Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Primordial: Beyond space and time

Doing yoga this morning
Stretching into the dancer pose
Suddenly I switched from thinking
to primordial

I became Great Blue Heron
And not just one
But every heron who ever was
Or ever will be.

In an instant I saw the light:
Beyond space
Beyond time
We are all one.

A strong visual image accompanied my brief epiphany which I have attempted to portray in Photoshop (see above): During that instant, I saw time and space as a system of interlocking gears, standing ready to grind up whoever attempts to pass.  However, if we, like the Great Blue Heron, can move beyond time and space – which after all, may only be a human construct – the menacing gears fade away, setting us free.

I took the photograph of the Great Blue Heron this spring in a wetland near our house. I got permission to use the image of the gears from Graphic Leftovers. I manipulated both images and the background in Photoshop to make the above image.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Requiem for a fish...or is it for us all?

A dream image
I don’t usually remember my dreams but here I go again, another dream about fish. This dream was a very vivid image of a rotund fish the size of a small whale, stranded on a tiny sliver of sand bar; the fish somehow was still barely alive even though its body was disintegrating and most of its skeleton exposed. Standing behind the fish, as though he was giving last rites, was a Native American medicine man.

That’s the whole dream: the fish and the indigenous person alone on a tiny sand spit at sunset on what looks like a Cape Cod beach at that magical time when ocean and sky start merging as they sweep off toward eternity.

The emotional tone of the dream was neutral:  No grieving or sadness or wishing for what might have been. The message, if any, was matter of fact: It is what it is.

The tone was similar to the message of Bill McKibbin’s new book, Eaarth: Don’t mourn for the past: it’s over with. Gone. What we are experiencing now is the new normal. Get used to it.

That message resonates with me in terms of interpreting my dream: Yes, it may be a requiem for many indigenous peoples and the life forms associated with them, but–no matter how great our grief– we can’t drown in our sadness.

We just don’t have time for that.

Instead, we must pull ourselves together, stand up, and start instituting the change necessary to bring ourselves, our community and our world into harmony, learning at last how to coexist peacefully together within the great, interconnecting Web of Nature.

We have no choice. 

Otherwise, sooner than we dare think, it will be a requiem not just for what western civilization considers lower life forms like organisms that creep and crawl, fins who swim, wings who fly, and four-legged animals who run but us two-legged creatures as well––it will be a requiem for us all.
photo credits: The background photograph is from a photograph I took on Head of the Meadow beach on Cape Cod this summer while on vacation. The original image of the Native American Medicine man, before I altered it in photoshop, is of a figurine sold by BaliFurnish.Com.  The head of my fish came from copying the head off an image of a fang fish found on strangeark.com. and then modifying it in photoshop while also adding a skeleton.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

For Kafka fish must have been the very flesh of forgetting...

I had a dream last night...

I woke up this morning, confused and agitated after having a bloody nightmare about spearing fish. Why should I have such a bizarre dream? And feel so guilty about it? Suddenly, a long submerged memory surfaced.

How could I have forgotten: I really did spear fish when I was a boy! Spearing suckers was still a rural New Hampshire tradition back then. It was so popular that country stores carried sucker spears as an essential part of their inventory.

Suckers are powerful fish who swim up streams in the spring to spawn like Salmon.  But unlike salmon, suckers are no fun to catch, too bony to eat and, on top of that, they have an off-putting, downward-pointing, fleshy-lipped, sucking mouth. As far as we were concerned, the only thing they were good for was spearing.

By the process of elimination, suckers became the unfortunate casualty of a spring ritual, a “trash fish” to be killed for sport and then left to rot. No one shed a tear for those suckers at the time. Why, after over 50 years, am I dreaming about spearing them now?

Some dream analysts would say dreaming about fish is about drudging up contents of the unconscious into the conscious mind. In my case, I would guess, it is about death becoming more real as I grow old and feeling the need to make amends. It’s a stage of life many of us baby boomers are going through, one way or another. As one of my patients confided in me recently, “I’m at the stage of life where I want to make it right with my maker.”

Being mostly a Buddhist with a little animist thrown in, I’d have to define “my maker” as that immaterial force that animates the vast, interconnected web of the universe of which I am but a microscopic dot. But I’m not just a passive bystander; within this totally interdependent system, not only do the other parts impinge upon me but, conversely, everything I do, reflects back, influencing the entire web of life around me.

This interdependency has various consequences, one of which is that just by being alive, I cause harm.

As I grow older, I become more viscerally aware of the harm I have caused and feel the need to make amends, at least going forward, by walking as lightly as I can on this earth while both acknowledging and giving thanks to the multitude of living beings who have sacrificed their lives in order for me to continue mine.

I was able to make a quantum leap down this path of doing no harm by reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book, Eating Animals.[1] I had no expectations before hand but reading the book turned out to have a profound influence on me to the extent that I haven’t eaten any fish or meat since finishing his book in December of 2009.

For a few years before this, I had attempted to cut down on my animal intake. And when I did indulge, I tried to eat only locally grown, responsibly-raised meat and non-endangered, wild fish. But I failed miserably.

I’d often cheat by ordering some juicy, agri-business animal in a restaurant, pretending I had no choice. And whenever I was invited to dinner as a guest, I would never be so impolite as to refuse whatever kind of animal was served, tame or wild, natural or adulterated.

 But it was worse than that: out of the blue, a craving would strike me I couldn’t resist, and I would find myself driving to the nearest supermarket to buy a big, grain-fed animal steak or to the nearest restaurant for my fix of beef.

What can I say: I was an addict, plain and simple.

 For some reason reading Eating Animals hit me hard, breaking through my denial and motivating me to act. At last I was ready to make a real change in my eating habits, although the reasons for doing so were unclear at first.

 I didn’t stop eating meat for my health because I think eating small amounts of organically grown meat and fish are good for you, providing various trace elements and micro-nutrients that are difficult to get otherwise.

I did quit, in part, because of my concern for the environment.  Eating a plant-based diet is easier on the Earth and scarce food resources, particularly if you buy locally and grow as much as you can in your own garden. And, certainly, I didn’t like being such an addict that I wasn’t in control of my life.

But I could sense that there were deeper reasons still.

After having time to think about it, I can see now that the major reason I quit eating meat and fish was a spiritual decision. Like an IED,[2] Eating Animals blasted my head out of the agribusiness feed lot and forced me to confront my denial about killing things.

And I’ve killed a lot...

It all started with spearing suckers, along with an obsession for fishing.  I started hunting with my Dad before age 10. Between us, we provided most of the animal protein for much of the year, shooting deer, partridge, pheasants, scores of ducks each year, woodcock, geese, grey squirrels… Especially as a young hunter, I made a lot of unclean kills, causing spasms of unnecessary suffering that haunt me to this day. And I feel shame, looking back at my years as a young fisherman, for allowing so many fish to flop around on the floor of my boat, suffering a needlessly long, agonizing death.

Later in my life, after dropping out of college, I ended up in Vietnam where I know not how many sentient beings perished from my guns. I remember dead bodies floating in the water like dead fish. I pray that none were killed by me. After I came home I joined the back-to-the-land movement and raised farm animals, killing most myself.

Vic came by each year to kill my pigs, gut them, debristle them, and cut them in half. One year, the bullet he shot into the brain of the first pig only wounded her, causing her to careen around the pen, blinded by blood, freaking out my other pig, who also began charging about, running for her life, emitting screams of horror eerily like a wailing peasant.  That was the last year I had pigs.

But for many more years, I continued to support the inhumanity and unsustainability of agribusiness because of my addiction to meat.  That is, until I read Eating Animals and began the odyssey that has culminated in my dream about spearing fish.

Jonathan Foer tells a story about how Kafka was at a Berlin aquarium when he surprised his friends by turning to talk to the fish in an illuminated tank, saying: “Now at last I can look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore.” [3]

Kafka’s encounter with the fish happened shortly after he had become a strict vegetarian.  Now that I’m a vegetarian, I can identify with what he felt:  It’s a blessing to be able look a fish in the eye and feel a sense of relief and peace, not shame.

But my newfound sense of peace comes not just from becoming a vegetarian; at a deeper level it comes, thanks to Jonathan Safran Foer’s help, from being able to acknowledge my shame for a lifetime of denial and forgetting:
 “Shame is the work of memory against forgetting. Shame is what we feel when we almost entirely–yet not entirely–forget social expectations and our obligations to others in favor of our immediate gratification. Fish for Kafka must have been the very flesh of forgetting: their lives are forgotten in a radical manner;” [4]–– in a qualitatively more callous, cold-blooded, and dismissive manner then how we think about farmed land animals.

If that is what my dream is about, what better symbol could my subconscious find to represent “the forgotten” than the most unglamorous fish of them all, the common sucker.


To check out Jonathan Safran Foer's book, click below: 

[1] Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals, Little Brown & Company: New York
[2] Improvised Explosive Device
[3] ibid., p. 36
[4] ibid., p. 37

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Wednesday, August 18, 2010.  Following Pat Allen’s “Open Studio” process, I made an intention today to stay on my journey toward connecting my work with my life. From my previous open studio work over the last 2 weeks, I am starting to see that an exciting part of my journey consists of reconnecting to my artistic side that has laid fallow since I quit my landscape design/stone masonry career.

This Open Studio process is pretty miraculous.  I’m excited now and starting to trust it. Following Pat Allen’s process, I am learning to bypass my conscious, thinking mind. Each time I’ve tried, I’ve been catapulted out of my mind into the present moment where objects jump out at me, speak to me as it were, connecting me to some higher self or, in Pat’s words, connecting me to the “Source.”

It happened again today after I made my intention. Soon thereafter, I had to go to the dump and while there I was strongly attracted to a piece of trash: it was at first glance, a monstrosity: a fake window frame with ornate ironwork attached.  I knew I had to have it!

I brought it home and after trial and error, found the sweet spot for my new possession: A blank spot on the outside wall of my office near the door.  Now it was no longer trash.  But what to do now?  It stood there incomplete, it’s three iron rings, open and grasping.

Casting about in my mind, I remembered a strange distorted branch that I had saved for years, fascinated by its shape.  In the past it had been too twisted to be of use yet it fit perfectly in the center ring of my creation. Then I remembered another beautifully shaped branch I had saved because, some day, it could be a perfect walking stick. I added that to the first ring. Finally, I rummaged around and found a wonderful, ornate walking staff, my brother had made for me years ago.  I placed that in the third ring.

I carefully worked at arranging the three wooden staffs. An artistic composition was coalescing in front of my eyes.  It was looking good but much too somber and bland for my taste.  What else to add before I photographed my creation? 

Ah, here it is! I’ll take a sprig from my crabapple tree: bright green leaves, about nine crabapples, red and yellow like perfect little peaches.

There now I’m done!  I like it a lot but what does it mean?

Perhaps I’m now on a path to bring art back into my life?  And if so, the walking sticks are to help me on my journey. Yes, I think this may be so.  And the brightly colored sprig of fruit is to remind me that the journey is not supposed to be staid, drab and ordinary but infused with light.

A phase suddenly hits me powerfully out of the blue: Yes, that’s what the luminous, sprig of fruit represents: Lightness of Being!

Now I'm ready to photograph my piece. I thought it was finished. But none of the straight photographs I took (see above) were able to convey my inner feelings and spirit. After working in Photo Shop I came up with an image I like much  better.
Here's my Photo Shop version. You can click on it to make it bigger.
The Photo Shop version resonates with the paradox I feel between the physical nature of my journey which feels somber, heavy, and confusing, containing as it does a maze of meandering paths, many barely visible. It takes work and dedication to stay on the path.  The luminous green sprig is the diametric opposite: playful, spontaneous and uplifting, representing the unbearable lightness of being, which keeps eluding me,  always beckoning to me from just out of sight around the next bend, telling me to wake up, be in the moment, just step into the light and I'll be free.

 If you have been able to hang in there and read this long epiphany, Thank you.             Jean

Monday, August 16, 2010

Beautiful creations for no good reason at all

This cupolo constructed
 in such elaborate detail
Incongruously attached 
to a Plain Jane, box of a barn.

Lovingly built in a bygone era
When people had time
to craft beautiful creations
for no good reason at all.

Still elegant in decay
A haunting reminder
of what we have lost.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Being in the Present

Walking around in meditation mode
I come across four crows
Strutting about on the common
Forgetting to forget.

I attempt to sketch this happy quartet
But my designer mind objects:
"you can't make a pleasing
composition of four," it warns.

Until it dawns on me:
I'm the fifth crow!