Saturday, August 17, 2013

Expressing the Ordinary

Two men are painting outside of my house right now. I live in a suburban New Jersey community, very ordinary in every respect. At first, my wife and I were a little confused as to what the two men were doing. They began by setting up these tall thin-legged tables, which I couldn't help but think would make a great portable altar.

As they continued setting up, the "tables" evolved into easels. Then they laid out their paints, palettes, and brushes. How curious. How wonderful!

What could these artists possibly be interested painting in a boring residential town like mine? Well that's where an artist's eye differs from the ordinary person's. The artist, like the Zen Buddhist, sees the extraordinary in the ordinary.

From an artist's perspective, nothing is common; everything is an expression of the absolute marvel that is existence itself. These two artists are capturing the natural beauty of a house-lined suburban street, my neighbors' the sycamore, of the Stop sign and the streetlight.

There is often a nostalgia among Eastern-minded practitioners for a return to some natural, untouched, Edenic (mental) state and (physical) space. Perhaps it's the Taoist element in Zen. However, what I think this view fails to understand--sorry Lao Tzu--is that a human home is just as much of an expression of the Tao as a bird's nest.

Human achievements, whether they be the Taj Mahal or my Cape Cod home, are manifestations of the magnificent Absolute, too. That's what these artists are admiring. Even if they wouldn't put it that way, I think that's what their artistic calling is communicating at this moment.

Thanks guys for reminding me about the beauty of the ordinary.

Photo borrowed courtesy of Creative Commons Flickr user: Unitopia.

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