Some believe reincarnation is a kind of undesirable state where you go to work out your karma issues. When you’re done with all that processing, you enter a state of Nirvana. Personally, I’d much rather be present in the moment on this world. To me, the aesthetic experience is life! I don’t want a Nirvana where all the beauty of our planet disappears as illusion. Such ‘enlightenment’ is alien. What life do we have apart from experience? To an artist, a place without aesthetic delight is separation from God.

However, I find the  concept that perception is illusion fascinating. It leads me to think we can layer perception:

  • Viewer perceives Art (perception + imagination = an illusion that is momentarily taken for ‘reality’)
  • Creator perceives Reality (perception + interpretation = Art)

Perception plays a role in both creator and viewer modes. Viewer has to know the art is an illusion; however the experienced aesthetic delight is substantial, it is an emotional reality. Likewise, to the Buddhist, life is an illusion even as happiness is not.

Thus there’s a certain type of perception, a process of viewing art, that can train the mystic how to enjoy illusory life by enjoying illusory art. The painting is a metaphor for understanding life spiritually because before immersion in the world of the work, all she has to do is turn the painting around to understand its physical truth as a collection of paint and canvass. This collection of intentionally arranged pigments cannot explain the joy of the art; neither can the collection of creatures and earth explain the joy of life. There is an ‘otherness’ to the experience of perception that when understood is true enlightenment. When you can both fully delight in the work and in the same mind fully understand how it works, you have attained a functional duality of serene existence. It’s the peace of both knowing and experiencing.

This is the skill required to fully participate community mythology. With it, you both create the myth (i.e. sacred story) and experience it with unfettered emotional empathy. We can most internalize the lessons of the work when we have childlike abandon in trusting faith. The more we understand the dynamics of myth like we understand the artist’s craft, the more our perceptive mind can cast off from creation analytics, so we can be truly open to the experience. Confidence in the product comes from understanding its origin, and this confidence improves aesthetic consumption.

We don’t really appreciate the value of confidence until we’ve come out of entanglement with traditional religions and their conundrums. Today there is a lot of suspicion about religion – people want to believe, especially if the ancestral etymology is there. However, suspicion incited by the stories themselves, by their ulterior power and organizational hidden agendas, keeps us from truly enjoying them. In such circumstances, suspicions have to be overcome with the noisy impact of oratory, of powerful preaching, and of emotional music and emotive lights. The religious experience is less about our analytical minds being truly free through understanding of the underlying story making craft. Instead, the analytical mind is suppressed, shut down temporarily by the religious mob experience. The religious service is a mental override that frees perception from analytical tethers so we can intake emotional experience and mold our psyche and innate responses.

Why expend all that energy to overcome our lack of understanding the hidden craft behind traditional religions? Instead, give people the tools to craft their own stories to hold sacred. There is no suspicion about the etymology because we ourselves created it. There is no need for hermeneutics because the intent is made explicit ahead of the experience. Thus the rational mind is appeased – it does not have to tolerate ignorance or conundrums, and hence does not have to be overcome with preachy showmanship or overridden with an emotive musical performance. Noise is replaced by impactful performances which themselves are the message, not the prelude. Emotions and the rational mind can both fully participate in shared myth, just like the viewer of art can have a real experience with the surface of a canvass that cannot be explained by the collection of smeared paints and pigments composing it. There’s a reason museums with great art are intended to allow a quiet experience – both your understanding and your perception are invited to be equally present, subject to your control.

Roy Zuniga
November 2014
Langley, WA