Painting by the author, June 29, 1940 (the day of Paul Klee's death)
out of ego

Painting by Tom Ferguson

The French Impressionists attempted a rendering of what they saw, an “impression” yes, but the interesting aspect is best illustrated by Seurat’s Pointillism. Interesting because in the late 1800s there was a shift in emphasis among painters of an adventurous nature, what came to be called the “avant-garde,” from the “subject” depicted to the “act” of perception. This shift may have grown out of or been influenced by then current scientific theories of how the eye works, but I believe it was based in an emerging self-awareness. The excitement was not about “how” I see but “that” I see. I am, I exist… “being” was becoming the subject or content. Later, what “I think” came into it also, or maybe more accurately, what I “intuite” – I create!

The Self as Monitor

One way to conceive of the self is as a sort of awareness monitor. What the self monitors are: thoughts, emotions and, let’s venture, instructions. This is easy to test. Take a breath, let it out. Watch for the first words to drift across your mind. They are not you,… you are the observer.

Thoughts: functional thought is problem-solving, such as what I’m doing right now, trying to reach insight about consciousness. Or crossing the street safely, planning a vacation etc; dysfunctional thought is a more or less obsessive reviewing of past events or fantasizing future scenarios, all the while mistaking that obsessive mind chatter for self. This blocks the experience of simple being, reality, preoccupying one with fantasy.

Emotions: these are triggered by thoughts or are karmically induced, that is, residue from unfinished experiences, consequences of past decisions, guilt for example or the elation of winning recognition or the downside, being criticized. Karmic accumulation may have to play out but one can, theoretically, stop making more. There is also the problem of karmic events outside personal experience, like say, U.S. responsibility for, in some estimates, 4 million dead in the Vietnam war, something that has to weigh on every citizen.

Instructions: when thoughts and emotions are the subject of the monitor or observer, rather than what is identified with, they loose their power to fool you into believing that they are you and at that point their energy is transposed into awareness, presence. For the duration of that presence, until mind kicks in again and ego regains control, experience is of enjoyment in being, “joie de vivre.” There is no need for action, for thinking or doing. Eventually into that peaceful state an impulse to creativity happens. These are the instructions. What to do as determined by the… what popped up on my word processor just now was “the Good Lord Above” …and in a way, that is what I meant to say, if by that archaic word “Lord” is meant the unnameable, the field of being, the source, the intelligence obvious in the patterns of reality.

I opt for the other words, “Lord” being, as I said, archaic and loaded with confusing baggage and an endorsement of hierarchy. Looking at the meaning of the English word at the time of its use in the St. James version of the Bible, I would suggest that the equivalent word today might be “boss.” What is gained in accuracy is lost in reverence… “Our boss who art in heaven…” but for me, I trip over the class implications. I like “boss” because it makes this obvious and allows for a notion of “god” that is egalitarian rather than hierarchical, ie, HE doesn’t reign above, rather WE are interconnected. At the interstices of this interconnection is the bliss of Buddhism, the “feeling” realization of interconnection that shatters the dysfunctional – the egoic thought-belief in a vulnerable separate self. Thus is dissolved the fear natural to that lonely conception, that same fear at the root of ruthless competition and war.

In art the “instructions” lead to the creation of images or structures, painting or sculpture, dance, drama, poetry, song and the other forms that creativity fills. A painter might stare at a blank canvas until “instructions” emerge, blue here, in a slash, or an overall field or in the shape of a world image, a building, a hill… or it might come in the form of jumping out of bed with the burning intent to put the alphabet on canvas, filling the space with as many scribbled or painstakingly rendered letters as will fit.

These acts, inspired by “instructions” are evident, to a person in a state of presence, as coming out of presence and so confirmation and celebration. Just as “fake” art is evident also in this state, art that is ego-driven instead of flowing out of being. The evolution of humanity consists in changing or reversing the ratio of time spent in mind-chatter versus time spent present.

It puzzled me for awhile how it was that I immensely enjoyed reading Beckett’s sorely depressing novels. Now I realize that what delighted me was the creativity, the instructions. They bring one to interconnection, accessible through presence, and that, as Eckhart Tolle claims, is a feeling for which we have no more adequate word than, love.

So, authentic art is a hit or miss affair. An artist working every day will produce work out of ego some of the time and out of presence some of the time, evolving, with the greater society, toward that preferred ratio. The more presence the more the shift is accelerated, art being the sort of formal signpost for the movement. The acceleration is critical because the life system here on this planet can’t take a hell of a lot more of what ego has been doing to it.

Tom Ferguson

Tom Ferguson

Tom is a painter, a cartoonist, a musician, a thinker and more. View some of his web sites:

  • (Painting)
  • (Political Cartoons)
  • (Music)
  • (blog)

One Comment
  1. This is a lovely rendition of what we consider the normal human brain, but I suspect some people don’t have such a brain. Some brains are not self-aware and some, perhaps the same, do not perceive connections. They seem to be missing a linkage. I don’t think it’s because the two halves of their brains are severed, as some people’s have been discovered through imaging technology to be. I suspect the missing linkage is more basic, down in the brain stem where cognition meets up with the automaton.
    I don’t think self-awareness is culturally induced. I think it’s either there or not. Though, the linkage may be broken by some traumatic event, like a near-death experience in the process of being born.

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