Friday, May 30, 2014

Patriotic eagle with blood on her hands

The Seducer
CC Jean Stimmell
Last weekend,  I couldn’t resist taking a photograph
 of this effusively tattooed young woman, 
resplendent in her Memorial Day outfit.

 I wanted to use the image as part of a collage 
but did not have a clue of how to proceed.

Yesterday the key missing piece of my collage
flew into place when  this magnificent eagle *
locked me in her uncompromising stare. 

Today, I put the pieces together in Photoshop, adding a photo 
I took last month of Cape Cod Bay soon after sunrise. 
Then I selectively polarized the end result –
 unintentionally giving eagle very bloody hands.

Then came the flashback
exploding my denial
triggering something
traumatic and primal...
How could I forget?

I  actually knew 
this patriotic eagle
in a carnal way.
She's the siren
who seduced me
a tender teenager

taking me by the hand
leading me off to war
on the rivers of Vietnam
whispering me promises
of the ultimate orgasm.

*The eagle hangs out in the wildlife exhibit at the Squam Lake Science Center in Holderness.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Our portal to the really real: Imaginal Imagination

I just read an illuminating essay, Toward An Imaginal Ecology, by Becca Tarnas. The ecology part of her definition  is pretty straight forward: it means approaching the world so as to perceive the relationships and dynamics of the landscapes we find ourselves in, the relationships of plants and animals, roads and buildings, soil and sky, water and humans.'⁠1

The imaginal part of the definition is a  little more convoluted, at least for us modern humans today, who have been reprogrammed by modernity to erase the wisdom of our indigenous forebearers.

Imaginal Imagination can be glimpsed in the work of many authors I admire, including Joanna Macy, James Hillman, Thomas Berry, Theodore Roszak, David Abram and, in the realm of fantasy, authors like J.R.R. Tolkien.
Trees Embracing behind my house 5/9/14
Tarnas uses the term imaginal to emphasize that imagination is an organ of perception as opposed to the word “imaginary” which to most of us today means “not real,” something that is outside the realm of being and existing.

David Abram, a hero of mine, holds the same position: “imagination is from the first an attribute of the senses themselves; imagination is not a separate mental faculty (as we so often assumed) but is rather the way the senses themselves have of throwing themselves beyond what is immediately given, in order to make contact with things that we do not sense directly, with the  hidden or invisible aspects of the sensible.⁠2

Abram further grounds us by pointing out that “the human mind is not some other worldly essence that comes to house itself inside our physiology. Rather, it is instilled and provoked by the sensorial field itself, induced by the tensions and participations between the human body and the animate earth…”
A troll in the woods behind my house: 5/24/14
“By acknowledging such links between the inner, psychological world and the perceptual terrain that surrounds us, we begin to turn inside-out…
Intelligience is no longer ours alone but is a property of the earth; we are in it, of it, immersed in its depths⁠3.”

Becca Tarnas then tells us how the creative works of many authors and artists – not just nonfiction –can  be a guide to help us reconnect to our most precious human birthright: our imaginal imagination,.

“Such artists offer a view of a fantasy realm, which Tolkien calls Faërie, crafted out of the materials of our everyday world, just as the painter’s or sculptor’s materials are also drawn from nature…”
“Tolkien’s works have often been dismissed by his critics as escapist, as fantastical stories that let the reader slip away from the hard realities of everyday existence. Yet the boon of allowing ourselves to truly enter into an imaginal realm such as the one Tolkien revealed is that we are given the opportunity to witness the beauty and enchantment of our own world.”
A Leprechaun along the Merrimack: 5/12/14
We return from fantasy to find that we have never left, or rather that we were always there. Tolkien shows the overlap between our own world and Faërie when he writes,
Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.
1 Towards An Imaginal Ecology: Presentation for PCC Integrative Seminar by Becca Tarnas>
2 The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, page 58
3 The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, page 262

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Running away from monsters existing only in our minds

Angel c. 1987
Sculpture by Joseph Wheelwright*
Horse, cat, pig bones, dental acrylic
Photograph by Jean Stimmell 5/17/14 

“Terrified, we run away from monsters created from our own aversions. So long as perception is distorted, we are unable to see the true nature of what is in front of us – nothing but an ever-changing collection of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and thoughts or concepts.”*

* This Sculpture Angel by Joseph Wheelwright sent shivers up my spine, lunging up at me from an exhibit of his work in the Hargate Art Building on the St. Paul’s campus in Concord NH 5/17/14.

To me, it personifies the monster that Bhante Henepola Gunaratana eludes to in the above quote taken from his book Meditation on Perception which I, in turn, found reprinted  in the Summer 2014 edition of Tricycle Magazine.

Forgetting used to be a failing...

Reflections in a Province Town store front window: 4/29/14
CC Jean Stimmell
Forgetting used to be a failing, a waste, a sign of senility. 
Now it takes effort. It may be as important as remembering.
from The Information by James Gleick

Friday, May 16, 2014

Expanded consciousness and the origin of art

Part II
In Part I, I talked about how our human ability to enter into a state of unknowing stimulates creativity: epiphanies of  art, magic and spiritual awe. In fact, according to a fascinating book I am reading, this talent is a defining characteristic of what it means to be human
Big Horn Rhino: Chauvet Cave

Lewis-Williams in his book, The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art, makes a strong case that our modern human consciousness emerged relatively recently in evolutionary terms, about 30,000 years ago during the upper Paleolithic period. This is the point in our human history when archeologists have recorded an explosion in human creativity, both in human tool-making technology and sophisticated art that even today resonates within us so strongly that it still can evoke goose bumps of awe.

As Judith Thurman writes in a wonderful New Yorker piece⁠1:“Some of the most remarkable art ever conceived was etched or painted on the walls of caves in southern France and northern Spain. After a visit to Lascaux… Picasso reportedly said to his guide, “They’ve invented everything.
“What those first artists invented was a language of signs for which there will never be a Rosetta stone; perspective, a technique that was not rediscovered until the Athenian Golden Age; and a bestiary of such vitality and finesse that, by the flicker of torchlight, the animals seem to surge from the walls… [A]nd, more to the point of Picasso’s insight, the very concept of an image. A true artist reimagines that concept with every blank canvas—but not from a void…
However, they didn’t create these masterpieces from an “ordinary” state of consciousness.
The outline of a pregnant mare
 Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
According to Lewis-Willams,  paleolithic shamans created this magnificient art while in kind of a trance achieved by expanding their consciousness through sensory deprivation, fasting, and ritual in order to bypass their rational selves to become totally present in the moment. In this state of expanded consciousness, the nature of which I attempted to describe in my last blog, they gained access to what Watts calls "the real world", the pure world of the Tao, a wiggly universe without form.
In the wiggly, flickering light of an oil lamp, the shaman interacted with the ink blotch shape of the rock and created a human world. The creation didn’t materialize out of nothing, it was created by the interaction between the shape of the rock and the image-maker:“They typically incorporated the rock’s contours and fissures into the outlines of their drawings—as a horn, a hump, or a haunch—so that a frieze becomes a bas-relief. But, in doing so, they were also locating the dwelling place of an animal from their visions, and bodying it forth.”⁠2

The image at the top of this page of the Big Horn Rhino is a perfect example. Here are some others:  The image below is a curled-up bison painted on the ceiling of Altamira, ‘squeezed’into the contours of a rock that hangs down from the ceiling: the shape of the rock interacting with the image-maker.
Curled up Buffalo
Lewis-Williams, The Mind in the Cave (Kindle 2032-2034)
Mammoth sculpted in bas-relief in the Grotte de Mammouth near Domme, Dordogne.

Lewis-Williams points out a fallacy common to archeologists and, for that matter, most westerners today, who explain everything human in terms of evolving intelligence and rationality or, as he says “becoming brighter and smarter:”
As these archeologists see it, “early people were becoming more and more like Western scientists. This is what we may call ‘consciousness of rationality’… The problem here is that the emphasis on intelligence has marginalized the importance of the full range of human consciousness in human behaviour. Art and the ability to comprehend it are more dependent on kinds of mental imagery and the ability to manipulate mental images than on intelligence.⁠3

This is a profound point, I think. The essence of what makes us human is not rationality and intelligence but the ability to enter a higher states of consciousness where art and magic merge with our yearning for the divine.

Some archaeologists like Martindale understands this, that we are not just computers, and urges us to spread the web of our inquiry wider: “We need to explore altered states of consciousness as well as normal, waking consciousness. We need to understand the ‘irrational’ thought of the poet as well as the rational thought of the [laboratory] subject solving a logical problem…”⁠4

If we could only see that we are always in the process of creating maya,  building the illusion of what we think our world is,  from the hail of random stimuli ceaselessly bombarding us from the formless world beyond.   Taking my camera and photographing the fantastic images I see in rock formations and gnarled dead trees is my way of consciously opening myself up to the process of creating maya while paying homage to these magnificient shaman artists of old.

In Part III of this series, I want to get back to Picasso’s insight about how every artistic image presupposes a concept: A true artist reimagines that concept with every blank canvas—but not from a void.

Neither my photographic images nor the Paleolithic cave artists’  paintings were created out of a void. We didn't create something from nothing.  There is always a interaction between the image maker, artist materials, and the surrounding world. 

Could this interaction be what the Buddhists call dependent arising: that nothing exists in and of is elf but arises out of multiple causes?

Stay tuned.

1 First Impressions: What the world’s oldest art say about us. By Judith Thurman. New Yorker 6/23/08
2 Ibid.
3 The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art by Lewis-Williams, David.  (Kindle Locations 1990-1995).
4 Ibid. Kindle Locations 2083-2088

A state of unknowing: An epiphany of art, magic and spiritual awe

Squiggly lines or trees in love
CC Jean Stimmell: 5/9/14 behind my house
Creativity, the hallmark of being human, is more a function of tapping into a state of unknowing  than an expression of intelligence or the ability to think rationally.

Accessing this state of  unknowing is important to artists as I have noted previously in The Tao of Seeing where I quote artist, Lauri Doctor, about what inspires her art: The only way I know how to access what’s elemental, dark, mysterious and universal– is to myself work from a state of unknowing..” 

Moreover, working from a state of unknowing is fundamental to both Buddhism and Taoism. Entering such a state requires learning how to be really present in the moment which, except for young children, doesn’t come naturally; it requires extensive training. Monks must learn how to disconnect their rational brains along with all categories of thought to achieve this state which Alan Watts calls “letting your eyes see for themselves.”

According to Watts, it is only by bypassing the thinking brain that we can access the real world, the pure world of the Tao, a wiggly universe without form which is like “a cosmic Rorschach test”. This is what the world looks like to us if we are truly “awake,” truly in the present, truly beyond the contamination of our socially constructed rational world.

In such a state, our world looks like “a blotching ink stain.” Out of this blurry ink splotch, we create our own human reality by seeing into it what we want. Alan Watts tells us that by this act of creating something out of nothing we perform maya, the world illusion.

Alan gives us a unique, at least in the western world, vantage point to challenge our conventional sense of reality and the nature of creation itself. That’s what I want to write about today.

 What Watts is talking about  isn’t esoteric or old-wife-tales magic but how our brains actually work, creating what we perceive of as our human world  from the formless world of chaos resulting from countless random stimuli that rain down upon us every moment of our existence.  It’s not surprising then, according to Watts, that is ability to create something our of nothing – to create Maya – is a shape-shifter  which can also be defined as art; and not only that but magic.

This impulse to enter a state of unknowing which produces epiphanies of  art, magic and spiritual awe is of the utmost importance: In fact, it is the essence of  modern human consciousness according to a fascinating book I am reading, The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art by Lewis-Williams, David.

For the rest of the story, see Part II of this blog

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dreamwork and Mary Oliver: Part II

Looking at the following photographs I had already taken before I had bought Dream Work and before I had the epiphany with the Buddha, it still feels to me as if Mary Oliver directed my photo shoot. (See part I of this blog.)

Dream work images taken around Mary Oliver's 
beloved Blackwater Pond combined with excerpts
 of her poems taken from her book Dream Work 
Gnome living under moss beside Blackwater Pond
CC Jean Stimmell: 4/28/14
Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about
spiritual practice?⁠1  

Hundred-legged tree at Blackwater Pond
CC Jean Stimmell
Something screamed 
from the fringes of the swamp.
It was Banyon,
the old merchant.

It was the hundred-legged
tree, walking again⁠2.

Walking around Blackwater Pond
CC Jean Stimmell: 4/28/14
This dream is
About a small tree that becomes a huge tree
And wants to travel.

Listen, said the voice.
This is your dream.

I’m only stopping here for a little while.
Don’t be afraid.⁠3

1 Excerpt from Oliver's poem, Landscape, from her book Dream Work
2 The beginning of Mary Oliver's poem, Banyon, from her book Dream Work
The end of Mary Oliver's poem, Banyon, from her book Dream Work