The better Death

May 19, 2009

This morning’s post on the Poetry Chaikhana came with a better idea of death than anything I came across so far. Still, it is not ideal. I mean, the death the way I perceive it, is a liberation, complete bliss and the all-encompassing knowledge. But now I came closer to understanding the pleasure of the physical existence. The really ideal way would be to have both – the bliss and the knowledge of beyond death, and the pleasures of the material living at the same time… I think it is possible. How can I achieve it?

I am copying here the Ivan Granger’s post. Can’t say I am taken by the poetic quality of the translation, but the idea of the poem itself resonates with me.

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Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – No end to the journey

Posted: 18 May 2009 08:40 AM PDT

No end to the journey
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Robert Bly

No end, no end to the journey
no end, no end never
how can the heart in love
ever stop opening
if you love me,
you won’t just die once
in every moment
you will die into me
to be reborn

Into this new love, die
your way begins
on the other side
become the sky
take an axe to the prison wall,
escape
walk out like someone
suddenly born into color
do it now

— from Secret Language: Rumi A Celebration in Song (Music CD), by Ramananda


/ Photo by e-du /

No end, no end to the journey

That line becomes a rhythmic chant on Ramananda’s wonderful CD “Secret Language.”

no end, no end never

And, my favorite–

how can the heart in love
ever stop opening

A full life, a complete spiritual practice can be found in that question.

But why all this death imagery?

Into this new love, die
your way begins
on the other side

Why does every spiritual tradition speak of dying and death in such a favorable light? Do all mystics have some secret death wish?

In deep ecstasy, the sense of individuality, the sense of “I” thins and can completely disappear. Though you still walk and breathe and talk, there is no “you” performing these actions. The separate identity, the ego, disappears, to be replaced by a vast, borderless sense of Self.

It is this experience, this complete loss of the limited sense of self, that is the death so eagerly sought by mystics throughout time. This is the death that leads to new life…

in every moment
you will die into me
to be reborn

That limited sense of self is the prison we must break free from.

take an axe to the prison wall,
escape

Suddenly, the walls that kept you contained and carefully defined drop to the ground — and there you stand a radiant being whose boundaries are no longer perceived in terms of flesh or memory. In this new freedom, you are alive in a way you never imagined before, and everything you perceive is part of that life.

walk out like someone
suddenly born into color
do it now

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi 

Afghanistan & Turkey (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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I am not bothered with keeping up with how the things are in the real world any more. The reason number one – there is no such thing as an objective reality. The reason number two – assuming the so called realistic view of the situation doesn’t do one any good. It is much better for one’s health to make up a point of view which pleases one, and act on that assumption.

Forget the time!

May 18, 2009

I am trying to catch the Present.

The book of the week is “The Power of Now”. The main message so far: The past and the future are not real – they are only the mental concepts. They don’t exist as such, outside of our head. The only thing which is real and which exists is The Now. But due to some trickery of our minds we, humans, keep getting trapped in the memories (Past) and the expectations (Future), therefore not paying due attention to the Present, therefore missing the life, the pure and ever-present pleasure of Being.

I came to the studio and tryed to block the thoughts of duty, like having to accomplish that much today and having to work on this and that today… I took my time to organise things, to enjoy being in the studio, touching the paper, feeling the water from the tap. Listening to the sonatas by Bach I moved around the room, looking at the paintings, planning, preparing the tools and materials.

Felt hungry. Got a piece of bread and chewed on it, looking out of the window.

It is very windy today. The white clouds are moving in a flow. They form a motion background for the houses, windows and roofs, with the seagulls on the tops. The music is of the same tempo – everything is moderato… I stay behind the glass, feeling the warmth of the sun on me, looking at the picture. The seagulls get into the air one by one. They stay there, having spread their wings, lightly swaying… I look at one of them.  All of a sudden, I understand, that it does it for no other reason, but the pleasure! Pure pleasure of being in the air, effortlessly and aimlessly, turning its heads here and there, seeing. Just seeing.

The time and the clouds were moving by, and the seagull just floated on the stream of air. The time and the places are moving by, and I stay, seeing. And feeling. Nothing else matters – only this. And then I go and create something about it 🙂

As far as the spiritual structure concerned, I’ve figured the following:

– Adopting any existing structure is not for me. The more religious, dogmatic, devotional it is – the more repelling;

– Taking any given philosophy/teaching on the whole is not for me;

– My way is – pick & mix.

The philosophy I am forming  in principal is very simple. My teaching says: be non-judgemental, be happy, be limitless, be flexible, live for the joy of it.

On replay, many things about life I suspected to be odd, turn out to be  coming from the wrong premise, but only now I am finding some verbal confirmations to my feelings from sources other than my gut, which allows me to feel confident about myself. Finally! I am not saying I am cleverer, sainter or better than the others. At the times when I had a deep hidden suspicion of something fishy going on, I mostly still acted as everyone – according to the rules of the moment, eg wrongly.

Amongst the few rare precious moments of near-unity with “The Spirit”, the one I really thirst to re-experience, was an occasion, when the existence in a body felt so highly illogical. That probably illustrates  how I in particular am more of a logical thinker, than a “sencer”, even in the realm of things spiritual. Lately I was trying to sensitise myself more to the finer vibrations (seems to be the word of the week!), but a chat with Ann reminded me, that I should be occasionally still using my brain!

Yes. The structure. I am getting back into a routine, after successfully for a year kicking myself out of it. The routine will loosely drape itself around  work, girls, yoga and meditation. I looked into tai chi, but it seems to be a touch too complicated for the time being. Surprisingly for myself, my body accepted the yoga with little resistance, so be it.

White shaman

May 11, 2009

Last weekend I attended an interesting event. A talk on Friday and a one-to-one session on divination on Sunday, given by a Sangoma (Shaman) John Lockley from South Africa. This is his website: www.african-shaman.com

During the talk, John told us about himself and his path to becoming a sangoma. He had prophetic dreams about it since his early years. But being a white boy unconnected to the Xhosa or Zulu culture in any way, he didn’t know the meaning of them, or what to do about it. Only after several years of search and having suffered a series of illnesses, he came to the Teacher, who was already aware of him. She in turn had a dream, in which she was told to be prepared to train someone from a different culture to become a sangoma. And when John came to see her, she knew it was him.

In Africa they call it thwasa – the illness, which afflicts people who are to become healers, in order to force them on their spiritual path. I can think of at least couple of other examples in other cultures, where individuals reach their enlightened self only having gone through some nearly fatal experiences.

Those kind of stories, along with a few examples of great artists ending up in a mental house, as we figured out on Sunday divination session, created a mental block, which prevents me from committing myself fully to art, to spirituality and to life.

John could see suffering and struggle in my aura, and asked me what that struggle was. I did not know, although I agree, that I am very unsettled last several months. My life is ideal, really, apart from minor comfort issues. Yet, in my head, a continuous mental arguments go on and on. About life, and death, and guilt of not doing enough and not being enough… And the bliss of being dissolved in the Everything, which will come after death.

On the talk, I asked him about death, what his perception of it was. He said, that he was afraid of the death, he is a human. But his feeling is different of that which people of Western cultures would have. As far as I understand, there is a fear, but there is an acceptance. More of an acceptance and less of horror, maybe?.. It is difficult to explain without repeating word for word the whole conversation… However, to my words, that I was looking forward to death in a way, his response was, that it seemed, my challenge was to live. To the full. That it was easier for me to die than to live…

I thought about it afterwords, and yes, it’s been sometime since I am aware, that I am not committing to something. But what is it I am chickening out, I can’t quite put my finger on.

On Sunday, John said that he is going to meditate and make himself available. That’s the part of the session, where he attempts to contact the ancestors. I closed my eyes and waited. Nothing happen. None of my ancestors came to claim me. I imagined they sitting in an ante-room, some bored, some chatting, some just busy doing nothing. A receptionist at the communication device speaks up:

– Hey, there is this request here. Anyone has to say anything?

Murmur… Looking at each other,

– Nah.

– Nothing to say. She’ll figure it out for herself.

– Eventually.

– Yeah! Ha-ha. Eventually… Good one…

– Okay. No reply.

In the room where the session takes place, it is very hot. My cheeks are starting to burn.

I can hear some rustling and open my eyes. John looks at me and offers to take a sit on the cushion on the floor.

– I’ll throw the bones now, okay?

– Okay.

We sit down opposite each other. Between us he spreads a goat’s skin. Sprinkles some herbs, saying spells in a clicking language. Takes a sack made of a goat’s skin with the things inside, says something onto it and blows. Then it is my turn to hold my hands out, supporting the sack and blow on it three times. Then he shakes the sack, and letting the neck of it loose, throws the things out of it and on to the skin on the floor…

Somewhere in my mind I trail back to when I am 4 or 5, living with my grandparents and an uncle in the countryside in Central Asia. Fortune-telling, was it? Or divination? Something of that sort was a natural part of life. Grandma and I visiting other houses, where women in 2 or 3 would spread the cards, or throw the bones. It never happened in our house though. Why?.. Oh, that would have been because the grandfather wouldn’t allow any religious or otherwise witchcraft in the house of a devoted communist. Sure. 

 The Things tumble out of the sack, my eyes try to follow them all at once. Some bright Things one wants to touch, some unexpected Things, like a pair of dominoes tied with an elastic ring, some undefinable Things like…

– What is this? – I ask, taking a piece and turning it around.

– Try not to touch it!

– Oh, sorry…

– It is a goat’s hoof.

He looks at the pattern the Things created on the white-haired skin.

– You are an artist.

– Yes, – I say not knowing weather he knew from Ann, or deducted from the bones.

– You do well in your art. You sell. You work hard.

– Yes. But I feel I don’t work hard enough. It is all relative.

– Oh, yes, it is relative. In what way do you think, you could improve?

– I don’t know which path to take. It feels to me, that there are two options. One is to discipline myself into working hard in one speciality and that way I will eventually reach some recognition. The other is, to let myself to be creative in any form I feel like at any given moment. Because sometimes I don’t feel like painting, but rather tell a story, or do a photo collage or something… But this is an uncertain way.  I don’t know what to chose.

– What does your heart tell you? I don’t know how to live your life. Only you know. What do you think you should do?

– I don’t know. I’d like to risk it. To let myself do what I feel like doing.

– It means being more creative, doesn’t it?

– Yes. I want to be more creative.

– It looks like you are too much in your head. You need to trust your intuition more. Live from your heart, not intellectualise too much.

We talk. He asks me questions, looking at the Things on the skin. I keep glancing at the window, searching for the ellusive answers from deep inside.

– So. Everything is good in the family?

– Yes. It is all fine.

– I can see some struggle around you. Is there a struggle in you life? Do you feel that way?

He collects the Things back into the sack and closes his hand around the neck of it, shaking it slightly. With this very English smile of his, asks me:

– Whould you like to ask about anything in particular? Any question? 

– I don’t know. All is fine in my life, really. But I feel unsettled. Yes. A struggle. I don’t know what my struggle is. What is my struggle?

He repeats the ritual of saying something to the sack and blowing, places the sack on my hands and I blow three times. He throws the bones again. He looks down for a moment or two. Points to a black magma-like lump on the skin and says:

– This is suffering in the center… It came out again. But you say, everything is fine in the family…

– Yes, it is all great. The girls are great, and…

– Spiritual transformation!

– ?

– Spiritual transformation – does it say anything to you?

– Yes… it does, – I start smiling. He starts smiling.

– I couldn’t understand. All this suffering and struggle, but outside everything is fine in your life, so where this struggle comes from, and finally it struck me – spiritual transformation! That’s what you are going through! That’s why the talks about Death, and the tears! Before the butterfly becomes a butterfly it is in the… this thing…

– Cocoon.

– Yes, cocoon. But the cocoon is the death of the worm, no?

– Yes!

– In order to become the next stage, the worm has to die. And it IS the suffering, isn’t it? But it is a good thing. It is positive. I feel positive. That’s what it is! Does it feel right?

– Oh, yes, it does! I understand it completely…

– You are going through the spiritual transformation, but you are not owning up to it.

– And I know exactly why I am not owning up.

– Why?

– Because even remembering what you said about your path, you had to go through a lot of suffering and almost die several times for it! I don’t want to go through the same! I don’t want the people around me to suffer because of my spiritual way. My life is just fine at the moment, I don’t want to loose it all.

– No, my case is different. Too extreme. Everyone’s path is different. I have a friend who is also a sangoma. She is in her 50-s, and she looks beautiful, much younger. She has three children, a husband who loves her, and she is fine. Her path was different from mine. Not so extreme. She had her own struggle, of course, but that was a different kind of struggle. We all have to face our demons. But it doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your family. Not at all!

– You remember I asked you about Death on Friday? And you said, that my challenge was to live. But I am not committing fully. It is the same with art. I am afraid, that if I commit myself fully to the art, I am going to end up in a mental house. And I dont’ want it! My life is just great, and I don’t want to loose it – my family, my children.

– Why do you think you will end up in a mental house?

– Because all the really good artists did!

– No, they didn’t!  If someone did, that’s not because they were good artists, but because they were imbalanced to start with. That doesn’t have to be that way. And this might be your block. You don’t strike me as an imballanced person. On the contrary, you have children, you have a good relationship with your partner – that will keep you balanced and grounded. You don’t have to loose them, they’ll help you!

– So, you tell me, that I am safe?

– Yes. But now you need to find some spiritual structure, which you could practise regularly. It will give you the energy and the strength to go through your transformation. You see what I mean?

– I can see that.

– Not reading – reading won’t help. You need to practice.

– Yes, I understand, but so far I haven’t found anything I could relate to. There are too many things, rituals… I find it difficult to accept, that there should be a middle man between me and the Spirit.

– You are right, there shouldn’t be. You need a structure in order to help you to connect to the Spirit directly.

– I’ll be looking for the structure. Thank you!

I just want to add here an e-mail I got from my friend Brigitte Evill in response to this post. It kind of makes it a conversation about the demons the artists face on a daily basis…

Hi Marina

I looked up your email and blog. Something you said really resonated with me  – it was when you were having the conversation with that spiritual guy – and he said that perhaps you should stop thinking so hard and just do – or words to that effect. I’ve continually had a problem with thinking too hard and then feeling paralysed when it come to expressing it….it’s a difficult balance because I suppose that I want my work to be meaningful. I have found though, that when I get myself to sort of switch off a bit then I come out with work that actually still responds to what I’m feeling. It’s an arduous process though because I don’t think that my personality is very light. I find it almost impossible to just react without thinking. 
There are times that I wish I didn’t do this work but then I’d hate it if I couldn’t! I get frustrated sometimes when people think that my life is perfect because though in many ways it is, I can’t really explain how exhausting it is to arrive at a result! I think when it comes to appreciating the actual art when it is a finished piece it all looks complete that I feel slightly ridiculous saying how hard it is!
Anyway, that’s enough of my blurb – it sounds like you got so much out of your conversation – it would be lovely to have a longer conversation with you. And I hope it’s taken you a step further in your search. The network group is great but we didn’t get into much depth about what you were saying. I won’t be at the next one as I’m in Sweden so perhaps we can meet sometime.
Speak soon
B

Having young children, I am regularly compelled to read children’s books, for which I am very grateful. For every now and again I am stunned by the beauty of the writing and illustrating. There is skill, there is wisdom, there is love – this word which is oh, so bitten due to the hard use and misuse, but which in this case is The Love.

Tonight I had to read “The Lost Happy Endings” by the poet and writer Carol Ann Duffy, illustrated by Jane Ray. I so recommend it to every parent! Read it to your kids even for your own enjoyment.

The plot of the story is nothing like you read before (I didn’t!). I read it, and ever so often stopped to look at the illustrations and point to my girls, how beautifully, cleverly the compositions were built, how well the trees were painted, the details were drawn, and they shouted: “Oh, mummy, read on!” We enjoyed the reading, and I hope they soaked in the visual half of the book as well, somehow along the way.

Can’t praise the book high enough, really! I do have a soft touch for the fairy tails. Particularly for the ones with happy endings. I am now absolutely convinced, that happy endings are essential for the well-being of a child. After all, they are one of the powerful ways of sub-conscious programming. I personally would rather program my girls towards a happy ending, then towards a sober “realism”, or somber neo-realism. Those belong to the “adult” literature and visual arts, but seems that, taking a lead from the children’s literature, the contemporary art in general is making a turn towards a fable-telling. I love it! I want to celebrate it!

Point of living

May 9, 2009

I decided, that the whole point of living is actually having fun.  And all the great teachers were talking precisely about that, only the further in time, the more the message got distorted, and for centuries millions and millions were doing the suffering, imagining, that that was the instruction.