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Peeks & Piques!

Lesson 2


By Raymond J. Steiner
ART TIMES November 2005


LAST MONTH, I shared with my readers my living/working environment and the lessons that I had derived therefrom. Well, there is a Part II, a further and deeper lesson that I held back (if only to have something to say this month). My strong attachment to my rustic surroundings were, I believe, made clear in that last ‘Peek & Piques!’ but there remains something to say about such ties that bind. For sure the twenty-five years that I’ve lived in my present surroundings have engendered enough affection and intimacy that were I suddenly forced to move, the dislocation would cause considerable distress. Granted that I’ve put a good deal of “me” into the property and letting go would not be all that pleasurable or easy. On the other hand, I have to be sure that I keep inmind that I own the real estate and that it does not own me. This lesson came after I soloed a small, single-engine Cessna. Aside from the almost lunatic joy I experienced the first time I took a plane up without my instructor sitting beside me, the realization came — slowly, since it actually only came fully to my consciousness some few years after earning my ‘ticket’ — that I could literally rise above my earthbound condition. I had been down some yogic paths in my life, at one time faithfully following my guru through years of a lacto-vegetarian diet that included two and a half hours of meditation each morning (the only real tithe we can offer our Maker, my guru pointed out, namely one-tenth of our day, since all things are already His), but until, Icarus-like, I physically took myself above the earth on that first solo flight to ride on the wind, I had never really grasped the full meaning and gift of detachment. Subsequent flights over the area and its environs inexorably brought home the unmistakable realization that a part of me was not earthbound. I was a “VRF” (visual flight rules) rated pilot and, since I was not licensed to fly at night, confined myself to daytrips in the Northeast. I became an inveterate and typical Sunday-afternoon flyer. I’d fly to the Long Island Sound, Vermont hills, over the Catskills and the Poconos, maintaining a 1500-2000 foot altitude that allowed me to observe the landscape as the seasons changed. Motorist and pedestrian leaf peepers might not know that a New England autumn is also beautiful from the air, or landscape artists learn that spring, winter, and summer viewed from above can radically alter one’s view of what can be observed at eye-level. Seeing a particular piece of landscape — as, for example, the one on which I presently live — in “context”, as part of a contiguous and uninterrupted landmass, opens up new synaptic paths through the mind. Aside from whatever happens to the way we look at visual phenomena, what occurs in the “mind’s eye” was for me the real kicker. I no longer fly but what I had learned when I did has never left me. On a very elemental level, we can begin with ownership. My first thought as I sat in my Cessna hovering over the landscape, was that I “owned” it all…the person down there in Connecticut or Maine might hold the deed and pay the taxes, but I had access to it all and could enjoy that hillside, shady pond, furrowed field, or grove of trees at will during any season I chose to so observe it. As pilots know, winter is a particularly fine time to fly since the air is denser and a plane handles and maneuvers easier, so I could more thoroughly experience the property of snowbound Vermonters than could they. It was all mine to have whenever I chose to fly over it! In time, of course, the correlative of my discovery began to sink in. If I owned it all, then it followed that I had no real claim on that parcel of land I’d been living on. Thus, the full meaning of detachment gradually unfolded in my consciousness. As my guru taught, we are in but not of this world of illusion — and losing sight of that truth can turn you into a land-locked, soulless creature, grasping for whatever material thing falls into your hands. Over the years I have discovered that painters, in tune with the shifting propensities of light, instinctively know this: hence their attempts at ‘capturing the moment’ in a (relatively) fixed state. This is particularly true of the landscape painter whose art is rooted in the knowledge that nature never stands still — and that their rendition is only “true” for that point in place and time.  The serious artist also knows that the only thing we ultimately ‘own’ is our perception of the way things seem. Indeed, some artists have gone so far as to claim that not even those who buy their art can ever own the work — let alone the perception which brought it about. In the end, as the Asian emperor who dictated that he be buried with his empty hand outside the casket and visible to his subjects knew, once our perceptions are gone so is all “ownership” — his message was clear to those who could see: live in the world and honor and enjoy it to the best of your talents, but know that “you can’t take it with you”. Detachment. Not an easy lesson but one that, in the end, can open a world of untold riches.

Raymond J. Steiner

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