How I used to love the downward-spiraling walkway of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Exhibits that began in the late 1800's at the top of the building would lead forward in time even as the path descended until finally, at the lowest level, I would be invited to look at something approaching the present... the 1960's or 70's or even 80's.
When the exhibit focused on a single artist, it was like seeing into that artist's mind and hence, somehow, anyone's mind: From colorful and realistic scenes, into increasingly abstract pieces and finally, perhaps, into just-plain, very simple lines that made me wonder if the next stop would be to hang an empty canvas ... a thing no museum could afford to do given the 'wisdom' of art mavens and the demands of an art-loving public.
Is that the way things go in anyone's life? -- the clear, etched and comprehensible passions and philosophies that start to blur around the edges as time's walkway descends. What was realistic and real moves to complete itself in some less-'realistic' amalgam of color and force ... back and back and down and down and simpler and simpler until at last there is a single, simple brush stroke suggesting nothing so much as that even that is too much, too bold, too fearful.
The pianist sits before the 88 ivories s/he has played for years ... s/he sits still and just looks ... she sits still and just looks and finally, in one slow and not quite-certain move, plays a single, inclusive, brilliant middle C. It may be too much -- the piano's mastery is fine without help -- but still ... a single, clarion middle C ... as vast as any concerto.
Up to a certain point, the realism of life or art has to do with transmission and connection and agreement. But then, but then, the artist, like any human being, is pushed further and further into some chosen realm, some formerly-acceptable realm, until what was a tea party becomes ... tea.
|Geisha shooting billiards on her day off|
And then, tentatively, as if unwilling to break some spell, I would take a single ball out of the three-ball box and roll it across the table, watching its single trajectory against one cushion and then the next until it came to rest and awaited the next powerful or infinitely gentle shove. In one sense, it was too much. In another, it was the only, inescapable option. It was, to the addicted me, a beauty that was beyond beautiful because 'beautiful' would demean its beauty.
Art, life, insanity ... who knows what realm this is? But I think it is a realm as plain as salt. The art is already in the brush; the canvas is already full; the piano knows its notes; the billiard table needs no help or game. But then, of course, the game is on and what is already infinite expresses itself in painting and melody and innumerable trajectories.
In spiritual life, I think things are much the same. Lots of talk or belief or effort on behalf of something much-praised, something longed for, something wider and yet no wider, something to provide relief or release. Its parameters at first are clear and acceptable to those who consent to make it acceptable.
But walking down the artful path, the 'realism' begins to blur. The colors and brush strokes are still apparent, but the figures and structures and flowers have lost their names. What was oh-goody or fershur begins to lose its clarion wishfulness ... to become and become more mixed, less reliant and simultaneously, somehow, more reliable. Down and down and less-etched and less-etched until it is not at all clear why anyone would mention spiritual life in the first place.
What happens when all this happens is not always pleasant. The floundering longing to return to more 'realistic' times can rise up and cry out. Sometimes its cries can be heard in the voices of those who speak of its wondrousness or those who attempt to rein things in with words about 'cries' or 'wondrousness.' Down and down and simpler and simpler ... it just seems to be the way of things, the just-plain-human way of things.
Buddhists sometimes speak with a tremulous awe of "enlightenment." It's OK as far as it goes, but of course it does not go far enough. Calling the truth true when it is already true is just the function of a full palette. Of course it's full, but with the passage of time, as always, the edges tend to blur ... is alizarin crimson so very different or distinct from cobalt blue ... of course it is ... not. Is middle C so very different or distinct from a C-sharp? Of course it is ... not. Is a billiard table missing something because there are no balls in play? Of course it is ... not. Is enlightenment so different or distinct from a world of delusion? Of course it is ... not. Is silence different or distinct from sound? Of course it is ... not.
Art, life, insanity ... who knows what realm this is.
Does it matter?
I don't think so.
Realms have a way of taking care of themselves.