Below I share my own background with meditation, as well as some lessons I have learned that may help you avoid some of the sillier sides to the industry they call meditation and mindfulness.
My own experience with meditation (skip this part if you don't care!):
I've always been a bit of a mystic, interested in religious rites and rituals of all kinds. I was curious and a little perplexed by those of the episcopal church I grew up attending socially with my family, tried to make sense of a child's illustrated bible my minister uncle provided upon my request when I was 8, and did a 25 page report on Haitian Voodoo ceremonies for an expository writing class in high school.
When I was in college, I ended up double-majoring in art and religion - the least practical two fields one could choose, and two that really were perfect for me. I chose the religious studies department at Brown University because it was a more 'happening' department at that time than the Anthropology department from what I could tell. I studied East Asian religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, as well as Christianity, and a tiny bit of Judaism and Islam. I wrote my senior thesis on Jonestown. I was interested in the difference between cults and religions, how they form and who decides.
I didn't actually meditate at all until I was out of college for a few years, when a good friend, visiting me in the midst of a painful breakup (mine), showed me how. I spent the next ten years trying to attain sainthood by doing lots of meditation of various forms, having a couple of 'special state' moments, and a couple of cultish sidebars that made me wary of the whole thing and fairly confused. Suffice it to say, I learned a lot about what meditation is not, and what to do if you really want to hurt yourself.
After that, I found Vipassana meditation, also called insight meditation, and I liked it because I felt there were fewer bells and whistles, and less outward forms and rituals to adhere to than my forays into Tibetan and Zen buddhism had yielded. I also did some specialized yoga, went on a pilgrimage to south India, and almost gave up my life to go live at an ashram with a couple of kooks; I am grateful that I ultimately did not!
What all those years of attempting to perfect or fix myself and my troubles through meditation did, is to hone my bullshit meter pretty sharply. Here are my *fairly cynical* (you are forewarned!) takeaways or you might call it
Hannah B’s Rough Guide to meditation:
Meditation is being present for what happens. It is simply a form of attention. Attention is love.
There are many ways to be present, some of them are easier than others, some work better for one person than another.
Meditation can be used to calm and center the mind and body, and can be good for your health. It can also really F up your knees if you think it has to be done cross legged like on the magazine covers.
Meditation doesn't look a certain way. You don't have to buy special stuff or hold painful poses. You do not need to have a top knot or mala beads or a shawl. You can eat meat. You can be in therapy. You can enjoy wearing heels or vote republican. If you find yourself developing a new style or persona around your meditation practice, please notice this: it's got nothing, nothing, to do with actually being present.
Meditation doesn't mean that thinking stops. In my experience, you are not in charge of thoughts: the brain thinks like the nose smells, just doing its job. Thinking is not you but a function of the organ called the brain. The more you believe a thought to be you, and believe whatever ticker-tape thoughts come along, the deeper suffering may ensue.
Meditation is not one-size-fits-all.
If anyone tells you their way of meditating is the right way and only way, please do not believe them!
Everybody responds differently to different types of meditation, based on who they are, their genetics, personalities, learning styles and needs, and there are many options. That being said, I recommend keeping it simple and not getting too fetishy about it.
The whole thing, I’ve found, is an inside out process. How you look is just your ego trying to be perfect and liked. I spent a long time trying to 'do it right' and 'look good' because frankly I didn't like who I was, and I thought if I could be this saintly gal, I would have no flaws and I would finally be loved. What I had backward is that the only place where love is is inside, and the outer situation only reflects whatever that relationship is. If the teacher liked me, then I was ok. If I seemed sagely and selfless, then I was safe. Underneath was a really fraudulent feeling and I didn't think it was ok to have such a feeling, to be confused, to be a giant throbbing mess. But I was.
The good news is that, though you can hurt yourself with this "idea" of yourself as a meditator or somehow in a superior place, eventually your course will self correct, it can't not. It may just take longer if you are trying really really hard.
People often learn how to meditate from other people.
This is a little like the way electricity is conducted through metal. It seems helpful to be in conversation with others. In this day and age, such an interaction can be refreshingly down to earth. In my experience a good teacher makes you feel at ease with things as they are, and yourself as you are. Because in a way this is all a big mirror, if you feel like you are disappointing your teacher or getting corrected a lot, it may be because they are feeling disappointed and critical of themselves. Your boundaries are to be valued and honored, as well as your life experience.
If you feel like there's a level of fakeness in the air at a given meditation center, there probably is. A healthy community that forms around meditation is not hierarchical, does not involve prescribed dress and ways of moving, speaking or talking, or giving up all your cash. It may be you that's feeling fake. So see what it's like if you drop that. If it's not okay, perhaps you're in a cult! They are quite common. If you can't be yourself or make choices for yourself freely in that environment, there may be a problem there.
Sometimes there's this far out thing described as having an enlightenment experience, and somebody who has special status because of theirs. Also, be wary here. If what is being referred to is in the past, is romanticising a certain time or association, or a special state other than the present, including you and your experience, also this is something to avoid getting too enamoured of.
Any teacher sitting in front of you is a human being with their own conditioning, preferences, foibles and imperfections. If this is not acknowledged by the teacher, this is a flag. If they dangle something really special in front of you like waking up, and tell you that it takes a long time, decades of sitting on a meditation cushion, or lots of money and expressions of loyalty to the teacher, please run away! If there is like an inner circle, that too is weird. It is!
Some people may be fully awake and never have formally meditated, and never will. Often people who spend decades on a meditation cushion, like I did, do so because they have trouble getting along in the world, not because they've transcended it. Any claim I make, or another makes, to being superior is hiding a fear of being inferior. We certainly all, as humans, believe and sometimes outwardly make such claims, but remembering this can help you take any leader with a grain of salt. As my friend Brian likes to say, we are all - every last one of us, a bunch of third graders wandering around. No one can claim authority for another when we see this fundamental truth. So be scientific and skeptical. Ask the awkward question. Try it out, but trust your gut.
Just Sitting There
My Philosophy of Prayer
Or see the category: Contemplative Practice
We want a change of scenery, we are mostly not getting it. We'd like to eat in a restaurant or go to a movie, or sit with a good friend, seeing their whole face, carry on with traditions like any other year. We'd like to uncomplicatedly hug our parents or grandparents, or get away from them for just a little while. We'd like to have a "nice" christmas, holiday or break. We'd like to be with people who are sick when we can't be. Instead we're in these silos, acclimatized to this strange strange time to varying degrees on varying days, baking, zooming, miffing transitions, watching shows. Shopping and wondering if packages will arrive.
Things are weird.
There are two sides - at least - to every moment. The side our brains create, of feelings, events, time passing, things happening to us and our responses to those things.
And then there's the essence underneath that, in the way that the light hits something, the hum of the fridge, the sensations in your hands.
My neighbor has a big inflated snowman on his lawn. Sometimes the snowman is face down or beached on his side. Or in an S kind of contortion, like he's in the middle of the electric slide.
When the daytime comes, the snowman is sometimes flat, laying quietly on the lawn.
It's been such a shit year and so specifically a year of stuff coming to the surface - our fears, blindspots, addictions, interconnectedness, grief, and a bare simplicity too. I hope the next couple of weeks can be a zone of gentleness and allowing for you - allowing it all to be just the way it happens to be.
The wonky or sublime, or lopsided or dialed-in in way that the next few weeks unfold, can you allow for it, for the snowman to be on its side, or completely flat sometimes? For a broad margin? For a wide swathe of OK - this too, with a heart toward the even greater unknown of 2021?
I want to say helpful things - I'm not sure how. I'm planning on rolling with it all, the unexpected, the disappointing, the letting drop of any kind of force. Let's be gentle at the fulcrum of the year - enjoy its novelty and shed what isn't serving - not in a new year's resolution kind of *me* way, but like a sloughing of a skin you didn't even know was hanging off of you, or the opening of a hand. Let it drop. Let the sparkly underlayer come forward, just for you.
Whatever the particulars of your strange moment may look like, find a crisp edge or a brightness to something, in a sound or a shape, in what you've been so intimate with or wanted to avoid. Look into it, turn towards it, let it take you where you're headed - where you always are, into uncertain new light, basic aliveness, and the company of presence itself.
Without any true plan to, I created a calendar for 2021. It has felt this year as if planning was somewhat of an impossibility. Where my 2019 calendar had trips, events, gatherings, and deadlines scribbled into it, my 2020 calendar was more of a crickets type affair. It was not a year for making big plans. So I didn't even plan to do a calendar. After a couple of lovely people went out of their way to request one however, I went for it and lo, they are here! And mostly sold, but I still have one or two available!
The calendar is my way of sharing my favorite works on paper, not all from the same year, but all considered as a whole, and made available as a suit of prints that I fuss over til the color and line and paper tone is all working for me. It's actually kind of fun. And because I have been burned by my smartphone calendar, I personally value a place I can physically write and see what's on for the day.
The calendar this year is the same shape and size as last year, but has a perpetual birthday calendar at the back, moon phases, and a quiet little quote at the bottom of each month to give you something to ponder, often about time, or the presence that you are, before time.
The Elements book of 2019 is the first place where I had fun sharing quotes on the theme of not being separate from anything, and this second foray is similar in tone, but more for the daily run around moments, which is usually when I'm looking at my calendar.
Anyway, I'm glad I rallied and you can take a look here. I love that it won't be 2020 anymore soon, though there were some beautiful moments and gifts in this wild year, and it was at points an entertaining ride.
* If you are interested in being notified when it's time to reserve a calendar for the coming year, or you'd simply like to let me know to count you in for next year's calendar to ensure you get one, contact me here.
Now that I have this gorgeous space, I notice that - just as always - perhaps even more so, it's challenging to prioritize just *being* in there, just showing up to explore like a kid.
Now that there's this beautiful cathedral like space for valuing art practice and creative engagement, my job is to do just that. But as with so many people I've worked with as a coach, and so many other instances in my own life, it is not easy to actually do that apparently simple thing.
What stands in the way is the shoulds from inside, about the outside and the others: Replying to emails, wiping down the counter, calling my mom back, folding the laundry, all of those things, plus paying bills or getting out that tax form, all loom with a seriousness and a subtle whiff of fear - what will they think of me? will they come after me? reject me? - those stories can loom so familiarly, that something as liminal and ethereal as 'studio time' gets shunted off to Later. Then there's that other should of 'you should be in the studio'.
Underneath all of this is a kind of unrelenting brain voice that is never satisfied with whatever choice is made, whatever effort is made. Underneath that voice is just what's always here, always available, when there's space to open to it.
I won't bore you with the details of my dream last night but the punchline is that I got this message: None of that outer stuff matters. None of it has any real substance: what people think, if someone noticed..., if they care. It has no real substance. Love matters. Love is attention. Love and attention, and intuition need some open space to reveal themselves, like a shy friend that can't be pressured to share efficiently. What matters is to be present for the present situation, to be in relationship to it, to be engaged with whatever and whomever is asking for attention, including parts of oneself, and that creative presence that is just waiting for the opportunity to take you on an adventure. Also that making space is not wasting time. It's living from the inside out with wide, forgiving margins.
In other words love is 'being with' not doing. Not 'knowing how' and not 'looking good' or getting it right. Somehow, in the middle of covid-19 times, there is an opportunity to explore this.
If I want something from outside, and it's not coming, how am I treating what's already here?
If you want something that's not yet here, and it feels like it should be, how are *you* treating what's already here?
In yet other words, everything is ok, even when it feels like it's all wrong or not good enough. That's what 'studio time' is a form of: studio time is no time. Out of time. You before time.
Before January is completely out, here are some highlights from Hannah Burr Studio in 2019, followed by what’s coming down the pike in 2020.
2019 was my second full year in Ann Arbor. It had a ‘getting the sea legs’ quality to it. We were snuggly situated in our Walter Drive rental home, in our second full year of marriage, and learned some great ways to share space as two adults who like their independence. The good news is that we’re honing our interdependent chops and married life is smoothing out nicely!
The petite garage studio that last winter got shut down due to freezing temps, is happily still functioning and in solid use at the end of 2019. The remedy of a heated blanket under a tented table keeps the most delicate things from freezing, and the rest I heat up as I use. It’s working!
This year my third book the Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere came out! It’s a beautiful print, and the first book where I used an editor and worked with a publishing team. Like the other two books that came before, the printing was paid for through crowdfunding. The first half of the year through June was focused on many many hours, weeks, and months of image file correction, editorial passes, alignment, style adjustments, and proofs sent from our overseas printer.
The second half of the year involved sharing the Elements book first with the beloved crowdfund backers, the Fifth Avenue Press community here in Ann Arbor, and all of my lovely Boston friends and budding Ann Arbor community. We went to the Detroit and North Hampton Art Book Fairs, and the Boston Art Book Fair as well. The book is currently for sale at the Wexner Center for the Arts shop in Ohio, the LACMA Art Shops in LA, the Ann Arbor Art Center, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, as well as in the collection of the University of Michigan’s Library, Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts Library, and the Ann Arbor District Library. So, we’re starting to share it beyond the known realms and really fascinated to see where it gets taken on!
We created three large posters and a couple of smaller posters for all three of the books, as well as smaller prints and postcards of each book’s pages - this is a new experiment. The three large posters are now part of library art print circulation at the Ann Arbor District Library, and for sale at our big cartel shop! This involves shipping riddles and storage quandries, but we’re having fun and working it out!
The Time is Color 2 Calendar was printed as round three of this celebration of my favorite ephemeral drawings and art for everybody. This year’s calendar was I think the most fetching so far and I might have two or three kicking around in the edition of 50 if you still want one (ps. they’re on sale at Big Cartel).
I had a solo show called ‘Temporary Arrangements’ at the Ann Arbor Art Center this summer, which included new painting and drawing, and was the first time I’ve shown overt abstract landscape and pure abstraction in direct relationship to each other. The show featured 23 works altogether and has spurred new work currently in development.
In March of 2019, three conceptual projects were curated into an exhibit at the Sorenson Arts Center of Babson College called ‘Reflecting on the Sacred.’ The exhibit was a collaboration of curator Danielle Krcmar and the Interfaith Chapel of Babson. The works included were conceptual and interactive, titled You Are Legend, Salt Project and Send Love, Let Go. I was invited to run a workshop at the Chapel and it was truly a pleasure to work again with Danielle who added lovely new blocks to our collective block project installation built during the workshop. I don’t yet have all of these projects on my site but will soon enough!!
I shared two new pieces as part of group show Kindred, at TrustArt Gallery here in A2. This was a very sweet tribute to the artist’s group I am priveledged to be a part of, and I was really pleased with Barbara Hohmann’s installation of the work. It was a beautiful, spare and complimentary exhibition.
This fall I also led a meditation for curator Laura Earle’s project Unravelling Racism, based on the podcast Seeing White. This was an interesting and mind expanding process for me, and instead of making work for the show, I decided to guide participants in a prior-to-the-body meditation similar to the guided meditation I shared as part of Reflecting on the Sacred. These guided meditations are a new development in the year and one I hope will continue to expand in and outside of exhibition settings.
I got to coach some extremely talented individuals this year, as well as a fine group of public artists this year for Now + There, Boston’s incredible powerhouse initiative/public art incubator led by the incredible Kate Gilbert. These events brought extra trips to Boston to check on the beanpole growth of my niece and nephew, plus visits with sister, parents and friends.
This year also concluded with two other big boons, unexpected and quite amazing. I will wait for a couple of weeks before sharing my 2020 news, and thank you for tuning in!
Look back, take stock, and celebrate.
While the first way: Stay in the Body is concrete and personal, the next two have a more contemplative and cerebral quality to them.
The question is then, how to do these things. There are a million ways. Right now what’s springing to mind is to suggest with a friend, or to set a date or two with yourself, to do these things intentionally. You might put on your calendar for a day of this weekend, or the one right before or after the bigger holiday events coming up, a two hour window at your favorite coffee shop or nook, to meet or factetime a copascetic friend or on your own, to come together write and share on the following.
A few guidelines:
Don’t force anyone to do this. Including yourself. No 14 year old kid is likely going to want to answer these questions. That’s ok.
If doing this in a group or with friends, let everyone be and respond as they want to. It’s not a time for advice giving or opining. This was everyone feels safe.
When I do this kind of thing with a friend, I find it helpful to share the questions and write on them, and then each person has time to share out loud what they wrote.
1. Stay in the body.
When manic holiday shopping or intensive socializing and activities are on constant offer, there is a tendency for my energy to go up and out. In the aisles of a store, the energy goes out through the eyes and the senses, or bores deeply into a list, and I can completely forget I have a body at all. At a holiday party or a tea with a friend in from out of town, I can feel a pull to match the bubbliness and superficiality that may be all anyone is capable of mustering as the weeks wear on. Another scenario that looks a little more like hibernation but also is a kind of disembodiment is binge-watching shows. Sometimes if holidays are lonelier, or there’s grief and loss as a part of this time of year, I can find myself wanting to manufacture good feelings by not one but a whole season of something, until I dream about the plot lines and characters, and my own life becomes of mash up of fiction and reality.
This is for most of us a norm at this time of year.
To stay in the body, here are some suggestions.
Happy belated Thanksgiving.
As the days get shorter and colder, I am now slowing down into this season of reflection, rest, and to the best of my ability, going inward. Someone recently pointed out to me that doing so poses a real challenge at this time of year because economic forces do not want us to do this, though for centuries it’s been a time for rest and falling fallow. At a grocery store three days before Thanksgiving, I felt and heard that constant jingle jingle jingle that spurs one to throw that extra holiday oddity into the cart, and just one more little gift. It’s fun sometimes, until it becomes a kind of manic autopilot. So, today, on the day after Thanksgiving, I’m going to start putting out some alternative points of focus to accompany all of that, or to do instead. I will do this in three parts.
We’ve got just over a month before the holidays are behind us. For myself, and for you if you choose, here are some ways to go slow and go in peace and stay healthier. I’ll outline these, and then go into more detail in the posts to follow.
1. Stay in the body.
3. Look forward.
Bring the insights of these practices to the more outward facing facets of this holiday time, and see how much richer an experience it can be!
Walt Whitman's writing arises itself from a very unified understanding of being, objects and the world.
On the eve of sharing my third book with all of you this September, I share this part of his epic poem Song of Myself.
17. Song of the Broad-Axe
The shapes arise!
Shapes of factories, arsenals, foundries, markets,
Shapes of two-threaded tracks of railroads,
Shapes of the sleepers of bridges, vast frameworks, girders, arches,
Shapes of the fleets of barges, tows, lake and canal craft, river craft,
Ship-yards and dry-rocks along the Eastern and Western seas, and in many a bay and by-place,
The live-oak kelsons, the pine planks, the spars, the hackmatack-roots for knees,
The ships themselves on their ways, the tiers of scaffolds, the workmen busy outside and inside,
The tools lying around, the great auger and little auger, the adze, bolt, line, square, gouge, and bead-plane...
I love about it that it's a list of things, that it's about the mundane, observing what's here, and just letting it awe one. The full title of the upcoming book is Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere. As you can see here, this poem is clearly a love letter to all things everywhere. And it is a song of Walt Whitman's Self. In this new book you will find lists of objects, arranged around each of the 118 known chemical elements that make all the stuff, all the shapes arising.
This part of Whitman's poem is not in the upcoming book, but there are other words of his included:
Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I was intrigued by Whitman's use of the word 'atom' because the atom as we understand it today in scientific terms, was not actually discovered during Whitman's time. It turns out that the word 'atom' is an ancient greek word meaning 'indivisible.' The smallest unit possible. Now for us, an atom is made up of smaller parts: protons, neutrons and electrons, and smaller particles including quarks. And we keep discovering that an 'indivisible' thing is made of other things, defying/expanding our understanding again and again. The concept and word 'atom' is ancient, and used by Whitman in his writing and poems, in sum.
An element, by the way, is a uniquely structured atom, with a set number of protons, and electrons, and its own atomic weight (based on these). There are 118 known such elements, or unique atoms, that bind and react (steam, smoke, fire, farts, fireworks, rust, yogurt and so on) and make all the things we are, eat, have, and see. The lightest one has one proton and electron and the atomic weight of 1 (Hydrogen H). The heaviest has 118 protons and electrons, and the atomic weight of 118 (Oganesson Og -recently discovered and named if you haven't heard of it).
Here are a couple of other Walt Whitman snippets that I considered including in the book because they hit upon these themes of awe, union, and inseparability that inspired my book:
15. To be in any form, what is that?…
I have instant conductors all over me whether I pass or stop,
They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me.
14. My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same…
18. Songs of the Open Road
The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
I can't wait to share this book with you. Thanks for tuning in.
UPDATE! The Elements book is now for sale here.
[Originally posted in Spring of 2013]
A few weeks ago I was driving home at night through Brookline. In one of the town's many rotaries was a simple mound with many, many daffodils in bloom. It was raining and I noticed them on my left.
Normally, I'd cluck over their beauty with a heightened sense of goodwill. But in this instance, I was surprised by what I saw there instead. I had a similar sensation once while looking at stars in Maine. I saw depth in the night sky, where before I'd seen more of a blanket or curved plane of stars like in the planetarium. Seeing the flowers in the rotary gave me a similar feeling of vastness, or vertigo.
I saw while passing the flowers that the whole mess of them, the entire mound of hundreds, was actually one conscious presence or force, like a collective brain. Something far less diminutive or poetic than what I'd previously percieved. The green shoots, threading roots filtering the dirt, meet as a single mind under there.
Our lives are lived at times with the leaden feeling of no-one-gives-a-shit/sees me/understands. As a woman living alone turning 40 in a month, the daffodil revelation is important. The cars circling the rotary, people on a train platform, a group listening to a concert is the same. We get so caught in the mire of being individuals. The tangle of speculation, obligation, association, doubt and doom - Doing and aiming for a high perch on the hill, or we fear mediocrity and failure. I want to be a success, don't you?
When I can feel the ground underneath, or the weather as it mixes with the tiny hairs on my arm, use my senses to reconnect to the situation I find myself in at any given moment, just as it is and just as I am, recollected.
Those flowers don't have long. They get a few weeks if they're lucky to kappow in yellow. That depth and connection is also available to me and you, as is the profound beauty of our vulnerable, short lives.
6 Insights into Falling Back in love with your work, creative practice and life.
Every so often, I hear from an artist friend or in the pages of my studio journal, a sense that our work as artists is boring or repetitive, or not all that interesting. I’ve heard this from artists whose work delights and inspires me and many others. I’ve also seen and felt how these thoughts can feel paralyzing.
We may look at one body of work and think: I love this, but it was too easy to make, too much fun, too simple, doesn’t have consequence, doesn’t address an injustice, isn’t clever….
or similar stories.
It’s a little like how you might feel about your hair: It’s frizzy. It’s flat and lifeless! It’s oily as soon as I wash it! I don’t have any! It’s heavy, thick and weird! It’s graying, it’s thinning, it’s such a blah color.
Whatever you do with it, your hair is your hair. Even if you’re bald, it is what it is. It’s what you have. Art and Hair: not always in our control.
When a friend of mine expressed her relief at finally deciding to let her hair be: go grey, look like it does, it was uplifting and liberating to me too.
As for art: the fact is, I can’t make someone else’s work, and if I try, it’s not going to go well. I can learn from them, try out a technique, but if I’m being honest in the work, genuine and deeply engaging the work, it’s going to be singular. And what it is, is independent of me and whatever I think about it.
From this meandering thought trail, I pull a few insights:
1) I am not my artwork. I am not what people think of my work. I am powerless to change or even truly know what others think of it. Some people will like it, some people won’t, it is what it is, on any level of notoriety or obscurity.
2) I am the steward of my work, it’s foster parent say, and it’s my job to honor, to care for it, and to see it. To be curious about it and learn from it, to show up for it as best I can, which’ll be human, imperfect and OK.
3) Genuineness and your relationship to work comes through, so explore, discover, and pay attention to what you enjoy doing, what you love to do. It is also sometimes the case that you may simply need to see something through, or to break through to something else.
4) It’s not always fun or pleasant, nor does the work always come together - but the messes themselves have great things to reveal.
5) Want what you have. Practice this as a discipline to enjoy your life, work and creative practice more. Wanting what you have is a discipline that helps you feel lighter, clearer and more in love with what’s actually here in your life. Do this by becoming curious and playing with this line of inquiry. Ask yourself:
What’s happening here?
I wonder where this’ll go...
Hmmm. Now this is happening!
What do I appreciate and enjoy in my life?
(Nothing is the answer that will make you feel the worst so dig a little deeper and come up with something)
6) When you see something amazing in another's artwork, life or career, see it as something your heart is waking up to in your own life, something being remembered about who you are and your inherent worth and abundance, and say YES, THAT. That’s amazing. I choose THAT! from the catalogue of life experience. I am open to experiencing that in my own life.
Prior to this practice, it might feel somewhat like an impoverished, smouldering jealousy, comparison or rejection of that other. For an easier experience, see it as a mirror. This plane we live on is dynamic and collaborative. Your part is to know what sparks joy in your life, art and in others.
And further, even if it’s scary, practice the expression of appreciation and gratitude to others. You may find as you do your heart expanding, relating, connecting and serving, instead of - as was my case for much of my twenties, contracting, retreating, judging, comparing, hiding and becoming brittle in the comfort of familiar and inaccurate stories.
When you see something amazing in another's artwork, life or career, see it as something your heart is waking up to in your own life, something being remembered about who you are and your inherent worth and abundance, and say YES, THAT. That’s amazing. I choose THAT! from the catalogue of life experience. I am open to experiencing that in my own life.
With the normalized practice of awareness - not the zen-stylized kind with rice paper and bells, but simply: Oh, here I am seeing something. Here’s driving. Here’s noticing. Here’s irritation. Here’s tiredness. or, What do the hands feel like right now? or noticing, warm water, clinking dishes, bubbles.
The more that : awareness - becomes normal in my world and life, something entertaining starts to take place.
When say, at a family holiday gathering someone does or says some outrageous but predictable thing, flossing with a plucked hair or trying earnestly to set you up with your second cousin, or something less interesting like a stony silence from your child when you thought all was well…
When this type of ‘thing’ happens, for some reason the phrase that springs to mind recently is: And now This is happening!
This phrase has a surprisingly humorous and helpful effect: It has within it a sense of engagement, interest and also a kind of acceptance built into it.
Try it right now: And now This is happening!
Look around and see what ‘this’ is.
An empty room with a reasonably quiet refrigerator running within earshot.
And now This is happening.
The urge to pee or an ache somewhere.
This occasionally thought phrase is so easy, and it’d be easy to read about and consider but not try. Try it! Try it for 5 minutes and see if your life doesn’t take on even a quality of simple interest, dare I suggest even a playful, creative engagement.
It's also fun to do while working on a creative project: the paint spilled or the colors ran into each other. It dried funny, or something went not according to plan... And now This is happening...
The holidays are challenging.
1)There’s festivity pumped into everything like hormones into a purdue chicken.
2)There are genuine invitations to celebrate, give and receive, mixed in confusingly with the corporate branded version
3)There’s just a tremendous amount of PAIN - layers of painful memory, loss, violence, loneliness and disappointment circulating through the pepperminty air.
It’s a confusing time. A pressure cooker for many. A lot of socializing for some, when being alone is often preferred and needed, and not enough connection for many many others, accompanied by feelings of unlovability, resentment, hopelessness or grief.
Every year the holiday season has it’s own special flavor, according to the life events that befall us all in different ways, times and degrees.
I have found it useful as a general practice in my life, to first Lower my Expectations as much as I can. This heads off disappointment. But to lower my expectations while also Acting As If, things could go smoothly and well. I just won’t cross my arms expecting it to happen where it often has not.
A phrase or prayer if you like, that makes this more actionable is from Chogyam Trungpa and some ancient Tibetan slogans: May I be free from attachment and aversion while still continuing to care.
Another similar thing I can mutter to myself along the sloggy, jingly sidewalk on my way to that work party: May I act as if it could be fun and enjoyable, while having no expectation that it should or will be.
I have also found it useful as a general practice in my life for entirely selfish reasons, to notice the details of what is working, what I can feel grateful for: these boots are warm and dry, I am a woman and I get to live alone undisturbed and free, I get to vote, I get to drive as a woman. my socks match, I am holding a warm beverage, I heard from a friend today.
When I can ratchet up this practice a little further to include what really does not feel OK - to have gratitude for that, strangely, it opens up for me a whole new level of freedom.
I don’t find it easy to do this. When the hot water runs out, or there’s a cancelled flight, I have one friend who actually says Thank You to the ether in these moments. I’m not there myself. But I can ask:
How is this cancelled flight or cold shower the best thing that could be happening right now?
What if this is as good as it gets? What if this is the last week of my life? What if I never get that project done or find the right partner? And now this is happening!
When I apply this kind of twisted logic, I find it liberating and empowering.
I can also preface the situation with And now this is happening! to pipe in a little playful acceptance.
These lines of inquiry help me to actually consider that maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be, that all is well, that I’m unimaginably ok, not a hair out of place, even though I wouldn’t choose this and it’s not comfortable.
If you look back on your life to date, you may also discover this makes sense in retrospect.
Think of a shitty time in your life. How did it lead to what followed? How has it turned out ok? How was it the best thing that could’ve happened at the time?
The point isn’t to lie to yourself or to be fake. The value I find is in the reframe. The loosening of the calcified familiar story for something unknown, open and dynamic.
Last night, I hauled and dragged a christmas tree four blocks to my house. When I got there, I kicked the halloween pumpkin, which had been disemboweled by a single-minded, grapefruit-shaped squirrel, off the stoop into a bush. Time for new seasonal holiday flora.
The tree is now up, wrapped in lights and covered in the sparkly sentiment of ornaments. I keep looking at it surprised, like: How did that get there, all decorated? I do remember one-pointedly deciding to go for it, get a tree and decorate it last night, and being in motion for a couple of hours, but somehow it still surprises me that at some times, a thing is not there, then it is. And even more surprising, I’m the one that brought it there and set it up.
Everything is kind of like this: a fluid action of things arising and passing away. Last summer, after leaving the 2017 tree to dry out back, I limbed and fast-burned its crackly remains in our fire pit. Now its ash beneath ash 10 inches or so down, currently being covered with snow - freed gases long gone. All the summer fires: where are they now? .....
The way things change form, burning in fire, dissolving in water, being eaten, decomposing, ending, beginning, growing is relentless and unstoppable. The way we charge about on energetic days, doing things, moving ourselves and our stuff, preparing and presenting, exploring and changing, all of this - where *is* it? Perhaps it’s in our records: memories, photographs, websites, objects, other people’s memories. Is that the semi-satisfying gesture of social media, sharing and looking, witnessing this relentless stream of event, view, moment? On this particularly quiet snowy day, I just feel like asking.
In your life, what’s now here that a day or so was not? Make a list. I’ll do it too.
the food in our fridge
the tree, decorated!
an interesting email from a local artist I hadn’t heard about til today
the sounds coming from the other room
the particular arrangement of objects on my couch
a current list of things to do
memories of the weekend
What’s gone that was here a week ago?
a mostly in-tact pumpkin
a mild fall climate
herbs in the garden
all the food we’ve eaten
everything that has gone down a drain
concern over last week’s upcoming events
anticipation and preparation for thanksgiving
an open space in the livingroom where the tree now is
After making these lists, what do you notice?
1. My third book about the Elements of the Periodic Table, similarly explores the constant in and out flow of states and forms. Check it out here. and Purchase the book here.
2. A related art project is called You Are Legend, and you can see it here.
The other day Guy brought home water balloons. He sometimes does this: gets something plasticky and colorful at the dollar store that brings him an inordinate amount of delight. He wanted to play catch with them after filling them up with hose water, as one does.
As we stood there, barefoot on the lawn, I had a visceral memory of being 8 or 7 or 10 with my cousins up in Maine, standing around absorbed in a mission, out in the grass and heat.
I had had a crappy day working on some new business strategies and feeling a little bit like a fish out of water. What I excel at is coloring, drawing, zoning out and looking out at the leaves fluttering in a tree; less so the roll-up-your-sleeves and get-in-there and fall-down-and-get-up-again attitude of much of the business world. And yet I am a business owner, and lately have taken seriously the notion that it’s up to me to care for and run the business as professionally as I can.
The game was to toss the water balloon back and forth, and to take a step away from each other with each turn, like a colorful and wet version of Russian Roulette. At first I noticed that my teeth clenched every time I went to catch the balloon, as if in anticipation of something bad. Not only does that make my neck veins pop out and my face look like a scary, cornered, feral animal, the clenching is unpleasant and a waste of valuable life energy. The body automatically reacted this way, but it's the mind's faulty logic that imagines this kind of contraction to be in any way helpful. It's saying to the body: Brace yourself, this could be bad...
So I began to play around with consciously doing something else with this face and body of mine. With the full threat of balloon breakage upon me, and the body on edge, I tried bouncing a little side to side, lowering the shoulders and softening the face a little bit, and even putting a something between a smile and a slack jaw expression on my face instead to see how that felt.
As a kid I was always the sensitive one: running away and crying, easily hurt, even though I was pretty tom boyish. Of my cousins I was probably the least rugged, as well as the youngest. I found myself often sniffling in a corner, feeling lonely, after an outburst.
Consciously softening and lightening my face muscles while reaching up to receive this water balloon that might instantly explode was a great metaphor for how to ‘be’ with all these scary new things I’m trying professionally.
I’m not sure if it’s true but right now I seem to be getting the message that I need to move out of my comfort zone if I want things to change. That includes the real possibility of visibly falling on my face, skinning knees, bee stings, and having the next water balloon explode all over me. And even the possibility of having bystanders point and laugh.
Giggles, camaraderie, and expanded sense of possibility may accompany that next bursting balloon.
'This summer is different. I don’t recognize the people, places and things that have been a part of my summers since I was about twenty. I thought christmas time was when I’d be missing home, and yes, it was. But this Michigan thing in summer is just plain different. Here there is a lot of water. And subsequently a lot of green. And birds, and a lot fewer traffic jams and cars. And black raspberries littering the sides of parks that no one cares if you pick. But the rituals of summer are nothing like what I’m used to. There’s no ocean here. Lake michigan is 3 hours drive away. Everyone is fishing, and doing lake sports. The boats are different. People aren’t inwardly tortured like Bostonians, more pleasant and open, but yet also still in their struggles like anywhere on this planet.
What I most miss is the friend stopping by, or meeting up in Harvard Square for a stroll, sitting and having an iced tea and swapping stories of the last few months: processing it all, as we do. So in other words, I miss you. Seeing you at BBQs, stopping by my mom's to lecture her about something that’s none of my business, and forgetting to pick up the ice before I show up. I also even miss my old smoking neighbor John, and his war to insist on assigned parking spots when there were none. It’s all filed away somewhere, but no longer right here.
So here’s another love letter, to let you know that what’s right around you, and me, right now, won’t stay this way. No matter how boring and forever-seeming it feels. It’s over in a minute.
Look around you like you were just born, forget the names of the objects and the people, like a newborn. I’ll do the same. That way, we’ll be together in that open field, no longer under the story and sway of small, alone, separate selves.
Today I found something unexpected while I was gardening. While flailing a hand scythe into clumps of grass and clearing out dead leaves in a neglected box garden, I discovered a baby bunny the size of an avocado sheltering under a head of lettuce. He was very still. His eyes were open. He did not move and didn’t appear to tremble. I was moved with cuteness and excitement. I went inside and got my husband; together, we quietly observed him, made supressed squealy noises, then went about our business doing other things. I moved to clear out the other side of the garden box, and there I found this bunny’s baby brother, even smaller (the size of an apple) nestled with his nose in the chives. As I stood there, I recognized a few feet away, a little warren that had been crafted with care out of our thyme bush: a circular tunnel, dusted on the edges with soft bunny fur. Just like that we had a nursery in the middle of our front yard. The whole experience lent a tenderness and a kind of sacredness to what would have otherwise been a glorious afternoon in the sun. It turned into summer just about three days ago.
Later this evening I went out to an art opening with my friend Kirsten. When she picked me up, I ceremoniously shared with her the bunny situation. When she got a peak at them, she also got verklempt with delight and excitement and tenderness. We were very careful not to remove a large dry leaf that I had placed over the first one for shade. There was a hole in the leaf through which we could see the bunny’s eye, still unmoving but very much alive. I went to the art opening and enjoyed it. I spent some time catching up with Kirsten, looking at the art, supporting our friend who had work in the show. It turned into a very social evening. I met a several really nice people. She dropped me off at home at about 8:45 pm, it was still light out here in Michigan. I checked on the bunnies, amazingly they were still right where we left them.
That these little bunnies had not moved in the time where I was networking, looking at art, handing out business cards, trading thoughts and ideas with Kirsten - in all of this human doing, that creature stayed still. I imagine in the bunny world, the mom must have said You stay, you stay right put, don’t make a sound, don’t make a rustle. And I’ll come feed you tonight after dark. It looked almost as if the bunnies were hibernating or in stand-by mode. Their eyes were open, there was an alertness, but there was no trembling, and no darting about going on.
When I came home, there they were. Presence itself. Just there. Like the face or the form of eternity in which all comings and goings are held. All over this neighborhood and town, bunnies are nestled, still, hidden - animals alert and unmoving, a wider presence than the mind can hold.
When birding with others, everyone looks together. Each of us sees different things, and the quality is open, observant, quiet, and quite sociable at the same time. It’s one of the only kinds of crowds I enjoy. Birders help each other hear, see and learn birds. They describe in extreme detail where: up the tree and at 4 o’clock, and next to that dead branch and then over six feet , then look straight through where those two leaves are. Do you see him? Or listen: do you hear that? That’s a warbling vireo! Information travels from one birder to another like a warbler from branch to branch.
Some of us are strong spotters and others know the songs and calls. Some have failing eyesight but know the markings of a species, or the flight behavior of a particular bird.
In birding, the senses open up and alertness mingles with connection: to people and to the larger stream of wind and temperature and conditions that bring in birds, and the bird nerds walking beside me. During spring migration, at times, the wind blows the birds down, or the heat swells from the south and a cloud of new birds float in. It’s extraordinary.
A birding posse is like one organism with many pairs of eyes, many ears and a wealth and history of knowledge, all pooled together in a slow moving, disorganized cloud. If you’re not a birder, it can be extremely irritating: everyone stops for 5 to 30 minutes about every 20 feet. Yet it’s a very unusual way to spend time with other beings: both the birds and people. Everyone loses a track of time and the world beyond the immediate senses.
When I go to certain parks on my own, I will inevitably encounter someone with a pair of binoculars, or a few people, and we share our sightings and what we’ve heard. The park becomes lit up with shared experience and community, all in reverence to the incredible variety of birds that land and move and dive and jump as the light and conditions prompt them.
Yesterday I saw over thirty blue jays in migration overhead. I usually think of the Blue Jay as a showy, loud and slightly manic backyard bird. As a community however, in a shared pursuit, I felt a new respect. My neck certainly hurts from craning up so much toward the tree tops (a condition called warbler neck), but I’m ok with that. I am more than just me when I bird with others, connecting with the more than just one bird, part of the phenomena of spring migration.
Here’s a piece of personal trivia for you: I have been coaching creative pioneers of many stripes, one on one and in groups for eleven years.
For some reason I’ve wanted deeply to compartmentalize this fact.
I’ve always loved the incredible, alive, one-on-one work of coaching, and it’s always felt natural and spot on. It’s been squirrely-feeling however, to share this openly. What I’m learning is that letting myself be more fully seen, sharing my fears and aspirations with people I trust, is grounds for closeness, intimacy and support, rather than judgement.
I call coaching the reflecting pool project, because I believe each human being is meant to be that for each other: a reflecting pool. It is a simple, beautiful and universal process: that’s what’s so rare about the space of coaching. We prize simplicity and reflection but find it very difficult to hang out in.
The coaching space is designed with a kind of feng shui about it. It keeps the lines clean and the airwaves open and clear. It’s a very disciplined form of communication; there’s a beautiful give and take in the way that my clients and I communicate with one another as their path through the sessions unfolds. What I do is quite rare, yet through the training and framework of coaching, it becomes a more natural way for my clients to relate to themselves, and to hold space for others. This work is sacred and its pure and it's powerful. No matter how hoaky the word coach might be, it’s a profound and transformative process we undertake together. Sharing this truth, being straightforward and honest about what I do, is freeing. I don’t have to cower. I don’t have to wait frozen under a little lettuce leaf like the bunny I found in my garden. His mom told him: You wait here until I come find you, don’t move a muscle, I’ll be back tonight. Theres a kind of faith in what that bunny’s doing. It’s a program running in the bunny. And at the same time, if I were to quote that as my inner voice: Don’t move a muscle, It would come from a place of fear.
Due to the bunny voice, I haven’t loved sharing this news, but here’s how I’m doing that now: I share what I do, I slow down, I take my time. When I take what I’m saying seriously, the other people in the room also slow down and hear what I’m saying and take it seriously also. I feel in a way like I’m waking up to myself in a more integrated form. I’m hearing messages in books and conversation right now that emphasize this sentiment None of it really matters, so make your own choices. We don’t get that much more time. Just take a stand for who you are and what you want, and don’t apologize for it. And don’t expect anyone to approve of you. And don’t worry because there’s only you here.
So that’s it. I’m a coach people, always have been, always will be. Deal with it. I’m here to serve, AND I’m making space for new clients.
Set up your free thirty minute conditional coaching session now while supplies last.
Learn more here.
Greetings from Snowy Michigan!
The first thing on my mind is to let you know that I’m missing you. I have been in Ann Arbor Michigan, with a pit stop in Ypsilanti, and increasing forays into Detroit, for just over six months. I notice that the drivers are friendlier here, but the highway trucks and majority rust belters drive much more aggressively on the highways. Ann Arbor is a friendly place, welcoming and approachable. You can’t swing a cat without hitting some kind of festival or community event here. My favorites so far have been weekly motorcycle and car enthusiast meet ups in Ypsilanti, and families camping on the green of the local nature center for a night in August. The all-Tuba Christmas concert was also great.
But what isn’t here, is the easy opportunity to see you, at my studio, a Farmer’s Market, my sister’s house, for a cup of tea or a purposeful gathering. I loved those gatherings and chance encounters, part of my weekly, monthly or daily routines. Suddenly, without meaning to, you are just not there! not OK! So now that I’ve got my sea legs under me in a new marriage, a new town, new home, new studio, and fledgling communities, I bid you Happy Chinese New Year and invite myself back into your life.
It’s been very important for me to shake loose of Boston-brain, having been there my whole life, to experience easier race-relations, a DIY culture that involves reupholstering your vintage BMW or welding the best part of two cars into one super unique one.
I also find a familiar university culture with academic neurosis floating about here in Ann Arbor, similar to Cambridge.
I have been a little flummoxed about my blog. While this has always been true, it’s even more so now. Who reads it? Who am I writing for? Who cares? What am I writing about? Well, I still have no idea. However, I know more than ever that being in your life and you being in mine in whatever way is possible and sustainable is important.
One way I’ve kept in touch is through Instagram. It’s easier to post a picture than words. I follow artists and art institutions mostly, because it allows me to feel connected to everyone’s studio process and successes, and to feel like I’m at that opening or stopping in to ask a weird technical question to my studio neighbors. I also love sharing artist’s work and venues and studios here, pictures of my studio being built and small moments as this expanding neural/geographic orientation establishes itself.
It’s very cool that from here I can be in Canada in an hour, Ohio in an hour, Indiana in a few more, Illinois in about 3. Did you know that if you drive West on i90, you’ll reach me in just about 12 hours? It’s basically a straight shot.
When I do talk with people in Boston, I love to play the weather game. It’s often the same weather/temp in Ann Arbor two or so days prior to whatever’s happens in Boston. The only difference I’ve found is the snow in Boston seems heavier and slushier, and the weather altogether more dramatic: windy and petulant.
So, how can we stay in better touch? Here are some ideas:
1. I’ll keep you posted through this newsletter/blog situation.
2. I love the technology Zoom, much like skype or google hangout, but it makes it easier to share screens and to have as many people as you want in one place. I used to have focus group type gatherings in person…perhaps we can do it online?
[update: Note that this is a pre-pandemic post!!I am surely ahead of my time...]
3. Many of you I met through coaching. I’m still coaching! I work on the phone, so the experience is the same as it’s ever been. It’s an exceptional kind of sacred creative space for stepping into the unknown with intention, clarity, support and confidence. To see what it’s like, I offer a 30 minute session so you can try before you buy. Just lemme know.
4. Artists! I am excited for more and more kinds of cross cultural exchange. Come explore the amazing and otherworldly Detroit art scene! It only costs about $140 for a roundtrip airfare y’know…It’s a whole new world out here.
4. My favorite way of connecting is not through technology, but through that airwavy, no-separation space of bringing you to mind and sending you love (new post on this!). I’m doing so right now. If you think of me, that’s what I’m doing, one way or another.
Also check out the rest of the Goodbonfire blog. I’ve got a recent What’s Cookin’ newflash section for art stuff, and a few other posts you might enjoy.
I just went and did a search on Metta Practice, or loving kindness practice. I wasn't overwhelmed by what was out there. There are a lot of pictures of a buddha statue and this sort of thing. So I'd like to offer this tool of Sending Love in a simpler, less obnoxiously Glossy-Mag-about-Yoga kind of way.
Here's the practice.
Take a break. Let your shoulders drop. Maybe close your eyes and give them a rest.
Bring to mind a moment of unbridled love. Not romantic love. Not sexy love. Just love. Maybe involving your favorite toddler, once upon a time, or a creature in its first month or so on the planet. The point is to start with bringing up the melty feeling of tenderness for someone uncomplicated. Once you're tapped in, bathe in that image and experience for a bit.
Next let others come to mind. If you were wanting to reach out and just share this feeling, who would you share it with? It doesn't really matter who, just somebody. Although again, this is low hanging fruit type people, with who its easy and uncomplicated to want to connect. What I do is not say a phrase (which you can do), but just flash on that person in their habitat, my stepdad on his porch so, in a moment of open, relaxed, peace. I picture him feeling lets say, satisfied, sitting in a little sun, belonging there. I don't imagine him to be the way I think he should be, or if he would just read this book then he'd *get it.* This is instead, a flashing on that alrightness that can take on the flavor of quite joy, and being right with the world for no reason. Your birthright.
Check in with your beloved ones far away or emotionally remote like this for a bit. Notice how good it can feel. Notice what this generates where you are, at no other time or place.
At some point, throw yourself into that mix. Send yourself love just like to all those other worthy beloveds.
If you find complicated or challenging feelings come up, send love to that feeling. It's like a kid grumpy in the afternoon. She just wants some space to be, and maybe a reassuring hand squeeze. Offer this type of wide pastureland to that feeling. Bathe it in that tenderness. It may be there for a while. Your honored guest. If aversion comes up to that honored guest, bathe that in your presence and welcome.
I find I rarely have to go searching out the next level of more challenging people or feelings to work with, they usually are fairly close at hand. But if you're still sitting there, into it, work now with some difficult people. Maybe don't start with Trump, but with the friend who didn't call you back. Again, notice if what's there is a bitchy griping self talk, and make some space and understanding for that one. And the friend, if there's time and space, imagine her limber and loose and giggling a little, or really loving the moment she's in for no reason. Breathe the feeling in and out.
The black diamond types then take it to Trump. Even just sending metta to the word Trump is a practice. Or to the suffering perpetrators of violence and destruction. Hold up a mirror there, see where those things live in yourself, open your heart there too, even if just a tiny crack open, some breathing, your willingness to stay open is profound in its transformative power.
And One Caveat: If you're fixating on somebody, be sure you're note just mentally stalking them! This means you stay in your experience, you don't go sniffing around in their airspace trying to feel connected to them. If it feels too entangled with someone, another approach is to offer this one up, to cut the kite string in a thoughtful, gentle way, but firmly resolving to return to more neutral people, and to drop that object/person/story, and instead to work directly with what is sparked within your own experience, tenderly and with presence.
Yesterday, I was looking at a giant amaryllis bulb, one that doesn’t require any water or soil as it grows. It’s very prehistoric looking. How, we wondered, can it grow like that? We decided that they are a little like a slow bomb, containing all but the sunlight and warmth needed to explode forth in imperceptible increments, until quietly, POW, a graceful explosion of softly unfurling petals, stamen: perfect. Itself.
Consider the many amazing threads to this phenomenon: Nature as unstoppable force, everything always changing, and your very own life’s trajectory, similarly carrying itself out, according to the seed codes etched in each of billions of cells, that somehow get nourished and replaced multiple times while you move about the day, over and over again until one day, you no longer do.
I am looking at that bulb now, and it’s at least an inch taller that yesterday.Yet it’s the same bulb, in the same container, on the same table, in the same room isn’t it? Also, it’s Mine, right? My bulb, my container, my room. The mind makes up these rules, partitions territories, ‘things’ everything. The mind tells me it’s all Mine (my cells!) all the same as yesterday, and that yesterday is a thing, a real thing too. That flower bomb however, this slomo life exploding, is part of a going off that’s been underway since the big bang (or before?). That bulb is just a tiny nano moment of a spark of that event, as are you, all of this, even the strands of Donald Trumps combover are a part of this unstoppable sparking then fizzling.
What does that change, to see this as just an extension of one explosion? Every word spoken, hand squeezed, pie baked from scratch, expletive uttered, held gaze with a squirrel, burst of giggle? What if all of these are simply bursts of firework light, one and then another, an another, relentless, unstoppable, glorious, ablaze?
At this moment thousands of processes in plant bulbs in Trader Joe’s across the land, mysteries deep underground and in thermal vents on the ocean floor, in our bodies, corroding car bodies, weather cycles high up, the inner core of trees, plastics, stars burning out, moisture seeping into basements…: All are a part of this relentless event unfolding.
And yet, my story, and yours, of being an agent, a doer, in comparison to other agents and doers, is so convincing. It says, this story, that you are separate, a symbol or icon, as if surrounded by a white screen or page in a story book, or an object up for auction on Ebay, to be chosen or chosen over, forgotten or thrown away.
There is no such thing as a separate you. The trees are your very lungs. The tone of another’s voice can change the trajectory of your blazing, and that bulb on the table is a part of this burning, as is the table, the room, holiday food digesting, and the sensations in your hands. You are not, my love, an object, but part of a great blazing. Blaze on!
I’ve been in a temporary home for about a month here in Michigan. It’s a good serviceable place: it’s quiet and has a workspace for me and a nice kitchen. I’ve found that without a working art studio, which is waiting to be unpacked in a more permanent spot later in the fall, I’m not able to fuss about or work much with my hands, and I have meanwhile been working on two laptop-based, excel-based projects. The laptop screen is also where I see my Boston people during video conference visits, do my research, and connect with other virtual communities.
In my ‘productivity’ I have inadvertently taken myself out of active circulation. At the end of the last couple of days I’ve felt gross and stuck, my leg pinned underneath my body in a way that’s downright painful when I unfold it. It’s like I’m a little coagulating mass beginning to damn up an artery.
We all know that circulation is beneficial to the well being and health of any kind of system: a room, a body, a city. When I get fooled into the idea that my worth and value is in doing, and that the doing is somehow involved in being locked in a gaze with the glowing square orb of a computer or smartphone screen for more than half of my time, I am at that time starting to sink in the mire of stagnation. Stagance or stuckness happens in a variety of dimensions at the same time, and shows up in air flow, blood flow, traffic patterns, water flow, body movement, mental loops. When I'm stuck on the laptop, the legs tucked cozily under me may be getting insufficient blood flow, my breathing dulls, and the muscles in my back get weird and stiff. The space also gets a mucky vibe- it begins to get stuffy, cluttered and dead feeling.
Stangance can appear as clutter or sediment building in the eddy of a stream, carbon monoxide rising from miles of breezeless traffic, constipation, isolation, boredom, or repeating one path to and from the fridge, or fingernail to mouth, over and over again. Stagnance starts out sometimes as a needed break, and becomes the trance of one TV show after another, or one more excel spreadsheet to finalize.
My commitment to you, as a part of the larger earth body that we belong to, is to put myself back into circulation: walks, even in circles round the same four blocks, will be one way I circulate. Drives, turning down unfamiliar roads, biking around, bringing my lunch to a park bench, and getting up from this machine hourly, for a break for the eyes, the hands, wrists and body. Also I can circulate by stopping and looking out the window, checking in with eyes closed to sound, smell, taste, touch, and breath. Getting up to pick up some socks, tidying the eddies of objects that accumulate on surfaces, jumping into water, a lake, the tub, a shower. Wiping down the counters - picking something up, and placing it intentionally down somewhere else. All of these brief engagements arrive with a basic energy and aliveness.They remind me that this is what I actually am: basic energy and aliveness. The rest is just gathering on my surfaces.
Walking also leads to connections and discoveries. On my day 1 of circulation, I ran into a woman on the street I’d been playing phone tag with, and lo I had my calendar and we finally made a tea date. All because I set foot outside.
To circulate is to light up the thru ways of the brain, to clear them out and to trust and value yourself as an essential part of the wider world, this alive whole, without fanfare or specialness to gum up the gears.
The more you circulate and welcome circulation, the more the whole parade can simply flow.
Stagnation in the world:
unreturned library books, unpaid bills, piles of clothing or dishes, papers, mail, trash, appliances that don’t get used taking up counter space, unreturned phone calls and emails, the couch nest or the bed nest, sheets that need washing, a body or hair that’s past being clean. Eating the same foods over and over, sitting in one place, always spending time with one or two people, or alone.
Circulation in the world:
Standing up. Stretching, raising the gaze, moving the muscles of the face, shakin’ that behind, music, sound, walking, swinging the arms, slowly drinking a glass of water, taking a ride, walk or drive, showing up for someone else, attending something public, making something for no reason, getting out of bed, pulling up the shade, opening the windows and door.
In a museum, everyone loves the white, spareness and purity. Perfect angles, controlled temperatures. A frame is like a small travelling museum - a tiny, somewhat controlled environment for the preservation and display of a work of art. The idea of something 'lasting forever' or accruing value is all quite silly when you consider the decay happening in and on every surface on the planet - the constant swappage of molecules.
I do however, appreciate the great preoccupation with perfection, presentation and essentially control.
Many years ago, I saw how art does this for us. I went to see a Ballanchine Ballet called Jewels, during a painful and disorienting break up of a relationship and a home.
Every act of the ballet was in reverance to the emerald, the ruby, the sapphire and the diamond. Every high pointed toe, kick and arc of a hand was absolute precision. The backdrop was a solid, shimmering, gorgeous color, reflected in the costumes, the sparkle, and the choreography, one gem/color for each act.
There we were within a dissolving partnership, looking up at the stage. I was sitting next to my roommate, love and friend, and the sad, tired mess of our valiant attempts to do better, talk it through, and make it work. Crying silently, mucus running out of my nose and a hand damp from wiping away this issuance. Up on stage was an impossible perfection, a million miles from where I sat, incomprehensible, orchestrated, perfect. It was heaven. I was earth. A primoridal ooze.
Sometimes, this is what art is for.
I heard Chas DiCapua talking at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center saying We are part of a universe becoming conscious of itself.
Also, that the process is unfolding on many levels, including on a sciency, material level.
One aspect of this we've heard about for a long time: That there are elemental particles in our bodies found in ancient star explosions, the Red Giants and Planetary Nebula. Woa. Now let me go watch King of the Hill to clear my head.
Just listening to and thinking about such a discovery is in fact you, a part of the universe in contemplation, becoming conscious of itself.
On my 40th birthday, I watched 40 shooting stars burning into the atmosphere during the Persiad meteor shower up in Northern coastal Maine while lying on a dock. I was also demonstrating this same idea - the universe becoming conscious of itself.
What I can put to use in this is that nothing is more central to an understanding than noticing. Noticing is waking up to the non-verbal direct truth of things, and to myself as part of something greater. In waking up to such an infinite identity of noting and being at the same time, life is essentially lifing, it's not personal, and I have nothing really to lose or to to attain.
Update from 2020: In reading through this it's interesting to note just the very beginnings of the Elements research project in motion. Last year, I published the Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere. which is a compendium of where one finds each element, in color blotchy sketches and handwritten notes, in lists of objects, parts of our body, world and universe, and what they are tangibly like. It's very much about not being separate, and this theme above.
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.