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.
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!
Sometimes I will be full of shit. And that's why you're here. I can't know myself without you, and similarly, without the ones in your life, you are the tree that falls in the forest - Did you make a sound, or was that just the sound that doritos make in your own head as you eat them?
You will never know unless there's someone else there with you.
In other words: Community.
Leaving Boston last year made me pull up the carpet tacks on so many lovely groups of people that week in and week out, I'd see and see again. It didn't dawn on me til I was all the way over in Michigan that I can't have those people in my life, you, like I did, by just braving Boston traffic for 45 minutes in both directions, anymore. Those communities are going on in other forms, as I show up to forge new ones.
My first attempt at community in Michigan was to go to a knitting group on a Monday night at the local cafe/brewery in Ypslianti. All of my needles were in storage, and I only had two small cards of thin repair wool on hand. I wanted to make a cozy for my reusable coffee cup, but more importantly, I just needed to get the F out of the house. I shrugged, and decided two ballpoint pens with scotch tape on the tips would surely work fine for needles, if only I could remember how to cast on.
I arrived, sat down, and thought, yes, I can do this! I know how to knit, I'm just a hen among hens here. And then I pulled out my ballpoint pens from Eastern Bank, with tape on the ends, my repair wool, and set about in a group of complete strangers, trying to remember how to cast on. It was at that moment that I realized: Dorothy Honey? you're not in Kansas, Massachusetts any more. You are as good as completely insane to these women. I do have a tea cozy to show for that brave effort, as well as the tender experience of accepting help, the loan of some actual needles, and even a couple of phone numbers. A young lass with a hip uneven haircut even complimented me on the cup cozy a week later.
Community for us humans is essential, like vitamin B or the sun. We're like grass blades. We don't do very well on our own, regardless of how independent we might think we are.
I want to create community with you, for you, that uses the incredible free and easy technology of the airwaves to be all over the world, in each other's livingrooms, and also still in our pajamas, together. I'm figuring out the details now, but I want to invite you to join me in your livingroom, in recorded form, all to yourself, or live with a group of gorgeous grass blades like you and me, with their own magnificence to spark yours and vice versa. Please check keep your eyes out for a new Creative Pioneering Institute with Hannah Burr coming soon! and encounter opportunities to bond with, support and learn from other genius grass blades figuring out this earth plane and how to cast on, eat doritos, and thrive in embodied expression and creation together.
Guess what just arrived?
A tidy little stack of Hannah Burr, limited edition calendars: Each signed.
A nimble print edition of just 80!
Yours is waiting to brighten your wall.
This is the very first project I undertook this late fall when I finally had a studio again, here in Michigan after a six month nomadic transition. Bundle deals with books are offered through Friday only!!
About the Calendar Series:
Each ink drawing in this series of twelve is its own universe of color and motion, loosely interpreting my experience of the tidy grid of calendar days. Where do they go? Odd the way that time moves, so unlike the charts, numbers and grids we try to capture it in.
Each calendar is signed, one of only 50 prints in existence, and arrives snug in a cellophane sleeve with an introduction to the project tucked inside. Order yours today! Deals below.
NOTE: THE CALENDARS for 2017 HAVE SOLD OUT!
Visit hannahburr.bigcartel.com to see her current
And find more offerings and artwork at hannahburr.com
THANKS AND ENJOY.
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.
Here's the talk I gave in Port Townsend MA, April 26th 2015 at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Church. It was my first sermon, and the second of two identical sermons I gave that day. Enjoy!
I said to a friend of mine today: Today I feel excited about life! Though it may just be the green tea I’m drinking. I think it was the green tea actually, but life is still a big thrill right now.
I’m in my art studio, surrounded by boxes because….I am moving to Michigan! And before that, I am getting married. (this is a pic of Colorado by the way, from our honeymoon - added a little later)
AND just now, I went live with the new hannahburr.com! Other than the fact that it somehow broke all of the backend wiring of my blog and there are no pictures anymore, I’m thrilled. And so I am writing to share my enthusiasm. Sorry about the pics! I’ll work on that soon.
I’ve also decided today that I am going to invite you all to a Farewell Studio Party, on July 8th, to wonder at what a supportive place its been, and to see you one last time. I will have artworks and studio treasures on view and for sale, in similar form to the project Yardsale, which you can see here on the new website. You may just find me sleeping in a dusty corner looking dehydrated by then, but I’m hoping to be ready for you, and inviting you as a goad to myself.
In the past several months it feels like time’s been speeding up. It has certainly been a very fresh experience, which is disorienting, and also, kind of like a death. Everything feels vibrant and poignant, and definitely not business as usual.
I will be relocating to Ann Arbor Michigan where there is a lot of art activity, and people regularly install tiny fairy houses in their front yards. UMichigan has a great school of Art and Design, and Detroit, the new wild west of the US art scene, is only 40 minutes away. And then there’s Chicago and the rest of Michigan…all a place to be a blank page and see what gets written and drawn.
Please join me at 11 Humphreys Street on July 8th, at a time to be determined to celebrate how everything is constantly new and unrecognizable, even when you are sure tomorrow will be like today, and to say goodbye and huzzah.
7 INSPIRATIONS FOR DEALING IN 2017
As a lady of art and other worldliness, I’ve been puzzling over How to Be with What’s Unfolding in our Country and Government: What is my role, how am I of service, what’s effective, what’s counter-effective. What drains and what builds? What?
Conversations and experimentation have yielded seven inspirations.
1. Guilt and fear are bad motivations for anything. If there is a giant SHOULD following you around, white fang that thing and get free of it. Each and every one of us has our way of contributing, of being of service, a different instrument to play. From one person to the next it is a personal decision. If the Should Monster is in the shape of a friend or associate, on fire with righteous indignation, this maybe a moment to pause and take some space as an act of re-centering and self care, done with love. If that should-monster is inside of you, what quiets it for you? A prayer like: Help me with the guilt, help me stop shoulding on myself. Help me to feel enough, be enough. Show me how to be at peace. Help me rest. Maybe one of these, uttered to God-knows-what-force you believe in, will be useful to you.
2. Who you are and what you do is vital and worth celebrating. When I saw Lady Gaga at the SuperBowl half-time show, she was standing in her power as a major performer and artist, staying true to her beliefs and her message as herself. This to me is not standing against anything, it’s standing for and living from who you are, and letting others do the same. How this looks is free and alive. You don’t need to nail down ‘who’ you are. Just be you, and nobody else.
Write a song that sings the truth you have if you make music. Lovingly sit with your elderly friend if that’s what’s on your roster for the day, be with what’s here for you, your own feelings, your own friendship, your own dirty dishes. Love starts at home, and the vibration is raised from the now that you are, the here that you are at. If it delights you to march and make signs, do it. If you are claustrophobic in crowds or have another job to do, make it something else.
3. Give Thanks. FOR ALL OF IT. Thank this situation for shaking and waking us up. I thank these unknowns for humbling me to how much a part of something greater I am, rather than an island unto myself. Every day I become more and more aware of my priviledge and wealth; Even if I’m the poorest person on my block, I’m fine! I can live alone, drive a car, protest, tap away on this laptop, make my own schedule…what utter luxury that is. This amazing abundance I can savor and give thanks for, while raising the vibration for all. Note: this is not guilt, it’s awareness. Be awake to the abundance in your life. If you are alive, there is abundance in your life. Find it and savor it.
4. Find or refind your personal practices for centering and grounding in the body. So much is polarized and intensified right now. I imagine it might get more so. It’s all out there. In here, where you are, touch the earth.
I think of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, Mara’s armies coming up to intimidate, terrify, and ultimately cause him to falter, run away, doubt himself. The Buddha made a single gesture at Mara’s last attempt to judge, to cut down, and question Buddha’s right to sit and wake up. The Buddha did not judge, fight back, reject. Instead he touched the earth. He went into relationship. He connected. Right now, feel the ground, the support underneath you. Feel your legs. Notice the sensation in your hands. When things get charged, go into the legs, into the body, your own allotment of earth to care for.
5. Less is more. This is a huge subject, but feels incredibly relevant right now to me.
A conversation breaks out on politics. A news headline flashes up. It doesn’t make you good to flood your system, talk or read til three am, or hook into obsession. It doesn’t help anyone. It just drains your vital forces and makes it harder to sleep. Let yourself rest, we need you in good shape to play the part you play. The big news will find its way to you. Unless you delight at the whole play of political analysis, be with your child instead, your senses, your friend, your own feelings, the sounds around you. Your part to play happens on its own. You will find you get inspired to say, write a blog post or a friend will call. Go with what feels right and true and ignore the rest.
6. Diversify and keep it local in whatever way inspires you. Donald Trump was built on unbridled capitalism with no ethical base. He now is President of this country. I am discovering many ways in which I foggily participate in this capitalistic enterprise, every time I pay a giant conglomerate company for my phone service, or vaguely stop in a huge store for that cheaper thing they sell. There are a thousand and three ways to approach this topic, but the main point is, buy less, tolerate the giant companies monopolies less by going with the smaller ones. Diversify and keep it local in whatever way inspires you. I stopped using credit cards several years back, am discontinuing my plan with verizon in favor of a smaller company, and considering taking my books off of amazon. It’s imperfect and there are many facets to it, I still drive and fly in planes, but it feels good to realize these choices put me at a remove from feeding the beast in some way. It’s again easy to think you’re right and others are wrong, but no one can say what is right for you. It’s a first person decision and insight. Check out
7. Widen the View. While this can mean to take the historic long view, I will offer the vertical, locationless, timeless one. Try this on and see how it lands: This is your dream. Everyone here is some facet of yourself. It would be so great to be the good guy, with no shadow, but no one is. We are the victims. We are the perpetrators. We are one consciousness, no exceptions. When you can see that you are both the one in the movie and the screen on which the movie plays, the one in the dream and the one in which the dream is happening, the whole idea of fighting for anything becomes a tiny bit comical. Widen the view. Be awareness itself. When you are facing what you don’t like, be both and. Watch resistance fade, and become the one you are, the one that holds space for every new birth, and remains after every death.
A note about this last point: What I resist looms large and dominates my reality, my life, and my experience. I suffer to the degree that I resist. Stand For and Be and Act in accordance with your beliefs. You are so much bigger than this circus. What outlasts it is openness, compassion, and curiosity. Why on earth is this showing up in your dream? What is the subconscious saying here?
SEVEN WRITING PROMPTS TO START THE NEW YEAR
It's five days into 2017. I declare this whole month a time to invite in what we most want. And I don't mean things. I mean qualities. In 2008 I wrote Your Year In Review. It was a bunch of writing prompts to reflect on what transpired in the past year, and a bit of looking forward to the next. So. Let's start fresh, looking forward! I have arrived at your door with a gift. Instead of preserved lemons or dilly beans, it's writing prompts for bright aliveness.
If it's grumpy or zapped times for you, begin with what's hardest to see past. This is very fertile ground to plant seeds of joy in. Don't spend too long in this stuff, and be sure you have time to spend on the next questions too. No editing.
1. What is absolutely not working in your experience today? Be specific. Don't make it about other people. Spend 5 minutes here. If you're already inspired, skip to Q3.
2. If you're feeling stuck: What old tapes keep getting played in your experience that you can do without? It's hard to see these sometimes. I find it's easiest when the patterning you operate under is presently, painfully evident. If not, you can save this one for another day.
3. Looking at the Q1 list: What would work better? For each line item, flip it around. Use positive language and be more specific than: I want to be happy or for the problem to go away. Tell me more. Eg. I want to feel energized and confident. OK! I'd love to find that the situation rights itself without any effort on my part - much to my surprise, we just moved on. It was replaced with...
What does happy look like specifically?
4. Imagine a day filled with energy and confidence. Write it out. Embellish. Bring out your kid-like, over the top imagination. This is dress up time. Go full out. It's play. End with THIS OR SOMETHING BETTER so the forces you live by have a chance to expand beyond our amazing-but-limited human imagination.
5. Now, What are you grateful for? Make as long a list as possible! What are you grateful for right now?
What's working that would you like to see flourish?
What do you want to acknowledge in yourself? In others?
6. How would you like to feel the next hour? What surprising situation would you thrill to experience (laughing so hard you snort perhaps?) (a suddenly neutral to enjoyable experience of being in a body?).
7. At the end of the year (or choose the time frame) you are blown away, awed, amazed, and a little astonished by what has taken place. You are feeling solid and grounded, and you have exceeded the measley visions of the past. If you're honest and tapped into your highest truth, what do you see around you, what has transpired?
The crap parts are inevitable, human, and invaluable in revealing what wants to be alive and vibrant just underneath. Write this all out. Let it all go. You can use this moment to collaborate with just this moment, which is who you are, and shift the currents. With these aspirations, you clear the decks for what comes next. Hold no expectation, while acting as if! it is so. This is your world.
Joy in our hearts in 2017.
Contact me to set up a one on one session. This is a taste of how I work but just us is a whole new layer of sublime and transformation.
Neuroscientists find (some of them somewhere, according to Jeffrey Martin) that there’s a little squeeze of pleasure drugs in the brain when we solve a problem. We’ve been rewarded with learning to walk, saying words, throwing or catching a ball since infancy. Positive brain chemicals like dopamines flow when a problem is solved. These are the drugs we love.
On those days when the sky is blue, there’s food in the belly and a roof over one’s head, there can be kind of a malaise, or an itchy type feelng: Something seems wrong, like a problem needs to be solved, even if you can't identify anything in particular. This brain-body apparatus we each have says Martin, makes problems, manufactures them, so it can be rewarded with those chemicals and feel good again.
I used to smoke. I recall the day I noticed a mental process going on at the time. I found myself conjuring some stressful scenario prior to reaching for a cigarette. Something about the cortisol (stress hormone) and cigarette combo was truly satisfying. It was a real soother to get some nicotine in the mix when I thought about that thing…How tweaked.
Whatever is going on can be seen in problem terms, or in a different light, the very same scenario can be labeled as: Not a problem. Nothing to be solved.
For example, I get to the check-out line and discover that I’ve forgotten my wallet. Is this a problem? Are there lions? A fire? Yes it is not smooth, but truly, this is the nature of the road itself, not a personal failing. It’s how things go on this planet called Earth, and on planet Me. Feeling irritated then, or slightly growly under the breath is also the course of human response, it is the nature of the thing. Also, it's just what's happening in a parade of stuff happening. More road texture. Not a problem, nothing to be solved.
These problems and the attendant stories that give them dimension, you could see as elaborate plots designed to hold the attention, like a great film, and we are captivated - captives in the story. A major illness, a terminal diagnosis is also included. Feelings, big bumps, real physical pain. A broken down car? Trump is president. It turns out that the wallet was stolen. Not fun, no one is claiming that. Or easy. But somehow, it’s the very ticket in.
Can I, can you, enjoy this cliffhanger of a show? You’ve been watching for years, as have I. Our shows are singular, but consistently witnessed and known. Have you ever noticed that?
Let go of the splintering branch, and see how that feels. No one is immune. You, are welcome.
Welcome one and all to the coolish breezes and warm updrafts of the New England fall!
I’m excited to share some art and some writing and some upcoming events with you. There's one on Sunday - a talk called The Whole Orchard, and another on Nov 12, and one in December...
The summer was a sweet one, and I bravely shared about my book to audiences of mostly my own family :) and the friendly librarian - but always it was worth it and fun. I shared at the
Art: I have the pleasure of sharing over 20 paintings and drawings in an unusual setting, along with paintings by Somerville Artist Sally Strand. It’s beautiful fancy home for sale in Watertown. Peter Boyajian and Paul Moreton at Real Estate 109 have set this up and they’ve done a fantastic job. Come see some new works and what it looks like in a high end design setting! You can see it by appointment at 222 Main St. in Watertown.
On October 1st, I joined artists Maria Molteni and Sue Murad for the North Hampton Book and Print Fair, where we took no prisoners, letting the world know what artists who make books are capable of. I shared a table with these gals, and saw the beautiful film Sue made about a piece of Marias at their screening the night before. See some pics here!
This Sunday, October 23rd, at the Theodore Parker Unitarian Church, I'm giving a talk called The Whole Orchard at 10:30 AM
On November 12, Joanne Rossman, Purveyor of the Unnecessary and the Irresistible has generously offered to host a book signing at her most excellent of shops - known all over the country for her curatorial chops and eye for special things. She wins the absolute prize for selling more of my books than any other shop, and I love that she’s only a ten minute walk from home. It's a great place to get your xmas shopping done!
The Help me [ ], do the thing. is now in 26 shops and I'm burning on some cylinders, trying to show up for the task of getting the books out into the world, without getting all weird and edgy, and it’s going pretty well. Contemporary Prayers to * [whatever works] is in 53 museum shops in 26 states!!! And I've finally found a place to store all the books that isn't underneath my bed. I'm so pleased.
In December, there is talk of an event at Spoonbill & Sugartown Books in Brooklyn New York! I am thrilled about this, and grateful for the support of Jonas at Spoonbill who proposed we try a talk and a workshop. We’re in the planning stages and it’ll be one of those weekends…
Sunday Oct 23rd: Theodore Parker Unitarian Church 10:30 am: talk: The Whole Orchard.
November 12: Book Signing at Joanne Rossman, Roslindale MA
December: Spoonbill Books, Workshop and talk, Brooklyn NY
It's not that we want so much. It's that we want so little.
My friend Veera shared this idea. It took me a while to wrap my brain around.
We go for such small things mostly. Thinking that's what we're worth. Some new boots. A house. My thinking keeps forming itself around half empty cups. LIttle knots of dreams. I don't know how it looks from ten thousand feet, I'm just thinking about the next three blocks or twenty minutes. This is where I find it so valuable to keep the possibilities open beyond what I can dream up. Not to clamp my fist around something shiny to look at, but to keep my palm open, let the thing blow out of my hand again, because it's so much greater what might evolve from that practice.
I've also heard it said that we dream in apples, and [ ] dreams in orchards. Perhaps, as Rumi put it, we are the whole orchard, not the worm in the grape, as it sometimes seems.
It's not that we want so much. It's that we want so little.
Here's the Rumi poem called
The Worm's Waking
This is how a human being can change.
There is a worm
addicted to eating grape leaves.
Suddenly, he wakes up,
call it grace, whatever, something
wakes him, and he is no longer a worm.
He is the entire vineyard,
and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
a growing wisdom and joy
that does not need to devour.
from the Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.
I was just forwarded a lovely interview with Thich Nhat Hanh about prayer and his book on the subject: The Energy of Prayer. It looks to be a lovely and thought provoking book about prayer, brought to my attention by the lovely Elizabeth Landman. In this interview, he brings a perspective on Buddhism and prayer, and connects the role of time, ancestors, and being part of what one draws upon or brings forth through prayer. He also draws attention to the difference between thinking and being, and how they relate to the energy of prayer.
Here is a passage so interesting to chew on, from an interview he did with Publisher's Weekly. It's well worth a read. Here are a couple of excerpts:
If you pray to the Buddha, you should know who the Buddha is, and not just have a number of ideas of the Buddha. If you know who the Buddha is, prayer will be effective. If you feel that the Buddha is fully present in the here and the now, that you have the capacity of touching him or her, then the prayer will be effective. You know that the Buddha is there also within you, in the form of mindfulness, compassion, concentration; so the Buddha is no longer an idea but a reality...
According to our insight, the Buddha continues, Jesus also continues in their new forms. And if you are a Buddhist practitioner, you continue the Buddha; so the Buddha as the object of your prayer is a reality, and not just an idea. That practice relies on the basic insight that nothing is ever lost. Your father is still there, your grandmother is still there, Buddha is still there in his new manifestations. So the second person in prayer, the one to whom we pray, is concrete, is really there, and we can really get in touch with him or with her. That is why it is very important to have the insight. Jesus, Buddha and grandfather are not something that only existed in the past; they are there in the here and the now. They are within you, around you, and you can get in touch with them.
There's more on the body and its role in prayer which is also fascinating to me.
Full interview can be found here.
The best time, I find for thanks, is all the time.
Most especially best, is when I am wanting to tantrum and sulk, or spin out in fear. This happens with some regularity. The thank yous remind me of the fact that because I am free to write this, live safely, drive my own car, eat wonderful fresh foods, move around in a human body, even if creaky or painful or like a strange hotbed of unfamiliar sensation or activity I didn't orchestrate - It is then that the worry stuff is extra worry, that I might not have a fifth layer of icing on my cupcake, kind of worry. In fact, I don't even need the cupcake (whatever it is). I can myself sometimes even be an expression of thanks, and live off the fantastic wealth of that feeling, anytime.
Mind you, not to be good. Or to be liked. But to feel and savor and join the life of the moment, gritty and singularly bizarre or unfaimliar or deceptively familiar looking.
Someone very deserving of my thanks in the month of May and eternally is Rachel Marandett, a young artist doing an internship in the last year of highschool, without whom I might have been buried under books instead of writing to you here. Thank you Rachel.
My books arrived!!
I have had lots to do. I sent out lots of rewards and books and thank yous, and the thank yous keep being the appropriate response for everything, and they have their own momentum, those thank yous.
I made this, by way of thanks.
I sent these packages, with that image included inside each, by way of fulfilling my promise to the people who helped me make this book. By way of thanks.
In the book some of the pages are also about thanks. For example.
It's April! Here's an update on Book 2: Help me [ ], do the thing.
It exists!! It's been printed!!
I have received two gorgeous advanced copies!!!! I am thrilled. The first book has a baby sister.
There's first a moment where the FedEx package arrives with the advance copies where my stomach drops. I have to ignore the package for a while because there are too many butterflies in my gut. There's always a chance something went south and half of it is upside down or something, and I am first gripped with fear.
At some point, I just sit down and find myself tearing the little cardboard perforation strip on the package and diving in. Then we spend some time, me and this object, together, acclimating to the fact that
THE THING HAS BEEN DONE.
After this comes an amazing segment of time where my heart literally becomes this glowing, warm region of my being as I behold the book on my table. I keep going over to the spot to commune with the very site of the object that all of us together created.
I was tempted to share a photo here, but I think that's for when the rest of the books, actually arrive.
I will greet the books in late May/early June, and promptly send them out to my backers. I can't wait to share the real thing with you!
You're in it. You may be cowering under the blanket, rooted to the nest of your bed, or couch. Your hair might need washing. Perhaps you're badly in need of a shower. People, people that love you and believe in you might feel like a fiction, a distant memory or a fluke. Lying through their teeth at the very least. Or maybe everything's pissing you off. The alarm clock, uncooperative coat button or bank clerk, the tepid tea.
So this is the little fire I'm building: A few sticks, maybe a little mossy, some crumpled pages of my own journal, and a lighter that's been in my glove compartment for four years at least. My fingers are brittle and cold. I'm blowing on this kindled thing, I believe in it. It's going to catch. When the wind finally dies down for a moment, it does! And then, in some minutes, is the plume of smoke that rises. It rises from this spot, on the side of an unfriendly road where the views aren't inspired. This is the spot where I stopped, would not go another mile. It will have to do.
The plume is going up, visible from over the ridge in a thin, messy, scraggly line rising straight up. This plume is just for you.
Would you like to know why I'm sending you such a plume? Because it's all working and I want you to know that. You are in the throes of transformation my friend and yes indeed, it is uncomfortable. It's not pretty either. And how do I know this with such certainty? Because so am I.
The experience of fear, doubt, insecurity, tossed in with some shame, and an ugliness we fear might be chronic, these are our old modes dislodging.
Sometimes what's foreign and new feels wrong and unsafe. Also, like it's our fault. In a way, it is our fault. We stopped, or if stopped, we chose to get up and take a first step toward that thing we wanted, toward the inkling of who it is we are crossing our fingers we can turn out to be. To really be!
People driving by, they're looking as they go past. Suddenly - it's come to this - what they think of me and my fire by the side of the road in the middle of an empty lot is truly and completely none of my business! It solves nothing at all. I have a fire to tend to. The fire is now brightly burning. My signal to you is now stronger. Look out your window, you'll see it. There's no mistaking it.
You are in it, you are exactly at the center of your life. You are alive and what you are stepping toward is stepping toward you. This is tiding born by the rising smoke.
The fire that's now impressively burning? It's now strong enough that something else is also beginning. There is a stirring, very deep. A memory waking up, and recognition.
Your fire and my fire, they are the same. They are fanned and brightening with every breath in. My fire is strong in the company of yours. These fires, this fire, is the part of us that says Yes. The part that shows up, finds it funny - a little wierd - and shows up anyway. It's the same Yes everywhere. Courageous fire tenders tending.
You are squarely in the center of your life. You are welcome on this planet. Together, we illuminate the world.
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.
This is what Thai Forest monks meditate on at some point, in part. How gross hair skin and nails are: always growing, always getting funky, needing care.
Today, having cared for my niece and nephew overnight, I was particularly aware of the hag-like aspect of myself, dry skin, nails needing cleaning, cutting, dry scalp and unruly hair, haglike, as I said.
Funny too, how much fuss is made about them all, red nails, long and sexy, clacking at a grocery stroe cash register, incongruously, hair straightened, dyed, layered, razor-cut, and a million insane, crazy ways to remove it, to walk around pretending we're not daily mowing ourselves, like suburban lawns, in fear of neighborly disdain or being unattractive.
I think they nailed it those monks, that fertile topic for reflection on how we really aren't in charge here, stuff on our own selves just keeps growing and getting weird by it's very nature, regardless of our wishes. Smelling, needing care, however many specialists you have on the job or advanced degrees or grooming tools and apparati.
The point of such a practice, as I understand it, isn't to just gross one out, but to wake up from the spell of being enamoured with our physical forms, but seeing their contstance change, as nature playing itself out right here, not an inch from your face but on your face, your face!
A few more things about Daffodils.
[this post is second installment of the post One Brain]
They won't all bloom at once, and not to the same extent. Some get trampled, others blown off their stems, and others never quite bloom at all. They all get papery as they die, spring passes. One or two, to a given eye - a crow's or mine glancing from a car, catch an incredible moment of light and are seen. Some are cut and put in a vase. Is this better? It's not really up to the flower and it's incidental in the short scheme of things.
Grasses, manicured hedges, coils of thornvine and those spindly trees in big box store parking lots, they all too share a brain, I believe. When I send love to my friend across the world or stick around when I feel like running away from myself or another who is not at their best I'm tapping in then too. We are living out essentially one life in billions of minds refracted in infinite variation. You and I are just two of these, gathered up in recognition when I see myself in you and you see yourself in me.
A practice for when you are feeling like a lonely satellite.
Sit quietly. Breathe. After a little while, bring in the image of someone that you care for (not the guy who isn't calling you back but an old friend say, or a favorite aunt). Imagine them having one of those moments of peaceful connection, the ones that just come upon one on the sly. Imagine them smiling and at ease. Even if they just had an unsuccessful brain surgery, imagine them floating on water, giggling, accepting, joyful. Then bring another person to mind in the same way. Keep going. Try some people you feel neutral toward, someone you can't deal with at all. See what shifts within you.
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.
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.