Recently, I painted a lily pond with reflections of tree trunks and a network of bare branches called “Autumn Reflection” – without an s.
On arriving at this pond in Van Dusen Gardens last November, I felt a deep sense of peace. It was a tranquil day – no wind, no rain, no blazing sun – and I was with a quiet, thoughtful friend. On seeing the patterns of the reflected sky and branches, of the dying lily pads, I thought it would make a well-designed abstract painting, with the contrast between the light of the sky and the lily pads and the deep browns of the water and trees, between the cool blue of the reflected sky and the warmth of the yellow lily pads and orange overhanging boughs.
But the painting came to be more than a composition.
Reflection refers not just to a mirror image but also meditation or the consideration of an idea or situation. When we reflect on something, we may give it a great deal of thought. Reflection is a quiet process, suggesting stillness, contemplation, and sometimes some sort of insight. There is a kind of stillness involved, a cessation of other activity, of strong upsetting emotions, of distractions.
As I painted this pond, or this design (for that is how I saw it), I was once again back in the quiet, tranquil garden on that November day. Although there was turmoil in my life, brought on by the malice and desperation of those who would exploit and steal from my mother and then attack me for trying to get the Public Guardian involved, all that evaporated. All that existed was the tranquility of this autumn scene. It was a reflection on the peace, on the calmness, that nature can bring.
Often, when I paint, especially outdoors, all that exists is the subject and the painting. I do not exist. I am part of something larger, more important. We are tiny wee nothings - - just specks – in the vastness and beauty of the universe. Surrendering to that can be liberating. So when I paint, when I see this scene, I am part of something greater than myself.
For some, reflection might be a form of narcissism. Consider the myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection. He is considered synonymous with a fixation on oneself. Consider how many people post selfies and videos of themselves on the Web. Two parents recently posted a video in which they scolded and frightened their children, causing them to cry. The father tried to justify his cruelty and thoughtlessness by saying he wanted to make his children proud of him. He said that because he was not a doctor or lawyer, he did not feel they had reason to look up to him. He sought their respect and admiration by posting the video. Instead of being kind and loving by focusing on them, on their thoughts and feelings, he thought about himself, about being admired.
Reflection, however, is not a state of self-absorption (although it might be for some) but instead can lead to liberation from the self. It can mean paying attention to what is outside of oneself - - to one’s spouse or friend or to the patterns that nature forms.