Seven Layers Deeper
This desire to go deeper into the world, deeper into things, words, images. In John O’Donohue's book titled, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, he tells a story about Teannalach.
A poet meets a farmer in an art gallery and the poet shares his deep looking of the paintings with some subtle remarks about symbolism and the intricacies of the works. The farmer is grateful to the poet, and tells the poet he has a wonderful eye which is a gift. The farmer then shares a story of his own special ability – Teannalach. “I live beside the lake and you always hear the ripple of the waters and the sound of wind on the water; everyone hears that. However, on certain summer days when the lake is absolutely still and everything is silent, I can hear how the elements and the surface of the lake make a magic music together.” Later, another person from the same region as the farmer comes into the gallery and is asked about Teannalach and says, “...it is hard to say what it means. I suppose it means awareness, but in truth it is about seven layers deeper than awareness.”
In the story, the ability, Teannalach, is felt to be a gift, but that it's also something developed over years and years, developed through a daily practice. It’s rare, and also recognized and revered by others.The story, says, O'Donohue, "underlines the hiddenness of beauty, a beauty that dwells between the worlds which cannot be reached with known language or bare senses. It only reveals itself when the mind's attention is radical and the imagination is finely tuned."
I’ve been writing as a (nearly) daily practice for more than 25 years, and Rob has been painting for over 30 years. Something must happen to your DNA as a result, the body must be in a different state, at a different frequency. Something happens to the way you breathe, too. Also, the light enters you in the morning, and you’re altered by it. You see and hear and feel things at such a frequency that you’re out of step with the rest of the world. Of course you are.
What I'm trying to do – is to develop deeper layers of awareness. To see this in others, and to share my findings. The French filmmaker, Robert Bresson, said: “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps have never been seen.” This is how marvelously unique we are – that even though art is being made at a prodigious rate all over the world – that still, from where we stand in our own little corner of that world, we might observe and make visible what others have not seen or experienced.
How to develop this awareness, how to fine tune this habit of awareness? One way is to look at paintings. And another is to look at a painting, and write about it. There is a long practice of poets doing so, and the form is called ekphrasis, (Which you will know if you have read my poetry, and my book of poemish essays, Asking). Perhaps you have already written ekphrastic poems yourself.
Pictured in this post is a painting Rob made for me of the cover of one of my favourite books, in a favourite edition, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. The book itself is falling apart - a paperback whose glue has eroded, so the pages are loose. I love this painting and look at it often but when I set the vase of flowers before it this past week, I saw it all over again. The colours of the ranunculus were picked up in the colour of the hat, and the famous first line from the book popped into my head, "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself."
Well, it occurred to me that I needed to look longer, and again, and more. Which brought me to this article on slow art. And reminded me of the Open Culture list of digitized art from museums from all over the world.
Which brings me to today's writing prompt: look long at a painting, in person or on the web, and write about it. Look until you are changed by the looking, until you are enchanted, or raw, or lonely, or awed.
Please feel free to share your poem or the experience of looking at a painting in the comments below.