Meditations on the Ancient One: Paintings by Charlie Mills
Book review by Kendra Crossen Burroughs
Meditations on the Ancient One: Paintings by Charles Mills. Unpaginated. Hardcover. Full-page, full-color reproductions.
Meditations on the Ancient One is not really a book, although it looks like one. It is a work of art. You can’t read it, because it consists of pictures, not words—magnificent pictures that are the culmination of Charlie Mills’s 30 years of painting the Divine Beloved. We can think of it as a bound collection of 22 reproductions of selected paintings. Of these, 21 are of Meher Baba and one is an exquisite portrait of Mehera, whom Dr. Harry Kenmore called “the exact feminine counterpart of Baba.”
This is not a coffee table book. The pages are 8 by 10 inches, a size intimate enough to hold in the lap or place on a surface in front of you. The intention of the book is stated in the title. These are not just the artist’s meditations on the Beloved; the book is explicitly designed for meditation by the viewer.
In his Discourses, Meher Baba describes “concentration on the form of the Master” as one of the most desirable forms of personal meditation. It would include gazing at the Master’s form in person or in a photograph or artistic portrait. It occurs to me that this could be combined with another type of personal meditation, which is meditation on the Master’s divine qualities: “By allowing the mind to dwell upon the divine qualities of the Master, the aspirant imbibes them into his own being.” I say that because looking at pictures of Meher Baba naturally leads the mind to remember his qualities. Interestingly, though, Baba described meditation on the divine qualities as a practice that “facilitates concentration on the form of the Master.” In other words, thinking about the Perfect One is a step toward a higher meditation, which is looking without thinking: “In this form of meditation, the aspirant is aware of the spiritual perfection of the Master and spontaneously fixes his attention upon the form of the Master without analyzing his spiritual perfection into any of its component qualities.”
But meditation is whatever each person makes it, and different approaches are therefore open to us. We could look at the pictures in sequence, dwelling on each for as long as we wish; or ponder one daily (a good way to start the day); or choose one at random to focus on. As we look at these images, we may simply allow the impressions of Baba’s image—their color, texture, brushwork, movement, and flow of energy—to be received by our hearts. It’s certain, though, that some of these pictures will evoke thoughts of specific places and times in Baba’s life: sitting regally on his chaise-like gadi in the tin shed on Meherabad Hill, near the Samadhi; smiling with love for his Home in the West, Meher Center, with the bridge, lake, boathouse, and tall pines behind him; saluting the God in you during a Darshan program; gazing out at sea while standing on the deck of a swiftly moving ocean liner; relaxing gracefully amid flowers in his garden.
Or sometimes he is just there, intensely present, gesturing with graceful hands, his glance direct (looking at me!), or else drawn inward in deep reflection or inner work. At times I feel a picture is speaking to me, telling me things: “I am a man, a human being like you.” “I know you; we have met before.” “Look at my hair. Feel it.”
The possibilities of these meditations seem limitless; doesn’t Baba say, in the opening quotation, “I am not limited by this form”? And he continues: “I use it like a garment to make myself visible to you. . . . I eternally enjoy the Christ state of consciousness and when I speak I shall manifest my true self; besides giving a general push to the whole world, I shall lead all those who come to me toward Light and Truth.” (These are the only words in the book, besides brief biographical remarks about the artist and some credits in the back.)
It will be up to the owner of this book to make sure it is not left on a book shelf after only a few sessions or showing it to friends. It must be valued. You will be reminded of that spiritual value by the physical value that brings the price to $185. Any reasonable person will want to know if they are getting their money’s worth. It’s clear that this book has what the publishing industry calls “high production value.” It is beautifully designed—simple and elegant—and made with a special binding that allows you to open the book at any page and have it lay flat (this binding is more costly). The hardcover is glossy paper on boards (there is no jacket to get torn or lost, and there is no promotional copy on the back, only deep, warm color). The 22 reproductions are not backed (that also raises the cost). While Charlie would not suggest removing any of the prints, their quality makes them suitable for framing. Consider that if you went to the artist’s studio and bought a single, slightly larger reproduction, it would cost you $35. At that price, the 22 images in this book would come to $770. Now you have some perspective on the $185 price of the book.
You really must see it and feel it. I like the black endpapers. If I may be a bit fanciful, it’s as if in opening the book and turning the page I go from the (black) Nothing to the Everything which is Baba. The first page is an image of Baba that appears veiled, as if translucent vellum paper were laid over it. Below his face are his words that I quoted above. Then you slowly turn the pages, and the veil is lifted. Let the meditations begin.
Meditations on the Ancient One is available from the Mills Studio in North Myrtle Beach (MillsStudio.com/) or from your Baba bookstore.