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How We Contribute

Each year we consider best wishes and pathways that lead to happiness. We evaluate the past and heave sadness and regret, for now it becomes clear what overshadows. Another year gone by and we think the future looms… such daring resolution, gleaming before us like a crystal wine glass unsure of itself, half empty or half full.

We watch the ball drop, pour a drink, put on the TV, stuff our mouths with fine dining or grapes, coloring our reality– and yet, we find ourselves alone and unsure, especially about how we got here and what does it all mean?

There is an illusion in our aloneness and in our solidarity. This is non-duality. How when you really think about it, our entire existence is both/and, a multilayered, relational experience, involving yourself and society, starting from the very beginning when we slide out of the womb and fall into space-time called life. We are an individual and a contextual reality, forming part of and coming from another, a person and a tribe, an interconnected species and in this way, very early on, we learn to move through life in an earth body with an infinite (and wild) soul flailing and we’re left to our best judgement to try to figure it out, this non-duality of an existence, this not two, but One being.

Oh, the great mystery of life and how to do it right…

Each year, I try to think of one word to define the upcoming year, like an intention of sorts, a symbolic planting of a seed. This year this activity felt constraining and tricky and I wondered what could be happening because I couldn’t settle on just One thing.

I kept thinking two words actually, a pair of two things, a both/and thing and it was what I was really wanting so I hesitated for some time as if splitting my thought energy into two would have some sort of negative repercussion on cause and effect theory.

My words are Gratitude and Generosity.

Gratitude and generosity. Gratitude and generosity. This is what came to me, these two words, but they’re not two thoughts really, they’re One interdependent idea, One energy. It’s like a new element on the periodical table of my mind:

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Gratitude is for all that I am, for all that I can be, for all that I’ve received by the grace of God and magical circumstance, for all that I’ve inherited, for all those who have passed on before me, for those who continue to walk alongside me, sharing.

Generosity is for the spirit of giving and receiving, offering vulnerability, give unto others what they need, giving away freely and generously without fear, becoming an instrument of hope and offerings.

Nonduality of mindset requires trust, a leap of faith and a knowing that there is enough in love and space for both/and, for non-linear reality, for the retracing of steps, to go back in time and say: thank you, thank you! and to always put oneself back out into the world where there is abundance.

Tree of Refuge

Anchored in my seat, feeding off
the warm, succulent energy of the cosmos
Breathing in sun, breathing out gentleness
Watering deep soil with rain and tormented sea

Eyes closed spark a fire
Light appears and waterfalls, then moist
A wide circle forms with all its nutrients
passing through the immaterial

Pressure rises
Abdomen moves like a baby
slipping into drowsy wakefulness
Milk curdles on lips and smiles

Earth rotates and patterns shift
observing and absorbing
A new spirit arrives and just listens
Trust everything

Soft cushion unbending
Fertile loins and loving generosity
Back erect, skin leathered and strong
face resting

Offering refuge

Giving shade and a cool breeze

Anchoring in my seat, I’m becoming
metamorphosis, leaves spread out
bearing fruit, alone and worthy
Wisdom falls

Replenishing with adoration and dignity
Filling up space with unheard treasure
Sky opens and a door explodes
Expansive enough

Sustenance: The Artist Way

“WHAT NEXT? My ‘future’ is the darkest thing in the world to me, but as there still remains a great deal for me to do, I suppose I ought rather to think of doing this than of my future, and leave the rest to THEE and the gods.”

~Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra: A book for all and none, Introduction

Many years ago, I was gifted a book called, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This book is a guide with space for journal entries. It’s an excellent source to explore your inner world as an artist and develop creativity. At that time, I was a classroom teacher and feeling pulled away from my writing. I had become engulfed in worries and practical matters. The book became an antidote to my suffering.

The artist way is not easy especially in a society that values linear, rational ways of thinking and doing. There is a dearth of reliable opportunities for artists to make an honest living and few non-competitive spaces for artists to gather, make art, network and build community. For these reasons, many artists (like myself) neglect their craft for years to invest in a career that purportedly promises financial security.

The artist way is not for the faint of heart. At its core, it’s a philosophy, a way of living and meaning is derived from personal experience. This phenomenological stance requires a sensitive open mind, bravery, and commitment. It is very personal, very intimate. It’s a lot like the spiritual practice Zen.

“Zazen that leads to Self-realization is neither idle reverie nor vacant inaction but an intense inner struggle to gain control over the mind and then to use it, like a silent missile, to penetrate the barrier of the five senses and the discursive intellect (that is, the sixth sense). It demands energy, determination, and courage.” ~Phillip Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been grappling with sustaining the artist way and questioning its worth, it’s validity. In response to this perennial self-interrogation, my stomach hurt and I got chronic indigestion. This should not have been a surprise. The stomach region relates to the third chakra, or the Solar Plexus. This is the center of power, self-confidence, motivation and purpose. The gut, as it were, is the body’s center for will power and agency. When we experience pain in the stomach region, we’re not free. We’re immobilized and weakened considerably. That is why in meditation, there is much attention paid to breathing and focusing on the contraction and expansion of the muscles in the abdomen.

“Mental power, or we might say, spiritual power, in the sense of this strong inward concentration, comes from tension in the tanden… The power is sustained by the stimulation coming from the tension in the respiratory muscles of the abdomen… so we may regard these muscles—or the tanden in general—as the root of spiritual power…When the respiratory muscles are set to work, mental—or spiritual—power is put into action. The effect of the activity is reported to the brain, which will then think of further orders, and cyclical chains of processes will occur… The process is the same with emotional expression: laughter, anger, and sorrow cannot  manifest themselves unless the abdominal muscles are convulsed.” ~Katsuki Sekida, Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy (pps 49-51, p. 83-84)

Like all spiritual and creative journeys, there is a process, an evolution of awareness and healing that must occur to sustain oneself. Often, we find ourselves entangled or stuck in one area in our life that demands our attention, such as my present condition. In paying attention to my stomach/ Solar Plexus/ tanden, and focusing on healing and liberating energy (which involves water, rest, healthy diet, exercise, meditation and contemplation activities), I’m regaining health and new insight into the process of self-realization.

The first insight, which is what I have just written, but essential to underscore: one must pay attention to the message of the body. The body is a feedback loop that relates to your state of mind and spiritual path. Second, there is circumstantial evidence of overlapping and compounding experiences that I believe are designed as guides or clues into which behaviors/choices/pathways lead to personal well-being and healing. Following these cues with absolute trust, is an essential part of awakening to Self-realization and Self-reliance.

In my case, I’ve become more cognizant of unaddressed or unhealed wounds from the past, including but not limited to the trauma from the sudden death of my life partner. Perhaps, in my case, with the focus generating an imbalance in my Solar Plexus—I am being asked to complete the healing of this region and move in the world with greater confidence and sense of purpose, to value that which all along has endured and inspired me and others, that which is my truth and my beauty, that which I have loved to do throughout my entire life in spite of many things lost—

And this would be the artist way.

I am stepping into a boat at night, sailing off into the darkness and finding light. This is how I might describe my current experience. And this metaphor is not unlike the dark night of the soul as described by Thomas Moore:

“Imagine that your dark mood, or the external source of your suffering, is a large, living container in which you are held captive. But this container is moving, getting somewhere, taking you to where you need to go. You may not like the situation you’re in, but it would help if you imagined it constructively. Maybe at this very minute you are on a night sea journey of your own...There may be some promise, the mere suggestion that life is going forward, even though you have no sense of where you’re headed. It’s a time of waiting and trusting...to sit with these things and in due time let them be revealed for what they are.”