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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Thompson’

I have a friend who’s obssessed with fish. Or, more precisely, he’s obsessed with fly fishing. So far as I can tell, when he is not fishing, he is thinking about fish. His license plate reads “Red Trout.” So does his e-mail alias. I suspect that he also dreams about fish, and when he closes his eyes it’s not Renoir’s bathers or Rubens’ nudes but red trout that swim up to greet him.

As some of you may have guessed, I am speaking of Richard Thompson, a painter of national renown, who recently retired from the School of Art and Design at Alfred University. Now he devotes his days to painting and fishing in (I think) that order.

Not long ago, Richard painted a series of pictures entitled “Mindful Wading.” These paintings feature a fly fisherman in hat and waders making his way across a stream. The paintings were inspired by a conversation with my wife (who suggested to Richard that he take up yoga and meditation) and informed by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Long Road Turns to Joy, a pocket guide to walking meditation. As Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “Walking meditation is walking just for the sake of walking.” Mindful wading is Richard’s version of the practice.

In one of Richard’s paintings, a circular panel called“Cross Currents,” the fisherman stands in the center with outstretched arms. In one hand he holds his rod, in the other his line. His feet are poised on the bed of the stream, surrounded by rocks, and he appears to be stepping gingerly, lest he stumble and fall. Above his head and to either side, the heads of trout are surfacing, each lunging toward a fly. Superimposed on five contrasting colors—yellow, red, blue, and two shades of green—the image feels both centered and kinetic. Viewed from a distance, the painting itself resembles a pinwheel.

“I fly fish,” Richard has written, “and I wade streams. When I am crossing a stream I can’t see the bottom, and the water is moving. I have to balance myself while testing each rock for stability. I do this navigating under low light and in bad weather and often on unfamiliar streams. I do mindful wading.”

Thich Nhat Hanh might be surprised to learn of Richard’s adaptation of his practice, but I suspect that he would approve. For the practice of walking meditation, as interpreted by Thich Nhat Hanh, is more than a respite from the rigors of zazen. It is a practice in its own right, whose purpose is to cultivate awareness of our bodies, our surroundings, and our changing states of mind. Beyond that, it is also a way of developing inner peace and a non-violent attitude toward our natural environment. Walking mindfully, we notice whether our steps are anxious or peaceful, and we cultivate the latter.

If you would like to practice walking meditation, select a place where you will not be observed or disturbed. Open your senses to your surroundings. Assume an upright but flexible posture, letting your shoulders drop and your belly soften. Relax into your breathing. Then walk naturally and unhurriedly, as though you had no destination, feeling the bottoms of your feet pressing the ground. Continue this practice for fifteen minutes or more, maintaining mindfulness all the while. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back.

As you become more skillful in this practice, you may wish to extend it into the public arena, increasing the tempo so as not to call attention to yourself. Let the practice restore your peace, your grace, and your dignity, as you walk—or wade—through your day.

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