Listening - watching
taking a moment
drawing the world
finding the way to connection
again and again.

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Friday, September 8, 2023

Tree & Serpent

I traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City last week, sketchbook in hand. It was the first time I'd been since the pandemic. 

I was there to see the Tree & Serpent show of Early Buddhist Art.

I wandered past sculptures of trees and plants carved in stone in intertwining patterns. These were the forms of the alive natural world that Buddhism had emerged from. There were also many male and female nature spirits, yakshas and yakshis, and empty thrones and footprints of the Buddha expressing his presence through absence.  In the last room the fully formed Buddhas were radiating. .

After I'd looked at everything I returned to the first room and opened the sketchbook, always a brave and vulnerable act. What will happen ? Can I meet the aliveness of the object and bring something forth ? The uncertainty is crucial to the encounter and uncomfortable. 

I worked in pencil and added watercolor later, including words that placed the piece in time and location and spoke of my struggle and perseverance. -


Then this male yaksha beckoned me. He was one of the nature spirits that had made the leap into the new buddhist faith that was emerging out of a world full of complex forces. This new religion needed guardians. Buddhism was building on and incorporating what was there, the magic and dark mystery of the world. 

I dropped in with him, shaping his face gradually with pencil, We gazed at each other. His presence settled and opened me.


At the end I was drawn towards the full Buddha, so elegant, quiet, serene. It seemed a perfect place to abide. But there was a struggle ahead. . .                    

I jumped with confidence onto the page and the awkward shape that emerged was painful. I turned the page and started again. Then I gave up and walked away.    

I had not noticed the animals supporting from below . . .

The process of completing these images stretched over some days. 

During this time I understood in new ways how these encounters in the sketchbook and with the world give me insight into myself and spark my curiosity about everything.

I offer it all here as a further completion, another step on the path.