Biding Time and the Art of Waiting

Watercolor of Biding Time

Biding Time – Private Collection  – Jed is a Signature Member of the National Watercolor Society

Biding Time is a watercolor I completed many years ago, and is in the private collection of some very dear friends (I love it when my “children” find good homes!). Of the many subjects that draw my attention, quiet moments of contemplation or just “being” is a reoccurring theme. I might have entitled it “At Peace with Waiting”, but that title doesn’t seem quite poetic enough.

Still, waiting is an important topic for me, especially when it is paired with patience. Perhaps this simply is something that comes with age (and hopefully wisdom), because being in waiting mode, and practicing patience have been elusive qualities for most of my life. In these past few years of living in Italy, I’ve been learning the benefits of taking my foot off the metaphorical “gas pedal” of life. When did I buy into the belief that I always had to be straining at the reins, and exerting constant efforts to make life happen in the manner of which I had predetermined? The current shift continues to be “let life happen” or “let life flow” without trying to manhandle how things turn out. On one hand, insisting on effort and control is downright exhausting, and on another hand it demonstrates a lack of trust in life, and in God, the Force, or whatever you want to call the energy that infuses life into everything. And, actually, I’ve had a rather stunning realization, even though it has always been staring me in the face. In my times of impatience and rushing to get somewhere or to make something happen, I’ve been telling myself this present moment isn’t good enough. It is a stepping stone to be endured until I get somewhere “better”. What a crock. And, I bought into this belief, hook, line and sinker – until now.

I don’t want the next chapters of my life to be characterized by a race and an insistence to get somewhere else. Humans beings, as a general rule, intellectually know that we will all die, yet we behave as if we won’t. Time is viewed as plentiful commodity and we all too often overvalue achieving and accomplishing, while discarding the value of the quiet, in-between moments.

I believe most people are not at ease with moments of stillness, and of space. Perhaps we are afraid that “we” won’t exist if we’re not thinking, solving, and doing.

And, then again, perhaps we are most of afraid of being alone with our incessant, and demanding stream of thinking. Practicing the art of waiting, or biding time, can be an excellent opportunity to make peace with one’s inner noise, rather than doing battle with ourselves and/or distracting ourselves by being in constant movement.

In closing, I offer this brief YouTube video of Adyashanti offering an interesting perspective about the thinking mind. Paradoxically it is entitled Don’t Wait for Your Mind to Stop.

Tranquility Often is Just Around the Corner

Venice, tranquility, Italywise

A Venice canal in the Cannaregio at dusk.

Venice is my favorite city in Italy. I love how it is full of mystery, history and paradox. I love its organic, challenging terrain. I love allowing myself to get lost, and the adventure of finding my way and navigating this giant maze. Yet, what I love most is how tranquility always awaits, if you’re willing to venture off the main thoroughfares. And, this leads me to the featured photo for this post.

Just a few weeks ago, I made the short trek from Treviso to Venice by train. I gave myself permission, for the afternoon, to wander, without a fixed time schedule or agenda. Let the journey unfold. This seems to be a major lesson and opportunity for me, especially since moving to Italy. Set preconceived ideas aside, and trust that the universe will lead me. Trying to control my experience, and life’s outcomes has been a yoke that I took on years and years ago. But, that is changing. Scary to “let go”? Yes. But, it can be an incredible relief to step aside from trying to be chief commander and choreographer of one’s experience.

The first time I visited Venice, I was pretty much put off by the throngs of tourists owning the streets. The noise level, and the threshold of activity was just too much for me. Had I attached myself to this first experience, I would have deprived myself of the full dimensions and offerings of this spectacular city. Subsequent trips, purposefully planned to take me off the beaten-track and thoroughfares, yielded a bounty of experience that led me to fall deeply, irrevocably in love with Venice. I found beauty, quiet, and tranquility hidden away.

So, on this recent excursion, I first threw myself into the current of tourists until I found my exit to head to the Fondamente Nove vaporetto stop, and a trip to Burano. Within just minutes, and in a matter of just a few steps, the noise abated, and space opened up. I meandered my way to the boat stop, relishing the beauty of lonely canals and quiet comings and goings.

Upon my return from Burano, at dusk, I slowed my pace, hoping to prolong a meditative stroll, before abruptly finding myself amongst a sea of activity and noise. I stopped on a bridge, savoring the warm, evolving colors of dusk, and snapped this photo. Nothing can repeat the moment of being there, but this image does serve as a reminder and a beacon that tranquility is often close at hand.

The main streets of Venice, clogged with eager tourists, serve as a metaphor for my mind, and the often incessant stream of thoughts. When I am caught up in the grips of thinking, I really can’t see or experience anything, and I suffer a major case of misidentification. Life feels “flat” and I feel anything but present. When I am under the sway of incessant thinking I often completely forget that tranquility and quietude awaits. And, like this canal at dusk, with its still waters, and warm colors, peace can find me, or present itself, when I take the metaphorical journey away from engaging with or believing the stream of thoughts that stubbornly insist on my attention.

Often we distinguish between talking and thinking. Yet, I offer that thinking simply is talking to ourselves. Thinking can be a marvelous servant, but I believe it has taken over our lives, and obscured our true natures. Kahlil Gibran, often called a Christian mystic, beautifully expresses this in an excerpt from The Prophet:

 

There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.
– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

 

 

 

And the Winner is…”Haughty in Houndstooth”

Italian street life, Italywise

I had the best time reading every submission in this caption contest, for a photo I took of a street scene recently. Its working title was Wall on By, but that easily was surpassed with the variety and creativity of entries. Creativity is far from an exact science, yet I had to make a choice, and Haughty in Houndstooth, by Susan, took the top spot. Brava Susan!

What I like about having this kind of creative contest is how art evokes stories. When I had my first solo exhibition of watercolors many years ago, I resisted talking too much about the intent behind each of the paintings. On one hand, I wanted to respect the curiosity of the gallery patrons as to what made me choose a specific subject. However, I would endeavor to turn the tables and inquire first as to what each person saw in the image, so as not to influence them with my creative process.

Each one of us is always looking at the world through our individual filters and conditioning. We may not realize it, but we’re constantly scanning the world around us, and creating stories about what we see. The human imagination can take just a few elements of a scene and quickly construct possible story lines. What I love about art is that it is both about what the artist wanted to capture or express AND what stories and emotions it evokes in the viewer.

Who really knows the truth of this particular scene, and as your entries demonstrate, many interpretations are possible.

As an artist and photography I’m constantly in scanning and observation mode. Italian street life is ripe with vignettes unfolding. I can’t help but attach my personal narratives, but I’m learning to do so lightly and with humor, and remembering I can never know the truth of an entire situation.

Thank you all for bringing your creativity into this photo caption contest. Stay tuned, I may make this a regular thing!

Caption Contest! Win a Amazon Gift Card!

Italian street life, Italywise

Walk on By is a new photo by Jed Smith.

I’m happy to introduce a scene I captured on one of my recent photo excursions. I’m constantly intrigued and entertained by “snippets” of Italian street life, and I was happy to be quick on the draw to capture this one. The expression of this well-heeled signora is the focal point of this image. Looking at the image now I can imagine countless captions. So, I decided I’d have a little fun and invite you to bring your unique perspectives to this image and submit a caption in the comments sections of this website/blog Italywise.com. One entry per person*, and submissions must be made by end of day Tuesday, April 19 midnight PST. The winning submission will receive a $30 Amazon.com gift card (or the equivalent in the country of the winner).

To see this and other photography and paintings be sure to visit my online gallery.

*Family/relatives are ineligible (though you can still submit for fun!)

At Rest – New Photo by Jed

At Rest, Italywise

At Rest is a recent photo by Jed Smith

I am drawn to, in my art and photography, scenes of simplicity and calm. For me these are meditations and reminders of the importance of stepping out of the torrent of “doing” and allowing my soul, and mind, to breathe.

I’ve always had a fascination with physics, especially the paradoxes of quantum physics. For an artist? Yeah, go figure. I guess my dad’s nuclear engineer genes haven’t been crowded out by my mom’s art genes.

What continually does a number on my head is that the world/universe actually is 99.99% empty space, yet we’re convinced by the swirling activity of infinitesimal particles of energy that what we see is solid and real. I know that I all too often forget about this ocean of empty space which holds everything, and where anything can happen. Like me, unless you’re an Einstein or David Bohm, your brain will shut down if it tries to assimilate this into anything but an intellectual concept.

In light of a brain that can’t conceive of the inconceivable, I “feel” my way towards truth with my art. The above scene brings me calm. In contemplating such a setting, perhaps my mind, like the waters, becomes still, and the realization of the depth and richness of the unseen space that connects everything returns to my awareness. The neurotic need to do, to figure it all out, abates. And, the insanity of the world’s current events temporarily loosen their grip on my attention. For me, this in incredible gift.

In closing, I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite actors…

Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes a radiance. – Morgan Freeman

To see other photos be sure to visit my online gallery.

Seeking Clarity and the Illusion of Reality

Watercolor of Clairty

Clarity – Private Collection

The painting above, Clarity, is one of my favorites. I was drawn to this woman’s face because I sensed clarity and peace in her eyes. I also saw a wise woman who had relaxed into accepting “what is” and the inevitability of living with paradox.

I’m learning to step into paradox. I’ve been doing this somewhat begrudgingly because my bossy left brain interpreter insists on coming to conclusions of reality and nicely tucking them away on the shelf. You might not think an artist would have this kind of struggle since creative types tend to reside in their expansive, non-verbal right brains with greater agility. Yet, often I do struggle to make the shift and, paradoxically (there’s that pesky word again), the struggle itself tends to keep me trapped in the jaws of analytical thinking. The best thing, for me, is to pick up my paintbrush and start painting. Soon, thinking settles down naturally, and my insistence on a fixed reality abates.

Why do I write about seeking clarity and the illusions of reality in a blog about building a life in Italy? Because making such a huge life change has asked me, again and again, to let go of my insistence on what is reality and how my story is “supposed” to play out. If you’re contemplating a similar big life change, you might want to ready yourself to live with paradox, and the elusiveness of a fixed reality.

Man plans, God laughs. – Yiddish proverb.

Maybe I would benefit from training myself to contemplate this sentiment every morning, first thing. Then, whatever needs to be done, and what remains to be resolved won’t take on such a sense of seriousness, or insistence on my part. Perhaps this will remind me to do the best I can, while simultaneously “going with the flow”. This can be a beautiful dance, and I’m finding the universe tends to open up a wealth of possibilities previously hidden to my thinking brain.

Italy has proven to be an excellent classroom in dealing with inconsistencies and paradox. I’m an anal-retentive Virgo who likes everything “ticked and tied”. These organizational and analytical skills certainly have come in handy plowing through the numerous logistics of living here, but I’m convinced a belief that you can simply muscle your way through the bureaucracy will only ensure your descent into insanity. I’ve talked to a few “newbies” and a few people considering a move to Italy who have this mindset. I’ve thought “Oh no,” because I can smell disaster coming at the first inevitable speed bumps.

If a person can sets aside their insistence on how things are supposed to “play out” and their indignation at certain Italian policies that seem unfair, they can spend their time and energies on allowing Italy’s riches to unfold for them.

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Being…Just Being.

The art of being, Italywise

Just Being is a recent photo by Jed Smith, taken in Basilicata (the arch of the “foot” of Italy)

In my photography and in my art I’m drawn to subjects who seem to be in a space of being. For me, it’s a representation of stepping out of the rushing stream of doing and needing to accomplish. Probably, this speaks volumes about my own addiction to constant movement and achieving.

Some people might look at the scene above and come to conclusions that reflect some kind of loneliness or sadness. I prefer to believe this man is in a space where the need to do, or to over think life, has dropped away.

Be – don’t try to become. – Osho

Moving to Italy has given me plenty to do, and to accomplish – learning the language, and tackling a pretty big list of logistical imperatives. In other words, I’ve had plenty of food for the hungry monster who thrives on being engaged in constant movement. Also, I’ve realized I don’t have to be physically moving to still be charging forward like a racehorse. I’m well acquainted with my restlessness, lying in bed after waking up in the morning, while my mind latches onto a laundry list of matters that need to be addressed or problems that need to be solved. Chuang Tzu referred to this as “sitting while wandering”. How appropriate.

I’m cheating myself if I remain in the rushing stream of doing. The funny thing is that I KNOW, from experience, when the doing part of me is exhausted, or takes a break, suddenly the world opens up for me. I feel present, and the world expands into dimensions that transcend thought or verbal explanation. In Umbria, I’ve experienced clear nights that wrap me in a magnificent cloak of stars – all made possible by the lack of urban noise and light pollution, and by the lack of thinking about what I have to do tomorrow or what I regret in the road behind me.

As life beckons me to a fuller life, I’ve come to believe that living with paradox is an essential element for my slowing down and residing in being. I’ve not been a fan of paradox for most of my life, because I like to have things figured out and to know where I’m going. That’s pretty ambitious, and I’m learning also, that it’s pretty damn impossible. I’ve thought I’ve needed to constantly steer life, which requires a vigilance that is exhausting. It also doesn’t trust the universe, or a higher power to move and take me to unimagined places. The funny thing is, the most creative and successful solutions to problems come when I quit trying to manhandle my way to figuring things out. The universe will provide answers (maybe not according to our timetable or expectations) if we let go and step into being.

I close with this YouTube video from Alan Watts, which speaks to the paradox of letting go while helping to remind me to let go and reside in “being”.

 

Well-Heeled in Italy

Italian fashion, Italywise

Well-Heeled in Italy is a recent photo by Jed.

I’m taking liberties by including the phrase “well-heeled” in the name of this recent photo. This two-word adjective most often has been used describing someone who is well off financially – as reflected in the quality of their shoes. However, its origins come from cock fights (check out this link at http://www.saidwhat.co.uk) – yes, cock fights. You see, spurs would be added to help them fight. Hence “well-heeled”.

As I study the prevalent sense of fashion here in Italy, I see much of it begins with the shoes. Most self-respecting Italians wouldn’t dream of being out and about with boring or crappy shoes – as evidenced by the two well-heeled women in this photo. You can’t see their faces, but I assure you they are well into their fifties. Fashion isn’t reserved for the youngsters and I love how these woman boldly and comfortably opt for sexy dresses and shoes that show off their legs (which often are kept in fine form by being part of a culture that embraces walking vs. opting for hopping in a car).

My favorite Italian fashion scenario to happen upon is an Italian wedding. I love snooping around to see the decked out crowd – men and women alike. It’s not unusual to see attendees standing outside (taking a break from the wedding in progress) to have a cigarette and/or check their cell phones. For me this is one of the best “cat walks” for checking out the latest Italian fashions. Hint, stay tuned for a future post about Italian fashion using Italian weddings as a backdrop.

In closing, I pay tribute to the Italians’ seemingly uncanny ability to effortlessly express fashion sense. I can’t articulate the exact “how” or “why”, but I sense it is hard-coded into the DNA of the culture. It doesn’t mean that fashion tragedies can’t be witnessed on the streets here – I just find it’s a pretty rare occurrence.

To see other photos, be sure to visit my online photo gallery.

Street Life in Sicily

Life in Italy, Italywise

Street life in Cefalu, Sicily is rich in vignettes.

I feel like a paparazzo (that’s just one photographer vs paparazzi, which indicates many) of street life in Italy. I do this not only for photography, but for inspiration for my paintings. I try to work in stealth (that translates into having a zoom lens), so as not to disturb the energy of the scenes that unfold before my eyes.

So it was on this day in Cefalu, Sicily, that I begin zigzagging through the streets with my periscope up on the lookout to see what presented itself. Much of the movie Cinema Paradiso was filmed Cefalu. I can see why this was a perfect movie set, and still is.

The translation of Cefalu is “head”, and theories suggest this refers to the shape of the hill and rock above the town, adorned with an ancient castle.

Learn more about Cefalu at ItalyGuides.it.

In this particular image, the gentlemen in the chair was fixed, as if rendered in stone. Meanwhile la suora (the sister) moves up the street, and enters a home. I love these layers of street life in Sicily, and I hope to return for a longer visit, solely to for the purpose of capturing life as it unfolds on the streets of Sicily.

For this and other photographs, please be sure to check out my online gallery.

Burano is an Artist’s Dream

Burano, Italywise

Almost every doorway in Burano is a work of art.

Today’s post will be brief. I want to share one of my latest photos from the island of Burano, a stunningly “painted” fishing village. A short vaporetto ride from Venice will take you there. I would love to gain a better understanding of just how the practice of adorning the buildings in such vibrant colors in this village came into being. Does this practice imply some kind of inherent optimism of the villagers? Maybe that is the hopeful part of my mind. Nonetheless, my spirits are always lifted when I visit this wonderful village.

Most importantly, my brain shifts into creative overdrive when I wander the canals and alleyways of Burano. I feel a bit as though I am cheating when I point my camera, compose a shot, and snap the shutter. It is as though an artist has gone before me and done most of the work already. Still, I’m not complaining.

The scenes of daily life against this rich backdrop also inspire other photos and subsequent paintings (see my post about No. 331).

If this post sparks your interest in learning more about Burano, be sure to visit the Official Website of Burano.

I hope you enjoy this most recently posted photo, which is also in my online photo gallery.

Happy viewing!

 

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