BELLS

Knowing that today’s afternoon temperature would reach well over 100, I went outside and sat on the patio early this morning. In the distance I could hear the hum from freeway traffic and nearer to hand the cock-a-doodle-doo of some neighbor’s secret boarder. Then, after a few minutes, came the delicate chime of church bells. It was Sunday, I recollected, and the bell, in a sweet voice, was summoning parishioners to an early service.

The sound immediately brought to mind a painting I had seen many years ago, “Angelus,” by Jean-François Millet. In this deeply meditative picture a man and woman are standing, heads bowed and hands folded, while on the ground about them lay the tools they have been using to dig potatoes. Millet said of the picture, “The idea for Angelus came to me because I remembered that my grandmother, hearing the church bell ringing while we were working in the fields, always made us to stop work to say the Angelus prayer for the poor departed.”

Traditionally, the church bell would be rung at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m., not only acting as a marker for the beginning, middle and end of the work day, but also to remind people of the day’s spiritual dimensions. The bell’s duty was to say, “Wake up! Be present.”

The demands of the world are constantly vying for our attention – money, jobs, relationships, politics, the future ….. Even as we lay in bed at night, thoughts struggle for dominance in our consciousness. Like a sword, the clear, sharp sound of a bell cuts through that incessant mental chatter to remind us that Life is not the situations we find ourselves in, not the past we might regret or the future we may fear, but Life is this very present moment in which the bell is ringing.

It is no coincidence that bells and chimes are used throughout the world, in many cultures, for this same purpose – from the giant gongs of Far Eastern temples to the bells of Christian monasteries and the delicate cymbals of meditation halls.

The ringing of the bell gives a voice to the inhabitants of mineral world, that silent kingdom which appeared at earth’s birth and will be there at the last. Impenetrable, immovable, mute, the minerals are the silent witnesses of history – and perhaps their steadfast nature is the most appropriate agent to act as a reminder of this transitory life.

In calling us to attention, the bells reminds us to be grateful, to be aware, to be present, to willingly participate in Life, as did Mary in the drama of  the Annunciation

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word….

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TIMING

Cosmos III
9 x 13
Ink on Rice Paper

Every year, as we near mid-August, I wait for the sound of their passing; this morning, while the sky was still drowsy and damp with dew, I heard the long familiar call and response of Canadian geese flying overhead, leaving their summer homes and beginning the long southward journey. Their distinctive honk signifies the close of summer and the approach of autumn.

In just a few short weeks we will be mid-way through the solar year and nearly three-quarters through the calendar. I noticed Halloween decorations set out at the local dollar store yesterday. The craft store are already displaying Christmas merchandise. In their haste to capture our purchasing dollars, retailers are speeding up holiday celebrations faster than ever. Christmas in July may soon be a reality.

I have hardly become accustomed to acknowledging this is 2017, and, seemingly, in a few days I will be struggling to write 2018 on the rent check – in fact, the only actual check I now write as all other bills paid through online banking. Paying the monthly bills by check was a built-in time-keeper for me; I would notice months passage as the balance in my check book rose and fell like a tide.

Now it is rarely necessary to date anything.  When I start to type the date on a document, the computer completes it for me. When I need a calendar, Google supplies it. The ubiquitous At-A-Glance datebook  and organizers of the 90’s can now only be found on the dusty shelves of thrift stores, right beside pocket calculators, Walk Man’s and display cases of tarnished watches.

I myself no longer wear a watch to mark the passage of the hours. It is only when I have an appointment that time watching is necessary, in which case I refer to the cell phone I now use as a watch. Its call functions are required only for emergencies for there is no one I wish to talk to. I have no person to ask if I should stop for bread or milk, no one’s opinion I defer to, no one to alert if I am running late. Molly the Cat, waiting at the door and already aware of my arrival time due to her finely honed psychic abilities, will never complain that I didn’t call.

In this age of instant communication our ability to pause, to consider, to wait is becoming obsolete as is the virtue of patience. Instant gratification is no longer a serendipitous boon but an expected entitlement. It seems we are exchanging and sharing information in nanoseconds; we reach conclusions while barely formulating our questions. It feels as if the whole world has become electrified, as if the human race has been plugged into a cosmic current that just gets faster and faster. Time as we have known it is disappearing.

Have we lost the need to track time? Are we approaching that state of nirvana in which all time is the Present? In our headlong rush into tomorrow, does yesterday no longer exist? Are we in such a rush to get from point B to point C to point M, that all stops in between are merging into a time warping blur. Will we soon be feeling the wind of the cosmic train even before we embark?

Whereas I once noticed how quickly the months were passing, I now wonder where whole years have gone. Wasn’t it spring just a few weeks ago? Wasn’t it a few years past that I was a girl? And so I wonder – does time really pass, does time fly, does it heal? Do we really make time, take time, save time, spend time, keep time, waste time, kill time or lose time? Is time really a triumvirate comprised of past, present and future? Or has the flight of geese overhead finally shattered time’s illusions?

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