The more I practice painting the present living moment, the more I am aware of the passing of time and the challenge of using a “still” medium to explore something that is constantly moving. In my last post, I wrote about the “unique present moment” but did not talk about how dwelling there is complicated by its dynamic, liquid nature.
I can tell the time if I look at the face of my clock. If I study it closely, I can see time passing before my eyes. Over the months of painting, I am coming to know the view of the pond so well that I have started to see the moving shadows like the hands of a clock and can tell the time of day by the position of the shadows. This practice has given me a heightened sensitivity to the constant movement around me, especially the movement of light and shadow. I watch the shadows sweeping the ground as morning moves to evening. Sometimes it feels like all that really matters is this dance of the shadows. I know this movement is the movement of our planet; it is what makes the days come and go. I am led again to the awareness that I am painting on this day, in this moment, which is singular and unique and will never happen again.
A couple of days ago I came up to the pond at about 8 am on the first really cold morning of the season and the scene before me appeared to be made of gold, in a new way I’d never perceived before. This gilded view was framed by the velvety dark tones of the water and reeds still cloaked in shadows. It was astonishing! The grasses looked like a Rembrandt painting, rich brocades, just like the sleeve of the man in the painting “The Jewish Bride.” Some perfect and arbitrary combination of factors-the morning dew, the slant of Fall light, the moisture in the air, the falling leaves of the golden willow-all conspired to create this brief visual miracle.
It threw me into a panic. How can I ever capture that? The intensity of my desire and the overwhelming sense of urgency took me by surprise. I felt I was being handed an opportunity but perhaps one that was not even real, an opportunity to do something impossible. How can I paint a moment using a process that takes time? I dove headlong into the work, scrubbing the surface, flinging paint down, stumbling over myself, over my brushes, shivering with the cold. I was aware of the absurdity of this drama, my frenetic calligraphy, my grasping and trying to keep it from slipping away. Tomorrow the rain is coming, soon the Fall is ending … everything will change. There is no way that I can get it, no possibility of capture. I wondered if I could at least make some marks and put down a few colors that would speak of what I was witnessing, or should I just stop and stare, recording memories I could draw upon later?
Why do I care so much? Why do children want to capture and keep in jars the amazing things they encounter in the forest? I observe in myself a thirst to make this time-bound experience timeless. But alas, the clock is ticking and suddenly the sun illuminated the rushes and they sprang to life, called out of the shadows by the light. Cerulean blue, cadmium yellow light, cobalt teal, all the colors that were sleeping in the shadows awakened before me. The more subtle, antique Rembrandt golds slipped away as if suddenly frightened by the shrill brightness. I exhaled and released my grasping and striving. Something seemed to end and was gone forever. I felt out of breath. I felt fortunate to have witnessed the small 8 am miracle of golden light, but I had a sense of loss as well.
There must be a way to show up fully in the present and yet not get attached and feel disappointed when moments pass away. Is it possible to see that golden moment as nested in a larger process that is not so fleeting? In some mystical traditions, “that which changes” is considered unreal, just an illusion. From that point of view, perhaps instead of making reality into illusions (paintings) the painter is actually turning illusions into something real.