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Posts Tagged ‘Rabindranath Tagore’

“Hunkered Down”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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I slept and dreamt
that life was joy.
I awoke and saw
that life was duty.
I worked — and behold,
duty was joy.

–Rabindranath Tagore

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When I first read the short poem above from the great poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore some time ago, it struck a chord with me. It so simply, in just a few lines, put across an observation that takes most of us a lifetime to realize. That is, if we ever do realize it.

Duty was joy.

But what is duty? Is it in being a good parent? A faithful spouse and a loyal friend? Is it in what we do to make a living? Or is it in being decent and caring human being?

Perhaps, it is how our lives touch the lives of others? Could that be a duty?

I don’t know for sure. Most likely joy is not a one size fits all proposition.

My own feeling is that duty is much like having a purpose, a reason for living. I remember reading Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl‘s transcendent book, Man’s Search For Meaning, which described his time in the Auschwitz death camp. He observed that those who were able to survive the horror were those who somehow had a purpose for their life, who saw a future that they needed to reach ahead for. This purpose, even a modest one, often gave them the drive needed for survival, creating a path forward for them.

In the year after being liberated from Auschwitz, Frankl gave a series of lectures that were the basis for his book. In one he spoke of Tagore’s poem and that final line: Duty was joy:

So, life is somehow duty, a single, huge obligation. And there is certainly joy in life too, but it cannot be pursued, cannot be “willed into being” as joy; rather, it must arise spontaneously, and in fact, it does arise spontaneously, just as an outcome may arise: Happiness should not, must not, and can never be a goal, but only an outcome; the outcome of the fulfillment of that which in Tagore’s poem is called duty… All human striving for happiness, in this sense, is doomed to failure as luck can only fall into one’s lap but can never be hunted down.

In short, lasting joy and happiness cannot be pursued as a goal on their own, without a responsibility to some higher purpose.

I am writing this because sometimes I need to be reminded of this. I have been struggling at times recently in the studio, seemingly fighting with myself to find something that just doesn’t seem to be there. The harder I tried to find it, the further away it seemed. It was like I was looking for something to quell my anxieties and bring me some form of easy happiness. To bring me effortless joy.

I should have known better. Yesterday, I just put down my head and worked without thinking about the end result. I focused solely on my purpose in each moment, the task at hand. Concentrating on doing small and simple things with thought and care was my duty, as it were. As the day went on, my burden felt lessened and I began to feel joy in the work, joy in small aspects that I had been overlooking in prior days.

It was a satisfying day, one that left me feeling that I had moved in some way toward fulfilling a purpose. It may not be a grand, earth-shaking one but it doesn’t need to be. It is mine. My purpose. My duty.

And that is enough to bring me a bit of joy.

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“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but
for the heart to conquer it.”

― Rabindranath Tagore

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This is another new painting headed to the Principle Gallery for my Social Distancing show there, opening June 5. It is 22″ by 28″ on canvas and is titled She Glides Through the Fractured Night.

Though the theme for this show concerns itself with the social distancing and isolation that we have experienced in recent months, it is also about perseverance and the will to endure. And that is what I see in this piece.

I hadn’t intended to do this type of piece for the show, with the single figure paddling a longboat under a broken sky. But I really felt a compulsion, a need for this painting, and once I set out on it, it fell into place easily, almost without effort. At every step in the process, it felt complete and ready to send out its message. It didn’t have the highs and lows that normally come in painting a piece. By that, I mean in most paintings there are phases where the piece dulls and flattens out, muddying up the destination that I had began to see in it.

No, this was an incredibly satisfying piece to paint. It just had to be done.

I think the history of what we are going through will tell two different stories: those who did what they must to endure and those felt they shouldn’t have to do anything differently in a world that has presented us with a new way of existence, at least for the short term.

Those that adapt easily to change will glide through this to the other side of this fractured night. They will endure.

I can’t say what will happen to those whose minds remain inflexible and unwilling to adapt to a new of being. Only their actions and time will write that history.

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Joy is everywhere; it is in the earth’s green covering of grass: in the blue serenity of the sky: in the reckless exuberance of spring: in the severe abstinence of grey winter: in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame: in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright: in living, in the exercise of all our powers: in the acquisition of knowledge… Joy is there everywhere.

 

—Rabindranath Tagore

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The painting at the top is part of Moments and Color, my solo exhibit currently on display at the West End Gallery. It’s titled An Exuberant Life and is a 24″ by 24″ canvas.

I don’t know that we are living in a time of joy at this point in history. At least, not in a way where one day we as a people will look back and remember it as a golden age filled with good will and There’s certainly an abundance of anxiety, ignorance, anger and about any other negative attribute you can come up with.

I believe that in times like these, we have to actively seek and identify the joy and exuberance that exists in this world. We take so much that surrounds us for granted as we bounce along the bumpy road we’re on at the moment. We find ourselves often blinded by our outrage or so inwardly turned in a defensive pose that we lose track of our surroundings.

Forget to see simple things. A ray of sunlight. The beauty in a tiny paused moment of silence. Tasting the pleasant bitterness of coffee on the tongue.

I could do a long laundry list of my own small pleasures, things that give me a sense of the joys in this world. But they are mine alone. You must find your own. Your list of joys must be your own sanctuary in these times. You’ll know them at once from the feeling of peaceful satisfaction they instill in you.

Maybe finding the exuberance of your own life will influence others to seek their own.

That would be a good thing.

And that’s kind of what I see in this painting– finding one’s joy and affecting the world with it. That is certainly something we could use in these times.

 

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GC Myers- Signet of Eternity-smallI was driving yesterday morning on the highway that cuts across the lower part of western New York State, just above the Pennsylvania line.  It’s always a quiet ride with little if any traffic on the long stretches of the very rural and sparsely populated country.

It allows for the mind to wander a bit.  Sometimes, in those moments, I will take some time and look around, wondering: What is here that might stick with me if somewhere down the road today my life were to end?  I found myself taking in the beauty of the very human lines of the the  hilltops set against the blue sky  as the sun make the frost on the trees shimmer in silver.

Something very perfect in that simple but ethereal moment.  This morning this reminded me of a post from several years ago that dealt with just such moments, one that I am running again today:

This is a new piece [note: this was 2010] that I am calling Signet of Eternity, taken from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian writer/poet.  There’s a great sense of the eternal in this smallish ( a 4″ by 14′ image) painting on paper.  I find it very calming, very soothing, with its clear, cool colors and crisp line work.  There’s a simplicity and delicacy in this that hints at how fleeting and fragile are the the glimpses of eternal forces we are fortunate to witness in our lifetimes.

I know that sounds pretty metaphysical but I’m just talking about those moments when all the forces of the world present themself before you in an almost perfect harmony and there is a moment of stillness.  Clarity.  As though the world has chosen to reveal its purpose to you for those few precious seconds and in doing so has taken away all the weight of everyday life.

I thought about that yesterday as I trudged, head down, through the woods between my home and my studio.  I stopped on the path suddenly and looked around.  The trees were so graceful and  I caught sight of  the trunk of a tall shagbark hickory.  I let my eyes follow it upward to the powerful arms of branches that seemd to plead to the blue patch of sky above.  It was a grand moment and I thought about how often I traveled that path with eyes fixed on the ground before me.  How many times had I let the thoughts and worries in my head carry me without seeing past these things of beauty?  These signets of eternity.

Here is Tagore’s poem:

The day was when I did not keep myself in readiness for thee;
and entering my heart unbidden even as one of the common crowd,
unknown to me, my king, thou didst press the signet of eternity upon
many a fleeting moment of my life.

And today when by chance I light upon them and see thy signature,
I find they have lain scattered in the dust mixed with the memory of
joys and sorrows of my trivial days forgotten.

Thou didst not turn in contempt from my childish play among dust,
and the steps that I heard in my playroom
are the same that are echoing from star to star.

 

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Signet of Eternity

 

This is a new piece that I am calling Signet of Eternity, taken from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian writer/poet.  There’s a great sense of the eternal in this smallish ( a 4″ by 14′ image) painting on paper.  I find it very calming, very soothing, with its clear, cool colors and crisp line work.  There’s a simplicity and delicacy in this that hints at how fleeting and fragile are the the glimpses of eternal forces we are fortunate to witness in our lifetimes. 

I know that sounds pretty metaphysical but I’m just talking about those moments when all the forces of the world present themself before you in an almost perfect harmony and there is a moment of stillness.  Clarity.  As though the world has chosen to reveal its purpose to you for those few precious seconds and in doing so has taken away all the weight of everyday life. 

 I thought about that yesterday as I trudged, head down, through the woods between my home and my studio.  I stopped on the path suddenly and looked around.  The trees were so graceful and  I caught sight of  the trunk of a tall shagbark hickory.  I let my eyes follow it upward to the powerful arms of branches that seemd to plead to the blue patch of sky above.  It was a grand moment and I thought about how often I traveled that path with eyes fixed on the ground before me.  How many times had I let the thoughts and worries in my head carry me without seeing past these things of beauty?  These signets of eternity.

Here is Tagore’s poem:

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