Here is a thing that boggles my mind: we need to convince other – we need to argue about – why people should be compassionate towards one another. We need to debate why we should guarantee a living wage? How is the bottom line more important than the basic needs of your workers? We discuss into absurdity why we should pass laws to guarantee that our veterans are cared for. And we need to convince people that we should care for the planet instead of just dumping toxic chemicals will-nilly everywhere. And we have the world we’ve created… that echoes all of these struggles.
Why should we be compassionate and how far should that compassion extend? Just to people who look like us, act like us, think like us? What about the people who are different than us? What about to, say, a tree, a bird, or the air? What’s the use – the utility – of compassion?
We tell stories about a wise sage who told stories about being compassionate. We tell tales with as far out of consequences as possible: you’ll earn karma, have a better spot in heaven, God sent his only Son, and so on. We tell all these stories – over and over. We create religions, stories, institutions… all just to create a reason – why we should feel a little bit of compassion for each other. And for ourselves. How did we go so far from that?
The earth. The animals. Trees, grass, people. The whole planet, the universe, the stars and sun. We run past the homeless person on the street. We can barely fathom that someone of the other side of the world. Our own lives carry on enormous conversations inside of our heads.
Religion: we create these intensely complex forms of spiritual governance all to just stimulate a little compassion for our fellow human – all to give a reason as to WHY we should care for those around us – and, more importantly, those who we perceive to be as DIFFERENT than ourselves.
We see ourselves and everything else. And we have this ingrained idea of needing to struggle to survive and the fittest – not the most collaborative – is the one which will survive. There’s nothing in the capitalistic mindset that says that most compassionate will survive. It’s a dog-eat-dog-world we’re told from the start. Competition is key! The man with the most wins!
The thing is – when we think like that, we stop recognizing ourselves in others. We’re taught to see the differences. Man. Woman. Black. White. Gay. Straight. Old. Young. Blond. Brunette. Red head. And so on. And we’re taught that our survival – in fact: our flourishing – doesn’t depend on their survival.
Yet, like all other organisms, we are self-perpetuating machines striving to perpetuate this human organism. How can we not see that the happiness of others supports our own happiness? And vice versa. We are not individuals: we are separate nodes of a greater organism. And, really, deep down, each of those nodes just wants to love and be loved.
It seems to take so much for us to just feel some compassion for others. And yet: it’s as easy as extending a hand, recognizing the life in another, feeling some kinship to another, and loving.
Names: what we name things. We name things all the time. Often we are using names we’ve been told to call things. Those names serve the purpose of being a point of reference in a conversation. Sketchbook. Pen. Cat. And then there’s more signifying names: my cat’s name is Figaro. Or Lukki. Or Maceo.
I had a name that was given to me when I was born – Michael – and it accompanied a middle name – Robert, my dad’s name – and Brown, my father’s last name. And that was my identity for many years, tying me to a long family heritage and, on a broader scale, a long system of patriarchy.
In typical male/female marriages, the man always keeps his last name. Conversely, the woman has to give up her last name. This is rarely questioned. Sometimes people hyphenate the names but even that is MaleLastName-FemaleLastName. Few men ever consider taking the woman’s last name. Ask some married couple you know about that sometime. They will laugh, feel uncomfortable, etc. It’s weird.
So when Violet and I decided to get married o so long ago, she said: Let’s take a new name. She declared that she wasn’t interested in just taking my name and perpetuating the patriarchal idea of ownership of the wife. At the same time, we wanted to be creating a solid container and, along the lines of the naming of things and, in a sense, bringing them into being via the name, a hyphenated name still seemed to create a sense of together-but-separate. It didn’t feel like that solid unified container that the contract of marriage created.
Violet suggested we take a new name. The new name would be our new container that we agreed upon together. It would be the name we decided to call ourselves. We are mirrors of the world around us so we wanted the name to reflect how we see the world.
Taking a name from another culture didn’t feel right. Our language is our language and its words and sounds and turns of phrase are a part of its own magic. It’s the language we have grown up speaking and the one we use to the call the world into being. Taking a word from another culture seems to support an imagined esotericism.
Quite importantly, we wanted it to sound right in our ears, with our first names, etc. It had to have a nice flow to it. Like harmonies in song, the last name had to work with the sounds of our first names. I like to feel words in my mouth: feel how they rolls off the tongue. Or not. How they starts and stops. Where they breathe and where they pause. So much meaning – and reflection of the world we perceive – is related through the sounds of words.
Lots of different words flowed through our mouths and ears. Finally we settled on “Divine”. It seemed to fill in the blank of that last name appropriately and would be symbolic of the container of this new family we were creating. It mirrored how we saw the world – all of the world – as divine. This divine life. This divine being.
Sometimes people meet me and they have this idea of me based on my name and on their own ideas of what Divine might mean – and why I might have chosen it. To some, it’s pretentious because the “Divine” is a far off thing or idea and who am I to call myself that? To others, it’s more what-your-last-name-wasn’t-good-enough? because we should be content with who and what and where we are in life. And, for others, it makes me super spiritual, whatever that might mean, because the Divine is so spiritual. The they meet me and they see that I’m really a rather ordinary person. I’m just this guy who sometimes has a rather crass sense of humor. I like wine and music. I like life. And to some, even that is an affront because, in their eyes, it’s not divine enough.
I can’t take responsibility for the projections of others. But I can take responsibility for who I am – and that is a human being, living his life. I enjoy this life quite a bit – with all of its many facets – and try to see it for what it is, whatever that might be.
And if we were to choose a word for that ‘what it might be’ then Divine seems to be a pretty good word.
I’m rounding the corner, walking home from the organic market that we shop at, and it’s a chilly evening. The sun is well past gone. I have a small bag of groceries in my arm – chocolate, coffee, some vegetables, some coconut milk creamer – and a man pushing a grocery cart filled with plastic bottles and aluminum cans passes me. He looks to be smiling but then again maybe he’s grimacing and I wonder: what stroke of life gave this man a cold evening to push a grocery cart filled with plastic bottles, maybe just trying to find enough to make a few dollars and buy something to eat – and me, walking to my warm home. Sometimes, driving through downtown LA, I end up on one of the blocks of homeless people living in tents, pushing shopping carts that contain everything they own, living in the gutter. I wonder at how it is that I am in my car, listening to music, on my way to a meeting, or a dinner with friends, or just getting on the highway and heading home and they are there, stuck in some all together different way of life. I wonder at how the uber-wealthy end up so high up on that pedestal they place themselves upon, sometimes unable to truly value the little things.
I wonder at this… this world with all of it’s countless threads of lives going on: where some are bombed, others are swaddled, some are cared for, and some are left to be trodden upon, some walk tall, some walk small, some don’t walk at all… I wonder how it is that man is legless and I walk along or that child was born without sight, and I can see. How that person appears to be ahead of me, and that person is behind. The vast multitudes and all the myriad walks of life. I wonder at it and I wonder at how I ended up here: making art, doing what I love, living unafraid, neither angry nor resentful, but loving it. I’m in a wonderful marriage to a wonderful woman, with a home that is warm and, right now, smells like fresh baked bread, with a cat on my lap and soft music playing and soft lighting. I wonder at it all and the only thing I am left with – the only answer that comes back to me, echoing from my heart and what feels like the heart of all things – is gratitude: at this gift, this life.
Gratitude is like the late afternoon sunshine, touching everything, turning it gold.
I ran across this quote from Chögyam Trungpa the other day:
“Compassion automatically invites you to relate with people because you no longer regard people as a drain on your energy.”
-Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
I read the ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’ years ago and it has forever echoed in my mind. The title pretty much carries it’s message: it’s not about how many mantras or sun salutations you can do or how many retreats you’ve been to or how spiritual you dress or look or what temple you visit or how many holy books are on your bookshelves or how many pictures of holy beings are on your altar – it’s about you and your process, everything else is just icing – a mask, something we identify with. I consider this often when I am in my day to day life – when I am interacting in my day to day world – buying groceries, crossing the street, cleaning out the cat litter box. It’s al just stuff and my buddha statue on my altar is no more or less holy, it’s just a different reminder, a placeholder – an icon to jog me back to – it doesn’t matter what the fuck you are doing – if you do it with compassion and wisdom, it’s awesome.
In any case, the quote that I started this out with is something I’ve been contemplating as it’s arisen in my mind and I’ve been working on integrating it into the habits of my day to day living. I tend to be somewhat aloof by nature. “Nature” of course is all the causes and conditions that made this identity I consider to be me. I don’t need to be aloof but it’s sort of an identity pattern that I fall back on when faced with the challenge, say, of meeting new people. Regardless of that, I also tend towards being somewhat more introverted than extroverted (although I do my best to overcome it). So I sometimes feel drained by large social gatherings. By comparison, my wife, Violet, feels incredibly energized by being out amongst lots of people. For me, it can at times be an effort to stay present and open in that sort of present, interactive manner with people. If it’s with a large group of people I know well then I have a much easier time of it. In the times where I’m meeting new people in large groups, I think that, acting from a place of compassion, returning to one’s heart, can be an excellent way to overcome the tendency towards withdrawing. (Granted, acting from a place of compassion is always the answer – it’s just important to look at specific instances soemtiems)(
More importantly however, regardless of the time and place, is the instance of the person coming up to us whom we don’t want to engage with. We might know this person already even and say to others ‘that person is an energy vampire, I don’t want to talk to them’. Yet, their own set of causes and conditions shaped their identity and they act based on those causes and conditions. Most importantly, they just want to love and be loved.
I think that when one can simply be compassion then there is no drain because there is no end. A drain sucks the last drop out from the container but there is no container. There are only concepts. Ego has a beginning and an end… Life, energy, love – there is no end. Sometimes it is best to simply find a few concepts that work best. Compassion is one such concept. If we are to choose words for things and choose one way of being over another – we always have the choice to either kick the puppy or love it – doesn’t it feel best to choose the compassionate route?
To be fair, in the end, ALL things engaged with a sense of compassion will have healthier and more enjoyable consequences than otherwise. We either engage life from a place of compassion or we don’t. If we notice the places where we aren’t engaging from a place of compassion and push against those walls that hold us back then who knows what we might find there….
To be fair, I, too, have plenty of moments where, in retrospect, I think: well that was pretty uncompassionate of me. But with the right effort, we can move mountains. The results of our work might not be seen in a day, or two days, or a week. But over time, our walls break down. We become more loving creatures. That, in the end, is what it is all about. It doesn’t matter how many grand pianos you have or how many grand sonatas you can play – it doesn’t matter how many spiritual tomes you have read or how many crystals are on your altar – just whether or not you can allow any and all of the myriad things of the world to open your heart, whatever that might be.
Around 2am I usually just can’t paint any more. Sometimes it’s a tad later. Sometimes a tad earlier. But usually it’s about five or six hours in and my hand is cramped and my back is aching and my eyes are starting to blur and my brushstrokes start to lose their precision. The good things is that once I get like that I usually feel pretty good about my work for the night. It means that I covered a lot of ground. Painting is about ‘the process’ as much as ‘the product’. Sometimes, it’s just a lot of blanks to fill in. You see, the story is written. The path is clear. I’m just following a dotted line that leads to an inevitable conclusion. There are nuances to be explored, and colors and lines to be enunciated but the gist of the piece – this piece that I’m working on right now anyhow – was decided long ago. I am merely completing the vision.
While I paint, my mind wanders through many worlds and my heart travels through multitudinous emotions the way one might try on different outfits. And there are pure zen moments where I’m not thinking about anything. Or elated loving moments where my heart is suddenly sort of glowing. Don’t dwell on it, though! Such feelings are mere feelings and as ephemeral as the clouds. But I do appreciate those moments. It never hurts to simply center one’s sense of consciousness in the center of one’s chest instead of in the center of the head, where we tend to look out at the world from.
O painting, it has taught me so much – so many little things that apply to my life. So many big things that have opened up inside me – grand a-has! – sublime epiphanies – eternal love – sweetly understood connections.
Here are some thoughts on painting that have tended to have metaphorical meanings to my life:
1. The color on your palate will not be the color on the canvas. That color, so carefully mixed, will likely end up looking ten shades different once you place it between the blue and the orange. Is that the color we were looking for? What thoughts do we have that are actually incongruous with reality?
2. The epiphany does not always occur when one is painting the representation of the eternal light. Most times, it is when one is in the corners, the crevices, the shadows, working out the details, trying to understand the mystery.
3. Be prepared for the unexpected. Go with it. It might lead somewhere great. However, always be prepared to completely disregard it. Sometimes the great tangent leads only to distraction. Which leads us to…
4. Sometimes, all of your hard work leads to an object that needs to be one inch to the left. Or an entire field of color that is a shade too dark. Or an entire array of minuets who must be two inches higher. Or whatever. In any case – sometimes, after five hours of work, you might step back and say: I did it wrong. If you don’t paint over it, if you don’t take the time to do it right then you will always look at it and know that the painting wasn’t quite what it could have been. And if you know this, then so will the whole world, whether anyone can put their finger on it or not.
5. When you get over the self-criticism, and do away with the self-doubt, you can create a sense of beauty that soars. How do you overcome these things? By practice. By showing up. By allowing all the voices to have their say but, in the end, following only your bliss.
6. Finally, few great paintings were ever created overnight. The painters of the greatest paintings lived their entire lives before them. They laughed with them. They cried with them. They curled up inside them. They burst out through them. They were transformed by them. Yet, we do not paint for just ourselves. We live our lives through our art in order to allow ourselves to be the shining lights that we are. In this way, by being that living art, we can be a catalyst of beauty.
To a true artist, the work comes as naturally as the breeze or the shine of the stars. Walls block the breeze from reaching our skin. Walls block the shine of the stars from illuminating our gaze. By breaking down the walls that hold back that flowing nature, we can reach deeper depths and higher heights and great NOWs.
There is a story of a bird wearing down a mountain by passing over it once every hundred years with a piece of silk. This is a long time. Think of your painting process like that. Every day, every hour, every minute, that bird is passing over that mountain. It is wearing down those heaps of self-criticism, of self-doubt, of fear of whatever, and every day the sunrise on the other side of that mountain is revealed just a bit more.
Occasionally we may burst through that mountain with heaps of dynamite. The heaps of dynamite are only successful if we are open to allowing it to do it’s work. How do we become open to that? By every day allowing for that bird to fly over the mountain. By showing up.
If we complete all the little details of the painting and bring them to their highest height, then the grand thing of the painting will be the absolute grandest thing. (until we paint the next painting. And the next painting.)
In the end, we are maybe just painting the toenails of eternity with reflections of itself. There is nothing wrong with that, especially if we do it with love.
This afternoon, after a short time, I closed my eyes while sitting in the hanging chair suspended from the eave of my house. My sleepy sleep deep mind rocked back and forth like a babe in a basinet and I could feel each rise and each dip so supremely deep that I might have been rocked to sleep, if even for a moment. Eventually tho I rose again and put the book back – Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa – in which was spoken of and I read of the act of recognizing and indentifying oneself through countless reference points – now I am doing this, now I am thinking this – and then the act of forgetting, losing oneself in that. And then, if we encase ourselves in a sea of I’s – how terribly lonely it gets! Because we have separated ourselves from everything at that point. Good food for thought and meditation. I find myself meditating on these things while making dinner, petting the kitty, working on whatever my work may be, while walking down the street, into a store, driving my car. I find myself considering – form is formlessness but formlessness is also form.
I read somewhere someone once – we’ll say a monk or a lama – saying that, while form as formlessness/emptiness is relatively easy to understand – the reverse, that formlessness becomes form, is sometimes much more difficult to fully realize. We can intellectualize these things – we often intellectualize- we know this or that – but until we have the direct experience of it, it’s sort of a useless tool. It’s like having a hammer and knowing completely and thoroughly how it works but til we use it – til we actually lift it and heft it’s weight and feel it’s balance and swing it do we see how one might use it. Until then, it does us no good what so ever. the same goes for various concepts of form, compassion, wisdom, awareness. It feels that the more i understand the nature of emptiness, the calmer I am, the more loving, the more compassionate, and the less prone to whims of this or that. I’ve gotten better at it for sure over the years. but still… I get into arguments. I hold back. I do this or that. To be the warrior is to be exposed, to be raw, and to know that nothing – nothing what so ever – can hurt you because there is nothing, ever, that can be hurt that is you. Or me. Or anything. And so we are simply 100% honest – with others and, most importantly, with ourselves.
Over the years I’ve encountered numerous philosophies and ways of being in the world. I’ve tried them on like outfits. Some fit okay but weren’t suitable for all occasions and had to be left behind. Others didn’t fit at all and, in their metaphorical stitching, were shoddily made, had too many loose threads and too many hidden pockets. I can’t deal with that sort of mess. Some have fit rather well – sexy when they need to be sexy, respectable when they need to be respectable, and secure, when they need to be secure. In essence, some have reflected deeper ways of being for me than others. Some have fit in far more circumstances than others.
One proverbial outfit that I have been drawn back to, time and again, is Buddhism. This isn’t to say that I identify as “a Buddhist”, just that it’s approach and philosophy – it’s way of looking at the world – has continually supported my growth and, at it’s core, it’s basic system of understand, has yet to have show any loose ends.
Of the vast tree that is Buddhism – a philosophy that has devolved into a religion as much as the teachings of Christ have branched out into a multi-headed beast – it is the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism that have been the most present in my life and, of that school, I’ve tended to appreciate the rather lucid and accessible writings of Chogyam Trungpa (as well as Pema Chodron, a student of his). There are various views and stories of Trungpa and I’ll leave that to you to ferret out. However, it is perhaps his association with the Beats, with Allen Ginsburg, with Naropa, with drinking and drugs and the psychedelic 60’s that allows him to bridge a cultural divide and the worlds of the ancient East with the new age West, entering into Western culture through the hippie doorway. The beats and poets and their entourages were seeking to get down to the core – away from the story, man, and just go with what was happening. Trungpa had an uncanny knack for writing and speaking very straight forwardly and stripping the story – the dogma, the religion – away from the philosophy. And I appreciate that.
Buddhism itself can be a very dogmatic religion full of curtseys and salutations and rules and restrictions. In this way, it isn’t any different than most other religions. Because of this, I can understand how those who are raised Buddhist gravitate toward Catholicism and vice versa.
I, myself, was raised a Catholic. Did I take to Catholic philosophy the way that I did to Buddhist understandings? Well, for me, it was tough to weed out the philosophy from a religion that states, in answer to the question of “Why?” that it’s because it’s in the Bible and because God said so. That is decidedly not philosophy. Later on, I came to understand the message that Jesus (or whoever that whole bit of the Bible was about as that is sometimes up for debate) had to share. His message of brotherhood and compassion and seeing God in all things, seeing the divine as the abundant core of all things, is very relevant and inspiring.
Ultimately, Christianity had a lot to say about this human family – how we should treat one another, how we should love and that we should do so because God is at the center of all things (according to the Gospel of Thomas) but, as a religion, it had very little to say regarding why it was difficult to do so sometimes other than the dogmatic devolvement into sin and guilt. Buddhism, on the other hand, deals a lot with why we have such a hard time being open and loving and compassionate in the world. It can be summed up in three words: attachment, indifference, and aversion. It is the dance between those things, and all the desires and stories and fears and beliefs that we associate with them, that makes it sometimes difficult to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, which is, ultimately, to love one another unconditionally and, in fact – love all things unconditionally: even this glass, the driveway, the lines on the street, my cell phone, the floor. Everything. Just let them be as they are. Instead, we have a belief in a separate ego identity and, because of this, create hierarchical system of likes and dislikes according to the whims of an illusion. Madness!
Religions are powerful because they speak to some of the deepest parts of ourselves: our desire for spiritual union, our loves, our fears, our projections. God is, for so many people, a great big projection of Parents, a safety net that makes people feel cared for. It gives them a sense of authority when they need to tell someone else what to do (well, God said so!). Or it’s just something to answer to that isn’t themselves. Granted, the UFO-heads have simply replaced the outward “God” with Aliens or Star Beings or whatever. Same with the 2012/Mayan Prophecy folks. One way or another it’s this superstition that something out there is going to come and save us or is watching over us or is something we will have to answer to that is the basis of most belief systems. The superstitiousness of religious thought pulls us away from the religions core philosophy. Religions become as powerful and huge as they are because there is, inside of them, core truths about human nature and they capitalize on this.
Buddhism, too, is not without it’s own superstitions, belief systems, and dogmas. However, the core of Buddhism, it’s answer to the question of “Why is it hard to love others openly at all times, including myself and all that surrounds me?” is what always drew me back. According to the various teachers I’ve met over the years, the answer is always the same: “Why? Well, because there is this belief in ‘ego’ and this attachment-aversion thing. You are skeptical? Good! Great! Tell you what, try it out, see how it works. If it doesn’t work, throw it out. If it does, keep at it.” And that was it.
“Why is it hard to love unconditionally?”
“Well, because we have attachments and the basest attachment of all is to the belief of a solid core ego-identity. As long as that belief is there then we will continue to fall. Whenever you can get through the ego, there is always this thing that remains and the best word we have to describe it is: compassionate wisdom.”
“Ah, well… how do i know what you are saying is true? After all, when I asked the priest that, he just said it was original sin, guilt, all that stuff.”
“Sit. Breathe. Focus on your breath. Do this for a long time. Then get back to me.
And sure enough! There it was! Burning endless compassionate love. Only after days of sitting did I uncover what had never been covered. That’s the only way I have to describe the underlying nature. To put it into words is to compartmentalize an experience. So we will move on.
The point is: we’ve been given inwards paths and outwards paths and they are all one path and it’s only how deeply we choose to self-identify and how much we are willing to let go that either ever hold us back.
I ran into my landlord the other day. He happened to be outside of my house, dealing with remodeling the back house. He’s a small (to my 5′ 11.5”) Asian fellow. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know from where: Japanese? Korean? Chinese? I confess ignorance. I think he’s Vietnamese. Southeast Asian, for sure. In any case, he wanted to chat a bit. He’s seen my art and likes it, has even told me he reads my blog sometimes and enjoys my writing. He might be reading this right now. Hi Edward!
He asked me about Violet, who he knows is studying philosophy, and that ignited a thought in his head about things he’d read about quantum physics. The gist of which, that he related to me, is that physicists have found that these minute particles – smaller than quarks – solidify when we go to measure them or predict them to be in a certain place but, at other times, simply go back to being waves. it is as if they solidify in response to our measuring tools and, at all other times, are simply energy waves. When we let everything be as it is, it is simply energy? Undefinable, unmeasurable, imperceivable: except when we choose to perceive it. Unquantifiable – except when we choose to quantify it.
This amazed him, he said. Not just because of it’s relevance to how we perceive the world but because of it’s relevance to the religious Buddhism that he grew up with. “I’d just thought it all was superstition – that life is just perception,” he said to me, “but now science is proving what these people had figured out many many years ago – that reality is a response to our perceptions.”
I laughed. It was true.
I confessed to him that I too had grown up with a superstitious religion – Catholicism – and only later in life did I come to appreciate the truths that were buried within it.
He laughed and said that I was perhaps smarter than I gave myself credit.
Fair enough! Can’t argue with that!
The thing is: so many of us get turned off by Religion and Superstition that we fail to see the truths that are embedded within these systems. I’m not suggesting you go out and get a Bible or a copy of the Dhammapada or the any other book. It’s just that the belief systems that last are the ones with a core Truth. And the truth is that which is the simplest, most sincere way of being. Why? Because those belief systems are the ones that are most attuned to self-preservation and living harmoniously with the world around themselves. If we create a healthy world around us, then we will live a healthy life and if we can figure out how to do so – all the better. Sadly, those core truths then get tampered with by humans whose sense of Self doesn’t extend any further than their own skin and, in greedy and manipulative ways, end up using these truths for their own self-aggrandizement: for controlling the masses, for money or power or lust or greed. It has happened to the teachings of Jesus, to the teachings of Buddha, to the teachings of Mohammed, and so on.
And yet, there is a line, a lineage, a train of thought, that has continued throughout time and has woven itself through art, science, music, literature, poetry, philosophy… A train of thought that has continued to evolve even as it’s left it’s own religious structures. It is a spiritual way of being and a sense of union that unites all things. It is only up to us to perceive it.
It is this:
I am you. You are Me. Which is to say:
One, all, everything, none, all at once, and not at all. We. Us. Now.
It is a voice which is projected and perceived through countless means: through paintings and poetry and song, through the work we do and the way we greet each other, through the lives we lead and the seeds we plant, through the plants we nurture and the hearts we fill. We repeat the story back to ourselves again and again and again simply because of the joy of doing so, of hearing so, of experiencing so and the ecstasy that happens when one more note is discovered in that endless endless song.
Yet, are we so enraptured by this story that we will destroy the earth while we listen to it, while we speak it, while we sing and dance and love and rejoice and hate and cry and mine and pillage and burn and trash?
Is that, too, part of the dance.
If it is all perception and the whole of reality freezes itself into whatever view I take of it: “the people need saving” or “the people are saved” or “the people are. period.” or “….” then who am I to do anything?
I can only live as I know how with my own sense of self-preservation. Why would I do unto others as I would have them do unto me? If I kill, I will be killed. If I steal, then I’ll be stolen from. If I love then, likely, I’ll be loved. If I feed, then I will be fed. And so on.
I seek to live a healthier, happier, more loving life because it helps you to do so as well. And, by helping you to do so, you will help me to do so. And we will live long. And prosper. That’s the goal. To live long and
Yet, when I die, when I close my eyes, for all I know: it’ll all be gone.
I identify as an artist and, as such, I love and seek beauty. For me, the most beautiful is the most loving, the most compassionate, the most joyful. I’ll never know those things if I don’t dredge up the dirt. I can only be the diamond if I have been the coal. I can only be the lotus if I have planted myself in the muck.
Muck is a perception. Coal, and our attachments and ideas around it, also just a perception. Diamonds, too. Life is simply endless becoming and endless is-ness.
I love the darkness as much as I love the light because I cannot see a difference between the two.
I am you. You are me.
You and I are one.
I wish you happiness.
I wish you freedom.
One thing at a time.
And all at once.
Self-Doubt is a mask worn over the mask of Self-Destruction that is worn, ultimately, by Fear. Self-doubt: I-don’t-know-if-i’m-good-enough. It’s a mask that says: maybe I should never have started. Self-doubt says: am i – is it – will it be ever be good enough? Do I actually suck and no one is telling me? Even when they congratulate me and pat me on the back? Even then? Will I ever make it? Am I ever good enough?
The Wright Brothers: for some reason or another they come to mind. Two guys trying to fly a plane – to lift this thing off the ground. I’m sure they heard more “You’ll never make it” than “I believe in you.” So they worked daily on believing in themselves. In the end, though, math doesn’t lie and their math was, in the end, sound. So they succeeded.
There are the more abstract worlds, though, that some of us choose to live in that doesn’t seem to appeal to ordinary mathematics. Myself, I decided to be an artist. As an artist, a painter, I use a stick with a bunch of hair glued to the end to push and pull colored pigments suspended in a polymer medium around a surface of woven cotton covered with a hardened chalk substance. Granted, the stick is rather finely crafted, the hairs are supremely smooth and supple, and the “paint” is luxuriously smooth and homogeneously mixed. I might be using it to create a scene expressing the intensity of living. I am using it to illuminate a vision of my mind. I am exploring the verdant valleys of my soul and how it relates to the world around me.
But then self-doubt comes creeping in.
When self-doubt arrives, everyone else looks so sure of themselves, so confident. When self-doubt makes itself at home, every glitch in the system looks like a five-lane highway. When self-doubt is there to stay, nothing will ever get done and things crumble.
Self-destruction is the ruler of Self-Doubt, which is just one more minion of small ‘s’ self which is built on a foundation of fear – fear of it’s own demise. Big ‘S’ Self knows better but depending on how much time we give it versus small ‘s’ self, depends on how much we will listen to it. Self-Destruction, that wily bastard, is happy to start chipping away at our masterpiece which is, ultimately, the perfected Self.
Like every one else in the world, I sometimes crumble.
Just as an investor earns returns on his investment, so there are returns on the work we create. When the people like it, we rejoice in their rejoicing. When the critics like it, we rejoice. Yet, if one in 99 critics doesn’t like it, we linger over the words of that one. We see all other words as just placation – mere salve for a wound – while the words of the critic sting and we take them personally. The others: oh, they satisfy ‘ego’, we tell ourselves in our too-spiritual monologue. Don’t get wrapped up in that, we tell ourselves with little ‘s’ self wearing the cloaks of our teachers, our saviors. Why don’t we allow ourselves (ourSelves) to just understand that we are doing something right?
It can be so very difficult sometimes to allow for that. You are on the right path. You are ferreting out the proper vision. This is the message that life returns back to us in various coincidences and syncopations and gifts – like echoes of our actions. And yet, that little ‘s’ self would like very much if we didn’t hear it so it pulls out the magnifying glass to examine the criticism and shoves aside the praise. We’re trying to destroy our ego, it says, don’t listen to that bullshit pat-on-the-back praise.
Sometimes, those 99 positive reviews and the 1 negative review are just the voices in our heads. Like an old-time operating room with an entire audience reviewing our every move, our work is on display for every voice – every face we’ve ever known – to judge it.
Some will love it. But, says the voice of self-doubt, they always love what we do. We can’t do any wrong in their eyes, so what’s the use in even bothering with them?
Some will merely like it. We’re always trying to please them just a little bit more. Really we just want their love but we are fine with the ‘like’. Fuck those people, says little ‘s’ self.
Some will neither like nor dislike. We really only wanted their attention if their attention was positive. Really, we hate it when we don’t get any attention for the blood and tears we grind up to create this.
Some will not like what we have done at all but will not be passionate about it or have a reason. To each their own, we say, those people never had any conviction to begin with.
Some will very much dislike it. For obvious reasons! we cry, our flaws are so apparent! It’s not good enough. It never was. Why are they so dead-set against it? Their opinion will, sadly, matter the most to us because it saps at our joy. Their confidence erodes our own.
And, with that, Self-doubt will slowly but surely, if we allow it, undermine our defenses against Self-Destruction. If we run that race, we’ll end up with all the others: living up to the potential that the biggest doubter set up for us. We will always be trying to create Good Enough or Next Best or Good Try when all we really want and desire are the masterpieces that we know are in there.
We set up the paradigm at a young age. Whether we wanted to or not, we wanted to please others, most notably, from the start, our parents. We found that if we pleased other humans they showed us Love. We weren’t sure what that was exactly, but it had to do with a sparkle in the eye and a tone of voice and a sense of belonging and openness.
Later we went to school and met others. There was something similar in that sense of belonging, that Love. That sense of confidence overflowed into the things we created.
Somewhere along the line someone who wasn’t so caring (or to whom it was similarly said) declared: “You did it all wrong.” Their tone of voice threw us off. The look in their eyes made us feel ‘outside’. Even though we had friends, family, everything, one person was able to snatch it all away. As time went by, it was one more and one more and one more until we learned that some liked what we made and some would not. What no one told us was that many of those who ‘liked’ us merely did so because they too wanted to be loved. It was merely an exchange and, deeper down, they too were afraid of not being loved. That fear was self-doubt; it was the shadow beneath the twinkle in the eye that said ‘I like you! Let’s be Friends!’
How do we nurture the inner fire that burns on and on? The inner fire: soft, holy, sacred. This inner fire: driving, focused, and divine. It knows very clearly what it is and what it wants. Ego gets in the way. Little ‘s’ self gets in the way. But ego can provide support, when it feels like playing along. We’ll all throw logs on that fire when it’s warmth feels so good. We’ll all throw fertilizer under that tree when it’s fruits are so sweet!
So why, even when the fruits of our work are sweet, why do we doubt ourselves?
That this time we won’t be loved. This time we will fail.
The guards at the gate of our mind cower, listening to a song that got played over and over – have ye but faith in ME then you might succeed. But WHO?! Goddamit!
Why, in all my years of school, of church, of being a valid citizen, did they never teach me to have faith in myself? Because, I was told, I am a sinner from the start, a miscreant in the making, a criminal because I chose to do things that they labeled crimes. And, thusly, I could never be trusted to make the right choice. After all, no one else trusts themselves to make the right choice.
When I gave up all that to go be an artist, the echoes remained. The driving passion behind my brush and in my actions pushed me into lovely, beautiful spaces. It brought me to epic peaks and cascades of wonder and sublime sensuality and they were all experiences that existed while holding a paintbrush, facing a canvas, pushing around that pigment suspended in polymer and, because I’d focused and focused and focused, and driven myself past every voice, and forced the most high conclusion, I found great light. And each piece has explored depths and risen to heights that I can only wonder at.
Self-doubt will challenge every path at every step of the way. My path is Painting. It is Making Art. When I step back and look at what I have created – a raw expression of myself – it is no wonder, I say, that I feel the barbs of criticism more than the salve of compliments. The salve is not necessary. I already feel good. The barbs however, they sting. And when I stand before my blank canvas or work on it while it’s in the throes of not-done-yet, those barbs pull a bit. But I pull against them. They tear out. I push further and find, again and again, that which I was aiming for and that much more death of little ‘s’ self.
Belief in yourself, in who you are, and in your deep raw talents that manifest themselves through that thing that is undoubtedly your Life’s Path, is what will drive you to fulfill your dreams and goals. This is not about ambition. Ambition is being rising above – it is about Self and Other. This is merely about Great Success. The Great Success is Life.
May you reach every Great Success.
May you achieve your Most Highest Goals.
May you experience Love without boundaries.
So, in the interest of consolidation and presentation, I’ve decided to take off the “Writings” section of my website and am putting most of those pieces here, in the blog, a good enough place. So… enjoy…
A Different Bus (11.13.08)
Some dreams begin with a sense of what is missing. This dream begins with an open agreement.
In the middle of the Great Leap of Faith, I found life to be quite ready to make a deal. Let’s do this thing together, it suggested. I’ll trust you. You trust me. Let’s make a deal. We’ll arrange better terms, make installments. We’ll get you a nice car, a lovely house, a pool, a yard. Tell you what, we’ll find a way to go about this thing you seek – this deeper meaning – this open sense of being – we’ll do this thing together. Let’s read some books. There are dusty symbols with your name on them hidden in their golden leafed spines. I know a guru, a teacher, a path through the mountains if you’ll just settle down. Tell you what – I know this guy that’ll make you famous. Tell you what – tell you what – tell you what – let’s establish some trust in one another, maybe a compromise, a secret handshake that only you and I know – no more hiding things from each other behind locked doors in a pile on the floor – no more borders between mine and yours. And it handed me the pen.
But a leap of faith does not end with signing a contract. The hand was there, ready to sign. A table appeared in a barren room, two chairs and a dotted line. We faced each other, myself and everything else and that sense of separateness, even though it tried to negotiate a belief of togetherness sat there across from me, nibbling at my confidence, tugging at my sleeve, whispering ‘gotcha’ in my ear.
I paused my breath and the moment passed, the offer a flock of birds disturbed by the churning of swamp grasses as I trudged through the muck, encountering lifetime after lifetime of swamp monster identity. I lay on a log in exhaustion. I fingered a reed and, in my dream, turned it into a lovely raft. I took time with my craft, using the process of salvation creation as a sort of building meditation. I knit a shawl from their tufts and tossed it over my shoulders and pushed myself off from the shore setting out for a destination somewhere across the oceans.
Hark! I cried. Alas! I shouted. Ta-Ta! I declared.
I sang sea shanty dirges under the light of the moon, drinking purified fish tears and eating the leavings of the dew. The days and nights passed til they blended together as one motionless wave and the currents forgave my lack of direction because they appreciated my willful intention.
I worked myself to the bone. I found that sometimes I wished never endingly that I could have a space to call my own but the fire inside me pushed on and I kept moving a little further forwards, a little deeper into that empty void of destination.
I rolled the die, advanced my player by two and was granted a free turn.
I looked up at my negotiator and threw down the pen. If this was my move then I was determined to take it to it’s furthest end. Drop your weapons, I demanded and let me see your reasons.
My mind turned on me and fell to the floor. And I, I left it for dead.
Now I am a missing piece – this patchwork outline of me has fallen into space like a brick dropped from the Babylon tower by some freemason giving the secret hand handshake and the Eye to his comrade in the stars.
I am a man in blue, a man in red, a man in yellow or green.
I am waiting here for you. I am not wearing any disguises.
My time has come and my bus has arrived and I am one of the masses flowing through an endless river transcribed with shallow meanings – a pallor cast over it in a language always yearning for a deeper mode of expression C’mon buddy, says the driver, yer holdin’ up the works.
Yanked out of oblivion stare, I pay the dime nickel and quarter and am sitting two rows back further than I need to be and floating three inches above my seat, watching this rhythmic sea of heads bob up and down to hydraulic pumping of bus brake bumping. Business suits seamlessly pressed topped by eyes staring into certain futures based precisely and with great accuracy on affirmed notions of financial acuity – futures in securities and soaring prices of flesh in the basement bathroom – dirty underpinnings of a glorious kingdom – little children pumping away the pistons to pay for John Q. Public’s home in the Hamptons.
Hovelled in between the clear successes, a homeless man with a squadron of lice doing maneuvers upon his crown smiles a toothless grin spelling out how he giveth himself into temptation.
Next to me, an old wise woman whose wisdom is held in her ears by the lifetimes of cotton ball build up, dampening all sense of sensation purses her lips with a sense of impunity, rising above all open seas to a God whose arms know no color and sings great hosannas in the highest but she can’t feel much anymore of the tips of her fingers and that sensation stretches all the way up to the middle of her brain where cotton seeds planted there when she was a wee one have taken root and grown thick with cotton balls clouding up and confounding the works.
What am I doing here in this mess? I ask the man in the toothpaste ad who grins down from above me while a little girl plays his ivory white. I am getting off this bus.
What am I talking about, I am not going anywhere. I am still on the bus. I am going further.
I rise in a fury and crash my way to the front: Watch out driver, I’m taking the wheel! I am driving off the pier and into the ocean and the other passengers are floating away in the bubbles of their mental activities. I am swimming with fishes, concrete blocks slipping away from my chest exposing my still beating heart. It grows in size and sighs a sigh of relief – my heart – loosening and lightening in the situation like a summer storm across an open divide- my hair stands on end down here – equipped with special fluidic static electricity while the tactile futility of my mind washes up upon the beach like a thousand rippling carcasses of drowned sailor men whispering soft secrets of the sea to those who care to stoop closer to listen.
And I stoop there and listen to their seductively shallow tales about women in bars sitting upon tall stools drinking messy beers talking to tattoos on the arms of their attendant evils. I am transported upon their salty breath.
Would you like another, asks the skull-faced man bringing an ill, a derision, a misplaced emoticon.
Simply put, the drink taken from the waiting waiter is sipped slowly with red lips that leave stains on the rim of the glass, like the kiss of a rose leaving pieces of it’s petals for future detectives to ferret out.
I walk past them all.
The detectives holding magnifying glasses using tweezers to carefully extract faint wisps of the remaining roses to drop in their manila files stare into my slit eyed gaze and wonder to themselves if this man is from round these parts.
Ocean water slops from my shoes and seaweed dangles detachedly at my wrists and my heart is an exposed and beating mass of muscles but I have no fears there, I am done defending it. My stride is not misstepped and my steps are not misplaced and my direction is clear and certain making the detectives feel less at home in their own bodies than I am in mine. Such confidence is contagious unless one is inoculated at a young age, growing old and immune to things like wisdom and learning and tall stepping vision.
You will know me when you see me, said the prophet to the masses. And sure enough, they did, whispers the old man in his sleep while the lice on his crown bow in homage to the fly who has accomplished a landing upon the lobe of the left ear.
Escape fantasies bring me back to present.
I should have taken a different bus.
But I didn’t.
I linger onwards and the bus belches forwards, heaving and yawning into the future.
A cloud of crumble ramshackles is punching ice skate cutting in a stormy black weather system hovering over me, blowing me forwards – through otherwise blocked doorways.
If I were in charge, I would walk through a different door. I would have taken a different route.
But I don’t. I didn’t. This system is a mess with schedules bleeding desire for change. Their motorcade is split in two and they follow us with a distracted air –always there, always reaching for our truths while their horses do the math, adding it up, adding it up, better accountants than financiers.
Once I was a banister, helping people along, a support for their troubled hands when the climb became just a little too long. Countless hands would run along my smooth wood grain leaving a dull waxy polish, soft to the touch yet supportive and, seemingly, forgiving. But those who fell, reaching out for my support yet missing it, found my forgiveness to be a myth and, with their heads hitting hard upon the curving wooden rail of my balustrade, their feet slipping out from beneath them, they would find that I stood tall and did not care if they walked or climbed, crumbled or fell.
So now, on the other side of that equation, understanding what makes this system tick, I find my way up the stairs – one by glorious one – step by beautiful step – relying on internal gyroscopic grace and not crutches that take it’s place.
In a half forgotten dream, on a landing between flights, I stare at a movie poster of a flick that’ll never be made with a hero chin courting a damsel in distress. To tell you the honest injun truth: I won’t miss it. Unmade movies are thoughts and what-ifs, hypothetical solutions to cliff hanger strategies – with nails bitten to the wick and hairs dancing on end, I can’t stand that kind of stress, so I back down to where I feel I belong, in the trough, in the valley, with the big wheels that keep on turning and a mind that keeps on churning out this drivel of poetry, this line by line symphony of melancholic lifetime after lifetime drudgery.
I am a juke box of memories – a thousand stanzas and refrains from FM radio days replayed over and over and over again til they have carved their own pathways through my synaptic systems, standing the test of time. I try to carve out better habits from the bramble of memories but the refrain of just another old-fashioned love song is easier to travel down than hacking out a new habitual direction. The call to action is like mother calling me for dinner but this time I don’t answer, this time, I go all the way.
Some would find my disjointedness charming but they never had any spine to begin with.
This is my stop and I am getting off..
We are going to start over. We are going to start again. With our feet crushing the pavement and our backs to the wind. We are going to leap the sun. We are going to move the mountains. We are going to drink it in. We are going to ride this route to the end.
And I am getting back on
How I can’t stand this overcoat of emotions. It weighs me down to no end. I wish it had come with instructions. That would have helped to make it all clear. A legend or a map – a cheat sheet telling me that the lizard will appear sixteen times and the woman only twice so that I could give up hope and live instead on expectation, setting my traps wisely with a more refined meditation. Instead I am lost in embroidered patterns spelling out lineages of family history intricately woven into eons of genetic imprinting – penguin apples dancing mice laughter like lizard tails flicking in and out of women whose legs spread to give birth to buffalo bottle stoppers, cork screws opening up another vintage, ice clinking in cocktail glasses, gentle laughter patchwork fading to ragged ends of rope and choking on my own tongue, waking again in a start, a sweat, and rolling over to sleep it off.
How many times did I need to relive the hem of my coat, wear my lifetime on my sleeve, finding my next chapter in a secret pocket sewn inside the lining?
I wish this coat had come with instructions. I would have left it on the bus had it not been sewn to my own mandibles, burrowing under my skin, into my beating heart and my veins – had I not opened it and found little old women knitting, each breath deflating my heart little by little to the rhythm of crochet hooks click clat clicking in rhythmic succession, one sleeve unraveling to be knit into the other, caught in my own personal feedback loop.
A circus barker on a corner is crying out: the wheel it spins round and round – where it stops YOU can’t be found – if the devil calls your name – you – are – OUT –
Little old ladies look up at me, glint in the eye, wrinkled wide smile wise to ages of curiosity: “Don’t mind us, we’re only dreaming.”
For some reason I am assured and you’d think I’d feel relief as I close the coat and look around the bus or the bar or the stairwell but no one notices the universe beneath my cloak where a thousand spiral galaxies are spinning their way to oblivion, planets and worlds live out countless lifetimes of hurt anger oppression and aggression – enlightenment enjoyment ecstatic devotion – stars exploding into implosions of emptiness – a vast and empty blackness – all of it tucked into a pocket, a seam, a hem. But out here on the edge, two rows back further than I need to be, I only get caught in blank stares gazing half way between here and nowhere making sure not to catch me in their mediocre tunnel vision monotony.
I open the neck and peek inside again and find worlds unfolding before my eyes – great undulating starry arms and points of light colliding without a sound – massive polarizations of male female intensities – grandiosity and miniaturizations – fascinating scenes of purple and green – pictures of bleached white sheets on a line – memories of lying on the grass outside – a sunrise – open eyes – a universe unraveling from the center of my mind.
I dig around in there for the book, a manual or at least a how-to guide – something to tell me what to do with the endless vision – but I find the movie instead. I put it on and find they’ve cut my scenes and the lead doesn’t look a thing like me. Myself, I am lying somewhere on an editing room floor making love to the bottom of a shoe grinding me into the linoleum, passing me up for a greater monumental conclusion as I become another memory not god enough to make the final cut. What did I do wrong or what did this guy do right?
Now the story has all changed and while the nuanced grace of the kangaroo kazoo leaves me somewhat speechless still I wonder how it could have come to this. When did I let go and leave another director in charge. When did the feeling of not holding on set in. It’s a dream of events, missing sequences and missives in the night – did they see me? Did I get there? Did it all happen on time?
The movie has teeth and it’s latched on to my sleeve. The glint in its eye, the snarl in it’s lips – it makes me pause to consider. It’s a lifetime conclusion, a source of confusion, a means to an end.
I intend to take a different bus. I get off at the next stop and this time I stay off. Dusty corners with dim lit waterfalls and highways gnashing at the bit. The circus barker looks up at me from his corner of the world, shrugs his shoulders and writes another line. He’ll have his epic; we’ll all have our day.
I enter the library. Rows and rows of books covered in dust. No one reads any more; all they really do is stare while the soft dust of centuries settles upon their lids. We are all made of stars and the dust is our leavings. I breathe in deep and taste a little bit of everyone, a little bit of everything. I am looking for something – the transliteration, the news or information, some useful bit of education. It’s in here somewhere. The gorgeous lead, the damsel in distress – the Asian girl with the beautiful eyes and alive wide smile – the old cotton eared woman who was once a little girl with dreams. Every lifetime passing means another chapter written on this long and winding narrative. Maybe in the footnotes there will be some mention of me. Maybe in a liner note or a bit part in an appendix of some forgotten journal will be my bit part in infinity.
I have my thumb marking a chapter of a hefty tome, another hand scans a table of contents while my tongue leafs through the pages of trees whose roots dig deep into the ground tracing back centuries of meaning and, while language is a changeling, passing through filters of sentimentally charged semantics, pages with folded corners highlight a phrase that now stands lost to meaning, the depth of the matter is not so timeless after all. But I still cannot find one bit of me or life or what it means and how to lead.
A how-to manual – that is all I seek.
Insert Part A into Hole B. A good start but it goes in so many directions from there.
In all of these nameless volumes, all of them brimming with caveats and empty missions – masturbatory fantasies encased in a writers grandiose visions – we climb a stairway up several flights of mental aptitude or high dive from cliffs whose faces read out the way to freeing ourselves from mental servitude but it goes by so quickly that the momentary lapse of thinking sits in the corner of a bar, drinking. I look over at her and I think – is she winking?
So I join her and we sit and talk for six drinks time. All hers, none mine, and I hope in her babbling about the wisdom of ancients and compassion never ending that there might be some seed of nourishment – something to plant in my garden but there is not one useful bit of instruction. She tells me I could take a bus but I could also ride a train. I could sit in a bar and drink drinks with a stranger while she sits in the corner, talking to the sunset in the wood grain. She tells me to swim to the bottom of the ocean and dig up an empty bucket, climb the corporate ladder, stepping on heads and climbing atop shoulders, just so I can see what the view is like from way up there. There is great joy, she tells me, in seeing further than the sights of others.
I could be all of this, she offers. All of it and, of course, more.
I could be everything. I could hope and pray for a sign. I could practice my prostrations with mantras bubbling from my lips and rosary beads at my fingertips. I could be sitting in a home for special folk dribbling tonight’s dinner onto my chest. I could be all of this but I am more than this. How long will I wait for a sign?
The room is lit then in a menagerie of red and white and with the sudden flashing lights of a passing ambulance, I understand. I see in the back of that speeding van a sputtering candle hooked to monitors and heart respirators and a soul flying close behind – screaming out: I’M NOT DONE YET – I didn’t even begin… How long will I wait?
My pause sits across from me and winks, takes a sip of her drink and throws it in the corner to the sound of shattering ice and crackling glass. Her lime leers its green-toothed grin and wanders into the forest of my meanderings.
Life is sudden and then it’s passed, it whispers from the trees, it’s tail flicking and disappearing. There is no decipherable code – no decoder ring to eke out a hidden message – no symbols that have esoteric meaning, in fact – the whole menagerie of hallucinations – all of them sending only one message – ego leaves no instructions for it’s own dissolution.
There will be no light to lead the way.
I stand from the table and approach the edge of my cliff.
Hang on! I cry and take the leap.
Hang. The Fuck. On.
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