Monday, October 13, 2008

Smoothing Out the Wrinkles

There is comfort in daily routines. The smell of morning coffee brewing, the warm glow of electric lights before daylight emerges, the automatic way my hand reaches out to smooth the wrinkles from the covers and plump the pillows while making the bed. Quiet, familiar activities start a new day.

Returning home from a time away tends to intensify awareness of how pleasurable these everyday, small routines are. The familiarity and repetition can be soothing. To travel brings new stimulation and connections with places and people but to come home is a comfort indeed.

Details from life experiences tend to linger in memory, often in bits and pieces. Look back over the course of a day, a week, a year, a life and often it's the most unremarkable details that become identified with experiences. An artist savors these bits and pieces of memories and recollections. Some memories may be summoned back intentionally, but many others rise to the surface just when needed and become integral to understanding the concept behind one's work.

It has occurred to me lately that my language series actually has grown from seeds that were planted in 1995, when I visited my daughter for 16 days in Taichung, Taiwan. We traveled from one end of the island to the other, delighted and amazed at how different the culture was from our American one. I could not speak the language or read any of the signs; when we visited markets and purchased fruits and vegetables, I held out my hands with coins in them and the vendors pointed to the correct ones so I could pay them. I felt both helplessness and a total trust.

One weekend morning we visited the Jade Market in downtown Taichung, where vendors sold food and all types of jade and crafts. Standing in the middle of this bustling, unbelievably noisy marketplace was a young monk. His head was shaved, he wore saffron robes and held out his alms bowl as he stood quietly amidst the noise. I felt magnetically drawn to him and intuitively recognized that in the midst of this surge of people intent on making money, he was practicing just being present. I walked up to him and placed money in his empty bowl; our eyes met and without words I knew that I was blessing and affirming him and that he, in return, was blessing and affirming me. The recollection of this meeting and connection still causes an emotional swell inside me. I realized that although the young monk and I could not speak and understand each other, we had communicated -- and the connection felt peaceful and powerful.

Language and communication are more mysterious than we seem to recognize. We say words and think because we share a common language that the other person automatically understands what we are trying to express, but this does not always happen.

It occurred to me after I returned home from Taiwan that I had experienced true communication, one that wasn't dependent on a shared language. I realized this most acutely by being in a place where I couldn't use my words to communicate with almost everyone around me. Now the idea of connecting beyond words rather than through them is one that most intrigues me in my work.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing that personal moment of pure 'communication' with the monk. 'Looking beyond words' is food for thought.