Art and Design, spirituality

A Designing Soul

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We create for hosts of reasons, and creativity itself is in no way limited to the arts, but is rather I think a feature of our very being.  We  gain a deep sense of satisfaction from creating. It fills up every space of our lives like a living thing that seeks to involve itself in broad scales of our lives.  That means building a fence, designing a walkway, a garden, a new medicine, or art.  Trying to shoe-horn creativity into one discipline is like trying to do the same with spirituality.

In the same fashion, I have tended to feel that there is something about us, in us, that grasps for something familiar while seeking the new.  It is an old familiar push-pull we humans have and it keeps us moving backwards and forwards between tradition and innovation.  I wont say that I have not been touched by tradition, for certainly I have, but in many ways I have sought to go it alone.  The sense I had was that my spirituality was not contingent upon a religion.  I did my seeking, but it seemed that whatever it was I was looking for was somehow bigger or perhaps more inclusive than any one religion.  I think that every time I thought about our concepts of the deity, I felt like most of our notions were like cartoon characters in a sense, a kind of bookmark in the REAL work, which was itself a mystery for the simple fact that we were creating an icon or image or bookmark instead of finding the real thing.

This gets onto touchy ground, I know, because religions becomes very personal very quick.  We have fought wars over ideology plenty over the last few thousand years.  When it comes to what we think is right, what is our tradition, we will fight tooth and nail for it.  I think it is to be expected given what it was we put our faith into.

So most of my adult life, I felt a bit like an outsider in a sense, living in the shelter of art to find meaning.  Most of what I have done in my own work has been to reflect and seek to illuminate, most often unconsciously, what I was deeper down.  Just as in religion, which I think is supposed to help us to know ourselves in relationship to a deity or higher power, I felt that the answer was within.  I will admit I spent years not completely sure what this answer would tell me, if anything.  I would discover, though, that the answer was incredibly simple with broad applications.  This was perfect, I now see, since the very best projects in art have been those with the most specific parameters but the broadest interpretation.  As in art, so in the mystic.

The events that led up to what I now know to be an Awakening experience changed a lot of my wonder over what my own inner work was leading to.  Awakening is also called by other cultural groups as kundalini.  There isn’t a culture on the earth that doesn’t have its own explanation of the phenomenon. While I had read in my teen years on what this was, which seemed an exotic kind of spiritual experience, most of it simply went over my head.  There really is not way to convey what happens when the switch is flipped inside that brings all the requisite elements into enough a unity within the psyche and body to fuel the process that the Hindus call an awakening of kundalini.

It was the Summer of 2006 and I was seeking to put to rest some old overhanging issues in my spiritual life.  These were some things that kind of nagged at me and caused me some frustration and consternation.  What these things had done, unknown to me at the time, was to create a massive block of energy.  Emotional, mental, and spiritual.  I was certainly active and engaged in creating and was running a business that was selling and showing all across the United States and abroad.  I had in fact dedicated a significant part of my life in building the business and had done so while ignoring the very things that would bring a new level or form of inspiration, a kind of living flame, through my very being.  Little did I know that this force would seek to tear down everything I had built in order to rebuild it anew in an entirely new way.  For kundalini, I had become the art project.

What would happen to me in the wake of this unexpected resolution of old events in my life was akin to shedding a spark that would grow into something larger with unintended consequences.  The results of this would lead to entirely new directions creatively for me and would cause me to question some of my most cherished notions about myself and the world.  Why I was engaged in making things, my impulse to create, what I made and why.  It wasn’t just limited to my creative life.  This force would show no mercy and would set right what had gone wrong.  I say this and realize it has always been setting things on the path that would provide me with the very best sense of fulfillment.

What was sparked what would become a kind of  steady-state  of inspiration.  No longer as I left with the same chasing of inspiration.  As I sat in my studio I began drawing with chalk on the floor idea after idea.  This went deep into the night.  Erasing one idea to make room for more, I would record the sketch in my book for later.  Somewhere I had managed to open a valve and it results in a flood of information that has left me wondering how on earth I am every to bring all of this material to the fore.  What I had come across, though, was something that I had been studying for years within myself that struck to the center of HOW our brains work when we are creative.

Its interesting.  In the Hindu tradition, they describe the twin currents that move up the spine as the Shakti and Shiva, two opposites that meet and merge, creating the bliss of the divine. In early mystic traditions of Christianity, the Gnostics, Jesus speaks of being “One with the Mother and Father” which, in later documents gets edited down to “I am one with the Father.”  This was startling to me because at first I did not know what was happening to me when this force came.  I could feel “it” and I sensed that there were two opposite forces which I called the masculine and feminine that created sheer bliss in their union, a bliss that I knew to be a third energy which I called “the child.”  This was how vivid and clear the presence has been for me.  I called it that simply because that was how it felt.  But what this thing was, was without form.  It was a FORCE I had somehow unlocked inside of me.

When I reflected on the ancient texts, though, I saw how others had had experiences with this and that in the Christian tradition, a lot had been hushed up, or had not been fully understood by those who followed after (it was 320 years AFTER the death of Christ that the books that detailed Jesus’s life and his disciples were gathered to be used for the institutionalizing of a new religion through the Council of Nicea on orders from Emperor Constantine).  Clearly, for me at least, the triadic nature of this energy in me was the same energy that was being spoken of as the Christian triad, the kundalini of the Hindu and Chinese.

it was out of this “rising” that I discovered a new-found creative output that often left me at a loss as to how to make all that my hands had scribbled or that my mind and heart had considered.  It  resulted in new sculptural forms, new glass forms, books (plural) and hundreds of pages of writing (an editor and a close friend both pointed out that I had the content of three books in my 750 page manuscript).  It also resulted in the dissolution of my marriage, nearly losing my business after a serious accident, and a slower but more certain return to a new kind of life that had in a sense been torn down from chimney to foundation.

These types of awakening, though, are becoming much more common. No longer do saddhus, or Hindu monks, have to sit in meditation awaiting awakening after twenty years of trials.  They are now happening to people with virtually no experience with meditation or any form of formal preparation, something the Hindu tradition explains is simply just not possible.  Clearly, something has changed in us.

In Carl Jung’s day, there were but a handful of people so effected at any given time.  Jung lamented that there would never be enough of these people on the planet at any given time to provide the necessary push or catalyst towards greater change. Now, though,  people are having these experiences in numbers that can only be described as a watershed kind of event.  The old traditions are not keeping up with the reality of what is happening.

Awakening is not itself a religion or philosophy or ideology in any way.  There are systems of thought that have been created that seek to give direction and some structure to it.  It is not a spirit, although there are some who observe that this is so.  My sense is that it is a mystery in the same way that the truth of a deity is a mystery perhaps simply due to its entirely expansive nature which renders us a dust mote in comparison to a galaxy of consciousness.

Awakening reorders the self through a process that is as much spiritual energy as it is physical.  To say it is one thing or another is like casting a net to one side of a boat or the other and expecting to capture the entire essence of what lies in the ocean.  This is not to say that you cannot experience what it is, it is simply that to speak of it or describe it is like seeking to describe the indescribable.  A dust mote trying to provide some sense of context when it is seeking to grasp the galaxy before it.  And yet, we come face to face with this as our very nervous system is reordered, rewired to take in more of this infinity of material.

Those who have awakened are different, but we do not seek to wear this on our sleeves simply because it is like how I described it back when it first struck me like lightening; I woke up one morning and found I was speaking a different language.  From another planet.  I was instantly rendered into a stranger on the planet, and it would take a number of years before I could ease this sense back into a feeling of belonging here.  Many who have this experience describe it the same way as one who has had a stroke; your memory is slowly erased by some surge of energy and it scatters all the data and you are left picking up the pieces that now fit the new arrangement.  It is a bit like a hurricane blowing through your house, fundamentally changing the size and shape of the rooms such that only certain things from your previous life can ever fit into the same rooms again.  Much winds up being weeded out. It is in many ways like a death and a rebirth into a new life.  Certainly the Gnostics described this experience in much the same way and it leads me to the conclusion that the version of spiritual knowledge we have handed down called Christianity has been left wanting for some very basic fundamental principles of how we as human beings work.  ALL of us.  Not just a sect such as Christian or Hindu, Zoraster, Muslim, or Native American.  The distortions in the code have been the things that have been used to define and differentiate some religions from another when in truth, I suspect, the answer is that they all seek the same thing in the midst of a misty and distorted landscape of understanding.  Anything that was not understood may have been distorted due to lack of experience, or out of bias or prejudice.  One thing is for sure though; awakening serves as a model for how a creative person can drive their inspiration to new heights by understanding how this dual current mirrors the brain’s function and the fact that just as we have this dual etheric current, we also have a dual brain current as well.  When these two hemispheres unite, we have an explosion of creative output.  And just as this mirrors the etheric seemingly mystical side of the experience, it also mirrors how we all are in the world, which are essentially a world culture that has lost sight of the true potential of our natures, which are yin and yang, right brain and left brained.  learning how to balance these two elementals in our own lives will lead to a more balanced person.  As this spreads, it will also lead, potentially, to a more balanced world.

I am a pretty observant person I think on balance.  I have for years pondered the nature of creativity and have noticed what is happening when I am most creative.  I also notice that my thinking is not just one way or another, but balanced between both rational AND irrational thinking.  It is this balance that seems to borrow or utilize what I think of as a more balanced involvement of the two hemispheres.  I suspect that the other 90% of our brain that we are said not to be using may well point to our underutilization of the right brain.   I suspect that it is the right brain that mirrors the mystical and spiritual experiences in our bodies.  I don’t think the brain creates the material, but it certainly manages it and gives what is without form a kind of “voice” s that we can relate to it in some way.  Trying to grasp the entire ocean can be a tricky sort of thing, but it seems that the structure of the right brain is perfectly matched to the task.

I know that the left brain for me is a very concrete place.  In it there is language, an ability to parse ideas in a linear fashion, which goes hand in hand with different forms of communication, including language, music, and art.  It has a great capacity for picking out a single particle in a mass of particles and focus intently upon it.  It has the capacity to take things one step at a time in logical order in order to get the job done.  That is extremely useful.  It becomes less useful when it comes to being able to see the ocean, or God, or God shimmering within your own awareness.

This is the job of the right brain.  The right brain can see the entire forest and never once get confused over what it is that it is seeing.  It can see across nations, across ideologies, across beliefs and see the overarching effects.  It can, in effect, glimpse the greater good. It can also allow us to glimpse new ideas, new ways of being or doing things.  It may not know HOW to create these things, or bring them into being, but the right rain seems to know that there is nothing that is NOT impossible.  We just simply haven’t figured out the way to make whatever it is we have just glimpsed, work. This is not a concrete world. It is softer, flowing, and imaginative.  If we were to ascribe sexual attributes to our hemispheres, the right brain would be feminine while the left would be masculine.

In a fully functioning brain, the left (male) would bring the discrete spark of inspiration in its own way into the field of the right hemisphere.  Seeded, the right brain would take this spark and turn it into something beyond anything the right brain even has the capacity to believe or conceive of.  What emerges is like a mystery in a sense and when you think about inspiration and the products of it, the process seems just as inconceivable.  It simply bursts into being, often fully formed as we scribble madly to get the details down. No wonder the Hindus called this the union of Shakti and Shiva!

Later in my reading as I tried to make sense of what had happened to me on that fateful day in August of 2006 when the lights suddenly began to come on.   I came across old texts that spoke of how awakening was the rising in awareness of two seeming opposites.  The Hindus called this the Shakti and Shiva energies.  They are seen as deities or spiritual beings.  In early Christian texts, it was spoken of as the Father and Mother (although later this was shortened to Holy Ghost as the tide of paternalism sought to abbreviate the effect or power that the feminine might have in such an institutionalized religion.  Even in the early Christian texts described the process perfectly as I had experienced it which was a union of two opposite energies in my awareness.  The texts said things like “When you are one and become two, what will you do?” it described these things over and over in similar fashion.  One current was masculine while the other was feminine.  The key was in bringing these two forces into greater unity.  Perhaps, I thought, this was the goal of meditation or yoga.  I had managed to eliminate the junk that stood between these two currents.  These two currents I saw perfectly mirrored in the brain.  Perhaps we do indeed have both spiritual and biological energies that are all aligned according to something perhaps as simple as positive and negative charges of energy in the body that bring rise to a glorious feeling of bliss when that energy is allowed to grow and develop to greater levels. Perhaps it has a nourishing effect on the brain and psyche.

I recently watched a documentary on the Buddha for the first time.  Up until that time, I had not read much more than a few quotes here and there that were attributed to him.  It was interesting to me that Buddha achieved enlightenment in the same way that I did.  We both weren’t doing anything to bring it on.  I was standing in the back yard of a winery during a festival, simply looking out across the fields of grapevines.  Buddha was sitting beneath a tree.  We had both been seekers for many years.  Awakening did not come by way of a guru or method or teacher.  It came like the wind, or like the sun piercing the horizon of the sky.

For me, art has been a means to find my way without a dogma, but to go about it in a solitary way.  In the end, I found that the only time we really encounter a force higher than ourselves, it is when we are focused on what is happening within.  I don’t think that this is because we are imagining it but that there is a reality “beyond” our own that does not cohere as directly to our own as we might think or expect it to.  It is a nonphysical reality.  While it is connected to our reality here, we are simply too focused in our physical sensing to touch it in any meaningful way such that it begins to change our lives.  I do think, though, that we are constantly bumping into it throughout each and ever day.  Somehow it just never turns into the spark that sets the self to flame as the ancients describe it.

It does seem, however, that the experience of nonduality can be experienced without having a full-fledged awakening experience. I say this because such online sources as Nonduality Magazine (dot org) have plenty of articles about brushes with this realm of human experience.  I even have an article published on their site about one aspect of the experience.  Some lead to larger awakenings, but some do not.  I think it is due to whether we are ready or not.  We in a way have to become a little empty in order to begin to take in new stuff as revolutionary as nonduality can be.  Perhaps this is achieved simply through the intent that we wish to be filled with something more, perhaps the same impetus that drives people to awakening to begin with, which is often a sense like something just isn’t quite complete, or right…..and in seeking and pondering, it is just enough of a push to start the entire process moving.

For my creative life I know that all of this has opened a new chapter for me.  It has offered up entirely new challenges both in being more fulfilled creatively as well as an opportunity to look in a more clear-eyed way at all the things that have kept me from accomplishing my goals.  This operates on the microscale as well in how I may not always make inspiration a moment by moment experience and find myself casting about for new ideas when in truth, I have gone through my days with ideas just flowing into me.  The difference in how I choose to be.  As an artist, I am still a reporter of a sort.  I am using my own discipline to create objects of arresting power or grace in order to communicate or express something that I have found to be worthy in creating.  This has all enriched my experience and has helped to bring entirely new opportunities into my life at this time.  By erasing a sense of limit, I have become much more open to the possibilities, which is perhaps just what the gift is from the right brain.  And yet, without her partner the left brain, she would remain entirely inspired, but like a car stuck in neutral.  She needs the hand that identifies what first gear is.  The left brain seems to supply the bare essentials to give the right brain the substance to form something out of nearly nothing.

For insight into the nature of the right brain I suggest that you take a look at the TED Talk by a woman, Jill Taylor, who experienced first hand what happened to her when her left hemisphere shut down as a result of a massive stroke.  HERE.

Her story is I think an important one for understanding that these experiences which we say are spiritual do, I contend, have a basis in our neurophysiology.  It isn’t an experience that is “out there” or “woo-woo” but has been something that has been poorly explained so that it all sounds like magic or incomprehensible.  What Jill Taylor describes is the state of nirvana that results from opening up to her right hemisphere.  In the book that I have been working on that chronicles my experience, I am seeking to place this seemingly mystical experience into a more understandable, and approachable context.  Awakening only happens when the body has a way to process the substance of that experience, and the right brain plays a central role.  When we can bring these aspects of ourselves into a greater unity, a greater sense of wonder and joy can prevail once the wreckage of our lives is addressed.  Only then does the wonder come in uninterupted streams of experience.  This, then, forms the basis of “the work” one needs to do to untangle the self from all that holds it back, blocking the flow of this stream of awareness in our lives and which has kept such potential out of our grasp.

Awakening is not a walk in the park.  It has been the hardest task master of my life, and yet I know that with each release of old patterning, I am placed into calmer and more peaceful waters.  This is an accelerated course in becoming, like fifteen years of therapy packed into three or four.  I am hopeful that this potential exists, even for as difficult as it can be to ride its wave sometimes.  For me at least, it is the answer to a very old lifelong question.


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