Friday, June 29, 2012

Eating From the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Heroe's Journey

A few days ago this snippet was posted to FB by the Joseph Campbell Society Page. I like considering his commentary because his studies have shown him the themes that connect all mankind across cultures and time. What follows is a riff, or a rambling, initiated by this quote:
"The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man. The objective world remains what it was, but, because of a shift of emphasis within the subject, is beheld as though transformed. "
Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces 

Imagery vs. Art

Artists will frequently discuss imagery vs. art….the act of copying vs. interpreting. Inflection and interpretation are artifacts of humanity. We are drawn to art because we have already infused meaning into anything and everything. The illusion of meaning is what makes the ‘tragedy of man’ bearable. It transforms the act of living a life into art.

Modern News. Is it imagery? Or art?

We expect news to be literal imagery, a documentation of the events and facts. Yet few of us will read such a presentation. Because news is used to sell engagement (in any media), reporting is encouraged to become more ‘story-like’, replete with inflected meaning and sensational titles. Few of us have our skeptic’s radar turned on when consuming a news story, and so those meanings are dumped directly into our current world view. This is how the media shapes public opinion, presents their own world view, whips up public enthusiasm, and sells repeated entertainment. We are all suckers for an engaging story.

If we see that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, we might look to the news media for the source of said basket. It’s just a perspective, created by one-sided and ‘spun’ information dosed with emotional ‘meanings’. These sadly result in the appearance of a world in need of saving by politicians and governmental intervention (or reactionary fringe groups). All of these steal the soul of the people, their belief that they matter, that they can be effective because they see clearly. This leaves a spiritual hole, which is readily filled by a Call to Arms by said fact-spinning group, which subsequently leads many over the cliff like lemmings. Now THAT’s a tragedy. 

And that may be the quintessential example of what was meant by the ancient Hebrew wisdom/warning:
“…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
We die (spiritually) when our fictions are out of alignment with Divinity.

The way I interpret this: (pun intended) is that to die is to lose touch with the Divinity within, which is the miracle of humanity. When you can no longer recall or connect with God's neutrality and big picture perspective, you fall prey to fictions crafted of other people's meanings (usually for their own power mongering purposes).

When you look out through your own rose colored glasses and see a world of doom and gloom that steals your spirit, you can be certain that you have swallowed a fiction that is constructed of partial information spun into the big scary story from which you (and humanity) cannot escape. It wouldn't be a story of any power without that final no-escape clause. Writers call it 'putting your character in the crucible'..the situation from which there is no escape. Of course, the whole story is then about the character's escape from the crucible, otherwise known as the Hero's Journey of Transformation.

It's not easy, policing all your assumptions and all the incoming 'information' for infection by partial truths and spin-factories, but it IS the Hero's journey. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Surface Tension

"Surface Tension" - Lily Pads from the Atlanta Botanical Gardens 2011

In today's digital art : Surface Tension, I notice how the lily pads are clearly the subject. They are on the surface, after all. But they would be uninteresting without the royal blue of the sky and opalescent clouds floating behind them. Yet even these are actually indirect clues to a mysterious depth that lies beneath. It can be very hard to even recognize that there is something OTHER than the surface.

This week echoed the subject of the last post, that of trying to hear and heed the spirit within when so much good sense is shouting even from within your own head. In early 2011 I took on newsletter duties for our local artist group. They needed the service and I had the skill set to deliver it. It offered the opportunity to learn a new piece of software, InDesign, and much to my surprise it invigorated the membership to a shocking degree. Not a meeting goes by that several people don't rave about how good the newsletter is, how they look forward to receiving it each month. I loved doing it, though it was a frightful amount of work, 12-15 hours on each monthly issue.

I accepted the duties for 2012 of course, but this week I announced to the board that I would be trimming back on the content. By the end of the year the membership would be accustomed to a simpler document that most anyone could replicate in Word or Front Page or whatever they wanted to use. I would not be continuing these duties in 2013, nor did I want to be on the nominating committee for next year's officers.

Why? Was it something they said? No. It's just that club concerns (there have been others) have filled so much of my thoughts, even the little bits between tasks, that I have not spared enough thought for painting or any creative endeavor. I have nothing at all to present at the member show-and-tell, nothing for the fall show. I am sorely missing the creative challenge and personal development. Why did I allow myself to take this side road? Because I was being useful, and that felt good. It fed the lizard, the one who worries constantly that if one is not delivering quantifiable value to an audience then you do not deserve your living. Being useful here justified myself as a citizen of the community. This 'useful' tank has been hanging on empty for a long time. What I learned, finally, is that the creative tank needs to be refilled even more than the useful tank. I used to be able to fill both from my job. For a while now it's been neither. For a while I chose to fill 'useful'. It fed the ego, but it didn't feed the spirit. Now I know the importance of creative activity for my vitality.

You can see in this week's decision the influence of the previous two posts: The perennially human quest for the Grail and Joel Osteen's reminder: You cannot please everyone. Keep your focus on pleasing God.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On the Trail of the Holy Grail

Today this post from Joel Osteen:
Life is too short to spend it trying to keep others happy. You cannot please everyone. Keep your focus on pleasing God.

This seems obvious, but it’s much harder to do than it sounds. In fact, it’s always been hard to do.  Joseph Campbell found that most cultures have a myth concerning the search for something holy and nearly impossible to attain.  That ‘thing’ is self-realization, or in biblical terms, atonement with God. The King Arthur legends called this the Holy Grail.

The subtle knife edge that we all tread in our Grail quest, divides what society tells us we should do, and our sense of what is right or good.  As in the Grail legends, we fail to attain our ‘wholeness’ or 'atonement' when we fail to heed the quiet call of the spirit. In fact, the legends include a period of wandering in a vast wasteland. This is akin to our decades of life spent doing what is expected of us in life and work.

Knights on the Grail quest were both heroic and flawed individuals engaged in a personal spiritual journey. In this way they represent any one of us who has undertaken a lifetime of spiritual questing. The call of peer pressure, societal norms, expected’s all much louder than the spirit within. This is due to the lizard brain, that small program in charge of fight or flight. The Lizard perceives that blending into society is the surest way to survive, so it directs all choices along those lines. Any deviation from the 'safe' course, triggers the fear response. Quite a bit of Lizard control is required to be a 'rugged individualist' or 'to march to your own drummer.' It's lonely out there, dangerous, exposed, but on that cold, damp wind, is the scent of the Holy Grail.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Last Unanswered Question

Cinderella and the Lizard discuss. The Last Unanswered Question

Cinderella opened the ACIM book randomly. It delivered page 430 in the ‘text’ section, entitled “The Last Unanswered Question.”

Do you not see that all your misery comes from the strange belief that you are powerless? Answer this:

1.    Do you desire a world you rule instead of one that rules you?

Cinderella: Yes. I would have always said yes, but I think I answer this as a more informed student now that I have 'been to the Ball'.

2.    Do you desire a world where you are powerful instead of one where you are helpless?

Cinderella:  It is much the same as the last question, except that the change in language alters the consideration. There is a cultural bias against ‘powerful’ people, so I feel a little fear flag waving in Lizard land.  On the matter of helplessness, this is the subject of your most popular scary story, Lizard. When the scary thing looks likely, helplessness abounds. Though I do not like to say so, I can admit that you have made the responsibility of power (or success) appear frightening while the tragedy of helplessness is merely sad. I am disappointed in my answer to this question.

Lizard: Do you deny the likelihood, that you will become ever less employable as you age, decreasing your income and quickly pushing you below the independent survival level?! This is a realistic threat miss Cindy. You yourself have amassed evidence to support it!

Cinderella: I do not deny this. In fact, it is practically my ASSURED future as long as I keep focusing my attention on it. We don't know what opportunities may appear when spirit is engaged with every action and the future is permitted to take care of itself. We DO know this lizard: Whatever one focuses on grows larger…and draws ever closer to being a realized experience. Since you are designed to look for danger, this is the foundation of your ‘Flight’ response. 

I would offer to ‘run’ from this specter, but I have just caught myself countering your fear-based vision with a fear-based response. Very tricky of you.

No. I shall not choose a change because I fear another. I shall only choose anew because it offers me more possibilities and resources than what you are offering.
Let me be clear: I have not resolved to be stupid or frivolous or wasteful. That is YOUR fear, Lizard.
Do you desire a world in which you have no enemies and cannot sin (i.e forget your divine connection and/or become fearful of imagined futures)?

Lizard: Interesting. Perhaps it’s too much of a burden to be ‘miss goody two-shoes’ all the time. Hmm? Don’t you want to reserve a slim opportunity to entertain just a wee bit of fear? Come now…it can be a real thrill...and it IS the only way I can warn you when you are 'on thin ice'.

Cinderella: No, I do not want to lose another moment of divine engagement. All the more reason to get started practicing right away.

Lizard: Practicing, did you say? Oh yes, yes, by all means. Don’t let me stop you.

Cinderella: Lizard? I know that tone of voice. You have ALREADY stopped me haven’t you? Have you been reading ahead?!
The Last Unanswered Question:
Do you want to see what you denied BECAUSE it is the Truth?
The earlier three are decisions that can be made and unmade and made again, but Truth is constant and implies a state where vacillations are impossible.
Cinderella: Ah. So if I have resolved to practice then I have embraced vacillation, and thus condemned myself to a continuation of the present state of affairs.Worse...I have allowed the Lizard a toe-hold.

Lizard: Well, no need to be hard on yourself, Missy. You are so smart about these things. You know full well that changing a program is a process, not magic. Do you really think that you can just say the word and be COMPLETELY different immediately? Hmm? I thought not. I’ve never seen it happen myself.

Cinderella: Well, it has happened to me. A few times in fact.  Magically, overwhelmingly different, and instantly so. In one case I was seeking communion. In others I was validated externally. In another I simply made a decision. I was never analyzing my frame of mind, as I am here. The divine center was engaged when I made ‘right’ choices and REALIZED their rightness. It was sort of like playing a musical note and suddenly hearing the rest of the orchestra. Thankfully I was playing the RIGHT note and my role in the music was clear and thrilling.

That’s IT! What’s missing is not the awareness of a divine center, but the acceptance of it, the atonement with it. One can imagine that if the orchestra was no longer heard, the solo musician would wander from the score and unwittingly create mere noise.
No one decides against his happiness, but he may do so if he does not SEE he does it.

Cinderella:  That’s why external validation seems to work so well, because it REMINDS me of what I forgot. I forgot that I need to 'accept the call' as Joseph Campbell would say. (And he has so much more to say about failing to accept the call.)

It's as though I have been standing in the corridor, listening to the orchestra, wishing I was a part of it all.  I remain outside, afraid to go inside and play, telling myself that I have not been invited, or don't know the music, or I'm not good enough yet. Sound familiar, Lizard?

WOW. All this time it's been YOU holding me back. Your petty fears used to keep me from 'accepting the call'. Why do you think such a decision would be dangerous, Lizard?

Lizard: Don't berate me mistress. I am but a lowly lizard with a limited program. I do the best I can on your behalf, honestly.

Cinderella: I understand, but we shall remedy this issue in your perception right now. What are you really afraid of?

Lizard: Well. upon a time, while still very young, you practically lived in that orchestra chamber. You were the star of the show and nothing would keep you from a joyous performance. Then people betrayed your family. It was all very confusing, but the gist of it was that people, especially people who group themselves under a name, are never to be trusted with your survival or protection. Only I can do that. I had been asleep on the job, apparently, and resolved to never be caught by such surprise again. I have kept your head low and your talents in hiding because they make you a target of rejection and criticism. You don't need their approval. Much safer to toil along. Creative expression is overrated, I believe. 
Now here you are trying to bloom again and suggesting to me that I should abandon you to the public again.

Cinderella: I see. And I do remember. I was weakend then Lizard, and needed your protection. There was no one to show me how to heal properly at that time. But time has passed, and I have sought and found healing. You must admit, I am not as thin skinned as I was. I am a grown up now, and must heed the call or wither away, literally. What once kept me safe is now stifling. Will you help me become the person I was designed to be?

Lizard: I? How can I help? I am a trouble seeker. I can only make you afraid.

Cinderella: You can unplug those emotional and social shields. I cannot promise that I will not stumble, as I have very little practice in the social world, but there is no physical danger. I will survive any emotional bumps and bruises. You must keep your shields turned off in all such cases. Allow spirit to heal me and others. It is marvelously skilled in such things.

Well, do we have a deal? Doing 'nothing' will be hard work for you, I know, but I have confidence in you. And no practicing! As Yoda says, "Do or Do Not. There is no Try."

Lizard: I am up to the task, mistress. I live to serve.

Cinderella: Lizard?
Lizard: Yes, mum.

Cinderella: All that business about fear of future earnings collapse, was that a spin-off of this fundamental distrust that we just discussed?

Lizard: Yes, mum. I suppose. I don't really know where the stories come from. They seem to generate themselves. There must be some creative program at work somewhere,

Cinderella: Well. Perhaps we should find more suitable work for Creativity. Yes? Come. Let us commit to AART.
  • Awareness…that divinity resides within. The divine orchestra continues to play. I am a channel for such divine spirit. I will lend an ear and listen closely to the music within.
  • Acceptance…that divinity calls me to play my part. Having heard the orchestra, I will find my place in the score and play. I belong there. Divinity has been waiting for me.
  • Remembrance…that my music is uniquely mine and yet integrally everyone's. I am an instrument.with a sound and a tune to share, but I sound best in harmony with the divine symphony.
  • Thankfulness…that my purpose is at last clear. I (personally) am sent to see and to share. The shields have been disengaged. Spirit is unimpeded. I submit myself to this purpose.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cinderella Resolves to Bridle the Lizard

This quote from JCampbell  was posted on FB today by the foundation that keeps his work alive.
"[B]ut then you also have moments of ecstasy. The difference between everyday living and living in those moments of ecstasy is the difference between being outside and inside the Garden. You go past fear and desire, past the pair of opposites ... into transcendence.

"This is an essential experience of any mystical realization. You die to your flesh and are born into your spirit.You identify yourself with the consciousness and light of which your body is but the vehicle. You die to the vehicle and become identified in your consciousness with that of which the vehicle is the carrier. That is the God.

"...Behind all these manifestations is the one radiance, which shines through all things."

Joseph Campbell & the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, (p.134, small paperback edition)
This really struck me because I have had such a moment recently, and back in the fall of 2009, and for an extended period in 1998. I want to analyze these episodes. I want to find a way to make them the NORM, not the exception.

The earliest one arrived immediately on my decision to become a kidney donor. It felt like I was locked in a Star Trek tractor beam of holy protection. My whole body felt strong, as though I had a brand new super-hero body. My personal energy was so radiant I hardly recognized myself. There was a pervasive sense of 'divinity in charge' that had a visible effect on those I encountered. It lasted for about 7 months (from decision, through surgery, to full recovery). Back in the everyday drainage of work, I could feel the magic fading by the day.

In 2009 my experience was while alone traveling in the mountains, overwhelmed by day after day of glorious fall color. That glow lasted about a year, supplying enough energy to paint nearly every day, way early in the morning and again after dinner. It was a productive year.

The recent episode bloomed from a chance comment by a coworker  which validated my unique value in a team...something that is impossible to describe in a resume. Moments later my boyfriend came to the office door. He stepped back with 'shock and awe' at the magnetic person before him.That glow lasted for two weeks. It continues to flicker on and off, usually when I am volunteering time and creativity with my local artist group. No, it's not for painting. They value my writing, marketing, and technology skills...and I feel empowered, loving, and happy there for now.

These are what the Course in Miracles would call miracle moments: the experience of a profound shift in consciousness. In mythological terms,  I describe this state as 'Cinderella at the Ball'....while her daily truth is more 'Cinderella in Coal Dust'. 

What is banished in each and every episode is...fear, the low-grade, constant white-noise of fear. Fear of what? Well, mine is fear of not being able to remain gainfully employed into my old age and fear of not maintaining or even gaining value in the work world. Years ago that fear was framed as fear of failure or fear of rejection...but always because the risk of not measuring up was 'the end of life as you knew it' and the attendant downward spiral.

It seems I am crediting that fear with not merely my survival, but also with making me exceptional. I learned to give 100% of myself to a well-fitting job. I discovered the joy of doing exceptional work. Well, I'll give credit where it is due. But now that such experience is part of my habit, the white-noise is beginning to be offensive. NOW, it is holding me back and I know what needs to be done. First, convince the lizard that it's time to upgrade the software.

What is that software? Another round of the Course in Miracles Workbook for Students. This is an amazing course. Once you get past the first couple weeks of lizard resistance, it's a wipe-off, wipe-on reprogramming of a very general nature. Each wipe is for an incredibly thin layer of perspective. There are 10 steps, repeated over and over in amplified variations and reviews, like a spiral staircase that passes through a column of 10 beams of colored light. The Course is the sort of book you can pick up and restart even after years on the shelf. Because it is so general, it is also specific to each reader. The Course led me out of a 26-year depression that began at the age of 6. It prepared me to identify and pursue big changes in my career path 17 years ago. Hmm. Looks like it has come a-knocking one more time.

Cinderella resolves to bridle the lizard and ride it to the Palace. I wish I was an illustrator.

Photo used under Creative Commons from mrkathika

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I am the River

The mother represents Nature, but the father introduces the son and daughter to social relationships.
From Reflections on the Art of Living: a Joseph Campbell Companion. Pg 56

Myth is the art of personal and cultural story. It is the waking dream. It is not truth, but it points to truth.

A Personal Myth:
At one time I longed to visit the Rocky Mountains, to stand at their feet and feel the power of their size. I have done that, and enjoyed it, but it is not the home of my heart. They are too harsh. Perhaps they represent my father in my personal mythology.

I can see my mother as the glacier
, running off those steep, gray mountains, a little bit at a time. I hear The Mountain speaking to the Glacier with derision, "Why do you take no initiative? Why are you not a powerful River, a Goddess equivalent to my own magnificence?" (Of course, HAD she been, she would have changed him greatly.). But my mother replies, "It is not for me to be the river. To be the river or the lake, that is reserved for my daughters."

The second daughter is a tall, slender waterfall. She is 300 feet of silver water, leaping from the arms of the father and yearning all the way down to land in the arms of a man who will understand her, appreciate her, and encourage her to be more of herself. As long as she yearns, she will always be falling, always returning to the top to leap again.

Her son is the Eagle: smart, strong, and determined. The mountains and lakes have nurtured him, yet he covets not their stability. How can it compare to the freedom to choose?

Her daughter is the Moon: graceful, benevolent, shining on the flanks of her own gray mountain, soothing his ragged edges, and her son is the little bear.

The third daughter, is a deep blue lake. She is still, calm, and dependable. Her daughters are the doe and the horse. They draw sustenance from her cool clear water, and the rich meadow of love and support that she has made with her own mountain.

The fourth child is a son, and he is a forest. He climbs the flanks of the mountain, and the mountain embraces him, but there is a point beyond which he fails to conquer. Though he flows across the valley, along the creeks and lake shores, he is always looking at the ragged line that separates the forest and the mountain top.His daughters are the Cougar and the Trumpeter Swan.

And I? I am the first daughter. I am the river, running free of the mountain, cutting a path that leads away, tumbling noisily over gravel beds of jewel-tone stones, roaring over raft-eating rapids of self-discovery, and slinking along the shallow sandy bars, warming in the sun. I will have no child, I am racing to my destination, the great Sea.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Symmetry is Extravagance

When I look carefully at a plant, I often fall into a rabbit hole, into the fabulous musical symmetry that IS nature. I marvel at the fact that every leaf shape, branching habit, flower shape, seed architecture...every single living determined by a simple numerical pattern released as the strings of DNA are played, each in its own time. It is magical and yet not magic.

In his book, Symmetry: A Journey Into the Patterns of Nature, Marcus du Sautoy explains that symmetry is not just aesthetics. Symmetry is a sign of genetic superiority. Symmetry creates balance for speed and agility, it communicates nutrition, and attracts pollinators in the case of flowers. It's not easy. Symmetry is an extravagance. Only the fittest have enough energy to spare to create shapes with balance.

This video, demonstrating the prevalence of the Fibonacci numbers and spirals in plants, is really well done. Created for the middle school audience, it is fun and fast.