The Specialness of Not Being Special

As if you couldn’t tell, I’ve been binge-watching The Joy of Painting lately. While doing so, I discovered a monumental Truth.

I didn’t set out to find a life-altering philosophy. I started watching the show because I never had the patience to do backgrounds. If you look closely, you might be able to tell that the backgrounds on some of my earlier pictures are photographs run through an oil paint filter.

They’re fine for what they are, because in that kind of work the background is just there to provide a context for the important part. You don’t really want it to steal the show.

Before too long, I had to admit that the more adept I got at painting the figures, the less the figures looked like they belonged in their context. It was like having a transmission with a couple of gears that almost fit into each other. The bike rolls, but not as well as it’s supposed to.

So, backgrounds needed to be done in-house, from scratch. But the figures alone take hours for each. The faster a background could be made, the better.

Enter Bob Ross.

Each episode of The Joy of Painting is half an hour long. The part where Bob actually paints the picture takes up about 24 minutes. That kind of timeframe is just perfect, if it could be translated to computer.

Learning how it’s done, I learned something a little more fundamental.

Have you ever listened to Bob Ross while he’s making a painting?

He’s not a painter, he’s a guru.

Two or three thousand years ago, a guy who talked like him would have started a new religion.

That’s not a joke. It’s a fact. I can say that it’s a fact, because Buddha said the same thing Bob did.

Seriously, stripped to fundamentals (and translated from Sanskrit), the Buddha and the Bob delivered the identical message:

“This thing I’m doing here? Anyone can do it.”

No pretentious “-isms,” no fancy terminology, no sense of divine exclusion from the common herd, no superiority.

That’s why art teachers and art historians hate Bob Ross. Not, as they claim, because he didn’t make “art,” but because he was a heretic. He told them that they weren’t special, and that is a blasphemy to the art religion of the elite.

Bob, like the Buddha, took ego out of the equation, and said:

“This thing I’m doing here? You can do it, anyone can.”

Zen masters for centuries have spoken of how enlightenment is not and can not be, achieved. Dogen-Zenji asked, “If you cannot find the Truth right where you are sitting, where do you expect to find it?”

Here’s a koan for you:

A Zen master asked a student, “What are you trying to accomplish by sitting?”

The student replied, “I am trying to become a Buddha.”

The Zen master sat down and began polishing a paving stone.

The student asked, “What are you doing?”

The master answered, “I am trying to make a mirror.”

“How will polishing a paving stone make a mirror?”

“How will sitting make a Buddha?”

Do you see it?

What the Zen masters are saying is that the truth, your Buddhahood, is not conferred by divine will, or built by human effort. Real Zen masters never speak of achieving enlightenment, but of realizing it, because you can’t get what isn’t there already.

And Bob Ross said the same thing: “The landscape,” he said, “already lives in your brush. You just have to push it out.”

Your Buddhahood already lives in you. You just have to realize it.

Anyone can do that. Just like anyone can paint a picture.

Just like anyone can ride a motorcycle. I saw a guy on TV who lost an arm in a car crash. He had his BMW touring bike retrofitted to accommodate his prosthetic arm, climbed back on and rode away.

You can do it. Anyone can. It’s not special.

What I’m doing, right here, is experiencing joy and oneness in the ride. What I’m doing, right here, is making something beautiful. It is my privilege to tell you, that these things are not special.

Because they were always there.

Your joy, your oneness, your beauty, are all there, just like mine, just like everyone else’s.

Different people require different effort, but the effort involved in a thing does not make a thing impossible.

You can do the thing.

With faith and effort, you can realize your joy, your oneness, your beauty.

Anyone can.

That’s what makes it special.



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