December 22, 2004 Muir Beach

by Norman Fischer | December 22, 2004 at 7:45 PM

December 22, 2004 Muir Beach

These have been very bright days and Kathie, Aron, Noah (our sons) and I have been hiking. Noah is an artist so on the trail we often speak about art and life. It's not easy to be devoted to something like art (and practice is the same way) that doesn't necessarily provide an easy career path, and whose economic value to society is dicey at best. Still, if you have faith, and keep on with what you know is the right thing to do, things work out. You also have to be practical, kind, ethical, and willing to sacrifice. Noah thinks about having a family, and how much harder it would be to survive as an artist with family responsibilities. But even if you do have a family, there is always a way. Not an easy way possibly, but a way. As with practice, determination, energy and diligence are important. 

Noah showed us the project he's been working on in the Hague, for the 125th anniversary of the Panorama Mesdak, a museum there that is an early example of installation art. The Panorama is a single immense circular painting, done on canvas, and hung 360 degrees around the walls of a circular building. It depicts a beach scene that can be seen at the Hague itself. The viewer enters the Panorama from below, and emerges into a small viewing area in the center of a large room, entirely covered by a man made indoor sand dune. So it looks like you are actually at the beach, seeing the boats, the people, the sea, the horizon in the distance. Noah's project is a video installation that will "update" the scene depicted in the painting. Using photographs, computer graphics, and animation, he shows the scene at it looks today, and as it might look hundreds of years from now, when, possibly, the Netherlands is underwater! The short video clip he showed us is very funny and clever (he begins by animating the scene of the present painting and ends with underwater spaceships and curious sharks), and if the Dutch government is smart enough to fund it, it will be something to have a look at in 2006, when the anniversary celebrations take place. Noah explained to us that the piece doesn't necessarily reflect his own ideas about art- it is rather his sense of what is required by the site and the culture. A wise flexibility, I think, to approach a project that way.

In Dharma seminar we have been talking about compassion, with loving kindness, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, one of the Four Unlimited Abodes. Astonishingly, these are listed as concentration exercises, not practices of virtue, and one is to develop them in an unlimited way- shooting beams of wholesome emotion out into the world infinitely in all directions. Compassion has a warm fuzzy flavor as its usually understood, but if you actually look into it, its chief characteristic is sorrow and sadness at the plight of another, whose fate is also exactly one's own. So mostly we don't want to feel real compassion- naturally we either ignore someone's troubles, or we want to fix them immediately, so we don't have to feel so badly. Yet, though it is difficult, compassion is the gateway to self transcendence, for it is compassion that opens wide the doors of the enclosed self, our personal prison. As usual with spiritual practice, things are not so simple as they seem at first, and something difficult and seemingly obviously to be avoided turns out to be something precious and beautiful. Compassion. In Zen we say there's nothing but compassion. The sun right now shining through the window as I write these words: perfect compassion. Painful, powerful, bright, and warm.


Norman Fischer