Saturday, May 31, 2014

The roots of creation

In my experience -- as a writer and an artist, and having been married for 10 years to a gifted musician -- creativity emerges from a confluence of three components: the desire to create, an overflowing well of inspiration, and the impulse to take up the tools and bring a work of art into being. The problem comes -- assuming you have the desire and the discipline and the tools (and yes, you could consider that the tools are a fourth component) -- when the well of inspiration runs dry. 

For me, and, I suspect, for other artists as well, inspiration comes from two major sources: things I've personally seen or experienced, and other people's creativity.  So once the well runs dry, our impulse is strong to "go somewhere" -- to leave the studio and gather more experience: either directly or through viewing the works of others.  And if what drives new overflow is the work of others, then there's always a slight feeling of guilt -- for me, anyway -- when I return to the studio and create the response: that I've somehow piggy-backed on someone else's inspiration rather than tapping into some deep inner knowing of my own. From there it tends to be a quick slide into "you're not really an artist, you can only copy" -- which triggers a deep-seated frustration, often accompanied by creative paralysis.

But this morning I've discovered a new insight into the creative process. I've been reading Cynthia Bourgeault's book on Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, and I'm now at the section where she's taking apart the work of the mystical philosopher Jacob Boehme.  "What makes Boehme's work readily navigable," says Bourgeault, " is the strict congruity between microcosm and macrocosm: between the inner world of personal spiritual striving and cosmogenesis on a far vaster scale."  So when she explains, in this next sentence, Boehme's theory on the root of Divine creation, it's easy to draw a parallel to individual creation.

So here's the quote that struck me: "In order for outward and visible creation to emerge, the divine must undergo a compression into somethingness, and this entails a passage through the fiery matrix of desire and its frustration; hence Boehme's core cosmological principle: 'Pain is the ground of motion.'"  For Boehme, divine creativity emerges out of the confluence of desire, impulse, and the ache for resolution.  "What is born out of the struggle between desire and its insatiability is, to be sure, anguish," explains Bourgeault. "But this anguish is simultaneously sensibility, the capacity for self-reflective awareness.  Boehme's explanation of how this happens," she goes on to say, "is a stroke of pure genius:

'No thing may be revealed to itself without contrariety.  If it has no thing that resists it, it always goes out from itself and does not go into itself again.  If it does not go into itself again, as into that out of which it originally came, it knows nothing of its cause.'"

What this says to me is that we should not be so quick, when that well of inspiration runs dry, to "go somewhere," to leave the productivity of the studio and seek outside ourselves for inspiration; that in fact the frustration of that empty well could ideally drive us deeper, back into ourselves, and that in so doing we have the opportunity to tap into that larger well of true, divinely originated creativity.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bow to the Essence

"Pay no attention
to what so-and-so says about such-and-such.

The rose does not care
if someone calls it a thorn, or a jasmine.

Ordinary eyes categorize human beings...
Walk instead with the other vision given you,
your first eyes.

Bow to the essence in a human being.
Do not be content
with judging people good and bad.
Grow out of that."

-- Rumi

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Choosing a winner

"As the intelligence of the human race evolves,
all the competing religions will be viewed differently --
like contestants in a beauty pageant.
The religion that makes your own inner beauty most obvious
should be the winner."

-- Hafiz

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Itching to paint

Having received a note from my gallery yesterday, rejecting my current series of paintings and asking for "those photographs of boats that Diane does so well. . . that's why we originally accepted her," I dutifully headed down to the community dock early this morning. I was awake ridiculously early, the air and water were still and calm, the clouds were thin -- perfect conditions for a great boat photo.

But by the time I'd made the 15 minute drive to the dock, the clouds had thickened and rain had started to pour. I sat in my car a few minutes until the rain subsided to a light drizzle, then grabbed my camera and walked out on the dock. But there were only 3 boats, all of them white, all cheap plastic, and when I pulled out my camera to shoot, I discovered I'd left my memory card at home.

It started to pour again as I walked back to my car, and it was difficult -- superstitious creature that I am -- not to draw some broader conclusions from the whole exercise. Could it be time to say no, no more boat pictures? Should I be looking for a gallery more receptive to my paintings? Now I'm home again, the sky is blue, the water is clear and calm, and... well... the truth is, I'm itching to paint. And what does THAT tell me?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The courage to attend

I built myself a tree within the forest,
a quiet place to meditate and hide,
and over time I made some modifications --
thinned the walls and covered them with ivy,
added a curved and sliding glass door --
until one day there came an invitation
to open that door, to step outside and greet
the presence I'd been waiting for within.

But when I left the safety
of my self-constructed habitat;
saw all those other trees,
each with its own engraved invitation,
and You there, waiting, golden arms outstretched,
I panicked; left the forest altogether
and spent the next ten years running away.

So here I am again, a decade later.
I'm standing at the edge and looking in,
knowing now the value of that invitation,
wondering if I might ever find it again
and if at last I might now have the courage
to attend.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The scent of light

Like a starving beast
my body quivers,
transfixed by the scent of light.

-- Hafiz

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What's inside you?

Have you ever noticed how incredibly beautiful the simplest, most ordinary things can become when illuminated with light? I think love works the same way: when we love, or when we know we are loved, there is a glow about us -- and, of course, we've all known how dark the world can feel when we've lost love, or gone too long without feeling its warmth.

It's almost as if light and love are two different ways of expressing the same -- uh-oh.  What is the right noun to use here?  Impulse? Quality? Spirit?  Perhaps I'll let you fill in that blank...

All of which reminds me of a wonderful book title I encountered as a librarian back in the 70's: What's Inside You, It Shines Out of You.  Maybe that's today's question...

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The edifice beneath

Old patterns, old beliefs
that fueled my forward movement
in the past seem empty now;
ancient symbols that once served
to guide me home
are tattered, torn and faded --
peel them away
and see the rust consuming
all the edifice beneath...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Framing the changes

Living as we do here in the Northwest, surrounded by evergreens and gray skies, I found myself consistently enchanted, during our recent time in New Mexico, by the bare branches of deciduous trees, their silhouettes so stark and delicate against the rich patterns of the sky.

... And isn't that often true, that differences and change feed our souls? Yet at the same time we humans tend to be instinctively suspicious of differences and fiercely resistant to change. I suspect it has something to do with our need for control.

It helps, I think, if we can somehow frame the changes in a way that makes sense for us; keep them manageable.  Which is the function prayer/meditation/quiet time serves for me: it's an opportunity to reflect, to sift and sort, to allow the voice of silence to sing the connecting threads into a larger web of understanding...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thirsty for the sky

These earthbound arms reach, thirsty for the sky,
while below the ground, roots sip 
at hidden reservoirs of love...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Divine Within

The Divine Within: that Welcoming
that bids us leave all slings and arrows at the door
and greets us with its warm embrace of color, and of light,
surrounding us with possibilities.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Unconditional Love

Unconditional love comes in all shapes and sizes.
Treasure it -- wherever you find it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Egoic definition

We claim a patch of land for ourselves,
build ourselves a barn and fence it in,
protecting what is ours
while fending off intruders.
So why are we surprised to learn
it sometimes takes a cataclysmic storm
to open our lives back up again?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Moonbeams of the Hidden One

"Look within,
and behold how the moonbeams
of the Hidden One
shine in you."


Saturday, May 17, 2014

And in that arc, the universe

We swing from pole to pole,
asleep, awake:
from careful to careless,
faithful to faithless,
thoughtful to thoughtless,
from hope through to despair
and back again,
and in that arc, the universe transcribes
creation's story:
earth, fire, air and water,
sun, moon and stars,
and all the love and loss we know
until at last we circle round;
over the top in one exultant rush --
heart stops, we see it all
go rushing by -- and down;
begin again.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Divine Tension

Breathe in the Holy Without,
Breathe out the Holy Within.
Now stop.  Rest.
Hold that Divine Tension, and watch
as it wraps your world in light.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Awake, arise!

"Awake, arise, and follow me!
There is a land where no doubt nor sorrow have rule: 
where the terror of Death is no more.
There the woods of spring are a-bloom,
and the fragrant scent "He is I" is borne upon the wind:
There the bee of the heart is deeply immersed,
and desires no other joy."

-- from Songs of Kabir

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Affirmation, denial, and reconciliation

I've been re-reading Cynthia Bourgeault's book, Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, and am loving (again) the idea of the Law of Three -- that in reconciling two forces, one affirming, one denying, something new is born. And I've just realized the concept applies in two related areas of my life: my meditation practice, and my painting.

In meditation I am always - ALWAYS - struggling to reconcile the God Out There with the God In Here; the traditional distant controlling God with the divine flame I know that burns within me. And I can see that in a way that constant struggle can easily be represented by Jesus, his arms stretched out upon the cross in an attempt at reconciling the two opposites. The struggle, however confusing and difficult it sometimes may be, keeps me engaged and churning and questioning even as it makes it hard to settle into the peace I seek.

In painting I struggle with the tension between the inspiration that comes to me from other artists and the natural inclinations, motions, limitations and choices that arise from within me which both make it impossible to copy others and, occasionally, lead to something new and original that I really like -- which is what happened with this painting.

So what helped me pull it all together is this poem fragment from a book I picked up in a used bookstore in Port Townsend last weekend: The Songs of Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore and Evelyn Underhill:

"If I say that He is within me, the universe is ashamed:
If I say that He is without me, it is falsehood.
He makes the inner and the outer worlds to be indivisibly one;
The conscious and the unconscious, both are His footstools.
He is neither manifest nor hidden, revealed nor unrevealed:
There are no words to tell that which He is."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Distracted by the cross

I'm not sure I like this painting very much; it feels like it's reverting to some previous stage.  But I've decided to keep it for now because it has a lot to teach me.

First and foremost of its lessons is one Christopher Mathie taught me over a year ago, though I still find it's a very hard bit of advice to follow.  So here's the deal: You can't get too attached to what's already on the canvas.  You need to be willing to let go what went before in order to successfully move toward completion.

... And I just couldn't do that with this painting.  That golden cross-like figure came into being and, boom, suddenly everything else had to revolve around it -- and I think the whole work feels constrained as a result.

I can't help but see parallels in life  -- both in the ways we humans hang onto the things that hold us back (mostly self-definitions, I think, but still...) -- and in the ways we cling to the image of the cross (yep, I'm going there) as the central notion of Christianity.  As a symbol of the divine interweaving of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of life, the cross is a superb reminder to keep living  -- as best we can -- in that vital intersection.

But I think believing that the death, not the life, of Jesus is the central fact of Christianity is a notion that holds us back, that keeps us from fully realizing the divine potential Jesus spent his whole life preaching about.

So keep talking, painting.  I'm trying to listen and learn. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Your fortune or your future

No need to step
inside the booth;
no need to pay:
I'll tell your fortune/future
here and now,
and for no cost.
Continue on this path -- 
your death awaits.
Choose life instead, 
choose here,
choose now,
breathe deep and find
that garden,
blooming in your heart.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The maternal roots of compassion

In his book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg tells us that the word compassion has its root in the "noun that in its singular form means 'womb.'

So Mothers Day is a perfect opportunity to celebrate, not just the women who gave birth to us and nurtured us, but all those who bring compassion into being in the world: all those who care for, sacrifice for, and nurture others; all those whose thoughtful and generous spirits have inspired those around them to practice and grow in compassion.

In fact, isn't each of us called to a renewed understanding of our own intimate connection with all of creation?  And if each of us were to practice that particular life-giving, feeling-with kind of love that the womb implies, wouldn't the world be a healthier place?

We're all called to be mothers, here. So yes: take a moment today to love and honor all the men and women who have mothered you in your lifetime.  But then follow their example: explore your own capacity for mothering -- and help bring more compassion into the world.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Like an ego

Always so alert
for the faintest sign of danger,
always hoarding
like an ego,
easily threatened,
fiercely protective,
quick to raise
sharp claws in self-defense.

When and where
will any of us
feel safe enough to trust
that those with whom we share this garden
pose us no threat;
that if we only take
there'll be enough
for all?

Friday, May 9, 2014

For losses yet to come

The world is blessed with so much beauty,
and so much of it fragile;
Hard not to ache for all the losses yet to come.
But here's what I don't understand:
the fish the heron catches dies (of course),
and we know the heron soon will fly away.
But this tree, this old dead tree that I don't want,
will still be clinging to the beach
long after I am gone.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The peace that waits

If today you are a refugee,
scrabbling through the hard rocks
of insurmountable cliffs,
look down, of course, to keep your footing sure,
but look out and up as well;
see the gentle green valley that lies ahead
and hold that assurance within your heart
of the peace that waits at the journey's end.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Listen for the moon

Imagine you have left 
the land that holds you anchored
and now glide forward surely into night,
all delicacy and grace,
accompanied by one quiet friend.
You, the water, and the air --
One love, indivisible, indescribable.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What wildness waits

What wildness waits, just beyond your window,
hoping you'll glance up, put down your soapy dishes,
and look it in the eyes...

Stop. Set duty aside. Let's breathe together.

Monday, May 5, 2014


the light
been feeling

to see
a virtual conning tower
pop up
in the painting
i complete
after many weeks away --
as if
my muse
is asking
is it safe
to come out

Sunday, May 4, 2014

How do you bless us?

How do you bless us? Let me count the ways:

With words that offer wisdom and solace to our hearts;
with nature and with images that inspire our art;
with music that fires action and soothes our souls;
with acts of love that feed and keep us whole;
with challenges that help our faith grow stronger;
and with presence that keeps us sane,
and on a sure and steady path 
back home to you.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Portal to the Sacred

The purpose of all great art, 
Eckhart Tolle tells us, 
is to serve as a portal to the sacred.
May the work we do today
continue leading us into that holy space.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Tethered to reality

Upon reflection I can see
I may not be number one
but there is a graceful curl
in that rope that keeps me
tethered to reality...

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Clouds roll, gray tumbleweed, 
scattering damp dust
across the cerulean pavement of the sky:
the crackle the sun makes as she burns
her slow path through the day
echoes into evening,
dry rain upon the flat dark plain of night.