Let there be light

” Where some people have a self, most people have a void, because they are too busy in wasting their vital creative energy to project themselves as this or that, dedicating their lives to actualizing a concept of what they should be like rather than actualizing their potentiality as a human being.” Bruce Lee
When I was in college, I learned a great many things. For one, though I was really quite a mathematician, I probably shouldn’t have majored in Finance and accounting. As a wise nine year old said to me years later, just because something comes easy, doesn’t mean you enjoy it. There is no such thing as enjoying everything all the time, but if there isn’t some level of contentment and passion in what you do, it’s just that much harder. 

The majority of electives I took were philosophical or art oriented. I had particularly looked forward to an art history class I signed up for. The material sounded exciting to my creative nature. I had spent many afternoons at NYC museums killing time between auditions as a child actor. I usually had a sketch or doodle pad on me to bide my time growing up in the world before iPhones existed, though I didn’t have any schooling in the subject. 

The professor was one of those classic tweedy intellectuals and took an immediate indifference to me as a business major or blonde…whichever stereotype, I don’t know, but he didn’t think I had the wherewithal to be in his class, and refused to call on me unless he felt I didn’t know the answers. I have never understood the satisfaction in teaching through humiliation. The semester started with architecture and I loved it but found his tests tricky, though I was maintaining a solid B, I was hoping the mid term paper would give me a boost. We were supposed to head to one of our semi local museums and study and critique a piece of art, with comparative knowledge of  art experts and their perspectives on the artwork. 

I chose the Met in NYC and a favorite painting of mine, A View of Toledo, by El Greco


It intrigued me. The storm clouds, the city built into the hilly terrain, the light. I chose to write my own points of what and how we learned to look at a painting, colors, vibrancing, highlights, lowlights, shadows, and meaning without reading any expert reviews first, I didn’t want to be biased. 

I saw that the storm was behind the city. I felt the light played as if water was glistening and though still dark it was the calm after the storm, not quiet finished but soon enough that brilliant sun was going to make a spectacular illuminated view from the right of nature’s beautiful bounty of the lush greenery. I felt the strength of the city of what it could withstand and the warmth of what would be, regardless of the cool toned color choices in the landscape. 

When I read through six or seven acclaimed reviews, afterwards, I was stunned to find all had taken a stance that the storm was coming, that it was a view of foreboding, the looming dark clouds. I could have played it safe and revised my option to match but instead I wrote the paper in comparative contrast.  Backed up my arguments and was really happy with what I wrote, I thought this would indeed, get this geek the A I wanted. 

My expectations were crushed when I got the paper back, completely unmarked except for a big red “D” on top….I was devasted and went to my professor’s office to ask why. He answer was that the paper was innovative, complex and not possibly written by me…he felt I had plagiarized but couldn’t prove it. If only Turnitin existed already. I was beside myself. So wanting his approval yet dealing with someone whose vision of me was clouded by his own subjective nature. I felt dejected in his lack of awareness of my capabilities as well as indignant at needing to defend my integrity. My advocate was a favorite philosophy professor. I went to him for help in disproving the plagiarism. He spoke with my art history teacher and offered papers as comparison of my writing style…the grade was changed to a B minus…still no mark up, not what I deserved but better than what I initially received.  I couldn’t make him suddenly like me, but at least he could no longer try to fail me. 

Was I satisfied? At the time, no, I was dejected and wounded by his perception of me, yet I was also thrilled and humored he thought the paper was so good that I couldn’t have possibly written it. In looking back, I just wanted acceptance and approval, and a good grade. I was attached to someone else’s perspective of me, relying too much on an authority figure to define my value.  It’s a classic entirely normal feeling, especially for someone young still figuring out who they are, what they desire, craving that outside definition of being worthy, as I had not yet discovered the power of self energy. 

All I could control in this was myself, my actions, my research, my writing, my effort, my honor. I did try my best, and that is all anyone can ever do. The outcome, well, that was beyond my control. No it wasn’t what I desired or hoped for, but I did my best to rectify it. The professor’s viewpoint of me? Was purely his, for my part, all I could do was show up for class, do the work, and be myself.  The satisfaction comes from knowing I did the best I could with the skills and knowledge I had at the time. In understanding my worth comes from my own actions and choices, there is no looking for more, the outside attachment doesn’t exist.  Not everyone will get me, and that’s just how it is. In the same way, I maybe good at math but that is not where I find a spark of passion in my soul, but I’m happy others do. I must be myself, in passion, in loving, in doing what’s right, I’m attached to that. 

“…any art, an unrestricted expression of our individual soul… The human soul is what interests me. I live to express myself freely in creation.” Bruce Lee 

Oh the tangled web we weave.

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I saw this majestic banyan tree while driving out of Mysore one my one day trip to visit temples. It was simply stunning and I had wanted to stop but there wasn’t enough time. I love trees. I always have. Climbing them, drawing them, sitting underneath the canopy, I don’t know why, the beauty, the energy, the roots. I knew I had to try to see it up close.

I asked my old teacher ( he’s 11 years younger than me, love the irony of that statement) about the tree, and he was familiar with it and suggested a trusted rickshaw driver to take me back one morning. I was so excited and set up a 7 am pick up after practice. My friend Brian came along for the adventure and closer look as well. I was bubbling with excitement over visiting the tree, the drive was exquisite, the streets through Mysore were empty with all the street vendors just starting to set up for the day and a loop past the Mysore palace as the sun was just rising, so much beauty and the bizarre contrast of a mostly quiet ride through the city that usually bustles with an energy you most definitely hear.

It was everything I hoped to see, and more. There was a circle of benches spaced far enough back in a circle around it to sit and admire this gift of nature, and at the base of one side of the trunk, an alter of sorts for prayer and puja offerings. I smiled when I saw the spiritual tribute, as in my own way, I felt it too.

I’m not sure how long we had been there, walking around, taking pictures and admiring the tree when I walked past this spot of the tree again.

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There was a branch, huge, jutting out from the tree that almost brushed the ground right in front of me. It just seemed to beckon me, climb, touch me, run up my arm! I impulsively just kicked off my flip flops and ran barefoot up the wide and sturdy branch. I felt like Mowgli in The Jungle Book! I was just starting to feel some adrenal surge inside me realizing how high up I had managed to get, when I saw and heard Dev, my rickshaw driver, running towards me from the road screaming. I couldn’t tell what he was saying at first, as the expanse of field between us was quite vast. However as he got closer, it was a voice of panic screaming for me to get out of the tree. I had no idea why at first, but Dev was adamant and scared. Repeatedly screaming to get out of the tree while waving his arms above his head. I was at least 20 feet off the ground, and I yelled back ok, I would start back down, but Dev said, “Get out now! Jump!” I was confused and frightened by his reaction, so somehow hung down and jumped from where I was, miraculously not hurting myself.

As Dev approached, I saw his concern, and I’m sure he saw my trepidation. He explained that banyan trees are sacred and the bark is considered to be a part of Lord Shiva. He was trying to protect me from the wrath of a deity and any remote chance of a passerby seeing me, thinking I was desecrating a holy place. I felt terrible for my ignorant, though innocent slight of dis honoring part of Dev’s culture. I hadn’t thought to have done any research in advance of this little excursion and had no idea of this significance. I apologized, stating I obviously had no clue, laughing a bit from my nerves, and Dev nodded and smiled, he said not to worry, he was just glad I hadn’t gotten hurt.

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I spent a few more precious minutes at the tree afterwards, I kept laughing to myself and Brian while shaking my head at my pure ignorance and feeling the raw nerves start to ebb away from the high leap as well as the unsettling thoughts of Dev being scared enough to think someone seeing me in the tree would have put me in danger. Just how sacred was this tree, and what did that mean culturally? I certainly would never have marked the tree or even broken off a twig, and though the base had been riddled with spiritual offerings, actually going on it was taboo.

I reached out to my teacher after, explaining my idiocy and asked how I could make amends to Dev and Lord Shiva without extending my trip to include a trek to the Ganges for a purifying dunk. I was completely serious, as I felt awful about any perceived desecration in my ignorance. He said Dev had probably dropped me off and went straight to make an offering of puja for my transgression, but not to worry, as now I know.

Well, I have had this bizarre superstition ever since that occasionally hits my brain with worry in how to make an offering for atonement, yes I gave Dev a generous tip, for almost giving him a heart attack, but for my own heart, I decided I would paint a picture of the tree with Lord Shiva in the bark. I have yet to start it, as my hands have not cooperated. Part of the consequences of getting so sick in India re activated my RA and my thumbs are paying the price, my ode to a comfortable pincer grasp, will you be mine again? Either way I will have to deal with it and figure out how to draw and paint again so that I can still function after, but I haven’t yet, so the picture remains in my minds eye for now. I’m hoping putting my intention out will help it manifest.

On a last note, when I first got back someone I was friendly with asked how the trip went? I kind of laughed in my nervous way as there was too much to say in passing and I hadn’t yet figured out how to just say, “Incredible.”, and leave it at that. So instead I shook my head and though I don’t know why I said I don’t know where to start, the worst I did was climb a sacred tree. Before I could continue, she just freaked out. Well, I can attest everything can be misunderstood, as she looked at me and shut her eyes off. It was so disarming and I tried to explain, but she wanted to know no more. I felt sad as someone would misinterpret my action as so callous. I just didn’t know. There were no signs, no one gave me instructions, I didn’t even think it could be looked up on the web, until afterwards…in any case, I’m sorry.

Blinded by the Light

My daughter Dani asked me a few weeks ago one of those ridiculous questions that you really have no right answer for…if you had to give up one of your senses, which one would it be?

Saying I’m nearsighted just doesn’t quite convey how absolutely blind I am without my contacts or glasses. If you understand amounts, my prescription is -1150 or what I see at about 20 feet away is equivalent to someone else looking at over a third of a kilometer away. As a child, like so many others with poor vision, I had no idea other regular people could see so much better. My older brother wore glasses and I complained to my mother that I thought I might need glasses too. The first eye doctor I saw in forth grade, didn’t believe me when I said I could see nothing on the chart. He chided me for exaggerating and told my mom I just wanted to be like my brother and until I could be honest, he wouldn’t examine my eyes again. Well Dr. Bologna , I wasn’t lying. It took three more years of me fumbling through life before I finally went to a new eye doctor who most definitely grasped just how poor my vision was.

Looking back I wince, not because I was accident prone, though I was, (I was known on a first name basis at the local emergency room.) because there is only so much reaction time when nothing comes into focus farther than a meter away, but because of my lack of sight, I was not very good at sports with balls. These were the days of alpha males in gym class that always picked me last and with a groan or two, pulling me aside, basically saying to just stay out of the way. Tennis and volleyball were comical, I mean really where did that ball come from? Some mysterious place from the far fuzzy reaches on the other side of the net…

Anyway, after the miracle of sight, leaves on trees, seeing the board at school, seeing peoples faces, I was awakened! My nickname in school of “space” because I just daydreamed off out the windows no longer applied. As well, though somewhat shy, I was certainly viewed as aloof or odd as I never had returned smiles or waves but now I saw it all in real time and was participating. My new sight was spectacular, beautiful and vibrant but also dirty and harsh, nothing comes without it’s darker spectrums, does it?

It wasn’t quite up to my level of myopia now, I gradually lost more and more until finally leveling off in my mid twenties. Contacts have been a godsend. I can not see as well with glasses, because of the severity of nearsightedness, I have no real depth perception in glasses and no peripheral vision. I’ve relied on my contacts faithfully and with gratitude, until a few months ago. Sometimes these subtle things just happen, and I have developed a reaction to the silicon in the lenses. (I’m really thankful I never had the courage to get my boobs done, because I can’t fathom the reaction on the inside! ) I keep trying different brands but there are only so many that go up to my strength…so glasses it’s been mostly. I’m not purposefully vain about it, but they do make my eyes look five times smaller than they are, sigh, and even with ultra thin lenses, they are still pretty thick. I also can not practice yoga in my glasses, it’s impossible. They slide off and distort from the very first down dog, so I’ve been practicing blind.

Nothing comes into focus until it’s about a hands width away from my eyes at this stage. Colors fade just as much as shapes. On the bright side, there can be no visual distraction while I’m practicing, because I can barely make out my own hand. Drishti is awesome if sometimes blurry, and I realize how much reliance I have had on sight, yet conversely have learned how much my mind sight can work in it’s place if I trust it. Muscle memory and knowing how an asana feels.

Balance is the biggest challenge. Without sight, there is no true focal point, at least with my eyes. I by no means have perfected my balance even when I see, but I’ve been learning to “see” with my other senses. The feel of being in samasthiti, of finding a plum line, it’s hard not to depend on sight when it’s available, but equilibrium and distribution of weight really don’t require any sight, at least outwardly. Comically it’s when I remember that I can’t see that I wobble and lose my steadiness. Trusting, the same way I trust that my glasses are exactly where I left them, or that no one rearranged the furniture allow me freedom to move. Whether it’s instinct or mind sight guiding me, there is always a silver lining to the obstacles that trip us up. I find hope in Degas and Monet painting in spite of their vision problems.

As to the initial question? I copped out and said none. As long as I can see light, feel hugs, taste strawberries, hear music and smell flowers, I will. IMG_0748.PNG

Chaos theory

I went to a concert last night, an old favorite, Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I’ve seen them before, great shows, and really loved them. However, last night was not their A game. Besides the oddities of the audience around me, the super loud ” HoHoHo!” deep laugher behind me, the 6″4 wall sitting in front of me, and the guy next to me that surely used a whole bottle of Old Spice…well it takes a lot to ruffle my feathers and I was just kind of chuckling about my perceived inconveniences of my where a bouts, but alas, these amazing performers, who have been doing this since I was a baby, just completely forgot about sequencing. The set list was at best an indulgent mishmash of three guys just randomly picking songs that had no correlation to what came next, or even to warm up their voices…sigh. I ended up leaving before any encore and felt relieved to avoid the bottleneck of traffic on the way out, not something I’ve done before.

What’s funny about it to me, is that I have a quirky radio station near me that has the strangest playlists ever. One morning as I was driving with my son we heard Man in the Box, followed up by the Macarena , and finally Kansas, Dust in the Wind. We were laughing so hard, wondering if the dj had stepped out putting their own iTunes account up on shuffle. It was a brilliant travesty of pain, superficiality, mindfullness. It actually worked, at least for us that morning😊

Though I’m glad that wasn’t the only time I saw them perform, I wonder if my expectations and therefore enjoyment would have been different if all had been unknown, or like the eclectic radio station, appreciated for the absurdity…I don’t know, but in the randomness of it, I found this great explanation of what random means made by vsauce. Enjoy it! What is random?

Try and try again.

I read an old letter today, that Kurt Vonnegut wrote in response to a private high school English class sending letters to him asking his advice. Here is his response in full:

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Practice without attachment to the outcome. Try, with best effort. That alone is it, isn’t it? Be creative, be active, try and try some more. Learn who you are and soothe your soul through not just your joys and triumphs but as well your frustrations and epic failures.

In my art work, that message is easier to encompass than with my asana practice…I don’t know why I’m harder on myself in my physical capabilities, quite odd considering how uncoordinated I always had been, and having some damage from rheumatoid arthritis in my joints. Though most certainly asana has helped me be more graceful so to speak, sometimes I still trip over absolutely nothing, as my husband has coined, “The ground came out of no where!” Art on the other hand is just something I enjoyed, I never tried to be more with it, just engross in the process. I think I need to learn to stop criticizing myself more, and just be.

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A pastel still life versus

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I will say that regardless of the moments I’ve let that judgement come to the surface, I am always happy after practice! Go figure.