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Beauty as a Gateway to Wisdom

by Srivati

...
Outside on the rocky hills and pasture,
the flowers are intense small spots of solitary colour.

Dancing yellow glacier lily,
Vivid purple shooting star,
and gentle lilac and yellow pusk
make me stop and bend to beauty.

High on the cliff tops,
I could be carried away by the big skies’
dwarfing of my little life;
but smaller still, the tiny flowers on the ground
remind me of my feet,
and that when I stop reaching for it somewhere else,
the quiet moment is always right here, now.

This is going all over the place! For me having experienced, for example, reading a poem, or
trying to write a poem, what I notice afterwards is that my experience becomes more vivid. I
become more aware, more awake. So for example after I had written the first draft of this talk
and I’d been browsing through my poetry books to find some good quotes for you. I went
outside in the evening for a walk in sunny Bow, near Mile End tube in the east end of London.
And there was the most stunning sunset, purples and pinks. And, lo and behold, the archetypal
realm descended because the Pearly King and Queen of Stepney walked down my road!
(audience laughs). I have never seen them before. (For you who don’t know pearly queens
and kings wear a lot of sequins on black outfits and have feathers in their hats. I don’t know
what else they do…)

So there is something repeated in my experience, that if I have engaged in the arts
appreciating or making it makes my own awareness more vivid, more appreciative. And that
appreciative awareness is Bodhisattva territory. Bodhisattvas don’t get in their own way, by
wanting this and not wanting that. They just appreciate people and things for what they are.
Which means they can just care. They can just love. And it seems to me that if I can engage
with the arts increasingly wholeheartedly I might gain that perspective of getting out of my
own way just by appreciating more and more.

So I have been putting myself on the line recently and saying to myself and to other people: “I
would like to write, I would like to see if I can do it.” And it is very like when I started
learning to meditate. There are a lot of comparisons. For a start I have to sit still. I don’t find
that very easy. I have to be quiet. I like talking. It requires serious effort and dedication and
persistence. A blank sheet of paper is very scary. But I also need a light touch, the ability or
the willingness to be flexible, to play, see what happens. And also again, as with meditation, a
willingness to sit with tension, so for example trying to write a poem, there is the tension of
the things that need to be done, the people that I need to see and my desire to write a poem.
Then there is also the internal tension of a form, for example, and a content. How do those
things go together? And there is also the aspect of learning to let go, as with meditation. If I
come with things to wilfully, in a to goal oriented way, it won’t happen, and it’s the same with
writing poetry. So writing so far, I am a novice, has already helped me find that still place that
I have been looking for, because I am looking more closely, I have slowed down. It also helps
me think more clearly. I don’t think I am very good at reflecting. But I find in the act of
writing, not just in terms of poetry, that’s how I do my reflection, is with pen and paper. And
it helps me to see more clearly because I am looking more closely. I am finding I may learn to
sit with paradoxes, not easily, but something has changed there. Let’s put it this way: I am
less uncomfortable with conflict than I used to be.

But most of all I think engaging with writing is helping me be more authentic. Because if I or
anybody else tries to write a poem or paint a picture for that matter, or any other creative
activity, from their head, it doesn’t communicate to the audience. Where as if we can come
from the root of our experience and then, through whatever form we chose, find out more
about it, and then send it out in to the world I think we are more likely to communicate.

I have done quite a few storytelling workshops, with Jayamati, as have some others here. And
he is always patting and rubbing his belly and encouraging us on the workshops to come from
there, in the storytelling. I think it’s the same with any creative act. It’s a bit like for those of
us who inspired by Bhante’s vision and are involved in the arts, his book ‘The Religion of Art’
is very important to us, because he communicates in that the essence of what we are talking
about now. But it would not work for me, to try and write my poem with Bhante’s ‘The
Religion of Art’ in one hand and my pen in the other. That won’t work because I’ll be
inauthentic then. Because I would be trying to achieve an idea of whatever it might be.
Whereas if I start from my belly or my heart, or just a detail that I am giving my attention to
then I am more likely to follow the tread through, to effective communication.

So for example in a poem that I wrote recently, I am not going to read any more poems
because I don’t have the time, but this poem is about my dad, my real dad who died when I
was two years old. And, so I am in the writing period, and I have been struggling and I can’t
do it. And I have been feeling despondent. Negative mental states have set in. I’ve gone to
bed one night and I’ve decided that whatever happens the next morning it’s important that I
just do it, like meditation. Sit down with a blank sheet of paper. And I’d recently received a
blown up picture of my dad, when he was in a uniform, he was in the fleet air army, which is
the flying air army of the navy. And I decided that was going to be my material. I wanted to
write about my dad. But I sat down with a blank sheet of paper and I thought: “ I can’t do it, I
can’t do it. I have no ability. No inspirations” etc. So I thought “No. You promised yourself”.
So I picked up a book of poetry, and I read someone else’s poetry. And I got very absorbed by
this particular poem, I can’t remember who it was by now, but then I noticed after my
enjoyment of it that it was a sonnet. And I thought “Oh, I’d like to write a sonnet”. I had only
tried once before and it was not very good. And it just felt that that was going to be the right
shape for this poem that I didn’t know what it was yet. So I spent that morning sitting down
with the picture of my dad in front of me, and the idea of a sonnet in my mind, knowing what
the form was, and worked. And it was one of the most absorbing, concentrated mornings I’ve
ever had! ‘Cause I was dealing with material that was very close to my heart, very poignant as
you can imagine, and had this form that I had to wrestle with. How was I going to say which I
might want to say with that shape? And then there was another stage to it, which I wrote it, I
finished it and I thought “Oh, yes, I think that’s almost sort of what I want to see. I showed it
to a friend, she made a couple of comments. And I thought, “Yes, she is right, I need to
change this”. And even though it is in this little book that I’ve produced as a fundraiser, and I
probably will change it and I’ll have subsequently more feedback for some poet friends of
mine, I can see there is still room for it to be improved so…These poems which I have been
trying to produce they are ongoing processes in which I meet myself. I wrestle with form. I sit
with the tension of how to put it all together, and something happens I can then communicate
with to other people. And this, perhaps, that poem, however good it is or isn’t, I couldn’t have
said what I’ve said in it in any other way. It had to come out that way. So if you are
interested, sorry, if you’re interested in reading it, it’s the last poem in this book: “Five
Pounds in the Dining Room.”

Also, another area for me to consider is ethics. For example there is a poem in this book,
which is about my step dad, with whom I have not always had an easy relationship. When I
was putting this little book together, I had to think about: “How would he think, reading a
poem, though even though his name isn’t mentioned and even though it’s done in a particular
way, he might work out is about him?” What do you do in that instance? What’s the best thing
to do? I had conversations with my mum. She said: “He won’t probably even think about
looking at it”. Cause she bought a copy. And I talked with Mallika who is one of my kalyana
mitras. And we had a very interesting conversation about ‘whose property is a poem?’, and so
on. So what I decided in the end was, its in there, its called ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’. And I
talked to my mum and I said, “If dad does read it I want you to tell him, or put him in touch
with me so I can say that it is not about now, it’s about then. You know, he and I have
changed our relationship over the years. But I needed to express what my feelings where then.
And I have done it in that poem to a certain degree. ...

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