It’s a cycle of five women — but really the same woman. Under a green floral duvet by an unmade bed, in the shower, at the sink, returning home in a camel coat, and asleep again under a burgundy quilt. The possibilities for beds are endless, yet the subject is continually sleeping on the floor. I’ll admit I’m still puzzling out Karin Mamma Andersson’s Leftovers (hey, it took me 14 years to truly grok Bruegel). And yet there’s a sense of familiarity amid the surreal. I’ve lived in this sort of studio, lived this sort of routine.
Samsara, the Buddhist notion of suffering, is described as a cycle — we feel suffering, we try to shut it out with repetitive, albeit unhelpful, behaviors — Netflix, whiskey, sex, salt, fat, arguing, Facebook — only to find that our suffering has deepened. It’s a hamster wheel. It’s an ouroboros. In turn, we begin to feel detached from ourselves — that repeating cycle, after all, takes us away from our center of gravity.
And yet Leftovers also has a sense of ritual, a different animal than routine. There are the details — the way the duvet matches the paint of the bathroom, the wall art pairing with the shower curtain, the warmth of the lamps. Perhaps, just as we suffer in our lack of awareness, we also don’t need to, say, go on an exotic meditation retreat or run away to an ashram in order to reconnect with the sacredness of our being.
Speaking on art and the dharma in 1979, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said that “In connection with human development all together, art includes the practice of meditation, learning about ourselves and discovering the nonexistence of our ego. We sometimes speak of art as “secular.” In my vocabulary, the word ‘secular’ means ‘without dogma.’ This means that we can relate with our bread-and-butter situation, with our breakfast, lunch and dinner. In fact, breakfast, lunch and dinner are sacred. That everyday sacredness is where the concept of art comes from. It is spiritual but not necessarily religious.”
Art, Trungpa Rinpoche concludes, is our environment. And our education throughout life helps us to relate to that environment. And we have the capacity to be aware in each aspect of our environment — thereby even infusing acts like washing our face with a sense of the sacred. We have the capacity to recognize basic goodness not in the binary of “good” and “bad” that we’re used to, but as a birthright, an occurrence as innate to us in our interior, at times mundane lives as it is in the acts we do on the exterior. Indeed, it begins with the interior.
Today’s Contemplation: Catch yourself in your routines today: Brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, eating lunch. Can you find the ritual in these moments? Can you cultivate awareness in these moments, even as they seem wholly unremarkable? Does it feel more sacred as you focus more on the miracle that each moment is?