Last night I had the pleasure of enjoying fine confectionary art at Charles Chocolates in Emeryville, CA. The owner, Chuck Siegel, has a fine arts background in photography and art history, and always had a weakness for chocolate. "I've spent a lot of time in Europe...and I've spent a lot of it eating chocolate," he laughs. In France, he was forever irrevocably inspired by the masters of the food arts particularly Robert Linxe (think "transcendence via dessert").
I don't consider all art - be it music, weaving, or candy-making - equal. Art that touches me has a compelling alluring je ne sais quoi about it because it is done with passion, devotion, love and abandon. Where one truly loses oneself in the making and the created and creator merge for an instant. I'm always absorbed watching lava lamps as they seem to capture the felt sense of that flux of moving into and out of each other, the artist merging, discovering, melting, exploring, abandoning herself to her medium.
"I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful I am no longer sure of myself, and the painting appears as if in a dream." - Vincent Van Gogh
I love this passage from Eckhart Tolle's new book, A New Earth: Awakening to your Life's Purpose (and I love the book) which gets to the heart of it all. Here Tolle is talking about how we can get stuck in labels and concepts of things, rather than the thing or experience directly itself. We can get stuck in studying maps, and miss walking the terrain itself. Stuck in reading menus, and miss tasting, savoring the delicacies. Here Tolle talks about what distinguishes no-holds-barred priceless art:
Words, no matter whether they are vocalized and made into sounds or remain unspoken as thoughts, can cast an almost hypnotic spell upon you. You easily lose yourself in them, become hypnotized into implicitly believing that when you have attached a word to something, you know what it is. The fact is: You don't know what it is. You have covered up the mystery with a label. Everything, a bird, a tree, even a simple stone, and certainly a human being, is ultimately unknowable. This is because it has unfathomable depth. All we can perceive, experience, think about, is the surface layer of reality, less than the tip of the iceberg.
Underneath the surface appearance, everything is not only connected with everything else, but also with the Source of all life out of which it came. Even a stone, and more easily a flower or a bird, could show you the way to God, to the Source, to yourself. When you look at it, a sense of awe, of wonder, arises within you. Its essence silently communicates itself to you and reflects your own essence back to you. This is what great artists sense and succeed in conveying in their art. Van Gogh didn't say: "That's just an old chair." He looked, and looked, and looked. [And saw!] He sensed the Beingness of the chair. Then he sat in front of the canvas and took up the brush. The chair itself would have sold for the equivalent of a few dollars. The painting of that same chair today would fetch in excess of $25 million.
When you don't cover up the world with words and labels, a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost long ago when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought. A depth returns to your life. Things regain their newness, their freshness. And the greatest miracle is the experiencing of your essential self as prior to any words, thoughts, mental labels, and images. For this to happen, you need to disentangle your sense of I, of Beingness, from all the things it has become mixed up with, that is to say, identified with. That disentanglement is what this book is about.
The quicker you are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things, people, or situations, the more shallow and lifeless your reality becomes, and the more deadened you become to reality, the miracle of life that continuously unfolds within and around you. In this way, cleverness may be gained, but wisdom is lost, and so are joy, love, creativity, and aliveness. They are concealed in the still gap between the perception and the interpretation. Of course we have to use words and thoughts. They have their own beauty - but do we need to become imprisoned by them?
Words reduce reality to something the human mind can grasp, which isn't very much. Language consists of five basic sounds produced by the vocal cords. They are the vowels a, e, i, o, u. The other sounds are consonants produced by air pressure: s, f, g, and so forth. Do you believe some combination of such basic sounds could ever explain who you are, or the ultimate purpose of the universe, or even what a tree or stone is in its depth?