Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Freaky Science of Our Motivations

I've seen this video already a couple of times, and I still enjoy it (with a pinch of wicked, subversive appreciation ;-) A famous animated presentation for the Royal Society of Arts by Dan Pink named Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I find its message most amazing & wonderfully paradoxical (you know I love paradox!). That transcendence might be secretly leaking its way into economics & management, perhaps some of the most cynical disciplines of our times. The counter-intuitive (for some of us) revelation of this  inspiring talk is that deep down we are driven by profoundly irrational (not calculating) & altruistic motives even when it comes down to money & work ambition. And that perhaps this unexpected, noble irrationality is what makes us fully human. Enjoy this singular delicious slice of a new discipline in the making - transcendental economics! ;-)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Falling in Love with Life

Some say that you can make peace with life only when you are also at peace with death. That we can have an authentic, heartfelt audience with life only when allowed by her chamberlain, or personal assistant – death. Because death holds the keys & codes to life. I really feel this is one of the most essential truth of truths of spiritual life (or any life). They both are ancient allies, each contributing to the unified tapestry of existence. If you want to marry life, you need to ask for her hand from death when you propose, kneeling down in surrender & reverence... And falling in love with life makes one also innocently curious & inquisitive about death, in my impression.
At some point, I would like to return again to this topic. But for now I just want to give over to a touching poem by Mary Oliver.
When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brother Sun, Sister Moon - St. Francis of Assisi

I'd planned to post this practically for several months. But for some reason, I always found something else that either appeared more urgent or interesting at that moment. But my hesitation can have a good ground after all. Perhaps this is the perfect time for this piece. The Canticle of the Sun  (also known as the Praise of the Creatures) by St. Francis of Assisi. The song has a peculiar magical influence on my mind. When I close my eyes, I can feel and hear it spreading, resonating across the  vast prairie chanted by a talented Native American poet-shaman immersed in a heartfelt conversation with Manitou...

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord,
Praise, glory and honor and benediction all, are Thine.
To Thee alone do they belong, most High,
And there is no man fit to mention Thee.

Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all Thy creatures,
Especially to my worshipful brother sun,
The which lights up the day, and through him dost Thou brightness give;
And beautiful is he and radiant with splendor great;
Of Thee, most High, signification gives.

Praised be my Lord, for sister moon and for the stars,
In heaven Thou hast formed them clear and precious and fair. 

Praised be my Lord for brother wind
And for the air and clouds and fair and every kind of weather,
By the which Thou givest to Thy creatures nourishment.
Praised be my Lord for sister water,
The which is greatly helpful and humble and precious and pure.

Praised be my Lord for brother fire,
By the which Thou lightest up the dark.
And fair is he and gay and mighty and strong.

Praised be my Lord for our sister, mother earth,
The which sustains and keeps us
And brings forth diverse fruits with grass and flowers bright.

Praised be my Lord for those who for Thy love forgive
And weakness bear and tribulation.
Blessed those who shall in peace endure,
For by Thee, most High, shall they be crowned.
Praised be my Lord for our sister, the bodily death,
From the which no living man can flee.
Woe to them who die in mortal sin;
Blessed those who shall find themselves in Thy most holy will,
For the second death shall do them no ill.

Praise ye and bless ye my Lord, and give Him thanks,
And be subject unto Him with great humility.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Great Doubt, Great Awakening

The most recent station during my latest spiritual backpacking has been a marvellous Zen garden with a charming orchard of blooming cherry trees exclusively dedicated to “doubt”. Some tentative ideas and impressions amalgamated in my imagination and I thought that they would be worthy of a separate post.
Conventionally, doubt is considered a quite ambivalent concept, often related to difficult experiences such as perplexity, confusion, uncertainty, fear, anxiety, suspicion, groundlessness, but also positive emotions such as wonder, awe, openness, spaciousness, curiosity, generosity (benefit of the doubt). In Zen Buddhism, doubt is with exquisite persistency cultivated as a noble human virtue, similarly to the highly regarded attitude of scepticism in science & philosophy.
In Zen tradition, deep doubt is an indispensable prerequisite, a sine qua non of spiritual awakening. And it’s not just the usual paradoxically poetic Zen idea, but also an eminently pragmatic approach. After all, only by profoundly questioning our deeply held beliefs can we open a sublime window allowing fresh air to bring vitality and dynamism into our own static persuasion, letting in unbiased rays of sunshine casting light onto the obscure regions of ourselves, providing an opportunity for sparking our internal clarity and insight. Doubt is a subtle, yet simple mental instrument of gaining healthy distance, perspective & spaciousness towards both the deep foundations & improvised architectonic sketches of our life. Doubt is the vessel, the medium for channelling nature’s spring of omnipresent impartiality, fairness & generosity into our inner landscape. It’s the only path leading to disentanglement from the threads of illusions & fabrications we wrap our life & existence into. It’s divine’s feather that gently tingles our closed eyes into clear vision, or the unexpected, perhaps even moving solid brick wall that ruthlessly cracks wide open our external armour assembled of calcified preconceptions thus revealing our tender, raw, beating core underneath. Perhaps the reason why the stage in spiritual growth is named “awakening/enlightenment” is that we exchange the shadow, dreamlike entanglement of our psyche for a more translucent transparency of our presence in the world, becoming more truthful mediators & faithful interpreters of the play of light projected on us by all of being. I don’t know…;-)
So this time, I guess, I concocted my own special spiritual mix. By looking at Christian Easter (possibly already related to pagan spring festivals) through the crystal clear lens of Zen Buddhism. Zen doubt has become for me an unexpected suspension bridge to Easter, a stepping stone towards better personal understanding of spring awakening, spiritual rebirth (becoming mentally tender & elastic like a child), psychological purification (liberation from the inessential) . Hmm, tastes delicious to me! And to support my bold claims, I have collected some shiny quotes from Zen on doubt...

Hakuin (Japanese Zen master):
"At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully…. If those who study Zen are able to make the Great Doubt appear before them, a hundred out of a hundred, a thousand out of a thousand, will without fail attain awakening.
When a person faces the great doubt, before him, there is in all directions only a vast and empty land without birth and without death, like a huge plain of ice extending ten thousand miles. As though seated within a vase of lapis lazuli surrounded by absolute purity, without his senses he sits and forgets to stand, stands and forgets to sit. Within his heart there is not the slightest thought or emotion... It is just as though he were standing in complete emptiness. At this time no fears arise, no thoughts creep in, and when he advances single-mindedly without retrogression, suddenly it will be as though a sheet of ice were broken or a jade tower had fallen. He will experience a great joy, one that never in forty years has he seen or heard.

[Note: Lapis lazuli is a beautifully azure semi-precious stone]
[Heinrich Dumoulin (2005). Zen Buddhism : a History: Japan, © 2005 World Wisdom, Inc.; used for non-commercial educational purposes]

“When there is great doubt,” says a Zen aphorism that Kusan Sunim kept repeating, “then there is great awakening.” This is the key. The depth of any understanding is intimately correlated with the depth of one’s confusion. Great awakening resonates at the same “pitch” as great doubt. So rather than negate such doubt by replacing it with belief, which is the standard religious procedure, Zen encourages you to cultivate that doubt until it “coagulates” into a vivid mass of perplexity. … Great doubt is not a purely mental or spiritual state: it reverberates throughout your body and your world. It throws everything into question. In developing such doubt, you are told to question “with the marrow of your bones and the pores of your skin.” You are exhorted to “be totally without knowledge and understanding, like a three-year-old child.”

[Stephen Batchelor (2010). Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. © 2010 by Stephen Batchelor; used for non-commercial educational purposes]

Takasui (Japanese Zen master) on doubt:
“You must doubt deeply, again and again, asking yourself what the subject of hearing could be. Pay no attention to the various illusory thoughts and ideas that may occur to you. Only doubt more and more deeply, gathering together in yourself all the strength that is in you, without aiming at anything or expecting anything in advance, without intending to be enlightened and without even intending not to intend to be enlightened; become like a child in your own breast.”

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Peace Mission of Divine Beauty

I feel this is the artistic intent of the New York based Shen Yun Performing Arts Company. Yet again, I found out about them by sheer luck - I saw their advert in a local newspaper and looked them up out of pure curiosity. And what I discovered swept me off my feet and took my breath away. In addition to the breathtakingly exquisite artistic experience, a fabulous Chinese equivalent of "Cirque du Soleil", the company follows also a much deeper humanitarian purpose - to revive the vital spiritual values & virtues of ancient China (that's why they are not welcome to the PR of China). Unfortunately, I have not seen them yet, but honestly I've put them on my "before I die" list. Every time I watch a video of their performance an elemental wave of love & tenderness washes over me through the computer screen bringing tears to my eyes, forcing a lump down my throat (I know that this happens quite often to me, but still...). The infinite dedication & devotion to the most minute detail is so powerfully palpable even through the cold  walls of the digital world.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Animal Attraction

One more delicious piece of evidence that animal attraction knows no boundaries, and can bloom across species and natural elements. ;-)  Like this friendly encounter of a kitty and a dolphin. Watch nature's magic at work! Awww! Sho shweet!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Princesses, Dragons & Treasures

Image Source: link
The “Holy Trinity” of fantasy & fairy tale – the princess, dragon, and treasure – has caught my imagination into its subtle, ethereal net. Let’s try what the imaginative trinitarian formula sounds like: “In the name of the Princess, and the Dragon, and the Treasure…” Ahem, I got slightly distracted by this little naughty diversion. But I wanted to start with something else. Shedding more light onto the motive of the rocky encounter between a princess & dragon, bodhisattva & dragon (Chinese Kuan Yin), saintly figure & monster (Buddha & the Naga King), beauty & the beast (also in the Roman-Greek myth of Eros & Psyche) in legends, tales, stories, narratives and the fact that it comes up quite frequently in numerous spiritual cultures all around the globe. It’s a widespread mental image, a common element of story lines, a ubiquitous artistic device for conjuring an atmosphere of conflict and often even violence. And I have a sense that it is this little seemingly harmless fragment of imagery that mostly stays in our psyches of all these stories as a piece of a twisted mythical sound bite, a distorted paparazzi mental snapshot, a tabloid mnemonic residue of ancient wisdom.

But of course, I don’t buy this sensational archetypal gossip. Earth’s private journal has also pages written about peace & unassuming inner heroism, but these quiet, shy endeavours cannot outshout the screeching pandemonium of pushy ideas about scandal & dissonance. In my view however, sealing a peaceful truce, weaving an amicable alliance  of cooperation is the most climactic moment for this particular  fantasy fiction triad. So I rummaged through my personal collection of humanity’s spiritual jewellery. And I have selected this shiny gem of wisdom from the rich treasure case offered to the world by the Austrian poet-writer – Rainer Maria Rilke & his legendary Letters to a Young Poet (a highly recommended little book). Here is what he has to say about the princess-dragon saga:

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand
at the beginning of all races – the myths about dragons that
at the last moment are transformed into princesses.
perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses
waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage.
Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest
essence, something helpless that wants our love.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises before you
larger than any you’ve ever seen, if an anxiety like
light and cloud shadows moves over your hands and
everything you do. You must realize that something
has happened to you; that life has not forgotten you;
it holds you in its hands and will not let you fall.
Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness,
any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know
what work these conditions are doing inside you.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Human Divine on a Cosmic Adventure - Thomas Keating

Some time ago, I encountered a few deeply touching thoughts by Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk (just like Thomas Merton), one of the prime movers of the Centering Prayer initiative (a form of contemplative prayer in Christian tradition that to me appears to be the Western analogue of Eastern meditative methods focusing on the cultivation of inner peace & silence). I won’t pretend that I am highly familiar with his work. But his elegant sailing tack on the winds of the divine caught my eye mainly because of its mystic ring & interfaith integrative texture. Thomas Keating is often accused by some fellow Christians of smuggling Hinduism into Catholic doctrine (e.g. the Atman – the Great Self, or the principle behind the common Sanskrit “Namaste” greeting addressed to another person interpreted as “I bow to the Divine in you” paradoxically accompanied by the same heart-hand gesture like in traditional Christian prayer). Honestly, I have no jurisdiction to make a judgment about this as I am not that closely acquainted with either religious tradition (and also my judgment is really of no big significance in this matter). But I actually quite delight in the (supposedly) Hindu flavours spicing up his ideas. I think this is somewhat reminiscent of the case of Thomas Merton & his controversial spiritual love affair with Zen Buddhism. I seem to savour spiritual cocktails of all sorts, although I wasn’t clearly aware of these exotic cravings of my psyche up until now. Ultimately, it’s probably one gorgeous body of the Divine dressed up & presented in different local costumes. The surface decoration can change according to fashion, historical period, geographical location and cultural tradition, but the living heart of it remains constant. But enough of my ramblings... I hope you enjoy the curiously tasty blend too!

For human beings, the most daunting challenge is to become fully human. For to become fully human is to become fully divine.

The Gospel calls us forth to full responsibility for our emotional life. We tend to blame other people or situations for the turmoil we experience. In actual fact, upsetting emotions prove beyond any doubt that the problem is in us. If we do not assume responsibility for our emotional programs on the unconscious level and take measure to change them, we will be influenced by them to the end of our lives. As long as these programs are in place, we cannot hear other people and their cries for help; their problems must first be filtered through our own emotional needs, reactions and prepackaged values.

God's first language is Silence. Everything else is a translation.

The full flowering of our relationship with God is somewhat like that of an elderly couple who have lived together for a long time, brought up the children, suffered together the ups and downs of daily life, and who really love each other. They don't have to talk all the time. They chat as they pour coffee in the morning, but they can also sit together and look at a sunset and just enjoy each others' company. They might hold hands or look at each other's eyes to maintain the sense of union. They have moved beyond conversation to communion.

The complementary movement towards divine love is growth in humility which is the acceptance of the reality about ourselves, our own weakness and limitations.

If we refuse to think of anything except what we are doing or the person that we are with, we develop the habit of being present to the present moment. In a way, the present moment becomes as sacred as being in church. Far better to be present to your duty if you are a bartender, than to be present in church and to be thinking about being in a bar. At least you are present to yourself when you are paying attention to what you are doing.
Attention, then, is a way of doing what we are doing. It cracks the crust of the false self (our psychological awareness of daily life) in which we are the center of the universe while everything else is circling around our particular needs or desires. This is an illusion, but unfortunately it is the heritage we all bring with us from early life.

Just by the very nature of our birth, we are on the spiritual journey.

If one completes the journey to one's own heart, one will find oneself in the heart of everyone else.

We are kept from the experience of Spirit because our inner world is cluttered with past traumas. As we begin to clear away this clutter, the energy of Divine Light and Love begin to flow through our beings.

The Divine Presence has always been with us, but we think it is absent. That thought is the monumental illusion of the human condition. The Spiritual Journey is designed to heal it.

We rarely think of the air we breathe, yet it is in us and around us all the time. In similar fashion, the Presence of God penetrates us, is all around us, is always embracing us.

The winds of Grace are blowing all the time, and it is up to us to raise our sails.

The more we know about nature, the more we know about the mind of God.

Vulnerability means to be hurt over and over again without seeking to love less, but more.

The greatest miracle is the opening of the human heart to the generosity of God.

The Spiritual Journey is about trying to get our conscious life in harmony with the Divine action.

We, like Mary, can bring peace into our world by little acts of kindness. And in the Spirit of Christ, we can be transformers always on the lookout for new ways of enriching the lives of those around us.

If you don’t want to become God, you’ve missed the boat. If you’re too humble to think you can become God, if you think you are not worthy, that is a false humility, because it’s not yours to decide.

The four Gospels contain Jesus’ program for revolutionizing our understanding of the Ultimate Reality and hence of ourselves and other people, and indeed of all created reality. This is the God that is manifesting who he is at every moment, in and through us and through all creation. Jesus’ teaching initiates us into how to take part in this cosmic adventure. For human beings, it is the most daunting challenge there is — the challenge of becoming fully divine. For to become human is to become fully divine.

At our deepest level, we are more God than ourselves.

If God is present everywhere, it follows that under no circumstances can we ever be separated from him. We may feel that we are; we may think that we are. But in actual fact, there is no way that we can ever be apart from God even if we try.

We are all One, and this One is God.

The triumph of grace enables people to live their ordinary lives divinely.

We are living in a world that rejects love and that affirms selfishness as the ultimate value. The pressure from society is constantly insinuating itself through our upbringing, education, and culture. Society as a whole is saturated with the non-God. First we have to affirm our interior freedom to be who we are or who we want to be in the face of all worldly enticements, including the worldly enticements associated with the spiritual journey. We bring the false self with us into the spiritual journey and into our relationship with God. Perhaps for many years our relationship with God might be termed co-dependent because we deal with God in the magical way that is characteristic of children. An important fruit of prayer is to be purified of our childish ideas about God. As our idea of God expands, there is no word, no way, no gesture that can articulate it anymore. Hence we fall into silence, the place we should have been in the first place.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Soul, the Throbbing Song of the Great Musician – Hildegard von Bingen

In this blog post I thought I would introduce some of the breathtakingly beautiful thoughts and poetic visions by the feminine Christian mystic – Hildegard von Bingen. A poet, writer, philosopher, musician, composer, scientist, healer, visionary, scholar – a true polymath, at home in various scientific disciplines, kindred to diverse domains of art, and a nimble pilgrim to diverse realms of existence. An authentic Renaissance woman of the Middle Ages, ahead of her times by centuries, an early feminist thinker, a medieval avant-gardist of social movement. A truly fascinating & inspiring spiritual figure.

We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.

With nature's help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life sustaining.

I, the fiery life of divine wisdom, I ignite the beauty of the plains, I sparkle the waters, I burn in the sun, and the moon, and the stars.

The earth which sustains humanity must not be injured, it must not be destroyed.

The soul is a breath of living spirit that with excellent sensitivity permeates the entire body to give it life. Just so, the breath of the air makes the earth fruitful. Thus the air is the soul of the earth, moistening it, greening it.

There is the Music of Heaven in all things and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing.

Underneath all the texts, all the sacred psalms and canticles, these watery varieties of sounds and silences, terrifying, mysterious, whirling and sometimes gestating and gentle must somehow be felt in the pulse, ebb, and flow of the music that sings in me. My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God.

When the words come, they are merely empty shells without the music. They live as they are sung, for the words are the body and the music the spirit.

A human being is a vessel that God has built for himself and filled with his inspiration so that his works are perfected in it.

Just as a mirror, which reflects all things, is set in its own container, so too the rational soul is placed in the fragile container of the body. In this way, the body is governed in its earthly life by the soul, and the soul contemplates heavenly things through faith.

Because a woman brought death
a bright Maiden overcame it,
and so the highest blessing
in all of creation
lies in the form of a woman,
since God has become man
in a sweet and blessed Virgin.


The soul is kissed by God in its innermost regions.
With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed.
It is a yearning to take on God's gentle yoke,
It is a yearning to give one's self to God's Way.

The marvels of God are not brought forth from one's self.
Rather, it is more like a chord, a sound that is played.
The tone does not come out of the chord itself, but rather,
through the touch of the Musician.
I am, of course, the lyre and harp of God's kindness.


Loving tenderness abounds for all
from the darkest
to the most eminent one beyond the stars,

Exquisitely loving all
she bequeaths the kiss of peace
upon the ultimate King.


I saw a mighty and immeasurable marvelousness.
It had such a fierce shine
I could only behold it
as if through a mirror.
But I knew that within it
was every manner of sweet blossoming,
every manner of good aromas and lovely scents.
It was to be enjoyed
with unbounded delight.
Here were the blessed, happy ones
that moved God in their time on earth,
stirred God with sincere striving and just works.
Now in all this marvelousness
they can enjoy the sweetest ecstasy.


Who are the prophets?
They are a royal people,
who penetrate mystery
and see with the spirit's eyes.
In illuminating darkness they speak out.
They are living, penetrating clarity.
They are a blossom blooming only
on the shoot that is rooted in the
flood of light.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Rocking Graces

I seem to be in a musical mood today... So I thought I would let it mirror in this blog post dedicated to the 3 selected rocking graces who each time cast their spell on me making me dance & roar along with them ;-) Enjoy!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Criticize by Creating - Michelangelo

Some breathtakingly beautiful thoughts by Michelangelo. From his words I get the impression that to him artistic creations were conceived from a feverish love affair of his soul with the creative object, an imaginative infatuation of his heart’s fantasy with the raw materials under his hands, acute sensitivity to the ethereal nature of earthly beauty. Michelangelo was, it seems, on a passionate mission for the spiritual liberation of artistic pieces from the shackles of amorphous inexistence. See for yourself & enjoy...

I saw the angel in the stone and carved to set it free.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.

His hope is treacherous only whose love dies with beauty, which is varying every hour. But in chaste hearts uninfluenced by the power of outward change, there blooms a deathless flower that breathes on earth the air of paradise.

Criticize by creating.

A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.

The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth's loveliness.

Genius is eternal patience.

Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.

Death and love are the two wings that bear the good man to heaven.

Beauty is the purgation of superfluities.

Every beauty which is seen here by persons of perception resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all are come.

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

From such a gentle thing, from such a fountain of all delight, my every pain is born.

If we have been pleased with life, we should not be displeased with death, since it comes from the hand of the same master.

The best artist has that thought alone which is contained within the marble shell. The sculptor's hand can only break the spell to free the figures slumbering in the stone.

The promises of this world are, for the most part, vain phantoms; and to confide in one's self, and become something of worth and value is the best and safest course.

The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.

What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?

In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.

The marble not yet carved can hold the form of every thought the greatest artist has.

Heaven-born, the soul a heavenward course must hold; beyond the world she soars; the wise man, I affirm, can find no rest in that which perishes, nor will he lend his heart to ought that doth time depend.

Already at 16, my mind was a battlefield: my love of pagan beauty, the male nude, at war with my religious faith. A polarity of themes and forms - one spiritual, the other earthly.

I already have a wife who is too much for me; she is my art, and my works are my children.

Ancora Imparo. (I am still learning; at age 87 in 1562)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Deep Blue Within

I love seas, oceans, and water. Perhaps you have noticed by means of the illustrations in a few previous blog entries (probably no one could have overlooked it, it’s so blatantly obvious, I guess ;-). It’s a strange lifelong fascination, slowly turning into a sort of stubborn fixation, a maniacal obsession, an irresistible, invisible attraction. I can’t explain it. It’s like the unpredictable and unexpected fascinations of small children. As if these things were emerging from thin air, out of the blue (pun intended).

When contemplating spirituality, sea, ocean, water metaphors work beautifully for me for some strange, inexplicable reason. To me, spiritual practice feels like a series of deep dives, or leaps over the edge of the physical world into a space filled with emptiness. Even in meditation, this peculiar fluidity of impressions comes up frequently. Meditation itself feels like diving, immersion of my soul, melting of my mind. Suddenly my breath slows down dramatically, my skin turns cool, my experience becomes clearer, lighter, everything feels flowing, smooth, soft, silky. I dearly, dearly hope that heaven feels like this peaceful diving otherwise I do not want to go there! ;-) Time and again, when I meditate I literally feel as if I was sitting somewhere under the sea (not floating really, but almost firmly, but gently supported by water, as if held by softly solid ground underneath). Also often I feel as if the gigantic volume of the oceanic water mass was tightly embracing me. My lungs seem cool as if they were waterbreathing effortlessly. On occasions, I also have a strange sense of coolness around my heart, in my belly, on top of my head (as if my parietal bones were thrown open like a secret doorway). At other times, I feel as if the mysteriously ingenious zipper of my spine was opened on my back like a fashionable hoodie sweater designed by Nature’s exclusive clothing label. Sounds bizarre, even spooky, but I do not feel scared at all while I witness these sensations. I actually relish these odd experiences, they make me curious & awed. They are so refreshingly different from the usual ordinary life experiences…

I love mindfulness meditation the way I love water. Some people find this spiritual practice utterly boring, I never did, it always wakes me up more, it makes my body & mind tingle with vibrant aliveness and fresh energy. Some find meditation hard, for some reason it came very naturally and easily to me, like a noble animal instinct waiting for centuries to be dusted off. This mental exercise activates an internal rocket launch that transports me to the velvety canopy of starry skies, it opens a submarine chute that delivers me to the oceanic depths of being. I think of my meditation practice as a pirate adventure of a former atheist :-). I softly slip into the skin of Jack Sparrow (from the Pirates of the Caribbean), a feminine version of the eccentric character, in possession of the magic compass and going through the most bizarre life episodes. To me, that peculiar, bewildered, seemingly misguided compass symbolizes my heart. It serves as a peephole, an inviting opening in the fence of physical reality marking the border with the spiritual realm. This aperture is like Jack Sparrow’s precarious telescope that I must hold upside down to see the world on other side of the fence the right way. If I want to look through the window of my heart to gain a glimpse of the ethereal realm, I must carry out a bold existential handstand with my soul, I need to take this demanding mental yoga position, to knead my psyche into a weird tangled pretzel, turning myself inside-out, upside-down, back-to-front all at once in one smooth, seemingly effortless move. It’s as if an uncredited spiritual body double, a secret passenger hiding, covertly travelling inside of me, stepped out of my physical form and looked at the other world in that peculiar reversed manner. To help her see properly while standing on her hands, my regular self has to kneel down in a gesture of humility, surrender and mild cooperation, showing my appreciation of the grandness of being, allowing her to see the other province clearly and directly. Only by means of this mutual cooperative act can my mind witness the magnificent sea spreading behind my back.

Recently during meditation I also had some experiences of the most breathtakingly turquoise blueness I have ever seen. Instead of the usual oceanic experience (an endless expanse of white light), I felt as if moving through a fine mist of cool blueness (or the mist moved through me, I am not quite sure, my inner compass becomes slightly physically disoriented during meditation, and its readings are in consequence necessarily hazy too ;-) I literally sensed very subtle drops of water on my skin, on my face, in my lungs. I am not sure if this blueness has any significance. The experience was quite pleasurable though. In Buddhism, the Blue Buddha tends to stand for healing, and in Hinduism, Krishna – the playful Poet-God - has blue skin too. In the Occidental tradition, blue colour was conventionally related to nobility and royalty. It seems that generally blue colour has benign significance. But these historical facts still do not seem to move my own case forward in any particular way. It still remains a puzzle what this turquoise vapour could mean for me.

Krishna as a child

That up-side down, inside-out thingy appears to be connected also to something else. Gradually, I am coming to believe that this oceanic manifestation, is just another aspect of myself. This mare incognitum (Lat. - "uknown sea") within is perhaps my undiscovered, uncharted fluid self. It’s the other side of my psyche residing behind my back that I kept out of my view for a long time, my so-called “unconscious”. It really pains me to label that tender thing this way although “unconscious” is a quite a common technical term in psychology. But I think it’s not only repulsive and ugly (utterly unpoetic!), but most probably also factually completely incorrect. Because that other self spread behind my back is not any less conscious than my ordinary waking consciousness, rather I would say that it’s more conscious, more awake, more alive, more connected, more developed, more intelligent, more responsive, more spacious and expansive. I privately nickname it “expansive consciousness”, “deep consciousness”, "mare incognitum" ("uncharted sea") or “the deep blue something” :-)… So nowadays it has dawned on me that I am like a paradoxical vessel carrying a vast sea, a primal ocean inside of my body. Even this particular experience is not quite consistent with the normal everyday life experience. It seems as if contradiction and paradox were completely unknown concepts to the “expansive consciousness”, because in this king’s realms everything is fluidly, seamlessly unified. It only appears to our regular consciousness that certain things are paradoxical and oxymoronic, due to our habitual inner divergence.

My fixation with seas and deep water surfaces manifests in one more thing. The fascination of mine with various spiritual figures walking, standing, sitting on water. They have occupied my mind a lot in the last couple of months. And I have discovered that across diverse cultural traditions, many of them have a lot in common. If you look at the pictures below you may see for yourself what I mean…

Kuan Yin, Bodhisattva of Compassion

All I am trying to do is to decipher the encrypted messages communicated by these mysterious religious icons, but I am not saying that I am factually correct. Actually, no one knows accurately and with absolute certainty what these portrayals really try to suggest. So I made up my own story about them that appeals to me most. In my eyes, they are strong characters who had the power to turn their life around, their spirits upside-down, who miraculously survived the switching of their existential magnetic poles… These beings go out onto the open sea seeking for firm ground under they feet, they face their own shadows (demons, dark, “unconscious”, uknown) to see the light (the sun is illuminating the crown of their heads from behind, so their shadow must be right in front of them), they take untrodden roads to walk their own unique paths. They rebel, they revolutionize, they move against the current of mainstream culture. As I said this narrative is only my imaginative attempt to decipher the secret messages offered by these figures. But the fact that the same mode of representation is so consistent across different cultural settings just amplifies my impression that it’s a trace well worth following for stubborn spiritual scouts.

Pondering about blueness, water, oceans, and seas reminds me of one more interesting coincidence. Sigmund Freud (not really belonging to my favourite psychological theorists & practitioners) and his widely popular metaphor of the human psyche. Freud famously compared the human mind to an iceberg gliding on open water. The tip of the iceberg, the small summit above water, represents consciousness, whereas the vast area hidden under the surface symbolizes the unconscious (and the preconscious – psychological material with the potential to become conscious). A definitely thought-provoking analogy that most of us find quite intriguing. But time and again, I am personally surprised how limited was the view of the human soul by Sigmund Freud, which in this case also prevented him from making full use of his own wonderful metaphor. For him, the ocean served only a few unimportant functions. It provided a fluid threshold between the conscious and the unconscious, and it formed a barrier to the direct & complete insight into the less conscious aspects of the human mind. But in my perspective, there is much more to this poetic portrait of the psyche than it appears at the first sight. After all, ice is just another state of the same substance like the sea that supports it. They are only apparently different manifestations of the same entity, the solid and the liquid are, in spite of appearances, one. In addition, one form of water supports, holds, moves the other. Each can through natural transformations (nature’s alchemical operations) seamlessly change into the other. They continuously emerge from and dissolve into each other, they offer a magnificent spectacle of an elemental shape-shifting dance.

After all, I guess I can be grateful to Sigmund Freud, that despite his failure to wholly appreciate his own metaphor of the human psyche, he provided me with some additional validation of my foggy intuitions. After some innocent tinkering with Freud’s suggestion, I have arrived at a slightly modified version of the psychological metaphor. I agree that the solid, frozen manifestation is a relatively suitable description of the regular consciousness (mainly operating with concepts & chains of thoughts as firm building blocks of our mental lives). However, the submerged part of the iceberg could perhaps more accurately stand for the extended preconscious (for instance, psychological processes about to enter the province of regular consciousness). And what about the “unconscious”? In my mind’s eye, it shows as the vast ocean and the fine vapour (gaseous state of water) surrounding, supporting, lovingly embracing the iceberg from below and from above. In addition, according to my impression, this vast and all-permeating “unconscious” is, in contrast to Freud’s assumptions, breathtakingly conscious, passionately alive, creatively responsive, fiercely empathic, and powerfully peaceful (a portrayal of the “unconscious” in a striking opposition to the majority of mainstream psychology). In my mind, serious problems with the expansive conscious (“unconscious”) arise when it becomes completely & violently disconnected from the “regular consciousness”. It’s not as oppressive, dangerous, threatening, primitive as often theorized by many psychologists. But in the case of dissociation, the latter will most probably bear also extreme signs of rigidity, clinging, defensiveness, neuroticism… These 2 aspects of our psyche are intrinsically symbiotic life forms. Under optimal circumstances, they co-exist like true lovers spontaneously tightening and loosening their intimate embraces, keeping up a constant flow of secret communicative transactions through all sensory channels available (these channels can be probably significantly opened up by regular practice of mindfulness meditation). But when an unscalable brick wall or a vertical rock cliff suddenly materializes between them, they both turn into exaggerated incarnations of themselves drawing on their unique powers in a fierce attempt to wildly tear down the wall separating them. As I see it, regular consciousness can behave in the same savage & impulsive manner like our unconscious, and our expansive consciousness (“unconscious”) is in possession of an intrinsic dignity, refinement and nobility like the upper aspect of our psyche.

With this tentative conclusion I seem to have come full circle on my imaginative, exploratory excursion about open bodies of water and the colour blue. At least this time around. I hope that I made the muses content at last. Because of this musing (blog entry), they kept mercilessly bugging me during an enjoyable meditation sitting, which made me slightly grumpy ;-). The naughty ethereal creatures kept shooting at me with fragments of shiny ideas. Until I finally came out of meditation and switched on my computer to write the thoughts down. And this is the result.

If you have a rendezvous with a sea or an ocean in the future, please give them my kindest regards (from me as their great admirer;-) And next time when you face your inner deep blue something, standing on the sandy shores of yourself, I hope you will greet it with a wink and a smile on the face of your heart ;-)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Angelic Virtual Choir

Oh, wow! Yet again, quite accidentally, I discovered a marvellous piece of transcendence floating through the world of virtual reality. This wonderful video showing a musical project named "Virtual Choir" which consists of singers and their conductor who practically never met face-to-face with each other, yet they all contributed to the creation of this most beautiful vocal performance. The individual voices of the choir were collected through individual YouTube videos, collated and digitally synchronized into this amazing resonant current of "1000 voices". When I first listened to the sound track, it conjured a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I just thought it was so perfectly divine, breathtakingly surreal, spectacularly sublime! For more info on the project have a look at a recent TED talk. Enjoy!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Art as Meditation, Art as Prayer - Henri Matisse

La Danse (The Dance, 1909) – Henri Matisse
Again, I have discovered another fascinating artistic figure for whom art is a form of spiritual worship, a gesture of reverence & devotional practice, heart’s sacred offering, holy medicine, a calming sanctuary for the soul, a passionate adoration to the Divine… The French painter Henri Matisse, colleague of Wassily Kandinsky. So I have collected this vibrant & fragrant bouquet of inspiring quotes for you… Hope you like them!

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or disturbing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.

A musician once said: In art, truth and reality begin when one no longer understands what one is doing or what one knows, and when there remains an energy that is all the stronger for being constrained, controlled and compressed. It is therefore necessary to present oneself with the greatest humility: white, pure and candid with a mind as if empty, in a spiritual state analogous to that of a communicant approaching the Lord's Table. Obviously it is necessary to have all of one's experience behind one, but to preserve the freshness of one's instincts.

I don't know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I'm some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.

Do I believe in God? Yes, when I am working. When I am submissive and modest, I feel myself to be greatly helped by someone who causes me to do things that exceed my capabilities. However, I cannot acknowledge him because it is as if I were to find myself before a conjuror whose sleight of hand eludes me.

Slowly I discovered the secret of my art. It consists of a meditation on nature, on the expression of a dream which is always inspired by reality. With more involvement and regularity, I learned to push each study in a certain direction. Little by little the notion that painting is a means of expression asserted itself, and that one can express the same thing in several ways. Exactitude is not truth, Delacroix liked to say.

Perhaps what we call perfection in art... is no more than the sense of wanting or finding in a human work that certainty of execution, that inner necessity, that indissoluble, reciprocal union between design and matter, which I find in the humblest seashell.

For my part I have never avoided the influence of others. I would have considered it cowardice and a lack of sincerity toward myself.

At each stage I reach a balance, a conclusion. At the next sitting, if I find that there is a weakness in the whole, I make my way back into the picture by means of the weakness — I re-enter through the breach — and I reconceive the whole. Thus everything becomes fluid again.

You study, you learn, but you guard the original naiveté. It has to be within you, as desire for drink is within the drunkard or love is within the lover.

There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.

A picture must possess a real power to generate light ... for a long time now I've been conscious of expressing myself through light or rather in light.

Impressionism is the newspaper of the soul.

I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have the light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me...

I have been no more than a medium, as it were.

The artist begins with a vision — a creative operation requiring effort. Creativity takes courage.

The simplest means are those which best enable an artist to express himself. His means of expression must derive almost all of necessity from his temperament.

There must result a living harmony of colours, a harmony analogous to that of a musical composition.

My choice of colours does not rest on any scientific theory: it is based on observation, on sensitivity, on felt experience.

An artist must never be a prisoner. Prisoner? An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation, prisoner of success, etc.

Derive happiness in oneself from a good day's work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.

He who loves, flies, runs, and rejoices; he is free and nothing holds him back.

I would like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it.

In the beginning you must subject yourself to the influence of nature. You must be able to walk firmly on the ground before you start walking on a tightrope.

Instinct must be thwarted just as one prunes the branches of a tree so that it will grow better.

It is only after years of preparation that the young artist should touch color - not color used descriptively, that is, but as a means of personal expression.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.

With color one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft.

I am unable to make any distinction between the feeling I get from life and the way I translate that feeling into painting.

The artist must summon all his energy, his sincerity, and the greatest modesty in order to shatter the old cliches that come so easily to hand while working, which can suffocate the little flower that does not come, ever, the way one expects.

The only valid thing in art is the one thing that cannot be explained, to explain away the mystery of a great painting would do irreplaceable harm, for whenever you explain or define something you substitute the explanation or the definition for the thing itself.

The essential thing is to spring forth, to express the bolt of lightning one senses upon contact with a thing. The function of the artist is not to translate an observation but to express the shock of the object on his nature; the shock, with the original reaction.