I don’t often go through the archives of my past paintings…
Recently I did and came across this one, entitled Present Tense. I chose this title because, when I met this man, his direct gaze hit me as living in the here and now. I’m continually drawn to painting older faces. My intuition tells me this is because I am seeking out the wisdom that often comes with age – wisdom that has made peace with the past, and no longer fixates on a future idyllic state. I sold this painting very soon after completing it, and I miss having the real thing hanging on my wall to remind me to come back the here and now, especially when I have strayed into realms of analyzing and wanting a “do-over” for the past, or obsessing about the future.
Adept at avoiding the here and now.
When I was jotting down a few notes before beginning this post, a powerful realization smacked me in the face. I all too often get lost in thought, or in “doing” to avoid the present moment. It is as though my chatty mind keeps proclaiming it is the real me and, therefore, is invested in keeping me lost in a world of thought. Meanwhile, I miss so much unfolding around me in the here and now. I’m not present. I’m lost in a series of thought bubbles. I think that’s because, for far too long, I’ve been addicted to doing and achieving. Gotta make this or that happen. Gotta always be on top of everything with a vigilant mind. But for me, the gig is up, but, for me, being lost in the mind is a rut so deep that finding my way out of it requires some steady un-coerced self-inquiry.
Escapism runs rampant.
I must confess, I’m often escaping what I perceive as bland, ordinary moments of time. Waiting at traffic lights, doing menial tasks, being out on dreary days—I have trouble just “being” with those moments, moments I deem as “second class.” So, I jump into my mind, like so many people. I begin to understand where the term “Monkey Mind” came from. Might many of our modern-day addictions, not just drugs, and alcohol, but digital addictions, be manifestations of not being at peace with the present moment AND attempts to flee the tyranny of Monkey Mind? Has Descartes’ famous pronouncement “I think, therefore I am” fueled a massive malady of misidentification—one that robs us of an ability to be present?
My life in Italy is dramatically different from my life in the States
Setting aside driving on the Autostrada, I observe people who aren’t hurrying through life and trying to power through a long to-do list. In the hill villages of Umbria, I’m struck by the number of people I observe quietly sitting and taking in the world around them. I feel a westernized temptation to judge these people as slackers or of “not having a life,” when, in fact, they probably are great teachers in being grounded in the here and now. In increasing moments of clarity, I ask myself why I waste so much time worrying about the future and rehashing the past? Most of that is just plain useless and steals energy away from dancing with life in the here and now.
“Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
The present moment is continually offering us opportunities to start again. No need to beat ourselves up when we stray out of the present moment. Instead we learn, bit by bit, to undo a life of conditioning and to navigate our way back to where life truly exists, and that is where the mind goes silent.
If you’ve enjoyed viewing this painting, I encourage you to check out my full online gallery of paintings, which includes watercolors and oils.