On the importance of carving out time to simply be. “More and more I find that is the issue: how to create time, how to create buffers around us so that we are doing nothing. I think that may be our biggest disease right now–the disease of busyness. With all these modern conveniences that are supposed to be time-savers, I think we’ve never had less time. So I think creating open space, time to do nothing, time to love, time to be, time to dream, to think, to walk, is its own act of civil disobedience.” -Terry Tempest Williams (In an interview with Michael Toms, New Dimensions Radio.)
I haven’t posted here in weeks. Carving out time in the fading days of summer to “be” without stress nor the desire to do more than that while attending to the necessities of everyday living. Some activity in the studio–new sculpture and painting in progress–but allowing time to dream them into being. Spaciousness. Silence. Even though fire is the element of summer what I have been most alive to has been the element of air. The wind. The feel of it on my skin, watching the movement of the leaves in the trees, the birds playing at the feeder, and the breath. Spirit. In Hebrew, Ruah is the word for breath but also for spirit. Air, breath, spirit are one. Air is the one element (out of the four including earth, fire, water) that we can not see but is most essential to life itself and perhaps most taken for granted. In The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram writes, “The air, we might say, is the soul of the visible landscape, the secret realms from whence all beings draw their nourishment. As the very mystery of the living present, it is that most intimate absence from whence the present presences, and thus a key to the forgotten presence of the earth.” By being present to the air we breathe, we remember the sacredness of life, in this present moment. I have often felt that the most radical thing we can do is slow down and the quote above by Williams reinforces that for me. It is an on-going practice. And not always easy as it can open up emotional wounds that have been suppressed by the busyness of life. (A therapist or spiritual director can be of support during this time as it has been on my own journey.) Slowing down doesn’t mean we are lazy or that we don’t do our work in the world. We tend to our lives but we become mindful of the places where we create more stress than is necessary? In the desire for more stuff, more money, or the search for fame or the perfect partner? All the striving, which the Buddha recognized as the source of our suffering (along with our aversions). Simplifying our wants and our desires in order to live a more balanced, peaceful life. We only get one twirl around the dance floor of life so, for me, I want to be as present to life as possible. To beauty. Love. Art. That’s what’s been on my mind these last few weeks. How about you?
In Derrick Jensen’s brilliant and heartbreaking A Language Older Than Words, he writes, “Every morning when I wake up I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam. Every day I tell myself I should continue to write. Yet I’m not always convinced I’m making the right decision. I’ve written books and I’ve been an activist. At the same time I know neither a lack of words nor a lack of activism kills salmon here in the Northwest. It is the presence of dams.” I hear his frustration and feel his pain around the extinction of so many species and for what is happening to our beloved planet. The new year has begun and already it seems like it will continue to be business as usual. Our world leaders failed to reach an agreement around climate change in Copenhagen, health care reform looks like it will benefit the insurance companies more than the individual, and there is ever more emphasis on fighting terrorism than in feeding our people or healing the Earth.
Most of us begin the new year with resolutions of one sort or another from losing weight to saving money or being better organized. I normally set intentions of what it is that I would like to actualize through the course of the year, but this year I have been feeling unusually inert as to where to put my time and energy. I get a wild idea to sell everything and go live in Africa or some where there appears to be a greater need, but I realize that there is also work to be done here at home. I ask myself what is my role during this planetary time? What is the role of my art in the face of climate change and environmental degradation? I believe deeply that we each have a role to play in what eco-theologian Thomas Berry coined the “Great Work,” but like Jensen, some days it just doesn’t feel like enough. I want to avoid sinking into helplessness and despair but that happens some days, too and that is okay. I often listen to Krista Tippett’s interviews on Speaking of Faith while I work in the studio and her recent interview called, “The Wisdom of Tenderness,” was with Jean Vanier, the Canadian philosopher and Catholic social innovator who founded L’Arche, a community centered around people with mental disabilities. It is such a beautiful and touching look into this little known community where there is such joy and tenderness. Love. Safe touch. Vanier speaks of falling in love with reality and realizing that in that reality God is present. In another interview, Kate Braestrup, a Unitarian-Universalist minister and author in Maine, “is called in when children disappear in the woods or when snowmobilers disappear under the ice. She calls herself a doer whose sense of God emerges from what happens between and among people.” Both Vanier and Braetrup bring a sacred intention, love, and holy witnessing to their work on behalf of those who are different or who suffer. They remind me that I don’t have to go to Africa to make a difference in the world, I do that right here, right now through my ability to be present to those in grief, my practice around holy listening, and creating beauty. Perhaps that is enough.
In his interview, Vanier quoted Ghandi: “I can’t change the world, but I can change.” This has given rise to my considering “right speech” from the Noble Eightfold Path, the Fourth Noble Truth in the Buddhist tradition. I feel called to speak on behalf our besieged and beautiful Earth, Pachamama, but sometimes my words have been interpreted as judgmental or condemning. I remembering hearing this twenty years ago when I was involved with AIDS education and outreach. Back then, the message was, “to be silent is to be complicit” (or silence=death) and I feel that today around the ecological crisis. I can’t be silent now either and the fact is that this crisis will affect all life on Earth, not just what is perceived as a marginalized group of individuals. My intention is not to judge—after all I am part of the system and use resources, too—but to open the dialogue. Sometimes, in my passionate expression, instead of inviting others into the conversation certain language cuts short the dialogue, so the commitment for me now is: How to hear other perspectives, listen deeply without judgment, and speak from a place of mindfulness? Along with creating art, I intend to be attentive of this as I navigate the landscape of my relationships, my communities, and the larger world. Being more organized might have been a lot easier…sigh. Blessings to all beings in this new year.
Prayer of deep listening
In this century and in any century,
Our deepest hope, our most tender prayer,
Is that we learn to listen.
May we listen to one another in openness and mercy
May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect
May we listen to our hearts in love and forgiveness
May we listen to our deep spirit in quietness and awe.
And in this listening,
Which is boundless in its beauty,
May we find the wisdom to cooperate
With a healing spirit, a divine spirit,
who beckons us into peace and community and creativity.
We do not ask for a perfect world.
But we do ask for a better world.
We ask for deep listening.
-Jay McDaniel, Hendrix College
Listen to the deeds of Kuan Yin
Responding compassionately on every side
With great vows, deep as the ocean,
Through inconceivable periods of time,
Serving innumerable Buddhas,
Giving great, clear, and pure vows…
To hear her name, to see her body,
To hold her in the heart, is not in vain,
For she can extinguish the suffering of existence.
From the Buddhist Lotus Sutra
It has been another month since my last post here. I am just now getting psychically grounded after I was rear-ended at a traffic light on the 26th of last month. Like most of us, I was simply going about my life. In this particular case, I was heading to the market for a loaf of bread to go with my mother’s ‘famous’ spaghetti which had been simmering all afternoon in preparation for dinner with a dear friend that evening. It was raining and dark, but I was was feeling very alive and joyous, singing, when my car was suddenly struck with great force from behind. I have been in a few small fender benders in my life, but for some reason this particular accident struck a deep cord in me. The accident literally stopped me in my tracks and I have been sitting with the notion of impermanence more attentively these days. I have been a student of Buddhism for many years, both in my meditation practice and as a framework in which to encounter life. Certainly the teachings around suffering—the First Noble Truth being that suffering exists—offered me great insight and comfort when I was in a very dark night of the soul twenty years ago after the deaths of my mother and brother (among others at the time). But it has been twenty years since I have experienced the death of someone close to me except several of my beloved four-leggeds. Like all of us, I have had my share of disappointments—loss of friendships and lovers, but no physical deaths close to my heart. I seem overdue somehow. On a smaller scale however, my accident—which totaled my car and left me with some neck injuries—was also another reminder for me of my mortality and how quickly life changes. Change. Impermanence. The cycle of life, like the cycles of nature. I wonder, do we need these traumas, small and large, in order to remember how precious every moment is when we get too complacent about life? I believe there is some truth to this (and wrote about this in my master’s thesis) because these experiences often bring us more fully into the present moment and closer to Spirit, or God. “The wailing of the broken heart is the doorway to God.” —Rumi (Trans: Coleman Barks). Last night, we held a sweat lodge ceremony at my spiritual community for one of our members who is journeying through a dark night of the soul after a series of familial deaths. There amidst the darkness, in the womb of Mother Earth, we each spoke of our grief and loss—both recent and distant—as well as the darkness that comes before the light and the gifts that grow out of our suffering (however long that process takes). We remember that we are grieving because we dared to love so much. It was beautiful, healing, and an honor to bear witness to the deep sharing from the heart.
Over the past two decades, I have worked to not take life for granted, to see the beauty everyday even amidst the grief at times, and acknowledge that death is an inevitable fact of life. As a result, I ask myself often: “What it is that I am here to do, to be?” But life, as it will, happens and sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in busyness or fear especially now with a deep recession and our world in the midst of change. My accident forced me to slow down, stop, and so I am asking the question again and realize that I have been attempting to do too much. I believe we all have many gifts, but also that there is one gift that we are here to serve, to bring to the world. “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” —Buddha. And in answering the question for me, art is always at the forefront of this conversation. How can art and beauty be a vehicle for healing ourselves and our world. I quote this often but feel it bears repeating many many times! “How do we find beauty in a broken world? By creating beauty in the world we find.” —Terry Tempest Williams
So, it is with humble gratitude that I allow myself to be a messenger for spirit to work through me in order that I might create art/beauty that moves the heart. I don’t normally show my work until it is complete but several people have asked me about my process lately, so I wanted to post these photos from my studio. The teal Buddha is complete as you can see on my web site and waiting for its owner to take possession. Inspired by my process in creating the Buddha, the feminine face of the Buddhist tradition asked to be revealed as well, so Kuan Yin or the Goddess of Compassion (She Who Hears the Cries of the World) called out to me. I am answering that call. In closing, from Spiritual Artist, Alex Grey’s book, Art Psalms.
Life is always lived at risk.
We may grow complacent
And not realize it.
We may not smell the fresh sweat
Of anxiety or excitement,
But what are we breathing for?
Touch the nerve of passion
And live for greatness.
Fear of failure stops many,
But Death stops everyone.
So love without restraint,
Create the New,
Follow the courage of your highest dreams.
Fate favors your daring.
Risk surrendering to Love,
And gain your Soul.