Life is spontaneous. It happens by itself. This is one of the fundamental principles of Buddhism. While it is good to make plans and set goals, it’s important to make time for life to unfold before you. This isn’t living life according to whim. There is more to spontaneity than caprice and disorder.
As an artist, I can tell you how this is true. I can’t tell you where my ideas come from. They happen spontaneously. It’s difficult for me to approach a canvas or piece of paper with an expectation. When I try to make something specific, it never seems to turn out right. So my approach has been to let the materials “speak” to me. I mix the paint right on the canvas. I see what shapes start to appear on their own.
I sprayed and sprayed several hued paints on this board. I noticed how the colors mixed together, how each can sprayed differently. The only method I had was that I would keep painting until it felt right. I did countless layers of paint. The yard was filled with a thick cloud of fumes that made me dizzy. I stopped and mixed some oil paint with stand oil and dripped it over the board. I started thrashing the paint brush wildly at the board, giggling and having fun at not caring what the outcome would be. I turned the board to let the paint drip from one end to the other. Then I alternated between layers of spray paint and oil paint. From the photos, you can see how wildly different the painting looked at each stage.
Suddenly, almost magically, I knew the painting was finished. There was no way for me to schedule the right amount of time. I just had to feel it. To me, painting is like playing a game. When we play games, we get most fascination out of games that combine skill and chance. Games like poker or bridge. You don’t feel completely at the mercy of chance, and you don’t feel completely at the mercy of skill. It’s exciting and fun to not know the predictable outcome. Order and randomness go together, creating surprise. That’s how I define spontaneity – the perfect harmony of order and randomness.
One of my favorite Buddhist philosophers is Alan Watts. He has a great recorded talk called The Art of the Controlled Accident. He consistently compares Buddhist philosophy to painting. Life should be lived in a manner like painting. You can’t have calculated expectations for everything in your life. You have to approach situations with an open mind, only to search for possibilities and opportunities that present themselves. Never force something. It will only elude you. Instead, take the approach of letting the beautiful things around you emerge on their own. You will be surprised – and happy.
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