The Rocket’s Red Glare

As I enjoy the long, fun weekend that celebrates American independence, I find myself trying to console my inconsolable dog who is terrified of loud sounds like thunder, fireworks and gunshots.

worriedDog
Not Lily, but a similarly worried dog

She hasn’t always been like this but a few years ago at a big holiday picnic, someone lit off a few firecrackers right next to us, and it has affected her deeply.

I don’t enjoy fireworks anymore, either.  Not since October 7th, 2001 when my country began bombing the largely undeveloped country of Afghanistan with 21st century weaponry.

I hold a soul-deep conviction that this was wrong.  That night I was awakened by the sound of a nearby garbage dumpster clanging to the ground.  I tried to dive under the bed, believing we were being bombed.

Our national anthem romanticizes the ‘bombs bursting in air’ yet the bombs that rained on Afghanistan burst more than just air- they burned the flesh of people who had no understanding of what was happening to them.

I understand the counter arguments. I realize there were terrorists hiding amid the tribes in the mountains. But we used a cannon to try to destroy a termite, apparently without considering the consequences of the ‘collateral,’ and cultural damage.

I believe in kharma – that our choices yield real consequences and that we will eventually be held accountable them.  And as a nation we have a great deal to answer for.  And some of those things could have been avoided.

 

 

Seeing More: A Scientist’s Field Journal

I’m linking to Isaac Yuen’s piece at the Ekstories blog because it tells a wonderful tale of art and science, as inseparable as mind and body.

Finding Place through Art and Science: The Field Journals of Lyn Baldwin

Biologist Lyn Baldwin’s field journals are full of beautiful watercolors from her travels as a biologist in British Columbia.

Her careful observation and reverence are apparent in the drawings.

“I always see more when I draw.”

from the post:

Baldwin describes the act of drawing as a powerful means to know something on an intimate level, whether it be a single flower or an entire landscape.

In an increasingly disconnected and attention-deficient world, sketching the veins on a leaf or the mountains out the living room window can help ground us in place and time, train our gaze towards the ordinary beauty we would otherwise skim over.

While her finished illustrations are stunning, Baldwin stresses the importance of process over product. “Regardless of what the final drawing looks like,” she writes, “I always see more when I draw.”

Do you sketch when you travel?  Document flowers and bugs in your garden?  Tell us about it, share your work!

Read the whole blog post HERE

Read an article by Lyn Baldwin HERE

To Stand Under

How do we learn to live with people who aren’t like us?

Mahzarin Benaji researches unconscious bias at Harvard. She discussed her fascinating and important research  this week on the podcast On Being.

Dr. Benaji uses the word “implicit” instead of “unconscious,” because of

“the implication that the unconscious is this incredibly motivated, smart process that is constantly trying to do things that are in my interest and shove away the deep dark secrets of my childhood that I don’t wish to remember. And the science has not produced good evidence for that.”

Her book, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People asks the question:

“‘Are you the good person you yourself want to be?’ And the answer to that is no, you’re not. And that’s just a fact. And we need to deal with that if we want to be on the path of self-improvement.”

 

Who is ‘Other’?

According to Dr. Benaji’s findings, distrusting the ‘other’ has provided, until recently, an evolutionary advantage: discernment about who to embrace into one’s community was a useful filter in an agrarian culture.

But in today’s global world, this inner program doesn’t serve us when we are, for instance, hiring someone, or choosing the best candidate for a program. Someone who looks and speaks in strange-to-us ways is quite often the best choice. Yet those who haven’t experienced multiple cultures in a community like a university, urban life or the workplace still operate from this ancient, implicit view. This might explain some of the Trump phenomenon.

Apparently without direct experience of ‘others.’ we are not inclined to consider their humanness. In the wake of the horrifying Orlando shooting, teaching tolerance is clearly an urgent need.

Instead of the word tolerance Dr. Benaji prefers the word understandingUnderstand comes from Old English and is literally stand, read as viewpoint, and under meaning beneath or unconscious.

You are the Unreliable Narrator!

For an example of how unreliable our automatic perception can be, have a look at the Selective Attention Test video. If you haven’t already, watch the vid and follow the instructions carefully.

Are you willing to challenge your automatic assumptions?

Please share your insight!

Thanks to Univ. of Haifa School of Social Work for the header image.

My Heart Flow with the Waters

I live on a lovely little bay off the Potomac River, downstream from Washington, DC. It’s alive with turtles and catfish and migrating water birds. Bald eagles nest in the woods nearby, along with osprey, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks and many other birds.

it blocks the light, killing plants below, rotting makes a stinking black mess

But my bay, and the larger Chesapeake, is choked with foul rotting algae much of the year, the result of excess ‘nutrients’ from farms, sewage, run-off and lawn fertilizers. The sewage plant has recently had to absorb the waste outflow from a gigantic new development over 12 miles away, with more than 5,000 residents and 13 million  visitors annually.

While National Harbor has brought jobs and tourist dollars to Prince Georges County, which has never benefited as much as surrounding counties from DC’s economic growth, this overwhelms the sewage treatment facilities resulting in more filth in my bay.

Few people consider how their toilet flushing, lawn chemicals, street run-off or local farm waste are affecting our natural environment.

And yet our river is quite healthy for an urban river, as the birds and  the fish who still live here will testify. In many places the situation is much, much worse.

The voracious habits of the developed world, now exported to China and India’s millions of aspiring workers, are only accelerating the pace. In my lifetime we’ve destroyed most of the ancient forests on the planet, and killed half of the wild creatures that roamed the earth.

Consider this, from Joanna Macy & Jennifer Berezan:

Please be thoughtful in your choices that impact our world. Consider what you can do and give to help reverse the damage our people do to the world.

Alice Ferguson Foundation
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Indigenous Environmental Network

defy reality: be an artist

This recent post from Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds got to me:

Nobody wants you to be an artist.

It’s for a lot of reasons. Some come from a good place — they think, hey, we want better for you. The life of an artist is hard. Be a bricklayer, a doctor, a ROCKET LAWYER, something, anything. Art is how you lose. Art is how you die. Don’t be an artist, because we don’t want to see you struggle, starve, and go mad.

Some of the reasons come from a deeply cankerous place: jealousy (“why do you get to fritter away your hours MAKING ART and I have to sell toilets?”) or misunderstanding (“art isn’t work, it’s just lazy piffle for lazy losers”) or alien menace (“ART GIVES HUMAN BEINGS HOPE AND IT MAKES THEM MORE RESISTANT TO HOSTILE TAKEOVER FROM EXTRATERRESTRIAL FORCES”).

Some governments don’t want artists because art is truth, even when couched in illusion or deception. Some schools don’t want art because how do you test art, and everything is about the test, goddamnit. Want to get a mortgage? Tell them you’re an artist and ha ha ha oh shit.

Art is a hobby, art is a waste of time, art is a thing you do when you’re in elementary school or in the retirement home. It isn’t a life. It isn’t a career. FUCK YOU, NO ARTING.

Chuck Wendig’s blog goes on to explore where his will to persist arises from. For him, it involves a lot of fierce defiance, a big don’t-tell-me-what-to-do with a lot of cursing. And, I get that, being infuriated by this ignorant culture and the stacked deck that creatives seem to face.

illustrator: Shricka

But what if that “F-you” attitude doesn’t really energize you? What if your art needs to be about connecting and caring? What if you really DO care what other people think?

To some extent Chuck is absolutely right, Nobody wants you to be an artist. There’s plenty of discouragement to go around.

But listen inside: YOU DO. YOU want to create, pursue, invent, explore.

Then get to work.

Forget perfection. You can’t control success. You aren’t anybody else. You are you. It doesn’t matter if anyone believes in you. Let their disbelief charge your batteries.

You can believe in you.

Focus on today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Make something. Create something.

That’s the place I need to dwell. I want to paint. I live for creating. So, back to work! I have buttercups to paint. It’s great work if you give it to yourself.

Music and the Divine Feminine

Jennifer-Berezan_MED_by-Irene-Young copyIn honor of Mother’s Day, I want to share the music and work of Jennifer Berezan with you. Berezan is appearing in concert May 27th in Washington DC for the first time, and I am thrilled to get to hear her.

Jennifer is a unique blend of singer/songwriter and activist. She has recorded over ten albums, and in them you can hear the sacred energy arising from her Buddhism and earth-based spirituality. Jennifer lives her commitment to environmental, women’s, and other justice movements.

Singing Praises for the World

Jennifer’s music is woven with the sacred nature of the Divine, and her work calls of a healing of the world. Listen to a few minutes of “Song for All Beings” and you can hear the invocations, the blessing, the love.

Not only a performer, Jennifer Berezan teaches music and healing, as well as leads sacred pilgrimages throughout Europe. I dream of journeying with her on the Women’s Pilgramage to Malta that she co-leads with archeo-mythology scholar Joan Marler. They visit sacred ancient places like the Ġgantija, the megalithic temple to the Goddess, the world’s second-oldest manmade religious monument.

ancient stones, ancient sea

Upcoming Concert & Workshop

Jennifer is appearing in concert in the Washington DC area for the first time on May 27, 2016, and also teaching a 1-day workshop on  Music as a Path to Mindfulness and Healing Saturday May 28. This  is a unique opportunity to experience her music and her energy. For more information about these events, visit Goddess Works Media.  Link for CONCERT TICKETS. Link for WORKSHOP REGISTRATION

BerezanConcertFLyer2
Printable PDF Flyer

Law of the Jungle

I saw Disney’s new Jungle Book film, and it’s a magnificent experience – a beautiful, heart-wringing adventure. As one of the millions of kids who were a captive audience for the 1967 animated version, I watched it in rapt delight and breathless anticipation.

I’m more of an experiential viewer than a critic; thus I fell in love with Bagheera’s green eyes and cultured voice (Ben Kingsley.) Bill Murray as Baloo the bear was inspired. The lushly detailed environments, plants and animals is a feast for the eyes. But the story the crisis that Mowgli the man-cub brings to his jungle community is bittersweet.

Mowgli is raised by the wolf pack and mentored by Bagheera. They consider the boy one of their own. Shear Kan, the menacing Bengal tiger, claims that man is the most dangerous beast of all, and insists that the man-cub must leave, and later, die. The community erupts in debate, and Mowgli, unwilling to be the cause of such strife, agrees to leave.

For all the lush beauty of this film, with it’s depiction of vibrant life, knowing it’s all created with CGI leaves me with a hollow ache. The ‘jungle’ world that Kipling wrote of in 1894 no longer exists today, except in scraps of parkland.  So Shear Kan made a valid point: humans will bring the end of life as they know it.

Please, go enjoy the movie. It’s lovely. But then take some small action to help the creatures in the film.

To learn more about the state of the ‘jungle’ today, visit one of these organizations.

Global Tiger Initiative

Wildlife Conservation Society

World Wildlife Society

 

 

Cherry Blossom Joy!

I try to get out and paint plein-aire from the Yoshino cherries during their brief and glorious blooming. It’s always unpredictable! This year it seemed imminent, then a cold front delayed their progress, then BAM! an explosion of flowers.

CherriesPhotog2016
Ducks check out the Photographer

When I first came to Washington, I expected something gaudier. I was amazed by the subtle beauty of these earliest blooming trees. They are a ruddy color before their buds open, then a soft pink when they’re newly opened. Finally they create a soft glow of white with but a memory of pink, as if a cloud were caught in the dark and twisted branches of the old trees.

Morning at Capitol Plaza
Morning at Capitol Plaza

Saturday I spent the day with easel and paints under the pale clouds, enjoying the color and all the other folks who came there to do the same. Lily got lots of petting and I got one small and one large canvas started. It was a perfect day.

If you’d like to join me, leave a comment. I plan on heading down again on Saturday April 2 from 10:30 am to 1:00 pm. Visit me on Facebook for daily updates and spontaneous painting trips!

Even the Desert Blooms

The March Equinox Arrives

At this moment of Equinox (latin ‘equal night’), the Northern Hemisphere crosses out of winter. Preparations for Passover and Easter are underway. Dormant buds are preparing, or indeed bursting, into bloom. I’m poised for my annual cherry blossom painting frenzy. The ospreys returned last Thursday, immediately busying themselves with nest-building.

All living creatures respond to the change. Bob Wells, long time van dweller, (he writes the blog Cheap RV Living) heard that Death Valley was experiencing an unusual ‘Super Bloom,’ and earlier this month pointed his mobile household west.

from the NYT: a Desert 5-Spot. Read about it at http://nyti.ms/1Qv5hGA

From Bob’s Blog:

“Once you’ve spent some time in the desert and opened your soul to hear it’s unspoken message, you quickly come to see how very tiny and puny we are in the grand scheme of things.

“The desert has stood in one place with very little change not just for tens of thousands of years, but for thousands of millenniums. It’s ancient wisdom laughs at our insignificant discoveries. In a moments time it could snuff us out like the locusts we are.”

“When I step out of my van in the morning and look around in a 360 degree circle, the sheer immensity of it’s size humbles me. It would take me days of walking to reach the distant mountains and many more days of walking to reach the next distant mountains. To reach them all would take me many months of walking and I would be dead before I reached them unless I give the desert the respect it demands and learned and followed it’s ways.”

 

Read more at Death Valley Superbloom

How to “Not-go” to that Dark Place

“You have to not-turn to anger, not-turn to resentment.”

That advice comes from a man who spent 26 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, to kids who find themselves entangled in the juvenile justice system. He’s helping them know themselves through writing, and to learn to manage their chaotic lives and hopefully survive the system.

Stay

I was intrigued by his negative verb:  ‘not-turn.’

What is the parallel positive equivalent? My friend pointed out that ‘not-go’  is really ‘stay.’ But stay where?

I think when we’re anxious or angry or stressed, the place we seem to be in isn;t a good one. And we don’t necessarily wake up to what’s happening until we’re already reacting. If we wake up at all.

Mindfulness

So where is it we’re supposed to stay? That’s where the mindfulness comes in. In my own story, it has taken me many years to become aware of the vicious self criticism that undermined my sanity. It operated without my awareness, defeating my confidence at every turn. I looked in the mirror and I looked terrible. I created something and it was pathetic. I offered myself to people and awaited harsh criticism, because that’s what I lived with all the time, inside my head.

Clearly I couldn’t ‘stay’ there!

I’ve finally learned, imperfectly, to ‘not-turn’ on myself, ‘not-turn’ to the excoriating self-talk. In order to do this, I had to learn go back to before it was activated, so I could halt the process before it got underway. Which was tricky when I believed that self-critical voice to be a true part of me. That voice seemed so real when I began this quest. Which is why it was so difficult to gain control over.

I am Not My Thoughts

Through meditation, particularly mindfulness techniques and body centered methods, I learned to be with myself in a way that allowed me to observe the self-talk arising. It’s a process of recognizing a mind pattern and realizing that it’s ‘not-me.’

Now I have a place to ‘not-go.’

for more on mindfulness I recommend the books and videos of Pema Chodron and Eckhart Tolle

*featured image from the installation Lyon Art, the Abode of Chaos

 

 

there is a web that connects all things

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