I have always found great comfort in, and been inspired by, the Zen Buddhist philosophy that “the obstacle is the path.” It encourages us to beautify the gaze we cast on whatever hardship or challenge we may be facing and invites us to examine the stories we tell ourselves about what it is that’s actually happening. To see the obstacle as part of the path, for example, rather than a hindrance to it, can awaken curiosity and courage in even the worst-stung heart, for it situates us implicitly in the middle of a story, which is only now beginning to unfold, and whose ending can only be guessed at.
I began the Two Scholars Series to creatively explore different aspects of this notion – that the obstacle is the path. In painting each piece, I came to inhabit its unique energy, which is one of the great discoveries of Chinese Brush Painting – that in the creation and contemplation of it, you can absorb and transmit certain universal energies.
The animal energies are especially vivid with this practice. I began to pay close attention to how different animal paintings made me “feel” in this way, and learned to see it as “good medicine,” almost to the point of being prescriptive. I began to refer to it as “calling it in.” For example, perhaps things have gotten too serious. Have you forgotten your whimsy? Take a panda and call me in the morning! Are you on shaky ground, in precarious times? Heron brings just the peaceful sure-footedness you need. Are you battling low vibrations of fear, loss, grief, or overwhelm? Tap into the quiet power and equanimity of Tiger. Find clear sight and higher perspectives with Eagle. Rediscover optimism and rebirth with Frog; persevere with Turtle; or kick back and reflect on your hard-won contentment with Cat.
Calling it in doesn’t just work with the animal energies, though. And so when it came to working with the rather intellectual idea that the obstacle is the path, I found myself quite organically slipping into the shoes of a pair of scholars in my mind.
First came “Scholars in a Clouded Gorge,” paired with calligraphy that reads, “My path is mine to me; I treasure it and follow it to the end.” To me this means that no person can walk our path for us, nor can we walk any path but our own. To fully step into the mantle of your own journey (fully inhabiting it, and without squawking, judging, wishing, sighing) is the highest calling one can answer, and the greatest form of respect we can give ourselves and the people and forces that gave us life in the first place. This painting reminds me that no matter the steep cliff faces we may encounter, nor the mist that may cloud our path along the way, our path is our own and should be embraced for all that it brings us to.
“Two Scholars on a Bridge,” to me, speaks to the importance of staying curious. The Chinese say that “the sea of knowledge has no horizon,” and that “the willing heart is the dojo.” That is, maintaining your sense of curiosity and a willingness to learn and integrate even the toughest lessons, will enable you to ford any obstacle. Curiosity is the bridge. I see these scholars as being deep in discussion – talking about life’s mysteries, hurts and illusions, as well as maybe cats’ whiskers and sunshine in the surf. Deep acceptance and integration of all that life has to offer, without loaded judgments, will get you pretty much anywhere you want to go.
“Scholars on Stepping Stones” is all about the importance of making room for feelings of lightness and a greater sense of play as we travel our life journeys. After all, obstacles are really what we make of them. Remind yourself to have fun, stay light on your feet – nimble – and remember you don’t always have to do it all alone.
Speaking of not doing it alone, “Two Scholars and the Moon” speaks to friendships of the heart and the importance of being really seen and understood by at least one other person as we travel the fjords of fate. Everyone one needs that person they can go out under a night sky with and whisper about things great and small, ordinary and magic. No one can walk our path for us, and no one may – one of life’s brutal awakenings when the going gets really tough – but it doesn’t follow that we can’t do it with good company.
What do the Two Scholars whisper to you? How do they show up in your own life? Or maybe you need to “call them in”….
Read the backstory behind Alexandra’s art and Rising Phoenix Arts.