Surrender And Surrender Again

I’ve grown accustomed to this sanctuary. I come here when Kerri has meetings in the church. It is quiet. As I sit here alone, I easily become quiet. The evening sun pours through the stained glass, the symbols shimmer.

When I met Kerri I told her that, if we were going to have a relationship, she needed to understand two things about me: I don’t sing and I don’t pray. I imagine that was stark news for a woman who works as a minister of music. I imagine she rolled her eyes. It is a running joke with the folks that know the story of my proclamation that I now sing in the church choir and band. I love to sing. As for the praying, well…, I’ve always been a meditator and that counts. Quiet is a delicious form of prayer. I was hung up on definitions. I talk to the universe all the time. To-mAaa-to, to-Mah-to.

I have, all my life, believed religion most often gets in the way of a true spiritual experience (life). “Prayer” was for me, at the time I met Kerri, a word of religion while “meditation” was a word I associated with a spiritual life. One night, not long after my move, Kerri and I had dinner with Heidi. She asked me about my faith and laughed at my reflections, saying, “You are one of those many-paths-one-mountain guys.” Yes. And, to truly be a many-paths-one-mountain guy, I’ve had to challenge some of my long held defenses, walk into some of my long held prejudices.

Yesterday, Bill said a simple, beautiful thing about faith, grace and spiritual journeys. It reinforced something I have known (for myself) for years. He said, “The problem with religion is it is heavily invested in having answers. It becomes invested in being right (righteousness), being “the way” as if there was only one way. A true spiritual life,” he said, “is about walking into the questions.” Life, the real crackling, shimmering life, is always experienced in the questions. Awe is rarely experienced in something so constructed and contained as an answer.

I brought to the sanctuary an outline/book of a class that I intended to teach years ago but never got around to offering. In the introduction a previous-version-of-me wrote this: The premise is simple and ancient: when you change your story you change your world. All stories of transformation begin with an attempt to control the uncontrollable: transformation in a story happens when the main character surrenders their illusion of control, strips their armor, walks into their fear, and meets their dragon. There are many variations on this theme. What is important to grasp is that empowerment follows surrender….

Were I writing that today I would never use the word “empowerment.It is an overused and abstract word like “presence” and generally misunderstood as something to achieve (or sold as an answer). Power is irrelevant after a dragon is met.

When I met Kerri I was terrified to sing. I’d been shamed more than once for opening my mouth, thus my proclamation. I learned, as I sang the fear from myself, that the only thing that follows surrender is more surrender.

And, in surrender, there is shimmering quiet.

Create A Purpose

photo-2In the sixteenth hour of our drive to the mountains, to keep us awake, Kerri and I began a rousing game of This-or-That. “Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms?” Frosted Flakes all the way; those little marshmallow things get wonky in the milk. It’s amazing what you learn about yourself and others when the world of infinite possibilities is reduced to two choices. The game soon escalated to the impossible with pairings like “Coffee or Chocolate?” Real life penetrates the game when the only possible answers are, “It depends!” or “Both!”

Since our drive to the mountains I’ve been paying attention to how often people unwittingly play the This-or-That game, pretending that there are only two choices and, further, pretending that the choices are distinct and knowable. Democrat or Republican? Communities collapse when they forget that the important stuff is unanswerable. The important stuff is a moving target and requires conversation, debate, and comes along with multiple points of view. Two sizes do not fit all bodies.

I’ve also been playing my own inner game of This-or-That, purposefully choosing impossible pairings. Order or Chaos? It seems like a no-brainer until you dive in a bit deeper.

My favorite version so far is the Purpose-of-Life category. I picked a most lofty purpose: Illumination – and matched it with the utter absence of purpose. And, of course, I came to, “It depends!” or “Both!” I sprang my line of reasoning on Kerri (she thought we were going to talk about what to make for breakfast. She’s grown quite used to my surprise topics so she rolled her eyes, sipped coffee, and listened, knowing that no breakfast choice would be possible until after I unpacked my game).

No matter which spiritual tradition I read, the final point seems to be presence (living fully – aware of your moments). And in practice, presence becomes possible when thought is either transcended (meditation) or focused (prayer). Meditation and prayer are both purpose-full. Thought needs transcending and/or focus because it is mostly a babbling brook of nonsense or, better, a brook of babbling nonsense. It’s a lot of made up stuff that often takes the form of a game called This-or-That (I win/I lose, I’m right/I’m wrong, Us/Them). The game, as is true of all forms of interpretation, gets in the way of direct experience. It interrupts presence.

Detach from the babble. Meditate. Or recognize that it’s all made up and focus what’s made up. Pray. In either case presence comes through the recognition that it is all made up. The hitch: every notion of purpose, then, is also made up. There isn’t one. But, having a purpose is required to come to the recognition that there is no purpose. It’s a loop. It’s all creativity. It’s all imagination.

Spectrums and polarities are often cycles in disguise. They are both/and. They are yin and yang (not Yin or Yang). Illumination or Purposelessness? It depends. Both. Order needs chaos just as much as chaos needs order. The question is, what do we want to create? Why, a purpose, of course! So, let’s see what’s needed and decide to address it.

“My imagined purpose is breakfast,” Kerri sighed at the end of my rambling dissertation. “Pancakes or an egg scramble?”

 

See It Blaze

text from Krishnamurti as it appears in my painting

text from Krishnamurti as it appears in my painting

Every once in a while the things I read, the experiences of my life, seem to coordinate. Like a thought-confluence, the books, the poems, the errands, the conversations, run into a single thought-stream. It’s as if they called each other last week and asked, “So what are you going to wear?” Often, this is how the universe places its hammer on my head.

A few stanzas from a Mary Oliver poem, Morning Poem (read the whole poem sometime. It’s breathtaking):

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
each morning

 whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray

Did you catch the word, ‘lavishly?’

Here’s a bit from Carlos Castaneda, A Separate Reality:

What makes us unhappy is to want. Yet if we would learn to cut our wants to nothing, the smallest thing would be a true gift…. A warrior knows that he is waiting and what he is waiting for; and while he waits he wants nothing and thus whatever little thing he gets is more than he can take.

Prayers answered lavishly. Whatever little thing he gets is more than he can take.

For me, there are a few important words that have, from over-use, fallen into the bin of meaninglessness:

presence, transformation

Actually, they are in the bin because we’ve managed to make them (like the word, ‘art’) commodities, marketing terms, something owned or purchased with coin or wile or reason. Something possessed or not possessed. Something available to a few but not all.

Sometimes the words open again, the experience opens again, when said another way. For instance, the phrase, “cutting our wants to nothing,” is another way of saying ‘presence.’ Don Juan would have made a good Buddhist! When present, the ordinary pond blazes, it teems with life and isn’t the experience of teeming life at the heart of any good prayer? The last time you caught your breath, a sunset or watching your child sleep, you were present, you wanted for nothing,  your prayers were lavishly answered.

my latest work-in-progress

not yet finished – maybe never will be – an, perhaps, that is the point.

The message of the hammer on my head: The pond is always blazing. The transformation is not in the pond but in our ability to see it.

 

Forgive

lightghostWe’re already snowed in and the word is that the blizzard – the real blizzard – won’t start for another hour. Looking out the window Kerri said, “This storm is angry.” It is. This is not a gentle snowstorm. The flakes are not fluffy or big; they are enraged bees that sting. We watched cardinals, brilliant red amidst the flurry of white, hunker down, bobbing in branches of the pine tree. Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog slid off the deck into a drift and emerged with a beard of snow and a look of confusion. He ran outside, felt the bite of the wind, and almost knocked me over running back into the house.

We sat in the living room and watched the snow swirl and howl. We talked quietly until the light waned and we noticed that we were sitting in the dark. It was as if the ferocity outside the house required hushed tones inside. Life is like that – inner turmoil often looks like a quiet exterior just as violent storms require us to talk in gentle voices. Balance is always present although not always recognized.

Lately I’ve been meditating much on the word “trespass.” Once, I had an experience with the word “trespass” that was nothing short of mystical. It altered the course of my life. According to the prayer, one must trespass to be forgiven. Life is nothing if not full of trespasses and those who trespass against us. Crossing boundaries and holding boundaries are both learned skills that require a good deal of trespassing.

Forgiveness feels good. Whether you are the giver of the forgiveness or the receiver (or both, when, for instance, forgiving yourself), it just feels good. Those violent outer storms will always lead to inner peace if you follow them far enough. It is the natural order of things. All that is required is a recognition that stories change like people change; that stories change when people let go of old stories. Miracles happens when, in hushed tones, the story of a trespass is retold as a story of forgiveness.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

Go here for fine art prints of my paintings, bags and other cool things!

Follow The Thread

My work in progress.

My work in progress.

I spent the morning in the studio fanning the flame of a painting I started weeks ago. It’s hard for me to leave a painting once I start it. Once started, there is a thread that I must follow through the maze of developing imagery that will eventually bring me to completion. If I drop the thread, I lose my way. When I find myself thinking too much I know I’ve lost the thread and it is best to do nothing. It is best to sit in the maze and be lost. Moving from the intellect alone will always create mud or worse, it will kill the painting. The thread, to be useful, is intuitive, a guide of feeling. I’ve learned that sitting still is a necessary and useful skill.

To return to the painting requires finding a wholly new thread. It requires sitting with the existing image until the new thread appears. Sometimes the new thread presents itself when I stare at the painting. Sometimes the new thread jumps me in an alley or while having coffee with a friend. That’s what happened with this painting.

The new thread mugged me. I was miles from the studio and heard someone recite a portion of The Prayer of Saint Francis; the painting was suddenly smacking my inner eye. I knew exactly what I needed to do. It felt right. It felt vital. It would not leave me alone – and that’s how I know I’ve found the thread again. The prayer wanted to be in the painting. This thread would not lead to the same outcome. This thread would lead to a completely different painting.

More and more, words are showing up in my paintings. As I walk deeper into specific symbolism, I’m discovering the word as image. Using words as design elements, shaping a word as I shape a drawing, letters as visual symbol (they are symbols referential to sound). These words that do so much to shape our perception and either put locks on our experiences or set us free – they are calling to me as pure visual forms. Letters are simple lines and shapes sequenced and given meaning as words. Just so, words are lovely shapes sequenced and given meaning as sentences. The meaning is not carried in the words (the symbols) but in the reader. The shapes are visual statements before they are infused with symbolic meaning. Open a book written in a language that you do not read and you’ll see what I mean. You can’t make meaning of the symbols but you can appreciate the visual – in fact, once your brain ceases attempting to assign meaning to the symbols you can actually see the pure form (this is a good rule of thumb for cultivating presence, too).

Here’s the prayer in its symbol form for you to interpret and an image of how it currently exists in the painting:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

A detail of the prayer.

A detail of the prayer.

O’ Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

 

 

 

 

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

 

Welcome Her

from my children's book, Lucy & The Waterfox

from my children’s book, Lucy & The Waterfox

The spring brought with it the birth of Annie Evelyn Domig. Her proud papa, poet, philosopher, and world-class actor, Chris Domig and zen warrior wife, Janelle, made me cry with the announcement of their daughter’s birth (both for the beauty of their words but also the sheer celebration of walking this life with people I love). Here’s a snippet:

Now I see that peace between nations will
only come to us as child, (then as now)
the weight of time witnessing her first cry,
(unsure where to turn, but willing to learn)
intuiting her way towards a mother’s heart,
followed by sleep reconciliatory and kind.

The sound of her name, forty long weeks,
tuned words to song, tossing variations
on a theme to each other, playing by ear,
(not forgetting the Austrian Aussprache).

The book says Annie means Prayer,
and Evelyn is one who brings Life
together she mends our broken circle.

Each day of life, a new hope. Each day lived as a prayer. Every child should enter this long walk with such a blessing (I suspect that they do but it is rarely voiced so beautifully).

Judy (she-whom-I-revere) gave me an image. It was meant for me but I see and feel it all around me. She wrote that I was like a bulb buried in the earth, gathering energy, ready to break from my confines and stretch my new growth, cracking through the earth’s crust and reaching toward the sun. Isn’t that a great image of birth (or rebirth)!

Yesterday, as I lived my greatest experience of vulnerability to date, I thought about Annie and the circle breaking and mending, breaking and mending; this life is both sturdy and fragile. Every rich life has an equal share of both breaking and mending. We are not meant to be static. Life is dynamic and vital and vitality requires breaking through to reach for the sun. How lovely that this year the return, the mending, the new green shoots pressing against the thawing earth, is signaled on the day of equinox (equal night) by the welcome arrival of dear Annie.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies