Thursday, June 28, 2007

Another look at the shell Painting

But the view I want to point to now is one that the mystics have been pointing to for thousands of years. When we rest as our open, ordinary awareness, the entire universe is a transparent shimmering of energy, of emptiness, of "supercompletness".

Paintings like this can make us feel so awake that everything happening around us appears strikingly fresh and new. They can revive or replenish our sense of wonder.

This is a good question from Wittgenstein’s Investigations: “Ask your self ‘For how long am I struck by a thing? — For how long do I find it new?’

Like Okeeffe said: to view a flower takes time. To view a shell takes time. The countless hours Bob spent studying and perceiving this shell shimmer like a mystical magnet within this painting, attracting our attention again and again, much like that actual shell must have attracted his. But we don't have hours to spend looking at a shell. We’re busy. But the artist (and nature mystic) has plenty of time to study. And we get the synthesized findings of that research. We get the report, a tiny, potent whiff, one that causes us to swoon a little bit. It’s like a wine-maker who, after spending years researching and experimenting and finding the best flavor, gives us a glass.

We get the greatest hits of the shell. Like a movie that takes years to produce, we get the 2-hour long edited highlights, a two-hour intense trip through hours of hard work and creativity.

This shell painting could be classified as “Hyperrealism.” Hyperrealism invites us into the immediate and concrete nature of actual moment-moment experience. It is not photo-realism. This shell doesn't look like a photo at all. It looks like the real thing, not a flat replication of it. We could say that this shell gestures toward a vivid and penetrating experience of lucid perception and clear vision, unclouded by intellect, abstraction, confusion, or desire. This is one purpose of hyperrealism. It presents the object in its suchness, or its “supercompletness.”

The shell is totally complete. Nothing needs to be added or taken away.

When I look at this painting I am reminded that I have available to me a type of awareness that sees supercompletness in things, and when I am in that state there is a kind of opening out and relaxing of awareness in its original freshness and luminosity.

The shell reflects my own vivid, clear vision. But I also think it reflects a kind of warmth and sensitivity that radiates from the rich, deep soul of the artist. Bob was someone whom people loved to be around. He had a kindness, warmth, and a genuineness that made people feel good. That is a good test for how evolved a soul is, I think. Do people love being around it? And Bob was an old soul, wise, free, childlike, kind; and in a way this shell reflects those qualities, doesn't it? I think, “Whoever painted this shell must be wise.”

It is said that one purpose of art is to “nourish the soul” It is easy to see how this purpose is achieved with the artist. By painting, Bob got to quiet his mind and spend time communing with the shell (and present moment experience). It’s like how meditation nourishes the body and mind. But how about the viewers? How are we nourished by this painting? No doubt Bob is communicating a sense of depth and beauty in the natural world. He seems to be describing a kind of nature mysticism. And it is here that we can begin to understand how art actually nourishes our soul and helps nudge it along its evolutionary path to greater and deeper modes of being.

To put it simply: Art provides the viewer with another perspective of the world. And taking other perspectives forces the mind to grow.

Also, art can give us a glimpse at altered states of mind.
We get to see the shell as he saw it: crystal clear, fresh, open, and supercomplete.

Immediate, open awareness shines effortlessly like the sunlight falling through that window. And when the mind is clean and clear and quiet the light shines even brighter and clearer. It’s as if Bob cleaned off his mind and perception, wiping away all the noise and crusty accumulation life deposits, and then clearly reflected the shell. The shell entered his clear, fresh, open awareness effortlessly and completely, like an object reflected in a crystal clear mirror.

Alan Combs, a Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, suggests that spiritual growth means to
advance toward increasingly creative, dynamic, and expansive ways of living in and experiencing the world.
Combs also asserts that evolved states of consciousness
are therefore to be assessed by how far they reach “beyond mental abstractions toward an experience of the immediate present.” This shell painting is not an abstract, intellectual puzzle that only a few people can (and would care to) decipher. It is free of mental abstractions; it presents (and honors) the world as experienced purely and immediately. Like all great art, it provides us with an example of what the world can look like from an evolved (or simply different) perspective. And sometimes, as is the case with most still-life paintings, that artistic perspective is colored by an intense investigation of what is happening in the world of the immediate present moment.

Formally, this painting exhibits “central composition” with the main figure directly in the center (emphasized also by the circular shape of the painting itself.) This is a bulls-eye painting. Central compositions have a balance and symmetry that is, as I said earlier, usually reserved for religious paintings, with a Buddha or saint in the very center of the work. Bob often said his most recent work was finally free of complicated, forced compositions, which are “unnatural and heady.” He felt the central composition was much more genuine.

However, the central composition in this painting is broken as soon as it appears to be there, because the shell is on its side. It is off centered, off balance, lopsided. Symmetry and asymmetry are both present; order and chaos; this painting includes them both, and thus includes a tension that communicates something very important to the viewer.

I think this painting is in fact a representation of the ever-present and endless mystery of what is happening all around us right now. It's a mirror shining into that diaphanous, ever-changing, ever-new glory that is supercompletness and radiant beauty.

Thus, almost surreptitiously, Bob leads us into a
consciousness that beholds the entire living world as a flowing and flowering collection of luminous objects worthy of our undivided attention. If while gazing at this painting you become a bit giddy, perhaps it will be because Bob’s vision has guided you into a God’s-eye view, where only Beauty Shines, supercomplete, superabundant, ever-changing, ever-divine, and ever-new.

Also, you might notice that in the presence of this painting all inner turbulence comes to rest. We look at this shell and we are quieted. We feel at peace, a peace that could be similar to what Bob felt while painting. This is called “state transmission.”

Alex grey explains in his book “The Mission of Art” that art is a powerful and sacred medium of transmission and that the state of consciousness in which a work is created can be recapitulated in those that perceive it.

However, this is true for the perception of people too. We are always transmitting our states to each other. I read in an article by Daniel Goldman (“Emotional Intelligence”) about Mirror Neurons in the brain. These neurons are designed to mirror whatever emotional state another person is experiencing. Goldman says this actually makes us “wired for empathy.” (This might also be why people find so much joy being around saints or gurus. Why was being in India around the Dalai Lama so wonderful?) In the same way, when a painting enters us, there is a transmission of sorts, and we feel something. While looking at this shell I feel quiet peace and ecstatic joy. I am in love with the light falling across its face, and I want to gaze into that drapery like I want to gaze into the eyes of a lover; it is so soft and alluring, like flowing waves or clouds. Were these emotions also felt by the artist? Am I feeling the kind of adoration and appreciation he felt while looking at that shell by the window?

When I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam I was struck by how tiring it was to look at the paintings. They were hellish, maddening, screaming, while also luminous, numinous, and glorious. His landscapes contained both heaven and hell, as did his own body-mind. He was a mystic in his own right (“I am whole in spirit, I am the holy spirit!”), and according g to his letters he really felt that he was painting the radiance of God through the colorful landscapes and natural forms. But his psychological diseases and mad depression crept into his mind. He says he painted while at peace, but would stop whenever he felt an attack coming (and in some of his paintings you can actually see where the attack came). This could explain his fast and intense brushwork (he wanted to get the painting done as quickly as possible, because he knew his peaceful, joyful state of consciousness would not last long).

We help create the world we see. As Ken Wilber points out, the structure and stage and state of consciousness, to some extent, determines the form or the phenomena that arise within it. Different forms of consciousness actually bring forth different phenomena, they see a different world. Anyone who has done drugs knows this very well. When you are in an altered state, you see a different world. Bob told us that he doesn't use drugs in the studio, so this shell is what his ordinary consciousness saw. Not just his eyes, of course, but also his mind saw this beauty. (A person in the magic stage of consciousness will see a different world then someone at a rational stage. Different worldviews are different worlds. What world was Bob looking at/looking through/co-creating with his mind?

No mater where you are in your conscious development, good art will speak to you. If you are magic, then this might be a magic shell, somehow stuck in the surface of the wood (think of a baby trying to figure this painting out!). If you are mythic, then maybe this shell is a mythic symbol for something. Or, it might be evil, and burning it is the only way to free us from its demonic powers. If you are rational you might love the rational laws this panting is following. Existential consciousness might see an existential, lonely, meaningless shell, shallow, empty, yet simple and truthful. Pluralistic consciousness might hate this painting, finding it unexpressive and uninteresting and silly/naive in its traditionalism. Integral consciousness might delight in seeing all these things and will attempt put them together into some grand story. Subtle or Causal or Supramental consciousness might see the painting as a perfect reflection of the spontaneous and fresh manifestation of infinite beauty freely self liberating in the transparent openness of pure immediate reality, supercomplete. Luckily, we have within us all these potential views, and therefore, all of them can be enacted while viewing this painting.

But the view I want to point to now is one that the mystics have been pointing to for thousands of years. When we rest as an open, ordinary awareness, the entire universe is a transparent shimmering of energy, of emptiness, of “supercompletness”. The divine emptiness is not someplace else…it is all of this shimmering. It is the patina of that shell. It is that hidden bit of orange. It is the soft shadows of the cloth. It is the clear window light illuminating everything it falls upon. It is the content of the painting, as well as the smooth surface, the black frame, and the vewer. Luminouse Emptiness is the entire conciouse disply, shimmering in the mind of the present moment…shimmering in you, from you, as you, right now.

We are affected by everything that enters into our awareness. Walk down the street and notice how the environment actively co-creates what you think about and how you act. This isn’t news, of course, but it is an important thing to think about when considering the function of art. When art enters someone, it changes them forever. This is true about everything, but art especially holds this power. I’m reminded of something Mr. Rogers once said:

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

Peaking into the state of existing as a no-self, while existing as the totality of the flowing, dynamic present experience is known as a peek (peak) experience and is considered quite important in the spiritual traditions. Good art can facilitate such a mystical experience.
Dogen: When I heard the sound of the bell, there was no I and no bell, just the ringing.

In the immediate present experience, there was no “bell” because Dogen couldn’t see a bell. He could only hear it. So, “a bell is ringing” was just another thought, not the actual experience. Likewise, “I hear” is another thought. There is no hearer or “I” set apart from the sounds heard, (you can never separate the two, they are, in actuality, one process.). In immediate reality there is just the hearing, just the ringing sensation. Bodymind dropped, Dogen sat listening to the ringing bell, not as a man, but as an opening or awakened mind identical to everything arising within it.

Applying his poem to the painting we get this: When I saw the painting of the shell, there was no I, and no painting, just the shell.

This reminds me of when I saw the great Yasuchika Konno perform a butoh dance in Nagoya. When I saw the dancer dancing, there was no I, and no dancer, just the dancing. Any intense aesthetic experience can attract so much attention that one literally doesn't have the time or the desire to reconstruct the idea of a self. Instead, the present reality alone holds the majority of one’s conscious attention. “I” am forgotten. The hearer and the heard are forgotten, and only the luminous process of hearing and perceiving is the reality happening. That alone exists in those peek moments.

When I saw Konno perform I forgot myself and instead was filled with his dynamic and hauntingly unpredictable movements. I didn't have time to think about myself. I didn't have time to reconstruct my story. His moves were changing so rapidly or so subtly I had to give my full attention to what was occurring in the present. “I” was not real in that moment. It was just another contructed thought.

After experiences like that, the “I” that we normally identify with seems a bit more transparent and constructed out of dream and memory, doesn't it? It’s not a real, solid entity, but is instead a thought, a feeling, that sometimes disappears like the rest. With meditation and practice one can actually dissolve into that immediate, selfless experience, “where the seer, the seen, and the seeing become one process” more easily, and sustain that kind of awareness for quite some time. But for most of us it is only intense, vivid experiences, like sports, art, music, and sex, that shock us into this no-self state that is full of present moment reality.

Study this shell painting again. Place it in the center of your awareness and notice the self that was there just a few moments ago move aside and fade a bit into the foggy peripheral horizons of your awareness.

Oh, and interestingly, what I mentioned before, about how the object of awareness and the self perceiving it become one, well, Bob taught us to draw that way, saying how we needed to forget our selves and feel into the object to know it subjectively. He did that with this shell, and thus we can feel it as we experience his subjective interpretation of being the shell seeing itself through human perception (What?).

Friday, June 22, 2007

david ford

I just learned that my name means "beloved river crossing." David Ford. "Titterington" of course means "laughing town."

good advice

Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
Talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.
Make all your friends feel there is something special in them.
Look at the sunny side of everything.
Think only of the best, work only for the best, and expect only the best.
Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
Give everyone a smile.
Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others.
Be too big for worry and too noble for anger.

~ Christian D. Larsen

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ikebana and Butoh

Ikebana and Butoh
Intro #1

Japan is an island culture, and like any isolated, homogenous people, the art and religions that emerged are very stylized and unique. When searched for deeply, one may find hidden within the city folds traces of a powerful shamanic tradition, the secret, esoteric side of Shinto, with earth powers, pagan gods, and nature worship. One may also find, on occasion, a very profound understanding of Buddhist philosophy and transformative practices. Japan is, after all, Shinto and Buddhist, but with the majority of people practicing neither, it can be difficult uncovering the wealth and richness residing in the dark recesses of Japan’s modern heart. Both religions (and their arts) mostly exist only as a kind of background old-culture atmosphere that most people really know next to nothing about (like Christianity in America). And in fact, Japanese people seem to almost pride themselves on being a non-religious, rational, and peaceful culture. Which is all good, and a step forward in many important ways. But they threw the baby out with the bathwater, and the profound transformative arts have almost been completely lost.

I have recently come into contact with two art forms that stunned me into reverence for the depth and beauty in this land, and I will share a few of the insights transmitted to me by those artists now.

Intro #2

Japanese art can be seen as a breathtaking reflection of various Buddhist and Shinto themes. From pre-modern to post-modern times, Japanese art has been expressing the changing soul of this island culture, one that is overall very shy and reserved, but at times can be wild and ecstatic. The art is quiet, profound, stunning, and also bizarre, mad, and erotic. I have a lot to say about this, but the large topic is too big for a blog entry. However, much of this blog, as many of you know, has indeed been devoted to interpreting my experiences with the art of Japan, and to continue that tradition, lets look at two forms of Japanese art I recently, intimately encountered: Ikebana and Butoh.

Within both of these art forms one can find the earth-embracing shamanic Shinto impulse, as well as the intellectually stimulating exploration of impermanence, suffering, emptiness, and death found in Buddhism. (Within Japanese art in general we can find a very quiet, sensible atmosphere, as in Tea Ceremony, Calligraphy, Noh, and Ikebana, and also the crazy madness, like in Martial Arts, Kabuki, Samurai, Kendo, and the “crazy dance” of Butoh.)

I’ll being with Ikebana.

Ikebana is Japanese flower arranging. “Ike” means to arrange, but also means “to live.” “Bana” means flowers. It is also known as Kado, or “the way of flowers.” “Do,” is the same “do” in aikido and kendo and bushido,and in chinese it is none other than the great “tao”. It means path or way, and can also mean yoga. You will find men and women practicing this “flower yoga” all over Japan; It is a highly respected art form, completely unlike flower arranging the in the west. It is treated with the same reverence and respect as tea ceremony and calligraphy, as well as the martial arts. At museums you will find whole Ikebana exhibits.

A few weeks ago my friend took me to meet an Ikebana teacher who lives near the mountains and who, for twenty years, has wanted to meet a foreigner to teach them about Ikebana. Lucky me I got to fulfill that dream. (I have great karma!)

She teaches a kind of Shingon Buddhism Ikebana called Saga Goryu, and she said that traditionally before arranging flowers, the arranger calms him/herself by reciting the heart sutra (“Emptiness is none other than form, Form is none other than emptiness.”) Interestingly, one of the school's mottos in practicing Ikebana is "to unite flowers and religion."

Ikebana is “a ceremony of floral tribute to Buddha,” and according to this involves honoring and integrating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful through the art. (These are of course versions of “The Big Three”: I, We, and It; Buddha, Sangha, and Dharma; Dharmakaya, Nirmanakaya, and Sambhogakaya; Art, Morals, and Science; which are also variations of the Four Quadrants, for all you Wilber fans out there. It’s extraordinary how everything fits together.

Like I said, the Ikebana teacher was a Shingon Buddhist. You should know that Shingon (which literally means “Truth Words” or “Mantra,” is one of the major types of Buddhism in Japan, and Kukai, its founder, was born on Shikoku, near where I live. The famous 88 temple pilgrimage around Shikoku visits Shingon temples in honor of Kukai’s enlightenment (Kukai literally means “Ocean of Sky/Emptiness”). Shingon, known for its secret rituals, arts, dances, chants, and visualizations, is the most “tantric” sect of Buddhism in Japan. It traces its roots to the yogas and tantras of India, and it most resembles the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet. You can even find sculptures of the Hindu Elephant-God Genesh hanging out at Shingon temples, as well as paintings of mandalas, sculptures of vajras, and Sanskrit. Kukai felt that Sanskrit was the best way to convey the teachings of the Buddha, so they still use it today.

Ok, so, about Ikebana. I was shocked to discover that the flower arrangements held secret, esoteric meanings, just like the mandalas and deity paintings and sculptures. It turns out that the flower arrangements, just like the mandalas, are meant to communicate spiritual truths while also acting as aesthetic supports for meditation (with a special tilt toward impermanence, being rapidly dying flowers and all…very “Andy Goldsworthian” in that sense, or like the Tibetan sand mandalas). The teacher taught me three major styles of flower arrangements. She took me around her tatami room, dressed in an immaculate kimono, pointing out to me all the different elements in each arrangement. Then we wached a video of a 104-year-old zen monk (!) walk (!) out onto a stage and tell everyone the importance of meditation in health and healing.

Here are the notes I took from the lesson:

“This arrangement style is called Moribana. This part represents the Self and Ultimate Reality you can never see. Just like how your eye can’t see itself, ultimate Self is always invisible. This next element represents the self and reality that you CAN see, like your personality and body. And this part represents that self’s actions which you can see. They form a harmonious whole, and are also meant to mimic the shape of a mountain, forest and lake, reminding us that the natural world is a reflection of the spiritual world.”

What!? Yeah, she actually said all that. Listen to this one:

“In this flower arrangement, this part represents earth. This represents wind. This represents fire and this the sky. In the middle is a clump of flowers representing consciousness. See how everything is coming out of that clump of bright flowers? This arrangement symbolizes the teaching that everything is made of consciousness, or that consciousness is at the base of everything.”

And here is the last one:

“This is the most classic Ikebana arrangement. The bottom is the earth, the middle is the human, and the top is the sky or heaven. See how they are all connected? Man stands in between them both, acting as a bridge. See how they are all balanced in a triangle. And notice how the triangle also makes a circle, which represents emptiness, as well as harmony.”

We talked about mediation and how at the beginning people think they can “ride the meditation like a wave to the enlightened mind.” But this is not true. “In actuality,” she said, “you cannot reach the enlightened mind because it is always there as the origin of this very moment.” She explained that with time, however, the meditator slowly discovers that mediation is actually used to perfect sight and action, not to “attain enlightenment,” because the enlightenment mind is something that is not constructed. “Everything that is constructed will fall apart, after all. And the Buddha mind is Emptiness, not any constructed form.”

This Ikebana teacher/mystical sage spoke in English and Japanese and I took notes and this is really what she said.

We even talked about the bodhisattva path. “It’s important to see this world as beautiful because only then we can love it and return to it.”

Katou Sensei reminded me so much of Dianne Daugherty, my High School Japanese teacher and mentor. Katou’s humor and grace and beauty mirrored Dianne’s glowing style of enthusiastic teaching.

“I study Shokubutsugo (Plant-language)” she said. “The trees and weeds and flowers have so much to tell us about life, death, beauty, change, and harmony. And I listen to them, and then translate the message. I’m not a teacher; I’m a translator.”

We talked about flower therapy and the healing powers of giving flowers, growing flowers, and arranging flowers, and watching them die. We talked about what the heart is made of, and my friend with whom I went said: “Inside the heart is Empty Sky, so I’m happy.”

She mentioned that we need to clean up out minds in order to experience and manifest the enlightened mind, and when I asked her “what about the fact that the Enlightened mind is already occurring in every moment?” She replied:
“True, the Pure, heavenly world and this world are ultimate One, but you cannot SEE that truth until you have a clear mirror-mind. Both worlds always reflect each other, but you can’t see that fact until you have purified your mind though meditation.”

“Focus on this moment and discover the happiness that doesn't depend on your environment.”

“Before meditation and after meditation is action. Action is much more important that meditation. But right action is achieved only though right seeing, which is impossible without a clear, stable mind. So meditation is also important. But you can’t just meditate and experience quiet, clear mind. You must live and act.”

“Change the action in the body and move up to right mediation like a spiral staircase. If you don’t change your actions, your mind can’t change. If you don't change your mind, your actions can’t change. They are so connected.”

“Clean up your mind by discovering its depths.”

Now, carrying that mood into another Japanese Art form, I’d like to discuss Butoh, a type of modern Japanese dance.

It is hard to define Butoh, since it has no specific style, but from what I have seen it resembles Bunraku (puppet theater) as well as Noh, both traditional and both using common Buddhist themes of suffering, ecstasy, death, and rebirth. While performing, the Butoh dancer often visualizes their own birth, life, struggles, and death. One purpose is to express as honestly as possible the feelings that arise, giving the audience a chance to also experience (through empathy and mirror neurons) extreme states of being, often repressed or forgotten. The dance is erotic, scary, often difficult to look at, but always powerful and stunning. If you have seen the movie Baraka, there are a few Butoh dancers in there. Traditionally, Butoh dancers are naked and paint their bodies white.

I had the pleasure and good karma to see one of the greatest Butoh dancers in Japan a few weeks ago. Here is the report of that experience.

Konno Yasuchika

Some friends and I went up to Nagoya to see Rick off and also to see the Butoh dancer Konno Yasuchika, from Tokyo. I now believe that this dancer is the greatest dancer I have ever seen in my life. And I have seen many great dancers.

His style was a mixture between free-flowing movements, like a leaf blown in the wind, and the hauntingly still movements of traditional Butoh—quiet, subtle gestures and impeccable control of the body. The dance opened with all the lights out and silence. Then suddenly a single light turned on and his body came swirling into the small space. His large strides, flowing arms, and fast gestures filled the room and grabbed all of our attention.

He had everyone in that room breathless. His fast, spontaneous movements and creative postures didn't let any of our minds wonder even for a second. Nobody could take their eyes off of him (and Of course his chiseled muscles and beautiful features played a part in that I'm sure).

My self was gone. His expression stoll my entire mind, leaving nothing but the chilling movements of his body in its place. I didn't have time to remember who I was and rebuild my story. All I could do is stare at the dancer.
His eyes were often looking up as if in a trance. Shamanic drumming and pulsing electronic sounds penetrated the dark space around him. I felt like this was ancient magic.

When it finished I didn't want to speak. It was too intense. Everyone in the room was shocked out of words. It reminded me of the atmosphere in the movie theater after Requiem for a Dream, American Beauty, and Dancer in the Dark. Everyone was stunned and speechless.

After a few other dancers performed there was a party. I met Konno and asked him many questions. He was kind and friendly. We exchanged business cards and have been emailing back and forth (in Japanese) ever since. And what is great is that we are talking about deep stuff, like the purpose of art and where it comes from, in Japanese. I’m learning great words.

And, lucky me, he said he would come to Niihama and perform at my exhibition this October. at the top is the poster i made.

thoughts about death

Im tellin ya I am such a sucker for reflections in water. Gimme a flock of birds, a mounntain, or a sky of clouds reflected upsidedown in water and I’m a very happy camper. And check it: right now, all over my town, the ricefields are filled with water and a grid of tiny, bright green rice sprouts. Its like im sruouned by a quilt of mirrors. Here are some pictures of my town.

I’ve been watching season 2 of “24” and in it one of the main characters comes into contact with radioactive material and finds out from the doctor he will die within the day. This character is usually moody, cold, and mean, but he immediately warms up and kind of melts upon hearing the news. His voice softens and his posture relaxes. His entire character changes from what we knew of him from the entire first season. It’s good acting.

Can you imagine the profound transformation that must go on within an individual when they find out they will die soon. One of my favorite books, “Grace and Grit,” is about a woman dying of cancer. It dives deeply into the subjective experince of preparing for, facing, and finally accepting death. “Tuesdays with Morrie” is another classic that deals with this issue.

The eyes of death.

Mystical Floating Eyes have appeared in art for ages. They can represent basic awareness, the ability to See clearly, wisdom, a trancendental observer, Spirit, God, etc. They can also represent the absolute reality that death is coming and its coming quickly. They can represent the eyes of death.

Death omens, Death Reminders, Memento Mories, are the greatest gifts the universe can ever deliver, being that they intensify our appreciation for the preciousness of human life, and also help prepare us for the unimaginable trumoil our minds will undoubtably go through as they disolve into confusion and die.

The eye of death stares us down, and we have no choice but to submit and subdue our selves to its glare.

When the time comes, will you be ready?

I will make more art about death. Memento Moris. True, any painting about life is also a painting about the fleetingness of life (death belongs to life as much as birth does) but clear reminders, unavoidable interpretations, can usher the mind into a less comfortable, more benificale path of ponderation for transformation. Thought trains about death usually take the individual to profound states of being and deeper modes of understanding, as well as blissful waves of profound apprectiation for life. After a nice conversation about death, the self is literally transformed forever. And,in the heart of death, a deeper connection to others is discovered, and this in turn tranforms into compassion and love. As Peter Patrelli from the tv show Heroes says, “Death is what connects us all together.”

I was walking to dinner the other night and I saw two overweight men, maybe in their late 50s, walking and smoking together. I immediately thought of their suffeirng—that they will die relatively soon; that they will have to leave behind their families, friends, and bodies. They will have to go through so much suffering. And I looked at them, these total strangers, and almost cried I was so sad for them.

We have so much in common. Anyone dying is not a total stanger. And we are all dying.

I ask you: What does it feel like to be dying?
We are all dying. We can all talk about dying. We are all qualified experts. We all experince loss, we are all racing twoard our death like a arrow towards its target. We all experience the delicate dissolveing of our lives. For those of you ready to imagine, confront, explore, fear, and prepare for your own death, you might like Elizibeth Kublar-Ross’s classic “On Death and Dying.” It's a good preview, I think. In the book she talks to people dying and finds a pattern of emotions she calls the “five stages of greif.” I think it’s important to be familiar with these emotional stages that will occure as we die. It’s important to prepare for them, like how it’s important to prepare for a big storm that's coming. You can’t escape the storm. So now that you accept that, what are you going to do to prepare for it?

The Dalai Lama suggest we think about and practice dying at least 8 times a day. His “Advice on Dying” is another great book.

I have written extensively about death and spiritual practices centering around it. I have painted many paintings dedicated to death’s mystery as well as the fleeing beauty of life. I offer these to anyone interested.

Here is a poem I wrote about confronting death and how that moves me deeper into Life, as well as paradoxically opens up a deeper freedom and release from Life and Life’s death.


Dark cold sorrow and fear fills the pit of my well,
And I reach my eye-hands into that space,
touch it, feel it,
Splash it on my face.

The deeper I go, the freer i feel,
free to embrace it all without fear,
And the deeper I feel, the more I connect
with all dying life,
We all share this fate.

I fold my hands,
Presence, forhead touching floor, breathing, presence.
Thank you, karma,
Thank you, condition.
Thank you, evolution,
for giving me this human body,
and letting me see.
This is such a life. It is fleeing. It is preciouse.
It is here. May I use it well!
May I benefit others.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Almost Finished

Before Zazen, Before Temple, Before Language, Transcendent Light streams through the openings and touches the treestump, rooted in reality, empty and clear.

This is the path to the Zen Temple in Niihama.

Here is the Wedding Story

Japanese wedding

I wrote this while Molly was here.

On Saturday, while Molly went to an onsen (hot spring), I went to a Japanese style wedding ceremony. One of my teacher friends invited me to her wedding (only about 100 people were there so I felt very honored to get this opportunity). The way the Japanese do weddings is very interesting. It's usually a mix between Christian and Shinto traditions. Actually, Japanese culture is an interesting mix of three major religions, most notably expressed during the three major ceremonies in a person's life: birth is Shinto, marriage is Christian, and death is Buddhist.

(Because the Christian aspect is mainly for, well, aesthetic purposes, (the dress, the cake, and minister, the chapel) some foreigners (one of my friends actually does this as a part time job) actually make money in Japan by dressing up as a minister and participating in ceremonies.)

In Japan, when a couple gets married, usually they first get the certificate at city hall. Then they have a ceremony with a Shinto priest (far more genuine, spiritually and culturally, for the couple than the Christian version later, i think), and this includes drinking sake at the alter. Then the couple throws the wedding celebration. Traditionally all guests give money—a two or three hundred dollar gift—in a special envelope. This money helps pay for the ceremony. In return, the guests take home party favors (see all the blue bags of gifts on everyone’s chair?) I got a set of nice whisky glasses from Tiffany's, and boxes of nicely wrapped gourmet food and sweets. The wedding celebration was held in a banquet hall at a hotel (pretty standard here) and it included an announcer hired by the hotel, which was fun. The whole thing felt like a TV game show. There were spotlights and music and guest performances. The bride and groom left the banquet hall and came back four times, and each time they returned there was an announcement, the lights went out, black lights turned on, the spotlight on the door, then the door opened, and the rock music blasted as the couple reentered the room in new clothing. The bride had five different dresses! . . . and five different hairstyles (two of them were wigs). Near the end, family members formally sang karaoke songs (like our toasting speeches?), and the 3rd years from the bride's homeroom class came and sang her a song. That was really sweet, but kind of awkward, because they weren't very good, and didn't practice much, and everyone was watching them.

At the end, with the bride in her second to last dress, she and her husband went around to each table and, while we sat gazing, lit the tall candle on our table. Then they walked up to the stage and lit the candle there, which burned brighter than normal (like a firecracker) and that seemed to be the biggest, most important moment of the wedding.

The food was delicious. All the guests took home flowers. I got to escort the groom out of the hall one time. The anouncer said “And now, David will escort the groom out of the Hall!” Everyone took pictures and clapped. That was an honor. When talking to me about western weddings, one woman asked "Is it true you all dance at the wedding?" Yes, it is! I replied. “Well, that sure is different!” she said.

And yeah, I guess it is.

Monday, June 04, 2007

new painting

just finished a feather and started a landscape. comming soon, my report on Ikebana and Butoh.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Masa is my friend that most reminds me of Josh M. His favorite animal is the dolphin. I visited him and his family this weekend. I arrived after sundown and to my surprise he took me hiking on his favorite mountain (with flashlights, of course). it was my first time hiking at night. The forest smelled really good, and we met many large spiders. At the top we meditated and then sang together, overlooking the inland sea and distant firflies. Then we went to an onsen. We ended up sleeping in a small shrine next to the woods and a pumpkin patch. His parents are strawberry farmers, so in the morning we had a bucket full at the shrine, after sun salutations. God it was wonderful.

May all beings be Free and in Love.

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