Monday, July 24, 2006

Labyrinths, Mazes and Life’s Path

I am a walker of labyrinths; each month I go to a nearby cathedral and -- to the sound of soft music and with the flicker of candles -- I slowly pace the winding pattern inlaid in the wood floor. I came to this about eight years ago, when a friend mentioned a new way to bring in the New Year, with meditation rather than fireworks and drinking. Once I had walked, I realized this was a wonderful process for me, since I can not sit in meditation.

For those unacquainted with labyrinths, the earliest simple one is pre-historic; the earliest complex (12-fold) labyrinth is in the floor of Chartres cathedral near Paris. Click here to read about that.

Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only one path, no dead ends… and yet you can not really plot your course because it winds so cleverly that even though it looks symmetrical, you are not just walking switchbacks. As you follow the path, you are suddenly very close to the center, and just as suddenly, you have veered away and are walking near the edge. Sometimes the path reverses quickly, and sometimes there is a long unswerving section… because of the complexity, you can’t really see very far ahead, and if you focus on the long distance, you can lose track of where you are and end up going the opposite direction (by stepping onto the wrong section)… very much like Life, as many people have pointed out.

I am not a fatalist, but I do believe that I have a life path that is unique to me, and that there is something in me that knows my path. As I look back, I see so many choices that I had made intuitively, that seemed “off course”, were actually leading me closer to becoming my unique self. Thus, walking the Labyrinth reminds me that my conscious mind can not see very far forward. My job is to walk the path I see in front of me, and to trust in the wisdom of the Universe. Often, this is hard for me. The monthly meditation shows me how I can be close to the center of an issue, then suddenly feel like I’m back closer to the beginning, or visa versa -- I can be far from center, then without realizing, I‘m almost there. That is part of the process. It also reminds me again and again that this is not a straight path, that spiraling around a core self, a core issue, is much closer to Life’s process than the highways and other straight lines we build. It also is a metaphor for the process of moving away from the world to go deep into my core self, and then, once the center is reached, the process continues with a return to the outside.

Another reason for walking is a ritual of peace… many walkers believe that sending good energy into the world helps mitigate the negativity that abounds. The New Year’s walk especially is an attempt to begin the new cycle with positive, loving, peaceful energy. I know I can feel it when I walk monthly; the others are focused and mindful, and that helps me to focus and bring my attention and will into alignment with a wish for peace. Along with whatever other issue I bring to the meditation, I ask for peace.

It has been scientifically postulated that we humans understand visual symbols on a deeper level than words, because that is the earliest part of our brains. I think that walking a labyrinth reaches a deep part of the walker’s mind with an image of the process that words alone can’t convey. If you have not ever walked a labyrinth, or if it has been a while, click on these links to find a labyrinth walk near you.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Making Peace

It’s hard for me to avoid a kind of horrified voyeur attitude toward the Middle East hostilities… wondering when/if someone is gonna go “over the top” and cause the next World War. There’s a kind of helpless fascination, almost as if I’m trying to make it real in my heart, because the photos are ugly and sad, yet it’s still very hard to picture what the citizens of each nation are experiencing as they try to scrape together a “normal” day while fearing a missile strike might “accidently” hit them… we in the US have been so blessed that explosions and attacks are rare… even reading the blogs makes it only a bit more real.

But I read a blog yesterday that has a better attitude than mine - appreciaher response was to do whatever she could to create more “peace energy” in the world. And being a doll artist, that’s where she’s starting. She’s issuing a Peace Doll Challenge to anyone who wants to create a symbol of peace -- check it out at I’m gonna do it, as soon as I can! I’ve uploaded an image of a shrine that I’d made a while back, along the same lines, so that’s a start… I'll keep you apprised of what else I do.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Collage - Second class art?

The New York Times posted an art review last week, called, “Endgame Art? It's Borrow, Sample and Multiply in an Exhibition at Bard College”. Part of the critique caught my eye, because it seemed to lump all “found art” into one category, that of somehow avoiding artmaking. The critic wrote, “To call yourself an artist at all is by definition to announce a faith, however unacknowledged, in some form of originality, first for yourself, second, perhaps, for the rest of us.”

He went on to write, “Fear of form above all means fear of compression— of an artistic focus that condenses experiences, ideas and feelings into something whole, committed and visually comprehensible. With a few exceptions, forms of collage and assemblage dominate this show: the putting together (or simply putting side by side) of existing images and objects prevails...” and, though he used erudite jargon, he seemed to be implying that this was an inauthentic way of making art.

I have a different take on it: collage and assemblage is a way of acknowledging that things exist before we find them and that our changing them has an effect on the surroundings. Rather than the artist presuming that a blank canvas is in fact “nothing”, found art-making recognizes that we make art with materials. It is not the artist magically calling something into existence from nothing; even those who draw and paint use materials (though some groups work mightily to ignore that and others emphasize it), we co-create with the materials in whatever form we find them. Collage and assemblage merely make this more obvious to the audience, but as an artist, I’m aware of it in whatever medium I use.

Relationship with the world is much in our awareness these days, as we finally see what ignoring the world and its realities has done. When I do collage and assemblage, I begin by experiencing a relationship with a certain item (today it was a wonderfully zig-zagged twig); I know that I am meant to do something with that item. Rather than fear of form, I am recognizing form in something, and entering into a co-creating relationship with it. Then slowly, I bring that item into relationship with other items, allowing their form to show me the possibilities in re-forming and re-aligning… I see it as a metaphor for our age. It may be past the time when ego can be allowed to say, “I create” as if there were nothing used to get started or inspired. It is more realistic, more respectful and more grounded to say, “I co-create”, using what form there is and moving it into new dynamic interaction. Most of us will agree this world has been degraded by too many people demanding to change their surroundings without due attention and care to how those changes affect other living beings -- indeed, they often pretend there is no effect at all! Art has been a metaphor through the ages, and work with collage and assemblage (especially found objects) is, to me, a metaphor of a new relationship with the world around me, and as such it deserves more than second class status.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Inspiration, Enthusiasm, Joy

Last night, we went to see a local community theater production, a musical with lots of tap-dancing… the actors put everything they had into it, and their enthusiasm was catching, even from the back row where we sat. I was alternately amazed and inspired by their footwork and their unseen-but-obvious talent for sliding out of one costume into the next. It was a delightful evening. Live theater is so different from movies -- there is a relationship that develops between the actors and the audience that somehow beckons the ones who are seated to express our own talents, a kind of subtle “now it’s your turn -- go out and be creative!”

Last night, I wondered what gets a group of local people, all of whom have day jobs, involved in the kind of hard work needed to put on a live theater (or any other kind) of show? There are probably a few in the group who believe it is a stepping stone to greater stardom, or at least full-time work in the field, but they can’t all believe that they are on their way to Broadway… so I assume some are just delighting in the production itself. I did plays in high school, but not since; it’s hard work. I admire those who make the effort in order to bring fun and beauty to the rest of us.

This morning, I’m musing about enthusiasm -- about putting one’s heart in one’s work. Originally, it meant “filled with the energy/spirit of the gods,” (Greek en & theos “god”) it now means an emotional surge of energy toward some goal or idea, often overcoming rational reservations. We have a love/hate relationship with that attitude in America… you can see it in the many movies, plays and stories about the brash innocent who “wins big“, after being hampered by the experienced, cynical professional who may or may not be also “evil”. We want to believe it so, yet fear that it isn’t so. (Incidentally, rarely is the innocent portrayed as an older person; we see enthusiasm as reserved for the young, though in practice, I haven’t found that to be true). What I find when I talk to friends and colleagues is that few of us want to admit to being either character; we usually temper our enthusiasm with a few sentences of “of course, I know there are downsides to it…”, but we also find a lot of fault with the cynic, who seems poisonous. So we all waffle back and forth, a bit worried to be classified at either pole. Enthusiasm is suspect but enticing… an appropriate response, perhaps, to being filled with divine energy. After all, who knows where it might lead?

In my own work, I have experienced times when Time disappears, when the art-making or writing so catches me that I literally lose awareness of my surrounding, until something calls me back. It’s wonderful, and a little scary. It’s unbalanced, in the literal sense of throwing over all other priorities except the current one. It has a driven quality, and it’s hard to say exactly who/what is doing the driving. And when I return to a more typical state of mind, I wonder at the force that sent me off into unexplored areas of creativity. What, exactly, triggered it? What fueled it? When I’m in the moment, I can’t really examine it, but afterward, I look for clues about myself. The “me” that most of the time thinks it’s in charge is shocked to find that it was momentarily unseated. Yet the experience is filled with such joy that I can’t wait to do it again!

Since I have been striving for balance in my life, and since I have experienced that “flipflop” (technically enantiodromia) when too much enthusiasm falls into cynicism, I have been looking for that point of enough but not too much… I’d love to hear if anyone has thoughts on it.