Art and Culture

Construction and Reconstruction

I have lived in my house for almost 20 years.  The house came with a bottom of the line, circa 1977 Hechinger’s bathroom.  The bathtub has been rusting for a over a decade, part of the faucet would come off when turning it off, etc.

Finding myself without any pets and between tenants, it seemed like a good time to renovate.  Last week, in just a day, what was a bathroom, is now a gutted space.  Amazing how quickly something can be rooted out and undone.  It will be taking a lot longer to reconstruct.

What I am finding most challenging is not the physical chaos.  I am used to it as an old house often needs work, and this house needed work (though it was not the kind of fixer-upper that was completely missing floors, electricity, and plumbing).

Rather, what I am wrestling with is my emotional reaction to the idea of having a brand new, beautiful bathroom.  There is a big feeling guilty component to be spending money on something that feels not entirely necessary when so many are in need.  So while the contractor is working on the construction, I am working with a wonderful opportunity to help reconstruct (post deconstructing) my emotional relationship with things.  How do I find balance between honoring those in need, my impact on the planet, maintaining my house, and my enjoyment of beautiful things?  How do I feel at peace with my decisions once they already have been made?  How do I apply discrimination in my aesthetics to assist in this balance?

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“Sometimes I have nothing to say”

Several years ago, when I still had a working art studio in my house, the favorite thing to do of a friend’s child when the family came over was to go into the studio to see what I was painting.  I had just finished a piece on which I had painted the words, “Sometimes I have nothing to say.”  D was five or six at the time — just learning to read full sentences.  He chortled delightedly, pointed to the painting, and exclaimed, “I get it!  I get it!”

As I have been studying and contemplating yoga philosophy in a group setting recently, I have been thinking about the tension between saying and not saying, the conundrum of yearning to communicate the indescribable, and the countervailing desire just to experience and not to try and describe or communicate.

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Creating Healing Energy (and communal knitting)

A friend of mine who is an avid and wonderful knitter decided to make a shawl for a friend who is about to have surgery.  Instead of whipping out a shawl herself in a few days, she invited other friends to knit squares and bring them to her.  She is going to piece together the squares to create, in essence, a physical manifestation of a gentle, loving, communal embrace.

I loved this idea.  Though I could not put name to face for the friend who is suffering (I think I would likely recognize her), to support my friend who is setting such a strong intention of sending healing, I am knitting a square or two with some beautiful handspun yarn leftover from a sweater several years ago.

As I knit, I am setting an intention to infuse the cloth with healing energy.  In having been invited to participate in this project, I have been given the gift of a potent reminder of how strongly our attitude and intention in whatever we create and offer can shift how it goes forth into the world — whether it be gifts, practice, speech, food, work.

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Julie and Julia (and “actionless action”)

I went to see Julie and Julia because I, like most other Americans of a certain age who like food, have a history with Julia Child.  Seeing the movie brought back an episode from junior high school.  By seventh grade, I was pretty competent cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and doing needlework.  Being a feminist in training, I wanted to take shop.  Mr. Murphy, my ancient (OK who knows how old he was, but he was gray and bald and had leathery skin, so he was likely over 50 at the time) guidance counselor refused:  “shop is for boys; home economics is for girls.”  I expected my mother to back me up, but for some reason she did not.

I had no interest in making rice crispy treats, which was not the kind of thing we cooked at home and was the kind of thing they taught in home economics.  Part way through the year, when we were told to cook a whole dinner at home and then bring in a report, I decided to cook from Julia Child.  I am sure the meal was perfectly delightful, but the motive on my part was not to make a delicious dinner for the family, but to show my guidance counselor and parents that I should have been allowed to learn something that I did not know how to do and could not learn from a book (woodworking and other “shop” skills).

I enjoyed the movie (it’s a pleasant couple of hours and Meryl Streep is wonderful), but the interesting after thought for me was the difference in the happiness of an individual depending on motivation in life choices.  Is something done for joy (with recognition being delightful, but somewhat incidental) or is it being done because one needs recognition and then feels satisfied on getting it?  From a yoga perspective, is it “actionless action” (see Bhagavad Gita)  or is it acting out of a need to fulfill the ego, which inevitably binds one in the fierce dichotomy and inner tug or war of the opposites of longing and gratification, pain and pleasure?

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A Happy Life is an Engaged Life (and Sadhana)

I have spent most of my life practicing one thing or the other.  What attracts me about practicing in the sense of complete absorption that it brings.   For a time, the absorption can be enough.  Ultimately, though, the absorption should bring joy.  I do not really think that it matters what it is that one is practicing as long as steady engagement brings a sense of inner peace and bliss that enables one to be kinder and to offer service in some way.  I have quit some things along the way either because the practice did not bring enough joy or fulfillment or the practice was detrimental to my nature.

I know yoga and meditation are the right for me at this point in my life because sadhana (practice) continues to brings me ever increasing delight.  I do not think of practice as work (though sometimes I need to use some self-discipline to remind myself to practice), but as an invitation to greater depth and understanding of not only the practice, but myself.

I have friends for whom the right practice is not yoga, but something else — a visual art, music, law.  It is not what one does, but how one does it, and whether it brings a sense of fullness to life, a satisfaction with the engagement in the doing, rather than in what the doing achieves.

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Rudra (and fierce indignation)

Ruda, who is both the ancestor of Shiva and another name for Shiva, is known as the howler.  Rudra is wild and fierce.  Rudra rages.  I heard Paul Muller-Ortega recently describe Rudra.  He said Rudra rages, but offered that there are lots of things against which to rage, such as injustice and inflicted suffering.

The idea of Shiva/Rudra raging has filled my contemplations for the last week.  The questions that arise for me is “what is divinely inspired rage?” “When is fierceness or rage serving to expand love and compassion rather than just destroying the self or others?”

When are rage and destruction necessary to optimize the flow of energy?  I think of Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi.  I think of a surgeon removing a tumor.  When I think of the ongoing war in Iraq; the newest reports of torture; the potential that corporate interests, ignorance, and bigotry may completely undermine this country’s coming to agreement on providing basic health care for all, I think that living a quiet life is not fully engaging a life of the spirit.  How do I find a place of non-attached, but fierce action?  How do I find Rudra and not get distracted by personal desires for outcome (and personal desires for simple peace and quiet)?  When should I howl, to whom should I howl, and what?

This rage, this fierceness, must come from a grounding in the heart with the discrimination of study and practice.  If I cannot find it myself, can I at least support those with the courage and wisdom to be directly engaged?

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Heat Advisory (and Gratitude)

It was already hot when I went out into the garden after I sat for meditation.  I try only to water every third day it does not rain and have used soil supplements such as “soil moist” to make that possible, but it was critical that I water so that the plants survive today’s blazing heat.

Before I went out, while listening to the weather forecast, I drank my second glass of filtered tap water.  I thought how lucky I am to have fresh drinking water from the tap, shelter from the heat, ice if I want it, and water for the garden.  All those warnings to stay inside, keep cool, and drink plenty of liquids are meaningless unless one has access to those things.

I am grateful, too, for my practice.  I know that a slow, quiet practice helps keep me cool and rested,  and that I can get extra enjoyment from the way the heat warms my muscles without any effort at all on my part.  In the heat, stillness is so welcome that sitting is as sweet an activity as I could know.

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Of Course I Have Already Seen Harry Potter (and being open to what comes)

I went on Saturday evening after teaching two classes and a workshop.  I arrived at the 5:20 show of Harry Potter just as the opening credits were rolling, having intentionally missed the ads and the trailers (17 minutes of them by my clock).  After the movie was over, and I was walking to catch the bus home, I overheard a young woman loudly giving a blow by blow to a friend about the ways the movie was unfaithful to the book.

I was raised to think the book was always better.  I read all of the Mary Poppins books (yes, there are several), first seeing Mary Poppins in college.  In the books, Mary Poppins has quite an edge; she is not the saccherine being of the movie.  I’d read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory years before I saw the first movie.  The book is fantastic.  The movie is its own art.  The list could go on.

I’ve taken these days — thank goodness I never did realize the ubiquitous adolescent dream of being a movie critic — to just enjoying movies about books for their own sake, without undue comparison.  (It does help, sometimes, though, to be familiar with the books on which the movie is based, for example:  Cheri).

If it had not been for the yoga practice, I do not know whether I could have reached a stage where I could watch the movie without comparing it to the book after my Woody Allenesque how to watch a movie upbringing.  To be open and fully accepting of what comes takes many forms.  This is just a very small and rather unimportant one.  Having come with no expectation of the movie being faithful to the book, though, gave me a much greater possibility of enjoying it for the bit of summer afternoon entertainment it was.

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