As winter deepens, the promise of spring becomes more important. The slumbering seeds of renewal and fresh life reside within the lengthening nights, within the cold and the wet. One part is incomplete without the other. The depths of winter invite us to turn to the truths within. I try to remember these eternal verities when I look outward at the world’s events. As despots masquerade as freedom fighters and leaders of the free world, as they roll dice loaded with world destruction, those of us who yearn for peace and justice sometimes get tired of feeling outraged or helpless. We stand up for our beliefs, we speak truth to power, and we weep with sorrow for the losses. How to cope?
Lately, I have been feeling especially grateful for the solace offered by beautiful places, created by people who cultivate peace and consciousness. There is relief in the way of life modeled by people who strive for mindfulness. Being in these places helps me to rest and make room inside for every part of life. When I find myself raging against the juggernaut of war, I try to recall that I can act in concordance with my values without needing to be consumed by the emotional pain of the world. I can feel this pain, but I don’t have to identify with it, and I can put it down when I need to. This is a big relief!
Another thing I appreciate is making artwork that expresses my love for the beauty of life. It helps me to metabolize the difficult parts. Taking time to feel the vibrancy of nature helps to reconcile the painful and the wondrous within myself.
Breathe in, breathe out. Feel the warmth in that stranger’s smile. Look: Just now, the acacias are swelling with their early springtime blooming! They are so full of yellow inside, they are almost white.
Here is a poem by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinksy, in I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy
I rarely let the word «No» escape
From my mouth
Because it is so plain to my soul
That God has shouted, «Yes! Yes! Yes!»
To every luminous movement in Existence
November - December, 2007
I've been reading The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling by James Hillman. Here is a passage that I copied into my art journal: «The great task of a life-sustaining culture, then, is to keep the invisibles attached, the gods smiling and pleased: to invite them to remain by propitiations and rituals; by singing and dancing, smudging and chanting; by anniversaries and remembrances; by great doctrines such as the Incarnation and by little intuitive gestures—such as touching wood or by fingering beads, a rabbit's foot, a shark's tooth; or by putting a mezuzah on the doorpost, dice on the dashboard; or by quietly laying a flower on a polished stone.»
Soon after that, in the chapter headed « Esse is Percipi – To be is to be perceived», was another passage I needed to write down: «To be is first of all to be visible. Passively allowing yourself to be seen opens the possibility of blessing. So we seek lovers and mentors and friends that we may be seen, and blessed.» These complementary thoughts struck me as important to contemplate. The invisibles and being seen. Why do we paint or act or do anything at all, if our invisible truths are not fed and our beings are not seen and blessed?
March 26, 2007
Themes I’ve been working with, which may or may not be obvious to the viewer, include climate change and psychological integration. In all paintings, relationships are important – the formal elements of shape, color, line, composition, and contrast. In all aspects of life, too, relationships can mean life or death, pleasant or agonizing: we are learning about the relationships between human activity and the climate, between ocean currents and crop failure, heated oceans and hurricanes. In ecological gardening, one cares about relationships between elements such as soil organisms and moisture content, nutrients, insects, birds, farmworkers, and the community. Living here in the redwood region, we see it all the time: the ocean, the rivers, the salmon, the redwoods, the soils, the logging, the fishing, the people and their cultures. Touch one of these, and the quality of that touch resonates throughout the whole system. Nothing exists alone; we all make up and affect the whole web of life. That’s why we need to tend the relationships within our psyches, too.
Slow but steady progress through careful cultivation is what I aim for, both in my practice of painting and in my psychological development. In this way, I hope to become increasingly in harmony with the web of life.
February 11, 2007
It can be tricky to remain positive while staying aware of things like global warming, spreading warfare, nuclear threats, loss of civil liberties, the apparent breakdown of civil society, police shootings of citizens, and the spectre of a Home Depot on the Eureka waterfront. Yet every day presents evidence that we are surrounded by beauty and grace, compassion and kindness, responsibility and diligence. People struggle to make ends meet, or just to get through the day, but we also take care of one another, make art, tell jokes, play music. The awful pit of depression can swallow me up and then I will be amazed at how lucky I am to live, to drink good local wine and eat lettuce from my garden.
These paradoxical perceptions show up in some of my work, such as the painting “Storm Shelter.” This has to do with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the criminal ineptitude of the government’s response, as well as the vibrancy of the communities that were affected, and the neighborly sharing of homes and food that followed the disaster. While I was painting “Record Heat and Cooling Stations,” people were sweltering in 115 degree heat not very far away from us. Public cooling stations may become a common feature of our society if we aren’t able to come together as global community and reverse the terrifying processes that we have set in motion. What depths of courage and ingenuity will be mined in the coming years as we work to solve this problem together?
Sometimes, just getting up in the morning and facing another day can qualify as an act of great heart. Other days, it can be something more momentous. We all do the best we can. I hope that we can all trust each other to shoulder our responsibilities: speak the truth, speak truth to power; deny the option of violence; practice loving kindness every day; choose to do ordinary things, like voting, paying taxes, driving courteously, considering future generations with every act. If we all commit these acts of great heart every day, then we will surely be able to tackle the big problems together.
November 11, 2006