Friday, September 28, 2012

On The Power of Suggestion: My Rimpa Retreat

We end every yoga session with Shavasana, or corpse pose. It's rather fitting, since at the end of it your muscles have been so thoroughly stretched and pushed to their limits, and your limbs twisted in every possible direction, that you rather feel, well, dead.

Usually, the time devoted to Shavasana is a quiet one: both meditative and restorative. Today, our substitute instructor did things a little differently and talked us through the imagination of a blank white space and its gradual transformation into our particular visions of retreat / safe space, compelling us during our imagination to alternate between sweeping vistas of the space, and close-ups of specific aspects of it.

I pictured a square, walled space. Inside it, at first, was a simple square border, mirroring the layout of the walls. In other words, a typical English cottage-style garden. But then my vision erased the angularity of the space and imposed inside the walls a circular garden border. At each cardinal point stood a tall, narrow Japanese yew, and in the center stood me. I was soon replaced--Me. Replaced. By my own Damn Mind--by an ill-defined structure.

The austerity of the design was considerably relaxed by the mass plantings. There were pastel anemones contrasted with richly hued chrysanthemums, cobalt blue irises against the heathered levity of lavender. (No one said the design had to be seasonally accurate.)

It must have been the power of suggestion; otherwise, gardens really must be deeply ingrained in my psyche.

Today's New York Times featured an article about "two shimmering fall exhibitions" at the Met and the Japan Society. How evocative the opening line: "Have any artists ever, anywhere, caught the hello-ness of spring and the farewell-ness of autumn more sweetly and sharply than the Rimpa painters of Japan?" Holland Cutter deserves another Pulitzer, just for that line.

More an aesthetic than a school, Rimpa captures a moment, a mood in nature (mostly of seasonal change), as a poetic composition of bold colors and crisp lines. Rimpa suspends us in time--an assemblage of kermetic Acer palmatum leaves or a pink profusion of cherry blossoms--and also in space--a landscape no matter how contrived that forces us back to the naturalness of origins and nothingness.

My retreat was awash in colors both autumnal and vernal: a seasonal constellation in my romanticized, idealized worldview, the quintessential juxtaposition that constitutes wabi-sabi in which we can feel both the immense, incalculable pleasure of life, but the pangs of sadness we feel knowing the moment, that moment, shall soon be lost to eternity.

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