WRITE 28 DAYS: MEDITATION RESPONSES – DAY 6: Meditation on Balance

I’m participating in Sharon Salzberg’s 28-Day Real Happiness Meditation Challenge again this year, and my plan for this blog series is to write a poem or reflection on each day’s practice. You can find all the responses on the landing page.

Priyanka Sacheti, in her post January Eases into February (A Home for Homeless Thoughts) today, mentions her recent fascination with art “depicting a solitary woman either sitting at the breakfast table or more, poignantly, surrounded by the detritus of breakfast.” She wonders a lot of things about the pictures, about the women and their lives, their stories.

I find these exact sorts of pictures (paintings or photos) soothing, and after listening to Sharon Salzberg’s Meditation on Balance today, I think I’m drawn to them at least partly because they are balanced in terms of energy. Sharon talks about balancing calmness with alertness, tranquility with energy, and relaxation with investigation as we meditate. I’ve heard others speak of this balance as relaxed awareness, calm attention, soft gaze, diffuse awareness (not too hard a focus), attentive presence, relaxed or restful alertness.

The paintings and photos that speak to me communicate a sense of calmness but also alertness — perhaps the woman is thinking about what she needs to do next, or she’s just feeling wide awake after sleeping, or she’s attune to the tastes of the food or the words she’s reading.

There’s a sense of tranquility, repose, or perhaps even, as Sacheti names it, lassitude, combined with a feeling of energy, whether its source is the painting’s colours, the movement within it, the woman’s expression or body language, a newspaper or book being read, something else.

The pictures feel relaxing, the women (most of them) seem to be relaxed, at ease, but they are perhaps also investigating, wondering, making discoveries as they prepare or sit at the table. Maybe it’s the only time all day when they are alone or have leisure to think or daydream. Or it’s early morning, a time when many (I’ve heard) feel inspired, insights emerging effortlessly before the day and its focused busyness unfolds or their energy fades.

Below, some paintings and photos in this genre (mostly) that I feel embody the “meditative” balance. Sunlight helps, I think.

Breakfast, Henri Matisse (1920)
Breakfast in the Garden, Frederick Frieseke (1911)
Breakfast Time, Hanna Pauli (1887)
A Woman Reading a Newspaper, at Table, Francesco Netti (1873)
Interior at a Breakfast Table, Annie Rose Laing (date and actual painting title unkown)
In the Dining Room, Berthe Morisot (1886)
London Breakfast, Nora Heysen (1935)
Breakfast, Fra Dana (1909)
Breakfast, Albert Morrocco (1978)
A Woman Seated at a Table By a Window, Carl Holsoe (1900)
After Breakfast, Elin Danielson-Gambogi (1890)
A Woman Sitting at a Dining Table, Horst P. Horst (1948, photo). Perhaps the meal isn’t breakfast, with wine, but it gives me that simple morning vibe.
Chop Suey, Edward Hopper (1929) – also not breakfast, and there are two women, but the energy here feels like a balance of opposites

Finally, this painting doesn’t involve any meal but it’s a favourite and it gives me the same feeling: tranquility and energy.

The Goldfish Window, Childe Hassam (1916)

In fact, many paintings and photos that embed the outside landscape within an interior scene, as this one does — and several of the breakfast works above — seem to me energetically balanced in a very pleasing way.

And now, I also recognise these pictures as liminal scenes, thresholds between one world and another, or as Sacheti says of the “solitary woman sitting at breakfast table” genre, there’s a “limbo that these women inhabit between that of breakfast and the day ahead.” A pause, a moment out of time, a hiatus between one period of activity and another — and that too is appealing, and that too is how meditation often feels and functions.

Featured image: untitled? by Barbara Jaskiewicz (1957)

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