There is an interview with Agnes Martin, in which she claims to have let go of all the theories in an attempt to keep her mind clear. It was more involved than that: she wanted to keep her ego out of the way when she was inspired to paint so that the original message remained unsullied.
The innocence and purity of this is blindingly beautiful to me. But that’s not actually what I wanted to talk about. I could write reams about Martin, her neuro-eccentricity, her work, our connection. But perhaps another day.
Today, I want to talk about that interview, and in particular when she says she let go of all the theories. Even evolution.
Ah, yes. To let go of evolutionary theory to embrace mindfulness feels like an impossible climb up the highest mountain. When I have a difficult problem, my automatic response it to run it through several filters to see what remains. The most important filter I use is one that resembles evolutionary psychology, my best tool for helping me make big decisions.
But one cannot be mindful and still filter experience through various theories.
The evolutionary psychologist, Robert Wright, is holding an online course on overcoming tribalism through the Buddhist site Tricycle. I have read one of Wright’s books and get along well with his way of thinking and writing, and so I paid close attention to his announcement. Mindfulness over tribalism is something I have been struggling with lately, particularly with my extended family challenges. My instinct says one thing, but Buddhist teachings say another. How does one resolve such a conflict?
It’s not lost on me that this is an important topic of discussion for our time. I’m thinking here of political turmoil, and the move towards tribal thinking and away from humanism. But it is also an issue I need to sort out on the personal level, and the personal always seems more immediate and pressing. So, I have been waiting for an epiphany. Some guidance. A message. But I’m beginning to think I may need to go out and find one.
I suppose it really is true that if you let all the theories go, if you push your emotions and interpretations to the side, you can see things how they are. And presumably you will also know how to respond with compassion and kindness. But to let go of evolutionary theory? Ah, the complexities of the human condition!
Speaking of complexities, I feel compelled to mention that my oldest child and I are regular partners in a mood disorder dance. Family dynamics are complicated, and exponentially so with a neuro-eccentric member. But two? Half of all members with a neuro-eccentricity? Suffice it to say, shit gets really crazy in our house, with one triggering the other and spiraling out of control, and back and forth, and hypersensitivities meaning no-one can sneeze without someone thinking there was some hidden meaning behind it. Sometimes I wonder if I will be able to survive her adolescence. But just as my despondency reaches its zenith, we have a magical moment. Yes, our family is often agitated and dysregulated, but we are also colorful, vibrant, creative folks with an incredibly deep connection. I’m not sure how we’d do this without that silver lining.