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Zen and the Art of Dishwashing

Try being fully present in the moment. Zen isn’t about making lists or setting a timer. It’s about doing what’s needed in the moment and not worrying about how long it takes you or how many things you can get done. Trust yourself; trust in the process. The world will turn even if you don’t get a million things done.

There’s an old zen saying, “chop wood, carry water.” Unlike many koans, this wise saying it’s not difficult to unravel. It means do what’s needed. It may be mundane but it needs to be done. Do what you’re doing; don’t worry about what hasn’t been done yet. This is reflected in Jesus saying,” Leave tomorrow for tomorrow; think about today instead.”

One way of thinking about Zen is that it’s a matter of focus. Give your complete attention to what you are doing. There are a couple of books entitled “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Zen and the Art of Archery.” What this means is you can apply Zen to every task you are doing. And that is actually a form of meditation. It’s very powerful. You let yourself be a tool in the task you are doing. One method of this meditation is called Shodo or Japanese zen calligraphy. In this technique you concentrate on the meaning of the word you are doing and not on your penmanship. In this way the very shape of the brushstrokes conveys the meaning. You are an extension of the brush and the energy of the intention is what is completing the action. In this way you don’t become distracted buy other things. You are fully present in the creation of your calligraphy. This method has also been used by feudal Samurai and other Japanese artisans such as flower arranging. This is because this technique can be applied in everyday life. Using it to do calligraphy it’s like practicing for the rest of your life. Many people think that meditation is a kind of recharging of your battery or resetting your hard drive. But really in this technique it is practice for how you can be all throughout the day. Try using this technique with whatever mundane tasks you’re doing. If it’s washing the dishes, wash the dish that is in front of you and in your hands until it is completely washed. Pay attention to it; did you get all the parts inside and out? Is it free of dirt? Then you rince it and set it in the drying rack. You pick up the next dish and give it your complete attention. Soon your dishes will be clean. There’s no need to set a timer. If one of your children need your attention in the middle of this task then you can give your attention to what is most important.

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Freedom From Chaos

Learn to meditate for real. For free. For real. Today. Here. 

There is a lot of turmoil in the world right now. Maybe you are reading this a hundred years after I wrote this. I’ll bet there was a lot of turmoil going on in the world. There has never been a time when there wasn’t. It can be difficult not to get caught up in it. In fact, it may be important for you to take action. Nevertheless  it is also important not to let it consume you. That’s what turmoil does. Another word for turmoil is chaos. The world is chaos. Chaos is the original formless, orderless void, or absence of order that existed before God created the Cosmos or ordered universe in Genesis. It’s important to not let such a force take over our lives. We need to connect with the original creative force.

We should remember that we are always connected. The connection cannot be severed. We have only to tune in to the vast unending peace and love available to us. It could be listening to music, meditating, reaching out with love to your community. You could take a nature hike, read a special book. It’s important to take time to recharge your batteries as well as truly meditate.

 

There are many ways to meditate, but if it’s what I call “true meditation,” its purpose is to tune in to the creative force. I refer to this as Beloved, or Devi. You may connect to this sacred energy by whatever face or culture that suits you. The most common word is God, but this word is so full of loaded preconceptions that I avoid it. The energy is pure, undying, Neverending Love. There are many superb books  recordings and videos that can teach you how to meditate. It’s a good idea to find one that suits your sensibilities. However, I will share one with you here.

This meditation practice is called Kundalini meditation. It is a sacred and powerful form of meditation kept secret from the world except for a few select and dedicated people who received it directly from their lifelong guru, and in turn taught it to their few handpicked students or chelas. There is an energy transfer that takes place between guru and student called “Shaktipat.” this can only happen in person, and is thought to be necessary for true liberation or enlightenment. If this is the experience you seek, you need to find a personal guru, experienced in this type of training. I have chosen this type to relate to you, because anyone can do it, and I learned it by reading about it, so I know it can be learned this way. I learned this practice from several texts, but the book that was my main source is called  “Kundalini Awakening,” and is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Kundalini-Awakening-Gentle-Activation-Spiritual-ebook/dp/B002IPZJY2. I recommend getting a physical copy that you can use to concentrate on the mandala illustrations. My guide will differ from this text as it is not my only source and the guide I am giving you is a short synopsis of the technique.

First, set aside some time that you won’t be interrupted. Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can be alone. The accepted position is called the lotus position and it is seated cross-legged with your back straight. If you know the yoga position, then use that, if not, simple “Indian style” cross legged is fine. You can use a cushion or sit against a wall if you like.

Kundalini refers to a latent energy source located at the base of your spine in what is known as the root chakra. Chakra means wheel, and there are seven located a various points on your spine. (some sources refer to them as being part of your subtle body, a spirit body inside your physical or “gross” body. For the purpose of practicing the technique, further knowledge is not required but is recommended.

Now, to begin the meditation, it is recommended that you close your eyes  Breathe deeply in through your nose, hold it just for a moment and exhale through your mouth. Repeat this a few times and relax your body.pay attention to the breathe entering your body, filling your lungs, feel your pulse  at various points on your body as the oxygen is delivered and transfered with the exhaust that you exhale. Feel the breathe leave your lungs, rise through your trachea and exit to provide life to plants as they give us oxygen. We are connected to everything in various ways.

 

Now concentrate on your perineum. This is the location of the root chakra, also known as the Muladhara chakra, the seat of your sleeping Kundalini energy. Picture it as a red four petaled flower. Feel this area heat up as you exhale like applying a billows to a forge, causing the red flower to glow. Your subsequent chakras cannot be activated until you have successfully activated the Kundalini energy within this root chakra. However, we will continue to meditate up the chakra tree of your spine, as I think connecting all your chakras and connecting to the cosmic Shakti through your crown chakra can aid in activating you Kundalini.

So, having fired the red furnace of your root chakra, send the heat and energy to your next chakra located just below your navel, known as the sacral, or Svadhisthana chakra, this one is orange. Each chakra blends into the next color of the rainbow and you can feel the energy flow and change through each blend.

Each chakra has many elements associated with it. There are musical notes to hum and mantras and behaviors said to be tied to each chakra. I am concerned only with the meditation technique in this post. I have said at several points to educate yourself further about this, but it is also important not to get caught up in minutiae that might distract you from concentrating on the meditation itself. Full and complete focus is necessary for meditation. As you master the basics, you may introduce new elements to your practice.

Feel the energy move up your spine to your solar plexis chakra, even with the bottom of the front your ribcage. Known as the Manipura chakra, its color is yellow. Travel up to each successive chakra as you inhale, and rest as you exhale. Ignite and stoke the chakra as you exhale, as if you are blowing on a fire you are lighting.

Next comes the heart chakra, called Anahata. It is green in color. To many, this is a very important and special chakra. It is associated with love, and is very powerful. This is a good place to grow this energy rising up through you. Feel your heart beat with the energy of love coursing through you.

Next, as we continue our journey up the chakra rainbow, we come to Ajna, the (light) blue throat chakra. As you exhale, feel your breathe cause the chakra to glow brightly.

Next is the famous third eye, Vishuddha, located in the center of your brow, above and between your eyes. To me, this chakra starts in the peneal gland at the center of the brain, this would be where the glowing ember is located, and then, when activated, shoots a deep blue beam from your third eye, giving spiritual sight.

From there, we arrive at the crown chakra, the sacred Sahasrara, seen as violet, it is the gateway to the blessed holy Shakti, the all pervasive power of the cosmos. Our bodies and our chakras are antenna, receiving this energy is their purpose.

Now travel down through each chakra, taking the same slow deliberate steps, delivering the outer cosmic energy to the Muladhara and sending out the sacred Kundalini in and “breathing” in and out becoming one with the source of life.

When you have completed as many cycles of these Kriyas (action) as you are comfortable with, sit in contemplation a few minutes, allowing the energy to settle.

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Blessings in Disguise

The holidays are here again and this is my first time not working in a retail store during them since 2010. Before that I also spent most of the holidays working retail going back to when I got my first job in1982. I had become quite a humbug. I worked at a craft store once that started playing Christmas music in August. He said crafter have to start their holiday season early to be ready to ship the things they make on time. It made me feel sorry for the poor schmucks writing magazine articles; they generally have to have things ready six months in advance. Between the season starting earlier every year (war on Christmas? Christmas has eaten Thanksgiving, so retailers have to spend that holiday dealing with people known to have actually killed others in their rush for holiday savings.), with no time off allowed, (family going to spend the holidays with relatives out of town? That’s black out time in retail, no time off requests allowed.) the crowds of angry customers (“What do you mean you’re out of the most popular gift in the country the weekend before Christmas? It’s all my kid wants! Did you say I should take responsibility for shopping so late in the season? Let me talk to your manager!”) and the four versions of “Last Christmas” playing on a loop, it’s enough to turn Santa himself into a humbug! (Santa Claus is a man, Santa Barbara is a woman, San Francisco is a man… Why isn’t it San Claus? And why isn’t there a coastal town named after him in California?) it may sound like I’m complaining alot, but I’m just trying to relay what we deal with.

Where was going with all this? Oh yeah, the first holiday season I’m not working retail.. So instead, I’m raising my children. It’s much harder. As I write this my 3yr old finally fell asleep at about 5am, but woke up. So I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in a while. But it’s much more fulfilling. I get to see them grow and learn, and laugh. I get to show them the magic Christmas. I get to teach them what’s good in the world. I also have to be the one to say “no more candy tonight,” and “get that out of your mouth!” I put on music instead of cartoons (for a while at least). I cook meals they won’t eat. (well, the 3yr old does, his little sister won’t eat meat, and won’t take food from a spoon, so it’s broccoli, spaghetti, and lots of goldfish for her) I get to pick up the mega blocks mega times a day, and clean up the spills and change the diapers. It’s mostly totally worth it.

I also try to make time to paint and write, and work on my spiritual path. I get moments after they’ve gone to sleep, or if my wife isn’t too exhausted from working all day. Sometimes I just read. But I have received real blessings over this last year. I finally realize that I have something to offer. That my work has value. Not just because I’ve spent twenty five years as a seeker; learning to meditate, finding my way on the path. Not just because I got accepted to one of the hardest schools to get into in the world, because it’s the best; did the work, and graduated even though fewer than half the people who attend do. Not just because I’ve learned ancient techniques, few people know, and developed them into a unique style that combines the spiritually authentic, with traditional painting styles to create images with energy that is communicated from the artist to be received directly by the viewer. But because I’m seeing results, in my work and in my life. I’m not perfect, but I have crossed a threshold into a new way of seeing myself and my work. I don’t have to be the best. I just have to be myself. And that has real value.

Your life has real value as well. You don’t have to go to a fancy school, or be rich or famous. Each one of you is amazing. We are made of Love. Remember that.

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Everything Spins

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. Buy the shirt here.

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Sumi Moon painting Color

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.

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Welcome to the Adventure

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.

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I Learned Something About Love

I write alot about love as a force we can use to effect positive change around us, but I rarely talk about the need to charge ourselves with love so we can live in its abundance and share that positive energy with our fellows.

Sometimes this can be easy; if our lives are going the way we want, then connecting to a feeling of love takes little effort. If, however; we are at odds with what’s happening in our lives, it may seem like love isn’t there to connect to. I have always been told that God loves me and is always there for me. This is hard not to take as an empty platitude when you don’t know how you’re going to provide for your family, whether there will be enough to pay the rent, buy food, etc… It’s hard if you are fighting with family members or people at work. We all know struggle; it defines the human experience.
With 2 small children, it can be a challenge to find some “me” time. I feel guilty telling my wife I need to do something for myself. We both work hard and spend all our spare time taking care of our children and trying to keep up with the housework. The other day I expressed my desire to work on an art project. My wife insisted I take the time to do it. Many of our arguments are the opposite of normal arguments with us each advocating for the other to do the thing they want.
My newest bent on creating art is to attempt to do them all like zen calligraphy. Zen Calligraphy is a process where the Calligrapher becomes the instrument of what is called “Chi” in Chinese. In Japanese it’s called “ki”, in Korean it’s called “Qi”. Seeing as how none of these languages use the alphabet we use, I consider the word to be basically the same in these languages. In Sanskrit the concept is known as prana. These words all mean “life force” or energy. The process involves being in a meditative state during the execution of the project. Zen masters say the process is the same whether one is doing calligraphy, flower arranging, or swordfighting.
When the children are screaming and I leave my wife in the next room to deal while I guiltily go to a quiet room to do art, it is difficult for me to put myself in this state. It is a state of love. how can I put myself in a state of love, which is giving and caring, and selfishly go to create art?
I realized that I was missing the love that was there. My children were screaming because they love me and want me near them. My wife gave me the time to work on my project because she loves me. It was the love charge I was needing that was there all along. Part of love is being able to accept it.

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Kali Nights

Bless Christine Blasey Ford. May she speak with clarity strength. May no one stand in her way. Give her strength and confidence, courage and willpower. May her ferocity be that of Kali Ma, that none may oppose her.

 

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 Nights

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.

Kali Nights II
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Blessed Muladhara root chakra mandala


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.