Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Chopsticks

I was sitting last night still in a great deal of pain from my accident. My wife had poured a nice glass of wine for me and laid it on the small table not far from me. Can you imagine what it is like to see such a fine wine and know that reaching round and over to pick it up was going to cause you great pain? It reminded me of a tale.


They were very honoured to have been invited to the banquet at the big house, even although they were somewhat perplexed by the message that came with the invitation. It seemed rather obvious and did not need to be said. Written under the invitation it said in bold letters; “All guests must use only the tableware provided.” Who ever brought their own utensils to such a feast?

It was the talk of the village it seemed almost everybody had been invited and almost everybody had accepted the invitation. There was much talk around the village about the event. What would they be eating and who would all be in attendance?

As the day grew closer there was much coming and going from the big house. Food deliveries and fine wines were seen among the many items being brought from suppliers. Everybody was getting more and more excited as the time of the banquet drew closer.

Soon it was time to go to the big house. As guests arrived they were shown to their table and the servants introduced those who were sitting beside strangers. It seemed that a great deal of care had been taken to make sure that people were going to get to know those they may not have known well before.

Then came the food, everybody looked in awe as the wonderful selection of dishes were laid before them. There was such a variety it would be almost impossible for there not to be something that everybody would enjoy.

Then came the big surprise. The waiters provided everybody with a large set of chopsticks. They were invited to enjoy the feast. The trouble was they could lift the food with the large chopsticks but they could not then get the food into their mouths. As hard as they tried it was impossible. Some of the guests were getting annoyed and angry until one young lad said, “Why don’t we all serve each other?” The problem was solved and everybody enjoyed the wonderful food. Not only that they also got to know the people round about them who they were dependent on to feed them.

At the end of the meal the host raised a glass and proposed the toast, “To friends old and new and the art of sharing and caring.”

This blog is linked to my other blog where you can read of the chosen artwork:-Ian the Chef

There is an interesting post on the topic of copying I would encourage contributions it can be read at the new blog of a dear friend:- Pinnacles and Potholes

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Ashtray

Monifieth is a beautiful little place on the east coast of Scotland. It has one main street and a beautiful beach. I was reminded of it by a comment made on a recent blog by Sharon who lives and works in Dundee not too far away from Monifieth. I lived and worked there for a year as assistant minister in the beautiful parish church. I was doing my probationary period before seeking a church of my own in which to minister. The minister there was full of life and a marvellous man to have as a guiding hand. Just over the road from the church was a small cobbler shop where you could have new soles and heels put on your shoes. One day I noticed he had a special offer notice in his window offering to save heels on shoes ant a reduced rate. I saw humour in this and made an almost identical notice for the church notice board offering to save soles (souls) for free.


The church has two very beautiful stained glass windows made by a very well known stained glass artist. It also boasted two magnificent silver communion cups. These were kept in the vault at the bank and only brought out on communion Sunday and after the service returned to the bank for safe keeping. It was decided that for insurance these should be revalued and the policy brought up to date. An appointment was made with an expert and on that day both the minister and I were to be in the church. This was in the days when smoking was allowed in public buildings. The minister was a smoker and in those days I smoked a pipe. Prior to Sunday worship he and I used to have a last little puff together. There was an old pewter plate lay on the desk in the vestry which was used as an ashtray to stub and knock out cigarettes and pipe. On the day of the valuation we were waiting in the vestry with the valuable cups having a puff. The expert put a value on the cups much higher than had been expected then just before leaving he said. “Would you like me to value the pewter plate?” We both looked at him. “You mean the ashtray?” “Yes,” he said, “It is probably worth more than the two cups.”

How often we fail to see that which is of real worth because our sight has been taken by the glint of that which seems to be the more value. A painting to one person can be of much more value than to another if it evokes emotion and stirs up memories. I had a painting of some yachts sailing in the River Forth. It had hung in the inn close to the River Forth for weeks and although liked by some not enough for anybody to offer to purchase. I changed it for another and brought the yachts to another place I hang. I customer there fell in love with it but could not afford to purchase. One day another customer asked me if he could purchase. I saw her face and almost said it was not for sale. He bought it and immediately gave it to her. As I left the place she was in tears of joy. I left in hurry because I was also overwhelmed. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The painting on the fridge door painted by a child is worth as much as any done by an old master.


The painting used is discussed in my other blog which can be seen at:- Evening Sails Along the Forth

Monday, 29 March 2010

Going With The Flow

They had been together for many years, Jim and Mary, yet they were as close as the day they were married. The neighbours used to comment on how when either was leaving the house on their own the other came to the front door and they parted with a kiss. This day was no different. Jim was heading to meet up with some of his old cronies from the war years, a reunion lunch. Mary had packed his overnight bag for him and made sure he had all he needed. As he left she was there at the door with him with his farewell kiss.


Jim headed off in his car, heading for the venue; he thought the journey might take him just over an hour if he took the M1 motorway. It would be good to see the boys again and to chat over the old days. When they met they always had a grand night sharing jokes and laughs.

He had been gone about forty-five minutes when the phone in the car rang and Marys voice came over the speaker. “Jim,” she said, “be very careful. I have just heard the news on the radio, there is a car travelling the wrong way up the M1. He replied, “A car going the wrong. Let me tell you there is more than one going the wrong way there seems to be about a hundred of them.”

There is another story of an old man who was seen one day by a crowd of people as he jumped into a raging river. They all stood in awe as they watched him certain that he would be swept over the falls to his death. As they watched they saw him being swept ever closer and then without warning over the cliff in the raging waterfall. They gasped and held their breaths. Then as they watched they saw him emerge from the water and head back towards them.

When he arrived back at the spot where he had entered the water they asked him how he had managed it. He told them that he had fallen into this river at that spot as a very young child. The natural reaction of a child is to merge with the water and not to try and fight against it. He had learned this and for the rest of his life he had on a regular basis used this as a form of exercise.

There are times when it is wiser to go with the flow than to fight against it, to go with the crowd and not find you are heading straight into certain danger. But there are also times when to make a stand or to make a change of direction is the way to go. The wise thing is to know when and where.


This blog is linked to my other blog where I discuss the artwork used it can be seen at:-  The Flow of Life

Thanks to all those who have sent messages of well wishes. Still in a great deal of pain but am assured it will get better after a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Time Change

I am aware that it does not happen in every country but twice a year we change the clocks, either back one hour or forward one hour. It is easy to remember which way it goes with the little reminder, “spring forward, fall back.” So this weekend in the UK it goes forward one hour. This happened first during the First World War it had to do with blackout time. Like so many things it has stayed the same ever since. Each year there is the discussion about whether it happen or should or not. There are all the arguments about children going to school in safety and farmers getting more daylight hours. All of it seems a bit odd to me because no matter what we do with the clocks and no matter what the arguments are it is different in Scotland than in London where the decision is made.


There is a story of the monastery cat. The monastery had a pet cat who did not like silence very much. So every time the monks went into their daily periods of silent meditation the cat would come into the temple and make all kinds of noises to the distraction of the monks. It was decided that during these time the cat should be tethered outside the temple for the duration of the times. This worked well and the cat was repaid with extra attention by the monk who tied and untied her. He always had a special nibble for her at those times. The cat lived to a ripe old age seeing off many of the monks. When she died she was buried in the grounds of the monastery. The monks got a new cat, and at meditation times it was tethered. Nobody wondered if it would be like the cat before they had just always done it that way. As the years rolled on each cat in succession was tethered and people used to try and work out why this was so and what significant meaning it had.

I remember when I was minister in a church with a much crowed chancel area. There were two rows either side of the chancel where seldom did anybody sit. When I suggested removing them I was told we could not, they had always been there. Certain people had once sat there. One person even said she remembered her grandmother sitting there, even though she herself was now a grandmother. After much deliberation the seats were removed and the chancel opened up. The space became so much more versatile and worship was enhanced in so many ways. Now it is just accepted that is how that building is, few remember it as it was before.

It is so easy to get stuck in ruts, but to break free now and then opens the doors to creativity. Paint something different, write something in a new genre try new things and find new meaning. You might even find a new you.

This is the way of Tao

Apologies if there are errors in this blog today yesterday I was washing my caravan and fell from the roof. Today I find myself in extreme pain. This was written butt not checked. I have managed to put it online before crawling back to bed. So sorry I will not be viewing blogs today will miss doing so.

This blog is linked to my other where I discuss the artwork used. :-The passage of Time

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Garden and The Gardner.

I have my vegetable plot dug ready for next weeks planting of seeds. My potatoes are already planted and the neat mounds of earth stand in anticipation of the coming growth. Once the seeds are planted begins the waiting and the tending. The fertile soil is the ideal place for weeds and they compete with the seeds and plants for the nutrients of growth. It is a steady task hoe and keeping the weeds in check.


There is the story of the old man who lived on the edge of the village. He spent so most of his time in his garden now that his working life was behind him. His front garden was full of the most beautiful flowers each tended and supported. He diligently hoed between the plants and picked off the dead heads of blooms to encourage further growth. His rear garden was full of the most wonderful looking vegetables. It was said if you could find a weed in his garden then there must be something up with him and the doctor should be called.

One of his pleasures was to take a break and watch what was happening on the road past his gate. He could often been seen proudly resting on the top bar of the gate watching the world go by. “A man out standing in his own field.” (Think about that one) One day as he stood there a preacher walked past and on seeing the beauty of the garden stopped and said to the old man, “My, what a beautiful garden you and God have made here.” “Aye,” said the old man, “but you should have seen it when it was left to God on his own.” The preacher sighed and continued on his way.

Who decides what a weed is and what is a floral beauty? I remember out walking with my father as a young boy. We stopped to rest and have a sandwich; after all we had walked for miles. (Actually not much further than he walked daily, to his place of work. For me it was a long way.) We were surrounded by beautiful flowers and grasses. I insisted on picking some and making them into a posy to take home. Neither my father, nor my mother mentioned that they were dandelions and weeds, and they were duly put in a vase. It was only later in life I realised that they were weeds and in Scotland had a terrible nickname. (They were called pee the beds) to me they look so intricate and beautiful. Even now one of my favourite soft drinks is dandelion and burdock. Dandelion leaves in a salad add a wonderful crisp sharp flavour.

Who would argue that a well tended garden is a thing of great joy and beauty, but left to its own nature makes a wonderful job of creating an equally beautiful array and can provide sustenance, if we but look. A weed is only a weed if it is growing in what we consider the wrong place. Nature does well without the use of a colour wheel.

I had a blog prepared today about the different kind of ways that we can find water  but on reading the beautiful comment made by Katherine on yesterdays blog I decided to leave that as well said. I thank all those who are reading my blogs and making comments on them either on the blog or in email to me. It means much to me.  I am not going to mention names but I thank those who are so encouraging, you know who I mean.  Someone said that they found the world of blogging such a supportive and caring place. She was correct and I thank you all.

The artwork is dicussed on my other blog and can be seen at:- Summer Evening Field

Friday, 26 March 2010

The Dry Well

The village was finding life difficult because of the long spell of dry hot weather. The crops were failing because of the lack of water. The village had one well and the water from it had to be rationed to two containers per family per day. If something did not happen soon there would be really difficult days ahead for all.


One of the villages, a shepherd, remembered that he had once found another well in the hill foots not too far distant from the village. He had tasted the water and it had been clear and refreshing. He packed a bag with some food. He put this in a bucket and collected a rope which he thought would be long enough to reach into the well.

He travelled to the spot he remembered and sure enough there was the well. He lowered his bucket into the well and when he pulled it up it was full of clear sparkling water. He filled the skins he had brought with him and made his way back to the village, where he entered by a back way.

Two days later he made the same trip and again returned by the back way concealing his water in his house. This went on for sometime, during which time the villagers were still surviving on restricted rations.

Then one morning he went to the well and this time the bucket came up only half full. He had to return the next day and again it came up but with even less water. Then at last the day came when the bucket came up empty.

On his return journey he was met by two men from the village. They asked him where he had been. He told them he thought he had remembered a well and had gone to check it out, but it had been empty. The men of the village were immediately suspicious because he did not look like one who had been suffering as they had.

They asked him to take them to the well, which he did. He dropped his bucket and sure enough it came up moist but empty. One of the men asked to be lowered into the well so that he could take a closer look. When he arrived at the bottom of the well it became obvious that the well was not dry but that with the continual sliding up and down of the bucket by the inexperienced shepherd the well had been blocked and diverted. They were soon able to restore it and the village was saved. The shepherd packed his things and left never to be seen again.

Sometimes if we draw on the same well for too long the well dries up. If we hold things to ourselves we also dry up. When we stop thinking of others they in turn stop thinking of us.

I am sure there are many more lessons to be found in this tale. For the artist to continually draw from the same source, does the art become stale like stagnant waters?

I would love to hear if you have any thoughts about this story my mind if full of where I could have taken this one.

Can I say anyone asks a question I do attempt to answer it on either blog. This blog is linked to my other on where I discuss the art used. :- High and Dry

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Fire

There was a fire at one of the largest houses in the village. All the villagers had rallied round to try and put the fire out. A line of people passed buckets of water from the well to the house that was ablaze. Some of the villagers had managed to get the owner of the house out of the building and she was being looked after by two of the ladies of the village. She was wrapped in a warm blanket and was being given a warm infusion.


The villagers did not really know the lady because she had hardly if ever spoken to any of them. The only times they really saw her was when she came out of the house carried in her sedan by her servants. The children of the village had often ran alongside and tried to speak to her but she had always turned and looked away. She found it difficult to believe that people dressed so shabbily and looked so unkempt.

This night she had no alternative but to speak to them, they were after all trying very hard to save her house and her possessions. Yet even now she looked at the ladies that were helping her and wondering how they could look so shabby. She was still speaking to everybody as if they were her servants. As they rescued belongs from her house she would tell them to handle them with care, to put them down gently.

Soon the fire was brought under control but it was too late to save the house as it stood. One thing was certain the lady of the house could not sleep there tonight. The villagers had offered rooms to the servants which they gladly and thankfully accepted. The old lady was a different story. What were they to do with her?

One of the villagers suggested she be taken to the old hut on the outskirts of the village that had recently been vacated with the death of its old resident. It was agreed. Bedding was gathered together and some food. The old lady protested that she could not sleep in these sheets, but the truth was she had little choice. By the time they arrived at the hut it was dark. The old lady was aghast at what she saw but was made as comfortable as possible by the villagers.

In the morning she awoke. She went over to the window and drew back the thick faded curtains. As she looked out she was astounded. Before her was the most beautiful view she had ever seen. She still lives in the hut. She and the villagers have made improvements but she has also helped them to make improvements to their conditions.

Sometimes life has to get to a low point before we become aware of the beauty around us. Sometimes we are so busy complaining about our circumstances we fail to see the ways we can make others lives better.

We are surrounded by beauty. To be aware of it is the way of the Tao.

This blog is linked to my other blog where the artwork chosen is discussed.:- Iona

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Finding Self

Thinking about what I said yesterday about my father reminded me of the times I was given homework from school. I never asked my mother to help me with homework; it always ended in a mini battle of wills. I never did it well enough I would ask my father to help me with the homework.


I would ask him a question, and he would say, 'Well, what do you think.' I always got really frustrated because I thought that if I was asking him then I didn't know the answer myself. But he was right, with some gentle prodding I always came up with the answer. More important I always left feeling that I had done my homework on my own and I had learned something.

A distraught student approached his Tao master. "Please, Master, I feel lost, desperate. I don't know who I am. Please, show me my true self! “But the teacher just looked away without responding. The student began to plead and beg, but still the master gave no reply. Finally giving up in frustration, the student turned to leave. At that moment the master called out to him by name. "Yes!" the student said as he spun back around. "There it is!" exclaimed the master.

There are times in life when we bring grief and frustration to ourselves because we spend so much time trying to analyse what has gone wrong. For the artist it is called painters block. Having also had to write during my life I am aware this does not happen just to artists, it happens also to writers.

Having just been through such a period with my art, no painting for more than two weeks, I am aware how frustrating it can be. Sadly no matter how often it happens I never learn from the last time, accept it, leave it for a bit and get on with preparing for the next painting. I was out walking the other day along a path I used to walk with my father in my youth. I was watching the yachts sail in the River Forth. I heard his voice saying, “What do you think, could that be a painting?” (I am not advising listening to voices other than the inner voice of self).

Sometimes we try too hard and in the process and get lost in the muddle we create. The painting I did yesterday is not the best I have painted by along way, but it is better than all the others I have done in the last two weeks. I can hear my father say, “Well what do you think?”

This blog is linked to my other where I discuss the artwork it can be seen at:-The Race

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Beware

I had a visit the other day there from two members of a well known sect. They have to be admired for their dedication and devotion to duty. They are after all giving up their own time knowing that they will face a certain amount of rejection and to some extent aggression. Yet there they were. Like me they had many choices of how to spend a beautiful morning, they had chosen this. Because I am aware of this I tend to treat them with respect and dignity. Having studied theology and philosophy at university I am also well aware of what it is they believe so I always politely tell them that I have given this deep and considered thought and that I would rather just get on with what I am doing. Most times that is enough but now and again you are met with a persistence that leaves me struggling within to stay calm.


It is not only in religion you meet those with a real fervour and mission for what they believe, I have equally met them in the circles of art. So I have one or two little guidelines I keep in mind, I call them my, “beware notes.”

Beware of those who they there way is the only way.

Beware of those with a good line in oratory.

Beware of those who are more interested in selling you DVDs and courses that being interested in your needs.

Beware of those who love to be surrounded by followers who admire them.

Beware of those who think one method is in and one method is out and puts down the outs.

Beware of those who never talk to you on anything other than a shallow level.

Beware of those who only ever tell you how wonderful you are.

But welcome with open arms those who give you an understanding of yourself and your journey. When I was young my mother was always telling me I had to do better or that I was doing something the wrong way. I had a father who was always asking me what I thought about things. When my mother berated me for not doing my best, my father would ask me, “Do you think you could have done better?” if I answered no he would say, “Well if you did you best that is great.”

How I loved being in his company. He certainly knew it was my journey and it was his job to just help me on it and the decisions I had to make. Since taking up art I have met all sorts of wonderful people willing to help me on the artistic journey but sadly I have also met many of the other sorts.

This blog is attached to the other blog about the art work used :-   Beacons of Light

Monday, 22 March 2010

The Wooden Coffin

An old farmer had worked his fields for years, providing food and home for himself and his family. It had always been very hard work and he had worked long hours. Each season had brought its different tasks, but he had worked in harmony with nature and the farm had provided well. When his son had grown they had worked together. The son had got married and tighter they had built a home on the land for him and his wife. With additional mouths to feed they had worked harder bringing more land under cultivation.


The old farmer had grown older and older and with it came the frailty of old age. Now the son worked the farm and the old man spent long periods sitting on a chair at the door of the house watching the son working in the fields, gathering the lavender, drying it and taking it to the perfumery.

One day, after a very hard day in the fields the son had thought, “He is of no use to anybody anymore, sitting there all day waiting to be fed.”

So he went to the barn and he made a wooden coffin. He dragged it over to the door of the house and told the father to get into it. The old man did as he was told and lay in the coffin. The son put the lid on and dragged it through the fields to the edge of the farm where there was a very high cliff. Just as he was getting ready to push it over, he heard a tap coming from inside. He lifted the lid and looked at the old man lying there peacefully.

The old man spoke and said, “I know you are going to throw me over the cliff because you consider me of no value. I have no worries about that,” said the old man,”but before you do take me out of this box and just throw me over. Keep this fine coffin because one day yours sons might have need of it.”

The old man might have lost the physical strength of his youth but he still had the mind that was active and nimble of thought. We live in an age when as we get older we often seem to become less visible.

I have an old friend, yes I may be suffering from youth deficiency, but I have a friend much older than me who still has much to teach and there is much wisdom for those who are willing to listen. Which one of us cannot learn from another? There is so often words of wonder pour forth from the mouths of babes.

This blog is accompanied by another that gives the story of the art it can be seen at:-Archie

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Complaints

One thing was sure about running marathons. You were racing against nothing but cripples and sick people, well so it would have seemed. As we all lined up for the start or gathered in the start area al the talk was about the injuries sustained in the last two weeks. I often wondered how some of them had managed to walk there at all. Yet the minute the gun went all the injuries seemed to vanish in a flash and you were surrounded by well trained athletes.




There once was a monastery that was very strict. Following a vow of silence, no one was allowed to speak at all. But there was one exception to this rule. Every ten years, the monks were permitted to speak just two words. After spending his first ten years at the monastery, one monk went to the head monk. "It has been ten years," said the head monk. "What are the two words you would like to speak?"

"Bed... hard..." said the monk.

"I see," replied the head monk.

 Ten years later, the monk returned to the head monk's office. "It has been ten more years," said the head monk. "What are the two words you would like to speak?"

"Food... stinks..." said the monk.

"I see," replied the head monk.

Yet another ten years passed and the monk once again met with the head monk who asked, "What are your two words now, after these ten years?"

"I... quit!" said the monk.

"I see," replied the head monk.

"Well, I can see why," replied the head monk. "All you ever do is complain."

How often have you felt everything was wrong, the paint, the brushes, the heat or the cold. The excuses I have made and the things I have blamed would make a wonderful collection.

I was reminded yesterday of the story of the American Indian and his wife. he introduced his with to a friend using her indian name. The friend asked what the name meant in translation. he was told it translated to, "Three Horses." "Strange name for a lady," the friend remarked. "Oh no," said the indian, "nag nag nag." (The sexes in this story can easliy be counterchanged)

I leave you with that thought to ponder.

This Blog is also connected to my other blog where the chosen painting is discussed it can be seen at:-The Yell

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Search For The Holy Man

In the days when people hungered after knowledge, the news went out that there was a wise and inspirational old sage lived in the high mountains. A traveller, on hearing this was determined to seek out this wise old sage and find the answers to some if not all of the many questions he had. He prepared for the journey knowing that many had gone before and never managed to find this old man.


He climbed high into the mountains travelling over many dangerous paths and edges at last he was in the region and area he had been told he would find the wise old sage. Sitting high perched on a ledge he saw a little cottage. He made his way towards it and noticed as he approached an old servant sitting at the door where you would expect to see such a servant. The traveller approached and said to him, “I have travelled many days over difficult terrain I wish to be taken to the wise and holy man.” The servant got up and led him through the house and out the back door where all that could be seen was the edge of the mountain and its deep abyss. “But I want to see the holy man,” he said, in an abrupt rude manner. “Take me to him now.”

"You already have," said the wise-old man. "Everyone you may meet in life, even if they appear plain and insignificant, see each of them as a Holy Man. If you do this, then whatever problem you brought here today will be solved."

Who might inspire us today? You will never know but if you are aware and ready to find it in the most unexpected of places you surely will. Be ready and willing to learn from whoever it is no matter what they look like.

A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, "I am devoted to studying your system. How long will it take me to master it?" The teacher's reply was casual, "Ten years." Impatiently, the student answered, "But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?" The teacher thought for a moment, "20 years."

Impatience leads to nothing except the ongoing need to seek and to learn again and yet again. We need to see the big picture not this instant moment. Steady and mindful is the way of Tao.


This blog is linked to the story of the art used blog which can be seen at:-From a Distance

Friday, 19 March 2010

Clowns and Self

When I was a boy I heard an interview of a very famous clown. He was being asked about his act and what he found the scariest part about his performance. The interviewer, equally famous, went through all the things the clown did, from falling off tightropes to what seemed dangerous things he did with a car that fell apart. The clown described all of those in detail and told of the amount of practice that went into getting the timing correct so that none of the performers were hurt. “So,” asked the interviewer again, “what is the scariest?” The clown thought for a moment and then said, “When the act is over and I have to take off the face paint and be myself again.” he revealed that when not working he suffered from severe depression and found it hard to live with himself.


A student had studied under his master for ten years. At the end of this period of time he was sure that he had learned much about himself and how to control his life and find the peace and happiness he sought. He went to visit his master to declare this to him and to tell him he was now going to begin teaching others what he had learned. “Ah,” said the master. “Tell me when you came in did you leave your shoes and umbrella at the door?” “Yes I did,” said the student. “Did you leave the umbrella to the left of the shoes or to the right?” The student then realised he still had much to learn about self awareness.

I had a feeling I had lost something and looked around my study and workroom. As I did so I became aware of the clutter and so began to tidy things up, bring some order to the chaos. As I did so I played some music, a selection I had made of tunes I enjoyed listening to. As I worked one piece caught my attention. I stopped what I was doing and went to my computer. There I put on the same music and I opened the folder of pictures of my abstract paintings. I studied the one that I had painted one day as I listened to this very music.

Once the music was over, I closed the folder and went back to the task in hand. It was then that I realised that I had found what I had lost. I had found again the desire to paint. It had left me but I had found it again in the midst of creating order from my chaos.

Self awareness is never easy. Without it we allow ourselves to be thrown this way and that by what happens around us. So sometimes what we create is not as good as we had hoped, sometimes it is better. The important thing is to be able to know and to be honest with ourselves. I walked along the coastal path for a bit yesterday and all the old feelings were back I had indeed found myself.

Such is the way of Tao.

The artwork used in theis blog is commented on in my other blog which can be seen at:-Highland Gathering

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Golfer and the Elf

A golfer was playing his usual morning round of golf. He was having a fairly good round if not setting the course on fire. He was playing down the fifth fairway about to play his second shot. Just as he addressed the ball with his trusty seven iron something really strange happened. A little elf jumped out of the long grass and perched on his ball. The golfer stopped in disbelief. The little elf in his high pitched voice asked him, “How are you today good sir?” “I am well,” said the golfer. “Well,” said the elf, “I am here to offer you a wonderful opportunity. You can ask me any question you wish and I will give you a very truthful answer.” The golfer considered all the question he might ask of the elf. Would he be wealthy? Would he be happy in his life? Would he have children and have a beautiful wife?


Eventually he decided on the best question. The one he most wanted answered. So he spoke to the elf and he asked him, “Can you tell me, are there golf courses in heaven? The elf said, “I am not sure give me just a second or two to go and find out.”

The golfer waited, looking at his ball in disbelief. True to his word the elf appeared back to his place on top of the golf ball. “OK,” says he, “I have the answer to your question. There is good news and there is bad news.” “Right,” says the golfer, “give me the good news first. “There are wonderful golf courses in heaven. There you will find beautiful fairways and greens as smooth and true as billiard tables. You can play golf of a very high standard because you will have the best of clubs and everything else needed to play first class golf.”

“Wonderful,” says the golfer. “What is the bad news?” “Well,” says the elf, “you are due on the first tee at nine o’clock tomorrow morning.”

Are there art studios in heaven? Who cares? There may well be. There may or may not be a heaven. This might be all there is. Those are big questions indeed. But there is little we can do about finding the answers. What we can do is get on with living and creating and being the very best that we can at this moment in time.

Let tomorrow take care of tomorrow, live this precious moment now as if it was the last you were to have. As you take the brush in hand or the chisel or whatever implement you use to create do so with a burning desire to create the greatest you have ever done.

This is the way of Tao.

This blog is linked to another which I consider to be a small addition to this blog where I look at the artwork and why the chosen artwork was used. I did not wish to clutter this blog with that inforamtion Maybe I was wrong? It can be seen at :- The Cheeky Chappie

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Stone Cutter

Today I want to just share a simple story with you.


There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life. One day he passed a wealthy merchant's house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. "How powerful that merchant must be!" thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.

To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. "How powerful that official is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a high official!"

Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. "How powerful the sun is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be the sun!"

Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and labourers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. "How powerful that storm cloud is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a cloud!"

Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. "How powerful it is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be the wind!"

Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it - a huge, towering rock. "How powerful that rock is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a rock!"

Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the hard surface, and felt himself being changed. "What could be more powerful than I, the rock?" he thought.

He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone cutter.

The way of Tao is to be the best we can at whatever it is that we have chosen to be. This does not mean you cannot be something other, it does mean that you change for the correct reasons, not because you are jealous of somebody else but because this is what you want to be.


This blog is linked to another which I consider to be a small addition to this blog where I look at the artwork and why the chosen artwork was used. I did not wish to clutter this blog with that inforamtion Maybe I was wrong? It can be seen at :- Too Late To Crow Today

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

It Is All In The Mind

I am certain that every one of us can remember a teacher from our youth who inspired us to achieve great things. Equally I am sure we can all remember the ones who turned our interest from their subject, for at least the duration of their teaching period or sadly longer.


I remember four such teachers, two excellent ones and two that can be described as nothing short of horror. On reflection they probably had more influence than they ever realised. I had an art teacher who was very quick to show that a drawing was not up to scratch and therefore had to be done again, and again. I went through most of my life believing I was hopeless at art. Then there was “caveman” the mathematics teacher. He held the record for giving the tawse. (A leather belt with two tongues on the end used to administer discipline). He never praised a pupil for the five problems solved, he always pointed out the one that was wrong. I had the pleasure of his teaching for the entire period of my secondary education. I dreaded the days when I had lessons with him on my timetable. It is not at all surprising that I am still pretty hopeless at mathematics.

I remember with great fondness two teachers who inspired me to write. My love of poetry came from those lunchtime poetry reading sessions with one of them. It was during my tenure with this teacher that I, for the only time in my life, had the number one position on the annual report cards. Also not at all surprising that it was to one of those to whom I went when I wanted advice about further education in later years.

There is a story of a momentous battle, where a great leader under attack decided it was time to take the battle to the enemy, although greatly outnumbered, he felt sure victory could be theirs. His men were filled with doubt and fear. On the way to the battle he stopped his army at a small roadside shrine. He stood quietly for a moment then addressed his men. He told them that at this place he would be able to find out the outcome of the battle. Here like no other place the toss of a coin was true in its message. He told them he would toss a coin and if it came up heads they would win, if it came up tails they would lose. He tossed the coin. He watched anxiously as it hit the ground. “It is heads!” he declared. The men were filled with confidence and went off to win the battle against all the odds.

At the end of the battle one of his lieutenants approached him and said, “Nobody has the ability to change destiny.” “You are correct,” said the general and showed him the coin with heads on both sides.

To always be positive and to always inspire is the way of Tao.


This blog is linked to another which I consider to be a small addition to this blog where I look at the artwork and  why the chosen artwork was used. I did not wish to clutter this blog with that inforamtion Maybe I was wrong?  It can be seen at :- Carnival Jazz

Monday, 15 March 2010

There is Something Missing

It begins with a blank canvas, made ready with the application of the gesso that will allow the paint to adhere to the canvas. We stand and look at that blank canvas and in our mind we have the perfect vision of what will be there when we finish. Slowly but surely we work applying paint moving the paint to the shape we want. We stop and have a break while we contemplate the work in progress. Still in our mind we hold the vision of the finished work. “This one will be better than any other I have done before,” we think. “This time I will get it right.”


Slowly but surely the picture that is held in the mind begins to appear on the canvas. We step back, we look again, and we think and contemplate. As the work proceeds we move down the scale of brushes adding finer points here and there just touching it making the final strokes that will bring everything into place. At last we feel it is finished, we can leave it to dry and settle.

Our first thoughts are that it is alright. The trouble is as we look at it a bit further we see something that is just not the way we meant it to be. The painting is put back on the easel and paint made ready to make the adjustments needed. We tinker with it here and we touch it there. Step back and look and think it just needs a little bit more of this colour and a little more of that. At last it is finished. Again it is left to dry and settle. The next day we look again and wish we had left it the way it was in the beginning, but it is now too late. The damage has been done. It looks good but so often not as good as it might have.

There is a story of a young monk preparing the garden of the monastery for a very special event that was to take place that day. Over the wall there lived a wise old sage who watched as the young monk trimmed all the bushes taking great care as he snipped little branches here and there. He combed all the moss on the rocks so that it all lay in the same direction. He raked all the fallen leaves and made beautiful patterns in the gravel. After many hours he stood back to admire his work. He saw the old sage watching and said to him, “Is this not perfection?” “It is beautiful indeed,” said the old sage, “but there is one thing missing. If you lift me over I will show you.” The young monk did just that, he lifted the old sage over the wall. The old sage went over to the tree in the middle of the garden and shook it with vigour, shaking leaves to the ground. “There,” he said, “now it is perfect.”

Sometimes it is better to leave things the way they are, any interference from us only makes things less than it was before we started. To know when to work and when not to work is the way of Tao. There is often more gained by not doing than can be achieved by doing.

The comments about the chosen work of art can be viewed at:- AlongThe Firebreak

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Mountains of the Mind.

Standing looking over a steep mountain ridge for some, can be the most exhilarating of experiences. The heart moves up a beat or two with the prospect of an adrenaline rush. For others it becomes a frightening moment, the heart races and the fear cruises through the veins. My first such experience was the latter of the two. So much so did I not like the prospect that I made excuses, turned and walked back down the mountain knowing that I had failed to reach the summit. I was aware that I was sure footed, probably more so than the rest of the people in the party that day. On other walks I could jump from rock to rock over rivers and difficult passages. Yet the prospect of traversing a ridge turned my legs to jelly.


Then one day my friend, aware of what was ahead, challenged me to a race to the summit of the mountain we were walking. Now there is fear, and there is a challenge, I have never been one to shirk a challenge. That day I hardly noticed the ridge at all I was so intent on getting to that summit first, and I managed it. On reaching the summit my friend said, “You do realise what you have just run over was far more dangerous than the one you refused to do some time ago.” He was correct and a week or so later I returned to the first place to make the crossing. On my return I chose not walking boots but mountain running shoes. Have I overcome my fear of heights? No, but I have found a way to hold it in check. I know that when running I have no time to consider such things my main priority is to make sure I know where the next footfall will be.

A young and rather boastful archery champion challenged his Zen master to an archery contest. He was a very skilful archer so he set the target a good long distance from the firing station. His first arrow flew true and straight to the very centre of the bull’s-eye. Without much thought he took a second arrow loaded it to the string and fired. Again the arrow flew fast and straight splitting the shaft of the arrow already in the target. He turned and said to the master, “There now let’s see if you can beat that.” The master said nothing, he made no effort to load an arrow to his bow, and instead he told the young man to follow him. The two climbed high into the mountains and at last arrived at a precipice with a rather shaky looking bridge stung across and moving in the mountain breeze. The master with little thought stepped out onto the bridge stood in the middle, chose a tree in the distance as his target, and let off two arrows both hitting the target with ease. “Now it is your turn,” said the old master. The young man could not even bring himself to stand on the bridge. He stood and looked at the deep abyss and could not move. “You have much skill with a bow,” said the old master “but you have little skill with the mind that’s lets loose the shot.”

Life not just about what you can do but how you accomplish what you do. There are those who mock the art of others or criticize the skill of others. They no doubt produce art, but have they learned to be artistic in with their mind.

This is the way of Tao.

My thoughts on the selection of art can be read at :-The Mountains of Arran

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Precious Vase

A wealthy business man was given a gift of an original work of art by his company on the date of his retirement. He so loved the painting, firstly because it had been given as a gift but also because he loved the painting itself. He was also very proud to own it because he was aware of its value in terms of the amount paid to purchase it. It gave him much pleasure, so much so that he decided he would collect more valuable works of art.


Sadly he did not always buy because he liked the art but because it had a monetary value that was within his budget. It gave him a thrill to win at an auction and to become the owner of art that others wanted.

One particular acquisition brought him much pleasure, a valuable vase. The vase was made of very delicate porcelain and hand painted. It was given pride of place in his room of “collectables.” From time to time he would invite friends in to see his art. Each time he would tell the story of how he acquired the item and how much he had paid for it. It gave him much pleasure.

He installed many security devices and paid a heavy premium on insurance. All worth it he thought, because of the pleasure it gave him.

One day he was in his room enjoying his collection. He reached up and took the precious vase into his hands. Cold to the touch he turned it and admired it, how proud he felt to have it in his possession. Just then he felt it slip from his hands, his heart raced. He grasped for it and caught it just before it crashed to the floor. He breathed a sigh of relief and sat down with the vase secure in his grasp. It was then that he realised how important they had become to him. For a moment he had sensed fear and all sorts of other emotions at the thought of the loss. He looked at the vase again, and thought of what had just happened. As he thought he opened his hands and allowed the vase to fall to the floor, where it shattered into many pieces. With it a sense of relief welled over him, he had come to his senses. He had re-discovered his priorities. His friends and family were more important than these, beautiful though they may indeed be, but they should bring joy to many in the seeing of them and not just because of their value.

We all know somebody who has lost all sense of the value of what is important in life. Material possessions have become more valuable and of worth, than the love of friends. Some live in such fear of people stealing their precious items they live in almost barricade conditions.

Never does a painting leave my possession without my feeling a pang of regret. Regret that I may never see it again. That feeling is soon overcome by the knowledge that others may have pleasure from it. When later I hear that they are still enjoying telling friends about it, makes me feel very happy.

This is the way of Tao.


The  explanation of the choice of picture can be seen at :- The Glory of Poppies

Friday, 12 March 2010

It is Good

While gardening in my plot I was aware of the number of leeks I still had not harvested, over eighty still had to be dug. Talking to person who has the neighbouring plot I bemoaned the fact that I had so many. “This is good,” said she, “I have none, so I can have a few of yours.” This I was happy to do and also made me aware of the many other friends I had who might enjoy a fresh grown leek. “What is more,” said my friend, “you have no Jerusalem artichokes so I can give you some of those in return.” So I enjoyed those and a great many people in the village are even now making leek and potato soup.


There is a story of two friends, one who was an emperor and the other who no matter what happened always declared, “This is good.” One day the two were out hunting, the friend loaded the rifle of the emperor who shot it and in the process shot off his thumb. “This is good said the friend.” “How can you say that,” yelled the emperor? “How can you say that when I have lost a thumb and I am bleeding badly?”

The emperor was so angry he put his friend in prison. About a year later the emperor went hunting again, this time on his own. He was captured by a clan of marauding cannibals. They tied him up and trussed him to a stake. Just before they set light to the fire to cook him for eating they noticed he was missing a thumb. This particular tribe did not believe in eating anything that was not whole so let him go free.

The emperor rushed home and went straight to the jail. “It was good my losing my thumb,” he said to his friend. He told how it had saved his life. He also told him how sorry he was that he had put him in jail. “I feel so bad about that,” he said “No, not at all it is good,” said the friend. “If I had not been in jail they would have eaten me.”

So what does this tell us? It simply tells us this. “It is good.” When we as artists think we have hit a disaster area and all is wrong, look again, it may be good. When it is wrong, that is good because it is a wonderful learning opportunity. For all of us no matter what happens, remember, “It is good.”

This is the way of Tao.


The story of the choice of art can be seen at:- T in The Park

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Growing and Misfortune.

There is a wonderful feeling as the new season of growth comes upon us, that feeling of new beginnings and hope. The ground no longer solid with frost is beginning to yield to the spade. There is the joy of deciding what kind of crops will be grown. The varieties chosen may depend on what has grown well in the past. Talking with an old friend, he was telling me that as he gets older he finds the turning of the soil harder each year and also the amount of produce he requires gets less. Yet he looks forward to the planting and the tending of his crop. Like me he gets pleasure from being able to give to others the fruits of his labour.


There is a lovely story of the traveller who on his journey came across an old man planting a tiny almond tree. Now almond trees take a long time to grow and mature to the point of giving fruit. The traveller said to the old man, “I am surprised to see one as old as you planting such a tree that will take so long to produce.” The old man looked at him, thought for a moment, and then replied, “I live my life on two principles. The first one is that I will live forever. The second one is that this is my last day.”

Who ever knows if they will see the fruits of their labour? But then if they do not some other will. The seed planted or the small tender shoot is unaware of whom it is that is planting and caring for it. Its purpose is to grow.

There was an old farmer who owned a horse, to help him plough the land. One day the horse ran away. The farmers’ neighbours came to offer their sympathy. The old farmer shook his head, “I am not sure it is a misfortune,” he said. The neighbours not understanding left. The next day his horse returned bringing with it two wild horses. The neighbours returned to congratulate him on his good fortune. “I am not at all sure it is good fortune,” he replied. Again they left bemused.

The old farmers’ son was trying to tame one of the horses and was kicked and his leg was broken. Again the neighbours came to offer sympathy for his misfortune. Again he replied saying, “I am not sure it is a misfortune.” They thought he was going mad.

The next day the Emperor came past the farm looking for young men to be part of his army to help him fight a war. The farmers’ son could not go because of his broken leg.

We never know what tomorrow will bring so we live today as if it is our last, but we live it as if we were going to live forever.

So today I will attempt to produce to the best of my ability whether it is in painting or digging. In preparing or finishing. I know that whatever I do this day will have its repercussions.

This is the way of Tao.

The Story of the Art used on this thought can be seen at:- Coming Home To Roost

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Hairdressers Comb.

Going to the hairdresser for me is like going to the dentist. I am not at all sure which I would rather have, a tooth pulled or a haircut. But as I watched her cut my hair I was aware that in her hands the scissors and comb were very different from the same implements in my hand.


In seconds she had already started to bring order out of chaos. When I comb my hair it makes little difference yet when she pulls the comb through it and snips a little here and a little there order begins to reign.

The comb has been around for over five thousand years found by archaeologists in Persia. Those first known combs are not much different from those we carry around today in handbag or pocket. There have been throughout history some very decorative and expensive examples but basically they are all the same. A row of teeth equally spaced. There are those who refuse to comb their hair, rather they let it grow into dreadlocks. I am assured it is natural and very hygienic, but it is not for me. I may like it long, (in the opinion of some far too long) but I like to be able to draw a comb through it.

It is also amazing how functional and long lasting they are. I have lost many, but I cannot say I have ever worn one out. How marvellous they are, and they have much to tell us about life and living. They bring order from chaos; the artist strives to do the same from the chaos of paint and other items they bring beauty and order. The comb is a humble instrument and a survivor. The artist must be humble in the face of creation and the majesty of the universe, to produce something that will survive the ages and bring meaning and pleasure to others. The comb has its teeth but it does not bite, the artist gently and quietly portrays their inner message and leaves others to listen or ignore. The comb in the hands of the artist, like the hairdresser, can make marvellous marks in texture and paint.

The way Tao is to bring order from distress, peace out of ravage, harmony from chaos. Those who follow Tao do so simply by adding to the marvel of creation, never destroying but being at one with all around.

The hairdresser weaves her art, simply and humbly, and brings joy to many day in and day out.

Such is the way of Tao.

My thoughts, comments and method of construction of the art above can be found at:-
Autumnal Abstract

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Refusing to Give

There was a mighty clansman who over the years had extended his territory over a vast range. In those days it was traditional to pass from the father to son the title of clan chief. This chief did not have a son, his wife was dead and he was growing older, he lived with his daughter. His daughter was both beautiful and also very clever, but tradition stood in the way of her succeeding her father.


He seemed to be a good clan chief, the people lived in peace and all seemed to be well with little trouble or in-fighting among them.

It was therefore with some surprise that the people heard the news that the chief was going to hand over half of his realm to a younger man. This younger man on his death, if he had proven to be a good chief would inherit the rest of the realm. The decision would be made on the basis of a simple contest.

The person who could come before the chief and teach him how to make a good bowl of porridge would take both the hand of his daughter in marriage and half of his realm. Being a wise chief the daughter would be given say in who was permitted to take part in the contest. The people were surprised, knowing him of old, it seemed out of character.

On the appointed day the first stage of the process was begun. All those who wished to be put forward appeared before the daughter and were either selected to go ahead or were not. At the end of the day there were still some two hundred candidates.

The next day began, each candidate in his allotted time trying to show the chief how to make good porridge. The process continued over a number of days. After all had been given their turn, nobody had managed to teach the chief how to make good porridge, so he continued to reign on his own.

Once power has been gained it is very difficult to give away.

I have noticed artists who have achieved that allusive something in their work and wondered how they managed it. I have asked them, but found many very reluctant to give away their secrets. I asked them, “If I become a student of yours will I learn how to achieve this effect?” The answer has also often been in the negative. “I do not as yet have that included in my course.” or something to that effect.

I have said it before, but say it again, “This is sad.” Because others may in fact be able to assist in making the effect or technique even better, to the advantage of all.

This is the way of the Tao.

The image above was used because it was inspired by that beautiful part of Scotland where one of the worst ever clan battles took place, Glencoe. My thoughts on the painitng and its construction can be read at  Large Mixed Media

Monday, 8 March 2010

Grasp The Moment

I had lived on Iona for a year leaving to return to Edinburgh. Here I was hoping to progress my studies further and gain University entrance. I was given the opportunity to join a commune, so I had accommodation all I need now was to find a means of earning enough to survive, (never had I accepted social welfare). I also need to find a way to finish my studies in the time scale. Both problems were within days in the most unexpected way.


Never being one to miss the opportunity of getting to know interesting characters, problem two was solved. Walking along the famous Princess street in Edinburgh with the castle towering above me, I noticed a newspaper vendor making conversation with customers, not something they normally did, and also reading what looked like a weighty tome. I engaged him in conversation and we seemed to strike up empathy for one another. He was a surgeon who had become an alcoholic and here he was selling newspapers. He offered to help with my studies if I helped him to increase his sales by taking some of the papers round the local hostelries. We almost doubled sales in a very short time and my studies progressed in the evenings. He had a wonderful way of imparting knowledge.

A couple of days later we had popped into a large store where we were going to have a meal, macaroni cheese, I can remember it to this day. While in the store I saw a man taking a bundle of bamboo poles out through the back door. I had an idea, and followed him out to find where he was taking them. I managed to come to an agreement that I would collect these poles for a very nominal payment. They were used to roll carpets round for delivery to the store.

Somewhere in my mind I remembered seeing bamboo that had been scorched and had looked like ebony. With a small saw I cut the bamboo into varying sizes of squares and oblongs. With a red hot blade I burned it turning it to the effect I remembered, its own natural oils creating a beautiful sheen. With a red hot knitting needle I made holes at each corner. With the use of leather thong I was able to produce belts, necklaces and bracelets. They sold like hot cakes from the newspaper stand.

What has this to do with Tao? It is a story about grasping the moment. It is about being alive to opportunities that moment by moment come our way. We have to be aware that in every encounter with another fellow human being, there is a person with a story to tell. The artist must be alert and alive to the stimulus of everyday moments.

This is the way of Tao.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Preparation

My first ever run was about 150 yards before I collapsed in an unhealthy heap. Encouraged by my daughter I managed to accomplish this three times in the next week. As the days progressed I went slightly further each day. My aim was to do be able to do a great enough distance to leave the house and reach the woods at the edge of the village before collapsing. Eventually the day arrived. Not one to do anything in small measures, I donned a pair of rainbow coloured lycra leggings and running top and set off. Mission accomplished I reached the woods and took a breather before running home. A few months later I finished my first half marathon (of course I knew I would I had already done two preparatory runs of the course).


I had a friend who enjoyed woodworking. He had a shed with a lathe where he made beautiful wooden bowls and lamp stands. Before beginning he would sharpen all his tools to a keen edge and lay them out on his bench in the order he would use them. (He was like the surgeon preparing to perform an operation.) The wood was then made ready various types bonded together and left until it had dried and would not separate in the process. Then the turning began and the finished article was always a thing of beauty. It felt tactile to the touch it had the aroma of the many woods used. Sadly I remember, somebody saying, “All that work and time, they can make them just like that in plastic for less than half the cost.”

We live in an age of instant and now. Why waste all this time when we can do things easier and faster? Why take the time to make a mortise and tenon joint when we can nail it together and put a cheap metal clamp on it?

I ponder the ancient art of wall painting that has lasted for centuries and it still makes me feel an inner joy today. I wonder if they just came into the cave and threw some colours at the wall. I suspect not, I suspect they ground the rocks to make the colours with great care. Mixed them carefully and with thought and time prepared themselves to decorate the walls for all to see and enjoy. The time taken has stood the test and is still there for all to marvel.

How many artistic creations have been spoiled because the initial preparation was hurried? The canvas unprepared the drying times ignored. One artist said to me, “I never bother with all that gesso and stuff. I just want to get on with the painting. None of that stuff is ever seen.” But of course it will be seen. It will be seen in the finished work. It will not stand the test of time and it will lack the hidden depth and strength. It is on good foundations that the best buildings are erected.

And so with life, without foundations and preparation we will fail. To make ready is the first step of Tao.

he Story Behind the Art can be seen at:- http://ralph-theartofataoist.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Walking and Running

Spring brings thoughts of longer days and daylight runs. If you have ever gone running in the streets you will be aware of the many hazards that this activity brings with it. The unseen potholes ready to trip you up, the dogs that run at you and frighten the life out of you. Then there are those who either cannot run or choose not to run or who are too lazy to make the effort but still feel they have to shout comments at those who do. The favourite seems to be, “Keep on running.” It used to annoy me but no more. Now if they shout that at me I am just so happy that they notice I am not walking.


Hold that thought in your mind.

Every year the new intake of students where I taught would have heard enough about Mr. T. to know that he could take a joke, so there was always some who wanted to point out my white hair and their youth. My way of overcoming this was to lay down the challenge of a race, a short but hilly six miles. There was always the odd few who were foolish enough to try. One year was different. On my giving out the challenge a voice was heard to say, “Don’t be silly, he took my big brother out for a run and he was in bed for two days after it.”

Hold that thought in your mind.

I remember running with a very good athlete on a training run. As we ran he said, “This is lovely you should always run at a pace where it is still possible to hold a conversation.” I replied, “I hope you notice then that this is a one sided conversation.”

Hold that thought in your mind.

Now have you noticed what I have done? You are now trying to hold three thoughts in your head and wondering what one to think about first. You are now multi-tasking with the brain. I am sure you all know that multi-tasking is a female thing; men don’t do multi-tasking. So I am continually informed.

The Toa says when you walk, walk, when you run, then run. In other words, one thing at a time and that one thing to the best of your ability. Who am I to suggest that multi-tasking is not possible. But if something is to be done to the very best of ones ability it requires all of the thought process for that one action. If the artist is to produce a meaningful piece of art then it calls for the full interaction of the artist with the work in hand. Recently I was struggling with two paintings. A fellow artist said, “Lay one aside and just look at the one.” So simple but it worked both were soon completed. If this is true for the artist it is true for everything else in life. One thing at a time done well.

This is the way of the Tao.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Bowing and Respect

I was brought up from a very early age to believe that all people were equal and of value, and that therefore all people deserved respect. I learned this on my regular Sunday walks with my father, the highlight of my week. Being the kind of person I am, I took this to heart, and on more than one occasion it landed me in trouble. I remember my first day at school. The class were All told to stand to be introduced to our teacher, and we were told that when she entered the room first thing in the morning and afternoon we were to bow and say, “Good morning/afternoon Miss and then her name.” I had no objections at all to saying good morning but I had real problems with the bowing. If we were all equal why am I bowing to her I wondered? The teacher in her wisdom made no comment, but the head teacher on noticing my head upright took me aside and we had a “discussion.”


Later in life while taking part in the “crowning of the gala queen” event somebody noticed I did not bow to the gala queen and raised the issue in the local press. I have been introduced to real royalty on two occasions and on neither did I bow, but was aware that they did not take issue with its absence.

Age has made me do a rethink of many things and the more I see the diminution of respect the more  I now believe that the lesson of bowing, and what it signified is maybe a lesson we should not forget. Even if we set aside the physical action. It is said that respect has to be earned, that may be true. But if respect is offered then this could be the impetus to greater things from the one respect is shown to. At the end of all bouts in martial arts the combatants bow to one another as a mark of a shared respect. In Buddhist communities the master bows to his students to say to them, “I am merely the messenger of the teachings.” The students bow acknowledging his wisdom. From this shared respect grows even more worthy lessons.

I frequently take time out from the bustle of painting to pay my respect to the masters who have gone before. When visiting a gallery, if I come before a work that moves my inner being I stop, and though not physically, internally bow before the master. It says quietly and without fuss, “I respect you.”

No matter how great we may feel our art has become it is wise always to remember that there are those greater than ourselves. We are all equal and worthy of respect but there are those who have earned just that little bit more to which maybe a bow is appropriate. They have earned such respect.

I bow without show because this is the way of Tao.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Masters and Learners

There are a large number of cookery programmes available to view in the weekly television schedules. Many of these programmes take the format of the masters sharing their knowledge and in the process achieve the status of celebrity. The ones I prefer to watch are those where the cooks are not the masters. They cook and are judged by the masters who make comment and decide which cooks progress to the next round and who go no further. The mistake made by many of these cooks is that they try to impress too much and flood the plate with so many flavours that the palette is in a whirl. The person who progresses is so often the one who had only two or three items that could each be savoured and tasted to the full.


It is not only in cooking that this is true. I remember our annual flower festival. Flowers were arranged on a theme with each floral artist making their own interpretation. Those new to flower arranging had large numbers of blooms for their arrangements, others just two or three magnificent blossoms. One arrangement I remember vividly was one that contained only one bloom some greenery and some lovely bark and twigs. I can still see that arrangement vividly as if it was only yesterday, such was its impact.

Often at momentous occasions in life people feel the need to express their inner feelings in words. Maybe it is a poem about a loved one who has died, or a recitation about the bride or the groom at a wedding. So often these poems are lengthy and very wordy. I remember clearly though one such that spoke volumes in four lines and no rhyme.

I remember one summer when I was on vacation visiting attending a church service. The preacher was not long out of university. As we were leaving the church he recognised me and asked my opinion on his conduct of the service. I gave him my honest opinion, it was excellent but he had enough material in his children’s talk and sermon to get three of each. he needed to be more selective.

The artist so often feels the need to paint and paint. Long after they have reached the point where the painting is making a full and wonderful statement we continue to dab and change and tinker. We feel the need to add just a bit more detail another tree or flower, more grass, another pattern and often worse, another colour.

When I look at the work of Turner I see everything and yet there are so few brush strokes. The masters had that magnificent ability to express much with just the odd dab of paint. I on the other hand often feel the need for one more flourish. I am told by many other artists they have the same tendency.

Those who follow the Tao know when to be spare in what they do and to seek quality. They know that little is often more.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Joy of Flowers

I had a trip to the garden centre, time to begin thinking about what I will be planting and growing this season. As I drove there I saw that the snowdrops are in bloom even though the distant hills are still covered in snow. I always leave the garden centre feeling uplifted by the beauty of the flowers available, especially my first love orchids. The colours, shapes and the aroma make me heady with delight. Flowers speak volumes in their silent beauty. They are part of all the great occasions and festivals. When we marry, the bride carries them the groom wears one in his jacket, When somebody dies we offer them as tokens of consolation and an expression of our loss. When somebody is successful we offer them flowers and of course they are symbols of love and romance.


Those little snowdrops as they poke their little heads above the ground and the snow, call to us to prepare for the coming of spring. The lotus tells us to reach above the muddy tarnished part of life to see greater things. Then we have the rose, with its bud, opening with a wondrous glory of layer upon layer of petals. Walking into a room and smelling the strong aromatic scent of the hyacinth.

They speak to us of how we can brighten the lives of others by bringing a pleasant sense of peace into every corner. They tell that there is nothing that cannot be made better. Think of the poppy, it manages to bloom in the barest of positions. It also reminds us of the frailty of life and how each moment should be grasped and lived to its full.

The gardener tends with care his plants encouraging them to give of their best. He feeds them, waters them and in windy conditions he helps by giving them support. In return they reward him with all that they have.

The artist can capture the beauty that is so fleeting and ephemeral, and allow that beauty to last for years to come. The poet will strive to find the words to express that inner joy that the sight of a flower can bring. Consider the words of William Wordsworth.

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Such is the way of the Tao.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Work and Play

The number of times in my life that I have been told,” All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Maybe this is because for the biggest part of my life since leaving school I took little time to play, it was all work. For the first five years of my ministry I hardly ever took a holiday and if I did, much against the wishes of my family, I was always available to return to conduct a funeral. It is equally true that we cannot on the other hand have all play and no work. There has to be the discipline of toil but there has to be room for play. Fun and play are an important aspect of our lives. It can be claimed that it is through play that we open ourselves to the wonderful moments that come to us when we have “switched off.” My friends have always been amused when I tell them that I do all my best thinking in the bath, in fact I used to “write” all my sermons in the bath. I was always amazed that they found this so amusing; after all Archimedes had his “Eureka” moment in his bath, a moment that had long lasting effects on us all. Many of the momentous moments of history have happened to people when they were relaxed and at play.


I know so many people who eat and sleep their work. They have a dedication and are probably very good employees, and good at the occupation they have chosen. Sadly they tend to be people who are less than stimulating conversationalists or people who never set you afire with great emotion.

There are artists. I have met some, who have given all to their art, every minute of every day. They paint or think paint seven days a week. Yet if you take time to read the life stories of the “greats of art,” you will very quickly notice that their lives were full of play and intrigue. So often their best art was very closely linked to those moments of life where they were enjoying life to the full. One example, Edgar Degas, he had a great love of ballet and this love led to some of his best works. It could never be argued that he only loved ballet because it stimulating his art.

Those who follow the Tao know the need to also be participants in play. To be ,”good” to be “great” to be “inspiring” we have to be prepared to leave the borders, to step over the line of work into the world of play. We all have those things in life we consider “crucial” and “important.” It may be though that if we wish to touch the heights of our creative spirit we need to learn how to “play” and so experience Tao without having to “work at it.”

Monday, 1 March 2010

Youth, Age and the Journey.

I have spoken of it before but I repeat. I remember when I thought my parents knew nothing. My father worked as a painter in a shipyard and my mother well she was just my mother. What could they know that I already did not know? It was later, with wisdom, that I knew the truth. My father had not ended up there because he had no brains but because he had eight brothers and sisters and a father who was a coal miner. At the age of fourteen he had to leave school to play his part in earning money to put food on the table. My mothers’ father had been killed in the war and her mother (my grandmother, who strangely I thought knew everything) had struggled to raise two girls in difficult times so she had left school to work in the jute mills of Dundee.


When we grow older it is easy to look at youth and remember when we were just like them. The next step is to wish that we could go back there and take with us the knowledge we have gained over the years. To have the fire of youth and the wisdom of age seems such an attractive proposition. The trouble is we would be aware of all the pain that cannot be avoided. We would be aware of exactly what was ahead in terms of the ageing process. To know there would come a time when I was still fit enough to run up the stairs but to then stand and wonder why I was there.

When I was teaching I looked at the young and became aware of how far they yet had to travel. I saw the adventure, the excitement the new possibilities with the speed of modern development. They as yet did not have the scars and the pains of life. Thankfully they were also blissfully unaware of the journey before them. When I see a baby in a pram I feel all of this, but I also worry of what lies ahead if we older ones do not start behaving differently in terms of our planet.

Life is indeed a journey and we are all at different stages of that journey. What is yet to come is a mystery. We all have greater wisdom that we did in our younger years. But there is still the mystery, that mystery brings with it a sanity we would not have if we knew the future.

The artist is aware of the world with its pains and it joys, its beauty and its disgrace. We have an inner urge to share this with others through our chosen mediums, and we are fortunate in that we have the ability to do just that. We also have an obligation to share it with others. The young may look at the older and wonder what if anything they have to teach but we strive to express in art what we do indeed know. We do not paint only for our own pleasure but to share the gained insight of the years. We also know that the young will one day be the elders and what we have taught them will begin to bear fruit. So we do not share in vain.

This is the way of Tao.