Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas New Year

Christmas is always the new year for me.  It's the time when I start cleaning out files, closets, cupboards, you name it.  I think about getting tax documents together thanks to the recently received tax packet, a yearly Christmas present from the accountant. I actually spend more time dreading tax prep than actually doing it.  So, this year it starts today.

Other things also start today, such as resolutions.  Resolutions that I might keep for only a month are, nevertheless, beneficial.  In fact, I'm working on one now --

more watercolor.
Resolution Two:  more silence, in all areas of my life,
beginning with these snowy pine trees in honor of the silent winter months.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Interstellar Thoughts

My friends and I recently saw the new film, Interstellar.  While the science may be accurate the anthropological motivations underlying the various characters' behavior are blatantly Western.  That's not surprising since it is an American film.  What's interesting to me is pondering how someone with a different cosmological view might react to the prospect of a dying earth.

As the trailer suggests, the earth is dying and humans must find an alternative abode on a new planet.  Finding that planet is the crux of the film.  Or so we're led to believe.  There is another option.  Or perhaps several options other than Missions A and B that the film posits.

What if the film's underlying premises are questioned?  If humans have created the conditions for a dying earth can we not collectively reverse that process?  Of course we can but then there would be no exciting space film to watch.  So grant that there is an unsolvable crisis on earth so we can have a rip roaring adventure story.

The Western view of time is linear and progressive.  Despite global communications, we ignore the possibilities of cyclical time and ascending and descending ages of consciousness as some Eastern philosophies hold.  Given this view, would a dying earth and a lack of collective will to work together to solve the problem merely be the nadir of one of these great cycles of consciousness?  If so, we merely reap what our level of consciousness has sown.

Science declares that energy is neither created nor lost, merely transformed.  If we die as a species, would we not simply transform into another type of energy?  In other words, is death, either individual or of our species, such a bad thing?  Judging by the multitude of research regarding near-death experiences, life between lives, and past-life regression there's a lot more going on after we die than some of us have ever imagined.  A simple Amazon search for authors such as Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, Michael Newton, and Brian Weiss will lead one to a multitude of information that indicates that death is not to be dreaded or feared.  In addition, there are multitudes of metaphysical writings that posit a rosier scenario of life after death than the usual Christian options of a saccharine heaven or a beastly hell. 

So my question is, how would a Buddhist, Hindu, or Vedic philosopher approach the questions that Interstellar poses?  It would be enticing to see what kind of film another culture would create.  It's also enticing to ponder how other cultures would attempt to solve some of our current social and political crises.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Over the Learning Hump . . . Sort Of

I've just spent a couple of beautiful "morning hours" reading on the porch.  That's the good part. The bad part is that I was reading a really good but really depressing current events book, Anand Giridharadas' The True American.  I had to take a break for beauty and creativity.

Since April, I've been participating in a couple of online sketch classes.  First, was Danny Gregory's and Koosje Koene's Sketchbook Skool - Beginnings and then Koosje's Awesome Art Journaling.  Over the course of these two classes, I've been coaxed out of my art comfort zone.  I've sketched outdoors, sketched in public, used new materials, attempted ever larger scenes and more complex subjects, and tried new techniques.

My first attempt at sketching solely with colored pencils was frustrating.  It seemed to take forever and I had to resort to labeling the object in order to remember what it was that I was trying to capture in my sketchbook.
It's a seashell in case you can't read the small print.  Along the way, I've found that my art proficiency doesn't progress in a steady, upward line.  At times I turn out sketches that blow me away such as the ones below.

At other times, my eye hand coordination reverts back to left brain imaging, childlike drawings of what my brain says things should look like instead of what my eyes actually see.  Below is a good case in point.

This is supposed to be a Talavera birdbath.  It's wildly out of proportion and the basin area bears little resemblance to its actual roundness, size, and depth.  Oh well, it doesn't matter.  I do art mainly to balance my excessively left-brained mode of rational thinking with some right-brained creativity and doing.  On to Sketchbook Skool 2 - Seeing, which begins July 4th and where I will continue to get in my "100 bad drawings."  The concept being that you've got to do lots of 'bad' drawings before you start creating lots of good drawings.  If you like Malcolm Gladwell, this is also known as the "10,000 Hour Rule".

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Anand Giridharadas

The face of a talented writer and teller of perceptive cultural, social tales. Giridharadas'  writing does more than anything I've come across recently to convey the nuances of modern, global life.  His books, while not easy or pleasant reads, are worth anyone's time and emotional energy.  They've instilled in me as much compassion for the struggles of others as has years of meditation.  

I first encountered Giridharadas' writing in preparation for a trip to India, when I picked up India Calling.
 It's an eye-opening, perception changing look at modern India, globalization, and a developing world's desire for, and headlong rush into, modernization.  Giridharadas', on the ground, up close and personal look at such hot-button issues challenges liberal notions.  It's far too easy for those of us in wealthy countries, already enjoying the positive and negative effects of globalization, to tsk tsk about other countries' eagerly, and "mistakenly," seeking what we so blithely want to throw away or longingly wish to roll back.  Such views strike me as another version of Colonial-era paternalism.  Who are we to thwart another country's path to self-determination?  And, yes, I acknowledge that multinational corporations and corrupt world financing schemes complicate the issue.  There will always be a boogeyman available to give people leave to dictate another's choices.
Now, Giridharadas has turned his attention to the collision of the 'other' and us in his new book, The True American.  This one especially hits home as it recounts events that took place in the Dallas area shortly after 9/11. And, in the oddest of synchronicities, as I was reading the Waco Trib's article about our county prosecutor's successful death row conviction rate, I learned that he's the same prosecutor who secured the death penalty for the man profiled in Giridharadas' new book.  Globalization comes full circle.

Once again, Giridharadas provides a deeply researched, highly nuanced look at all of the actors involved in the tragedy he recounts.  There are no easy bad guys or good guys, only sad, bewildered human beings suffering a "collision of perspectives."  Giridharadas' books are some of the few that I can say have changed me.  Read him if you dare.  The perceptions that collide may just be your own.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Power of Story

Last week, at the Peace Garden Meditation, our group talked about influential stories.  That brought to mind two recently watched movies that elegantly and eloquently illustrated the power of story, not only to help us make sense of the world but also to heal.  The first one is an unusual, slow-moving fantastical tale filled with wonderful British and Australian actors, My Talks with Dean Spanley.  When the principal character realizes the story behind a pivotal event in his life it dramatically changes his misanthropic treatment of people, especially his son.  I'll never look at a dog the same way again.

The second story is a movie that had been hanging in my Netflix queue for sometime, The Magic of Belle Isle.  The draw was Morgan Freeman but my delay in viewing it was my fear of  it being a smarmy, Hallmark-type movie full of feel good cliches.   Well, it has the classic theme of redemption but it also demonstrates the power of imagination and story to make life bearable and perhaps even understandable.
When you tire of life's daily drama, get out your popcorn and enjoy the power of story.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Junking the Journals

Is there anything more freeing than junking old journals?  Ah, the drivel, the angst, the self-importance of plumbing ones psyche.  Yes, it's useful to reflect on one's life and actions and even self-help workshops and books have their place.  But, really, all of this obsessive self- interest is very much a "champagne problem."  The kind of problem that can only arise from the good fortune of living in a first-world country where war, hunger, and privation are rarely encountered.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Seaside Meditation

1. Have friends who invite you to stay at their fabulous place on Molokai, the most undeveloped of the Hawaiian Islands.
2. After number 1 is fulfilled the rest is easy.

3. Walk across the parking lot, saying hello to a resident peacock, then on to  the beach path.
4. Follow the path through the waving grass.
5. Soon you start hearing the breakers. They're especially loud today.

6. Keep walking, taking in the beauty and the majestic sound of the waves.
7. Find a good rock to leave your shoes.
8. Keep walking, enjoying the resistance of the sand, feeling it cover your feet as you move down to the softer areas.  Marvel at the unbounded power and beauty of nature.

9. Take enough photos to satisfy your desire to preserve this moment. (No breaker or spray on the rocks is safe from my camera!)

10. Find a flat rock that's fairly comfortable with a good view that you will eventually force yourself to ignore.

11. Give thanks for it all. Fill your eyes with the glory of nature and being here at this peaceful moment. Then, do the hardest thing of all - close your eyes.  Focus on that other glorious beauty, which is eternal and all-satisfying: the spiritual eye.