Experience The Miracle

From the archives: Pidgeon Pier. This painting is about paying attention

From the archives: Pidgeon Pier. This painting is about paying attention

“It has become my view–my faith–that all elements of nature have that power to produce peace. It is surely why so many are drawn away from their urban lives and back to natural places. But those places need not be grand scenic vistas. The same peace can be found in the dandelion growing in the nearest vacant city lot.

It is, in the end, a choice either to “shut up and listen” to these sources of strength–no matter how great or humble or where we encounter them–or to hurry on by.”

~Master Jim Marsh in a comment about my post, Sit By The River

There was a cool breeze off the lake this morning that slowed the mounting humidity. We were a mile into our usual morning walk, rounding the path to the rocky lakeshore, when we entered the storm of dragonflies. There were hundreds of them, hovering just above our heads, occupying a narrow band that stretched as far as the eye could see!

I gasped and stopped! Never in my life had I seen so many dragonflies. Kerri said, “They come out when the weather has been hot and without rain.” Before continuing on our way, we stood for a few moments appreciating the hovering, the methodical zigging-and-zagging. Until our path deviated from the coast, they were with us, green and purple spirits, riding the air-line where earth meets water. For me it was pure magic.

Many years ago, as a way of ending our relationship, a woman told me that it was too hard to be with a mystic. I’d never before (or since) thought of myself as a mystic so I looked it up to make sure I understood why a mystic might not be easy to live with:

Mystic (noun): a follower of mysticism.
Mysticism (noun):
1. Belief in intuitive spiritual revelation,
2. Spiritual system,
3. Confused and vague ideas.

I laughed aloud when I read the three definitions of mysticism; the third definition applied to the previous two! I left my dictionary with two beliefs:

  1. All human beings are mystics if they simply slow down and pay attention. There’s no trick to it. And, that was certainly the problem in my relationship: I have always liked walking slowly in a world drunk on racing to the next big thing. That is hard to live with!
  2. The line between a spiritual revelation, a cathartic experience, a scientific eureka, or an artistic visit from the muse, seems to me, to be semantic. In our age of the intellect we generally run from the word intuition unless we apply a label like “gut instinct” (transforming a feminine energy to a masculine gut) or “I just knew it!” (transforming the scary clarity of an intuitive feeling into a safe clarity of an intellectual experience). It’s all wordplay.

Hearts know. Thoughts babble. And the only way to sort it all out is to stand still, stop the babbling, and see the miracle.

Walk With Your Ally

another painting in the Yoga series

the latest painting in the Yoga series

David is among my chief muses. He was the first person I met in my spontaneous-no-plan-move-to-Seattle over 15 years ago. We sat next to each other at a conference and he asked me if I wanted to be in a play. When I said yes he said, “Great. Can you be at rehearsal tonight?” Like me, he is a painter as well as a theatre artist. He steps through life with his eyes firmly focused on the possibilities. He reminds me that obstacles are nothing more than interesting process steps. When I wander through museums or galleries David goes with me whether he is there or not. When I see a play that inspires me, I wish that he might see it, too, so we might talk about it.

Recently, he sent this quote: “My intention has been, often, to say what I had to say in a way that would exemplify it; that would, conceivably, permit the listener to experience what I had to say rather than just hear about it.” – John Cage, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists.

When I was in college studying acting I had a professor who would say, “You will always know a good play from a bad play because a bad play wants to tell you what happens. A good play wants to include you in what happens.” He also used this rule to define good acting from bad acting. His shorthand phrase was, “Show me, don’t tell me.” It is the artistic equivalent of, “Give a man a fish and he will have a meal; teach a man to fish and he will eat forever.” Art, regardless of the form it takes, is meant to teach people to fish.

Art is not a “thing,” it is a relationship. It is a dynamic orientation to life. It is an experience (not a possession). My interpretation of my professor’s rule goes something like this: a good play/performance/painting includes; a bad play/performance/painting excludes. Vital art reaches for others. Empty art rejects or attempts to elevate itself above others.

The best artists I know have learned to get out of their own way. They have essentially, let go of all investment in self-importance. They serve the art and, so, are not terribly invested in whether a critic or a friend likes or dislikes their work. They have grown beyond attempting to control the perceptions of others (control is an act of exclusion); they are attempting to reach the soul of the matter, touch the soul of the other.

finally finished: May You Be

finally finished: May You Be

It is also true that great artists are constantly learning. And, since growth is always in the direction of the unknown, it is terribly important to have allies to walk with you. Stepping into the unknown is best done in the company of others, those special few wanderers who you can turn to and say, “Whoa! Did you just see that?” David, who is always there with me, laughs in response to my awe, and says, “Tell me! What did you 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.

 

Dance With The Fire

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 5.21.46 PMLast night was Duke’s (Richard Kruse’s) memorial art show. There was an abundance of food, wine, laughter and stories. The gallery was literally filled with his paintings, prints, and sculpture. He was prolific. His paint encrusted chair, draped with his paint spattered coat, sat empty before his easel; on the easel was a large sketch pad, a place for notes for Duke and his family. I watched people approach the chair, catching their breath before sitting to compose their thoughts in the very chair he’d occupied for decades to compose the paintings that lined the walls. The chair became sacred space, a bridge between worlds.

I did not know him but I felt an immediate kinship with his work. He was a figurative painter – as am I – and given to the mystic – as am I: he worked the figure to find the soul shining inside – as do I. It was a great treat to thumb through his sketchbook. The energy and freedom of his drawings took my breath away; this was a man who needed to make art. It was an imperative made visible. I found an even deeper kinship in his imperative.

It’s hard to explain to someone who is not filled with the fire, the inner necessity to draw, dance, make music,…. It is more than a want or desire. It can be ignored but withering is the price. If it is not honored it will consume. To someone who does not know this fire the making of art appears as an indulgence. To someone who burns with the fire, anything else is a distraction; they will construct their life patterns according to the necessity of the fire.

The myth of the suffering artist is perpetuated by non-artists. The only artists that suffer are those who ignore their gift. Most people, despite their rhetoric, fear the kind of freedom and energy evident in Duke’s sketchbook. Artists run at the unknown. They develop craft so they might relinquish control in order to dance with the fire. Too much investment in control (of self, of other, of circumstance) smothers the flame. By the stories I heard, by the power of his sketches, by the laughter his life evoked, I can only assume that Duke must have been a master of this fire-dance.

 

Open The Door

648. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

When I was a kid I was standing on a barrel so I could reach the pencil sharpener. I sharpened my pencil with such fury that I tipped the barrel over and landed on the pencil: it stabbed my right palm and the lead snapped off. I was in a hurry because I was drawing a picture and I wanted to capture the image before the magic dissipated. That’s how I experienced artistry as a boy: a magic door opened. I saw an image on a blank piece of paper and it was my task to bring it into the visible world before the door closed. Sometimes I knew I had lots of time; sometimes I knew the door was only going to be open for a moment and it was a race to get enough of the image so that I might complete it after the door closed. I had a muse and she lived on the other side of the door. I spent many hours staring at blank sheets of paper willing her to open the channel and send me an image.

My fall off the barrel was over 40 years ago and I still carry the lead mark in my palm. It has become a reminder of the magic. It took me 30 years after the fall to realize that I had control over the door; the magic was not separate from me. I merely had to turn the knob, I simply needed to open and receive the image. Like two people in love but afraid to reveal their feelings I came to realize that the muse was waiting for me and I was waiting for the muse. She wanted me to turn the knob and say, “I’m here.” I was waiting for her to turn the knob and say, “I’m here.”

I look at the pencil mark on my palm when I need to remind myself that there is no door; my muse and I are now one. There is no hurry. In fact, what I came to understand was “the door” opened when I became present. As a boy, staring at a blank piece of paper, counting my breaths, I unwittingly developed a nice meditation practice and when I dropped into the moment the door opened. I work with many people and what I’ve learned is that magic is not unique to me – it is available to everyone. We are magic – all of us. If the nozzle is closed it is because we stand in the past arguing for the wound or seeking a future place, somewhere out there where there is magic to be claimed. My work is to say, “Slow down. There is nothing broken so there is nothing to be fixed. Look at what is right in front of you. Stand here and nowhere else: let the world see that you are magic.”