I had the luck of getting to know Joann and her husband, the renowned potter David Greenbaum, last year. They live close to the Kadampa temple in up-state New York and are artists that I absolutely admire. Joann is a wonderful painter whose large body of works evoke absolute happiness—rich colors and compositions. David creates these incredible Shohola Bells, enormous clay bells that interact with the wind and bring wisdom into forests and gardens for those who happen to be passing through.
As I sat there looking through Joann's online portfolio, I found myself circling back to the ‘Dreamscapes’ section and the Cozy Cottage series. Maybe it’s because the images in this series evoke the Technicolor imagination of my childhood. I used to see magic everywhere. The rickety old houses in the works, with their wobbly dimensions and magical goings-on brought back memories of walking through ancient farmlands of Lamma Island in Hong Kong, where I spent many days as a kid. They were enchanting places, and I used to see so many stories in those landscapes.
I finally came to the one titled, “The little things? The little moments? They aren't little." John Zabat-Zinn. It spoke to me, it said, "I will bring you wisdom."
Right now, my husband and I are playing with the idea of finding ourselves a little home in the woods of Maine. Somewhere quiet where I can write and he can drum and build things and sit under the stars. Of course, we'd dash off to New York and Hong Kong a few times a year, but have a home to come back to. There is this lure of settling down.
This remarkable painting, however, with its quaint home perched above the river, its perfect light and absolute tranquility, reminds me of the wisdom of impermanence. I look at the house standing in bliss, but somewhat precariously over the river, and it’s like a Buddhist teaching in itself.
My root teacher, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, writes in his amazing books about how our mind is like a guest, and our body, the guesthouse. Soon we will move on. He also talks of the mind being like a river, a continuum that moves on and on and on. I need to start identifying with the river. I need to start seeing that everything around me is just a brief stop on a very long journey.
I look forward to the day when this amazing artwork will go up on a wall of our future family home. I look forward to looking at it, and letting it remind me that all things will pass—to not get too attached to the wood and the nails and the roofing that will no doubt fall down, or to my body that will age and also start to fall apart.
To start to train in understanding the river instead.
I hope that by then, I will be living my life like I’m a traveler—with a light load in my mind, ready to depart whenever need be. Perhaps by doing that, by starting to let go of the heavy grasping at permanence, by training my mind to loosen the habitual ways of seeing things in such concrete fixed forms, the magic will really start to emerge again.
(PS. Do you see how there's somebody standing just inside the doorway of the house?)