Mindfulness Activity #74

Mindfulness Activity #74

Mindfulness to Atrocity

Sometimes mindfulness involves remaining present to emotions even when they are unpleasant. A great deal of injustice is possible because people turn away from feeling the suffering of others. It can either be too distant for us to connect to, or it can be so overwhelming that those who can, avoid.

Today’s mindfulness with art exercise involves just sitting and taking in this famous work by Pablo Picasso. Last summer, I was able to see this painting at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. First, a little background on this piece which has become a rallying cry against war and violence.

In 1937, the Spanish republic asked Picasso to create a large composition for the Paris International Exhibition. This request occurred just after the most destructive event of the Spanish civil war: the bombing of the small Basque village of Guernica. This catastrophe was a result of Germany’s Nazis and Italy’s Fascists, who wished to show their support for Franco’s Nationalists in the face of the Republicans. Guernica was destroyed; hundreds had been killed or hurt, all of whom were innocent civilians. Picasso, who was living in Paris at the time, learnt about the ordeal through newspapers. Deeply moved by the testimonies he read and the photographs he saw, Guernica became his enraged cry against this absence of humanity. Picasso’s disdain of the war was evident, and when Nazi ambassador, Otto Abetz stood in front of the piece and asked Picasso if “it was [he] that had made this” Picasso defiantly replied “no, you did” ( from https://blog.artsper.com/en/a-closer-look/artwork-analysis-guernica-by-picasso/ )

So for this practice, set this timer for 5 minutes

When you hear the music, settle in, take a few breaths, and take in this painting using your vision. Notice details, and especially notice your own emotions and reactions. If you have thoughts, do not try to ignore them—take them in fully, but do not allow your attention to stray from the piece.

The task to extend this practice is to remain attentive—watching and listening to the suffering of others. Zen teaches that the suffering of even one of us is suffering of us all. To move past suffering into transformative action, we must see and accept fully the pain that is present. Thich Nhat Hanh taught that we do not need to know the answers to make change, we just need to be present, remain attuned to suffering, and work to cultivate compassion. Transformative change follows from this.


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