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I am an artist living in rural Nova Scotia in a house overlooking the ocean. Being the mother of two, a nine-year old boy and twelve-year old girl, I am a cook, chauffeur, maid, gardener, and tutor. Aside from being an artist and a parent, the final ingredient in my life is the meditation practice that I have been doing since 1982 when I took an introductory class at Naropa University in Boulder, CO. With all I had to do, I knew I needed some balance in my life. So now, when people ask me what I do, I reply with the three p’s: painting, parenting and practicing (meditation).

After many years of doing all three I understand that balance is achieved through acknowledging the basic space that everything arises from. Before there is any type of thought or form there is the unconditional space from which everything arises. In Buddhism we speak of form and emptiness being inseparable; one cannot arise without the other. Without an understanding of the natural gap between space and the arising of form, things can easily become claustrophobic, overwhelming, and out of balance.

This is very similar to the process of creating art. First, there must be blank paper or canvas, then a gap, and then an inspiration to create form. In whatever I’m doing, when I lose my sense of balance, I try to come back to a sense of basic open ground, letting go of my fixed concepts as much as possible. This allows me to again discover balance and equanimity. Many, many activities can occur if there is a basic grounding in this space; it can accommodate the infinite and myriad if the mind has reached some level of resting, stability, and calm.

In painting or drawing, I try to find this balance between form and emptiness. Open spaces, areas of pure color, or the bare paper or canvas exposed, allow a resting space for the eye. The forms then have some place to emerge from rather than the whole being charged with activity. This also encourages the viewer to appreciate the forms presented in each work of art.

With children, too, there are times for activity and times for rest—relaxation, open space, and activity. I remember having to balance this closely when my daughter was a colicky infant and I had to ensure that she didn't become over stimulated.

This balance between form and emptiness, between activity and rest, also exists in various types of Buddhist and Shambhala practice. In Shamatha (formless meditation), the meditator sits in an upright still posture while relaxing into the breath and letting go of thoughts as they arise. Some Buddhist and Shambhala practices center on chanting a liturgy and visualizing particular forms and deities. These liturgies (also called sadhanas) always include sections of this formless meditation so the meditator doesn't become too fixated on form and allows visualization to arise from the formlessness of space.

Balance, however, does not just occur when you let go into space—you must apply discipline, exertion, and patience. While somewhat flexible and open, each week I have a schedule that I try to maintain. Since I don't have a job outside the studio and home, I have had to create my own schedule and maintain discipline and exertion to accomplish certain activities. My time without children at home is limited and specific. My time alone is divided between working in the studio and sitting in front of my shrine, since these activities are more difficult to do with children around. When they are home, I want to give them time and attention. Some of the time with them is very focused and specific to their needs like homework, driving them to a lesson, or just hanging out talking. Other times I do housework while they are home, since I can easily phase in and out should the need arise to be with them.

Although I have achieved a workable balance so far, I still have one area that I currently struggle. To add more balance to my life I want to market my art and ensure that the work moves beyond my studio walls. So far I have been unable to find the time and energy needed to accomplish this task in the midst of my other activities and disciplines. Suggestions welcome.

Barbara Berry is an artist, mother of two, and a practicing Buddhist. Her aspirations are to make genuine, personal art, and discover her own gentle and fearless nature. Learn more about her art at www.goldbirth.com or email at barbara@goldbirth.com. She welcomes ideas for marketing and displaying her work.


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