As the year comes to an end and another promises to unfold... given the amount of suffering that is now ever more apparent throughout the world, I reflect upon the resilience of the human spirit and my aching heart is full of compassion. From deep within cries out a resounding question... how can I, as an artist, as a fellow human being, be of service to humanity and not turn a blind eye to the suffering nor become lost in it and thereby add to it? I have learned over the years to simply be with the questions that arise... to give them space to breathe and nestle their burrowing roots into the dark rich depths of their own womb making. As many an expectant mother can attest to, the hard part is often the wait and the very discomfort of the weight/wait. But there are always telltale signs that make themselves known, insuring the mother-to-be that life is indeed stirring. For me, the signs appeared in the form of two articles I just happened to come upon while surfing the Internet.
One of the articles was "Drinking The Tears of the World/Grief as Deep Activism" by Francis Weller and the other was by Martin Prechtel called "Saving the Indigenous Soul." In reading both articles I came to realize more deeply that an artist's most precious gifts are their sensitivity and their willingness to remain open and present to feelings that are often too uncomfortable for others and are therefore repressed. We are a nation who avoids pain at all costs. We are a nation that is afraid to grieve... afraid to look at our own immortality and yet life is dependent upon death. We cannot have one without the other.
In some indigenous cultures, there are women shaman's called shamanka's who are valued for their sensitivity, for their ability to dig deep into the emotional waters. Often, when someone dies these women are hired by the village and paid with chicken, corn and blankets... simply earthly necessities. In return, in a frenzied dance of mourning, they abandon themselves to the collective grief... their tears streaming forth. It is their deep belief that these tears form the sacred river that carries the soul "home." These women bring honor to the souls of the dead... and free those of the living, allowing the village to reclaim its' joy... for it is intuitively understood that sorrow and joy flow within the same river.
These women's tears are an offering, a prayer... a song.
These women are called "The Singers."
Martin Prechtel says that the world needs people who are willing to go down into the hollow places. It is within the darkness of the hollow that the seeds of life are nurtured. He talks of eloquence, grief and sacrifice. He talks of our capacity to create beauty in the midst of agony... be it a loud soulful wail, a song, or a piece of art created with grateful intention and given to the spirit world... for the spirits need our gifts. He says "Ideally, the gift should be something made by hand, which is the one thing humans have that spirits don't."
And so, as I continue to let the question unravel itself... I am grateful to all the artists of the world who embrace life as a paradoxical encounter with wholeness... allowing it to move through them, acknowledging the dance of creation and destruction... life and death equally... using their hands and their bodies to bring form out of emptiness and chaos... a testimony of what it is to be alive and wholly human.
In the New Year, may our art be an offering... a prayer... a song.
May we all be singers...
May our resounding cries give birth to shining Hallelujahs.
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As I reflect on the events of 2004, it is as if we were taken by a terrific storm, tossed about by violent winds and now set down again in the midst of its calm destruction.
Since my last A'musings, my Aunt Marj has passed away, the nation has held another emotionally divisive Presidential election and is presently bogged down in an unpopular war with extraordinary brutality. The nation as a whole is fearful of further terrorism and deeply polarized over several important social issues. This whole process often places people under the simplistic yet convenient headings of liberal or conservative with conservatives often staking out religious high ground.
I believe I am both liberal and conservative depending on the situation, and probably a secular humanist at heart rather than religious in my beliefs. Although, I can't escape my Christian background. Married to a church musician, I find pleasure in sharing church musical experiences with her as a member of the choir (particularly since my minister daughter serves our Methodist church).
In particular, I don't believe liberals are " anti-religious" as some now charge. Rather, I believe we all are spiritual at the core with deep inner creative resources often times untapped or allied with any religious dogma. There is an essential creative spirit accessed from within all of us that is divine—"to know by inspiration, intuition, or reflection." It is what defines soul. For some this deep inner process is expressed in harmony with one of many possible religious practices. Although there are also many who have not plumbed their depths sufficiently to know or have access to it yet.
In general, I believe this creative spirit has often been the source of religious inspiration, helping to develop a collective community. But, any belief system that rejects another person's divine essence in favor of any particular dogma is for me a false system. For I believe we all have the potential and responsibility to contribute to collective growth of life, and in the long view, evolution. This is the very essence of soul, spirit or the great mystery of the Divine.
However, there is a danger! It is extremely difficult to distinguish between the little ego driven mind's fantasies and the soul's deeper spiritual resources. Often layers of unexamined conditioning hide life enhancing values. I believe we must always challenge our thoughts, musings and beliefs as well as so called higher authority dogma to see if it is truly life enhancing. Thus we are finally able to claim responsibility for our own participation and its consequences. This is how we truly become creative in living our lives.
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You must have paper at hand, and paint and pens and notebooks. Your blood demands it, so that it can flow unobstructed, take nourishment to every cell. Redden the pale, stir the stagnant. Awaken the sleeping. No need to know why this is more worthy than breath itself. After all, breath lives within, fine-tuned in a constant rhythm, accompanying in steady beat, aware of heart's rhythm.
But, this more sacred music, the slide of paint on paper, the scratch of pens on lines of notebook, this absence of silence, owns voices as many as the stars, wants to be heard in the deep of night and the welcome the day.
Blood knows its route, delivers as trustworthy as the mailman, the expected. Breath takes hold its flow of ion and out in predetermined regularity.
The words and art begin quite normally, then alchemy as they dance on paper, pay no attention to assigned choreography, decide to perform in the motion of the moment, leave legacy to keep dread away, to allow darkness its place, not as a place of drowning, but a place to sort, to struggle, to sustain until, until light and lightness of being brings solace, boldness, humor and acrid misery into play. An honest beginning again.
And it continues. How many times does pen meet paper, a handshake that often tells a fortune, points with a finger, a new direction? Old lore becomes mulch along the path. Wooden signs that seemed set in concrete, disintegrate words, become sawdust, before new words grow. A plateau, a mesa, on which to stand and wait.
And the paint waits, already knows with whom it will partner, even marry for the moment. Yellows and greens enhance each other, but they do not dream their wedding whites. Those virgin shades shyly touch. Softness welcomes gentleness, as bold reds restlessly await passion's promise. Then within the frame, reminders repeat this lesson: Do not forget my power.
It matters not so much that my words create morning. More dear, that morning arrives and I choose to step into it, drape my naked body with its offering, trust I will be well clad.
And, naked, I find my hands holding each other in thankfulness, a rush, a blossoming blush, that knows no age, places its kiss upon my cheek and I know I am loved.
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"...Be careful what you wish for..."
For what seems like a very long time, I've persisted in coveting an idealized vision of the Simplified Life. In so doing, I've taken little satisfaction for decades of care taking the polyglot clutter of our home, filled as it is with four generations of hand-me-down furnishings, accumulated works, tools and treasures, dozens of busy bird feeders, fireside and window sills littered with shards and shells collected from beaches, stacks of stones and vases of feathers from woodland ramblings.
I'm grateful that it didn't required a fire, burning away all the evidence, to wake me up to the intrinsic value of these blessed reminders in my seventy-fifth year of whole hearted living and loving.
If you've the patience, I'd like to share the dream with which my soul wakened me on this Thursday, December 29th morning:
This small borrowed bedroom is sparsely furnished. Tobacco-stained window blinds are pulled down, concealing a dim mid-morning view of crowded, blank-faced houses, and fences guarding plots without any gardens.
Wallowing among tangled sodden covers, I am relieved to have this queen-sized bed all to myself, after having shared it last night with three others amid chatter and confusion—Two room-mates have just left for a painting workshop which I am supposed to be supervising.
The one remaining roommate is my mother. Although I am 75, she appears in her 30's. While dressing and preparing to join the others, she occasionally tosses a trivial question over her shoulder—just for the sake of talking.
I reply off-handedly, with no attempt at eye-contact or wholeness of Truth. Mildly annoyed, I climb out of bed.
Still in my pajamas, I half-heartedly begin to straighten the tangled bedding without bothering to first strip it back. There's a large lump near the foot of the bed that won't pat down. I reach under the covers and pull out an old sheepskin—remembering how it kept my feet warm last night.
On the nightstand lies yesterday's newspaper, folded to a crossword puzzle, which someone has already worked—maybe me?
Mother, finally ready to go, drives away in our only remaining vehicle.
I'm elated to have this stolen time and the use of this Spartan place all to myself.
But then, as I look around this small dim barren borrowed room, gradually it dawns on me: All of my resources are within the workshop—books, paint supplies, food & beverages, TV, & video, family & friends, means of mobility, and—of gaining approval. Nothing has been left here for me to do. Am I meaningless without my work?
There will be no one here but me for an endless hollow and melancholy dayÉ
I wake up-with newfound gratitude for my wealth of tools and passion for nature's visual beauties.
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