Seeing With a Diversity of Eyes, Revisited: Imagination Is a Brush We Can Use to Paint Our Way Anywhere, Even Home

It all began one evening when I got totally engrossed in viewing Japanese woodblock prints, especially the night scenes by Kawase Hasui. Hasui was one of Japan’s most prominent and prolific printmakers, who died in 1957. He created landscapes that beautifully merged humans⎼ their homes, boats, shrines, castles, and temples⎼ into the land around them.

 

I was looking through several paintings and when one stood out, I’d imagine myself in the depicted scene or sit with the mood the print and my seeing of it created.

 

One night scene was of the Chuson-ji Temple in Japan. A long series of wide steps led up through trees to the temple. There was moonlight and a bright star, but no moon. I slowed down, stopped rushing, and just lingered on the scene, let my eyes feel the steps so I could walk up them in my imagination and reach the building itself.

 

Then I closed my eyes and let the scene rest inside me, before opening them again to allow new details I had missed earlier to enter the picture. By touching in this mindful way, we are touched; we feel what we see. The artwork is perceived with more dimension. I learned this practice at a retreat organized by psychotherapist Lawrence Leshan.

 

Later that night, I drove into town to buy groceries. Along the way, I noticed the scenery took on a totally new quality. The homes surrounded by trees, the lights amidst the dark, the moon over the hillside⎼ one minute, the scene before me was the physical road, buildings, and trees. The next, a beautiful portrait of the same.

 

In the afternoon a few days later, a similar experience occurred. As I walked up a rural road, I saw as I might normally see⎼ light breaking through the hillside forest roof and bouncing off tree leaves ⎼ and then as Hasui might paint it. By viewing the art, my eyes were tuned to beauty; I now had two sets of eyes, two ways of seeing.

 

Hasui seemed fascinated with not just art as a creation, but vision itself. He painted the same scene in different seasons and times of day. There are at least three renditions of the Chuson-ji Temple, for example⎼ one at night, one on a spring day, another in the snow. But what we see in each painting is one moment, or each instant as a once in a lifetime event.

 

The beautiful temples Hasui painted were not just an external scene he perceived but an element of the artist, his society, history, mood, the time of day, the weather and quality of light. We are not a being locked in a wall of skin, but one movement in a universe dancing itself into being.

 

Sometimes, we get caught up in what we see or hear. Our focus becomes possessive and exclusive. The object we see over there reinforces the sense of a separate me over here. And we lose appreciation for the very act of seeing or hearing, or the fact we can perceive or know anything at all. We lose the mystery of it. Studying how we perceive, being mindful, can remind us to notice, and look beyond what we see in order to enjoy the act of seeing. That we see can be as miraculous as what we see.

 

Exercises looking out a window:

Is it possible to perceive each artwork as a window or a door to a hidden place in ourselves, or the universe, like C. S. Lewis’ wardrobe doorway to Narnia? Just like a painting might be framed, a window frames the world for us to view with care and attention.

 

Here are exercises we can use to expand our appreciation of art and perception. We can do them for ourselves or share them with students. Before we share them, we first practice them ourselves. We feel and reflect on how they affect us. We imagine each individual child doing it. Many of us are struggling now with painful traumas and loss. We need to develop trauma sensitive eyes and hearts. We need to hold our children and ourselves with hands of empathy and compassion….

 

*To read the whole piece, please click on the link to Education That Inspires.

 

**This blog is an expanded revisiting of one I wrote last year for The Good Men Project.

***Before doing any of the exercises, please consult the links for fuller explanations.

Letting Go of Normal: When Looking Is Itself An Act of Creation and Breathing is A Revelation

Although it’s technically spring, it’s still very much winter. The breeze is distinctly chilly and it’s snowing. Hard. Transitions between seasons, and maybe between anything, can be so unpredictable. Winter, as well as old ways of doing things, does not like to let go.

 

A cardinal, of such a beautiful red color, sits on the branch of an apple tree as the snow filled wind roars around it. How cold it must be out there for it. It waits for the right moment to swoop down and eat the food my wife left for it. And nearby, sits a mourning dove, so much a part of the branch I at first didn’t see him or her or them. Her presence is more beautiful than any work of art, although many artists would love to paint what I now see.

 

So many of us want to return to a different season, a time without at least the inhumanity and destruction of Putin’s war against Ukraine. We want to return to relating to other people without masks, or not worrying about breathing in the air from another person’s mouth or wondering if our trip to the grocery store would result in sickness.

 

We want to return to stable supply lines for food and other necessities and no inflation. We want to return to a time, or maybe create a time, that we see a sustainable, enjoyable future ahead of us. We want to think our financial well-being assured.

 

Or we want to feel the possibility of our rights protected. Our voice not only heard but honored. And justice is, finally, not only possible but a regular occurrence. That the blatant assault on the desire for democracy, real democracy, by the followers of DJT and Putin and white nationalists and others is ended, replaced by a drive toward increasing voting rights and protections. And we want to end the continuing concentration of wealth.

 

Much of this got relatively better with the election of Biden and Harris. At least the possibility of things getting better, of reason, caring, is present. But the concentration of wealth is getting worse, not better, along with the lies, hate, and support of malignant autocrats by much of the GOP. All we need do is listen to the racism implicit in the GOP questioning of Ketanji Brown Jackson to understand what their party represents.

 

We want to free our nation of the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQ+ etc., of the hate that drives too much of our society.

 

We want to end the anxiety over climate change, of the increasingly destructive weather: tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, and drought.

 

But this is our world right now. There is so much and so many to mourn. We can’t crave what we remember as “normal” in the past, because what was normal and good for one was not such for others. We want something fairer and more stable. So many of us care about all these issues but feel that caring hurts too much. Is too painful. We feel facing it means no more joy, no love, no companionship. And yet, we know if we turn away, it will only get worse….

 

*To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

Life Is Our Question

Right now, we are inundated with so many questions. So much uncertainty, fear, and grief. So much awareness of how tenuous life is without an equal awareness of how to face the tenuous. The fragile. The uncertain.

 

We often want to return to at least a semblance of stability. Security. We want answers. Sometimes, like for many of us, right now life can be too much. And all too often, the answers we search for are delayed or too difficult to uncover. And living in a state of questioning is uncomfortable. It is also uncomfortable to go through our day or at night to sleep with our questions as our bedmate. But often, that is the only answer. To just sit, sleep, ache with our questions. Or be grateful for the fact that we can ask them.

 

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, in answering a letter from a young poet, to “be patient to all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves.” The point is to “live the questions” so at some point we can live our way to an answer.

 

He was mainly concerned with love relationships, creativity, and integrity. But I think this advice applies to all questions that could change the direction of our lives and heart.

 

One of my favorite contemporary philosophers, Jacob Needleman, developed this further and wrote: “Our culture has generally tended to [try to] solve its problems without experiencing its questions.” We want a solution quickly, even before we feel the full dimension of what we face. We too often want what’s easy and immediate.

 

But rushing for an answer forces us to leave out what could be most important, and to favor what’s “practical” over what’s compassionate, our bias over reality. It weakens us just when life is trying to teach us how to be strong.

 

I noticed when I was teaching secondary school that the students loved to grapple, in the classroom, with real, tough, open-ended questions. But with adult friends and relatives, not so much. Finding solutions was preferred over asking questions that might have no verbalizable answer. Needleman said that when we open any newspaper, or today, look at our phones, and we see every news item breathes philosophy. Breathes deep questions. Ethical. Existential. Metaphysical. Epistemological.

 

We read about Putin’s war against Ukraine and ask about the nature of evil, or human nature, or⎼ how do we stop a war? We read about the climate crisis and ask about reliable evidence, truth, or ⎼ how do we get people to realize this crisis is so real we must stop and change what we’re doing?

 

We read about racism, attacks on LGBTQ+ children, and so many other forms of hate, and ask⎼ How do we talk to a neighbor who hates so deeply they create violent walls around everyone they know? Or we read about the pandemic or attacks on women’s health and ask⎼ How do we turn the richest society in the world to one that actively cares for the health of its members?…

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Are We the Masked Species? What Can Wearing a Mask Teach Us About Ourselves?

What can wearing a COVID-mask teach us about ourselves and how we look at others? After almost two years of living in a pandemic, we could benefit by thinking not only about how wearing a mask can protect others from us, or us from a deadly disease, but about what mask wearing can teach us about ourselves, and relating to others.

 

We use the word person to refer to what we are and say we have a personality. The root word here is Latin, persona, meaning a social role, image, or a theatrical mask or appearance we wear in public. Psychologist Carl Jung used the term to mean the social face we present to others, a mask or image we create, or way to hide elements of ourselves. So, in a way we were the masked species even before the pandemic.

 

From antiquity, masks have been an important element of possibly all cultures. Most staged dramas began with performers wearing masks. In Ancient Greece, for example, the legendary poet, Thespis, was supposedly the first to put an actor on a stage and turn choral recitation into drama. He created larger than life masks that also acted like a megaphone. The first written stories were myths with existential and religious themes, about creation, life and death, heroes, and heroines. The first dramas were enacted myths, so drama emerged from religious ceremonies. But what happens when we wear an actual medical mask in public while doing everyday tasks?

 

Of course, politics also enters the picture, as the right-wing in the US and elsewhere have turned a medical necessity into a political statement, thus undermining the effectiveness of masks as simply a practical way to prevent the spread of a deadly disease. This influences how we respond to masks and perceive those who wear them, as well as undermines the value of rational, factual based decision-making. It purposefully turns the social sphere, the public commons into a stage for enacting a political and possibly even a religious drama.

 

Other people are no longer perceived as persons very much like us, but as characters in a drama. And when political leaders of one party threaten and call for violence against another party or against anyone who disagrees with them, that drama can too easily become deadly.

 

According to a research article by Frontiers in Psychology, COVID masks cover about 60-70% of the area of the face responsible for emotional expression. This makes identification of others or any social interaction more difficult. It limits the ability of other people to read our emotions and hear what we say, as the sound of our words is usually augmented by the sight of our lips moving and changes in facing expression. Consciously reading subtle emotional cues as well as the trustworthiness or honesty of others can be difficult enough for many of us without a mask. A mask obviously diminishes this ability.

 

How much does a mask become a blank slate for us to project our own personal dramas? We all know how deeply important how our face looks is to most of us. Especially today, with so many suffering from anxiety and trauma, we can feel extremely sensitive, self-judgmental about how we look, afraid of the tiniest “imperfections.” …

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

The Book of Heart: The Spark We Need to Save Ourselves

On Sunday, a friend uncomfortably joked, and a neighbor seriously wondered if the weather augured the Apocalypse. On Monday, the U. N. Panel on Climate Change said unless humanity takes immediate, sustained, large-scale actions including reducing the use of  fossil fuels, global warming will create an earth too hot for agriculture and will threaten human survival.

 

The Western U. S. has had devastating droughts for years, but this year is one of the worst, accompanied by record breaking temperatures and creating conditions for forest fires. Parts of Canada and elsewhere are suffering the same fate. 10 of the worst years for fires have occurred since 2004 and 2021 could be even worse than any previous year. Right now, the Dixie Fire has burned more than 783 square miles and is now the largest in California history.  Clouds from the fires have recently blanketed sections of the western and even northeastern US. Meanwhile, Germany and China have recently experienced historic floods.

 

In my own neighborhood, our summer weather over the last few years jumped from drought to floods and back again. It rained nearly every day for weeks. Even though it happens periodically, earlier this summer we experienced a devastating infestation of gypsy caterpillars that stripped bare many species of trees. Whole sections of forests and hillsides look as they do in winter (or during a severe drought).

 

Last night was the fourth power outage we’ve had in about a month. Everything went from light to dark so quickly⎼ and it was a very dark night, covered with clouds and noisy with rain, thunder and lightning. When the power goes out, it is easy to wonder not only when, but if it will be restored.

 

And all this after 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic⎼ and four plus years of a moral and political pandemic led by DT and the GOP who threaten to strip us bare of rights and constitutional protections and enshrine a perpetual political winter.

 

After so much bad weather and destruction, fear speaks readily in our minds and hearts, in the places where religion often resides. There is nothing like a tornado or a big storm, with lightning, and thunder over our heads, heat that melts sidewalks or a pandemic to make us feel how vulnerable we are. The Delta variant could wreak havoc with our future. A study by the Public Religion Research Institute back in 2012 found that 63% of Americans thought the weather has gotten more extreme and 36% think the reason is the Biblical end times. (I was glad to notice that, according to an Ipsos poll, in 2021 the number of Americans who are aware of the human role in climate change is now 72%.) What changes in attitude will the U. N. report create?

 

According to the Pew Research Center in 2017, 35% of Americans say they read scripture at least once a week, and this is up 3% from 2014. Buddhist teacher and scholar Kurt Spellmeyer, in his book published in 2010, Buddha at the Apocalypse: Awakening from A Culture of Destruction, says “unlike other holy books, the Bible presents itself as a work of history⎼ a history that claims to map the whole of time.”

 

History begins, in the Old Testament, with Genesis, and ends particularly in the New Testament, with Revelations. Many of us look for God in time itself. And for 2,000 years people in the West looked for signs of the End of Time, or for transformation⎼ of souls or society, for heaven or utopia⎼ or for retribution and punishment.  As the millennium of the year 2000 approached, there was great dread amongst many about what would occur.

 

But if anything is biblical about the situation today it is the danger posed by the lies of DT, who called human-caused climate change a hoax, and by other GOP. These lies have caused us to lose time, accelerate the danger, and diminish political commitment to actually facing this existential ecological threat.

 

Spellmeyer argues our culture prides itself on getting things done and being down to earth but is actually escapist. On the surface is our love of all sorts of tech marvels that can both be so helpful, especially during a lockdown, but also isolate us. But also consider how often we have postponed serious consideration of the consequences of our actions, like the long-range effects of nuclear waste, or nuclear weapons, or the effects of fossil fuels on Global Warming.

 

In U. S. history, instead of dealing with our problems, we often looked to “go West” to escape them. Or on a more personal level, we find a readiness to hurry and move on. We often hear something once or practice a skill a few times and think we understand it like an expert.

 

And there is FOMO, the “uneasy and all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out,” “not in the know”. We might fear friends are better than us or in possession of more of something than we have⎼ or that we are inadequate. A study back in 2013, obviously before the pandemics of COVID-19 and DT, found that about three quarters of young adults experienced this.

 

The problem, whether its FOMO, escapism, even hurrying, is a culture of fear now augmented and manipulated by the GOP to serve their political purposes. And instead of using fear to spur considered action, we fear the emotion itself. Fear, of being hurt, of the world changing on us, or whatever, can make us hold onto our viewpoints rigidly and close our minds to rational thought. And it spreads easily.

 

So, understanding and skillfully facing fear not only lessens our own suffering but gives us tools to help others. Fear is normal but we are often led to treat it as abnormal. It is not just a feeling but is composed of different elements including sensations, thoughts, and possible responses. If we don’t understand it, we might think we are incapable of meeting whatever we face and run to escape it.

 

Fear warns us, wakes us up, but usually turns our thoughts to what might be in the future or to a hurt or trauma in the past. We might run to create ideas of a New Jerusalem, or of a devil or a great punishment to come and lose sight of the reality we face. But the thought that provides an escape from fear often keeps it alive. If our identity is based on fighting an enemy, what happens if there is no longer an enemy to fight?

 

So, one way to get clarity is to develop a mindfulness practice; instead of getting lost in a thought of the future or past, we can focus on a sensation or perception now. We can stop what we’re doing, sit upright but not rigid, hands resting in our lap, turn within and test what feels right. Do we feel more at ease with our eyes open, closed, or partly open? Is it more comfortable to focus on the beginning of an inhalation, the middle, the end, or the pause between inhalation and exhalation? Or the exhalation itself? And where do we feel natural putting attention? The tip of the nose? The hands? Belly? Feet? Just notice, acknowledge with kindness, and move on.

 

In this way we change our response to fear. We study it, study ourselves. The quality of our mind and body changes. We learn from our sensations and thoughts without getting caught by them.

 

If it wasn’t clear before, it is now that the fires and floods we are experiencing have more to do with human actions contributing to climate change, to not facing the reality, to the book of our heart instead of the Book of Revelations. Attributing global warming to “natural causes” is dangerous propaganda. But by acting in a considered and informed manner, we know we are capable of action. If we all speak out, maybe this U. N. report can provide the spark we need to save ourselves.

 

Religion can be one of the most important parts of a person’s life, yet there are so many ways people think about God⎼ or whatever we think is ultimate in our lives. One way people have conceptualized the universe is to think all of us and everything is Divine; our eyes, hands, nose, ears, tastes, even our thoughts are God’s. And one way we pray is by acting for the greater good. We don’t wait for God to do it for us because we are a tiny part of the Divine. And by doing what we can, God hears our prayers.

 

*This article has been syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

 

We All Need A Break Sometimes: A Place of Ease and Beauty

Unbelievably, it’s almost mid-August, and I can feel the end of warm weather approaching, the nearness of fall and winter. Considering how tough the last two, or five winters have been, we might have an added dread of the season. So, the end of summer can be a good opportunity to reflect on what we want or need from this time of year, and this time in our lives. And to try to make it reality before it’s gone.

 

Last night, I woke up at 5:15 and got out of bed. The moment was delicate, and not only because I was barely awake. Outside, light fell on the grass and trees like mist, like a mist of color, lighter than moonlight but not as deep as midday sun.

 

It was delicate, fragile because it felt so new, like a newborn. And I seemed to have the moment all to myself. I could hear no other person in the house or on the street. No cars on the road. If we don’t have to get up early for work, or don’t do it naturally, we don’t see the earth like this, just emerging from darkness, as if it were trying to figure out “how do I do this?”

 

There were birds awake outside singing loudly. One could not contain itself. I don’t know if it was berating the sun for having previously left the world to the dark, or if it just couldn’t find its mate. Or maybe it was telling the universe the story of morning; and every song it sang, every note or exclamation sprang single-mindedly from its mouth.

 

We often fear the fragile, fear it could too easily become hurt, especially after this last year and a half, or four years and a half. We all carry hurt. It is the nature of being human, or the nature of being alive. We have the scars and memory of pain, and some have way too much. Being delicate is vulnerable. But it can also be the strongest part of us. It can teach us not only what to avoid or fight, but how. It can shield us or release us.

 

When the world feels delicate, we notice the tiniest of changes in our surroundings and ourselves. If we don’t retreat into thoughts or get lost in memories, our awareness is heightened. We feel the tiniest tug on our heart. We notice changes in the posture of people we speak with, the quick inhalation, the deceptive movement in the eyes or incipient smile of joy in the lips. And we have the opportunity, if we can allow ourselves to feel it, to move with it. Move in-between the cries of pain, the calls to pleasure, the enticements, or dangers of memory and let all of these teach us the steps in a healing dance….

 

*To read the whole piece, please go to The Good Men Project.

The Skill We Most Want to Learn is Intimacy

It is so easy to lose sight of what originally inspired us to do what we do. We can focus more on how others might think of us, what material goods we might gain, or what grade or prize we might earn. And then we forget the meaning in what we’re doing and lose contact with the truth in ourselves.

 

When learning a skill or studying subject, we can forget the joy of learning itself, or the joy in doing something skillfully. When we use a cellphone or other device during a meal or movie, we can lose the pleasure in eating or engagement with the movie. Or if we read the news on our phones or write or text as we take a walk, we can forget the joy of walking, forget to notice the birds, trees or people around us or the feel of our steps on the earth.

 

Even with meditation, we can get caught up in goals that meditation might advance, like increasing focus, improving health, finding intellectual answers, or reducing stress. By centering on these goals, they become impossible to achieve. We lose the meditation itself.

 

If we meditate, for example, to get an answer to a problem, then as soon as a possible answer pops into our head we might stop meditating in order to write it down. Or if we meditate to reduce stress, what happens if, during a meditation, we realize our heartbeat is speeding up, or notice tension in our body?

 

Instead of treating the stress as part of the meditation, as an opportunity to learn from it, we might try to hide or end it. And the stress gets worse. Our mind becomes the act of hiding and we think of ourselves as unable to face what we feel.

 

Sometimes, we do need to distance ourselves from a painful memory or moment or switch our object of focus. And we need to respect that need, especially after 18 months or so of a pandemic and four years of DT anxiety. We can use different strategies to help us let go of tension and fear. When meditating we can focus on our feet on the floor instead of the breath in our chest, or on the sounds outdoors instead of thoughts indoors.

 

As Peter Doobinin describes it in his book, Skillful Pleasure: The Buddha’s Path for Developing Skillful Pleasure, we can use thinking to strengthen thinking. Instead of trying to stop all thought, we can use it skillfully to feed awareness instead of distraction and to keep alert. if we get caught in a thought, for example, we can step back, and note what is happening. We can say to ourselves, “in” as we inhale, “out” as we exhale. (If you are not experienced with meditation or mindfulness, please read or listen to the book to get the full practice.)

 

The breath goes through stages: the beginning, middle, and end of the inhalation, a pause; then the same with the exhalation. We can ask ourselves where we feel comfort inside us, or what is the quality of the breath⎼ rough or smooth, fast or slow, etc. If they don’t go by too quickly, we can observe which stages are more easeful, comfortable. By noticing, we feed awareness and allow the body to regulate itself. We discover the pleasure in the breath. We might notice, for example, an ease and comfort in the pause and in the middle of a longer, softer exhalation. And then the comfort can spread….

 

To read the whole piece, p-lease go to The Good Men Project

When Joy Is Hidden in the Very Air We Breathe

Have you ever had this feeling that right outside the bedroom window, on the other side of a surface you’ve touched, like the bedsheet, or a stone in the garden⎼ like a voice carried in the wind that you can’t quite make out, there is an insight, a joy waiting, hidden right there? And all you had to do is breathe a little more deeply, shift your perspective a hairsbreadth, and you’d see it in whatever is felt, hear it in whatever is touched?

 

This isn’t a hope you have but something else.

 

I feel this almost every morning when I wake up, if I don’t rush off or I’m not too angry or depressed by the pandemic or the GOP. Right behind my last dream, sitting next to the stiffness in my back, there is this sense, this urge or yearning to look deeply at the red bee balm in the garden, the yellow daylilies, the cats that lie near my feet.

 

When I took a walk yesterday, I tried to remember a time in my life when something hidden was suddenly revealed, or a work of art created itself with my hands. Something dramatic, that I hadn’t already shared with people; but nothing came to me. At first.

 

There are many examples provided by famous visual artists, athletes, poets, and composers. Zen teacher David Loy provides many in his book The World Is Made of Stories. He quotes the artist Escher talking about his drawing taking on a life of its own. The composer Stravinsky hearing music compose itself; he didn’t do it. The writer Borges saying, “I don’t write what I want… I don’t choose my subjects or plots. I have to stand back and receive them in a passive moment.” The poet Blake talking about poems coming to him almost against his will.

 

I am retired now, but the memory of my years teaching soon came to mind. Many times in the classroom the right way to reach a student or right answer to a question just appeared, flowed from my mouth spontaneously, unplanned. Painfully, not all the time.

 

Too many times, especially when I was inexperienced, the right response to a student often eluded me. But over the last few years of working, the number of wonderful moments were multiplied, when I was well prepared yet open, trusting the students and trusting myself. I also practiced mindfulness regularly in some classes.

 

As I was walking back home, down the steep rural hill, suddenly through the trees there was a view that went on for miles. It was only a peek, a break in the trees visible for a few steps when the road turned just right. I stared for a moment, absorbed, gleeful.

 

And a thought popped into my head. The reason I might touch a surface and a new reality whisper to me was because that is exactly what happens sometimes. We touch the hand of a lover and suddenly there aren’t two separate people anymore. There is only the touch. We quiet our minds, even though our hearts might be jumping wildly, and a new reality is born. We touch and are touched simultaneously, love and are loved….

 

*To read the whole post, please click on this link to the Good Men Project, which published it.

One Gift of the Arts is Help Us See with A Diversity of Eyes

It all started one night after getting totally engrossed in viewing Japanese woodblock prints, particularly the night scenes by Kawase Hasui. Hasui was one of Japan’s most prominent and prolific printmakers who died in 1957. He created landscapes that beautifully merged humans⎼ their homes, boats, shrines, castles, and temples⎼ into the land around them.

 

I was looking through several paintings and when one stood out, I’d wonder why that was so. I’d imagine myself in the depicted scene or sit with the mood the print and my seeing of the print created.

 

One night scene was of the Chuson-ji Temple, in the town of Hiraizumi, Japan. A long series of wide steps leads up through trees to the temple. There is moonlight and a bright star, but no moon. I allowed myself to slow down, stop rushing, and just linger on the scene, to sort of let my eyes feel the steps so I could walk up them and reach the building itself.

 

Then I’d close my eyes and let the scene rest inside me, before opening them again to allow whatever new details I had noticed enter the picture. By touching in this mindful way, we are touched; we feel what we see. The artwork has more dimension. I learned this practice at a retreat organized by psychotherapist Lawrence Leshan, and by The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation, by Frederick Franck.

 

After doing this for a few hours, I drove into town to buy groceries. Along the way, the scenery took on a totally new quality. The homes surrounded by trees, the lights amidst the dark, the moon over the hillside⎼ one minute, the scene around me was the physical road and trees. The next, a beautiful portrait of the same.

 

A few days later, in the daytime, a similar experience occurred. As I walked up the rural road where I live, I saw as I might normally see⎼ light breaking through the hillside forest roof and bouncing off the leaves of the trees ⎼ and then as Hasui might paint it. By viewing the art, my eyes were tuned to beauty; I now had two sets of eyes, two ways of seeing.

 

Hasui seemed fascinated with how not just art was a creation, but vision itself. He was almost too prolific. He painted the same scene in different times of day and different seasons. There are at least three renditions of the Chuson-ji Temple, for example⎼ one at night, one on a spring day, another in the snow. But what we see in each painting is one moment; we see each instant as a once in a lifetime event.

 

We can see how everything changes or is change itself. Henri Bergson, a French philosopher, said: “Reality is flowing.  This does not mean that everything moves, changes, and becomes; science and common experience tell us that.  It means movement, becoming, change is everything there is, there is nothing else.  There are no things that move and change and become; everything is movement, is change.”

 

The beautiful red temples Hasui painted were not just an external scene he perceived but an element of the artist, his history and mood, the time of day, the weather and quality of light, the remnants of the past in the present. We are not a being locked in a wall of skin, but one movement in a universe dancing itself into being….

 

**To see the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

The Party of Hungry Ghosts: What Reveals the Origins of Our Thirst So We Find the Water that Fulfills Us

The political situation we are in today reminds me of a frightening dream I had as a teenager. I was outside, at night, on a mist-filled city street and felt something calling to me. I didn’t know what it was, but I followed it anyway to an old storefront, the kind with a door set between two showcase windows, which were empty of everything but darkness. The door was partly open, so I stepped inside.

 

The dark and emptiness continued inside the front room. But the call grew stronger as I walked. I followed it to an even darker back room where I could feel but could not see. And the room was not empty. The call was ringing in my mind, emerging from one corner filled with what I thought were people standing eerily still. I approached one, then another, tentatively reaching out to identify them. They were not breathing, not alive. I started searching more frantically, to find the source, the being, the life that was calling out for me.

 

And then I felt it, there, before me. A powerful, child-sized mannequin with a voice. But it had no head.

 

Teenagers can easily feel a type of solipsism, a fear that they are alone, isolated, or afraid that what they feel, no one else feels. That they are, in a way, the only human, or only human like them. Their need calls out for them, but they fear no one will be there when they respond, so they don’t. Adults can, of course, feel something similar. It is too easy to lose touch with the rest of the world.

 

Zen teacher Katsuki Sekida, in his classic book Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy, said we suffer when we don’t understand the reflecting action of consciousness. Although the world is always whole, never divided, we don’t always experience it that way. We first sense the world, then have thoughts about or reflect on what we sense, then reflect on reflections.

 

This goes on moment after moment. We reflect on what has already gone and can mistake the reflection for the reality. Consequently, we are always rushing to catch up. The reflection can be powerful; but it is so much smaller than the total reality that gave birth to it.

 

Out of such thoughts self-consciousness is born. Self-consciousness can mean “aware of oneself” or distant from oneself and uneasy about it. We separate the object of awareness from the act of being-aware and create this distinct being, with specific characteristics and history who has thoughts. We fashion an ego and then try to pin it down, give it life, and maintain it, but we can’t. Because it’s an apparition. It’s more like a suit of clothes we put on than the body that wears them.

 

One of the key battles of human history is to feel the life of the world, the life that resides in all of us. To feel that the world is alive, not dead ⎼ not a machine, not just dead matter. So much of the world breathes and feels. We struggle as a species to even feel the reality of others and thus to come alive to the reality of ourselves….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.