As a friend said, this painting probably isn't one that would end up hanging above grandma's sofa.
I painted it from a Victorian photograph I found online (and yes I did look, and no I did not find that it is copyrighted... but credit for the concept definitely goes to the original photographer, whomever he or she may be!). The image spoke to my newly deliberate practice of accepting that life will, indeed, kill me someday.
Shamatha means 'peaceful abiding' or 'calm acceptance' in the Buddhist tradition. It has to do with learning to be with what is. In Western cultures we are typically quite uncomfortable with the idea of our own mortality, and we work hard to avoid the whole disquieting reality of the fragile nature of our bodies. The problem is that the evidence of our impermanence is constantly around us --- certainly illnesses, injuries and deaths among our close associates are a clear reminder, but also the constant stream of media covering violence, accidents, natural disasters and topics related to illness. And don't forget the fictional reminders via TV shows, movies, video games and literature.
It seems odd that death as an abstract concept is so ubiquitous in our culture, and yet we actively avoid incorporating mortality in any meaningful way into our lives. I am finding that in not running from my eventual meeting with the Grim Reaper, I am much freer to actually live --- really and truly live --- my life. I find I have deeper compassion and connection with others. I find myself less critical; I'm less invested in 'things' and more appreciative of small joys; I laugh more; I cry more; I sing more; I have a deeper tolerance for annoyances; and I'm much, much less anxious.
From my heart to yours, the wish for Shamatha.
Freedom from fear.
Surviving cancer requires a great deal of genuine bad-assery... We are one tough crowd! This does not mean, however, that there aren't days of pure bravado. Nearly three years past diagnosis, I find myself gritting my teeth some days, trying to look like I've got it all squared away. 100% fraudulent. I think there is a general perception out there that once cancer has been beaten back, life returns to normal.
People have asked me why I paint about cancer, why I talk about it, why I eat differently and make different life choices than in the past. It's because the battle continues. I fight with how my body looks and functions now due to treatments; I fight with my mind; I fight with my emotions; I fight with my memories; and I fight with the ever-present awareness that cancer could come back. Most days I can stare it all down. "Nice Fangs," I monotone to the tigers in my head.
I find it ironic that on Independence Day I am fighting with my lack of independence from the aftermath of cancer. I went to the optometrist yesterday to get new contacts, and at the end of the exam he informed me that I have developed a cataract on each eye: "Likely from the chemotherapy." Well. In the grand scheme of things, this probably isn't a big deal. Yet I am very aware that I just got nipped. Again. Nice Fangs.
I wear a lot of hats in life, encompassing a variety of roles and relationships. I am becoming more comfortable with the whole "cancer survivor" hat, even finding silver linings in unexpected places --- like adding artist to my self identity. "Blogger" hadn't really appealed to me until I began getting requests to talk about what lies behind my art. So I'm going to give it a try. If you have gotten to this page, you have probably noticed from my paintings that I am quite frank about my experiences. Some of the images are stark and difficult to look at. To me, beautiful is not the same as pretty. "Beautiful" encompasses complexity that can include pain, tragedy, and darkness. Therefore there can be a strange beauty present in stark emotional and experiential truth. I am a seeker of beauty within pain, and of the beauty that grows out of pain. If you are too, we'll get along just fine.