Let's talk about faith.
It's a complicated concept, for me anyway. I was raised by a Catholic mother, Jewish father and have been a self-avowed Buddhist since 2007. I found that Buddhism and mindfulness practices were a key component of coping with my mother's passing from cancer in 2006. After years of casual study beginning in the early 2000's I decided to take refuge vows and become a "proper" Buddhist. This painting was created in 2014, focusing my energies and memories on the first meditation I undertook following my positive diagnosis.
That initial meditation was earth shattering.
Flooded with an onslaught of shame and fear, self imposed stigma tinged with hypocrisy hot tears streamed down my face as I tried my damnedest to focus on the root syllable "om"
(Fun fact: "Mantra" in sanskrit means, "Mind protector" A combination of "mun" (mind) and a form of the verb "trayete" (to protect). Lord knows I needed that.)
Why om? What is "om"? In the west we so often think of crunchy folks chanting om and reeking of patchouli and chai. But do we stop to comprehending the meaning behind the symbol and the syllable?
Lets start with the fact that this is first and foremost about sound. "OM" is actually pronounced "A--OM" or "AUM" for many. Why? Because in sanskrit, "O" is actually a diphthong! The three parts making up the sound represent a three-fold division of time. A-the waking state, U- the dream state and M- the state of deep sleep. Furthermore, within the sound it is believed that all sounds possible within linguistics are represented by the sounds made by articulation of "OM". This is why many refer to it as the "seed syllable".
At our most vulnerable, we often take refuge in our past, in good times gone by and people long gone. My first meditation following diagnosis was about taking myself back to my roots, to myself and to the core of who "I" am. I needed to learn where I went wrong, where I made the mistakes of judgement and character that led to this situation. I needed to re-define love and sex and self and other. To do that requires stripping away to the base, the source, to the roots of ego.
I cracked that day. Where was my equanimity? Out the window. But I kept the mantra going. After all, as a Buddhist I should be "better" at handling this. I should know that all things are impermanent and our mortal coil to be shed regardless of its condition upon return to the great beyond. I remembered, as I began to prepare the dense back-layers before the visual mantra motif, the way I felt sitting that day meditating on just what the fuck to do now that I'm HIV positive.
I began then to paint the glyphs. Slowly marking each om off and channeling the peculiar mix of fear, self doubt and commitment to understanding. I began to see the gold as the vehicle for my acceptance of the virus. I began to understand the reason that meditation stuck with me.
It was about fortitude. It was about forcing myself to look deeply at the ways I'd skewed my sense of self, my sense of worth and my sense of purpose.
"OM" is about getting to the center of ourselves and finding that which breaks us, breaking it, and moving on stronger than before. It is about the courage to take steps of proactive self care when at rock bottom.