Have A Conversation

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

Yesterday I learned that my conversation with the stained glass window was only on hiatus. Several months ago we simply stopped talking. In the silence I thought the conversation was complete. For almost two years we had a weekly chat. I took lots of notes.

I recognize that one is not supposed to have chats with windows – at least not admit to it. Master Marsh teased me saying, “There’s help for things like this.” I’ve decided that my conversation with the window is more ordinary than odd: plenty of people around the world talk to statues. Most of us have had silent reckoning with the sky. I’ve witnessed mechanics talking to their tools and bakers wooing their dough. Who hasn’t cursed the object of a home fix-it job-gone-wrong (plumbing regularly gets a tongue lashing from me!) or praised a project done well? Traffic gets a regular talking to. In this region, at this time of year, more than a few brides make deals with the weather. A soul in exchange for sunshine.

Who hasn’t, in a moment of turmoil, looked inside themselves and asked for help? Who hasn’t uttered a quiet thank you or asked for guidance or made an appeal? Call it prayer, meditation, epiphany, catharsis, intuition, gut instinct, reading the signs, hearing the call, or communing with nature, it’s a conversation.

I’m not the only artist – or scientist for that matter – that, in moments of flow, feels as if something bigger is coming through. In that sense, all of my paintings might serve as the record of a conversation with something bigger. Writers often speak about having the experience of the characters writing themselves, of following rather than creating. Following, surrendering, allowing, listening, responding, getting out of the way. Play the chords long enough and you no longer need to think about them. In the land beyond thinking about it, music becomes possible. It’s a conversation.

Sitting on the chancel, listening to Kerri play, I stared as I often do at the morning light pouring through the colored glass. I studied the symbols. Birth and death. Tree of knowledge, Tree of Everlasting Life. The Grail standing between two flames. It’s a repetition in symbol of the same idea. Born into an experience of duality and distinctions, a world fighting over its differences, we have the opportunity to walk the middle path, the unity consciousness, the “something bigger.” “Between the two, one,” I the heard the window whisper. “It’s simple, really.”

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

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Taste It Fully

ice circles on the lake

ice circles on the lake

We heard the angry barking of crows before we saw them. They were haranguing an owl. It flew into a tree only a few yards in front of us. For several moments, through the ruckus of the crows, we stared at the owl and it stared at us. Time stopped. Nothing else existed. The owl’s eyes, our breathing, the crow’s chorus.

For our wedding gift, H and Teru sent several collections of poetry, “Manuals on marriage,” they wrote in the note that came with the poems. Kerri and I are savoring the poems, reading one or two aloud to each other every day. They are a source of warmth and inspiration during these cold dark winter months. A poem cannot be rushed or read merely. It must be slowly tasted. It is meant to be entered like a meadow; to be experienced. Try to make sense of a poem and you will miss it. Just like life.

She said, “inner quiet is low maintenance,” and I laughed. Yes it is. The trick is in getting quiet. It is not something that can be found or achieved. It is not a place or a state-of-being. It is what happens when you stop looking for it. Like the hermit says to Parcival when the Grail Castle suddenly reappears, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

For years Sam the poet was afraid of his poems. Like all great art, his poems, his art, revealed the artist, and so he kept them locked up, un-tasted. He came alive and supremely dissatisfied when he finally unleashed his poetry. He let himself want more but also refused to let himself experience more; one foot on the gas, one foot on the brakes. To taste fully one must be willing to be tasted.

A snippet of a poem (a koan imbedded in a poem), RELAX by Ellen Bass:

The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But, there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice – one white, one black – scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.

Taste your moment. Taste it fully.

I wrote in my black and red notebook a simple recognition. The field of possibilities cuts both ways: in your despair you must remember that anything is possible. In your joy you must remember that anything is possible. Tiger above (the past), tiger below (imagined future). Do not reject your moment or attempt to hold on to it – both are methods of missing the moment. Taste it regardless of the circumstance. Taste it fully.

 

 

 

Walk The Line Where Sky Meets Earth

TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS

Walk the line where earth meets sky

There is a concept that shows up in one form or another in all spiritual traditions: find the middle way. Finding the middle way is simply another way of saying ‘presence.’ Be present. Be where you are, not in the past, not in the future, here, in the middle place. Move out of the distant poles of right and wrong, us and them, red and blue, and walk in the actual, the present, instead of the conceptual. Deal with what’s in front of you instead of what you think is there. It’s a sound business practice, too. Guiding people to the middle way, to the line where sky meets earth, IS the artist’s job.

FOR TODAY’S FEATURED PRINT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Unroll The Generosity Perspective

from the archives: EmbraceI’m eavesdropping. Kerri and Pastor Tom are in the next room having a planning session. I just heard P-Tom say, “The generosity perspective fell down. Woody rolled it up and put it under the table.” I laughed out loud. They are talking about a banner but, taken out of context, it is a terrific and ominous phrase!

If you take a gander at the daily news, follow the political circus, count the people trampled in the crush to buy stuff the day after Thanksgiving, you would be hard-pressed to find a better phrase for our times. The generosity perspective fell down. And, to add icing on the metaphoric cake: Woody easily rolled it up. He put under a table.

This land is your land. This land is my land. This land was made for you and me.

I’m convinced that there is another side of the coin. There is no denying that meanness exists in our world. Humiliation is a game played everyday through social media and beyond. Yet, I still believe that there is a disconnection between the rhetoric and the lived experience. I see and experience terrific acts of generosity every day. Some are small acts, some are vast – unfathomable, some are spontaneous, some are planned but all are generous. In fact, when I really pay attention, I find that the incidences of generosity far outpace the acts of cruelty.

Cruelty makes for good gossip and good gossip is cruel. And so, meanness sells. It is good for advertisers so those are the stories we broadcast. Generosity, on the other hand, erases victim stories and so is rarely yummy-fun to talk about. Acts of generosity are less potent as a selling tool.

Cruelty is easy to see. Generosity requires an intentional focus.

This morning I bumbled into a TED talk by Patti Dobrowolski. I learned that the odds are 9-to-1 against making change even if the change needed is life saving. Her message is great: draw the story you want to tell. Literally, draw it. And then tell it. If we want a different story we have to imagine a different story. If we want a different story we need to tell a different story. If we want a different story we need to act a different story.

If Woody easily rolled up and stashed the generosity perspective under the table it should be equally as easy for Woody to reach under the table, unroll the generosity perspective and hang it for all to see.

 

Seek Solitude

from my Yoga series of paintings

from my Yoga series of paintings

It is easier to sail many thousands of miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being alone. ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I remember watching a documentary of the painter Lucien Freud. He said he couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to be a painter because the choice meant living a solitary life. His comment struck me as odd because, for me, solitude was necessary for the muse to come through. I often yearned for solitude. I always looked forward to my time with the muse.

More than twenty years ago, for a period of time, I was painting exclusively. I had an abundance of solitude. Each evening my dear friend Albert would show up at my door, force me out of the studio and take me to a coffeehouse. He told me that he feared my isolation, that without human contact and conversation, I might twist. His fear, although probably valid, also struck me as odd.

A solitary life can be quiet, prayerful; it can be full. A solitary life can also be lonely and empty. The difference, of course, is in the presence of a relationship. Most painters that I know, most artists, feel as if they are a “channel to something bigger.” Something comes through and it is in the solitary moments that the channel opens. It is in the solitary moments that the relationship becomes available. The relationship with the muse can be full, rich, and three-dimensional. I imagine monks, nuns and ascetics of all spiritual traditions know this relationship, too. Solitary need not be lonely just as, paradoxically, the loneliest place on earth can be in the middle of city teeming with people.

The exploration of the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being is the province of the artist. The relationship with “something bigger,” with the muse, is the seed from which all art forms grow. The seed is visible in the adornments found in pyramids, in the harp of Orpheus, and in the paintings of Marc Chagall. It is present when children with gusto run their fingers through paint or dance all alone in the grass just because it feels good.

 

Step Into The Field

photo-5[continued from “Jump!]

I wrote this phrase: “The one facilitates the journey for the many.” And, today, I would add: the one facilitates the journey for the many so that the many can experience the one. This little phrase is the point and the purpose of the theatre.

I’ve come to believe, at this stage in my artist life, that all processes of art-making are actually exercises in presence. And, presence, for me, has come to mean transcending any experience of separation. For instance, when I am fully engaged with painting a painting, “I” am nowhere to be found. Time disappears. There is only rolling creation. To use a cliché: something comes through me. Language is incapable of grasping what really happens and all we are left with is “something comes through” – a statement of separation.

A week ago today we were preparing to perform the closing of The Lost Boy. This play is unique in my experience for many reasons (it would require a book or two to explain the many layers of this cake), one of which was that we only had two performances: an opening and a closing. We hit our stride on the closing – and by that I mean we let go of thinking, preparing, adjusting…, and entered presence. We stepped onto the stage with no thought of “what’s first” and “what’s next.” The play happened with no effort. The Chili Boys played like never before. We were, to use another cliché, in the flow. I have never felt more alive, more connected, more present. It was fun!

50 minutes before stepping onto the stage

50 minutes before stepping onto the stage

Years ago, I had the opportunity to assist Jim Edmondson in a series of plays and I riddled him with questions. He introduced me to the notion that the art of acting was the art of presence (though he used a different language). He taught me that words like “focus” and “intention” are merely tools for cultivating the capacity to be present. Presence is the portal and the actors’ (artists’) job is to step into presence so the audience can join them. Literally, join with them in the field of the present, the place of common story. To be. Together, in a single story. And, although he did not say it this way, he taught me that “to be” is infinitely more powerful than “to become.” “To be” is not an arrival platform; it is an experience of the many recognizing itself as the one [could you ask for a better definition of art!].

Mike, our stage manager extraordinaire, came down from the booth and told us that our performances were different than the first night. We were more potent; we found nuance and greater depth. He was right. We were finally able to surrender to the work, get out of our own way, and step into the field of shared story.

Make No Sense

Untiltled Narrative by David Robinson

Untiltled Narrative by David Robinson

The cliché: life is a cycle. Order begets chaos and chaos begets order. Both are necessary. Just as spring is not possible without winter, order without chaos makes for only half a life. Safety without uncertainty makes for only half a life and a very boring life story.

Ann passed away last night. Her battle with cancer was long and nothing short of heroic. Kerri said, “She was such a bright light! Damn cancer. This makes no sense.” Too true.

Last night, John came back into our lives. We sat for hours talking of the events and changes of the lost years. He told us of the necessity to finally stop trying “to make things work” and how he stepped into the discomfort of uncertainty. Now, standing solidly in his uncertainty, he feels both lost and found. That is a great description of how change feels. We got the news of Ann’s death while John was visiting. We had a glass of wine and made a toast to her life. And then we made a toast to appreciating life in all of its textures. John said, “At the end of the day, all that really matters is a bottle of wine to share with friends.” Too true.

More clichés: rejuvenation necessarily begins in the province of disorder and the unknown. The journey back to self winds through miles and miles of uncharted territory.

Each journey is made beautiful by the monsters and masters we meet along the way. Both are teachers. Both bring gifts and force changes of direction. The Cyclops is as necessary as the sage and both serve new sight and the refocusing of the eye. Both are necessary to strip away our resistance to the cycles, to peel away the protective layers we pile on to life that obscures what truly matters.

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