Be Still in the Rothko Chapel

Jamie Hoang
Aug 28, 2019 · 2 min read
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Everything comes from nothing and the darkness is the nothing that manifests everything in our minds.

Since my arrival in Houston a few months back, and my subsequent leap into the art community, (because well, when you don’t have a job, you hang out in museums), I had been asked in passing if I’d ever been to the Rothko Chapel. Now, I’m not a church going person (don’t tell my parents) but this question became such a recurring motif that I felt compelled to take a look.

At first glance, the chapel seems to be nothing but an empty octagonal room with natural sunlight and deep dark paintings covering the walls. What’s so special about that? I opened up the brochure to see what the hype was about and learned what I needed to do in the chapel: sit down and shut up.

I sat on the floor in the middle of the room, and before I knew it, I found myself with my eyes closed and my legs crossed. When I go quiet my mind always tends to go to dark places. Feeding on facets of my life that are unfulfilled. But this was different. It felt scary and safe at the same time. I do not know how to meditate so I can tell you right now that I was probably not doing that. I was simply being still because the stillness in the room caused a stillness in me.

Void of color, shape, or content, the darkness cut through all distractions and then offered up a mirror that reflected only myself. Everything comes from nothing and the darkness is the nothing that manifests everything in our minds. The room was designed to lend us a hand, in case our will power wasn’t strong enough to keep our eyes closed during meditation.

When I opened my eyes, I saw just this little sliver of color, a brightness if you will, that trumped my pessimism. What happened next was unexpected. I didn’t just see Rothko’s color field paintings, I saw inside of them. Black paint metamorphosed into waves of black, each one a symbol of untold stories.

For me, I saw past and present swirling around before me. If the universe is circular, then the octagon is its cartography. In thinking about everything: our jobs, our families, our friends, our significant others, etc. and our fears associated with each of them the process is overwhelming. But break it up into 8 categories, paint them honestly onto the walls, and watch as truths you never saw before move to the forefront of your canvas. And the great part is, if you’re not ready to deal with any aspect of your life, you simply move on to the next panel and circle back when ready.

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