I always fall sort. I fail myself, my expectations, and my family. I will never not fail. Not every time. Just occasionally. It’s unpredictable. It is very difficult to accept. Yet I am enough. I try my best. I will fall short. It will have to be enough. That’s why we have family; to carry each other when by ourselves we fall. It is my shortcomings that make me need others, and my shortcomings that make me feel unworthy of others.
I’ve been getting into a lot of musical biographies lately. It’s really inspiring to hear the creative journey of people like George Harrison and John Coltrane; their musical genius is wrapped up in spiritual expression. I identify with that quite a bit.
From the microscopic atom, with its orbiting electrons, to our planet rotating on its axis, which orbits the star we call the Sun, which also spins and orbits the galaxy, which itself rotates around its center, everything is spinning and swirling in a circular motion. It’s fascinating to me that electricity is generated this way as well. Is this why dervishes whirl? I think it is Probable, even though the method was developed in the thirteenth century by Rumi himself. (if Rumi had taken up Asian style calligraphy, he would have been Rumi the sumi sufi.)
This piece is part of a series and was done with acrylic, ink, and digital media.
Here is my 1st attempt at a traditional sumi Dragon. I’ve done sumi Dragons before, but those were done in a kind of one stroke method that I thought best utilized the energy channeling zen technique of Hitsuzendō. When I first started translating Hitsuzendō from calligraphy to painting, I hadn’t realized the breadth of the sumi style. I was trying to do calligraphy in picture form. I still really like the way that kind of image comes out, but I’m trying to to be more true to the sumi heritage while also learning to apply it to my more traditionally Western style of painting. That is a total contradiction I know, but luckily Taoism and tàijítú allow for, and indeed rely on contradictions.
This image is really tiny; and I realized I’d like to do this kind of thing on a large scale, so I have to figure out how to make that happen. The problem with that is, this kind of technique doesn’t lend itself to corrections, and materials can be expensive on a large scale, so I’m going to need some practice.
I made this piece for my son, Gabriel, who is obsessed with the moon. Originally, I had planned on making it more detailed, but I really like the energy of this direct and simple execution. I am experimenting with this zen style of painting. The idea of the style is to empty your mind and let the energy of your spirit flow into the painting. When executing a Kanji calligraphy, the calligrapher would concentrate on the word or phrase and Chanel the energy of that into the calligraphy. When I do Sanskrit Calligraphy that’s what I do. It’s kind of a learning curve. I get a small brush and practice the word over and over until I’m comfortable with it. Even if it’s a word I know really well. Then I prepare several sheets of paper and execute the word full size several times. Sometimes I do several full size practices 1st, but if I have enough good paper, I just go for it, because sometimes the best one is what you thought was a practice one, and if you did it on practice paper, you’re screwed. At the end of the session, I’m exhausted and maybe have one or two good pieces. Maybe none came out good enough. It’s hard to tell because the aesthetic is different from traditional calligraphy. It has to have a vibe to it. It should also be relatively centered on the page and not have any glaring mistakes or drips.
A scene involving multiple subjects and composition and thought about meaning, mood, color, brushes, inks, requires too much mental activity to do it all in advance and then just execute a plan, like a well rehearsed dance. Spontaneity is a big part of of these pieces. It’s not Bach, it’s the blues. Pieces like the sumi moons on blue paper, are fairly spontaneous; I’ve painted similar scenes enough to not have to plan it out too much to get the right feel. Still the process of emptying my mind is the new element that has to fit into the puzzle. It’s difficult to do it for a prolonged period of time.
For this piece, I thought I would start with this simple moon/sky. First I did it in black; a series of enso circles to define the moon and the surrounding sky, then broader with water, to create a wash. Then back in with gold for the moon and a halo, and then blue violet for the sky, using the same technique. For each stroke, I empty my mind, breath out, breath in and then execute the stroke on the exhale, driving the energy through my body and down my arm and into the painting with each stroke. Then I had planned to go back and add detail to the moon, perhaps a ground beneath, maybe the ocean. Maybe add clouds, or stars. However, I was struck by the energy in the underpainting, and I thought further detail would weaken what seemed to me to be a strong piece. It’s for my son anyway, and not really for sale, so it doesn’t matter if it’s polished or not. He’s two years old. Almost three. But it was a real learning experience. To reset after each stroke, concentrate on what I am doing and not what I did or what I am going to do. This is the goal of this kind of technique. It’s a meditation practice for monks. Hopefully, I can keep this lesson learned.
A print of this piece can be purchased here.
I see a lot of articles about “being present,” “be in the moment,” and things of this nature. Some say that that is all there is to enlightenment. Entire books are written on mindfullnes. As a person who has spent a lot of my life daydreaming… I mean “writing fiction,” uh… anyway, I’ve struggled with this concept. Yoda says that Luke “Never is his mind on where he is, what he is doing.” The Tao espouses this concept, as does the Dharma, and Krishna. Even Western religion calls for this kind of behavior as when Jesus says to be like children. And again when He says how we should be like the lilies of the field, (that Jesus and his references to mortality with “lilies”) and the birds of the air who neither reap nor sow, but are taken care of by their father in heavan. This is telling us to “Leave tomorrow for tomorrow and worry about today instead” (which he also says in his hit musical: “Jesus Christ Superstar”.)
But what does all this mean? Are we supposed to not think about the future? Do we discount the lessons of our past? Are we to be automotons? I think we are not supposed to be slaves to our thought processes. In the Bhagavad Gita we are told of the blind King Dhritarashtra, who is the ego, who is the regent, and when the rightful king comes to claim the throne, Dhritarashtra refuses to relinquish the throne. Our brain is a tool like our eyes or our arms, but we are not our bodies. We are more than our arms, more than our eyes, and we are more than our brains as well.
When a dancer is best, it is when she is not thinking about the next move, but when she is so practiced, that she does not have to think about it. Artists often talk about when they are so involved in the creative process, that time seems to have flown by. This is known as Aphrodite time, named for the Goddess of love, as opposed to normal time, named for Chronos, the Titan that consumed the gods, (his children) only to be saved by Zues (thus freeing them from time and giving them immortality.
I read instructions that tell me to pay attention to my breathing. Listen to my heart beating. The term Buddha means, “the awoken one.” and so being awake means being aware. Being aware of what’s going on that normal people are asleep to. Yet it is impossible to concentrate on all my senses at once. To pay attention to my heart beating and my breathing and the people talking to me, and feel the breeze and all that.
It is impossible to silence my mind as well. There is no way for me to do all these things. I am not a buddha.
The problem, as I see it, is that these instructions to be in the moment lack one key ingredient. Motivation. Why be in the moment? Because it leads to enlightenment? What is that? Being aware? I try and I just don’t seem to get it.
Until last night.
The reason to be in the moment is this:
Because to be awake to what is happening is FUCKING AWESOME!
This realization makes even a mundane trip to the market thrilling. I don’t have to simultaneously be aware of my breathing and seeing what’s on sale. I can seemlessly move from one to the other. To realize that every moment is brand new and the present is right now, and the eternal present is all there is. Even if I’ve done something a million times before, It’s still new in this moment. Think about that dancer. In order to not have to think about her dance, she had to practice the dance a million times to perform it flawlessly.
When you realize each moment, each experience is brand new, life is an adventure. People pay huge sums of money to be thrilled by adventure: they go skydiving, they go on safari, they go to exotic locals. There is nothing wrong with doing these things, but every second of everyday is unique, whether you are stuck in traffic, being chewed out by your boss, screwing up the courage to ask out that girl in accounting, or going to bed for the night.
I fall back into being humdrum, getting frustrated, and these things. life goes on, but once having realized the adventure that is each moment, I can re-enter that sensibility at any time. There is a Buddhist saying: “Chop wood, carry water.” It means to do what is needed in the moment. But it also means that that is the meditation. That is what to be awake to; not some spiritual ethereal concept, but the concrete reality of living life. I have long said that just going to church for an hour once a week is not enough, that each action we take is an act of worship, whether we realize it or not. If we chase money and are assholes all week long, that’s what we worship, that’s what we are dedicating our lives to, not just something we do for an hour. Of course, going to church can center us, give us our direction and if we fall short much of the time, we can still aspire to be more like we want. Living life in the moment, realizing the adventure can help us to feel less stuck, help us to be the kind of person we want to be in the moment.
If we fall into the rut of feeling like there’s nothing new, and we’ve done everything a million times, we rob ourselves of the thrill of being in the moment. Once we experience this thrill, we can motivate ourselves to do new things, and accept things as they are. There is a place for both of these in our lives.
Welcome to the adventure.
I’m updating this post to include paintings of Kali incarnated as her traditional Goddess, replete with blue skin, lolling tongue, necklace of skulls and skirt of arms. These frightening accouterments strike fear into the hearts of those who are not familiar with her. But her devotees know that she destroys that which keep them from obtaining enlightenment.
For my series of paintings, “Kali Night,” I have chosen as my subject matter, a stormy night. My inspiration comes from driving home from work one evening and seeing the sky lit up eerily beautiful and ominous. I was reminded of the Goddess Kali, who is a paradox of beauty, compassion, violence, love and is ultimately nearly as incomprehensible as the ultimate reality she represents. She has been worshipped for longer than recorded history, which is fitting since one interpretation of her name is “beyond time.”
Kali is misunderstood in the west. Really she is the perfect boogeyman for Puritan Americans; She’s naked (being infinite and unfathomable makes it hard to find something in your size, besides, Kali is indifferent to human conventions), except for the skirt of human arms! (being pure energy, Kali/Shakti is the receiver of all action, these limbs represent those who have been liberated from karma) Also she is adorned by a necklace of skulls! (one for each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet. This is a very “Alpha & Omega symbol. Alphabets contain the seeds of everything that can be expressed, thus attributing to God all that exists. Also, it is the beginning and the end of everything, thus skulls are appropriate.)
Kali is really a compassionate mother whose fearsomeness represents the way in which she destroys evil and all that stands in the way of her devotee’s liberation from the bondage of self.
I choose a stormy night to represent Kali as a metaphor for her ominous and fearsome qualities as the Goddess is everywhere and the various experiences we have in life remind us of the myriad manifestations of the Goddess.
The Muladhara chakra is often referred to as the root chakra because it is located at the root of your spine. It is also the root of the sacred chakra tree of Kundalini. The word chakra means “wheel”, and it is thought to be like a circuit in the spiritual wiring we possess. Just as the seven Kundalini chakra corespond with our spinal cord, there are several “lesser” chakras that occur in conjunction with our nervous system throughout our bodies. Just as the spinal chord is the most important nerve we have so are the seven chakras associated with it. Activating them is one way to achieve enlightenment.
This is because Kundalini is the name for the latent energy that lays dormant within us which corresponds with Shakti, the creative force of the universe. When we complete the circuit of Kundalini from Muladhara to Sahasrara, or crown chakra, we connect this inner energy with the outer energy of Shakti, thus becoming one with the primal creative force. This is the purpose for which we were born.
The Muladhara is where to start. It is here that the dormant Kundalini serpent is coiled waiting to be awakened. Once awakened, the sacred Kundalini uncoils and travel up through the remaining chakras. The Muladhara chakra is therefore very important, for without activating it, the remaining chakras Can do nothing for us.
To activate this sacred chakra, and thus awaken Kundalini, we must focus our attention on it as we meditate each day.
I have spent most of my spiritual life avoiding argument. It is usually a better idea to find common ground where one can and let people have their own spiritual truths. The exception would be if someone’s religious beliefs promoted violence, oppression, inequality, or caused physical harm. There are aspects of these negatives to most religions, particularly Monotheism, in which, not only is only one specific deity is recognized, but the worship of the deity is specific to one religion or religious sect. However, most people recognize the importance of extending the courtesy of religious freedom to others that they themselves would want to have extended to themselves. It prevents war.
This argument is really more of the bomb throwing kind. I’m not actually looking to start a fight, but I could easily avoid one by not making the following thesis: The Adam & Eve story is so ridiculous that it could never have been meant to be taken literally. That is; it was written by someone who thought the very idea of what they were writing was too ridiculous to be taken literally. It was probably a kind of teaching story that we lost the lesson part of in the ensuing millenia.
Here’s what I mean: Adam & Eve are created without original sin by an all-knowing, all-powerful, Loving, forgiving God. A God so loving and forgiving, he eventually sends Jesus to save mankind from itself. God places Adam & Even in the Garden of Eden, where they can eat or drink anything they want. The world is literally their oyster. With one notable exception: They cannot eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. You will probably agree that this is a very specific kind of tree. It’s not the tree of bad haircuts, or the tree of drunk driving; it’s the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And, although, the completely new, innocent and inexperienced Adam and Eve can eat from any tree in their garden, they can not eat of this tree. that’s also in their garden, where they can eat anything they want.
So at first they do pretty good. But then the devil comes as a snake in the grass to tempt Eve. And it works. She eats from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And then she tempts Adam into doing it. And then God, who is everywhere, comes to the garden. The all-knowing God asks Adam and Eve what they were up to. Well, they hide, because what do they have now that they didn’t have before? Knowledge of good and evil. So they know they’ve done something wrong. So the All forgiving, loving God, what does He do to these first offenders? He Sentences them to death! And not just them; but all their progeny for all time. That’s me and you. We didn’t eat from the damn tree! Why are we being punished? So the all-knowing, all-wise God gave Adam and Eve free will and the all-powerful God put the temptation in their garden. In their refrigerator, if you will. “Hey, I’m gonna stock your fridge with food, you can eat whatever you want, but not this fruit that’s basically the same as all the other fruit except you can’t eat it.” “k. by.!”
What was the name of that tree? The tree of knowledge of good and evil. So, they didn’t know good from bad before they ate from the tree? So they couldn’t know it was wrong to do it? And God being all-knowing, knew they would eat from it. Hell, I knew they would eat from it, and I’m not all-knowing. So the all loving all forgiving, Just God punishes Adam and Eve for doing something they couldn’t conceive was wrong in the first place. And He’s punishing us for it, when we didn’t even do it! He gave them free will. He put the fruit tree in their garden and told them not to eat that one.
At this point, I would like to point out that I often use the analogy of a kid who sticks his finger in an electric socket when his parents have told him not to. The electric shock the kid suffers is not punishment for disobeying his parents, but merely the consequence of putting your finger in the socket. That’s not what’s happening to Adam and Eve. We are told specifically and repeatedly that this is punishment for disobeying God’s commandment. This God is an asshole.
That’s why I think this story was not meant to be taken literally. As Tori Amos says; “I thing the Good book is missing some pages…”
I think most of the fables in the Bible are meant to make us think. There are also some teachings that contradict others. There are some that I just don’t agree with. I think this is a case of “we don’t have the whole story.”
But it won’t make you think, if you just take it literally as this is how things are and how God operates. It’s not how things are, and it’s not how God operates. Learn to think, to ask questions.
I worship an all knowledgeable, all-powerful, all Loving God. This story does not depict that God.
Often when we engage in spiritual or religious conversations, some varient of the word “Devotion” is part of it. We art devoted to our path, devotees of our diety, and we measure our success by the amount of devotion we commit to our cause. When I met my first spiritual teacher, we talked about the life long commitment I would be undertaking. I don’t spend every minute of every day contemplating my relationship with the Source, but I do spend time everday, even spare time, not just, “ok, I have to spend a half hour meditating”, but throughout the day, because it is what I am most interested in, I come back to it over and over again.
What I am proposing is rather than creating a difficult regimen to stick to, instead think about just how important your devotion is to you. I like things to not be too structured so that my life can happen organically and I can still make time for what’s important to me. I was lucky that at some point on my journey, I heard a priest being interviewed for the radio, NPR’s “On Being” which is a fascinating look at how various people approach the divine. In anycase, the priest said that he liked to think of God as someone to have over for dinner, in an informal setting. His point was that rather than make every interaction with God formal, you make time for God in your everyday life, wearing your everyday clothes. Yes, there’s time for formal ritual, but I’m a believer that every moment of every day is worship, whether we mean for it to be or not, so how we act when we’re not “at church” is more important than the show we attend once a week.
Much of my work is devoted to the spiritual, but not all of it is specifically focused on that. I figure what I devote to God because I want to will have a better quality than doing it because I feel obligated to do it. There are many ways to devote yourself to God: all the way from simple prayer to becoming a monk or priest. How we treat each other is of primary importance.
I’m trying to keep this vague because whatever path you’re on, I want that to work for you. My understanding of the Deity evolves over time, which I think is healthy because if you have a perfect idea of the deity to start with, and no further understanding is needed then your education on this plane is complete, and you would no longer be confined to it. It may be useful as we go along for me to be specific about my beliefs, which I will do for the sake of getting from point A to point B. If the details of my beliefs don’t mesh exactly with yours, feel free to substitute your specifics for mine, if you find that to be helpful. It can be useful to bring us closer to our Higher Power to have details fill in blank areas that aren’t really turning points in spiritual advancement. For instance; I was raised Catholic, and Catholics believe that Mary was a Virgin when she conceived Jesus. This story helps some people realize the divine nature of Jesus, but to me, my faith in the divinity of Jesus doesn’t hinge on this detail. In some ways this is a story that brings the culture of the ancient world to us so we can enjoy being part of something ancient. On the other hand, it seems to say that even sex between to holy reverent people is somehow bad and Mary conceived Jesus without sex. (The idea that sex was involved, just not w/Joseph, since he was technically not Jesus’ father smacks of a kind of Zuesian tale, which it may in fact have been. My point is all this is a distraction from the teachings of Jesus, which are the focus of the religion.) I know it opens a can of worms to bring up this particular story, but that’s kind of the point. It’s a huge distraction from what important about Christianity. Just one point further on this argument: one often hears that God does this to show that all things are possible through God. Well, then why isn’t it possible for God to do it the conventional way? Of course, God is trying to make a point by doing it uncovnetionally, but I don’t think the point is that all things are possible, it’s that Jesus is more divine that human conception can yield (but if all things were possible to God, human conception could yield a divinity like Jesus; it’s that God is making a point, not that God is constrained.
The tàijítú is the name of the symbol commonly known as “yin/yang.” It is a symbol for the complementary nature of opposites; night defines day, shadow defines light; an inhale isn’t complete without an exhale… All existence can be seen to utilize this seeming duality to for a unified whole.
Also, In non dualistic Shaivism of Kashmir, there is a tradition known as Spanda, which like the material of a similar name, expands & contracts. That is the the universe, like a beating heart, or a piece of metal that expands in the heat and contracts in the cold, or water which does the opposite. It’s very much a yin and yang view of reality.
These pieces are rendered using a zen technique that infuses them with chi (the “ji” in “tàijítú”). They are aproxamately 8×10 in size. They are rendered with gold, purple and sumi ink with a sumi brush on lokta paper; a paper made in the Himalayas from materials indigenous to that region.