Monday, August 27, 2012

The Path Comes to an End

This is all there is.
The path comes to an end 

among the parsley

-alan watts

IF I were to encapsulate the writings of Alan Watts,  a teacher of Eastern philosophy, I would say this: He believed strongly in the void; he believed in the notion of nothingness, that seekers need not seek, that each of us is born of perfection and dies as perfection, that we are born alone and we will die alone, and there is no need to grasp in desperation for things to be different than this cold stark reality. Maybe there is not a "next" life; maybe we'll mix into the earth's compost, become a part of the roaring oceans, or contribute to the pedals of a pretty pink flower.

This is not a comfort. In fact, his teachings generate a great deal of fear in me. If there is nothing, then what is all the fuss about? Why are we put on this earth to seek and strive and fumble along, learning to love our enemies, overcome pain, face discomfort and sadness, stare down fear; where is the meaning in all of this? (now I hear my mother's voice in my head: asking questions is good, but yours have no answers).

Well, there is no inherent meaning. That's why we create our own meaning, each individual, through our rituals and beliefs, in order to come to terms with our final demise, and to create a directed, purposeful life ultimately in service to our families, friends, companions, acquaintances and people we don't even know who live half way around the world, living lives far different from our own. We are put here to love one another (now if we could just figure out how to get along).

Still, it's interesting to ponder another's point of view. Here is an excerpt from In My Own Way, by Alan Watts (paraphrased):

Regarding the mystery of nothingness: if we were to eliminate all wishful thinking and dubious metaphysical speculations, we cannot doubt that---at a time not too distant---each one of us will simply cease to be. It won't be like going into darkness forever, for there will be neither darkness, nor time, nor sense of futility, nor anyone to feel anything about. The universe will be going on as usual, but for each individual it will be as if it had never happened at all. 

Feeling queasy? Read on.

gargoyle, Florence
You will be as if you had never existed, which was the way you were before you did exist--and not only you, but everything and everyone else. We begin from nothing and end in nothing. If you ponder this deeply and at length, it feels rather weird, as if this very apparent something that you are is at the same time nothing at all. 

He goes on to say this new common sense, or new logic you are beginning to realize is the identity of ku and shiki, that of void and form. Form takes shape, i.e. we humans, other mammals, mountains, buildings, trees, rocks, the table you're resting your elbows on...all of it takes shape, and then, quite hastily, disappears.

All of a sudden it may strike you that this nothingness is the most potent, basic, and reliable thing you ever thought of, and that the reason you can't form the slightest idea of it is that it's yourself.

But not the self you thought you were.

church stairs

Here's where things turn around for me. If in fact, one were to embrace the Buddhist point of view, it would behoove one to be open and receptive to each and every experience from moment to moment, because there is no reason to save all the good stuff for enjoyment in a proposed afterlife. What if there is no afterlife? 

Our only choice is to be entirely present in this moment, every single one, whether good or bad (it's best not to label them) right now, and in the next  moment, and all subsequent moments that make up your day. 

Which would mean whenever we feel queasy about something inside of us that we can't quite put a finger on, maybe we should resist dishing out a big bowl of ice cream or downing a couple beers, or running to the gym at midnight to block out this sense of futility. Instead...


Florence, Italy
Take a deep breath and just sit with it.                         

Let the feeling pass.

Because it will.

If we stay present to it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Curse of Womanhood

In love with the earth and sky
There I was in 6th grade Science class, 12 years old, standing in the middle of the room, twirling a sling sycrometer above my head like a cow roper with his lasso. I will never forget those words, sling sycrometer, not because it measures relative humidity, but because as I was swinging it, I felt an unusual, unforgettable twinge in my gut. Knowing something was wrong, I set the instrument down, and carefully walked to the lavatory, only to discover a stain on my underwear.

Oh that, I thought.  I walked home to my mother, who was thoroughly prepared for this day (and I knew it was coming too, but shut it out of my mind).

All I could think of was, well, darn it. What price a woman? I adored hanging out with the boys (I have 3 brothers); their lives of action and adventure and robust activity was a very desirable place to inhabit.  Why, or why was I born a girl?  No more sliding into second base. No more crawling on my belly in the backyard ditch, or rolling down hills in giant, truck-sized inner tubes. No more tackle football (my father instructed). No more dodging slap shots in my brother-dictated, life-long assignment of goalie in every single ice hockey game they allowed me to play in.

They ruled the sports and outdoor play kingdoms, and I was a happy, willing participant.

Life had been so perfect up until then. What was I supposed to do? Sit around and play gin rummy? Clean the house and cook? Is that what women did? Play Barbies and kiss pillows pretending they were boys, as my girlhood peers did? Pretend I was shaving my hairless legs (where's the thrill in that?) Check out books from the library? Even Nancy Drew held no appeal; it still meant staying indoors and sitting on your rump all day.

Then it dawned on me the importance of creating a ritual for girls to help them cross over into the next stage of  development. Wouldn't it be lovely to mark the occasion with an acknowledgment of how special this time of life really is?  There were no hallelujahs or "welcome to womanhood" rituals to help me cross into this brave new world with an element of joy and appreciation. Or just plain acceptance. All I could think about was what was to be lost. I was simply put on notice that "you will start to bleed" and the reason is to create a "nest" in which to bear children someday.

Well, bearing children was a couple decades off into my future...couldn't the curse of womanhood just wait a little longer? Holy cripes, talk about yanking away my freedom in one fell swoop.  I didn't want this womanhood.

I'll never forget the brand name printed on the side of that sling sycrometer: Red Spirit. No kidding.

Turns out I never had daughters. Not that I didn't try. I experienced two glorious births; both sturdy, healthy boys. But knowing the odds were 50/50, I wasn't about to continue trying knowing it was a hit or miss proposition (though my mother urged me on, saying, girls are raise). I think she meant difficult; the boys, after all, gave her no trouble. I was the headache and a half.

What I do have is a friend's child I truly love and adore.

carefree Coral
Bless her little 7-year old heart, she has four younger brothers.

And because of the Women's Movement and the passing of Title IX legislation, and because her parents let her play outside all day with her brothers and get super dirty, she won't have to worry about being banned from sports, just because she was born a girl.

She can become a basketball player rather than a cheerleader.

She can become a model or clothing designer when she grows up.  She can dance around in front of amateur judges in pretty, scratchy dresses if she chooses.

She can write plays, study karate, or fly a 747.

She will grow up knowing she is NOT the "weaker" sex. She can become a scientist, or a teacher or an artist...and still be a competent mommy.

She will experience a host of opportunities and have a fair chance at jobs with equal pay for equal work. She will develop skills that interest her, decide when and whom to marry, or not marry at all if she chooses.

Today is a great period in time to be a woman. In our country, that is (an important distinction).

joyfully falling into life
Still, enjoy your childhood, girls.

Because things are going to change in a strange, curious, and most remarkable way.

Starting somewhere around your 12th birthday...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Nature As Art; Art As Nature

A moment of revelation,

nature as art.

Rock, root, water

My skimming impressions

engage with what is real, and

I imagine another layer, unreal.

To smell water, verdant and flush with life

To see and believe and

believe in what one sees

as it changes shape and form, I

lose faith in my fleeting perceptions.

But that is the nature of creativity,

Everything changes.

Is it an accurate photograph?

Is it a realistic painting?

What is it?

How was it created?

Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose,

how I see it.

Wood, paint, pencil on paper?

My working atmosphere is fractured.

Or is it?

Computer, Lightroom, a

manufactured palette.

Does the form exist in reality?

Or is it based purely on mental creation?

An allusion is a figure of speech that

makes a reference to people, places, events or

works of art.  It is up to the reader, or

viewer, to make a connection.

You generate your own movement.

You embody your own emotions, no

matter how daring or clear-sighted, or

satisfying or subversive they may be.

"Art is vision. The artist creates a

picture of phantasm," said Beneditto

Croce, an Italian philosopher.

In the end, art has no other end

but itself.

Art is not nature.


Art is made by man.

*All photos taken in Prince William Sound, Alaska.