Painters savor the ordinary moments. Do You?

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Before Dinner by Pierre Bonnard.
Robert Lehman Collection,
Metropolitan Museum of Art

At the Automat by Edward Hopper
Permanent Collection,
Des Moines Art Center, Iowa

Most of us prioritize and rate the moments in our lives. We look forward to a party and reflect on a special performance we attended. These peak moments stand out against a backdrop of our regular lives full of moments we don’t consider worth noting: Going to the grocery store, walking the dog, ironing a shirt – you know, the necessary but not very interesting events in our lives that make the peak events possible.

A major event in the future can flavor, or even dominate, our present experience. Usually we have mild anticipation or anxiety that occasionally floats through our present experience. And then there’s the phenomenon of being totally driven by some future event. We’ve all met bridezilla, the woman whose wedding day looms so largely over her life that she is practically consumed by it. To varying degrees we all go a little bridezilla at times about an upcoming event, whether it’s a gathering, a trip, a speech or a surgical procedure.

Events in the past can dominate our lives as well. Some traumatic events drop like rocks into the pools of our lives and make a huge splash that ripples out for a long time into the future. If we are aware of the ripple quality of such events, we can cope with the occasional ripple of emotional turmoil when it passes through our current experience. At these times we can compassionately give ourselves a little down time to be with whatever thoughts or emotions have come up.

But if we don’t understand the ripple nature of traumatic pain, then when it comes along we may think we are back in the splash of the original experience. And in our panic at ‘being back there again when we thought we were past it’ we start flailing about, creating much bigger waves and much more suffering.

Past and future events often do flavor the present moment, but if we live for that future moment we develop a pattern of leaning into the future, so that when that crowning moment comes, we don’t really know how to be present for it. Our mind is habituated to focus on the future, and we miss it – that one perfect moment we had been waiting for!

Some of us dwell in the past, only able to enjoy moments as memories, storing them away like a squirrel with nuts to be savored later. Or we dredge up past pain as if we don’t deserve to have a moment free and clear to savor right now. Thus we miss the only moment we truly have to live with all our senses. This one. The only moment that actually exists!

But even if we are not living in the past or the future, we tend to value some moments more than others. And so I wanted to bring to your attention to the fact that painters rarely are interested in painting the peak moments. Very few paintings are done of weddings or parties in full swing, those moments we tend to value most. Instead they find beauty in the none-peak moments, the preparations for an event, staring out a window, reading a book, sitting — quiet moments where nothing much seems to be happening. Why is that?

Because the real treasure is right here and right now. For you, in this moment, sitting in front of your computer, the screen, the room, the light and shadows, the temperature, the feel of your body on the chair, the sounds, the smells, whatever is happening right now. Let yourself sink completely into this moment. As if it were the subject of an artist’s brush. This moment is most definitely worthy of being painted. And worthy of being lived with full appreciation and awareness.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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