The Mindful Mona Lisa: A Portrait of Life on Earth

By Max Herman






IF you were assigned the task, how would you paint a portrait of life on earth?

It would require some imagination, but all humans and perhaps all living beings possess a certain degree of imagination.  (In the field of relational biology all life has characteristics of “an anticipatory system.")  You can easily obtain a brush and some paint, and find a surface to paint on; and we all know what a portrait is.

Let us suppose further that you have accepted this task, and are faced with a compelling motivation either positive (to advance the good) or negative (to avert its loss).  Your task is not to create a perfect portrait – there are no restrictions on subject – only to create the best one you can within a certain time, say two weeks.  If you do the best you can for two weeks you will have succeeded.  

Would you paint a globe?  A cell?  A molecule of DNA?  What animals, plants, or inanimate substances would you depict, what principles, dynamics, processes, and histories?  Would you include anything human, like an image of yourself or someone you love, cities, or objects of human origin?

When approaching this imaginative task you might take some time to contemplate it calmly before diving right in.  Perhaps you would spend some time meditating or reflecting to better absorb the subtleties of your situation.  You might consider your emotional state, your skills and weaknesses as a painter, what you have done in the past, or what others have done. 

After a period of calm focus you might let your thoughts wander for a while, picturing things in your mind but not judging any particular image as correct or incorrect, good or bad, trying rather to let your impressions flow freely.  Eventually an image might coalesce and capture your attention (such as a human figure, embedded in a vast landscape depicting the key principles of planetary life such as water, earth, sky, the mixing of elements, and continuous change) resonating to become, almost involuntarily, your choice. 

Having arrived at your main idea you might take a short rest, to ponder your choice and become sure of it, turning it over in your mind and forming a plan for your work.  For the rest of the two weeks you would paint to the best of your ability using both mindful awareness and imagination intertwined as you flesh out your vision in paint.

This would all accord with how your brain works (employing the default mode network, visual cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, posterior cingulate cortex, and much more), thus allowing you both true freedom and true fidelity to the world you are part of and portray. 

You could then very likely say that you had done your best.

Leonardo said: “Science is the observation of things possible, whether present or past.  Prescience is the knowledge of things that may come to pass, though but slowly.” 


Next week:  spindles and yarnwinders