Friday, 15 March 2013

Hedgehog Holidaying and Ox Herding


Hello again!

Having just completed this painting and thinking its been a pretty lengthy gap since I dropped you all a line, I thought it high time I rectified such poor behaviour on my part.

In pondering whether the temperature would ever rise beyond the single digits and perhaps watching a few too many BBC period dramas on these cold winter evenings, a  prim little hedgehog wandered onto my sketch paper.

Her first big holiday abroad finds her in the Mediterranean being wooed by this rather rakish and cunning ferret. This is what comes from watching Poirot while sketching methinks...


As well as hibernating over the winter, I've also begun giving lessons to a wonderful and receptive student who I should be paying rather than the other way around, as I am feeling very inspired by our work together. We had been working away one afternoon at the foundations of drawing, specifically breaking down objects into their basic shapes, when the Oxherding Parable entered my mind. I came to know this story several years ago in the form of a commission for me to illustrate the parable for a yoga instructor who planned to use it in his teachings. It is a Zen Buddhist parable that dates back to the Sung Dynasty, 12th century. The story is traditionally illustrated in 10 panels, but I'll  share just a few of my own illustrations with you here.


The herder is searching for the ox. This represents the beginning of one's spiritual journey, a time for change and the letting go of bad habits. Sometimes the path is are to find.

The herder finds evidence of the ox. The path is difficult and success seems often faraway, but there are glimmers of achievement.

Suddenly the herder sees the ox. His path becomes apparent and he realizes this is indeed the right direction, although what lies ahead is still unclear.

He catches the ox. It is difficult to tame. The mind wanders.


He tames the ox. The mind is unruly, but with perseverance the ox(the mind) eventually follows by itself, without tether or leash.

The herder mounts the ox(the mind has submitted).


He transcends the ox and stands alone. The herder no longer pays attention to the ox.

The herder and the ox are transcended, neither matter any more. This is the moment of enlightenment.

The herder reaches the origin. Returning to the origin he recognizes what he knew before.


He returns to the world where he lives to teach others.

Although the parable's function is to illustrate one's journey to the integration of  Zen Buddhist philosophy and practice in order to attain enlightenment, I believe it captures any personal journey towards the integration of knowledge and growth, or in the case of the session with my client, demonstrates how one comes to understand the foundations of painting.

There appears to be many "oxen" upon life's paths. Some oxen yield to us far quicker than others, whereas others can seem forever out of one's grasp. No matter what stage you are at in taming your wily steer, I hope that this parable will come to mind as it has for me, in those times that tempt you to turn away from seeing the struggle for integration through to its conclusion.

Hoping you are well and enjoying the crocuses and snowdrops, who promise that Spring is indeed on the way.


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