Eden’s Worm

Although the mind may admit to the knowledge that life is cyclical, knowing it as true comes only with years. While in middle age I would believe that someday ‘things’ would settle down and peace and harmony reign, by my 50’s I had to accept that things really never settle down, peace and harmony do not endure. Granted there are short spaces in the cycle where all is well – or all is lost – but these times do not last, they transform.

There is never a period in life where relationships are good, the job is great, the kids are healthy and drug free, the car starts every morning and there’s some money in the bank. At least, these don’t all happen at the same time – or if they do that time is short before one or the other starts to move and creates a new cycle.

In my forties I fought this understanding but finally life wore me down and by my 50’s I was ready to call uncle and release my hope that the future would be any better than the present. With the relinquishment of that desire I began to learn to live in the present. What catalyzed that change of perspective was a brush with mortality which taught me that I, like every other living thing, was a string being spun out by one of three sisters, one of which held a big pair of shears.

But this living in the present is not as easy as may first appear. What is required is the reining in of thought, that vigilance and control is the key to safety, to life, to eternity. Vigilance bears a heavy price tag paid with anxiety, high blood pressure, tension, rigidity, fear, and a stubborn willfulness. In essence, what we are trying to do is to get ahead of the wave of being and make the way smooth, harmless and accommodating. Our fear of the unknown and the unexpected breeds in the mind like a worm in the apple, and like the worm, burrows its subterranean way beneath everyday notice.

While we rejoice in the medical report which tells us the disease is in remission, we secretly wonder if and when the other shoe will drop. As we celebrate the new job we wonder if our real competence may finally be exposed; we watch for the first dent in the new car; or wonder if our relationships are as strong as we hope they are. In our desire to live ‘successfully’ we instead learn to live hesitantly. We learn to live without trust – in ourselves, in Life, in the Bigger Picture.

This life is our personal garden and we fear being tossed out of this Eden by sword-wielding angels for our audacious, but often ignorant, behavior. So we surround ourselves by agreeing to thou-shalt-nots to leverage our chances that we will assuage the anger of an invisible god who licks his pencil and keeps score, little realizing that it is our own thoughts that hold the pencil and make the check.

There is no certainty but change as Heraclitus stated and it is our reluctance to embrace that truth that keeps us up at night as it keeps us from the exhilaration of feeling truly alive. If we hold on too tight, we never learn to fly, or ride a bike, or float on our backs, or feel love but spend our years squinting at the future and making contingency plans and waiting for what we fear most to arrive.

Pensee

Dawn comes early in the summer but by the time the sunlight hits the tops of the trees outside my patio, day has already arrived, bringing with it a cool delta breeze and the murmur of a distant train heading southward, its wail rolling across the bluing sky. The beginnings and endings of days are made for pause and reflection, or even better, a waiting emptiness marked with peace.

The cat slips in and out and over the decorative fence and begins her morning round of inspection, smelling the bumpers of parked cars, the bush where last night she captured the gray-green lizard, the steps where noisy neighbors haul up paper bags of groceries and beer. She looks over her shoulder at me, then slips behind the flowering agapanthus, only to appear a few seconds later at the corner of the walk, once again looking to see if I am looking too; and our eyes meet.

These eyes I look through see into this dimension I have, in concert with others, created. I carry the vague recollection of last night’s dreams, the ache in my calf where the cramp bit so unexpectedly, my scent lingering in the warm bed covers. I awake to a grey day and speculate if the sky’s sad countenance is due to the summer fires to the south where last winter’s grass now stands high and dry and asking to go to ash.

As I sit I give thanks to Life for staying with this body another day, offering another chance to drink deep of its bounty. Now that I am 72 I have a clearer perspective of death’s inevitable arrival. I now understand that 80 years is a decent span, not one that requires more and more extension. The fingers of both hands can count out that remaining allotment of time and I ask myself if there is anything more I need to do, to see, to experience, and I answer that time has now become Grace.

If I had to do over this life, or better if/when I have another chance to do again, what choices would I make different in direction than the ones I made here and now, and I must respond I would have liked more time in nature, living beside wild trees and free streams and open skies; to have known the names of berries, the species of birds and their preferences; to have seen the great flocks migrating and heard the thunder rolling over the prairies.

Perhaps in the next life I shall come back as an animal and experience once again the beauty of the physical, leaving behind the torment that accompanies too much thinking and planning and fearing. How would it feel to be in the body of a deer, a crane, a bobcat, a wren singing in a bush at daybreak? How does life look seeing out of amber eyes?

MANDALA MIND #1: There are no mistakes

Mandala Mind is what I call the head space I enter when I am creating mandala art. When I am using brush and ink, I call it my ink wash mind. It is the experience of being “in process.” There is something creative going on within the body/spirit, a riding of a wave, a leap without looking, wire walking without a net.

Sometimes I feel exhilarated, at other times very still and intensely focused. The sense of being within a body or being a body is absent; I am bodiless. There is only the pen or brush or stick which is in a state of doing-ness while the eye/mind looks on. A choiceless awareness.

During this most fulfilling activity the everyday thinking mind is suspended. By the everyday thinking mind is I mean the little voice in the head which judges, evaluates, opinionates, criticizes, comments and scorns. There is no faster way to exit the creative process than to listen to this commentator. Instead of being a writer, for example, you become an editor. Instead of being a painter, you become an art critic.

Therefore, one of the things I repeat constantly to myself and my art students is “There is no such thing as a mistake. There is only a new direction.”  (Ink is one of those mediums that does not easily accommodate correction. Unlike oils in which you can paint over, or scratch off, or pencils in which you can erase, ink is unforgiving and mandala design is strict.)

At least once in every mandala painting, my attention jerks and a line is drawn in the ‘wrong’ place; or I ink in a segment that breaks the symmetry. If I allow the thought, “I’ve made a mistake,” or “That’s wrong,” or “S***” to reside in my mind, I have not only unbalanced my creative flow but given the editor/art critic an opening to dominate.

Within seconds I start to hear, “That was a dumb thing to do. You should have paid closer attention. You’ve ruined the mandala. How can you cover it up now?”

You’ll also notice that I speak to myself in the second person – you, you, you. Not I should have paid closer attention, or I have ruined the mandala. The boss in my head is yelling at me, castigating like an unruly child. No wonder I have problems with authority figures, I have one in my head.

Once I get into that bad girl/shame on you mode, I lose confidence, lose the flow of the creative process and start to feel sad because I am such a failure as an artist. Do you see where I am going with this?

So when I make an ‘unexpected turn’ in the art, I instantly say, “There is no such thing as a mistake. This is good. I am taking a new direction.” What a difference that makes to my creative mood. All of a sudden I am curious about where I am going, what will happen next, how will things turn out? I am excited!  I put my trust in my intuition. I allow fallibility in my creative powers. I am proud of my humanness.

Perfection is for machines. I am not perfect nor is my art work perfect. I am beautifully flawed as is what I create. By allowing imperfection I am allowing randomness, admitting chaos, building on the unexpected. Since I do not recognize mistakes, I bless myself with the gift of freedom.

In the longer view, some mandalas may be more beautiful or more powerful than others but that is not because of any mistakes that might have happened. In fact, some of my favorite mandalas are the ones in which I chose some outrageous colors or designs turns, “mistakes” that had to be celebrated rather than hidden.

It is not the well-designed mandala that is important; it is the joy or peace or excitement or stillness that was experienced as part of the creative process. I could throw away all of the artwork I have ever created and not lose anything important – the act still exists in its purity and has become part of my soul.

 

Art news

In the middle of May, the Mandala class participated in an art show at Hart Senior Center. I’m guessing that more than 100 people stopped by to see the work, talk to the artists and have some refreshments. This was a big deal for our artists, a great turnout from the local community and certainly the high point of the year so far. We’re already planning another event for the holiday season.

Meanwhile, I’ve held one series of mandala art classes at Colonial Heights library with a follow-up series set for July. Local libraries are great supporters of the arts and sponsor these classes free to the public.

I also began a new monthly class at Hart Center I’ve called Adventures in Art, sort of a combination of art history and open studio. Our first artist was Georgia O’Keeffe. We learned a little about her life and artistic vision, than made some art in her style. Next month we’ll feature Piet Mondrian, followed by Jackson Pollock in August.  We had a really good response to the class and I’m hoping it will continue to draw in (no pun) more interest.

I’ve been putting out feelers for some new places to teach and have classes set for later in the summer at the Asian Community Center and in the fall at University Art Store in Sacramento.

I originally planned my curriculum as a once-a-week for four weeks class but am finding that I need to rearrange, at times, the way I’ve organized things. For example, I’m breaking down the Mandala topics differently and rather than approaching it as skill levels I’m looking at it as ‘types’ of mandalas; i.e. geometric mandalas, natural mandalas, and meditative mandalas.

I was surprised to find that rearranging them opened up some new ways to look at how I am teaching so it is very exciting. Also, I am putting together a workshop format for longer, one-day events.

In the midst of all this teaching I decided to put more effort into my website and start selling directly from here. This site will now focus exclusively on the mandala work, with the ink wash painting featured on the MarieTaylorArt.wordpress.com site.

My thinking was that although I love teaching I don’t know how long this forward movement will last – or I will. I was 72 last birthday and although I feel fine, I have to acknowledge I may not be able to continue this work in a few years, so I want to have alternate sources of communication and income.

I have to remind myself to carve out some personal time to continue with my own mandala practice. In creating mandalas it seems that every few months there is a new wrinkle to explore – maybe something in design or maybe color.  At the bottom of the page is some recent work.

I’ll keep these on my studio walls for a month or two just to make sure they are complete and have nothing more to say, then I will add them to the for sale gallery. In some kind of crazy way it’s like raising puppies and you don’t want to let them go until they are stable (or I am!).

Now that I’ve got this tighter focus on what is going on in my art life, I’ll write shorter and more frequent blogs and not another l-o-n-g one like this.

Madonna’s Day

The Christmas of 2015 I was inspired by the traditional images of the Virgin and Child to create my own series of Madonna pictures. I saw this most sacred image of the Divine Feminine as present in all women of all ages and all places and all times and all circumstances of life. In total, I created 50 pictures.

This year I have decided to display most of them as a digital gallery in movie format. As you will see my pictorial representation is not sophisticated, but leans towards the childish in artistic terms. But each of these girl/woman images speaks to me in her own unique voice.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I am presenting the Madonna Mandalas to honor the Mother present in every woman.  (I am also posting this on my Marie Taylor, Art blog.)  Here is the link to You Tube:

https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=RqjwRDACeE0

Star Gazing

My understanding of things scientific is limited to broad sweeping generalities and just enough factual data to jump to unsupported conclusions. This in no way deters me from devising theories such as the one I have been pondering of late – the nature of the sun.

From what I understand the sun is like a gigantic atomic furnace that throbs and shudders and explodes with a seemingly unceasing and unlimited energy. Granted, sometime in the far, distant future our sun will one day run dry and burn out. Until then, it is the heart of our universe whose rays support life-creating conditions, particularly here on earth.

I have also read that our sun is a star. If we were somehow magically whisked to another galaxy we may see our own sol twinkling in the firmament.

The other day a confluence of these ideas came together in my mind – that our sun is a star, that our sun is the heart of our solar system and that our sun is active and life-giving. I made a leap – of intuition, of understanding, or perhaps misdirection, in keeping with the ancient adage, “As above, so below.”

If the sun is the heart of our solar system, then the heart of our bodies is our own personal sun, and as such is a baby star. In the center of our being, we carry a star that throbs and beats and gives life.

I ask myself is this stretching things too much but I think there is some important truth here.

We are slowly coming to the understanding the earth itself is a living organism and as such has some level of consciousness. Does that not also mean that our sun is also conscious? Is it not acting as the heart of the body of our solar system? And by analogy, does not every cell of our body also contain life and consciousness; is there somewhere buried in the nucleus of a cell an infinitesimal sun that is the furnace of its life?

Does this then mean we are comprised of billions and billions of starlets? Tiny pinpoints of light that shine and blink and throb with life?

Then I considered the theory that when a star dies it can become a black hole that sucks all light back into itself. Some scientists believe that these black holes collapse into white holes creating a torsion field which then give birth to new stars and new solar systems in an infinite series of Big Bangs.

Is this perhaps what happens when we die? Collapse into our selves, and then emerge newborn and vital on the other side?

As I said, my grasp of modern science is slippery at best but I am intrigued by the picture and the possibility that within my heart a star is in residence that conducts a symphony of life throughout my body, lighting each new cell as it is born, thereby passing my own Olympic torch down red corridors.

Cleaning House

To fight off the winter gloom I recently indulged in a flurry of house cleaning. I went through closets and drawers, shelves and cupboards, files and bins, recklessly throwing out anything that wasn’t useful, beautiful or meaningful.

Outdated clothes, ugly knick-knacks, strange kitchen utensils, unread books, rusty nails, sell-by packages in the pantry – they all met the same fate without a backward glance on my part. In fact, there was a noticeable feeling of freedom and lightness. I found that emptiness agreed with me.

But then I was faced with the evaluation and winnowing of my creative work – old sketches, youthful poetry, paintings that were not bad but not the best, artwork that had been good learning exercises but ….

It was much harder to let go of these creative projects for they were like a diary of my soul. My measurement with the artwork was “Was this piece good enough to frame?” I also asked myself what was my family going to do with all of this when I died?

I ended up giving away or throwing away 50% or more of the artwork, keeping only what I believed was very good or very meaningful and throughout this process I pondered the meaning of attachment and identity.

Was I defined by what I had made or what I possessed? By releasing this evidence of the past, was I less as a person? In releasing these artifacts and memories had I thrown away part of myself? Were they really gone forever? Would I regret my actions?

it is now several weeks since this house cleaning process began and my attention has turned to more subtle possessions. What old memories are tying me down or holding me back? What emotions have I been secretly harboring in the dark corners of my heart? What thoughts continue to run like worn out tapes in the attic of my mind? These, too, must be evaluated. Are they useful or beautiful or meaningful?