Hanging Questions

The only experience I had with Anthony Bourdain was through interviews; the only experience of his TV shows was through audio clips. I never read Kitchen Confidential. Through the interviews I glimpsed a strong and articulate personality; he struck me as a rebel who had found a cause. Hearing of his suicide, I wondered if the recipe for a rebel contains a lot of overlapping ingredients with the recipe for depression.  Even so, without more details, my intuitions resisted the report that his death was suicide.  He had sounded so dedicated to his late in life role of Dad. How could he abandon his 11-year-old, I wondered.

I wondered this even though I know from experience how blinding depression is.  In a segment on NPR today with Michel Martin and Roxanne Roberts (who have lost loved-ones to suicide) and Dr. Nadine Kaslow, a comparison was made to the numerous  fatalities of people lost in Minnesota snow storms who stagger around blind until they finally give up, lie down and perish, to be found later only 100 feet from a farmhouse. Depression is like that, how it dulls and smothers the soul in the cold illusion of isolation, hopelessness, and often ill-worth.  In both circumstances, observers wonder why they couldn’t have kept going just a little longer.  Of course, those of us who have navigated that psychological grey-out know we could just as easily wonder they held on as long as they did.

The NPR commentators also discussed how, if their loved ones could have only heard all that was said at their funerals, how many people valued them and wanted them to stay alive, they might have stuck it out.  Yes, maybe.

But I also know that depression creates compelling mirages in perception and personality. Even in enviable life circumstances, a person can succumb to a strange, thick swathing of inconsolability, can slip into the gravity of a black hole from which emanates a prejudicial undertow, a broadcast of “I am not enough.”

I was moved as I listened, as my own loneliness pressed itself to the surface of my heart. I am blessed in many ways, but I have so many isolating factors in my life; and while I need and love solitude, I know great loneliness, as well. This especially as I go through not only the challenges of my physical and fiscal circumstances, but the purgative vicissitudes of a mystic, metabolizing the loneliness of her ancestors.

Our modern life makes this far worse. We often think everybody else thinks they’re okay, and we should look that way, too. But few of us are, no matter how many face-book friends we have, no matter how full our lives are of vapid tweeting. We are alone, even in the crowd, conditioned as we are to tend and protect our gardens of individuality.

However, as long as we are born naked, chances are that we aren’t really designed to thrive without real community, which is the unconditional net we weave together that accommodates everyone’s weaknesses and is in fact fortified by these as much as by our strengths. It is fellowship made resilient by honest vulnerability, lubricated by our humility and tears, and galvanized by laughter.

Perhaps the cumulative impact of all the school shootings, combined with the antics of our uber-narcissistic president, two more high-profile suicides and new sobering suicide statistics out this week will spawn another sort of #MeToo movement, a Me-True movement, in which we make our gloriously imperfect humanity a focus of collaborative compassion and celebration.

Reach across the gap today tell someone you appreciate them; they may need it more than you, or even they, know. It costs you nothing. In a world of “not enough,” Love always increases in the sharing.

 

 

 

 

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GaiaTree

 

I see you.  

I saw you first.

I saw your solidity, the girth of your base, the reach of your limbs, your generous shade.

I saw the old, broken birdhouse cradled where one trunk becomes many– where the elder becomes the village. I saw its walls and roof cracked and crooked, as if squeezed a bit too tightly to keep it from spilling babies in spring wind, and how, as if by contagion, you’ve turned its wood the very grey of your own bark, and it fades into shadow.

I felt your gentle strength, much more than I feel your thirst, marooned as you are here in this grassless yard. You are a waterless island; you make your own companions: in an instant made one of me. The birdhouse is not the only orphan you’ve adopted.

I saw you first, the girth of your trunk, before it became many. Eight strong and elegant pillars rise from your base, but only seven are your progeny, and like good children they reach wide to expand your heart and Queendom.

But the one in the center, he reaches straight up, unwavering verticality, no leaning to catch the sun or dance in circle with the rest. This adopted son favors you with the same grey, but he is smooth and barkless pine. And through your leaves, he casts black lines, which reach farther than all his siblings, connecting to houses, to distant metal trees, to his own and different dharma. 

In this he gives the game away. He may just be your elder, but your embrace stunts and pins him there like a problem child contained, against a wall of paler gray. He hardly needs his stabilizing cables, your leaves and bright prayer flags camouflaging their obsolescence. There is muted menace in this scene.

But I saw you first, how your stability and weight anchor this spartan garden. Only in time did I see how your branches hover over house as they rise and reach from your thirsty root… how they will lift the air there until the day it becomes too heavy.  And I wondered who will protect you from the wind? Who will protect the roof from you? 

But you wave away these thoughts with your legion laughing leaves. Why abandon the perfection of this moment, this futureless, sun-dappled Present? You are here, I am here. Let the future fend for itself.  

You are content; it is infectious, and I am only housesitting.

We are all just visitors here.

Happy Mother’s Day.

I also acknowledge here that tomorrow is the 7th anniversary of my own mother’s passing from this world. The mystery that she was fades into the greater Mystery, and I celebrate her in a quietly eloquent Elm tree, and in every unfolding fractal of me. She, and anon we, are subsumed in Beauty.

Ramblin’ refuge

Buddham Saranam Gacchami

Dhamman Saranam Gacchami

Sangham Saranam Gacchami

I go to the Buddha for refuge.

I go to the Dharma for refuge.

I go to the Sangha for refuge.

So many seek refuge on the planet right now. So many bodies are fleeing harm, seeking safety and finding little rest. I know how relatively lucky I am in that regard. I may be by some measures homeless, yet, most days, I am not without refuge. I believe that, while we are in these bodies, we all seek refuge; it is simply a matter of degrees. 

  To seek refuge implies we must go somewhere to find it. The very roots of the word mean “to flee back.”  This sense of return also implies that we know what we seek: a safe home, a place of peace. Most of the spiritual traditions ultimately remind us that in the outer world, peace is ephemeral; yet, there is a home always waiting in a deeper place, where peace is eternal.  The purpose of spiritual practice is to cultivate discernment as to whether, in any given moment, refuge is reached through action (outer), non-action (inner) or a combination of them.

…Fundamentally, refuge isn’t anywhere but in the mysterious here, whether buried under the noise of mass mayhem or just under ordinary mind and mundanities. And even when the journey clearly calls us inward, sometimes we must still travel to find it again.  I had such a moment recently, when I knew that going inward required a going outwardly. The key was to let inward steer.

Given my particular nervous system, periodically I must leave the thought grid of a city. Finding refuge involves hearing my own native vibration and that of the Earth that speaks a language free of judgement; that of the Cosmos, which holds universal knowing and also holds my unique soul song within it; holds it for me when, amid the din, I lose the tune.

The three refuges invoked above, are, in a way, the Buddhist trinity, the aspects of a balanced human life, and we find them, time and again, in their relationship with each other, and in the relationship between inside and outside. 

This weekend I went to an unfamiliar place to find the refuge most familiar.  And because I knew what I needed, but not how it would show up, I found it. But what I found is not what can easily be described.  So, I share instead scenes of outer magic, fed by the spring of inner refuge.

This was my first visit to Southwest Sangha, nestled here amid the voluptuous hills of the Mimbres, near Gila Wilderness and Silver City.  The quiet here is deep, though nature, abhorring a vacuum, has filled the space with a playful and boisterous wind, which careens and flops and kicks and drops, rather like an exuberant mountain biker. There is something so forgivable about it, like an outsize puppy who hasn’t grown into his paws and knocks over your tea with his irrepressibly wagging tail.

The air heaves and sighs through many species of tree here, but the one I’m romanced by is the Alligator Juniper, whose bark is layered like roof-tile, giving the appearance of a mosaic, lines of gray brindle squares.  And of that species, there was one tree in particular on the property, so perfect in shape and line it defies description and surely houses royalty among the devas. The trunk seemed to capture a goddess growing out of her own womb.

 

When I arrived in the late afternoon, I sat for tea with Michael, the founder.  He showed me around and to my Kuti, a free standing monk’s cell, if you will. Most of them were little converted trailers, but mine, an adobe structure, was larger and about to be converted into a duplex. For now it was down-right luxurious: bed, windows, electricity, patio, clock, chamber pot, even a sofa…and a view.

This is a small property on a spacious rise overlooking a long-dry and flora-filled river basin. Unseen cattle low from all directions in the morning dim. And even more elusive coyotes ring in moonrise.

We ended my short tour with group meditation (just three of us today) in a chapel that had existed on the property before, stewarded by a priest. It has been renovated but still features a simple, beautiful altar fronted by rows of uniform tree branches or trunks, arranged around a central cross of the same material. It never felt appropriate to intrude with a camera. But, I recognized in that altar a soothing presence, spiritually and aesthetically. 

In those first moments, though, still rattling from travel, I could take in little. I was grateful to just sit and shed the buzzing road-skin. My focus in this first meditation would be the ringing in my ears, which pulsed in synchrony with a pulsing in my crown. 

After evening tea that followed, I retired to the Kuti, lay in the resounding silence and observed my nervous system gasping with relief. It wasn’t much after 7pm, but I did not, could not, get up until 5ish the next morning. I slept deep, even with the full moon beaming loudly in my windows, waking me only long enough to make her bright and benevolent presence known through various windows over the course of the hours.

Next day, as I sat on the living room floor for the community blessing of the breakfast, I noticed a striking blossom on a plant in the sunroom; its brilliant red was catching the light as a sail catches wind.  I asked what it was. “Night-blooming Cereus,” said Michael.  I had not known they came in red. I only knew them as cream or white flowers. I have happy memories of helping to carry my father’s camera equipment a few blocks from his Tempe, Arizona, house to help him photograph a magnificent specimen in a neighbor’s yard. It was a warm, full-moon night, breeze just calm  enough to encourage a decent shot. 

These are impressive blossoms, the size of a man’s fist. (But then what flower isn’t impressive when you really look?) Dad made a series of note card photos from that plant.  The blossom I was appreciating here and now would have wooed him and his camera for sure.  I had only my low resolution iPod camera, and this blossom, perhaps the plant’s first for the season, was a coy maiden, her face turned toward a wall under the window, to catch the light without having to meet the gaze of her admirer. 

  

 

The red bloom is saturated, flashy, catching the sun; the shot is over exposed, as if it almost too much to take in for my lens as well as for me. I was tempted to look away, as if seeing a forbidden burlesque. In my father’s photo, the feathery delicacy of this serene moonlit creature draws me in, encourages my eyes to linger and open to the subtleties, encourages my heart to breathe in the miracle. 

The ranchers in the land surrounding this property are still suspicious of what goes on here, so different is it from what they know. So we are discouraged from hiking the surrounding hills, alas. But we can take in the air and the views along the scantly travelled road.  On my first short walk, I was doing just that, and I tramped within three feet of a long, slim bull snake stretched out across the road. He must have been as lulled by the sun as I’d been by the moon, because I made plenty of noise for him before he stirred at all, tongue long before body. I’d snapped a shot or two of him—any good shaman takes note when a snake sprawls so conspicuously across her path!  But once he began to propel himself forward, his movement took my breath away. It never fails to mesmerize me: the grace and mystery, the pure, primitive brilliance and effortless power with which they propel themselves along, as if from some inner blossoming of energy; it’s the closest I can imagine to a perpetual motion machine.

I only had the iPod again, so you get no such magic from the snap shot. Go find your own serpent.  And for anyone assigning significance to the direction he’s headed. I came upon him headed right to left, and as he passed, turned around and snapped this shot, where he appears to be headed left to right. It was all north-ish. 

The second night, sleep did not come as easily. I sat on the unlit porch and scribbled, only sometimes legibly, in my journal:

I love it when the moon is rising, 

the earth is sighing, 

the light retiring, 

and the sky and the eye 

open wide in the quiet, 

for poetry.

But nothing comes, 

because nothing comes close.

The air and ears are full to brim 

with the hum of silent Life and earthen Presence….

Nothing comes because it is all already here: 

Om issuing from the intersection in my head of brain and mind and mystery. 

…Then there were some lines I couldn’t read…

Silently, while I’m looking down

 to write in the dark, the moon

 disappears and a coyote releases curly-Qs of sound, which, 

if I could see them, would move like red, orange and buttercup smoke rings in the dusk. 

Not because the moon is full of pale amber, but because that is the color of the sound. 

Oh, Wait! That bit was more burgundy; red violet, there, with flashes of electric blue; 

and that one was white hot, yellow and fuchsia.

He’s alone. No one answers, but he keeps the night company as he trills and warbles through the whole color wheel, 

expressionistic Pollack squeals 

pierce twilight’s impressionist idyll.

Sharp curves of sound, spiral and sickle. 

Is he trying to carve up that cloud and liberate the moon?

The third night sleep was even harder to catch.  The eyes were sleepy but the body wasn’t, with the psyche stuck in the middle. The moon, the meditation and the powerful midday naps worked on me differently here, and I suspect that the way one witnesses with different vision the material that arises in meditation affects the need, the nature and the content of dreaming.  

When I did sleep, I noticed as I changed positions that I felt swimmy and light-headed, as if the structure and contents of brain and psyche were under metabolization, metamorphosis. I stayed another day, to let things normalize before I slammed into   urban atmosphere.

Next morning, I drove on to Silver City, to meet for tea with a friend recently transplanted there. We sat in the little sheltered courtyard of The Tranquil Buzz, surrounded by little stone Buddhas in uncommon and enchanting poses. These, and the whole, old-fashioned downtown, felt safe, sensible and friendly.

And then it was back in the car for the long drive “home,” threading through the mountain slalom of Emory Pass and then north up New Mexico’s central Rio Grande Valley corridor, passing Bosque Del Apache and Sevilleta refuges…for wildlife.

While I was in Silver City, I had received a text from an expat friend, who has taken refuge in Mexico from the estrangement of his native U.S. He was encountering the National Guard now assembled in Texas borderlands to refuse others refuge. 

As I descended onto the eastern plain again, I, myself, encountered a Border Control check point— this a good ways farther north!  Sigh. Back into the nonsense of the world again. Keep chanting, little bodhisattva; in the world, not of it.   I stopped where required, lowered my window.

“Hi!”

“Anyone with you in the vehicle today?”

I gave him the outer-world truth. “No.”

The inner world truth, of course, I knew to be very different. Which is why, when he said, “You have a good day,” I knew I would.    

…I could hear my precious cargo laughing amongst themselves: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

 

Not Alone

A couple of weeks ago, the reflection below was inspired by a real event.  Given the content, though, I opted to let it cool and settle, to see if merit outlived the immediacy of the moment and to ask permission from those referenced (unnamed) in the piece.  Blessing came on Earth Day, whose mood was a world apart. So I gave the Earth its day, and delayed a little longer to publish this piece, which speaks of matters that conspire to obscure for us the daily marvel –confounding, vexing though it may be– of embodiment on Earth.

The air and the ethers have been so unsettled. High winds, high pollens, high agitation, high solar activity, high stakes globally. The cacophony is carried holographically in every particle and photon, within and around us.  I couldn’t with certainty attribute the scattered-ness of my psyche to anything in particular, as I sought to corral it in meditation that morning.

When the phone buzzed, I didn’t hesitate to pick it up.  It was a dear one in crisis. His daughter had attempted suicide. I listened, I offered blessing, I promised to pray and stand by. I offered it up and returned to the cushion with a mission, a different kind of witnessing.

Having trained to look at things with psychic remove, I asked to see what I could see, what might be helpful for me to see, even as the flak-storm in the ethers rasped in my ears, and as persistent invalidation of my vision chaffed at my presumption to SEE. The psychic gaze can still feel voyeuristic and intrusive to me, especially when not expressly invited by the subject. This is because I know I am not yet completely without judgment.

What I saw, though, taught me much.   The images I was shown were simple, with any number of interpretations, I’m sure.  But two primary ones coalesced in my mind (and then, in time, began to blur): the first, it seemed, for her; a second for me. But it really isn’t that simple, because, as the restive ethers were demonstrating, all minds are joined.

At that point, I was not sure whether she was conscious or unconscious, dead or alive.  I just looked, with a mind that knows that doesn’t matter.  I saw a fuzzy blue light listing to the side: a soul drooping with unconsciousness; it could have been, in part, drugged drowse, but this was also the fog and weight of a light swathed in the emotional pain that causes us all to dissociate.

I knew that this event was an attempt to dive deep, below consciousness and even the subconscious, to the bedrock of remembrance, to the oasis of her Light, her true identity, her What For.  And I knew that time unconscious would actually be productive. Regardless of whether she lost consciousness, if she remained incarnate, she would need to be allowed to be different from now on, to access the pearl she’d nearly abandoned her body and children to dive for and recover.

I knew also that the burden she could no longer bear was not merely personal turmoil, but the potent, corrosive brew of her lineage’s legacy, held in her physical and psychic DNA.

Then I was shown an image: a full body shield or mask of Quan Yin, with a pair of large, dense black bars– like thick and opaque redaction marks– trying to cover or hook and pull at the head and head-dress of this Quan Yin.  Looking behind the Quan Yin, I saw no one, nothing but vestments left on the floor by a wearer who was not there, had seemingly disappeared, letting the clothing fall into a puddle of fabric on the floor. Inside its periphery, a small bunny rabbit moved about, sniffing. 

The first, more circumstantial interpretation, involved this Dark Force, long in place, trying to attack and invalidate goodness, power, light. Quan Yin was a shield, a talisman of protection, a false wall.  The black was trying to get at what was behind it, which had vacated, escaped, leaving behind the mantle of the old self, of the unbearable weight of circumstance and the pain body of guilt, self-loathing, confusion and overwhelm. The bunny represented pure, animal innocence, left at the ground of being when the drama and distortion fall away.

There is so much more to what I apprehended than can be expressed here. 

Later, as I proceeded with my morning, the images continued to speak to me in light of A Course in Miracles,and a clearer, more universal interpretation presented. 

Healing is necessary on the outside, in dealing with the darkness and falsity of the separated and suffering mind and world. And the darkness we project outside our personal fortress seemsto be perpetually trying to get at us, at our innocence. Thus we use a shield of healing magic, which takes myriad forms.  Yet behind this façade, this battle zone, there is no one, nothing to protect. There is only innocence, which remains untouched by, even unaware of, any threat or limitation, a ray in the sun of all creation.

Most disciples of any spiritual path experience Level Confusion. Body identification has its blinds. Eternal Truths can’t be anchored completely into embodiment in the realm of duality. So we entertain relative truths as well, and we often conflate elements of the two.  As I watched my mind oscillating through morphing interpretations of these images as they first appeared, I came to recognize them as demonstrations of this level confusion.

I am seldom certain of some objective accuracy to my interpretations. This could undermine my confidence in my clarity as a “reader.” But, today, instead, it reinforced my conviction that every bit of it is God talking, using the vocabulary of each unique psyche and of the different levels it navigates. The more I let go of investment in rightness or ownership of the interpretation, just allowed them to arise and massage my psyche, the clearer, more useful and illuminating became the transmission, the more powerful and pervasive their healing force in and through my own mind and faculties.

The images of dreams and divination like this provide me with evidence of a greater intelligence steering, from the invisible bridge, the course of our fluid psyche and the hull of our personality.

A guilt-free pleasure: I Honestly Love Her.

Wow, two posts today….

From time to time I post a blog in tribute of some luminary who has passed out of our world.   Sunday I learned that the cancer that Olivia Newton John kept in remission for a quarter century has reprised. She may have years more in the world, but I was  inspired not to wait.

Julianna Hatfield has just released a tribute to ONJ, who, though you mightn’t know it from Hatfield’s music, was a beloved influence.  Olivia Newton John’s long string of hits in the 70s and 80s were pillars of my own youth. I loved them and I sang to them best I could, usually in falsetto, or harmonizing an octave lower. Because, as many have heard me say in my low register, I was hitting the notes of Barry Manilow, sometimes even Neil Diamond, when my peers were singing at the other end of the keyboard with Olivia.

Julianna Hatfield, who describes herself as a scrappy vocalist, rather than a true singer like Olivia, really has as little business as I do covering those songs. But love ain’t always pretty.  In her interview, she and I choked up at the same time as the discussion brushed against our gratitude for, our celebration of, this woman’s voice, her songs, her grace and probably for her extra 25 years (and counting) of Life.

Catchy as it was, I confess I didn’t care for Olivia’s last big hit, “Let’s get Physical” when it came out; but soon after, both our paths were getting more outwardly spiritual. And I remember being glad to see this one of a certain angelic beauty walking a path of some spiritual substance as well, and having these years’ remission to grow in that,  to deepen and share it with the world.

I admired the dynamic range of her voice– from the mellifluous, almost meek whispers of “I Honestly Love You” to the expressive potential of “Hopelessly Devoted to you” and the penetrating belting of “Let Me Be There” and “…Physical.”

Her voice carried a power beyond volume, even beyond the melody. It seemed to flow with a certain truth and goodness, even in a song like “You’re the One that I Want” from Grease.  Her acting lacked the dynamic range of her singing, but there was still a sweet naturalness in her delivery that made it forgivable somehow– for me, anyway, at least in the kindness of hindsight.

I am just so grateful that she exists, that she lived and filled that place in pop culture with her song. I still feel her voice in my heart, and I know the world is a friendlier place for her contribution, as it echoes, audibly and inaudibly, through the years and through the ethers, even now. She is still here, and according to Juliana Hatfield, she still hits the high notes at the end of “Xanadu.”

I encourage everyone who appreciated her to take a moment and savor that now. And if mention of her songs inspires you to pick up her greatest hits, mission accomplished.

If you didn’t appreciate her, my condolences. I mean, what’s the matter with you? Have you Never Been Mellow? It’s not too late.

 

Earth Day… rhymes with Birthday, antidote to Dearth Day, choose your Mirth day.

I can’t say it any better than Jane Goodall’s words featured on today’s Google Doodle. But on the first clear and relatively still day in some time where I stand on the Earth in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I offer a spontaneous verse that is but a restatement of the same sentiment.

 

If we, as homo sapiens,  look around

and feel our feet upon the ground

we can try but can’t get ’round 

that every day is Earth Day.

We as Homo Erectus,

our heads more distant from the dust

than our kin of fur and musk

forget the Earth gave rise to us,

and every day’s a Birthday.

Embrace, Embrace, please let us,

our HeteroGenius,

The marvel of many from One,

Infinite dwelling in Union,

Laughing, dancing, lost and found,

each song from One primordial Sound,

this All-of-Equal-Worth-day.

 

ML April 22, 2018

 

Windwords

I’ve written about the wind before. Sometimes it simply demands attention, doesn’t let up until it gets its due: Acknowledgement as the Majorette in the Weather Parade, the breezy jester that holds the Emperor’s ear…and roar.

Growing up in Arizona, I used to love wind.  It was a voice, visitor and companion from the realm of mystery. When it played with my long, thick hair, or supported me as I gave it my weight, I felt the privilege of intimacy with that mystery, as if befriended by a wild creature.

When I lived in the deep South, any wind was a rare and refreshing break from the stagnancy of both the culture and the summer’s swampy and breathless oppression.

Though I’d heard about tornadoes and hurricanes, I knew the wind as a playful friend, a Big Dog that didn’t always know its own strength, but was harmless, mostly. It was only when I moved to higher climes, first to New Mexico, then to Colorado, that I experienced hints of menace in what before was the steady Breath of God.

I remember becoming increasingly aware of the wind in Albuquerque, where it seemed relentless down the east/west corridors, even when its temperature was benign.  After about 15 years in Colorado– a spectacular buffet of blizzards, chinooks and other novel dances of atmosphere choreographed by the Rocky Mountains– I moved back to Albuquerque. When I mentioned I’d come from Boulder, CO, I was puzzled that the first comment from several people was about the wind there.  In my mind, Albuquerque would always be the Windy City (with all deference to Chicago, where I’ve only ever had to contend with the airless airport).  Perhaps that had to do with the energy on the wind.  The Enchantment of New Mexico is perhaps lost as the air currents filter through buildings, over concrete, and distill the desolation and destitution that rise like convection waves from the land’s recent history.

For all its force and cruel bite, the wind in Colorado seemed to carry its dignity intact, the wild nature of the Tiger, which you would not begrudge him.

New Mexico is where I took to calling the wind just plain rude.

We’ve had a warm, dry and troubling spring this year. No precipitation to scour the air. And when the winds whip up again, like reckless mogul skiers chasing around to empty every cedar of pollen, they might bring a cold night, but no drink for thirsty soil and souls.

Today’s Santa Fe wind was tempestuous, and strong enough, it seemed, to hold such a tonnage of topsoil aloft that the mountains disappeared. After having to spend most of the day outside, I was exhausted; I felt like a blown egg– shell intact, but void of my yoke, even the memory of content scrambled.

As I write, the wind has settled and the mercury is dropping. A new tide of intelligence is coalescing between my ears.  The wind chimes still murmur; the sigh of the junipers still swells and ebbs.  But the birds are silent and the day’s boisterous bombast recedes in the mind, as windows and curtains close, T.V.s flicker on and throb with another, more troubling bluster, the hot, new and rudest of all winds from Washington.

 

Vincent Loving

 Last night I watched Loving Vincent. It was, as a review tag said, “a fitting miraculous tribute to its subject.” It really is for experiencing than for describing, and the film demonstrates how this is so for Vincent VanGogh himself, for his work and for all Life.

    This film, nominated for “best animated feature” Oscar this year, lost to the Pixar romp Coco,  a sweet and cleverly-executed crowd-pleaser, which carried good sentiment and sociological import and a familiar form and method. While the animator for the dog in that film might merit an Oscar on his own, overall, compared with Vincent (especially technically), Coco seems an engaging, latin flavored been-there-done-that.   I saw none of the other contenders, so this isn’t about who should have won.  I’m just sayin’….

    Loving Vincent was far more soulful and innovative, with a more engaging plot than I expected, given one reviewer’s impression. The plot–  simple and quietly engaging on its own– while it carried its own poignancy (and a profound message), served as a supportive and necessary vehicle for the spectacle of animated oil painting; yet it could not help but be a distraction from that very miracle.

….Kind of like LIFE:  Every moment is a miracle of creation, yet is obscured by the mundanity and minutia of existence, the myopia of the human mind– the  forest obscured by  trees.  The film demonstrates how focus on story, on conflict, on past, deflects and defers from centerstage the sheer teeming life power, radiant Love for which these painting were vessels.

     Occasionally, when a fresh new scene splashed on screen, reproducing another of Vincent’s masterpieces, I received, anew, the (capital T) Transmission, the power of his work. His thick brush work is some of the most kinetic painting we know; it Lives, it ripples, swirls, throbs in the brain and body already. Then to see the  obvious next step of animating those strokes, is almost (not quite) like gilding the lily.  Animating those strokes –changing their individual colors and angles rhythmically and “randomly”, like sunlight on water, seems a case of technology catching up with destiny, and almost an afterthought. Yet it is satisfying, like caressing not only his memory, but the common human Heart.

     The experience translates the power of his painting for a new, very kinetic age, and rejuvenate the power to move us that VanGogh has always had, because it taps a well of soul and human potential we all carry. It is why so many feel an intimacy with him; it is why I, Don McClean and countless others call him by his first name.

“This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you,” the song laments. But I wonder if it is also the inverse; this world is exactly meant for one as beautiful as he– for his few moments, and a few hundred paintings– to redeem.  Isn’t that the highest purpose, to Love, to celebrate Beauty, to recognize the Trees of Love that make up the Forest of the World?

 

Her Human Condition

     Today I led a little writing group for a couple of friends.  We sat in the relative quiet of DeVargas Mall and wrote from several uniquely challenging prompts. Occasionally, the setting itself provided fodder, or at least comic relief.  To begin, we gathered ourselves in a meditation that I used to prepare the first prompt, part of which entailed including a dog in the scene.  Just as I uttered my instructions, my friends tittered, as a dog walked by behind me. Perfect.

     As our session went on, we became aware of more dogs, all shapes and sizes,  strolling by with people. Finally we spied the whole assembly of dogs and owners lined up on a platform at the mall’s center–free dog training class? Free nail clipping? We never learned.   But as we were wrapping up our modest labors in word-craft, a little pooch–a Peekapoo, I’m guessing– trotted by, towing a family of attendants. He stopped a few yards away and got that look. As he squatted, I commented that he was about to wash the already-glossy stone the floor. But instead, he delivered solids; cute little chocolate-covered malt balls deposited at eight-inch intervals, as he excitedly wagged onward. Even for a pack animal, the mall is a lot of stimulation. (I was a teenager once; I remember.)

     The writing varied from the personal to the just, plain silly. And the time limits (and distracting dog parade) exempted all from perfection. The point was to prime our pumps, and that we did.

     The prompts included: a contemplation (by dwellers of the Norther Hemisphere) on Easter in Autumn; short eulogies using five provided words; a limerick about a Blue Schmoo; “His tombstone read UberProtoPanacea;” and a Haiku about any Broadway musical.  

     There is no right or wrong in these circles. If we digress from the original prompt as we follow where the creative energy takes us, all the better. Prompts are just launch pads; the trajectory from there is part of the juicy mystery.

     One of the only rules in these gatherings is to minimize grimaces and disclaimers about one’s work or talent.  So, when I felt charge of self-dissatisfaction building in the circle, I assigned an impromptu detour, a short portrait of each of us, as if written by someone else, about that feeling and our regard for our own writing.

     I close with one of the responses, which, like much free writing, reaches beyond a mere prompt into soul-speak:

It’s never enough. She is capable of such beauty; she vomits beauty. But it’s never enough, just Bactine on a Broken Heart.     It cannot slake her thirst for the cure for her human condition.   And so she dismisses the Miracle of the flowers blooming from her footsteps.     Is this humility or just the greed of the hopeless?

Keep living, loving, writing and dancing, everyone.

 

 

 

 

The final stretch

The Miracle is too big for this body,

and for the little mind it is assigned

so that they keep each other blind,

forbidding each to cross the line…

of chalk, of sand… …of time.

 

The Miracle is too big for this body.

The sinews whine as they unwind

and sear and shear the ties that bind,

’til Liberation feels unkind.

And all relief I seek to find,

and the Light for which I pine

–and know is already mine–

hides behind the exit sign.

 

The Miracle engulfs this body.

I marinate in nectar’s brine,

skewered on Shiva’s triple tines,

praying for the anodyne

until dissolves the final rind

of the separated mind.

ML 4/6/2018