Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Resolution: Fail with Joy

Illustration from Uncle Lubin, by W. H. Robinson

For other over-stressed Western achievers, allow me to recommend a new way of being successful: don't seek success. Seek adventure.

There are people who talk about narrative psychology and how people choose to reflect on universal life experiences, such as failure. One such person is Carol Dweck, who made an appearance on To the Best of Our Knowledge. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck argues that it's our response to failure that makes a difference. Children who see their failure as an opportunity for growth are more successful and take more risks than those who see their failure as a measure of their innate abilities.

So, friends, let's seek adventure. Perhaps it will lead to failure, but won't that be better than staying home?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winter Dark, Winter Magic

The Sprue Coppice, by Henrik Krogh
via the Textile Blog

What will you find in the dark winter woods?
May this winter season be filled with magic.

I've been doing some soul diving during these dark winter moons... I've been watching old beliefs rise to the surface and then leave me a little less burdened. In the space that's cleared from diving and uncovering the depths, I'm hoping some new and useful practices will form. I think this coming New Year's Eve ritual will involve giving thanks for the realized potentialities of the past year (so many miracles and blessings to count!) and also giving thanks for the yet un-realized potentialities waiting in the future. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

The Nativity, by Sarah Stone
via Strawberige

Happy Alchemical-Child Day. If you happen to catch a glimpse of the precious creative force within, I hope you will care for it like a mother, glory in it like the angels, and honor it like the humblest of kings.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Samsara

Samsara wheel

Friends, I've been crying a lot over the news. The killing of twenty children is too much to bear, and the suffering of the killer is tragic as well. 

I know our civilization can be better than this, that we can give love and help to those who need it, that we can keep weapons out of the hands of the unwise. But I also know that no matter what we do, there will always be suffering. I have no uplifting message today; just the dull truth that there is so much joy and so much pain in this world.

May all beings be at peace.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Windwalker: Hero's Journey


Windwalker is a classic tale of a hero: the title character dies and is given a funeral, only to be reawakened by the Great Spirit for a final heroic task. Along the way, he overcomes a bear after falling into its den, teaches the meek to be brave, and recovers what was lost. In the end, he is rewarded for his deed by walking on the wind and being reunited with his true love.

In one of the more beautiful parts of the film, Windwalker teaches:
"Do not fear death . . .
As spring begins with winter
So death begins with birth.
It is only a step
In the great circle of life."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Food for the Soul: Stew Deep and Dark

Moonlight in a Forest. Winter, by Arkhip Kuindzhi

As days grow darker, I start looking forward to rich, slow foods like beef stew. These meals remind me to sit with what is potential for a while, to watch as meat breaks down and flavors meld, rather than to expect completion in a flash of a pan.

Start by browning some beef chuck in a large dutch oven, and then remove it from the heat. Add some sliced onions, then some garlic. Then a generous amount of red wine and tomato paste, and once everything is combined and warm, transfer this mixture, plus meat to the slow cooker for 6 hours on low.

The last, and most important step is to add all the magical spices that make this stew special: bay leaf, paprika, marjoram, cumin, lemon zest. (Just typing those beautiful words makes me happy.)

I think we served this over egg noodles last time, but you could also just soak up the juices with crusty bread. This beef goulash is a summary of the one found in Michele Scicolone's Italian Slow Cooker. You should check this book out. 

When you sit down to eat your stew, give thanks for the many forms of life that went into it. Ponder where that life has gone, and what you will do with the energy you receive. If you find yourself exploring your own dark spaces during these dark days, I hope this food will give you some comfort and nourishment along your journey.





Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Root Tarot


For someone so happy to indulge in different forms of worship/being, I have come lately to the tarot. My first introduction to it was through Robertson Davies' Rebel Angel trilogy and then more directly Italo Calvino's Castle of Crossed Destinies, both of which I loved. I loved that these tarot cards were used in an open, creative way that yielded a multiplicity of stories. This is still how I see the tarot, less as a direct answer to a question, and more as a language of symbols that might break through our analytic overly sure minds.

My root tarot card, as you saw above is the high priestess. I've been learning a lot about her, and myself in the process. These days, this learning process is about opening and listening, rather than deciding that something is True.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Diamond in the Mind

First Butterfly, by Sulamith Wolfing

What better amulet can you carry than one that is always present in your mind?

Here is the "amulet" I was recently taught:

"All conditioned dharmas
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, or shadows;
Like drops of dew, or flashes of lightning;
Thusly should they be contemplated."
    —excerpt from Diamond Sutra

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Yoga Practice: Migration

Bird migration at Eddystone Lighthouse, by Charles Samuel Keene

Watching birds fly south as the seasons change, I've been noticing my own movements as life around me changes and unfolds. I'm not sure where I'm headed, but like the birds, I seem to have some internal homing sense that leads me and pulls me along to the next destination.

Here are some things that have been meaningful to my yoga practice of late:

  • Sun salutations with a pause to move back and forth between extended side-angle pose and reverse warrior pose. It feels a little bit like I'm stretching my wings and getting ready to fly.
  • Finding eagle pose, then shifting my non-standing leg forward and then back to warrior three feels a little bit like I'm taking account of my situation and then letting go to soar.
  • Taking time to do some some scissor jumping jacks with arms outstretched makes me feel little like I'm getting somewhere fast.
  • Stretching out with heron and pigeon. These poses remind me that even birds need to take a rest from traveling now and then. 





Thursday, November 1, 2012

Postmodern Hymn: No Line on the Horizon

Benten, by Warwick Goble

I could make a whole hymnal out of U2 songs, and I know they would be totally happy with that. It's common knowledge that they make use of Christian imagery in their lyrics and promote what they would say are Christian values, although their brand of Christianity is definitely not mainstream.

But before we get too concerned with labeling anyone "Christian" or "not-Christian" though, I'd like to look at one powerful image that continually resurfaces in their songs: the divine feminine. It's an image that blurs the line between Christianity and non-Christianity. Listen to songs such as "No Line on the Horizon," "She Moves in Mysterious Ways," "Grace," "Lemon," "Gloria," and you'll hear a collection of recurring motifs: the mysterious female, grace, ocean, moon.

What do these motifs have in common? For one thing, the lyrics point to a lack of control, either in the creative process or in the search for absolution. Creativity and grace come unexpectedly, as Bono says in an interview with Rolling Stone: "This kind of spirit blows through every now and then. It’s a very strange feeling. We’re waiting for God to walk into the room – and God, it turns out, is very unreliable."

If you're interested in this topic, here are some fun reads on the interwebs:


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Food for the Soul: Roasted Beets

Beetroot, by Maria Livings and Marie Rodgers of Lush Designs

Let's celebrate autumn with the vegetable that is surely the juiciest, most autumnal root—the beet!

"The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies."
    —Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins

Beets aren't the friendliest things to cook, but you can be rewarded with candy-flavored little jewels of food if you're willing to put into some slicing and roasting time. 

Slice them up (wear an apron but enjoy the way your hands turn a lovely hot pink color). Toss in a few sliced carrots and let them get a little pink, too. Sprinkle some rosemary over beets and carrots. Roast at 400 or 425 until they're tender—about 45 minutes. 

You can make salads with roasted beets (red cabbage, walnut, red apples, and red wine vinegar is a good one), but after waiting for them to roast, I'm usually to impatient to do anything but eat them! Try roasting them at the same time as you roast a chicken.

Remember to save your beet greens, too, for a light reminder of the end of summer. If you have a juicer, the beet greens make a lovely pink foam for the top of your orange-carrot juice.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nature's Course

Daphne mezereum with butterfly, by Georg Dionysus Ehret
via Victoria and Albert Museum

The flower invites the butterfly with no-mind;
The butterfly visits the flower with no-mind.
The flower opens, the butterfly comes;
The butterfly comes, the flower opens.
I don't know others,
Others don't know me.
By not-knowing we follow nature's course.
    —from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf, by Ryokan, translated by John Stevens, via gardendigest

This Zen poem has come up in several contexts lately, and along with a conversation on Derrida and his concept of waiting for the revelatory presence of the Other, it has me thinking some about the mysterious, unfathomable depth of things.

It's a favorite topic of mine; I seem to find the theme in a variety of places—Italo Calvino's writings, for example. The mysterious Other has such potential for ethics and art. Accepting the Other as mysterious leaves space for authentic encounters to occur. And, when the concept is combined either with a scientific or Taoist/holistic perspective, the face of the Other shifts. That mysterious Other that seems to completely separate from me becomes a part of me. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Zen: The Life of Dogen

from Zen
via Rusty Ring

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch a wonderful movie, Zen, a Japanese movie about the great teacher Dogen. I can't recommend this movie highly enough. It's absolutely beautiful, visually and philosophically. It includes many famous sayings from Dogen's life, including this lovely conversation he has with a head cook:

I asked, "What are words?" The tenzo said, "One, two, three, four, five." I asked again, "What is practice?" "Nothing in the entire universe is hidden."

Trust me, this movie will make you see your own life differently. Maybe, like Dogen, you will find yourself on the shore, with the full moon above you.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Admiring: Pioneer Illustrator

"Wood Thrush, Plate II," by Genevieve Jones
(from the Adelson Library at Cornell)

You may have heard the story of Genevieve Jones, and like me, been inspired by her. Now known as "America's Other Audubon," Genevieve was not well known until a book by Joy Kiser came out earlier this year. Genevieve illustrated the nests and eggs of birds in Ohio, and painstakingly produced books of her work with the help of her family and friend.

The more I've read about her, the more I'm interested in her supporting cast of characters—her parents, who spent all their savings to continue Gennie's dream after her death; her brother, who found the nests for her to draw; the hired local women who worked as midwives to hand color the illustrations her mother drew.

I'm also fascinated by the events that caused her to begin her project—a question asked ten years before, a failed engagement, an inspirational visit to Audubon's exhibition. 

The story of Gennie has me thinking about the cost of pursuing a passion, how sometimes the creative process seems like the kingdom of heaven, found hidden in a field. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Postmodern Hymn: I Am the Starlight

Big Star, by frecklefaced29

One of the final songs from the musical Starlight Express, by Andrew Lloyd Weber, is a sweet song about finding out that all the answers you seek come from within. 

The Starlight Express is a musical made for children: it tells the tale of toy cars who come to life. Rusty, the protagonist train, calls on the Starlight Express for help in winning a race. I got to see this musical when I was a child, and the magic of seeing people on roller skates, acting like trains, and singing with such hope has stayed with me all this time.

I think it's good every now and then to return to childhood fantasies and see the world again in a playful, hopeful way.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

What I Wanted to Say

Letter to Emile Bernard from Paul Cezanne
via the Coutrauld Art Institute

"So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."
    —"East Coker," by T. S. Eliot, via even*cleveland

Lately I've been feeling that the art of communication is far beyond me, perhaps because for me,  communication really does look like a form of poetry. Maybe I've been thinking too much about Zen masters like Dogen, who could use words to teach such all-encompassing truths with such brevity and clarity. Or, on the less happy side, maybe I've been thinking too much about human failures of communication, in the realm of politics, or in the realm of families. Sometimes simply communicating seems like the most difficult poetry of all, and yet, all we can do is try.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sacred Space: Imam Mosque in Isfahan

by Fulvlo Spada

The Imam Mosque, or Mudrasa Imami, of Isfahan is a gorgeous unification of art and religious aspiration. On the outside, painted blue tiles make the imposing building feel light as spirit. On the inside, the arched ceilings look like heaven itself. 

The mosque at Isfahan is particularly famous for its mihrab, a prayer niche that is oriented towards Mecca. Isn't it a beautiful way to orient oneself to what is holy?




Update, 22 September 2012: I planned this post quite a while ago, before the latest outbreak of protests and violence. It really breaks my heart to see people so filled with rage, and to see so much misunderstanding in the world. If this post could make a political statement in any way, it would be a call for everyone to see more clearly—to find peace in the world through peace in themselves.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Personal Myth 4: The Return


The Return, by me

I think it's time to conclude this series. My four-part creation myth ends with the mystery of what death might mean. I don't pretend to have any answers about life after death, but I feel that it works best in my life as an alchemical step within a greater process. As a necessary part of life on earth, death allows for the recycling of materials, and this can happen on a variety of levels, not just the biological level. The place that is most rotten within us is the very place that can lead to new growth and new life!

What happens to us personally after we die? I leave that for others to say. I once had a dream, though, in which a girl cast a spell on a two lovers: their hearts crystallized into the stars, and their bodies dissolved into the night sky.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Calcinatio, Part II

The Fire, by Ricardo Cavolo
via Society 6

It seems my life is organizing itself by elemental themes these days. No sooner do I write a post on a ritual involving fire than my favorite astrologer, Rob Brezsny, posts a beautiful horoscope on the same subject. I'm keeping the Libra-specific post to myself, although you can find it or a different horoscope here. In the meantime, here's some fire-themed wisdom for you:

"Try this meditation: Imagine that you are the wood and the fire that consumes the wood.

First, focus your awareness on the part of you that is the wood. You may tremble or gasp, feeling the jolt of your solidity disintegrating, your form changing. As you shift your attention to the part of you that is the fire, you may exult in the wild joy of power and liberation.

It may be tempting to favor the fire over the wood, to love the burning more than the being burned. But if you'd like to understand pronoia in its fullness, you've got to appreciate them equally. Can you imagine yourself being the fire and wood simultaneously? Is it possible for you to experience the deep pleasure of their collaboration?"
    —excerpt from PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings, by Rob Brezsny

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Burning of Old Man Gloom

Old Zozobra circa 1938
via Zozobra 

Each year at the Santa Fe Festival, an Zozobra, or Old Man Gloom is burned, and today is the day of this year's celebration.

The Santa Fe Festival began in 1712, but it wasn't until 1924 that artist Will Shuster created the Zozobra effigy. Shuster drew from a variety sources for inspiration, including the Mummers parade in Philadelphia (in which participants would whip a scapegoat-type figure) and  the Holy Week celebrations of Yaqui Indians (they would lead a fire-cracker filled effigy of Judas around on a donkey before burning it).

"Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year. Santa Fe celebrates another victory. Viva la Fiesta!"
    —A.W. Denninger

The burning of the effigy at first glance seems rather violent and opposed to my general disposition to rehabilitate and recycle. But, I think there is a place for the symbolic destruction of burdens—the process of calicination in alchemical works is an important first step towards the goal of finding the Sorcerer's Stone. It's from the ashes of these burdens that the recycling can begin.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Star Cleaner's Reunion

from The Starcleaner Reunion, by Cooper Edens

Apparently, I'm going through a star phase right now. All of my posts on stars reminded me of my favorite children's book: The Starcleaner Reunion, by Cooper Edens. I was surprised to see on Amazon how little it is read or appreciated. To me, it captures the magic and wildness of childhood. Indeed, this seems to be Edens' goal: "I'm trying to break the dualism of the classic tale. My stories embrace the philosophy that these two worlds exist simultaneously—the real world is a dream and the dream world is real. Because of this, there are no classic quests in my books. I don't have people going away to the dream world and returning to reality."

The story is about a child who joins an angel in cleaning the stars, which have been forgotten and are now dull. But there is a catch at the end—the stars might not really be in the sky . . . 


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Food for the Soul: Sunshine Sandwich

Sunsnap, by Jayn Foley

Why not enjoy summer's sunshine finish with a cheery golden sandwich? Boil eggs, mix with mayonnaise, minced shallots, and tarragon for a reminder of summer fields. Pile on bread, and garnish with a slice of yellow tomato, straight from the garden. Pause, and soak in the sunshine; then gobble it up while it's fresh!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stars and Aims

Libra, by Mikalojus Ciurlionis
from his Zodiac Cycle


"I feel my fate; my fate finds me.
I feel my star; my star finds me.
I feel my aims; my aims find me.
My soul and the world are one. . . .

Life will be clearer around me.
Life will be more burdensome for me.
Life will be richer for me."
    —excerpt from "The wishes of the soul are springing," by Rudolph Steiner


I've been feeling lots of uncertainty lately. My job, which inevitably grounds my day, is in the midst of change,  but what kind of change I truly cannot say. I find myself becoming resolved to find my way, to find an anchor and not let life cast me about, if that's not my choosing. I feel like if I work hard enough, the anchor will find me. Not that the anchor will make life any easier, but I think the sensation of grounding above chaotic waves will feel sweet and victorious.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Return to Center

Arrows, by Finch and Canary

Life has a way of pulling you away from your center in a hundred different directions at once. My favorite way to return to center is to follow a simple pattern: In. Out. Gratitude. 

  1. Sleep. Return to center by letting your body and mind do it naturally, without all of your efforting. In. Move into your breath and the heaviness of your body to help you fall asleep. Out. Move out naturally as you give up control and fall asleep. Gratitude. Wake up grateful!
  2. Move. It happened that I took Neesha's "Finding the Hub: Centering Mind, Body, and Heart" class on yogatoday recently. Just what I needed. The key to the class:  In. Move into the core of your body.  (My favorite example: draw your arm bones in before raising them above your head.) Out. Open from the heart to the periphery of your body.  Gratitude.  Be grateful and joyful that you can share in the practice.
  3. Meditate. Try this bell meditation, which is available via the On Being website. The principles should sound familiar by now:  In. Move in by focusing on the sound of the bell.  Out.  Move out by letting your mind open and welcome everything.  Gratitude.  End with gratitude and extend this joy and peace to all beings.

May you all feel the peace and joy that comes with feeling centered!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bob Ross: His Grooviness

I'm always the last to hear about new memes, but nevertheless I want to share this lovely video by John D. Boswell of Symphony of Science, which I found on Drawn. I have a special soft spot for Bob Ross, particularly for his way of waving good-bye as though he was sending out the good vibes. 


For more background on this piece, visit the Washington Post's article here.

Language Celestial

Vision, by Katie Scott
via The Idea Foundation

O thou Spirit of Truth, visit our minds once more,
Give us to read in letters of light the language celestial
Written all over the earth, written all over the sky—
Thus may we bring our hearts once more to know our Creator,
Seeing in all things around, types of the Infinite Mind.
    —from "Correspondences," by Christopher Pearce Cranch


When I read this poetic excerpt, I perform a creative misreading in which "Creator" becomes "Creative Ground of Being" and "Infinite Mind" becomes "Infinite Mind-Body." I've had lots of practice hearing my own heretical revisions in my years of church going. I like to think of this process of willful misunderstanding  as recycling worn material for my own use. 

Do you ever imagine what your version of the "Creative Ground of Being" looks like? Would it be the famous giant eyeball? For me, I like to think it has the particular smell of a garden after rain. I rarely seem to break my imagination away from the earth and into the stars.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Coming Full Circle


Ten Cavaliers Forming a Circle, Stefano della Vella

Today, this blog turns one year old! Check out the post where it all started.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Postmodern Hymn: Country Roads

via Vintage Plum


I remember visiting my brother at his summer camp in Colorado, sitting around the camp fire with him and his friends and listening to them sing from their repertoire of songs. I remember Joni Mitchell's "Circle Games" and John Denver's "Country Roads" in particular. And I remember thinking how great it was that they had classic songs to share together. I'm off to the mountains this week, and I think I'll be singing John Denver songs in my head as I hike. 





Thursday, July 19, 2012

Magic Clouds, Jeweled Clouds


Nimbus II, by Berndaut Smilde

As if staring up into puff ball clouds wasn't enough of a treat, I've been enjoying clouds as works of art. I guess I'm still thinking of art as ephemeral and bound to the natural world, as in the flower mandalas of my last post.

Above is the magic smoke machine-created cloud, maintained by painstaking control over the temperature and humidity of the installations space.

Below are over-the-top Swarovski crystal-decorated clouds on view at Dumbarton Oaks.

Cloud Terrace, by Andy Cao and Zavier Perrot

If you like the subject as much as I do, try visiting the Cloud Appreciation Society, devoted to spotting clouds and cloud art. On their website, I discovered that a cloud I saw earlier in the year was a special Kelvin-Helmholtz cloud: a beautiful, wave-like cloud that is very prized by cloud collectors. I remember thinking it was a beautiful formation at the time, but there's something about putting a name to it that makes it feel like an accomplishment to have noticed it.



Thursday, July 12, 2012

Food for the Soul: Soup from the Sea

Mermaids by Carlo Chiostri
via Melusina Mermaid

The year I lived in Korea, I ate seaweed soup (미역국; miyeokguk) many a morning. Returning to the states, breakfast cereals seemed so insubstantial by comparison, so from time to time I've made myself seaweed soup for dinner/breakfast. I recommend making it for dinner and then recycling it for breakfast one morning. You can always eat it with an egg if soup feels too much like dinner on its own.

Once you find the seaweed (usually packaged dry), the soup relatively easy to make. Grab a handful or two or seaweed and soak it covered with water in a mixing bowl  until it grows back into its luscious silky state (20 to 30 minutes), and then rinse. (This is important! I sometimes rush this step and end up with gritty soup; this is not a play of textures that you want.)

Boil water or beef broth or fish broth in a pot, and season with garlic and soy sauce or fish sauce. Add in the seaweed to cook, and maybe add some rib eye sliced into tiny chucks or add mussels or leave it plain. You don't have too cook it long, just 30 minutes or so.

Add sesame oil at the end, to further heighten the silky texture of the seaweed. Serve with rice.

Give thanks to the ocean heart for its nourishment.

"[The sea is] the blue heart of the planet—we should take care of our heart. It's what makes life possible for us."
    —Sylvia Earle

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sacred Space: Impermanent Gifts

Danmala, by Kathy Klein
via Colossal

What is it about us humans that makes us want to rearrange natural objects into patterns? When I find myself in a beautiful setting, sometimes the most natural thing to do seems to be to make some sort of "offering" to the beauty I find myself surrounded by. An arrangement of shells, in some attempt to align my own perspective with the greater landscape. An arrangement of rocks, as a greeting to others, a sign of recognition that my own perspective can blend with others'. 

Kathy Klein's danmalas are a good example of this kind of art. Visit her gallery to see a quilt of technicolor patterns, all created from flower petals. She describes "centering" herself and creating the art in a state of devotional silence. The designs she creates seem to pulsate from the blending of her state of mind with the natural matter she works with.

Some of my favorite art is the kind that is meant to be impermanent. There's something so poignant about making something, knowing that when you leave it behind, it will eventually be returned to the earth. There's something beautiful, too, in leaving the art to be discovered for others who happen to be passing by. I sometimes want to hoard everything that's beautiful, and making something that can be left behind is a good exercise in sharing and letting go, even if a photograph allows us to hold onto the art in some sense!

Shell Offering by me


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Postmodern Hymn: We Will Never Pass This Way Again


Tryptavision 4, a light painting by Joe Mehl of Tryptavision
via Deviant Art

Time has been playing funny tricks on me lately. I used to think of my life as one-directional, but lately I've been noticing loops and spirals in my life's story. Places, interests, and people that I didn't expect to ever reconnect with suddenly reappear.

It feels like I'm already in the eternal return, learning to affirm past choices and reintegrate them into the ever-growing pattern of my life. (I tend to think about my life in terms of quilting, even though I've only ever made one quilt). It's a bit of a relief to have these unexpected continuities, honestly, because I'm so intent on making the most of each scrap of experience. The scraps may be bigger than I had first imagined!

The discovery of spiraling time doesn't make each moment any less special, though. It makes me want to appreciate these pleasures now, so that when I perhaps return to a similar moment somewhere down the line, I will have double the joy in greeting it again. 






Thursday, June 21, 2012

7: Our Ending

Seven-pointed star from Wall Drawing #808, by Sol LeWitt


Let's continue with our number series based on The Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael Schneider. 


I think I may end this little series here . . . Seven is often a symbol of completion, so it's been said, so at least this is a good place to end. I've found that as time goes on, I'm less sure about what can be truly said about a particular number as a symbol, and I'd rather not go on half-heartedly about things I don't believe in. Nevertheless, there are fascinating connections that we "moderns" miss between pattern, science, and religion, and I hope the series has provoked some interest in seeing those connections. Maybe the healing, geometric designs of Emma Kunz tap into those connections, but I don't really know what to say about this sort of thing right now. Maybe I'll have a dream someday that will help me understand.


Thank you for taking a somewhat random journey through numbers 1 through 7 with me. 


*******


Just for fun: here's a lengthy post on how to draw a heptagon, in case you have a compass, a straightedge, and some extra time on your hands.



Drawing a seven-pointed star using a compass and straightedge is a great exercise in understanding the number seven: unlike other polygons, the heptagon is created outside of the vesca piscis—in this sense, it is "unborn." To create it, you have to draw two circles whose circumferences share each others' centers. Then draw a square in the upper portion of the visca piscis, using the two circles' radius as its bottom edge. Next, draw a circle whose diameter is equal to the square's sides. Find the first side of the heptagon by connecting the two points of the circle's circumference that intersect the tops of the two larger circles.

As Schneider notes, the heptagon is the only shape that originates outside of the vesca piscis: it emerges from the "crown" of the original circles, just as Athena emerged from Zeus's forehead.

Once you have the first side of heptagon, you walk the compass around the circle's perimeter, but this measurement is only an approximation. You'll have the walk the compass in the opposite direction and split the difference between the two points.  

From the heptagon, you'll get two stars (one connects every third point and one connects every other point), and when these stars are combined inside the heptagon, you'll get the "web of Athena."

You can also go here to watch a video for another way of drawing a heptagon and its stars.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sun Salutation


Happy sunny day, friends! Yesterday I squinted out onto the field across the street and saw the sunshine's golden haze, and I had to listen to "Sunshine on My Shoulders" in it's honor. There was something so sweet about seeing the sun's light reflected onto the grass and yellow flowers. It must have been the sun's way of reminding me of its special day coming up. Today, I think I will do some sun salutations in honor of the sun's longest day of the year. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Love Will Be Preserved

Emblem 9 (of 12) from the
1752 Hermaphrodite Child of the Sun and Moon
by unknown alchemist L.C.S.,
reproduced by Adam McLean
via Unurthed

"Only what has turned to love in your life will be preserved."
    —Rule for a New Brother

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Living with Poems

Illuminated Manuscript, by Sarah Cain
via Bryan Miller Gallery

I've been thinking about what poems I might like to carry around in me, memorized, to take refuge in when necessary. Already, my list of poems far outstrips the time I'm willing to put in to such a project. After making this list of future poems I will have in my head some day, I thought of one that I've already been living with for a decade now. I still don't have it memorized, but I am always returning to it. I think I first read this poem because my dad pointed it out to me in some publication (maybe the daily newspaper?), so it's always felt a little bit like a gift--something that I should appreciate and take care not to lose. 

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird. 
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands and
Lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.

 *

And since the whole thing's imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in Love's deep river,
'To labour and not to seek reward,' he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river's name.

    —"Saint Kevin and the Blackbird," by Seamus Heaney

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Primary Speech

Walking in Sunrise, by Kristina Swarner
via Chemers Gallery

The concept of prayer has always been confusing to me. What does it mean to use a human language to speak to the divine? What could we possibly say to a divine being that would be of any consequence? For me, these are questions that I don't want an easy answer to.

Primary Speech, by Ann and Barry Ulanov, offered some new ground to explore on the subject of prayer. What I loved about their theology of prayer was where they located its beginning: the human desire to speak honestly about one's self. To me, this fits with the somewhat anthropological, psychological religion I'm drawn to. Don't we all, at times, want to be gently but firmly aware of who we are? 

From this point of "confession" comes illumination and unification—the identification with creation and awareness our interconnectedness. One of my favorite themes.

Although I think the Ulanovs would disagree, their concept of prayer feels like something that could be possible for people with vastly different concepts of God or no-God. To me, their minimal definition of prayer involves the meeting of self with a revelatory Other. 

"All that we would hold most dear and protect most earnestly is transmuted into our own bits of gold and frankincense and myrrh to bring to the child in us and the child outside us."

"We die to our own small versions of reality; we give into God's care our mythical gods and the gods of our personal and collective myths. These are the gifts we bring to our epiphany."
    —quotations from "Transfiguration," Primary Speech, by Ann and Barry Ulanov

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Spider Yoga

Spider Woman, by Man Ray

We moved into a new home about a month ago—a home that had sat empty for several years before we showed up. Spiders had decided to take up residence, and we still see a spider somewhere inside our home just about everyday.

When I see a spider, it isn't just a bug to me; I can't help think about the different roles that spiders have played in myths (grandmothers, seductive women, cursed humans, tricksters). I feel a little less powerful (and less mythological—there aren't any stories about me in mythology, are there?) when my path crosses these little guys. Sometimes they get smashed, I have to admit, but I try to let them be, when I can.

The other night a spider joined me for yoga. She had long thread-like legs, and she mostly walked upside-down on the window blinds. I found her to be a very good teacher. She was so graceful and so self-assured. 

So I tried to do spider yoga in her honor. This involved some balancing poses: sun salutations flowing into half-moon posewarrior three, and extended hand to big toe pose. With my arms and legs splayed out and floating in air, I tried to find the same quiet ease as the spider displayed. For me, this is when yoga is best—I'm not only deepening into my own breath and body, I'm also deepening into the mythological collective. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Admiring: A Woman Who Lived in Her Own Time

Tasha Tudor
(from Miss Moss)

I remember first learning about Tasha Tudor through some TV show, which is somewhat ironic considering she lived such an un-modern life. I remember watching the show, though, and thinking that such a woman couldn't be real, that no one would have the courage or the determination to live life so fully on her own terms. 

I read that she believed she was a re-incarnation of a sea captain's wife, and that this belief somewhat fed her determination to live the way she did. (Was this sea captain her muse and her animus?) She lived in a house without running water or electricity, raised her children and goats and cows and corgis, made candles, baked, gardened, and wrote and illustrated over one hundred books. 

Taking my inspiration a bit from Tasha, I'll be posting less regularly for a while. I need to live in my own time, and not in the time of my computer.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Postmodern Hymn: God Above



"God Above," by John Fullbright is a song that gives me goosebumps. I watch him sing it, and the song looks like a revelation, the way his fingers, mouth, and his whole body work together to create those notes. Then there are the lyrics, which for me, point to the troubles that can come from a theology of omnipotence. Why does God allow feebleness, sin, and evil? 

For one meditation on this question, I suggest the first few chapters of Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, by Charles Hartshorne, which offers helpful alternative perspectives to the traditional Christian theology.

"Omnipotence as usually conceived is a false or indeed absurd ideal, which in truth limits God, denies to him any world worth talking about: a world of living, that is to say, significantly decision-making agents. It is the tradition which did indeed terribly limit divine power, the power to foster creativity even in the least of  the creatures. . . . The only livable doctrine of divine power is that it influences all that happens but determines nothing in its concrete particularity."
    —from Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, by Charles Hartshorne

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

6: Strength and Efficiency

Honey Comb Patch, by Field Day

It's time for the sixth installment of the number series based on The Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael Schneider. 


The beauty of hexagons comes in their efficient use of space and their strength. Like circles, hexagons have a low perimeter to surface area ratio; like triangles, hexagons are strong and distribute weight efficiently. Bees build their hives in a hexagonal pattern and reap the benefits: "a mere one and one-half ounces of wax holds four pounds of honey," says Schneider.

We use the phrase "busy as a bee," but thinking about how efficient beehives are, I'm wanting to imitate bees in other ways. (And I'll be looking at my "altar to beautiful necessity," which includes a bit of beehive I found, in a new way, too.) Rather than be busy, how can I be efficient? How can I build something beautiful and strong? How can I cram as much sweetness as I can into my life?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Love Moves Us All

Marine bleue, Effet de vagues, by Georges Lacombe

I've been doing some house cleaning, and I came across an old program from a concert of classical music and poetry readings by Robert Pinsky. Flipping through the poems, I noticed several had stars marked next to them. This is one of them: 

As when far off in the middle of the ocean
A breast-shaped curve of wave begins to whiten
And rise above the surgace, then rolling on
Gathers and gathers until is reaches land
Huge as amountain and crashes among the rocks
With a prodigious roar, and what was deep
Comes churning up from the bottom in mighty swirls 
Of sunken sand and living things and water—

So in the springtime every race of people
And all the creatures on earth or in the water,
Wild animals and flocks and all the birds
In all their painted colors, all rush to charge
Into the fire that burns them: love moves them all.

    —"The Wave," from Georgics, book III, by Virgil, translated by Robert Pinsky

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Love Creates Universes

My Universe, by Rob Ryan

A totally personal post: Today makes three years since I married my husband. It blows my mind how our love has created new universe, a totally new reality.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Food for the Soul: Black Beans and Bananas

from Be Here Now, by Ram Dass
via Good Rhythms

Here's another dish that comes from Jacques Pepin: black beans with bananas. The beauty of the dish is the harmony in opposites: dark and light, savory and sweet, traditional and unexpected. The black beans are slightly tart with the addition of some hot sauce and vinegar, and the bananas add a sweet counterpoint, like avocados only more delicate. It may sound weird to garnish a dish with bananas, but you really should try it! 

Cook your black beans with some bacon and onions, maybe a bell pepper and some chili pepper. We used dried ancho chilis. Then, when the beans are cooked, you can add some olive oil, hot sauce, and some vinegar along with salt, to make the coming contrast with the bananas more poignant. Garnish with sliced bananas tossed in some lemon juice and pepper, and some cilantro.

Enjoy eating your opposites! And look for something green to grow from your polarities!


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Personal Myth: Humans

Humans, by me
Humans, by me

Here is my next chapter in my personal myth project, which explores what it means to be human in this world. For me, what's interesting about being a humans is how language, laughter, and story can be used to   mediate the natural cycles of life and death. Given that I love learning foreign languages, I really feel that language is an integral part of the human experience. Maybe it's because I feel that words fail me too often, and that stories uplift me, but my own experience of the world is closely related to the human faculty for language and for nonlanguage too.

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