White petals

It’s the season of white wildflowers here: honeysuckle and briar roses and horse chestnut trees in bloom. It’s infuriating, trying to paint them in watercolor. The process requires restraint, a yielding to the blank white of the paper, which is in a way quite the opposite of a writer’s training.

But I like the challenge of working against my mind’s discursive tendencies, in both painting and poetry.

The human mind is by nature joyous, calm, and very clear. In “peaceful abiding,” or shamatha, meditation we aren’t creating a peaceful state—we’re letting our mind be as it is to begin with. This doesn’t mean that we’re peacefully ignoring things. It means that the mind is able to be in itself without constantly leaving.

Sakyong Mipham, from Turning the Mind into an Ally

Working with white space in poetry or white subjects in watercolor, I find that I’m more interested in shapes, contours and limits. The consequences of any gesture are very easy to observe. Avoiding overworked areas is a very significant skill, I’ve found—one I’m working to develop in my practice.

Being content with the single brushstroke, or the subtle wash of color, or the phrase that goes silent after a few words means another moment in tune with the real mind. I love the way this antique poem, a Sapphic ode, celebrates that contact.


Get hence, foul Grief, the canker of the mind;
Farewell, Complaint, the miser’s only pleasure;
Away, vain Cares, by which few men do find
Their sought-for treasure.

Ye helpless sighs, blow out your breath to nought;
Tears, drown yourselves, for woe your cause is wasted;
Thought, think to end—-too long the fruit of thought
My mind hath tasted.

But thou, sure Hope, tickle my leaping heart,
Comfort, step thou in place of wonted sadness;
Fore-felt Desire, begin to savour part
Of coming gladness.

Let voice of sighs into clear music run;
Eyes, let your tears with gazing now be mended;
Instead of thought true pleasure be begun,
And never ended.

Sir Philip Sidney, Poems from Arcadia

With gazing at wildflowers comes a wish to share a piece of peace. With the practice of befriending the mind comes a clearer mandate for each gesture we make. With consistent effort, we ourselves become the fragrance of a summertime evening.

The scent of flowers does not travel against the wind, nor that of sandalwood, or of Tagara and Mallika flowers, but the odor of good people travels even against the wind…

The Dhammapada, translated by F. Max Muller

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