By Brother Phap Ho
A Dharma sister of mine wrote a wonderful song about joy: “Your joy is my joy, my joy is your joy!” What makes you happy and joyful? For me art is one way of ﬁlling my heart with joy. So I will tell you a little bit about how art and joy interact in my life.
Joy comes to me when I become more aware of the colors and shapes around me: in nature, people, animals, plants — miracles of life. This awareness is signiﬁcantly increased after I have spent time drawing, painting, or writing calligraphy. But already by sitting down, taking out the materials, I focus and sink into the moment. Nowhere to go, nothing to do…
A time to enjoy playing with colors and shapes; enjoying the breath and the ﬂowing movement of the arm; expressing experiences and looking deeply into life — all these aspects are drops of joy. The good news is that we do not have to be a good artist, creating something important. If we feel inspired to play with pen, brush, and paper we just do it.
Sometimes when I look at something I have written or painted, a thought comes along: this is good. But as soon as I look up to see a bird, a leaf, a cloud, I feel humbled, I remember the awesome beauty that is everywhere.
Art as Meditation
At times I establish contact with a painful feeling, a perception, a difﬁculty inside. As I start drawing, I begin to recognize, embrace, and look deeply at the difﬁculty. Aha! Art becomes a meditation, a way to heal and transform. As colors and shapes manifest on the paper, I can feel that things are moving, circulating inside me. I feel alive.
Other times I establish contact with a wholesome, healing quality. For example this morning I used markers, a calligraphy brush, and watercolors to create some posters for our children’s program (our annual Family Retreat here at Deer Park Monastery starts tomorrow). Solid as a mountain, alive as the pond (our pond is one of the children’s favorite spots here at Deer Park), cool as nature — these qualities come alive, because at the same time as brush and colors helped shapes to manifest I brought my mindfulness to those qualities. The words on the paper are not only shapes and colors but expressions of each quality and those qualities in me were also strengthened.
Using the teachings of the Buddha, writing the words or putting shapes and colors to them, is a way I look deeply in order to understand better. Establishing a relationship with the ﬁve powers, non-self, and so on.
All these ways of playing with colors and shapes bring joy, ease and freedom to my body and mind. My heart receives good nourishment, continues to open. Joyful Art of the Heart! From this space of joy, freshness, and ease, I see the world and the people around me in a different light — less judgment, more freedom.
May all hearts be ﬁlled with joy!
Brother Phap Ho, Protector of the Dharma, was ordained in the Walnut family in February 2003. He has lived at Deer Park Monastery since February 2006.