Stay Fully Alive

a more recent smaller painting: In Quiet Prayer

Horatio issued me this challenge: do something new, something you’ve never done before. Paint something different, something that boggles you.

I love this challenge. In other words, step out of your comfort zone. Dare to not know where you are going. Make a mess with great gusto and intention. Court chaos and wrestle it into something that resembles order for you and no one else.

Horatio might have said, “Dare to see again, purely, with no filters, knowledge, or preconceptions.” He might have added, “What might you see, who might you be, if you stepped beyond the safety of your ideals, your beliefs, and great mass of weighty and important knowledge?”

The child in me, the one not yet accustomed to sitting in a desk or raising my hand or waiting my turn would loudly sing the answer: You’d be fully alive! I’d be fully alive.

from a few years ago, a larger piece: Meditation

I’ve always appreciated how similar are an artist’s path and that of a spiritual seeker. The aim of the exercise is the same. A meditation practice to still a busy mind is identical to an actor’s training to be fully present on the stage or a painter’s pursuit to see purely (to see without the disruption of interpretation). On both paths, truth is a fluid thing. Truth is what is happening right now. What happened yesterday or may happen tomorrow are distractions at best. They are stories that get in the way. They are of no consequence to this moment of living, this moment of aliveness. It is, an actor learns, a fool’s errand to attempt to repeat yesterday’s performance.

Horatio’s challenge is relevant for every human being wrestling with the big questions or trying to stave off or make sense of the chaos. Dare to dance with what’s right in front of you. Dare to drop the questions.

Picasso famously said that every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once he or she grows up. He might well have said that every child is fully alive. The problem is to remain fully alive once he or she grows up.

playing around with simplicity. This one is hot off the easel and not yet named.

this is how she looks in a frame. Magic!

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Stand In It

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a detail from a recent painting

A surprise package came in the mail. It was a gift from David, my artist’s artist. He sends me things to feed my artist soul, to stir my pot or help me sort out my dilemmas. This gift is more timely than most; it is especially relevant for me now. It is a book of photographs and essays by Walter Kaufmann called Time Is An Artist. I’ve barely cracked the cover and already know it carries the wind that will fill my becalmed life-ship.

This is a quote from the first essay: We always live at the limits, but we are rarely aware of it.

I woke up this morning awash with gratitude for a man who stood in line behind me at an airport ticket counter over 30 years ago. I was returning from Europe. I had a hundred dollars and some lose change in my pocket. I was exhausted. I’d flown from London and landed in a blizzard. My connecting flight from D.C. to Denver was cancelled. Because I was traveling on a cheap open-ended student ticket, the cancelled flight meant I was stuck with no way home. I didn’t know what to do and was too tired to sort it out. I was desperate and lost in my desperation. That’s when the man tapped me on the shoulder. He was a guy in a rumpled business suit. That’s all I remember about him. He was also trying to get home. He’d just heard someone mention an airline offering a cheap flight to Denver. It was $89.00 ($100 with tax). I ran for the ticket counter and snagged one of the few remaining tickets.

That’s it. That’s what I remember about this man who tapped me on the shoulder. To him it was probably a little thing. To me it was enormous. I needed hope beyond desperation. I was investing in a story of limitless problems and was met with a moment of generosity.

It seems that I am in a life course, a graduate school for detachment. Last night P-Tom shared a quote that was important to him when he was doing his chaplaincy in a hospital: Don’t’ just do something, stand there (a reversal of the known quote). Stand there. Amidst the grief and the loss and the mess, sometimes it is essential to do nothing but offer presence. The man at the airport gave me his presence. Beyond his situation he was listening to my struggle.

Detach from your story and the gift will be gratitude. What rolls through our minds is nothing more or less than a story. Eckhart Tolle tells us the story is a force that pulls us out of the Now. Carlos Castaneda writes that Don Juan taught him 3 steps on the warrior’s path: Detach. Make a choice. Own the choice. One of the primary reasons people meditate is to quiet the mind. In the quiet it is possible to see the story as just that, a story. Detachment, in this sense, is not disengagement from life or cold aloofness from reality. It is the doorway to life. Stand in it and not the story of it.

Gratitude lives in the Now. Where else?

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another detail from another painting. kerri says this one looks like gratitude

The man at the airport was on my mind because I have learned in this life-course that gratitude is best served in thimbles: the taste of the pear, the sun on your face. The man tapping your shoulder, “Hey, I just heard….” I thanked him before running but the real gratitude came later. Gratitude came again this morning because I was telling stories of the good angels who’ve populated my path.

Real gratitude for this life lived perpetually on the edge is often lost when the expectation-bar is set too high. To be grateful for your life – your whole life – is… an abstraction. It requires a story that pulls you away from this bite. It is a bucket too big. Savoring is a slow affair, available in the smallest taste, right now.

 

 

Release The Edge

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Usually, there is a lake….

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you dont give up. ~ Anne Lamott

Sometimes the fog hangs heavy all day along the shore of the lake. The sun tries in vain to penetrate the fog so the air glows. When, in combination with the fog, the lake is still, like it was today, it becomes invisible, inaudible; the lake disappears. Standing on the great rock barriers, staring into the void, it feels as if you have arrived at the edge of the world.

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looking the other direction

All of my life I have been fascinated by edges. What is the line between wild and tame? Most good stories require a stride beyond the boundary, a movement into territories unknown. And, at the end of the story, what was once known becomes unfamiliar. Every ending is a beginning. What is the line that distinguishes the known from the other place? A good dose of reason will assure us that most things can be understood but a walk through a spring meadow or a night spent gazing into the stars will remind us that understanding is illusive or at best illusionary. What do we understand?

Once, working with a group of teachers, we had a terrific discussion about beginnings. Where does a story or a life begin? There is always an easy answer, “Once upon a time,” a birth date, when two people meet, the day the crisis arrived on the doorstep. In fact there is always a multitude of easy answers, of possible beginnings, and none of them are definitive. Which beginning point is the beginning point? At what moment did success arrive? Or, when did failure begin? Does my life begin with my parents or their parents or…? Edges are esoteric!

There is a long tradition in the arts of Dances with Death. Paintings, dances, compositions, plays,…; Hamlet ponders life as he holds poor Yorick’s skull. It passes all too quickly. Most spiritual traditions carry the notion that life cannot be understood, valued, or fully appreciated without first grasping that this life-ride is limited. Living a good life, a fully appreciated life, demands a nod to the edge. It’s the ultimate paradox.

I’ve courted a bundle of trouble in my life because I rarely see the black-and-white of things. Where is the line between hope and hopeless? What wall delineates faith-full and faith-less? Like happiness, edges are made, not found. Ask a physicist if it is a particle or a wave and they will uniformly answer, “It depends upon where you place your focus.” Even in the era when people believed there was a hard edge to the world and finding it meant falling off, sailors supplied their ships and sailed toward the horizon to find it.

 Icarus reached for the sun.

Icarus