AN ALL-INCLUSIVE PRESENCE
Elemental intelligence demands that the desire for happiness be tempered by both the willingness to gain awareness of all aspects and sectors of human existence and a concomitant refusal to escape this reality through any form of self-deception. Happiness that is the fruit of deliberate insensitivity is a form of corruption and, as such, bound to generate and spread around antagonism and sorrow. A sensitive mind cannot help but be profoundly and extensively conscious of the extent to which humanity is still shaped and tormented by division and its attendant conflicts. The perception of how little true happiness there really is, and of how much anxiety and suffering results from the reckless pursuit of opposing forms of psychological security and extravagant pleasure, is in itself an indictment of all the myriad ways of cultural and personal isolation.
Even for those who are comparatively better off materially and enjoy greater security, every day seems to bring new difficulties and threats. The experience of being alive is, however, far worse for those directly affected by the steady distress and privation of poverty, war, and political and religious subjugation—often just a constant and miserable struggle to stave off disaster and death. It is not an exaggeration to affirm that at this point in history, just about every human being alive is subject to genuine tension and insecurity stemming from the convergence of a whole host of interrelated and, as such, mostly unmanageable psychological, political, economic, demographic, technological, epidemiological, military, and ecological variables. A complete and lucid sense of the actual levels of stress, violence, hardship, and sorrow endured by nearly everyone alive is rare. For it results from the willingness to look beyond oneself and all the particular descriptions, interpretations, and illusory projections of reality that grant identity and some (mostly false) sense of security to members of specific groups and tribes.
Division, dissension, and suffering have been with us for so long that we have accepted them as a regular part of reality, thus precluding the realization that there is something seriously wrong with the way we humans live and relate to one another. An insensitive and therefore irrational mind can only generate a chaotic world; a world ruled by a systemic cultural and psychological dysfunction seen as normal and consequently granted untrammeled continuity by an overwhelming majority of human beings. The distress and relational disorder experienced by every individual alive at any given point in time and space is both cause and effect of the chronic fragmentation and disharmony that characterizes the species as a whole.
Perhaps more shocking than the constant failure of the human mind to bring about sanity to itself, and thereby order in interpersonal relationship and peace in the world, is that this failure is hardly a matter of general knowledge and preferential concern. We have become so tragically habituated to psychic isolation and so addicted to particular ideological delusions and occasional experiences of physical and psychological pleasure that we hardly ever manage to get our heads out of their respective holes in the thick sand of what we each privately know, believe, think, and covet. If after 5,000 years of so-called civilization and the lives and deaths of an estimated 108 billion people our affairs remain disorderly, unjust, and violent, it is because we are still tribally and personally unwilling to see the absurdity of identifying ourselves with different forms of the same claim to separate existence. Thus, mature responsibility begins with the willingness to become aware of our personal contribution to the bellicose atomization endlessly afflicting humanity.
We are deeply conditioned to protect ourselves psychologically by disregarding or misconstruing much of what is occurring in our minds, in our interactions with others, and the world at large. Unsurprisingly, this bunker mentality endlessly generates and sustains the abysmal psychological, political, economic, and ecological reality of humanity at large. To put it differently, each one of us protects the illusion of a separate existence by taking distance from the conflicted and increasingly dangerous world this very alienation keeps re-creating. Each particular fantasy of existential uniqueness (each “us” and each “I”) is an integral part of a general disavowal of the unity of the human species, as well as a rejection of its astonishing presence within the seamless cosmic flow of existence. At every moment we choose to ignore the integrity of life just because it does not conveniently fit in our respective, but equally predetermined and limited mental categories and preferences. And in failing to see ourselves as an integral part of life, our conscious cosmic presence is tragically reduced to the self-projecting cerebral accumulation of limited cultural and biographical experience that determines our separate identities and our conflicted and conflicting hopes (and fears) regarding the future.
Our most intimate and potent reality is not then the miracle of an intimately shared existence, but rather a necessarily small and jealously hedged collection of memories, false claims, loves and hates mechanically striving to improve and extend themselves in mental and chronological time. As a result of this Hydra-like tribal/personal encapsulation of the mind, the entire edifice of human society remains atomized and subject to constant but superficial remodeling on the inherently unstable foundation of antagonistic instances of the same illusory existential claim. As felt and enacted by several billion people, the mental representation of who “I” have been, what “I” presently like and dislike, and what “I” am willing to do to attain “my/our” fulfillment is dark and dynamic enough to obscure the actuality and integrity of being and thus sustain hell on Earth.
The disorder that envelops humanity at every point in time is, therefore, the only possible outcome of the fragmented and deeply flawed system of thought that finds a comfortable nest in every brain-washed individual. Each generation is born into and given shape by the fractured psychological and cultural reality created by thought, and so we remain for the most part unaware of the tragic consequences of our subscription to it. One of these consequences is a pervasive loathing and fear of death conceived as the end of the particular instance of physical and mental uniqueness generally presumed to be the ground of our existence. This steadily neurotic attitude to mortality sickens the way we live and relate. It certainly afflicts that vast majority of human beings that has, for millennia already, attempted to buffer their distress through the belief that the last exhalation is but a portal leading this same separate being to the eternal realization of the security and fulfillment that is its most cherished desire. Multitudes live and die within this system of sectarian and self-protective thought, and the same collective delusion marches on to the future energized like a cancer by its malign instinct for exclusive psychological survival and redemptive expansion.
From the most ancient of times, the sting of sorrow and the finality of death have moved some individuals to question the reality or the seeming goodness of a separate and largely self-serving existence. Unfortunately, this questioning has generally taken place within the limited and contradictory framework provided by thought and codified in multiple forms of religious, political, philosophical, and now even scientific knowledge. The ideologies that result from this disparate exploration of being and becoming, far from dissolving the psycho-cultural distance between groups and individuals have further solidified their differences, thus also strengthening the general propensity to insensitivity, conflict, and violence. Whatever sense we may have that suffering will remain and possibly worsen unless we are willing and able to change ourselves, usually only goes to enact slight and gradual modifications of habitual patterns of thought and action. And in the end, and despite the strenuous work they entail, these incremental adjustments only manage to keep us fundamentally the same, and therefore still separate and, more often than not, cruelly indifferent and opposed to one another.
In the realm of egocentric tribalism what reigns is memory and its rigid projection onto the future of the highly antagonistic forms of unstable security, occasional happiness, and continuity in separation it holds and guards. Amazingly enough, not even the constant uncertainty, frustration, and grief that stems from contradictory and conflicting material and psychological claims are capable of breaking the rigid manner in which we conceive of ourselves and the open or hidden hostility with which behave towards one another. And so we continue struggling against ourselves, others, and life itself in the foolish hope of retaining or attaining some largely illusory measure of exclusive and enduring comfort, status and fulfillment. In doing so, it generally does not matter that others will consequently fail to realize a different version of the same fantasy, or merely stay alive.
Given that memory is the source of all efforts meant to extend in time just about everyone’s sense of identity and purpose, it is not surprising that in the general context of human society and after thousands of years of presumed progress, we are still experiencing life as a species-wide battle fought over exclusive privilege or everyday survival. The constant struggle among competing and unrealistic personal (and tribal) ambitions only serves to compound the original insensitivity, confusion, and despair that has for millennia characterized the fragmented human mind and its action in the world.
If this admittedly sketchy portrayal of the human condition is accurate, and therefore likely to be readily corroborated by anyone through direct perception of the facts to which it alludes, then only one relevant question remains, and it is this. Is the life experience created by identification with a particular set of private cultural and personal memories and projections our only possible reality, or is there an entirely different mode of (human) existence, one not wholly based on the mental record of experience and forcefully projected by self-centered thought? Is there depth of being that more truthfully expresses the mysterious gift of aware cosmic presence that seems to distinguish our shared humanity? Anyone who takes up this exploration must do so fully aware that it implies the dissolution of the intimate and familiar sense of “having” a separate personal existence. For nothing much is left standing when whatever one may have experienced, learned, and craved after (in terms of politics, religion, nationality, race, gender, age, social class, occupation, wealth, recreation, character, personality and physical feeling) is no longer trusted with properly defining, sustaining, and guiding (one’s) being.
Let us be more specific and ask what is left of one when no longer a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Zoroastrian or anything else of that sort? Who remains when all traces of national chauvinism and cultural ethnocentrism have been discarded? Who is the one who would survive no longer seeking self-righteous sanctuary in any form of political partisanship—right, left, center, or extreme center? What is involved in no longer being identified with any position in the spectrum of sexual or educationally induced preference or abhorrence? What occurs when one’s occupation is merely a specialized function, a service lovingly rendered to others in exchange for basic sustenance and, therefore, never used to procure superior status and injust privilege? What is it to be so familiar with the typical foibles of all human beings and all the many actual and possible divisions and subdivisions of social, economic, and cultural standing that one is never again identified with any shade of skin pigmentation, or any form of social, generational, educational, occupational, or consumerist pedigree? What is left of one when an acute awareness of the limitation of personal experience and formally acquired knowledge puts both in their proper place, deflating as well any desire that would seek a future of bigger and better experience, increased knowledge (especially psychological knowledge), and more refined and disciplined belief? What remains after what one has always regarded as “my” body is suddenly seen as inseparable, not just from the landscape, food, water, and air that sustain it from moment to moment, but from everything else in existence, manifest and non-manifest? In a nutshell, what is the outcome of not being any ”thing” physically and no “one” psychologically, and consequently of not having any intention of becoming better or something else, or any fear of the possible failure of doing so?
Is the outcome of this stance a growing loss of control and reason? Is it death, or is it perchance sanity and freedom granted by the irruption into the mind of the unconditioned intelligence and goodness of life itself? If the psyche were to stop being encapsulated by self-centered thought and the endless obligations imposed by illusion, would the human organism not instantly reflect its seamless participation in the mystery of life through an intelligent and therefore caring presence?
The question of the significance of being human is irrelevant if posed as a choice among alternative points of view, each offering a different but equally predetermined and divisive answer. However, the same question is powerfully unifying when it comes from the perception of the fragmentation and general alienation from life exhibited by the privately recorded and self-projected experience of the conditioned person. Because it is wise to the irrationality of the cross-cultural system of exclusive mental identification and its destructive effect on the entire species, this perception sets resolutely aside all existing forms of contradictory meaning that may be adopted in the search for identity and continuity. And as the mental programming fades away, the actual (non-ideational) fact and significance of the human presence within life becomes evident. To put it the other way around: insight into the fundamental nature of being is inseparable from the falling away of the divisive mental programming that has forever been the source of suffering.
This perception is unprecedented because it is unrelated to the mental representations of the past, present, and future that enable the regressive and progressive thinking that isolates and dulls the mind. Without the falling aside of previous experience and the cancellation of current efforts engaged in the realization of future self-projections—that is, without the absence of prejudice and predetermined motive—conformity retains its mental predominance, and everything remains fundamentally the same. However, the particular, time-bound fantasy of existential isolation cannot survive the realization that the mind conditioned and encapsulated by the record of experience, is terminally impotent, absolutely incapable of extricating itself from the mess it has created. Once this is evident, the mind is as open and inclusive as life itself. An unpremeditated integration with the inconceivable unfolding of existence is the only possible remedy to the increasingly desperate mental, social, geopolitical, and ecological situation that has been created by irrational and self-sustaining personal narratives and the opposing secular and religious ideologies that sponsor them.
To be sure, being open to the loss of most of what one has accumulated during a lifetime of experience, formal learning, and hard striving may seem at first a dangerous, perhaps insane proposition. But such apprehension dissolves with the realization that it is only the dwindling expression of the tradition, authority, and habit that once ferociously enforced submission to the general system of mental programming. The challenge of seeing things completely and just as they are may not be for everybody, at least not just yet. But there are indeed human beings—and for all you know you may well be one of them—who despite understandable fears and intense external pressure to go on conforming to the programmatic dictates of tradition and personal experience, still feel irrevocably called to inspect and consequently dispose of their cultural and personal blinders.
Whatever you may continue to think you are, and whatever you may still be dimly hoping to achieve or avoid in the future, may no longer be strong enough to hold back the quiet but persistent inner demand to find out who you really are. Not who you habitually say you are to yourself and some others, or what still others critically or admiringly may affirm about you, but who you are in and by yourself. Needless to say, after all mental identification with a given set of persons, things, experiences, feelings, images, ideas, and dreams have gone away, nothing is left. And whenever the fantasy of a separate and on-going personal existence dissolves, there is one less contributor to the segmentation and torment of humanity.
To be coherent with the preceding text, I must now preface the collection of images that follow with an explicit warning about its limitations. Like any other similar attempt to provide some semblance of the conditioned human mind and what may lie beyond its reach, it is bound to disappoint. No one, least of all I, can issue a complete and valid description of partisan and self-centered separation, and much less a viable mental bridge—some sort of discipline or method—guaranteed to cover the immense distance between a psychologically progressive “someone” and what may be cautiously referred to as the ground of being or the undivided plenitude of life. All that is licit to expect from this admittedly inadequate set of images is sincere encouragement to question personal consciousness to the ultimate consequences. Look at them, then, as a heartfelt invitation to venture away from the familiar and into what lies utterly beyond all symbolic representations of the past, present, and future. This is definitely not yet another attempt to colonize the mind with images and ideas regarding the presumed significance of life and a safe way to navigate its rapids.
These are, for the most part, found images and not deliberate, intentional creations. True, the same person who has the concerns and perceptions expressed above is the one responsible for weaving, immersing, spreading, and dragging around a net clearly intended to catch something of the human form and its insertion in life. However, the specific catch resulting from his deep sea expedition is well beyond anything he could have ever come upon if he was merely relying on his capacity to conceptualize, project, and depict. I dare make these images public only because I feel that there is something genuine staring back at us from them. First of all, some pictorial echo of the unthinkable movement of existence, and then a semblance of our shared human presence coming in and out of form along with everything else that, like us, also lives in relationship, ages, and dies. Ourselves then as a manifestation of the flow of life—seen at first in this collection enclosed by mental separation and thus submerged in darkness. And later on, still ourselves but so vulnerable and nakedly intermingled with one another, other aspects of our immediate world and the totality of life, that what is in the end revealed, is humankind free of the schisms and discords intrinsic to fixed identities and willfully wished-for separate destinies. In announcing, however dimly, not the idea but the ever-present reality of life as a whole, these paintings may help at least some of us to see, and therefore to live utterly beyond the conceptual (memory-based) past, present, and future of the mental self.
You will notice that in many of these images the habitual mental distinction made between figure and ground (particular being and general existence) blurs to the point of disappearance. What looks like the surface of a human body is also the inside; cells, bones, organs, and muscle tissue. What appears as a landscape is also a human being, and what seems to be a human being is a landscape as well.
In their small and necessarily limited way, these paintings announce that what truly matters is the undivided and therefore unthinkable flow of life—a movement that seamlessly contains our presence (and determines our eventual disappearance) and that when fully realized dissolves psycho-cultural separation along with its characteristic insensitivity, and its stultifying labors, hatreds, and sorrows. The isolated self finally appears as the illusion it is, a cartoonish abstraction created and sustained by tradition, addicted to predetermined patterns, and the endless obligations and fears of desire. It is only then that its obstinate and opaque representational character stops blotting out the brilliant actuality of life.
Some Notes on Technique
Although this approach to painting combines several disparate variables with a generous allowance for random occurrence, someone must be there to enable the process and therefore to some extent curtail its randomness through a variable measure of artistic intervention and the defining prerogative of choosing what images to keep and discard. Conscious artistic intervention on the results of the random process is more evident in the earlier paintings (that are also the first to appear in this book as depictions of the isolated self) and is mostly concerned with making an image already detected, more evident and intelligible to the viewer. Over many years of trial and error, this painting process revealed its inherent potential to generate meaningful images, thus gradually convincing its human enabler of the virtue of staying literally out of the picture. An overriding interest in movement as the ground from which form emerges and into which it disappears and, literally, a blind trust on the materials and forces utilized was enough to produce interesting and sometimes startling paintings. A convenient, if not altogether necessary contribution to the free flow of liquid, is the monochromatic character of this artwork. The exclusion of the color variable merely accommodates the need to simplify an already vastly complex process, while simultaneously facilitating the most prolific generation of form.
(The general tone of the images ranges from burnt gold to dark chocolate and is a byproduct of the dilution of high-quality black inks with water and of the scanning process through which the original paintings on glass are digitized to be printed.)
The technique itself consists of moving a differentially mixed combination of pigment and medium with a set of different tools over opaque or translucent surfaces capable of recording the actual flow of the mix. The first body of work to emerge from this approach gathers relatively small original paintings done strictly on an opaque and not very absorbent substrate (usually papers with a clay or plastic surface) and using mostly acrylic and other inks. (I started painting in this manner in the early 1990s, and I am still doing it). However, all but one of the paintings appearing in this book belong to a second stage of experimentation that started in 2004 and ended in 2014, and that emerged from the decision to paint on glass rather than paper or board so as to overcome the persistent limitation of scale inherent in the use of the same method on opaque substrates.
Having been a photographer all my adult life, and since 2004 one with access to the digitization of images, I eventually realized that if I were to paint with black Sumi ink on glass instead of paper or board, I would be generating high definition transparencies that could then be scanned and printed in a variety of sizes. (As you look at the images that follow, try imagining how they would look if you were seeing them in the scale for which they were intended, which for the last generations of glass paintings is around four feet in their long dimension.)
The digital conversion of original paintings made on glass not only solved the problem of scale but also enabled cleaning, to some extent, the messiness intrinsic to this manner of spreading pigment.This period also saw the addition of an industrial-strength heat gun to the ever-expanding battery of tools employed for this manner of painting.
Completed paintings were carefully placed on a flatbed scanner that would digitally record the thin and highly detailed emulsion left by the flow of differentially diluted pigment traveling across and around the surface of the plate.
Over the years, the increase in the size and quality of the scanning equipment within my reach allowed the use of larger glass plates. The earliest crop of paintings was made on 4 x 6” plates (the first part of the collection presented in this book gathers quite a few of them). The more recent ones were made on 9 x 11” plates, and it shows in the higher definition and smoother tonality of the images painted on them ( many of which appear in the middle and last part of this collection).
In a painting approach that antecedes the work with ink in both opaque and translucent substrates, I move oil paints on rigid and carefully prepared substrates but do so employing tools other than the heat gun due to the weight and toxicity of these pigments and their mediums. One of these oil paintings is included in this book because of its thematic kinship with the work done with ink on glass. You will be able to readily tell it apart from the rest because it is a full-color, camera-made reproduction of the painting. It is also the last image to appear.
There you have it then, the vast profusion of line, form and value you see in these images comes from the nothingness that characterizes all the component elements of the painting process described. The deep black of Sumi ink, the transparency of both glass and water, the formlessness of airflow and heat, and the fact that the person facilitating the process focuses his attention on the logistic demands of the process rather than the attainment of predetermined pictorial results.
The impersonal creativity of hot air, ink, and water made visible in these paintings has helped me become aware of the profound and all-pervasive intelligence intrinsic to the most basic material (and mental) processes. And, this has been, in turn, instrumental in further awakening me to the inevitably painful circumstances of a species that long, long ago unwittingly cut itself off from this cosmic intelligence through its overly strong cultural and psychological identification with particular forms of self-projective knowledge and belief. This awareness has persistently demanded from me detection and prompt abandonment of the divisive, banal, and deceptive mental content, both cultural and personal blocking full participation in the mystery of life undivided. All that matters is our attentive integration into the ground of being and our loving encounter there.
The transmission of this message is the sole intent of this book, but if you happen to find that it is not properly addressed to you, not clear enough, or in any other way unworthy of your trust and attention, look for it elsewhere. Anywhere. Let us just be mindful that the representational dregs of private experience cannot continue obscuring for much longer the all-inclusive presence of life.
This is the second edition of An All- Inclusive Presence and it is limited to ten numered copies designed, printed, and hand bound by the author. The sixty digitized Sumi ink paintings it contains were printed in the studio. The text was set in 11 point Garamond Premier Pro.
(The first edition comprised only two copies of An All-Inclusive Presence that are still available, albeit with a slightly different text. The prints for this special edition were made in the studio and subsequently mounted on articulated pages made of 100% cotton, pH neutral, Stonehenge art paper. The book block is held together by five wooden posts, and embedded in the linen lined cover of each book is an original painting made on glass, similar to the those from which the prints in the book were made. (The ink emulsion of these paintings is protected and made more evident with an added layer of golden acrylic paint.)
This edition follows a large unbound prototype of the same book housed in a clam shell box and finished in 2011.)