exercise three: duality

Why do it?

What is the point of any meditation, never mind drawing meditation? You might think that meditation is a good idea because it makes you calm, or it slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure, or maybe you think it will lower stress and help you cope with work/life difficulties.

Meditation can help with all these but you might consider the beneficial aspects almost a side-effect. Meditation is aimed at focusing the mind, taming it if you like. Making the mind work in a clear and attentive way, rather than flitting here and there, worrying about this and that. But why bother?

Well as we have seen in the exercises so far the point is to try and be more attentive. To pay attention to being alive in the world. To noticing what it is to be, to exist, moment to moment. And why would you want to be aware of what it is to be alive? well if you have to ask that, you are in the wrong place.

Central to noticing being alive is that on reflection you may notice there was no “me” doing the drawing and not “it” being drawn; no two things, no duality. The thing that is being attentive feels no different than that which is being experienced. This is because there is nobody in your head being attentive to something else in your head entering through your eyes (you have only one head). Once you notice that there is only one experience, you begin to realise that everything experienced is simply that, one experience. Not someone experiencing something outside; someone experiencing something is really one experience, something and someone are one-thing.

It sounds odd, but language is a poor medium for explaining experiences; experiences have to be experienced not talked about. Which is where drawing meditation comes in. By following the exercises outlined here it is possible to experience oneness. Or what we might call non-duality. Try the exercise and notice when the illusion of watcher and watched drops away and you become awake to the experience of being.

Do what?

If you can, find an old piece of wood; ideally a piece that has a wide variety of textures, a piece torn or broken off from a tree, not cut, and that has been exposed to the elements. In this exercise you will be exploring the solidity of the material rather than its edges or its 2 dimensional shapes.

  • As before tape down a piece of paper to a table or a board or you could use a sketchbook. Sharpen a 2B pencil and keep the sharpener handy.
  • Light the object you are to draw from the side, you could use the light coming from a window or an electric light source. The idea is to create contrasts across the surface of the wood to emphasise the surface texture
  • Look at the wood. Notice how the surface changes as your eye moves slowly across it. imagine what it would be like to feel the surface with your finger, what it would feel like to pick up the piece. Concentrate on that feeling, the feeling of wood.
  • Begin the drawing from somewhere close to the centre of the wood. Work outwards, drawing slowly if the area is made of short lines and quicker if the lines are longer. Touch the surface of the paper gently if the lines you see are feint and press harder if the lines are dark. Use the pencil to follow not just the 2 dimensional direction of the lines but the 3 dimensional depth and strength of the line.
  • And this is the most important instruction – concentrate all your attention on what the wood feels like to touch with your eyes. Spend at least 15 minutes on exploring the surface of the wood.

When you have finished spend some time thinking about the experience. Think about the difference between the feeling of the wood and the wood. Was there any difference? If at any time you were “lost” in the process of drawing to the extent that you were not aware of the difference between you and the wood, then that is the feeling to hang on to because that is the experience of being in the world rather than watching it. That is when you experienced non-duality, and thinking about it will reinforce your intellectual understanding that there is no one in your head, there can’t be a person in your head doing the watching, it makes no sense.

Repeat the drawing meditation exercise always with the aim of letting yourself feel the material you are drawing as if you were holding it. As always, don’t think about what the marks on the paper will look like, rest all your attention on knowing the material you see.