Sunday, May 14, 2017

Crow 31 Days: In Praise of Shadows at White Rock Lake

As I began to look for them, the bountiful lessons of Asia are everywhere. I moved with my family to a little bungalow just west of White Rock Lake twelve years ago. Our house is tucked away on a cul-de-sac between three parks. I can walk to the shore in about 5 minutes. 

I started a serious walking practice six years ago, in the summer of 2011 when I was facing a health crisis. My brilliant integrative medicine doctor encouraged me to pair exercise with something I love. I've loved the lake since the moment we moved here. It still astonishes me that a place so placid and beautiful can exist in Dallas. I started walking each morning at the lake, and each day I document the sunrise for a project called "Pocket Sunrise" at some point in The Magic Hour. Those that study the sunrise know about The Magic Hour: it's that luminous time when the light lifts us out of the darkness and dances over the horizon. It's the slowest hour you can know: brimming with the potential of a new day. 

Since 1998 I've studied the practices of Asian art and philosophy: art and nature cannot be separated, in Asian art, nature is the center of the universe, the power of nature over human and the ever-present collaboration in art such as jade and rock crystal of nature as the artist and human as the co-artist. It wasn't until I spent slow time looking as the nature in my own "backyard" that I began to understand the gift of a life in nature. 

In 1933 Japanese writer Jun'ichirō Tanizaki penned a In Praise of Shadows illustrating the important elements of Japanese aesthetics: 

“We Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable. If light is scarce, then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty. But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light—his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.” 
― Jun'ichirō TanizakiIn Praise of Shadows

His use of the term "Orientals" is a now-anachronistic reference, but what he writes about in this gem of a book is still true today: whether we use the brighter lamp, Amazon or Facebook to distract us from exploring the things we cannot see: the things to really be conscious of are in the shadows. 

Since 2011 I've been looking in the shadows: in the blackest black of the night, in cold, wet wind and in the hot, heavy air of late July. I've watched the sun move from the northern edge of east to the southern hemisphere in winter. I've stood at the water's edge and listened to the sound the fog makes when it shape-shifts across the surface of the lake. I've seen coyote, snake, duck, mouse, nutria, tortoise, fish, heron, crane and pelican: all of these creatures in this system, yet dwarfed by the landscape of reed and water. At 6 in the morning, just before the first light of a new dawn, the Lake is Queen. Nature is everywhere. And I know this from looking in the shadows and being still and quiet. 

Tanizaki goes on to write: 

“Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I marvel at our comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light. For the beauty of the alcove is not the work of some clever device. An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into its forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing more. And yet, when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway.” 

I've seen this tranquility hold sway but slowly: over years of study. I've learned that the clouds in August are different than the clouds in October. I've studied the water in all ranges of wind and learned how the seasons alter what an how we see. And in this time before dawn, in late spring, the maturing egret follows me along the water's edge. He does not know I see. These moments, that may seem less significant are the most important: if I choose to pay attention the world offers one miracle after another. 

This experience of being in nature is so similar to how I believe one can experience art: we have permission to wonder. We have permission to take our time. We have permission to be in awe and in love. Contemplative practice finds its genesis in many of the works in our museum. 

How to look is up to us. 

How to be in that looking (curious, still, quiet) happens when you spend enough time praising the shadows. I found the real meaning of the sunrise by looking in the shadows. Enjoy the journey. 

No comments:

Post a Comment