My drive to the office is usually on autopilot. So familiar is the route, I arrive at the parking lot without thinking about it.
One day a few years ago, all that changed. I noticed the leaves of the aspen that lined the road were quivering. It was if each branch and each leaf was trembling with aliveness.
This was no miracle. It’s called quaking aspen for a reason.
But why hadn’t I noticed it before? It had, after all, been happening in the faintest of breezes for thousands of years.
I describe moments like this as “direct contact” – those times when we’re jolted from our world of thoughts into an unmediated experience. For a few seconds, it was just me and the leaves.
No naming, no questioning: just awe.
The world needs more of this. There’s a certain integrity in experiencing reality without interpretation. It’s an engagement with the truth of the world, without the gaslighting of mind.
Shortly after this I began my art project, Snubsta. My process for creating my Snubsta work is to quiet the mind in order to allow direct contact with the world. Then I try to put that in words and illustrations.
I realize there’s an irony here. Once we start describing and interpreting, we’re distancing ourselves from experience. So the practice is to put that experience on paper without destroying its integrity. Perhaps this is why the words and images are so sparse.
I didn’t invent this. Ancient Zen or Ch’an practice allows the structures of interpretation to dissolve, leaving just immediate experience. Chinese poetry, a tradition dating back hundreds of years, does this. It’s been argued that more recent writers, such as Henry David Thoreau, did the same.
There’s something about living in the “is-ness” of things. It’s an experience we can only hint at in pen and ink.
The world is pretty complex until we see the aspen quaking.