My great-nephew came for a visit. His name is Noah, and he is six years old. As soon as he arrived, he handed me a drawing of a sea monster. It is a complicated amoeba-shape full of tentacles and words identifying each arm.
"Would you like to do some drawing with me?" I asked. "Yes," he said.
My favorite painter Agnes Martin shares her unique insights into "work" and what drives us, which she calls inspiration. As I explore drawing with Noah, I also recognized that the subject "drawing" is fairly arbitrary and individual like a preference in yoga styles. After all, is Iyengar Yoga that much different from Bikram Yoga? It is our interest and dedication that brings an artistic characteristic to our "work," whatever it may be.
"I will now speak directly to the art students present as an illustration of The Work with particular references to art-work.
My interest and yours is artwork, works of art, every smallish work of art and every kind of art-work. We are very interested, dedicated in fact. There is no half way with art. We wake up thinking about it, and we go to sleep thinking about it.
We go everywhere looking for it, both artists and non-artists.
It is very mysterious, the fast hold that it has upon us, considering how little we know about it. We do not even understand our response to our work.
Why do we go everywhere searching out works of art and why do we make works of art. The answer is that we are inspired to do so." Agnes Martin
As I gathered paper and drawing tools for Noah, I realized my materials are way too grown up: dainty, expensive and fussy. "What would you like to draw with?" I asked.
"Crayons," he replied.
We got Uncle Chris to take us to the Target, where we purchased a beautiful box of 64 colors. I cannot express the joy of opening a new box of Crayola-Crayons. Looking at all the colors and choosing the very first one. Oh the excitement of deciding what to draw, how big, how small? Should I use one color, two or three?
I have been thinking about the yoga practice and how similar it is to making art.
When we are new to the asana practice, it consumes all of our attention. We look everywhere for yoga and are inspired to practice every minute.
Great teachers like Dharma Mitra remind us "every spare minute to turn your face toward God."
Luminous gurus show us technique in class, and we feel new and free.
The same is characteristic of making art, and I guess anything else; riding bikes, writing, gardening or even reading can bring us to the place of inspiration. I think the form does not matter; it is the state of mind that is essential. I remember being a young yogi and practicing poses in the schoolyard where I taught children. Practice, practice every spare minute, I couldn't get enough.
In the Shiva Samhita, Shiva the God of transformation teaches yoga to his wife, Parvathi. The first thing he explains is The Vital Principle.
"There is one eternal true knowledge, without beginning or end. No other real entity exists. The diversity which is found in this world appears through the imposition of the senses on knowledge and for no other reason."
Going back to Agnes Martin, if you took her art paragraph and inserted the word yoga, it would read like this.
"My interest and yours are yoga, works of yoga, every smallish work of yoga and every kind of yoga. We are very interested, dedicated in fact. There is no half way with yoga. We wake up thinking about it, and we go to sleep thinking about it.
We go everywhere looking for it, both yogis and non-yogis.
It is very mysterious the fast hold that it has upon us considering how little we know about it. We do not even understand our response to our yoga.
Why do we go everywhere searching out yoga and why do we practice yoga. The answer is that we are inspired to do so." Agnes Martin
Over the next few days, I learned 7 rules for being an artist from Noah.
1. Every spare minute sit down and draw.
2. Find an art buddy and share your work every day.
3. Even when you are going to a restaurant, take a bag of crayons and some paper.
4. Sometimes you have to say no to exciting opportunities if you want to make time to concentrate on your art, even a trip to miniature golf.
5. Now and then look at an artist online, but not too much.
6. Before bed set art goals for yourself like: I will do 30 drawings tomorrow.
7. Get up bright and early to reach your goals.
For me, the ability to put any subject into Martins paragraph points to Shiva's teaching about one eternal true knowledge. The ideas that passion, interest, dedication and an allowing for mystery are characteristics of any worthwhile endeavor is fascinating. We as practitioners must nurture these qualities, embrace their vastness, and then do the work. Practice is the secret to a fulfilling and happy life.
Siva goes on to say, "Some praise truth and others asceticism and purity. Some praise patience and others equanimity and honesty. Some praise charity and others ancestor worship. Some praise action and others absolute indifference."
With this sentence Shiva acknowledges the many forms of practice; he concludes by saying that to avoid delusion we must realize that in our commitment to discovering what is real, we need to recognize that the self is
"many, eternal, and omnipresent."
I sit at my table today, while Noah and his parents travel to San Diego. He took his book, and I have mine. I make a drawing using some of the crayons he did not pack and recognize the value of having a sanctuary in my practices. I began drawing again in India after a long hiatus. I have asana for stretching my body, the texts for corralling my mind, and art making for my soul. I desire to learn to make a picture that is me... probably outside the lines, kinda goofy in color, and inclusive of materials that are not so fussy. This is my inspiration.
And so as Noah has inspired me, I offer Agnes Martin to you….
"When we wake up in the morning, we are inspired to do some certain thing, and we do it. The difficulty lies in the fact that it may turn out well, or it may not turn out well. If it turns out well, we have a tendency to think that we have successfully followed our inspiration and if it does not turn out well, we have a tendency to think that we have lost our inspiration. But that is not true. There is successful work and work that fails but all of it is inspired."
Do your practice, every spare minute sit down at the table and draw.