Silent Sitting PDF Print E-mail
Written by Edward Larson   
Thursday, 03 June 2010 17:17

 Marina Abramovic recently concluded her 700 hour performance at the Museum of Modern Art in which she sat facing a stream of audience members who were also co-performers as they sat silently facing her for as long as they liked.The performance was open to the public and streamed live on the web.


 To a practicing Buddhist this is instantly recognizable as being similar to sesshin, a week long meditation intensive in which practitioners meditate hour after hour day after day, often from 6am-9pm sometimes from 4am-9pm. Meals are taken in a formalized ritual way, there are breaks, walking meditation and work practice. All activities are preformed silently and with as much care and intention as possible. Fatigue, fantasy and boredom, boredom, boredom are near constant companions as practitioners attempt to settle their bodies and minds into the present moment, waking up to and remaining attentive to each thought or sensation that may occur. Over time a vast undisturbed space opens up in which each thing arises and passes away of its own accord and the only constant is silent attention extending through and illuminating everything. Marina's title "The Artist Is Present" is apt.


 The idea of the viewer, the observer and observed is a natural subject for mediators and artists alike. I am reminded of Tom Friedman's "1,000 Hours of Staring (1992-'97)" a large piece of blank white paper under glass, and Nam June Paik's famous Buddha. Who we are, what we perceive and how we perceive it, is a constant source for exploration.



 Holland Cotter writes of Marina Abramovic's retrospective in the NY Times "Increasingly, as she aged, every performance became an ordeal, an invitation to failure. Her willingness to face failure became the prevailing drama of her life." Zen master Eihei Dogen, 1200-1253, claimed zen is one continuous mistake. I take this to mean the way in which we encounter failure is the fabric of our lives, the very ground of our practice. This ordinary moment, this breath, this embarrassment, this failure, is what we have to practice with, rather than deny, reject or be adverse to.


Fleas, lice,
The horse pissing
Near my pillow.



Old age, the body's slow slide into decay, aches and pains as we sit, a horse pissing next to our head, 700 hours of sitting, all of it opening up into the present, the wondrous wordless just this.

Last Updated on Monday, 07 June 2010 11:37

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