I am not sure how much longer it would have taken me to notice this little bit of street art if we had not been sent out of the building for a fire alarm. We knew it was not a drill because the Secretary was to be offering cookies and photo opps next to the “holiday” tree — the one that looks just like the trees the Christians coopted from the pagans — and having everyone exit the building would interfere with those plans. Me, I am not particularly interested in desserts before lunch, and I already have a photo of me with the Secretary. I had time to grab my hat and coat, so I am enjoying the enforced break. The theory–since the fire department sent only one truck, and they let us start returning almost as soon as we evacuated, is that they burned a batch of the cookies for the party. Maybe this is an appropriate moment for the phrase “it’s all good.”
I am sitting in Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International airport waiting for the plane that should already be carrying me home to finish being repaired. After having done a full hour of practice this morning in my room, having a last delicious breakfast at the retreat center, and enjoyed the two-hour ride with friends to the airport, I find myself perfectly happy to sit in the airport. I am warm and well-fed. I have bought a novel to read on the plane — Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” — and put aside a philosophy handout to write. The handout, a translation of the beginning of Abhinavagupta’s “Tantrasara” that was given to us by Paul Muller-Ortega to support our meditation practices, teaches us to seek the power of bliss through the practices, this bliss being true knowledge and true freedom. The more we practice, the more we can draw on this power and abide in a state of true happiness. Paul Muller-Ortega sometimes says that we want to be “unreasonably happy.” As I sit here feeling perfectly content after my weekend of practice and community and watching others in the airport get progressively grumpier with the delay, I feel unreasonably happy. I also feel fully motivated to practice and study ever more deeply so that I can abide ever more steadily and this glorious unreason.
I saw this beautiful roll of chicken wire in the Enid Haupt garden when I was walking back to the office after a quick visit to see the Gods of Angkor exhibit at the Sackler Gallery (sorry about the absence of links; blogging from the BB).
I was first introduced to the idea of “found poetry” in junior high school and have developed a life-long habit of photographing words to change, enhance, and/or question their meaning and hidden beauty by the act of extracting them from their original place and presenting them as a photograph. Marcel Duchamp and others did what poets and photographers were doing with words with ordinary objects by presenting them as sculpture.
Here, where I have photographed the chicken wire roll, is the art a sculpture (because I could treat it as such) of which I have taken a photograph–the photograph being mere documentation? Is the art the photograph of what I have seen to the extent I am offering it as a vision and a dialogue generated by what I saw? Or is the photograph merely a snapshot taken with a hand-held computer device documenting an object that happened to be sitting there–not art at all? If it were not for artists such as Duchamp, could I or would I even be able to ask this question?
I think that analogous types of questions have been and can be asked about the variety of religious and mystical experience. Is there a particular way they must be experienced? Do such experiences have to fit within a prescribed framework to be valid? When are such experiences madness or delusion and when are they the voice of the spirit? Who gets to decide? Does it depend on the era and the culture in which the experiencer lives? Does the answer to any of these questions matter if the experiences lead one to a more loving, compassionate, and beauty-filled life?
The sky was luminous and beautiful early this morning when I headed out to teach. The air was scrubbed clear by the cold front that passed through in the night, leaving behind fluffy clouds to highlight the luminousity of the sun rising.
As I enjoyed looking at the clouds and light in the sky on my walk to Union Station to catch the metro to go teach, I thought about seeing the sky in Arizona next week. When I am there, I always feel a keen delight when I look at the sky. Then I thought that the sky is just as lovely here. It is that things on the land are bigger and farther apart out west that make the sky seem bigger.
When life is easeful and we are feeling spacious, then the inner place of meditation can feel more luminous than when we are struggling through the day. But just as the sky is just as big wherever we are on the planet, the inner space of meditation is just as vast and luminous no matter what is going on in our lives. The more we remember that and the more we look, the more we will have the opportunity to be lit up from the inside.
always there, we just have to remember it is there to see and to recognize it when we do. The first is just Anusara’s “first principle”–opening to grace. The second is practicing and studying with increasing depth and refinement (viveka) so that we can recognize the light and know how to bring it into our lives.