A coworker that I quite like is leaving my place of work. The new position is at a large exciting company, doing the work that she really wants to do, and she’s been with my current organization for four years. She’s ready for a change, and I understand.
Today she showed me a picture on her phone of a painting she had just completed for a friend. It was physically the largest work that she had done – the canvas was 4’x5′ I think – with the face of the Buddha dissolving into luminous mist.
I asked her about giving up a physical piece of work she had created. When I’ve been creating, the work I’ve done is always disembodied. I can give away however many copies of text I create and still keep it. Theatre is different in that the work is born and gone again and again for every performance until the run is over, and then it’s nowhere and nothing. But a physical artifact you made that leaves your home to live somewhere else – that’s different.
She said that she got what she most needed from the painting by the act of creating it. It’s a piece that reflects peace among churning, which was exactly what she needed while she contemplated this next stage of her career and chapter of her life. It’s also a piece that was the most literally rigorous that she had done so far, due to its scale and to the texturing on the paint that the pixels on her phone couldn’t convey.
I thought about how much of my time is spent being essentially without a body beyond my eyes looking at screens and my fingers manipulating buttons. My body reminds me of itself by noting that my neck is sore, that I’ve been grinding my teeth (waking and sleeping), that the ligaments in my wrists are working and need a break. It reminds me of its presence by telling me that something is wrong.
Walking helps, and yoga helps, and sitting still and marveling that breath is possible helps. Maybe the trick is to find more things to do instead of things to look at.
Oddly, my cat is amazing at reminding me that I have a body, in pleasant and not-so-nice ways. (Reminds me a bit of this piece I just read: My Cat Saved Me From Depersonalization Disorder.) Sometimes it’s the way that she just assumes that my lap is available to make a nest in with a confidence that I frankly envy. The matter of fact way that she pushes her head under my hand because it gives her pleasure. That she purrs and breathes and radiates heat. Other times it’s the nips and the accidental scratches when I haven’t trimmed her nails enough.
But I can’t get away from the dichotomy of “my body is an animal that wants warmth and comfort and food and touch and sunlight and food and sometimes wine” as opposed to “I am an animal.”
Is the Buddha an animal?
There have been times that I would have been more than happy to dissolve into mist myself.