Self, Painting, and Pastry

Evening comes, and I can feel my tiredness. Sunday is rest day, but I haven’t yet learned how to budget my energy well enough that I don’t still end it sleepy.

Silent Sunday, Ink and Acrylic on Paper, 8 1/2" x 12"

Silent Sunday, Ink and Acrylic on Paper, 8 1/2″ x 12″

When I am sleepy, I tend to be grumpy, too. And let me tell you, it’s funny to be sleepy and moderately grumpy and surrounded by Buddhists. Everyone just wants to offer something. And sometimes, I just want to say, “Erm…know what? I’m actually okay with being grumpy right now.” Admittedly, one must remember not to dwell and mire oneself more in whatever frustrations arise, but really, some days, frustrations just arise. Little things; big things; whatever–depends on the day.


Buddhism teaches that the self, which most of us cling to as our identity, has no essence. When we act from this understanding, we become more generous and less reactive because we aren’t so busy trying to protect our own views and often to prove others wrong. At the same time, I’ve seen in myself that this can backfire on occasion. I’m not enlightened (big news, hehe) and that means that, inevitably, I do a lot of self-clinging, like worrying about what others think of me or being annoyed when the world doesn’t meet my expectations and I have to adjust. In these moments, I often find myself castigating myself instead of realizing that it’s okay to make mistakes and that if there really is no fundamental me then there’s also no one to be mad at, just an ebb and flow of ideas and feelings held together in a body that hasn’t quite figured out what’s what in this world.


And even if the confusion about self is a pretty basic source of suffering, while we are still mired in this view of the world, we can use our sense of self to help us develop wonder and appreciation, which lead to care for others and our (non) selves. Even thousands of miles from the places that feel familiar, even while dedicated to the study of equanimity, I do a double take when I pass a pastry shop and I return to blank pages and pigment when I want to understand what I am feeling. I still feel giddy and grateful to discover a new culture’s approach to food and the delight to be found in the flavor and artistry of dessert. I still can’t help just a small shopping spree when I stumble across art supplies in one of the labyrinthine markets of Delhi. Doing so helps me appreciate all the other beings who relate to the world in these ways, even in a country so different from the one I come from. It helps me notice that joy can transcend identity, that I feel most like myself when I am sharing something with others, in life and in spirit. It helps me see, in one experiential way, what the Buddha may have meant, when he taught that self is non-dual, but exists in relation to all other things.

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