24 Sep
Posted in: Practice
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Seeing Guanyin

In June, I posted about a contemplative practice, called “Now I See,” that involves looking at a piece of art again and again over a period of time, and writing after each viewing, always starting with the phrase, “Now I see….”

I chose an 11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China, that’s here in the St. Louis Art Museum. I started the practice on July 1. As of last Sunday, I’ve looked — and written — six times. (I plan to do it seven more.)

I wasn’t going to post what I wrote because I wanted to focus on the seeing and not on the writing.

But what the heck.

Here’s what I wrote this past Sunday:
Now I see her overall grace, peace and repose. Today she is definitely a “she,” though bare-chested and breast-less. The rosy pink of her robes, maybe, has something to do with it. But also the general rosiness of the glow that somehow makes itself known, though she is clearly made of wood and pigment, rubbed and worn. There is an unmistakable warmth. And honestly, a presence that is clearly not painted on.

She seems to be peace itself, though not in the lease bit passive. She sits still, yes. But there is an attentiveness. And active awareness. I’m not saying she’s alive. Or sentient. Or even “real,” whatever that would mean.

But I am saying that she has these qualities. That I see them. That they are present is this representation of her. In this work of art. Yes. All that. But more, too. It seems that I can “see” the intention of the artist. The craft and the genius, certainly. But also, I believe, the reverence. Reverence for the materials, of course. And for the act of creating, too. But mostly I can see the artist’s attention to the qualities of grace and peace, of active stillness, of ease, repose, nobility…and yet, too, of care and attention. There is nothing disconnected or detached about her stillness. She is gently, patiently attentive. And poised to act…when needed. But there is no reactivity in her. Receptivity, yes. Opennes. Even connection. But also dispassion. Which is not to say a lack of feeling. Rather, a lack of agitation. 

And now I see her smile. Which is like a blessing. A smile of welcome. Of tenderness, of well-being. Her head is tilted slightly downward, but there is nothing condescending about it. No superiority. No distancing. Instead, I see an inclining toward. Not a reaching out–but an opening to. And now I see the inclination, the tilt, as a slight bow. Even she, the noble one, bows to that which comes before her. It is an act of acknowledgement. An act of honoring. Honor to what is. To the truth of it.

She bows. Nods. And even smiles. To whatever is present. She is not defended. She is not afraid. 

This is peace itself. This is serenity. This is grace.


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