Monday, January 16, 2012

Feral Children

An idea has sprung forth! A marvelous, inspiring, exciting idea!

Speaking on the phone the other evening with Rita, we got onto the topic of her art. I'd noticed on her deviant art page that she hadn't posted a new piece in quite a few months. Inquiring as to why, she confided in me that she hadn't had much inspiration lately. Being the ever-aspiring therapist (in-training) I am, I began to ask her more questions to see if she could find some answers to this blockage she felt she was encountering.

Her art, you see, is digital in nature. The confines of her illness limit her tremendously, which is why she has come to do art in the first place. She can't even step outside her back door. The closest to the outside world she can come, physically, is by lying on the floor of her living room watching the beautiful doves dance around her old, untended garden. Her art requires photographs... photographs of the outside world. Photographs which she has no way of taking herself. She has considered using stock photos, but they simply lack the inspiration necessary to engage her.

This is where the idea machine in me began humming. I have a few cameras. I have been aching for artistic purpose and inspiration for years now, having been swallowed up by the gulf of academic writing and research. What if we started a project together?

Here's the idea we've come up with so far: Throughout the week I take my camera with me everywhere I go, shooting pictures of things which speak to me. I'll send her all of my weekly photos and she'll then look at them in search of one or two which speak to her. She will then transform this photograph into one of her remarkable digital works and send it back to me. Then, I will take her piece of art and "listen" to it, writing either a poem or a little story to go along with it.

The end-product could be either a blog we keep in which we update a weekly 'art speak' creation... or we save all of our work and put it together in a book. I think we should shoot for both!

We're so excited about our new adventure together that we can already feel the electrifying pulse of inspiration rivetting our consciousness. The project is really about empathy, and how two friends communicate to one another via the media of art. I'm interested in the way we take up, interpret, and re-create that which we share with one another. I believe it will open up a new window onto the uniquely beautiful relationship we have together.

To begin, I sent her these few images shot over the last few years. If we find that we can work together in this way, we'll start this journey of speaking through the tongues of art...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Spiritual Disobedience

I had a striking epiphany this morning in meditation. I've been working lately on feeling my way out of the habitual thought-involved mind and into the still clarity of witnessing. Looking at the way in which I typically engage with thoughts it occurred to me that part of the illusion with our minds is that we listen to and identify with our every thought. We think that it is "ME" who is thinking, me who is deciding, me who is liking and disliking and wanting to go here and there and on and on. In reality, the mind is simply producing via the faculty of thought a billion thoughts all day long. Due to our fundamental belief in the illusion of thought as self, we obey almost every thought that comes into our minds. We listen to them as if they were the holy grail. "I'm fat. I'm too tall. I hate this. I love that." Etc, etc.

Why not begin disobeying? I began to try this one small measure: every time I caught myself beginning to listen to a thought in meditation, I chose to disobey the call to listen. I coupled this with the labeling technique. My attention then would be pulled towards the thought and I would respond gently with "no, no attention" and then label it "thought". What took shape was subtle and did not involve pushing thought away. It was simply a matter of deciding to take control of my own mind. There is a wisdom far greater than the intellect. The soul knows this. Open to it with effort.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Gradual Path

Am I making progress? What kind of progress? In what ways am I progressing; in what ways ought I progress?

These are a few of the questions on my mind as of late, along with a host of others. I've been experimenting a little with meditating continuously (once or twice daily) versus taking breaks from mediation all together. What are the differences? How is the practice affected? What changes or does't change in the mind?

When I was practicing heavily, meaning two to three times a day up to nearly two hours a day, I had begun to easily notice the still point within and to maintain that still point with ease. When I take a "break" from meditation the still point can be found again upon return to the cushion but it is much less stable, tuning in and out like a cellphone signal. After a few days back on the cushion for 45 minute sits, the still point begins to settle in a little more and a little more each time I sit.

Although some say that there are different paths one can take in terms of progression, I'm finding solace (and patience and perseverence!) in the knowledge that buddhism and meditation is a gradual path. Insight, calm, and clarity come gradually. For some, and with certain techniques, these things can come suddenly and quickly. I've experienced this as well, but I have a lot less control over the sudden paths because it has only ever come to me spontaneously. The path of gradual progression gives me faith and hope, it keeps me going and reassures me when I begin to doubt myself or my progress.

It's important not to take the gradual path as reason to sit back on our laurels and wait for enlightenment, peace, and wisdom to come to us. There is still so much work to be done. But for a while, I find, I can give up the striving nature of the mind and relax into the meditation itself, watching the breath, watching the thoughts bounce around, watching the stillness come in and stay awhile, then watch it depart down the stream of thoughts.

I believe it's important to continually check in with ourselves to see how we're doing. Am I trying too hard? Am I too lax? How have I grown? In what ways can I grow?

I've found lately that I've been growing temendously in equanimity. There is a great deal of spaciousness within me when difficulties arise around me, or when a situation comes about in which I would have ordinarily become emotionally swept into. It's liberating to have that spaciousness and the opportunity to decide how I want to respond.

At the same time, there are still struggles between these two great polarities of the hindrances: restlessness and sloth and torpor. In meditation I can see the restlessness as a basic tightening, or tension, inside of me that either wants something I don't have or doesn't want what I've got. For right now, I'm working on meeting this tension with the active feeling of openning to it and and then warming it with love. Soon I will ask myself, is this technique effective? If not, what else might I try?

This is the way of the gradual path.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Age, New Moment

I've often thought of my birthday as an unfortunate circumstance: the Christmas "slash" birthday presents, no chance for a pool party when you're little, and always tending bar on my birthday night for the other New Year's celebrators. I'm happy to say that, this year, I'm finally beginning to imagine it a little differently.

I'm a New Year's baby. Born on a day full of hope (despite the hangovers), resolutions, renewed promises, thoughtful life-reviews, and moments of introspection. Everyone celebrates togetherness. Fireworks explode into the night sky. Southern families cook up black eyed peas and collards, toasting to prosperity and good health. Everyone kisses their sweetheart at midnight. A plethera of "unplanned" babies begin their journey (haven't you ever wondered why there are so many damned Virgos?!). It's a rather auspicious time to come into the world and I'm feeling very, very lucky.

This is despite my car breaking down. And my coworker never showing up to give me a ride to work. And the seat of my pants splitting right in the middle of my bar shift. Take it all in stride, I tell myself. Laugh, smile, be joyous. I'm alive! I was born today!

Dinner with my best friends. Laughing until it hurts. A flute full of golden champagne. A heart warm with love.

I spent some time going back through all of the entries in this journal for the last year and a half. So much growth! Up, up, and away. I'm so very pleased with my changes and the direction of my life. I'm at peace. The spiritual path is gaining width and depth. I'm learning and opening, and loving more and more the strangers I meet every day.

What changes do you discover when you look back over the year? Which one's make you smile? Which one's make the heart wince a little?