This year we will be heading to Burning Man to create an art project known as McLightenment. We received a generous grant from Burning Man Arts to help make it happen and happening it is. We will be leaving San Diego on August 19th, arriving at Black Rock City on the 22nd. The entire thing, tho funny and satirical, is both a fitting accomplice to the American Dream theme for this year and holds deeper truths within it. Truths that make themselves known in the most unlikely (or likely as the case may be) of places.
I was recently asked to display my work at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, CA, just north of Encinitas in Southern California. It is located in a wealthy hacienda style community of resort condos, golf courses and tennis courts. A woman working at the center who has some charge over the art on the walls had spotted my work in the recent Vision Magazine and contacted me. Needless to say, I was honored by the offer and took them up on it, sharing with them the terms and conditions of hanging my work. I was told it wouldn’t be a problem displaying my artwork as long as they could agree to take full responsibility with full liability for my work while it is there. I have learned to ask this and, if such insurance can not be provided in writing, I turn people down. Since having a painting stolen from the Kripalu Center last year and receiving little recompense for it’s loss, I insist that all displays of my work that I am not present for, especially large valuable pieces, require a signed contract by all parties involved. This is something all artists should do, as it holds people accountable. Art is not furniture. It is life, and the blood, sweat, tears, that go into it are not easily replaced.
So I brought my work to the Chopra Center, had it hung, it looked great, etc etc. Then I went on to ask them about a signed contract. While they stated that yes they would assume full liability for it’s loss or damage, they refused to put this in writing. Now, I can understand if someone says ‘No, I’m sorry but we can’t be responsible for it for this reason or this reason…’. Great, that person is clear in their boundaries. However, here are people, from a center that professes to teach clarity, being completely unclear in their business practices and sidestepping their responsibility.
In talking with the woman whom I’d been in contact with I dug a little deeper into the issue. It seems that by putting it in writing they felt that maybe they would be manifesting it’s theft! What superstitious nonsense! I don’t have car insurance just to drive around being afraid I’ll get into an accident.
“So you would rather live in fear,” I asked, “than put beautiful artwork on your walls?”
“Well,” she said, “you put it that way ti sounds kind of strange… it feels uncomfortable, but yes… I suppose”
Well, when you are not living in Truth, the truth can make you feel uncomfortable. That uncomfortableness is your boundary. You can either retreat at that point to where you have been all this time or you can push yourself a little further and actually facilitate growth.
It is unfortunate that they have decided to retreat rather than put their signature where their words are. After all, if one will agree verbally to something, it is only the fact that they aren’t actually committed to it that they won’t sign their name to the same statement. I have contracts with everyone I work with. It is ceremony in some ways- a kind of ritual that we can all agree to and refer back to to see what we agreed to should any part of our agreement come into question. There is magic to the written word. Always ask questions, always hold to your truth.
So the moral of this story is that the so-called Spiritual Centers are just as holy as the tire change place down the street, maybe even less. But for a few dollars there you can go and feel holy, feel spiritual. For a few dollars at the tire place, you can change your tires. Commodities and exchanges. This is what McLightenment is all about. Fast Food Drive-thru enlightenment. A quick fix with little commitment. And we ask- what did you really get out of it anyways? There is no quick fix.
Well, we will be found on the Playa between the Man and Center Camp with easy-on, easy-off access. Come find us, we’ll have your order ready and waiting…
Also, as Burning Man has not covered all of the expenses associated with the project, if you would like to donate to McLightenment, so we can truly make this a memorable experience for you, please do: DONATE
They say: “Trust in [insert your god’s name here] but [lock, tie, secure] your [car, camel, canoe]”.
What’s this mean anyway? It means trust in the rhythms of the divine but take precautions because precautions are necessary. Are you precipitating disaster? By thinking you might get robbed are you manifesting theft? Just because I have car insurance am I inevitably going to attract a car accident? What foolish superstitious nonsense! This is not the dark ages. Our superstitions may trade disguises; they may shift their verbage and tones of voice but they are still the same voices of self-defeat trying to eat us away and hold us back from taking chances, from truly stepping into and experiencing the rhythm of life.
I am not here to concede when I am told “No.” I am not here to go back to where I came from when I am asked to remove my messages from upon the wall. I am here to stand up for what I believe in and to only move if the reason that I am given to move is sound. What is a sound reason? Only a reason that does not come from a space of fear but of love, of compassion and of awareness is one strong enough to sway me.
I am here to question, to ask why. To run up against your boundaries and ask what you are afraid of. Are you afraid of commitment? Are you afraid of pushing the boundaries, the envelope, your own limits? Are you afraid of the edge?
I am not here to paint pretty pictures. There are enough of those- both the pretty pictures and the painters who paint them. They paint little cottages in the woods and perfect replicas of buddhas floating upon the river. They paint images that make us feel safe- images that we instantly recognize and can thus name, label, categorize and file away. Such painters are craftsman, not explorers. They are map makers, copying the maps of those who came before.
No, we want to push further and draw forth that which is within. We want to manifest the now. We want to write new books, not just repeat the same synopsis, make the same mistakes, bow to the same idols. We want to experience. The act of painting a Buddha may be a meditation but what of the experience and how does that translate? What was the first painting of Buddha? The first Christ? What was the non-watered down, commoditized version? The spontanaeity that inspired the first great work of art, the inner urge that drives a true artist – to harness this and center it upon the divine and allow it to unfold from that place – that is a challenge. Another manifestation of a cottage in the woods, another manifestation of the Buddha in paint exactly as the Buddha is supposed to look with all the proper symbols in place – it takes skill but it doesn’t take inspiration. Truth lies in the inspiration, as does growth. To live only upon skill is to reside in safety.
But I am not about safety. There is no growth in safety and there is no safety on the edge that we walk. When I look down, I do not see a tightrope beneath my feat- that is not the edge of which I speak. I see a line and a line can be divided in half. So I divide, and divide and divine again. I slice it further and further until that truly is no end, when there are no more halves. And that, that is only a state of mind but we only reach that state by breaking down the barriers, not by running from them. To even imagine a tightrope, to even understand the edge, is to see one side and another. Only by crossing the edge can we begin to understand what we are merging with.
We push ourselves- a little further here, a little further there, and we ask – we demand – the same of those we meet, whom we engage in business in, whom we share friendship with. It is an inevitability of our relationships. We will always, either right from the start or even a bit further on, push a button. It may be our own button so we examine it. What am I doing here? What am I experiencing? Why? Why am I feeling like running away? Why am I feeling like attaching myself? Do I pack it all up and move on? Do I sit and stew? Rivers don’t run backwards when they encounter a rock, they find a way around it. They wear it down with gentleness; they crash up against it with the fury of natural rhythm. They work with it and through it.
Or we push the button of another person- we bring them to their edge and if we don’t ask them to look over that edge, if we don’t look over it with them, then we are doing the both of us a great disservice.
Let me take your hand if that makes you more comfortable. Yes, there is safety in numbers. Let’s look and see what lies there- fear of loss, fear of being wrong, fear of ego death, fear of responsibility.
Fear of Everything.
Fear of Nothing.
Let’s get on with this:
Fuck the fear, tie your camel or secure your canoe or whatever- take care of the general basic necessities, but the minute the voice steps in – the voice that speaks in the language of fear, engage it, work with it, work through it and get on with it – and let’s get the fuck on with this dance- how do we engage life joyfully? Don’t you see that the fear is what is holding you back from true joy? From life? For life is joyful, life is for living and liufe is for those who want to live it. For everyone else- there is death and they are either experiencing the long slow decline with every waking moment or they are experiencing the eternal rhyme with every breath. We engage life. We dance with it. We eat with it. We sing with it. We fuck with it. We sleep with it and we awaken in the morning with it. And it feels oh so very wonderful.
A study was done recently regarding the part of the brain that controls self-censorship and jazz musicians.. The gist of the article:
“A pair of Johns Hopkins and government scientists have discovered that when jazz musicians improvise, their brains turn off areas linked to self-censoring and inhibition, and turn on those that let self-expression flow.
“The joint research, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, and musician volunteers from the Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute, sheds light on the creative improvisation that artists and non-artists use in everyday life, the investigators say.
“It appears, they conclude, that jazz musicians create their unique improvised riffs by turning off inhibition and turning up creativity.”
This is an interesting finding and something to consider. I enjoy learning about the actual nuts and bolts manifestations of things (or lack thereof as is the case sometimes such as when some long held belief or old wives tale is disproved… but that is another story…). Self-censorship while not intrinsically a bad thing can be a devastating creative block. We can see this lack of it’s ability to function properly in people deemed "mentally handicapped" such as those with Tourette’s Syndrome. For those who feel their self-censoring lobe is functioning properly, sure it may keeps you from blurting out that potentially tear-jearking comment to that one girl at a party but it may also be just the thing that keeps you from approaching the other girl whom you’ve been keeping your eye out for all night.
For those of us whose minds function relatively properly, self-censorship can prove as much of a handicap as for those for whom it doesn’t function at all. Much of our childhood is spent having the self-censorship mechanism reinforced. It is what keeps us from blurting out the answer in the middle of the third grade class instead of raising our hands. It is what holds us back from telling the fat girl the obvious. It is what makes us reconsider ourselves and our abilities the next time we draw a cow, a tree and a field after we’ve been told that our last attempt looked nothing like a cow, a tree or a field, even though we felt it to be a true masterpiece. That last part is the important part. With all the teaching of how to self-censor ourselves, we rarely receive any teaching in how to be spontaneous. Occasionally, we get lucky or the stars are aligned or who knows what…. something turns us on and tunes us into that spontaneously creative part of our being.
After I read that article I thought about all the music I love and one band in particular who will always have a place close to my heart, no matter how weird, loopy, jammy or whatever you want to call them. I thought about all those Phish shows I went to between the ages of 18 and 22 and about the spontaneity, the stop on a dime and switch directions, the weird vocal jams that came from nowhere, the crazy improvisations, and those transmission-like moments when dancing, music, crowd, everything was in perfect unison and it was simply the vast, vast ocean getting down with itself. Those times taught me a lot about freedom of expression. It wasn’t just the music, although that had a lot to do with it. It was about the spontaneous expression of my spirit and deep explorations of just how this whole apparatus that is my mind and body can move as one and be completely free and uninhibited in doing so.
As we start to chart that uncharted territory of our minds, we find new ways of thinking, some healthy, some not so much. We encounter identities along those paths, old shells and new ones, forgotten about habits and deep seated fears. But once a path is walked a few times, it becomes part of the general known lay of the land, especially if the first few times we walked there, it was intensely pleasurable. And if it wasn’t so pleasurable then we either seal the door and place a guard at the gate, or we go back, determined to see what is on the other side. We must look to constantly chart new territory if we are to continue to live in spontaneity and it is through the shutting off of the self-censoring mind that we can do this. In doing so we can use those tools of spontanaeity, as well as new ones that come across our paths, to help to foster this.
I still listen to Phish but also all sorts of other music and what I love most about some of the music I have is it’s spontaneous gestures of unbridled impulsive creativity- a kind of coming out of left field but at EXACTLY THE RIGHT MOMENT and EXACTLY THE RIGHT NOTE. This sense of spontaneous expression comes through in many of the arts and many of pieces of literature and movies, etc.
Some people may not be so into this expressive quality however. If we enjoy our safety and aren’t looking to explore new territory then we love the cookie cutter movies, whether they be action or romance, where we know, can almost predict, exactly what will happen. Some people have decided they don’t want to go any further and they have little self-censorship guards at all the nearest exits, just in case some part of their mind tries to make a break for it. (I promise not to devolve into some sort of Government/Censorship rant here although the ground is so fertile….)
On the other hand- some people are in a constant rebellion against those guards- constantly trying to woo them over to the other side, where we can all work together, all of these wonderful tools of our minds working in harmony rather than at odds with each other. Look at poetry: many of the poems I love the most have a kind of off the cuff feel. A poet writes what is on his/her mind and heart. They can only feel this if they allow the mind to simply BE AS IT IS, without any self-conscious voice governing it.
Consider this: by the time we are in our late twenties, we have heard a vast majority of the word combinations that exist. Many of the sentences I have already used are merely restructurings of sentences I have spoken or thought of in the past, whether I am conscious of this fact or not. Thus, when we see certain words or word combinations, we almost intuitively expect other words to follow. Yet, when we read some poetry, although it may roll over the tongue like the sweetest of crème brulees, it surprises our minds and it’s sounds, unexpected word combinations, tones, and nuances, lead us to a more heightened state and perhaps an unexpected conclusion. A good book, a movie, a beautiful work of art, they all do this to some extent or another and yet almost every artist engages in some form of self-censorship.
It may seem that the jazz musician or the expressionist painter has the most freedom in their expressions but, as I said, once a territory of the mind has been charted, it is easy to go back. Once a combination of notes has been played, once, twice, a dozen times, it is not as spontaneous to the mind that is coordinating them as the audience ear that may be listening. So even then, what may seem to us to be free expression can still end up being rehearsed – a pantomime of the original inspiration. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
I love Radiohead. Seriously love their music. But it is very rehearsed and that is who they are. They polish and sculpt their sounds, allowing for nuance and spark to appear, but always being aware of how it fits into the larger whole and using the vehicle which is Radiohead to bring them to places they have not yet charted. This is the value of self-censorship. If we are looking to manifest some grand vision we need to be aware that nuances and inspirations we haven’t yet considered will arrive while our vision comes into being. By allowing for inspired spontaneity while at the same time holding the original intention in mind, we will run the risk of creating a true work of art.
Four Tibetan Buddhist monks create a sand mandala in a cafe in Encinitas. They do not take notice of the plethora of cute girls who watch them. I can’t help but notice. But perhaps I can. Perhaps I ought to ask them about that… and we’ll get into a discussion about attachment, aversion, beauty, death, all things that pass and things that pass all things… a bell is rung signifying a color perhaps… or a blessing…
Looking up from my work, a screen full of code, I watch them create their mandala, and think about how we are all creating our mandalas- whether they be the tedium of each grain of sand, or each spippet and tag of code, or each brush stroke on the canvas. each is as important as the last and they all add up to a whole that is greater than the sum of their parts.
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