Deep Ecology

I led a silent retreat over the weekend and today my teacup is overflowing!

Paul Reps told a story about Zen Master Nan-in who receiving a learned professor come to inquire about Zen first first offered him tea. Nan-in kept pouring until the cup was overflowing. The professor cried, Stop! The cup can’t take any more tea.

Just so, said Nan-in said. You are full of your own ideas and beliefs. How can I show you Zen without you first emptying your cup?

I used this anecdote to start the retreat Saturday afternoon. I wanted participants to open themselves to teachings by temporarily setting aside what they knew.

But just now, the image of an overflowing cup meant that the mind, or whatever part of a man it is that gets full as with child, is running over with creative impetus, with actionable ideas—and they were all making sense individually and together!

When the mind has the quality of creating, ideas seem neon-lit in the mind’s eye. They shine in the darkness like points of fire tugging me if not to the Promised Land to the next valley of my life’s journey with steps joyful, with no doubt about arriving. There is not path, the whole knowable universe and I the same.

At the last minute Thursday, while preparing the prospectus for the retreat I relabeled it “Changing Lives.” The bimonthly retreat is normally training in developing mindfulness and concentration, the two component processes of Buddhist meditation. Looking at the roster of people who had signed up I noticed that two had never meditated before, and one was a Muslim woman.

Without deliberately applying the information, I found the program taking on a new, exciting direction, one that I didn’t fully realize until this morning when the retreat manager messaged me. Had I intended not to display a buddha image? I had always brought a large wooden buddha to set up on a table that became a Buddhist altar. I told her it was intended.

The obvious reasoning was that I didn’t want a graven image to offend Muslim sensibilities. But not having a Buddha there on the table by my teacher’s chair, the mind took off on its own to redesign the content of both the retreat and the teachings and training I gave.

To bring this to a swift point, while giving the retreat Saturday and Sunday I found myself hewing to the title I gave it. “I’m not here to teach you Buddhism,” I told the group of six (one had to leave minutes before we started at news that her father had been rushed to the hospital with another heart attack). “What I teach,” I continued, “is life. How do we live?”

And that’s how a new direction appeared. No preliminary warning, no fanfare. Like Minerva it sprang full-grown from the mind of Zeus!

I am best suited to teach, just as both my parents were teachers. Of the topics that interest me and of which I have experience and expertise, what best suits them both is this: teaching how to know how we live and what deep changes we can bring to this that we can experience fulfillment, satisfaction, wholeness, peace and joy.

In Buddhism, all this is called “self.” We each have the propensities built into our persons to act and react in a certain way. These are modified by experience and “random” breaks in the pattern. Without knowing how change comes about in these propensities, we have little to no input into how they change.

We could change something deliberately and it seems we have changed but, as Freud declared, unless we recognize the root cause of the symptom, mind will simply substitute another symptom to express it.

Learning about root sources of mind is what leads to what I call “deep change,” changing the very ecology of self.

Our mind is the cup. It’s not how much the cup can contain but learning to know what makes the cup that we can change it, the cup itself.

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East and West as Grounds of Meaning

I have been caught up in teaching Buddhism the last three to four years that coming across two writers/teachers, Colin Wilson and Joseph Campbell, last night took me by surprise.

Maybe Kipling was right: “there is neither East nor West… when two strong men stand face to face.” But, to someone like me who glories in allusions and the deep grounds of meaning from which our viewpoints stem, East and West, while simply concepts are also whole worlds each one complete in itself.

East and West are domiciles to myths and legends, often the first line of cultivated fields our imagination flies to when a writer or artist grows wings and flies. Like birds of prey they quickly form habits of flight that become fixed in a pointless sky: we go to the same familiar places to feed.

I was a freshman in high school when entering the stacks at the usually deserted library I discovered a trove:books! Suddenly I felt justified; I found out why I was. I had felt odd, unlike family and others around me. Now I had bearings. I left clasping a clothbound book of Greek myths with photographs of statues on thick, coated paper. Greek mythology was my first love!

Years later, to my inexpressible delight, I realized that Greek mythology was just religion, same as Christianity was, the religion that my mother, her family, and most people I knew then (and since) saw as the only true one for everyone. Religions of yesteryears we call myths, implying by the label that these are no longer believed in, have been supplanted by what we believe today.

Those amazing images of marble gods and goddesses fired my imagination for years. I was hooked. Hooked unto the Western way of seeing the world. I was living in an Asian country, the Philippines, alone of all the countries in Asia predominantly Catholic. The south was Muslim and for many years I didn’t know much about Muslims, about Islam. My intellectual allegiance was to One religion, one way of understanding experience.

Coming to America I wallowed in books and media that built up those ideas, beliefs and values, that I now see as “Western.” It was exhilarating. My world grew, peopled now by more flesh-and-blood citizens of an increasingly familiar world. I was home.

Until Fate threw me a curveball. Maybe it was in my genes, or, as Buddhists, would say, in my karma. I stumbled into Buddhism 30 years ago and practicing and studying that I found myself studying Eastern religions and philosophy more and more.

Religions and philosophies provide us with ideas. Writers need ideas but more than ideas they need “fire,” that quality of mind that is more than ideas because without it ideas are lifeless, and a writer’s output is mere cant.

“East” and “West” are sources of fire.

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The Witches in Her Dreams

When endlessly 

she weeps, witches

of unearthly graces

steal into her sleep

that in their glowing

light the

glory of her unknown

joy reveals

that which sings

in the silence

of her darkest

soul, when endlessly

she weeps.

							
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Leaping into Fire

graffiti-berlin-wall-wall-trabi.jpgI just leapt! I upgraded this site to Premium on WordPress, giving myself a year to really learn how to use the platform to write and maybe monetize my work either here or by publishing on other venues.

I have several sites on WordPress but blogging has been episodic at best. Maybe knowing that the clock is ticking I may be here more often, especially since I made the decision at the start of the month that I would be more focused on a few projects. I dissipate energy all over by having projects all over.

In addition to writing I create photographs and art. I’ve halted posting on Instagram until I have more of a sense of the images I want to produce. So far the only quality I’ve come up with is: worthy of inclusion in an artist’s portfolio.

In other words, for both writing and imaging activities, I want to produce worthwhile work. That’s vague enough that it should work—as a moving target.

Since I decided to focus my writing, I’ve learned something. I just can’t write for money! That douses the flames. Whatever I create has to have fire, what I call “energy.” To embody joie de vivre, I have to work with joy, not simply push my nose to the grindstone and count the minutes I can keep it there.

There has to be joy…

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Lenses Don’t Matter; Lenses Matter

We’re all amateurs if by amateurs we mean people who love what they are doing so I’ll write this for people who like me are just starting to do professional-level photography.

I include myself in this group because while I started using a DSLR camera in 2007 I have not been consistent about learning how to use it well. It was just easier to click and take a picture of something that interested me visually.

To create photographs that I consider professional requires not just taking photographs of images encountered in the course of the day. They require a skilled and trained eye as well as craft—knowing how to create the image you have in your mind.

Innate aesthetic sense helps but even a naturally gifted visual artist cannot work in a vacuum. He could and there are examples aplenty of geniuses who worked in isolation but somehow became significant influences on the development of their art.

As with a good writer, for whom reading other writers is essential, a good photographer must know the work of successful photographers, and if possible, know something of the history of photography itself–when others have applied an evolving technology to create works the public has identified as masters in their class.

Because ultimately it’s others that must judge the work to be good—others like gallery owners, critics, collectors, museums, art show curators, the buying public.

I shot this photo with a lens that I don’t normally use and was surprised how the lens changed what the camera recorded so stunningly different. I had also changed the camera setting to take this photograph.

Beginning photographers are told it’s not the camera in their hands or the lens or camera program or the editing software that matters but the person behind the camera.

True, and not true. We can take a great photo serendipitously but serendipity by its nature is rare. We need to aid it along by learning the craft of what we are doing.

And practicing, practicing, practicing….

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With Light We Create

IMG_0896This is the first post I’ve added since 2015!

I’ve done so many others things since but are my images better? Maybe not. Certainly this image is as ordinary as they come.

But it has a hallmark of what I have since focused on in images, in photographs as well as in digital images. Light.

I plan to write at least one blog entry every day, same as I do with Instagram. One a day is not much but, as I realized revisiting these WordPress blogs, one a day piles up.

I am now at the very lip of creating portfolios and show/book collections. Once I have a collection, I can work on an Artist Statement for that collection.

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Using Real-Life Textures

Art Box 1169 bw

There is, of course, fantasy art and art based solely on the artist’s imagination. Someday I’d work in those genre but at the moment I am too much in love with the “real” world. And I’ve found a way to use my pack-rat proclivities: I collect fabrics, ribbons, attractive pieces of paper or cardboard, cellophane, wrappers, packaging materials, dried leaves or flowers, old shells, etc.

These make great macro photographs but combined together also create collages or mixed-media work. And I can photograph or scan these and introduce them as layers in my digital images. The uses are endless!

This is my drawer full of knickknacks, my personal gewgaws, here rendered in sepia as if to dilute the sinfulness of a hoarder tendency! What is creativity but the raw discovery of new uses for the familiar, turning junk into things of beauty?

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