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


  1. Indeed the mind is a powerful instrument. As my painting has proceeded over the past year, my mind led me to believe I was improving, perhaps even developing a style.
    My entire portfolio was recently dismissed by the 'flick of fingers' by a gallery owner. And my mind, that powerful instrument, suffered.
    I lacked the courage and conviction of your monk to proceed from precipice to the centre of the bridge and was hanging up my brushes.
    Another artist sent me a quotation from an article "Living to paint will ultimately be more rewarding than painting to live"
    Turning this quotation over in my mind I realize I do not want to abandon my artistic journey, my passion may not be as fixated as Van Gogh's but I do have a desire to capture on canvas the beauty I feel surrounds me.
    After much contemplation...I will continue and leave the precipice and attempt to join your monk on the swaying bridge. Who knows? What I produce may influence even one life; or may bring a song to some viewer's heart.....if not the gallery owner's.

  2. an excellent post, Ralph! Yesterday in our still life workshop the instructor gave us a handout and it read: You are never as good as your best painting and never as bad as your worst painting". Why do we all fall prey to feeling up or down based on our paintings! I imagine it is so much in our nature to strive and to equate "ourselves" with our abilities and results. But, painting is a language--and like it takes a while to learn French or German--it takes awhile to learn painting. viva le journey!