We have moved into a new house, in a new city, in a new neighborhood and have all of our things carefully arranged so that we know it is our home. It is, of course, not a new house but was built in 1960 something. Nor is it a new city- it was founded in the 1700’s. Maybe. History is a tricky thing. But it is, by all means, not new. Our things however, are surely ours, in so much as they were still in the storage unit we had paid for before we had left for Mexico and, when we had returned, they had a familiarity to them that the things in the storage unit next to ours would have surely lacked. Maybe we are just babysitting them, though. That’s fine. We’ll keep an eye on them.
Our new city is San Diego. Not a bad place. A quiet place for certain. Not LA. Not Venice Beach. Me miss Venice sometimes. But there is far less distraction here. No beach to go ride my bike down and enjoy the glorious sunset and ocean breezes. No sir. No distractions like that, thank god. I could go down to Pacific Beach or up to Torrey Pines park if i wanted to. It’s pretty up there. But we live in the suburban neighborhood of Clairemont, southeast of La Jolla and UCSD and northeast of Pacific Beach. Here i can enjoy the comfort of knowing that everyone else’s house has the same layout as my own. If that was something i needed to have to feel safe, then surely, safety would be mine.
A painting now sits, only just begun, on my easel and crickets, something we only heard in LA when we got some for Smeagol, our frog, chirp outside. The hour is late, Pink Floyd sings about the echo of clouds on the stereo and Violet works in the next room on a graphic design project.
I have been working on a website: taylormaidenspace.com for a poet friend. Take a look, though as of this moment it isn’t done yet, and drop her a line and tell her how beautiful her words are. Because they are. Web design had become a side job for me as of late, more and more. I like it, people like it and i find people with nifty ideas that need a boat for them. If you know how to build that boat, then why deny people of your skills? Here is another one i made recently: robinclark.org for my friend Robin who lives in LA. She is a channel, a medium, and has wonderful wisdom to share. Someday she will write her book. It will surely be a beautiful book.
So that is as it is. This giant print of the Kalachakra Mandala, which i have had for years, acquiring it a long time ago in Hawaii, sits over my desk, slowly revolving in my minds eye. Nighttime calls…
Walking in the woods, sitting alongside a river, surrounded by tall mountains and blanketed by a silver layer of clouds I find myself once again. I find myself sitting, in a pause, loosing myself in the sound of a river rushing past- in the birds, in the reflections upon the ripples of the sky and the leaves of the trees. Walking, the sounds come into my head and leave again as if a thousand conversations. Approaching the river, I hear only the distant murmur. As I get closer that murmr is a sound that is definitely in front of me, significantly more distinct- like a thought coming clear. As I get nearer and nearer the sound becomes like a rushing torrent of words, until I are in the middle of it, standing on a rock, alone, in a valley, surrounded by green on all sides, with the rushing torrent of sound crashing about me and on all sides, tumbling rocks and passing right by with a thousand other places to go and, if I sit for a moment, even if just in my mind- if I listen for just a moment- immerse myself in that rushing crashing tumbling sound of thoughts cascading into one another and let myself go into it, forgetting that there is a destination, forgetting that there is any possible conclusion and simply surrender…. When we walk onwards, with the sound now behind me, there is an unintended cleansed feeling – a clarity and a sense of peace. With the sound of the river fading away behind me like a room of conversations with no conclusions, I feel refreshed.
I need this sense of escape into the mountains- into a world untended and unhindered. With bushes that have not been trimmed, flowers whose seeds were not placed by human hands. Surrounded by rocks that were not carefully positioned along rivers whose course was not chosen by discerning and engineering minds. To be surrounded by the holistic ecology of nature – that dynamically breathing, living being, is to step inside the outside, to embrace that which tries, yearns, to embrace us.
I think about what it is to be surrounded by manicured lawns, trimmed hedges and constrained, meticulously planted flower gardens, watered regularly, lest they wilt in a land they were never meant to grow. To drive down well paved streets along securely banked curves… to see clear water come from my tap and yet, any culvert or stream flows with heaps of algae, a plastic grocery bag or two, maybe a shopping cart … Yet, how I love the wild recklessness of an untended grove of trees or the focused meandering of a trodden path. To walk up a river without following the trail, hopping along boulders and walking through cold clear water is to forget, even if just for a moment, all these trappings we believe to be so intrinsically human.
I spent so long moving between extremes of place. After I left my home of youth- the efficiently clean suburbs of Connecticut, I found myself moving further and further into rural areas – from ski mountains in Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom with it’s back to nature routines to other rural and remote areas, sometimes only accessible by foot. It is that memory that lingers as I park my car in front of my garage in suburban San Diego, walk past the neatly trimmed hedge and into my clean organized home.
I am fortunate for those brief respites in my view between one tended world and another when I drive through one of the many canyons that rim the neighborhoods of San Diego. Although even then, I am reminded of how many others see them- land that seems neglected, “undeveloped”. People equate wildness with neglect when in fact it is no such thing- wildness is exuberance while neglect is carelessness and manicured lawns are safety zones. So I need (as in- a desire, a craving) to step out of the safety zone that I find myself circumstantially surrounded by to go run through the woods, lose myself in the conversations of the river, and see my reflection in the red smooth bark of the madrone tree or the precisely curved petals of some perfectly purple wildflower. It is this kind of movement that touches on something deeper inside of me than all the malls of the world combined.
All thru’ the day I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
All thru’ the night I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Now they’re frightened of leaving it
Ev’ryone’s weaving it,
Coming on strong all the time,
All thru’ the day I me mine.
–“I, Me, Mine” – The Beatles
What is it I spend all my time thinking about? I am pretty sure I’m thinking all the time. The only time I am not thinking is when I am full engaged in what I am doing (excluding things that require thinking; concentrated thinking is different than distracted thinking) watching a movie, listening to someone speak, painting, walking along the beach. There are these actions- all sorts of them. And I listen, I engage, each of them- eating, walking, yoga, painting, and there are moments of illumination, like a fish cresting a wave, jumping in the sun. These times arise when I am fully present. They arise when I am in the flow of life. Even if it is just sitting and I stop trying. I stop stopping. I stop.
Then there is all the time thinking. When I am in the midst of it, I forget about it. That may seem very zen but really it’s rather ignorant of the process. I’m just caught up in it- thinking about wedding planning or he said I said she said or what I should have for dinner or a thousand and one plausible scenarios of life and how I might respond or what I might say or what I did say or <i>whatever</i>. I will be honest- I was thinking earlier of what I would write right now. When I am able to take a step back and objectively look at this thing called thought process I notice a few key elements. Thought is in no way a bad thing and is natural as the clouds in the sky or the currents of the ocean. In fact, the ability to think things through is a positive aspect of any rational human being. The problem lies in the place where the rational part stops and the irrationality of rethinking and rethinking and keep on thinking like a skipping record whose needle is the “I” itself. Once ought to be enough! But why do we think and rethink – if it is not to aggrandize ourselves or someone else, at least in our own minds, or to belittle ourselves or someone else, if not in our own minds, to strengthen attachment or defend an aversion. If not that, then what?
One thing I have noticed is that sometimes my incessant thought stream is simply hell bent on figuring it out. Whatever “it” may be. “Figuring it out” is actually all of it. It sifts through the issues, the variables, the problems, the items on the list, then it does it again, wash rinse repeat – this mind reviews everything, as if it is indexing a hard drive or leafing through folders on my desk containing stories, points of great import, and irrelevant but possibly relevant and important enough that we haven’t forgotten them details that might be crucial to the current issue at hand.
It does this while I am trying to go to sleep. I catch it- sorting, organizing, planning, seeing if there is a diamond, a seed, something missed, caught/lost in the shuffle. A-HA! It proposes it will say- I’VE GOT IT! As if all of a sudden the eureka, the grand idea will unfold from the map of minutiae it has laid out.
I catch it on my way into yoga class. Let it go, I suggest, just let it go. Downward dog, upward dog – it loses track and has to start all over again. The process feels terribly fruitless. I must press on. Move forward. Maybe some inspiration awaits around the next corner. You’ll see, it tells me, I’ll earn my keep.
In truth, it does not want to find the answer it is looking for. While it might be good at figuring things out and, granted, occasionally comes up with a good idea or two, this mind doesn’t really want to absorb the key point- the cornerstone, the idea that keeps it all locked in- and that is the fact of basic self-existence (or the lack thereof)- that nothing is completely independent of itself- even the self, even this mind. When I ceases to exist, so do all the concepts, thoughts, illusions. When I am…
When “I” is no longer telling stories about what “I” did or did not do, what was done or not done to “I”… when “I” is no longer trying to find excuses, reasons or bottom lines… then what is it to do? What is left when the walls of stuff- of thoughts and concepts, dreams and anchors dissolve?
Words of description only offer approximations. Expansiveness has no yardstick.
It is a feeling that has been alluded to, touched upon in countless places and, sometimes and on rare occasions, manifested in concrete, in paint, in music. Songs tend to suggest feelings and intimations but as soon as words enter in, there is something tangible to latch onto and define. An image is good at creating an initial rush – a quickly swallowed pill – but as soon as there is something to criticize or identify with we tend to categorize and thus once again fall prey to the very slippery movements of the “I”.
It has gone on forever- bottomless mind. All-seeing Eye.
I am hungry. I must pay rent. I must make that phone call. I must make a list. I won’t make a list so I can keep thinking I must make a list (a deeper thought in the bottomless mind). I must live up to my expectations. I must fail at that living up to the expectations. If I break the habit then I break the chain and if I break the chain then what do I have to think about and dwell upon. If I am always late, and I start to be on time then what? Then what?
Do I have new expectations to live up to? Only if I allow myself to set them. There is a difference between living up to expectations and living the Truth.
The key to life is learning to separate your “self” from the “I”. There is a being here, that is for certain. It is as much a being and as vital to the workings of the universe as a gear in a clock. Remove the gear and the clock ceases to work. Such is death. I would never propose thoughtlessness. Instead- I propose conscious thought, focused action, doing things right the first time, movement coupled with awareness.
It is in the moments of moving with the flow and cresting the wave, swimming in that Big Sky Mind that we experience illumination. Through illumination we shed light upon the motions of our minds.
It’s quite simple really – you just pick up the brush and you start. But when to start? Start before you get caught up elsewhere, before you get distracted, before the computer phone doorbell cat dog moth flies in your ear and whispers that there is something so important to do and is somewhere else and you had better do right now. There will always be that thing that needs to get done right now. I’ve got a thousand of them. And they get done, one by one. Always. Trust me. So forget about it. Just for a little bit. Let it pass through your mind but don’t engage it. It will be there when you get to it. If need be, keep a piece of paper next to you while you paint and if you think of that thing that you had better do, write it down! Then, when you are done painting, take a look there and, if you see what you need to do, then do it! In the meantime, engage the image, the paint, the lines and circles, the gradients and textures. Let yourself become immersed in it. If even for just a moment you forget about all else, and you, the rhythm of your hand, the color on the brush, the way it lays upon the canvas, the way you stand there, with your head cocked slightly – if even a millisecond a space is allowed to open between thought and thought and awareness creeps through, catches a glimpse of You – then you might want to consider the night a success. But if that thought stream doesn’t pause, doesn’t cease it’s endless I Me Mine then what are you going to do? I’ll be honest- some of my sweetest work came about when I wasn’t looking. When I suddenly noticed I wasn’t looking, wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing, was in the groove of thought, of music, of poetry if rhythm… even then… it is all the same river you see- the thought stream, the vision, the glimpse of You, the wide open long-range vista of Awareness with a capital A, the pain in your lower back from bending over for so long, the kink in your neck. Keep your hand supple- almost drop the brush all the time, allow it to rest there but don’t grip it, a gripped brush has no give. Every ounce of you ought to be like the fabled reed in the wind- making music in the river of breezes. Know when to change colors- when to add some purple, some magenta – the deep magenta, not the light magenta. Know why you are doing so. Be true to your color palette of choice- if you are going for earth tones- go with earth tones! But if a dash of light magenta or bright turquoise wants to step in and add itself- check it at the door, make sure it has an invitation. Intuition is the gate keeper here and if Intuition says c’mon in, then by all means Let It! You might be surpised the spice it might add to the party on the canvas. That is the funny thing about painting, about creating, about life- intuition is the gate keeper but there is another who would seek to wear that mask although it wears that mask beneath many others. But, ultimately, it is only known as Fear, Illusion. Fear of being wrong, of making a mistake, of being too much or too little, fear of everything, fear of nothing. Fear that the magenta is a fools color and not to be taken seriously. Fear that your parents never liked turquoise. Fear that your loved one might come in behind you and say “WTF?! Lemon Yellow eyes?” Cause she just might. But intuition, especially if it’s been given a chance to stretch it’s wings, will never steer you wrong. It’s like riding a bike. Of course, those first few times of riding that bike were a bit unsteady. So were, sometimes, those first times of trying to discern which was the voice of intuition and which was not. One moment you’re listening to the Guiding Light, the Chief Principle, the next moment the voice of addiction has shoved it’s way into the game and is wearing a mask that looks suspiciously similar but… So watch your mind! Watch where it leads you. It is not your mind that paints. Nor is it your heart. Nor your hand. Your whole being paints. By being the whole being, by letting you’re your big toe paint, the tip of your ears, your breath- then you can truly realize the vision you seek. So you paint and grab those colors and splash them upon the canvas in well mannered daubs and violent eruptions. You watch lines form, and follow their curve, zigging left when it need to go left, zagging right when the time is right. Such is life.
But then you stop and you stop before your colors become mud, unless mud is really what you are after. And if you weren’t after mud but they became that anyways- who cares? There will be another chance, another time to paint.
First, let me wax poetic about my cat. He just might be the best cat in the world. When it is late late at night, like it is right now, at about 4 am he gets antsy because I am still up. Maybe he’s hungry or maybe he wants to go outside. He was sleeping soundly but I’d finished painting and made a noise that woke him up. So I pour a glass of wine in the kitchen; I give him a few crunchies. Then he follows me back into the studio, thinking maybe he should go outside. I pick him up, put him on my lap, as I sit at my desk. He curls up on my lap, doing his best to be comfortable and then, as he purrs and realizes he’s stoked, he looks up at me with the sweetest, most loving look a cat-owner could desire. It is this look, this loving gaze, this sweet thank you, that all cat owners live for, when it comes to responses from the cat anyhow.
So it goes.
I received an email yesterday from someone who had visited my site. She said some really nice things. One was “your art is alive and moving right now”. That was really nice to read and definitely something I look to create/represent/embody while I paint. To be that moving, changing, morphing energy of life and watch it echo through me onto the canvas. The painting I am working on right now- fourth in the series of five, and the last one to complete, although the others will get a bit more work/treatment to the colors to fully create the cohesiveness of the vision… Anyhow- the image right now is very fractal like. But in that fractal quality, a spherical orb comes from the center horizon along the curving arc of the fractal and within it is a person, slowly coming to life, to a sitting meditative position. It is as animated as a painting can be, without actually being a moving picture.
Life, painting, even sitting- they all are movement. They are life. Let us dance, Let us walk. Let us sit. Within it all, there is movement- our heart beats, our blood pumps, our eyes blink or twitch, our lungs expand… contract… expand… contract… our ventricles and capillaries, our synapses and lymph nodes… Movement, a syncopated dance… with that, I am off to bed.
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