Van Gogh Centers On Blade Of Grass

Cincinnati Art Museum

“Undergrowth With Two Figures,” from 1890, part of the 45 paintings by van Gogh in a show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Source: The New York Times, “In The Eye of His Storms”, By Roberta Smith, February 2, 2012.

Trataka (steady gaze and focus on an object) is often done on a candle flame as it is a universally accepted symbol and the flame is an easy object of focus (see Candle Flame Trataka). Trataka can be a very effective way to calm an agitated, turbulent, anxious mind. It is also a good way to develop focus and concentration. In fact, any object can be used for trataka although some are better than others.

So when my son, Arjun, sent me this link about Van Gogh, it was fascinating to read how gazing steadily at a blade of grass calmed and centered the artist. He was practicing trataka! As we have practiced trataka together, when he read this article, Arjun was immediately reminded of the meditation.

In the catalog to “Van Gogh Up Close,” a succinct, revelatory exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the art historian Anabelle Kienle notes van Gogh’s repeated references in his letters to “a blade of grass,” “a single blade of grass,” “a dusty blade of grass.” He not only thought that something this small and modest was a worthy subject for art — as demonstrated by the spare works of the Japanese artists he so admired — he also invoked it as a kind of centering technique for regaining concentration. Writing to his sister-in-law, he recommended focusing on a blade of grass as a way to calm down after the tumult of reading Shakespeare.
For more on trataka, here are two more links: (“The Practice of Trataka by Swami Satyananda) (Swami J has a really cool visual for trataka on this link)

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