The Meaning of Life. Day 3

The Question is not “Why are we here?” but ” How should we live our lives?”  All of our technological advances have not changed that essentially difficult question. The Greeks of the fifth century B.C. are our contemporaries; we are no wiser than they were. Remember Harry Truman’s response when asked why he was reading Plutarch’s Lives? Said the President: To find out what’s going on in Washington.

~~philosopher Mortimer Adler.  (from Life Magazine, December 1988.  Article entitled “The Meaning of Life.”

I can’t imagine trying to figure out what’s going on in Washington, when it’s such a big job just trying to understand what’s going on in my own life.  I’ve been asking that question for as long as I can remember “How should I live my life?”

The answer seemed pretty clear early on.  Read the Bible, do what you’re told, and have faith.  I was told to tell the truth, be kind, and fair.  That’s what I learned in Sunday school and what my Mother taught me.  I spent at least half of my life thinking that everyone else was taught the same things and trying to understand why there was so much turmoil in the world when it was so simple and clear-cut how we were supposed to be – how we were supposed to live.  Then, after leaving the sheltered world of the small community where I lived until I was 8 years old,  I learned that some people are mean to each other and don’t tell the truth. Sticking to the teachings I grew up with, I reasoned: if you’re good, everyone will like you.  And if they like you they won’t be mean to you.  But still, no matter how good I was, there were some people who were mean to me and that meant they didn’t like me.   And I couldn’t be happy until they did.

So I read more books.  The first one I remember was “How to be Popular.”  The answers set forth in the book were pretty much the same that I’d been taught all along:  Be nice to people. Listen to them.  Talk to people. Be friendly. I did everything the book said and there were still some people who did not like me.

And so it went for most of my life – wanting to be liked – not just by some, but by everyone, reading more books, trying my best to please people.   And the big question kept getting bigger:  What is the purpose of Life?

It seemed that people liked me when I drew pictures for them. I copied their school pictures on notebook paper.  I drew fancy dresses for their paper dolls.  I drew flowers and pretty scenes.  And I got lots of attention.  And thus I learned that when I wanted attention, (which signified to me that people liked me) I drew pictures.  Was this my purpose in life?  Is this how I should live my life?  Making pretty pictures for people so they would like me?

This is a pencil drawing on notebook paper  of my brother Jim.  I copied it from his school picture in 1957.


The Meaning of Life. Day 2

“Our purpose is to consciously, deliberately evolve toward a wiser, more liberated and luminous state of being.; to return to Eden, make friends with the snake and set up our computers among the wild apple trees.

Deep down, all of us are probably aware that some kind of mystical evolution is our true task. Yet we suppress the notion with considerable force because to admit it is to admit that most of our political gyrations, religious dogmas, social ambitions and financial ploys are not merely counterproductive but trivial. Our mission is to jettison those pointless preoccupations and take on once again the primordial cargo of inexhaustible ecstasy. Or, barring that, to turn out a good, juicy cheeseburger and a strong glass of beer.” ~~ Tom Robbins, writer.  (from Life Magazine, December 1988. “The Meaning of Life”)

I never developed a taste for beer (try as I might as a college student so many years ago) and cheeseburgers don’t sound so good to me any more as I’ve learned to cater to my finicky digestive system.  But I’m having closer encounters with that “primordial cargo of inexhaustible ecstasy” through my chosen vehicle of artistic expression – painting on canvas with acrylic paints.  I’m painting portraits – of people, pets, water birds, trees, flowers, shapes, colors and forms.  Every brush stroke takes me closer to truth. Not the truth that people argue about, but the truth expressed simply and ever so elegantly in nature.

Through painting, I’m learning to look at everything with less judgment and with deeper curiosity.  I am no longer content to look at something and define it with a permanent, static definition.  For example, green is far more than a single crayon in the box.  I’m learning this from painting “en plein air”  where the light dances on the subject and changes the color of what I’m observing from one moment to the next.  Where once there were solid green leaves, now there are blue and violet shadows and yellow and orange highlights and diamond dust dancing on the leaves from drops of dew in the morning light. There are golds and browns and iridescent rainbows from where the snail left its trail and the caterpillar chewed a ruffled edge and an unknown assailant changed the form and color of the individual leaf and distinguished it from its neighbors.  And my heart skips a beat as I become aware that I am witness to the secrets of life itself, while knowing that the only constant to what I am witnessing is everlasting change.


“Blue Bamboo”  Acrylic on 20″ x 16″ Canvas

I become aware that there is no camera, no paint brush, no palette that can capture the true magic of the mystery before me, but I can let the paint flow onto the canvas and the energy of my emotion, evoked by the scene unfolding before me, will transport the viewer into a similar state of ecstasy – if she will only stay long enough to look deeply into the painting, beyond the shapes and forms and colors, into the pure creative energy that reflects some rays of the spectrum to our eyes and absorbs others. This is the same energy that connects the atoms that make up the molecules that make up the essence of everything we are and everything we see and that what we are and what we see are connected through what we don’t see:  Pure Creative Energy.



“Astral Spin”   Acrylic on 18″ x 24″ Canvas





The Meaning of Life. Day 1

Self Portrait by Judi Cain
I went upstairs to find the right size canvas to start a new painting.  A stack of old Life Magazines caught my attention.  I’ve tried to sell them a couple of times in yard sales, but I guess I’m meant to keep them for a while. I bought them many years ago because I like old things and I thought maybe inspiration for a work of art would come from them – maybe a collage?  I skimmed through an issue published in December, 1988.  The cover headlines “ELVIS’ DAUGHTER TALKS about dad, drugs, mom and marriage.”
I flipped to a two-page ad featuring the “new Panasonic Word Processor.  It’s too smart to be a typewriter. It’s too easy to be a computer.”   Another ad announces that “Panasonic introduces the camcorder than can hold the picture steady even when you can’t.”   Yet another says “Once phones like these were science fiction. Now they’re from Panasonic.”  Panasonic was busy that year!
So much has changed in 28 years, yet so much remains the same.   I wonder how could it be that 28 years have passed so quickly?  I have certainly grown older, but have I grown wiser?
Flipping a couple more pages, I came to an article entitled  “The Meaning of Life.” Life magazine reporters Karen Emmons, Linda Gomez, Peter Meyer and Bureaus “asked some wise men and women to ponder why we are here.  Scientists and theologians, authors and artists, celebrities and everyday sages on the street responded.”   The headline for the article was illustrated by a photo by Brian Lanker, entitled “Taijiquan: Dance of the False Tombs.”  The photo was haunting, and I wanted more.
I Googled Brian Lanker and found this report from Wikipedia:
 Brian Lanker (August 31, 1947 – March 13, 2011) was an American photographer. He won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for a black-and-white photo essay on childbirth for The Topeka Capital-Journal, including the photograph “Moment of Life”.[1] Lanker died at his home in Eugene, Oregon on March 13, 2011 after a brief bout of pancreatic cancer. He was 63.
The year he won the Puliter Prize (1973) was the same year I ran away from my home and family and teaching career in Missouri, traveling to Florida where it was warm, living in a VW van, wanting to learn how to be a “real”  artist — searching for the meaning of life even then.
Looking at his website (  I found that his work resonates with me and moves me emotionally in the way I would like to connect with people through my own art.  I wonder if he found the Meaning of Life before he died?
So thanks to Life Magazine and Brian Lanker, today I begin a series of Blogs using the quotes from this article to explore what the thoughts of others mean to me as I continue my own personal quest for “The Meaning of Life.”

The artist – process and product.

The artist does not “think” about creating a product. Thinking about making a product is the ego mind at work, and gets in the way of true creation. The ego mind has rules, and doubts and a false sense of knowing and not knowing. The ego mind seeks approval and confirmation, wants to get it “right,” wants to BE “right,” wants to be “in control.” This is not to say that the ego mind is “wrong.” But approval and confirmation from others is a bonus that the artist’s ego mind receives after participating in the process and surrendering control. 

Art is a continuing process of learning from nature to use the senses to understand the dynamics of creation itself. The process is the important thing and belongs to the artist. The product is a symbol of what has been observed or sensed and belongs to the world, that others may share in the learning – to be moved emotionally in some way from what the artist has observed.

To learn about creation takes daily practice and focusing on messages from the senses.To see beyond what we think we see, what we’ve been told that we should see – to embrace the unique perspective that belongs to each of us. There has never been, nor will there ever be another just like you, standing where you stand, observing what you see. To be an artist, you must dare to learn what your unique perspective is, by constant practice, by constant observation, without fear of judgment, losing control, or being “wrong.”

This is true, whatever medium is chosen – whether painting or sculpting or poetry or music, or planting a garden or restoring an automobile – whatever means you will use to express your observations, using your senses, from your unique perspective, what you are learning from nature, from the Ultimate Creator.