In a probably apocryphal story the painter Jackson Pollock was asked by someone curious about his paintings why he didn’t work from nature. Pollack was said to have quickly retorted – ‘I don’t need to work from nature, I am nature!’
Whether the story is true or not, it illustrates an interesting point, not just about mid 20th century painting but also about the relationship we have to the world and where we see our place in it. It seems Pollock was suggesting that by seeing nature as separate from ourselves we often feel removed from it, sometimes forgetting that the world is just as much ‘in here’ as it is ‘out there’. It’s easy to see how this can become a way of protecting ourselves from the often unpredictable flux and change of our experience. It seems to follow that in seeing our ‘self’ as separate from nature, we might be protected from the messiness and unpredictability of life.
When Pollock made his drip paintings, his very movements and ‘in the moment’ intentions became both the technique and the subject of his work. There was an integration of gesture, expression and content. Literally, his life became his Art. In exploring this way of working Pollack could learn about nature not so much by observing and copying but through action. This is what he meant when he said he was ‘nature’ – his very being was part of the content of his work.
When we meditate we are often fluctuating between standing outside of our experience or being fully engaged with it. At worst we observe our present condition and try to disassociate from it; we push it away or we crave another more satisfying experience. Anything but just staying with it or ‘being’ with it.
Employed as a yogic practise meditation aims at a unification of our experience and an integration of our often conflicted desires and needs. This wholeness that we seek is often fragmented by our constant desire to be elsewhere, to have something we can’t have or to achieve the unachievable. This creates a sense of self that is unfulfilled and not in harmony with the present moment because the present moment seems to lack the completeness we crave. Harmony comes from seeing that all of this is ‘us’, even the unsatisfactoriness of life. Impermanence, death, sickness and ageing – all the things we rally against are all natural and part of our wholeness. It just doesn’t always seem this way.
Placing all of our experience in the field of our awareness, particularly in our sitting practise rewards us with greater insight. There should be no exclusion zones. Like Pollock we should place ourselves firmly within the world, within its flux and change, noticing and learning. Through this process of acceptance and openness we can find a way of finding peace within the turmoil.
Photo – Hans Namuth, Jackson Pollack in his studio, 195o.