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Last week I included a video of a local artist’s work in the It Might Not Work post. His name is Michael Grab—seriously, it is—and he’s a self-described balance artist. I was fascinated not only by this man’s hands, but by his celebration of impermanence and beauty in the moment. I got in touch and asked him if he wouldn’t mind talking with me about his art and approach to life, which are one and the same. As you might imagine, Mr. Grab’s got ahold of something big. What a treat to talk with him about it.
I guess we both kind of found each other—the art and I. I’ve been doing it obsessively since the summer of 2008. I study a lot of spirituality, and I’ve always had an interest in the mystical side of experience. There’s something about balancing rocks that has this enchanted feeling about it.
I usually look around for some kind of rock that tells me if it wants to be on top or whatever. I just start going through them and certain ones jump out at me. Others, I put back. So I guess it’s a dialogue between me and the rock.
Knowing that it’s impermanent, I kind of like that. When I first started doing balance art, I was always a little bummed when they fell over, but through thousands and thousands of times, I actually prefer them to fall because it closes the book, I suppose. In no way do I ever feel like I’ve wasted my time. It can take up to forty minutes to build a piece and less than a second to fall over. And it just doesn’t matter anymore.
The most valuable thing I think I’ve gotten from this is learning to live in the moment and not worry so much about where money’s going to come from or about something in the past and how I behaved or something. I mean, as long as you really stay present and in that moment—which is really the only time there is—everything kind of works out. It’s an endless sequence of moments.
I like performing these pieces too, doing them live in front of people. It’s one thing to see the picture, it’s a different thing to see it in three dimensions, but it’s another step up to experience the building process of it. A lot of people watching won’t see all of the really tiny adjustments I’m making; they’ll think I was just standing there completely still for half an hour straight and it looks totally crazy until I let go. It looks crazy then, too, but it’s a completely different thing. It’s an exchange of energy between me and the people.
People always comment about how it calms them down to watch me do this work. That’s a cool part of it because I can almost feel everyone in a relaxed state of mind. I don’t how that happens, but I can feel it.
For people who tell me they view my work as erotic, I’d say they’re definitely picking up on something that most people don’t bother to talk about, but yeah, it’s a really sensual experience. It’s one of the aspects about it I enjoy the most. The way my fingers are vibrating against the rocks, the way you have to pay such close attention to the tiniest vibrations in the stones. That’s the most satisfying part of it—the sensual, erotic aspect. I think with all of my art, I have a really romantic approach. It’s hard to articulate. I think that going deep into this work must release the same hormones as making love.
I can’t pinpoint any specific thing, but I would say the whole practice of balancing over the last five years reaches over all aspects of my life. Just the meditative nature of it is so applicable for every other area. It’s always a learning process: learning about myself, learning about how the rocks work, learning how to not lose a finger. You have to learn how to make mistakes better and how to consider all factors of an equation. I feel like my overall happiness has increased.
I guess the biggest lesson that I’m learning about myself is that my reality depends on me and not anybody else, which, I think is the way a lot of people feel—like their reality is dictated by everybody else. That’s the thing to get away from. You have your own divine energy to tap into, you have ultimate control over how you react to situations in everyday life. It’s a good lesson for taking responsibility, too. If it collapses, it collapses.
It’s kind of like everything going on in the universe has an effect on where you are at any given time, during any given activity. I worked in a warehouse job for five years and I would never be where I am now without having that financial support. It’s really easy to make a premature decision; it’s hard to have patience and assess a situation fully, but you can’t just quit a job you don’t like and expect everything will be alright. It’s important to have some kind of plan. I quit that job not because I hated it but because I reached a point where I was okay with letting go of the comfort zone and jumping into the deep end. It’s energizing and freeing to explore your own avenue.
I feel like I’ll be doing this work until I die. It’s the present. What the future is, I don’t know. I spent the first couple of months reflecting after quitting that job, but I’m getting to the point where I’m all about what I can do to make it work. I have a very strong intuition that as long as I keep doing what I love, nothing else matters.
It’s only because I’m expressing something that touches me—and other people in a metaphysical way that I guess I’d consider myself a spiritual teacher, but I’m not formally recognized as such. It’s kind of like someone in this culture calling themselves a shaman. You can’t do that. I’ve met lots of people around the world who I consider to be real masters, but they’re just regular Joes you’d see on the street, you know? I aspire to reach that point one day. I write about my experiences, I read and share it through my photos and writing about what touches me, but the rocks, they’re better teachers than I am.
For more on balance artist Michael Grab, visit him here.
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