365 Days of Buddha

Diana Estigarribia from New York is creating 365 Days of Buddha.

Why did you decide to do this project? I am a practicing Buddhist, and I was inspired to begin this blog as a way to promote compassion and practice a kind of artistic process-as-meditation.

There was a voice in my head screaming to express itself, but I had no outlet. I’m very engaged with Buddhism and especially with the Tibetan people, but I didn’t have a clue what to do about it. I needed to find a connection between my head and my Buddhist practice and make it physical, because by its very nature meditation and mindfulness is an intangible journey. It begins and ends in your mind. Mindfulness is a daily choice, and it's hard to measure if you're making any progress, especially if you're results oriented (hello, that's me!) rather than process-oriented. In Buddhism it’s about “the path,” and not the destination. You put one foot in front of the other and see what happens, over and over again.

The other real world impetus was enforced change: after nearly a decade at the same company, this recession bit me in the ass and I went from a routine 9 to 5 life to having to figure out how to feed, clothe and shelter myself. So I called up this blog as a way to deal with all that emotional stuff I faced every day, which is why 365 Days of Buddha is both pictures and words that I hope are supportive and helpful.

How has doing a yearlong/daily project affected your life? It's taught me to confront the pre-conceptions I had of being creative. Looking back now, I felt enormous pressure to make something cool or really fantastic—each time it had to be the greatest thing ever. So I'd spend a lot of time thinking about what to make, circling around my living room or kitchen, looking in corners and nooks for inspiration, and sometimes I’d come up with an idea like the 3-D Glasses (on Day 51). I was really happy with that one. But then it was back to, “now what?”

It’s funny to think about today, when before it was all “oh, ha ha, check out the Buddhist looking outside herself for inspiration!” But soon I realized I felt the most free when I could simply sketch or draw the Buddha. Once I made that commitment, it started being fun. By the time I got to Day 195 I was in a real groove, a very odd feeling for me. The groove, especially artistically, has always been very hard for me to locate, and here I was, inside it!

So I've learned to give myself a break, though even at Day 336, I still have to remind myself that I don't need permission to make something, and I definitely don't need approval. I realized how much self-judging there is of what's "good" and what's "crap." But now when I draw a Buddha it doesn't have to look perfect, or professional, it just is.

This is related to a drawing workshop I took a few years ago, a calligraphy class with artist and author Barbara Bash  called “Big Brush.” During a weeklong retreat we created single strokes with an oversized brush, black ink, and poster paper. We were free to take turns coming to the center of the room, kneeling on the floor, and making a stroke. It's meant to capture the mind in that instant: you look down at the paper, pick up the brush, and whoosh! Out it comes. The kicker is once you've made your stroke, you observe it, bow to it, fold up the paper and push it aside. It's finished and that moment is gone. So there's a lot going on about attachment and judgment, and practicing how to be free. I had never approached making something like that before. When I sit down to draw a buddha today, I remember that experience and process.

And I'm also a writer, so I live with The Editor in my brain; the Editor’s favorite tool is The Delete Key, and it’s a very powerful tool. The act of drawing a Buddha everyday is a completely different experience from the other writing and creating I do. There’s no editor, there’s only the drawing, and whatever comes out, I gotta post it that day.

Drawing is hard and I have no training at all in it, though it has been a lifelong wish of mine to be a painter. But having one subject--the Buddha's face--gives me focus. Whatever place I start from, by the time I'm done I feel differently- lighter.

This daily project has re-connected me to things I had put aside for a very long time. I found a black lacquer box and filled it with the dozens of colored pencils and pens, No. 2's, china markers, Sharpies, and highlighters that were lying around the house unused. In the past year I’ve expanded out to an additional two cups that I use to fill with even more pens and pencils. I collect paper and notebooks of all kinds to use. I even bought a cool compact pencil sharpener!

In the beginning it was a struggle to do this every day. Now almost a year later I open my box and shuffle the pencils with my fingers and see which color I want to use today. It's amazing to me that every day the Buddha looks different. It can be purple or green or metallic gold and it's always new. It's a constantly renewing process. I feel like I "get it" now, whatever "it" is.

See all of Diana's Buddhas HERE.

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