Wikipedia tells us the word Zen “is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word Dzyen (Modern Mandarin: Chán), which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as “absorption” or “meditative state”. For me, if there is such a thing as Zen, it’s encompassed in the act of painting. Especially the “absorption” part.
Like today, when I got up around 3 AM (which is pretty much my norm), although the previous couple of days I had hopped out of bed around 9 AM because I had had some late-sleeping company. Since my friend, Walt, would be driving down from Pennsylvania later this afternoon — an 8-hour trip — I figured I’d do a quick cleanup. After a while, the cleanup was done and I decided to go down to my basement studio to spend a couple hours painting.
That’s when the Zen thingy kicked in and I floated off into an intense concentration that was broken only by the need for a pee-break. My couple of hours of absorption was over. But, when I climbed the steps and pushed into the kitchen upstairs, everything was dark. How could that be? I distinctly remembered going down to my basement and it had been mid-morning daylight. Now, outdoors was an ominous pitch black. How long had I been absorbed in my “meditative state”? The clock on the wall and the sulky darkness outside suggested it was 6 PM.
My mind fell apart. I could not believe I had painted for 13 hours. I could not comprehend that it was 6 PM, or that it was so very, very dark outside my windows. I figured there had to be an eclipse going on out there — hadn’t I recently heard something in the news about an upcoming eclipse? I stepped outside and shielded my eyes. Heavy clouds obscured my view. I could not see the sky; everything was hushed and dark and silent as a stone. My brain had ascended beyond Zen and had quit working entirely.
I was scared.
Worried that Walt had yet to arrive, I called Walt’s house. His wife, Andrea, told me Walt had just left. Wow, he had left after dinner and was running late! I did the math — Walt would be arriving somewhere around 3 AM. I took a shower, and when I walked into the living room — it was daylight outside. I *had* witnessed an eclipse! I went back down to my studio and contemplated Armageddon and the terror that eclipses must have caused through the ages.
A clock on a tool shelf flashed 9 AM. But I didn’t notice. Instead, I was thinking about how Armageddon must be like walking from a bright basement studio with a lingering hint of turpentine and linseed oil, and stepping, eyes wide open into an eclipse.