Art and Culture

Shiva Nataraja

This murti of Nataraja has been in the window of a store near where I work for at least 20 years. I often walk past is and just as often stop to admire it. I have never really considered taking it home, lovely as it is. The murti is simply too large for any of my rooms. I have mentioned its needing a home to a couple of different friends, who were looking for large murtis of Nataraja, over the past few months, but none have followed through.

Today, when I was walking past it on a lunchtime walk to the bank, I noticed a “commercial property for rent” sign in the window. I will miss having this resplendent image in my work neighborhood, but not enough to buy it and bring it home. I decided, though, to take a photograph. I know the owner only very casually, but well enough to know he is retiring, rather than being driven out by rising rental costs or the recession. The neighborhood has gotten trendier since Nataraja first appeared in the window. Nataraja might be replaced with a delicious restaurant or a fabulous store purveying things that entice me. Or the space could stay vacant or be used for something that holds no interest for me whatsoever.

Nataraja–lord of the dance of concealment and revelation, of dissolution and manifestation–is dancing here. The murti will be sold or transported away when the shop closes and will physically be gone.

I will have my memories of the image, a photograph I took with my BlackBerry, and will have had a sweet opportunity to observe the lord of the dance dancing away his own image.

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Outrageous Light (and Sadhana)

I just spent a week looking at the celestial realms — inner and outer.  Fifty of us spent a week meditating and studying with Paul Muller-Ortega at a retreat center in Sedona.  It might seem from these pictures that there was not a moment when we weren’t exclaiming in awe over magnificent visions.  The truth is that many times of the day, the sky was not spectacular, but I was always looking and always had my camera in my pocket, whether the sky was dull or flat when I left my room or whether it was engaged in some outrageous display of light.  The photographs below are in chronological order to show the pulsation of night and day, the progression of the moon from almost full to full, the shift in mood from day to day.  But, the images show a completely edited view.  There were the views for which I did not take out my camera at all.  Those were the majority, but I was still looking.  There were the views I photographed, but deleted from the camera memory, choosing not even to save them.  There are the photographs that I downloaded onto my computer, but did not even enlarge to get a better view.  There are photographs I enlarged, but decided not to edit.  Then there were the photographs I chose to edit by making decisions about cropping, brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation.  The photos below are a subset of the last group.

If I were doing a show where I printed and framed the work, I would have worked from at least ten times as many images and would have done multiple prints of each image before choosing what to display.  In this persistency and discrimination, photography teaches much about meditation practice.  To show what is seen in a way that shifts the soul of the viewer, the photographer has to look over and over again.  For example, Robert Frank took over 20,000 images for “The Americans.”

Anyone (especially these days with the technology available) can take an extraordinary picture or two if in the right place at the right time with the camera.  But to have a body of work takes consistent devotion, work, and presence.  So too, with our meditation practice.  Some days exquisite visions arise.  Sometimes we are pulsing with extraordinary energy that fills us with a sense of the very fullness of being.  Other times, old issues or the to do list or even feeling trapped by sitting still is what comes.  If we sit consistently over a long period of time, though, we will witness — just as the camera did — the extraordinary.  We will know from being consistent that it is our very consistency that reveals bliss.

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Sensing the Subtle Energies (an Earthquake)

I woke up around 4 o’clock this morning, inexplicably agitated and unable to fall back asleep right away. Sully, too, was restless. I went into the yoga room and did a series of restorative forward bends and twists, which provided some ease, but I was still a little restless and unable to go back to sleep.

It was too far out of my usual experience for living in DC and too little impact at my house (compared to what it was reported to have felt like in some of the suburban areas) to have identified the earthquake for what it was.

When I called the weather, which advised of the earthquake, I knew that its immanence was what had caused me to wake in anticipatory anxiety.

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Hot Day (and aligning with it instead if fighting it)

It astonishes me how much time is spent complaining that it is hot. It is July, and I live south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Much of what gives rise to the complaints has to do with trying to dress in accordance with traditional office dress, being active according to some preconceived exercise routine, and wanting to eat heavy food from a diet based on habit rather than season.

Yes. It is hot, and being hot can be uncomfortable, especially if we try to fight it.

If we wear loose, light clothing, exercise less vigorously and only in the morning or after the heat of the day has waned, and eat lightly of the fruits of the season, then we can experience less discomfort. We also then can better open to the delights of the heat–stretchier muscles, a call to stillness, and chilled watermelon are a few things that make summer a joy for me.

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