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Koan

It was getting a bit chilly for camping. In retrospect, Damien had made some poor choices. referring to his current situation as camping was probably the least of them. It had been an emotional experience. They had been trick or treating and his kids had not been paying attention, so they had gone on ahead while Damien had struggled to adjust his cloak. It had gotten caught on a thorn bush and he didn’t want to rip it. His wife had made it for him a few years back. That was the year they were Jedi. Then he had been Robin Hood, and this year, he was a wizard. Stupid. So, when he had caught up to his kids, he was already irritated about the thorn bush, and them not staying with him. They were young and small for their age. It had only been a minute, less than that, surely. These kids were so excited about Halloween that they wouldn’t listen to any instructions. All evening this had been a problem. They didn’t realize how dangerous it could be. He was constantly worried something was going to happen. They were his whole world. How was he going to protect them if they wouldn’t stay with him? And now, here they were, being shaken down for their candy by some older kids.

Well, by the time they got home, the kids were crying, they couldn’t get the story out coherently to their mother. He tried to explain, but she seemed to reach her own conclusions before he could get the words out. “Not the first time,” she had said. It rang in his ears. It reminded him of just before he had gotten sober, how the incidents seemed to beget each other, as if he were caught in some spider’s web, some thorny bush!

He wasn’t a violent person. He didn’t think of himself as one anyway. Not the first time.

She asked him to leave right then. For the children’s sake. She was concerned for their safety. Not the first time.

He had still been wearing the costume. the wool cloak, the boots, the dagger, the staff, the whole nine yards. He grabbed the tent, and the camping pack with all the gear in it, the speckled cookware, the lantern, and stove, bedroll, sleeping bag tied to the bottom and took off. He just set out walking. He didn’t want to take the car, she would need that. He didn’t want to spend money on a motel, they couldn’t afford it. Maybe he was punishing himself. His heart was beating harder than it was during the incident. Was he being a martyr? Probably.

Damien had made some very quick, very rash decisions at that point. If he couldn’t be around his kids, he was done. He was done with the rat race, done with civilization, done with hiding who he was.

Maybe he wasn’t wearing a costume. Maybe this is who he was.

Those older kids weren’t with their parents. They weren’t wearing costumes. They were teenagers and they hadn’t wasted a moment to bully a couple little kids who had gotten away from their dad for a second.

“Give us your candy, you little turd!” one was saying as he pulled on Damien’s daughter’s arm.

The memory seemed to actually sear Damien’s brain. He walked on. Lowami woods shouldn’t be far. He had never walked it before. Maybe He should have headed for Memorial off of Garden Home… There were plenty of wooded areas right in the midst of SW Portland. He was sure he could find a spot to pitch his tent, even if it was illegal. He wasn’t sure. One night, surely would be ok. Then he could figure it out tomorrow. He didn’t want to join the homeless in a patch by a freeway onramp. This was Oregon. Why camp in civilization? He’d see whether that dagger was just for show or not. Maybe catch a rabbit, they were everywhere. Damien had picked up the medieval replica at one of those cutlery stores in the mall. The kind that had pocket knives, kitchenware, and swords. Of course, he had wanted a sword, but he had been unable to bring himself to spend the money. This 2ft miniature had been considerable more money than the hunting knives, but he had suspected it was just for show. He had displayed it on the wall when he was a bachelor, but married with kids, it stayed in a box in a drawer until Halloween.

Now he could concentrate on becoming one with nature. Get away from the concrete jungle and be more spiritual. He could finally learn to control his Chi, let it flow through him, instead of building up inside and exploding out… That’s what he was being guided to do, right? Of course, this kind of behavior, this kind of thinking would not play well in a custody hearing. The rational, right thing to do, would be to go to a motel, and seek counseling. Where did spiritual people get counseling? Was there a priest of Chi? Where can you find a Shaolin temple when you need one?

Then, there in the concrete jungle, just as the drizzle began, came the neon glow of the sign he was seeking.

Damien entered the little house and a bell rang as the door struck it. He had been by this place dozens of times, driving to Target. He had never thought to visit before. Who goes to places like this? Now that he was here, he worried maybe it would cost more than a motel. He had a twenty on him and had vowed an hour earlier not to use his debit card tonight. The rain picked up in earnest outside. Portland.

Dimly lit, ambient music played in unseen speakers. This part of the house had been converted into a lobby, deep red walls, with purple wall hangings. Batiks, abstract, soothing. Well worn carpet, a couch against the wall to the right. No one in sight. Who comes to places like this? Not the first time.

Damien removed his hood and shook out his graying, windblown hair. Curly enough to never look combed. His middle age was beginning to show on his lanky frame. The dim light made his eyes seem to recede into their sockets. His mustache and beard needed trimming. He needed a shave. Portland.

A door opened and a woman appeared. What had he been expecting? She had a scarf on her head and hoop earrings. She had a bunch of jangly bangles on her wrist. She had a vest over a paisley blouse that gathered at her wrists.

He had on a damp woolen cloak.

He had completely forgotten he was wearing a costume. He even still had the staff. A branch from their parking lot. It had broken off during a windstorm and landed on the car.

Maybe this is who you are.

Jesus Christ, what was he thinking?

“Come in,” she said. He walked through the lobby into the room she had just come from. Another dimly lit room. The most electricity the place used was the sign outside: “Psychic.” “I’m Marla.” she said. She looked at slightly sideways, waiting.

“I’m Damien.” he said. He felt ridiculous. He was sure he was as red as a beet.

“Have a seat, Mr. Damien.” she said. In the middle of the room was a table. it was wooden and had a tasseled table cloth in deep red paisley over it. There was room for a tarot reading, or a crystal ball. Neither was on display. He sat down. “What can I do for you, on this Blessed Samhain?” She asked. She pronounced the word “Sowen” He knew it was the Wiccan word for Halloween, the night that the great goddess slept or died, and the horned god reined for the dark winter months. How did he know this? He had studied. Damien had taken a comparative religion course in college.

“Blessed be.” he said, making blessed two syllables. He had never heard the phrased aloud.

“Blessed be, indeed.” she said. one syllable. Was she correcting him, or did it matter? He decided it didn’t matter.

“I need direction.” he said. “I’m lost.” he cast about for where to begin.

She smiled. “You are not lost. For the first time, maybe in your entire life, you’re home.” This was exactly what he wanted to hear, but he suspected she knew this. She stood up and went to a shelf against the wall. Were these walls black? It was too dim to be sure. She came back with a pitcher and a cup. A chalice, really. Really? A fucking chalice.

“The chalice with the palace has the brew that is true.” invaded his memory. A Danny Kaye movie.

She poured.

“I’m sober.” he said. “I don’t drink.”

“It’s not that.”

“Or drugs. I’m sober.”

“It’s not that.” she repeated. “It’s the cost of your visit.” she said.

What the hell? He hadn’t been to a meeting in years. Tonight would have never happened if he had. He took a sip. It was like an herbal tea, but fortified somehow. Thick.

Just then, the bell rang. She did not look surprised, but her smile left and her jaw set. She stood. She didn’t say, “Just a minute,” or “I’ll be right back,” she just went to the door. Her stride was different. Defiant. She opened the door to the lobby. His back was to it. He couldn’t see. As he turned, she blocked his view. She was diminutive, but he was seated. What was in the tea?

“Ah, Marla. There you are. Look at you, dressed like a Gypsy for Halloween. How apropos.”

She’s wearing a costume? thought Damien.

“You are not welcome here.” she said. She spoke with authority that Damien found surprising. He stood up. Huh, any effect of the tea had been ruined by this interruption. He felt normal again. In fact, he felt calm, detached.

“Marla, you need to rethink your situation. You’re in no position to give orders.” Damien came up behind her and saw that there were four large men in the small lobby. They wore black. They had slicked back hair. The leader had a black blazer. Were they dressed for Halloween too? If so, the main guy was missing a fedora.

Marla was barring the door. Damien understood why he was there. “let me through.” he said. She looked up at him, unsure. He wasn’t much bigger than her. “I’m who you asked for.” he said. She looked at him, this costumed dad, out of place everywhere. He would have to do.

Damien stepped into the room.

The men chuckled. “Ok, Gandalf, we don’t want any trouble.”

“That is simply not true, is it?” said Damien. The men smiled.

The main guy shook his head, chuckling. He couldn’t bring himself to say the words. It would sound like an old episode of Batman or something. He didn’t have to say anything. They spread out along the walls of the small room. They had no idea.

It came up through from the ground through his feat, an energy that was warm. It gathered in his chest and he swung his arms in a kind of Tai Chi motion, which culminated as if he were striking the two outermost men, even though they were about five feet away each. A beat later they each slammed against the walls hard, their faces looking like they were experiencing mach 2 G force. Taking his staff in both hands, he pointed at the guy coming at him from his left and hit him with it, end first like a spear, knocking him back. The last guy was going for his gun and had it out fast, pointed at Marla. Without thinking, Damien pulled the dagger from its sheath at his belt and flung it. It embedded itself in the crook of the man’s arm, causing him to drop the gun as it went off, spoiling the shot.

The main guy’s eyes were wide but recovering. His mouth was set in a closed line. He and Damien faced off across the room. thirty seconds had passed. The guy looked at Marla but didn’t speak. He shook his head and left. The others all followed warily out the door, bleeding and leaving the thin weapon behind.

Damien turned back to Marla. She smiled. “Welcome home.” she said.

 

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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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Danu Goddess of the Primordial Waters

“Rolled in the midst of never-ceasing currents flowing without rest forever onward.” Rig Veda1,32,10.

Halloween is coming, and with it, Samhain, the ancient, pagan holiday from which it is derived. Samhain is the Celtics holiday which marks the coming of winter and the death of the deciduous plant life for the year. By extention, it also memorializes all the life that has past that year. This passing from the life of Spring and Summer to the death of Fall and Winter is where the idea of Ghosts and Otherworld creatures roaming our world comes from.

The Goddess of the ancient Celts is called Danu. You will be told that this Goddess is specific to the Irish Celts, but the river Danube which runs through Germany is named for her as well. There is another water Goddess even farther from Ireland named Danu. In India. While researching Danu, for a painting this Halloween I found mention of her, and the belief by some that they are the same Goddess. I found that the Indian version of Danu, which is in the Rig Veda, has been demonized just as the European one has. In India she is the mother of Vitra the dragon, who is defeated by indra. Finding out she’s a dragon only makes me like her even more. Here is an abstract painting of her, rendered in ink in honor of Inktober.

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Kali Night V

I’ve been working on this for a few days and I think it’s getting close. Either that or I’m going to start over lol. I wanted to do a big kali Night painting on watercolor paper with watercolors. I’ve been doing them small in ink on a really absorbant paper from the Himalayas, which is culturally poetic, but I wanted to see what I could do with a medium I have more experience with after learning on a less forgiving media. Turns out I face many of the same difficulties.

Having said that, it is nice to really wade into watercolors again. There’s a much more alchemical feel to them, because the colors interact with each other differently. With inks they’re all just basically dyes. At least the ones I was using, anyway.

Let me know what you think.

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Falling

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.

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Azul The Blue Dragon Sumi Painting

Here is a large scale sumi painting of Azul the Blue Dragon. Azul is the enlightened master who teaches Yendor to be a wizard in “The Song of Yendor.” I’m really happy with the way it came out. There is so much energy in this painting.

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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 Dragon sketch

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.

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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.