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The Arts Scene: Art as a visual meditation

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In this time of the pandemic, the mind becomes a center of restless activity. Our thoughts are centered on what will happen — our compulsion to judge or to label, specifically with social media. All these thoughts are a source of stress.

As an antidote to stress, we can work on detachment to outcome and focus more on what is happening at the moment. One method to do this practice is called mindfulness. My teacher Deepak Chopra said, “The word mindfulness, in itself, is a little misleading because it implies a full mind.”

With mindfulness techniques, you become more aware of the present moment, the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and feeling of what is happening around you. As Chopra says, “Every experience that we have is illuminated by the light of awareness.”

In mindful meditation, you utilize a tool to bring you into present-moment awareness. For example, a mantra meditation uses a sound to help gently quiet the fluctuations of the mind. The Sanskrit word mantra translates to a “mind instrument.”

Around 700-750 CE, a visual tool was developed for meditation called the Sri Yantra. As you gaze at a sri yantra, you will see a dot in the center. This is called the bindu, which represents unity. Allow your eyes to move from the bindu to the see the triangle that encloses the bindu. Downward-pointing triangles represent the feminine, and the upward-facing triangle represents the masculine. These two creative energies flow throughout the yantra.

Allow your vision to expand to include the circles outside of the triangles. They represent the cycles of cosmic rhythms. Then encompass the lotus petals outside the circle — they represent the unfolding of understanding. The square at the outside of the yantra represents the world of form, and the four T-shaped portals are gateways. Here you are passing from the material world to the internal and sacred.

With this tool, and mindfulness techniques, you are able to focus on the present moment and observe your thoughts and feelings. You can practice this visual type of meditation on any work of art. For example, I chose “Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds” by Martin Johnson Heade from the National Gallery of Art.

When you begin this practice, eliminate distractions; your phone can wait. Then observe the artwork. What is your first impression? How does it make you feel?

You will have your own individual response to the artwork.

In the same technique as the sri yantra, start with something in it that draws your attention, such as the orchid. Examine the ruffled edges of the petal, the different pink and purple hues. Then move your eyes to the right, to the purple breast of the small hummingbird on the branch. What do you notice about this bird? As you move your eye down, do you notice two small eggs? Take in the details. Observe without judgment. Remember that this is your interpretation. There is no right or wrong answer.

Let your curiosity be your guide as you move around the artwork. If something brings back a memory or other thought, acknowledge it, then return to the artwork.

Spend time with the work and enjoy the sensations it brings. Then move on to a new work. You can find other works of art from the National Gallery at www.nga.gov.

And as with all meditation, enjoy the present moment.

• David Lynx is executive director of the Larson Gallery at Yakima Valley College. Learn more at www.larsongallery.org.

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