empty of description, empty. And yet dynamic. And trustworthy–the paradox of trusting “nothing.”