(long) What to put my time into?

It’s…interesting.

Over the past few days, I’ve been having a dialogue with myself about where to put my energies.  For example, with my homework, and from there out, with my art, creative writing, reading, blogging…music…?

I have seen some people online develop in a given medium very quickly, due to daily practice.  The most obvious example of this I can think of (and I hope I’m thinking right) is Charlie at Doodlewash, but as best I can remember, there are others whose names I have neglected to pick out of the ever-coming tide that is the Internet.

I’ve started to think about my activities, not in terms of what I do well, not in terms of what I presently can do, but in terms of what I want to do.

This is assisted, no doubt, by the curricula I’m presently studying…though that might get a bit arcane here.  Basically, when someone realizes they need information, they likely start out with a very poorly-formed idea of what it is they’re searching for, because they don’t know what they don’t know — and asking them what information they need is asking someone to define the parameters of what they don’t know…which, they don’t know.

When I first started researching Buddhism, for example, it was along with studies of alternative spirituality (particularly Theosophy and Spiritualism; I don’t remember whether Pantheism was along with, or after, this) and the Western Occult Tradition.  Right now I know more about Buddhism than most people around me — I know more than what every beginner book I’ve seen recounts, as though it’s new — but I reached out of my sphere, in the first place, to try and escape people and their twisting of religion to support their bigotry.

What I have found, over about 15 years of studying Buddhism, is that Buddhists have their own problems to deal with, irritatingly enough.  Not only that, but it’s kind of impossible to find an authoritative voice on the matter.  Buddhism is 2500 years old, and orthopraxic (right action) instead of orthodoxic (right belief), or so my World Religions class would have told me.

Instead of asking and expecting a clear definition of nirvana or Buddha-nature, it’s more like, “does the interpretation you’re reading agree with you or not?” or, “where are the holes, and are they large enough to matter?” or, “is this logically coherent?  (Be honest.)  If so, what are the consequences?”

I may not be reading enough modern thought, in this field, though.  I’ve come to realize that the world now is different than the world 2500 years ago, though people’s problems are still largely the same.  The issue with me is the idea that everyone’s “awakening” will be qualitatively the same; that inherently, everyone is the same.  This may have been unquestioned 2500 years ago in India, but I cannot go without questioning this, now.  Living in a major metropolitan area will kind of do that to a person.

In addition to this, the entire idea of a “soul” or spirit is one of these things which …I have not read a full treatment of, from a Buddhist perspective.  What I gather is that a phenomenal self is recognized, but that this self is constructed, and not essential.  This differs from, pretty much, every other religion I’ve studied; but it also becomes entangled in current-day discourse about constructivism vs. essentialism as regards gender; a.k.a. whether all gender is “socially constructed” or “inborn.”

As a person whose gender expression (and historically, identity) inhabits a range rather than a locus, it’s hard for me to have an opinion on this.  The major point is that Second-Wave Feminism (I think this began in the 1970’s) has tried to argue that what one is “born as” is what one “is,” with the transgender movement historically fighting against this.  This axiom would state that, for example, a transgender woman was “really” a man and thus could be excluded from “women’s space,” without everyone in the group feeling bad about it.  In consequence, everyone which was included looked similar enough to be assumed to be qualitatively similar (as definitions of “man” or “woman” did not go beyond physicality; causing the [hypothetical] inclusion of trans* men within women’s space, instead of trans* women).

However, the current state of transgender politics seems to be coming to a newer resettlement where very young children are expressing identity with members of a sex which they do not physically align with…so now it seems that the argument is again back to “one is born as what one is,” just that the mistake (and it does seem to be a mistake) of assigning a person to a gender category based on their physiology…causes more harm than good.

In short, we are back to an essentialist argument, but with what is “essential” being something one cannot physically see (though there have been studies showing similarity of regions of the brain between trans* women and cis (non-trans*) women, and dissimilarity of those same regions between trans* women and cis men, at the least; last I checked, trans* men were not well-known enough to have any acceptable sample size.

But anyhow…I’m not sure if I should be a philosophy major or something, 🙂 but my own experience of myself brings me to the point of feeling that …I do or may have a “soul,” which is distinct from other “souls.”  I wouldn’t say it to be irreducible to something like any other living being would experience — that is, I’m not sure at all that what I recognize as myself is “essential” — but there does seem to be something that sets me apart in this life, that, when violated, brings me illness.  That is to say, I have a “nature.”  It’s a very changeable nature, but it’s still a nature.

And this, in turn, is separable from an ontological stance which states that no one has a soul.  The clearest representative of this to me is Scientific Materialism, though I am not a subject matter expert on this, having veered away from materialist philosophies, myself.  I did purchase a book on Sartre (Existentialism) recently as well, and it would be interesting to see what he says about it…but this is mainly for my own breadth/surveying the field.

The problem I’m having is being unsure that any organized religion is actually and honestly for the good of its members (excluding the priesthood).  In short, I’m not sure if any of it is true, and I know there are vulnerabilities commonly found in seekers which are being played upon (notably, in Buddhism, the experience of psychic pain and the drive to death [thanatos — it’s a Freudian idea]).

I’m not sure I’ve seen the latter actually explained outright anywhere in relation to the desire for nirvana and cessation of rebirth; but I know that for me it has been an issue.  Buddhism was one of the things which kept me alive when I was going through a fairly relevant depressive phase, to the point where I realized that if Shakyamuni had ever actually existed, he was probably a depressive who lived before we had a term for it.

And…I have wandered far away from what started this post.  The question is whether to continue with this line of study, or drop it and find something else.

I am thinking that if, every day, I practiced guitar for at least half an hour, I would become fairly good at it, after a while.  This is, as versus my art.  I have to do enough reading as it is, but I could get back into that (reading for pleasure), as well.

Art is one of those things which I know I was praised for, very early on.  I know it’s something I’m relatively talented at.  But without a clear subject, it’s tough for me to get into; this being why I was prolific in the Art program at my Community College, but which I have trailed away from without the outside support and prompting.  I’m fairly certain that if I did get back into Creative Writing, this would in fact give me things to draw.

Of course, that’s Illustration, there — which is actually the drive which caused me to come back and try the Art program again in the first place.  When I first came back, I didn’t even know if I liked drawing, to be honest.  Things had just gotten really dull for me, where it came to image-making.  I remembered that I had originally liked to do it (when I was making a story with pictures [could you call that a comic?], as a kid), and I remembered that drawing the same thing over and over again — as I did as an adult — wasn’t worth it.  I’d get bored.

I re-entered with the hope that instruction and refreshed subject matter would help me see if writing and illustrating my own Graphic Novel was even something I would enjoy; and if not, I could just trash the whole Graphic Novel idea and work on pure writing, instead.

What I can say is that Art is difficult.  There hasn’t been a time for me when it hasn’t been difficult, except when I was a kid and didn’t care at all whether things looked wonky to other people.

And then, Writing…writing, writ large, 😉 isn’t hard for me.  Fiction Writing, though…is just psychologically difficult.  I have a habit of not being able to clearly tell the story I’m writing, apart from reality.  But through the Art program, one of the things I realized is that Art is not a representation of reality.  Photography isn’t a representation of reality.  Fiction writing, is not a representation of reality.  Neither is television, nor movies.

Verisimilitude to reality is used to a greater or lesser extent to provide familiarity and context to a story or message…to be honest, I’m not entirely certain what I or we are trying to get across in a way of thinking about the Humanities in terms of content as versus form.  The one thing I am certain about is that when one is within a story, that story is constructed around you, to a certain extent for you (and to a certain extent, by you).  For what purpose?  …I’m not entirely sure.  If you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

In any case, thinking back on it…it does seem, now that I think of it, that I’ve found expression through writing and art, and now am re-trying music.  Music is interesting, though I’m so new to it that I’m not entirely sure I can say why.  Certainly there’s a rhythmic component, and the emotional states elicited by certain tones being played next to each other and harmonizing (or not).  Then, of course, being a time-related thing, it is also — like writing — linear in format.

Tonight I was just having fun with arpeggiating guitar chords — particularly, starting with the F-major that’s closest to the top of the neck.  I think I could, eventually, make a habit of writing my own music; the question arises of if it is what I want to do, though.  Do I want to write?  Draw?  Paint?  Play music?  Make beaded jewelry?  It’s fairly obvious that writing is part of my lifeblood — I don’t feel right when I don’t do it.

I miss my beads.  I stopped my practice and working on new designs when I realized that this was not something that I could rely on to pay any bills (except maybe a blog bill for a nice layout here, if I started on Etsy); but it is what got me into Painting (which enables much more subtle custom color adjustments).  There is a lot of work which goes into designing and constructing beaded jewelry which has to do with light and color…it may be playing with my tendency to engineer from prefabricated parts, as well.

(Two of my most favorite toys from when I was a kid were my Erector set, and a circuit board D got me for Christmas, one year…)

And, hey…I just realized the linear component to that, as well…it’s just that with what I do, there is the mode of interweaving that can be realized, as well as anchoring and knotting.

Interesting…but I think I should get some sleep, right now!  Heh!  If anyone has anything to say about the content we try to get across in the Arts & Humanities, I’m more than listening…

Buddhism, anatman, and spirit

I actually need to get organized.  There has been progress on some fronts — I called my old Vocational program and set up a time to initiate the process of having my case re-opened.  I have also cleared off some work space on the craft table, and set aside some books to be returned to the library.

Yesterday, I took back some fiction which I wasn’t really highly interested in (though I was trying to be interested), and some other stuff, the topics of which, I can’t recall.  Ah, right:  it was the mandala and Buddhist stuff.  I’d realized that I had at a prior time read entirely through the mandala book (I think it was Coloring Mandalas 1), and the Buddhist stuff…there was some Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron stuff in there, which I totally didn’t even look at once I got it home.

Speaking generally…the Buddhist works I’ve read which are intended for a general audience, seem to try to gently inform one that things are not right.  Somehow, I did break into reading books intended for a more specialized audience (Essentials of Buddhism by Mizuno Kogen being one [Mizuno is their surname]), and that kind of context is less…like sweets and hugs to calm a crying child.  It’s more along the lines of, “this is how we got to this point,” which implies that nothing is really immutable about the Dharma; or rather, it changes to suit times and cultures.

I’m not totally sure what my opinion or stance is as regards Buddhism, at this point.  On one hand, it does make sense to the part of my mind which is pessimistic and depressive; it also assists in dealing with everyday dissatisfactions and illusions.  The drawback is that, while the goal of Buddhist practice may be to attain nirvana (or satori as the case may be in Zen), nirvana has never been clearly defined to me.  This is likely because it would take more than one lifetime to examine Buddhism from a generalist standpoint, and not all schools agree with one another…obviously, or there would not be different schools.

Generally speaking, the ideas of spirits, demons, and gods are…not necessary to the practice of Buddhism.  Neither is the idea of a personal soul; and actually, Buddhist thought in some (many? most?) streams has argued against the idea of a personal soul (this is the doctrine of anatta or anatman), stating that the being which we experience ourselves to be is constructed and not essential.

Theoretically, I don’t have a problem with that, but there is also the fact that my state in this life seems to be of either a translucent (if it were clear, I would know what was going on), or generative nature…and arguing against the concept of spirit is something that doesn’t make sense to me.  I kind of flow in Spirit (though granted I do not primarily believe in “individual” spirits); so a philosophy that states that what I experience firsthand is illusion would not be…conducive to living my life as wholly myself.

There’s also the fact that Buddhism as I’ve read it does not address the particular problems that I face in this life where it comes to having or building some kind of framework to explain the paranormal.  Buddha never addressed this.  While it does give the practitioner free reign to do what they please as regards their belief or lack of belief in something beyond materialism (though materialism is a recent and perhaps foreign introduction — though there was at least one materialist school in India around the time of Buddhism’s inception), it just generally does not help when you’re dealing with things that I’m dealing with.

That said, I can accept that Mindfulness does help mental (and probably physical) health.  But the point of Mindfulness meditation is to show that there is nothing permanent about any internal states, thus there isn’t anything permanent about the self; therefore the concept of the self is illusory; therefore we can release the concept of the self and if there is no “I” to suffer, there is the possibility of breaking the chain of suffering and freeing the adherent into the possibility of nirvana, which I have only heard described as “bliss.”  It’s possibly also (depending on the school) the only chance at immortality where it comes to this particular life…though perhaps my lack of knowing Chinese and Pali or Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is showing, here.

I’m thinking maybe I know too much about this?  Or not enough.  Maybe both.

Beyond that, Mindfulness seems to be a recent “discovery” by Western psychiatry; as such, I’m not sure they know how it works (they don’t even really exactly know how the mind itself works, on that point; psychiatry is a young science), and because of that, psychiatry has a tendency to take everything whole-cloth and promote Mindfulness as a healing practice.  The down side of this is that there is probably a lot that is unnecessary to the practice which is being promoted as part and parcel of it (although it may be more religiously oriented — metta [lovingkindness] meditations being an example).

If I wanted to be Buddhist, I would be Buddhist (and as things go, I still may be Buddhist and unaware of it, given that Bodhisattva vows seem to carry on from life to life).  What I want is to be healthy, not to be converted.  I have concepts which I have developed on my own which have value to me in this lifetime, which are missing in the greater scheme of things.

I am hoping there is some way to mesh the idea of the lack of a personal self (or the idea of a personal self constructed over eons) with the idea of a spirit of life.  (After all, I’ve heard it argued that all gender is socially constructed, but that this doesn’t mean that gender isn’t real…something one learns in Gender Studies — or in transgender and feminist community interactions.)  I think there is a way to reconcile these two ideas, but I haven’t been able to formulate it, yet.  Probably, noting down the problem is the first step to working on it.

Apologies for the rant :P

I think I may have again run up against the reason I’ve stopped writing “things-which-aren’t-verifiably-true.”  It has come up in regard to posting on a forum I used to frequent, and it came up again in my last poetry attempt.

I have been aware of it, at least, since the time I started my Creative Process class (now completed):  It is more difficult for others to read what I’m saying when I work in visual art, and I was effectively blocked as regarded Writing.

This hasn’t really been broached…largely since I graduated with my Writing degree, now over a decade ago.  I stopped writing because I didn’t want to show people how messed-up I was; and at the time I was very, very ill.  In specific, all the parts of my identity which I want to hide, show up in my Creative Writing.

If you want to know how deep that goes, I can say that when I was at University, I pretty much let go of hoping for acceptance because — as I put it then — “if people don’t like me for one reason, they won’t like me for another.”  With strikes against me for my race, gender, sexual orientation, religion (or lack of one), spirituality, mental status, culture, politics, etc…the goal of acceptance was looking pretty hopeless.

Since that time, I have been somewhat in the adult world, where petty disputes over identity don’t occur as often as they do in high school, junior college, or University; though when they do occur, they seem to be much more damaging, especially when layered upon a prior history of trauma.

What I’m thinking is that if I’m going to write, I’m going to have to pull off these layers of gauze and actually look at myself and my identities — and stop pretending that I’m a normal person.  I think the reason I stopped writing was because of anxiety over self-presentation.  This, and concerns over not being able to be employed anywhere because I took the risk of expressing an unpopular (minority) opinion from an unpopular (minority) vantage point, at one time.  This, or people would read what I wrote, and not understand it, but judge me for it anyway.

I’m fairly certain that these motivations are applicable to this blog.  I’ve been much less prolific recently, and when I look at reasons why, it is not because I don’t have things to write about, but rather that I don’t want to deal with repercussions of existing as a multiply-impacted minority online.

The only way to avoid that, though, is to stay silent, and if I stay silent, intolerance and hate wins.

I do have a part of myself which has evolved specifically to counteract this, though switching into his mental space is a bit of a double-edged sword; particularly where it comes to gender identity and dysphoria.  (He’s male; this body is not.  He’s also a bit aggressive, which isn’t good when you have an aggressive mother who never backs down from a fight.)

I should note that when I speak about, “parts of myself,” the question is still up in the air as to whether these are external or internal to me, and whether the distinction is even possible, or if it matters at all.

The entire shamanic angle is another facet to this, though I don’t consider myself a shaman at this time, as I was never trained by a living person (other than my mother) in any kind of tradition.  I did go through a rather prolonged “Seeker” phase in which I explored…a lot.  Though what my spirituality is, now, doesn’t fit precisely into any specific religion.

I’ve read that a tendency to mental illness often rides along with psychic ability.  The psychic tendencies are what have caused me to look outside of institutionalized religion for answers.  Later, the politics and framework of the Western Occult Tradition caused me to look outside of the occult sphere for answers (I didn’t realize how alien it was to me, until I started looking into Demonology — and realized how heavily that was based in the doctrines and prejudices of a religious system which wasn’t mine).

The best I can do right now, is to depend on myself and try to recognize when I’m mistaken (which is not easy when you have a tendency to disconnect from physical reality, in general).  I do tend to keep coming back to Buddhism, especially when I hit depressive lows, but I don’t accept what I read, uncritically.

In specific, I have an interest in Huayan Buddhism (I have at least one book on this, which I still haven’t read:  I hit “sentient beings” and get triggered), and the period in time at which Daoism and Buddhism were stealing each other’s doctrines and followers in China — making them both sound similar in the present day (see:  Buddhism & Taoism:  Face to Face by Christine Mollier).

I think I’ve gotten really turned off of Buddhism because of some of the lay beliefs, like, “if something bad happens to you, you must deserve it (because of something you did in a past life which you can conveniently no longer remember),” and, “you only experience unpleasant things because you label them unpleasant (so if you label your toothache as ‘joyous’ you would experience ‘joy’ at your toothache),” or the belief that thinking is worthless (so don’t question the teacher), or the belief that all females are karmically inferior to all males (so we don’t have to fund that nunnery you girls want).

Beliefs like these are really irritating, but I’ve got to remember that they’re not actually anything that helps.  And Buddhism is at its core about pragmatically helping, so beliefs like these should be easily tossed aside — unless, say, you’re a heterosexual monk and having a hard time keeping to your abstinence vow (which is not anything Buddha ever even set in place — his followers did), and programming yourself to hold disgust toward women has become preferable to experiencing life as a being whose constitution includes libido directed at same.

But yeah.  Maybe I’ve just made it into the ranks of the non-beginner Buddhists…

I should probably sign off before I say more stupid things…

Working this out, #1

It was never really clear.

I had gotten an inkling of what might have been going on behind the scenes, but the great problem with consciousness is that, it seems, one can only explore it from within it.  While the concept had come up in a former project — of mind without memory or awareness — it had not been developed as far as Maya had wished.

The great sense that one had, from this mind, at least, was that there was a lot going on as regarded Mind.  The prospect of the Universe being Mind-only was taking it a bit too far, as had been touched on — there was one spirit in particular I knew who related strongly to Mind, but he was no longer dominant.  His medicine worked when our own mind had been ill and in pain.  But sometimes, even though one may wish escape from the pain, it is not the solution to attempt to escape from life.

In my past years, if I had thought it possible to escape pain by escaping life, I would have considered it more thoroughly.  However, the only solution to the problem of existence Maya could find which made any kind of sense (at the time) was reincarnation.  Being reborn would not ensure a life free of pain; in fact, it would almost guarantee the opposite.

For years, instead of focusing on the problem of wishing not to exist, I — and/or we — focused on how to stop the cycle of rebirth.  At least it saved my life, at the time, even if its end goal was, somehow, to escape the realm of life (and with life, pain).

It has been some time since this happened.  I’ve since stumbled on to the realm of what may happen should one embrace the fullness of life — pain, joy, and all.  It’s come to my attention that what we have here is a temporary situation.  I’ve dubbed myself a Creator, for now.  For me, this means that my life post — more than what I do to stay alive — is to make things which would not exist if it were not for my own life.

It is…somewhat freeing, but also somewhat, it … it somehow gives me pause.  Diversity is the stuff of life; sameness is the stuff of extinction.  There is a factor of illness in here, still:  so that I do not know if, in ten years’ time, I will still wish (or need) to call myself a Creator.  But for now, it is my life purpose.  (I did read that bit of Nietzsche, yes.)

This is the reason I do what I do.  By chance, fate, luck, or descent (I hope to explain that bit, eventually), I have been somewhat gifted where it comes to creativity.  My pain has developed my spiritual resources.  I don’t know if everything I put out will be worth creating, but at the least, I have a vision.  That vision is the strength of embracing life, now and in the future, however many lifetimes that will turn out to be.

Avoid the doors to Hell. Even if you have the keys.

(…Unless, for some reason, you actually like Hell.)

This was the message that came to me last night as I found myself triggered into a negative space while thinking about a known issue at one of my past job sites.

I didn’t have too much time to write, today.  Most of today has been spent with a good friend, which was nice.  I tried to note-take in my new journal in visual format.  I’m not…entirely sure how much I can recover, there, of what I was actually thinking.

I did recall the original symbolism of the Keys, not to mention the symbolism of the different Realms I’ve read of in Buddhist texts.

The Keys were, originally, a set of visions I’d had over a number of years, which centered around the interaction of sunlight, air, clear water, and depth.  The dragon who showed up in one of my art sessions…I still haven’t quite puzzled out why he is a dragon (perhaps research will clarify, as I shouldn’t assume it’s a mundane issue)…but I know that the ocean itself symbolized something like the mind.

The surface, in this metaphor, is the conscious mind and the deeper one dives, the closer one gets to the unconscious, until we reach the depth where light can no longer penetrate.  The pearls he is after are on the ocean floor, so of course, we end up starting out from a point in the conscious mind, and go deeper and deeper into the subconscious, until we can retrieve a pearl — a vision or insight.  Contained within the pearl is something (a “Key”) that grants entry into a psychic “room” which delivers a certain emotional/mental state, along with psychic content which is now accessible (though often enough, correlated by the brain with the deeper, primary felt sense).

As I’m thinking about this, I realize that there are at least four elements represented in this vision:  Water, Earth (the pearl), Fire (sunlight), and Air.  I’m trying to remember the Daoist correspondences to the pentagram…Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water.  I don’t know either system (the major Western or Eastern alchemical systems) well enough to know what may lie hidden in this context, but I suppose it is something to research.  Especially so, in light of the visions I’ve already had.

And, I know; don’t summon Elementals, because they tend to be unbalanced, hence, dangerous.  Yes, I know.  🙂

Ah — I remember the other point I was going to write about, now that I re-read that passage mentioning Realms.

Given a division between Matter and Energy, I can postulate a division between the phenomenal world (Matter) and the energetic world (Energy).  Apologies for not being together enough at this late hour to clarify what I mean by “energetic.”  It’s a project for the future, though, definitely.

The phenomenal world is easy enough to navigate…most of us can sense it with our bodies.  The energetic world, though…and maybe I should call it the “mental” world…I am not sure many of us have been taught how to navigate.

I’m recalling a book that I read quite a long time ago, called, A Concise Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, by John Powers.  I’m fairly certain that I first became acquainted with the idea of “realms,” with my research into this book (one of the few from the Library that I’ve read cover-to-cover) and others focusing on the same cultural group.

From what I’ve read, which I’m sure is somewhat simplified, there are Six Lower Realms in, at least, Tibetan Buddhism (called “Lamaism” in some library catalogs).  Other schools of Buddhism bring in multitudinous Heavens (in Pure Land thought, each liberated individual creates their own Heaven…the implications of which, are interesting enough to note for the future), but these are not addressed in the above book.

Unless I’m mistaken, and I’m getting this from Joseph Campbell’s lecture series, The Power of Myth, each Realm is identified with a klesha, or “Poison”.  (Alternately, “klesha” may mean “Defilement,” but if so, I’m uncertain of the difference between a Defilement and a Poison.)

Each Poison is something that leads one into a state of duhkha, or unease/suffering.  Each Poison is also identified with a World, or one of the Six Lower Realms.  Granted that in other schools, each Realm may have multitudes of sub-levels, as in the Narakas (Hells) of Japanese thought…not to get off topic.  The Six Lower Realms, and their Poisons, are:

  • Hell:  Anger/Aversion
  • World of the Hungry Ghosts:  Greed
  • World of the Animals:  Ignorance
  • The Human World:  Desire/Attachment
  • World of the Asuras (Jealous Gods):  Jealousy
  • World of the Gods:  Pride

What is interesting, on one point, is the idea that both Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can and do move between these worlds.  But what is meant by this?

I’ve taken it to mean, for example, that if one moves into a state where they are entirely filled with rage, they are then literally inhabiting the Hell realm — even though they’re still, physically (Phenomenologically), in the same place.  Mentally (Energetically), they aren’t.  This, then, makes an interesting (though somewhat problematic) intersection with my idea of Keys.

Over the years, I’ve learned that I have a lot more choice in what I allow myself to feel than most people would admit to.  We tend to say “this person made me angry,” rather than “I became angry at that person.”  There’s a difference in that the first phrasing identifies the speaker as the passive recipient and victim of (their own) anger.  The second method of phrasing takes full ownership of the fact that the other person did not cause one’s anger; rather, anger is there, and once that’s recognized, then we can investigate what to do about it — rather than blaming someone else for how we feel, and possibly attacking them for it (in one way or another).

For me a Key is, in some sense, what breaks me from normal reality and puts me into an altered space.  I’m trying to think of an impersonal, non-specific example of this, though, and it’s not quite making it.  It’s very possible that Keys are personal and idiosyncratic.

But, for example, when a person is walking down the street and hears someone wolf-whistle at her; if she has been the victim of sexual violence, this may bring back a multitude of feelings that she doesn’t want to feel.  In this case, that wolf-whistle is a Key to a mental state which she may very well enter into before she can detect and interrupt the process.  This is, however, also a case of psychological triggering — which is only the most obvious way that Keys and Rooms work.  At the beginning of this post, I said, “avoid the doors to Hell.  Even if you have the keys.”

In my thought, Hell can be many different things.  As someone who has been harassed for most of their life over gender and sexuality issues, I think it’s relatively easy for me to slip back into a chain reaction of disempowerment (and subsequently, pain and rage at my own loss of control) when things like this happen.  That, then, makes it easy for me to slip back into “you make me feel bad,” and lash out, which still might not make me feel any more empowered (“don’t make me hurt you”), and has negative effects for me (not to mention the other person).

There are a lot of Hells.  But just because you have received the key, doesn’t mean you have to enter the room.  It’s taken me a long time to realize that no one else really has the power to make me angry.  I make me angry.  There are few situations with multiple actors and only one interpretation of events.  This means that there may be some choice as to how we explain what is happening, to ourselves (though I could probably go off on another post, about this).

Once I recognize my anger, I then have the choice to let things go or move forward on a more productive path (whereas before, I might just gear up to fight, because I’m blaming someone else for how I feel, and don’t recognize that I have a choice to feel differently).

And it is really disempowering to wonder to oneself, “is this dude going to get me fired?”  I have a choice over my own actions; no one can make me do anything.  My emotions and my actions are my responsibility; blaming them on someone else is not productive.  On the other hand, if I do haul off and harm somebody, I also need to take full responsibility for that — which may seem a bit more evil to the general populace.

In a different sense, art can certainly be a key to entering an altered state.  The most obvious example I have of this is in line with the above, though, so I won’t use that one.

How about Water Lilies by Monet?  I have seen a panel of one of this series of paintings close up, and really, close up it doesn’t look that great.  But from afar, if you can take in all the colors and motion and light, you can feel transported, not in body, but in mind, to someplace else.  Someplace that you might like to be, even though obviously after a while of looking at a painting, we get our fill and look someplace else.

But the point is that the painting acted as a Key to a Room that had some kind of psychic content that …transported us to a place that, on first viewing, maybe we had never been before.  Complicated, of course, by the fact that our selected iteration of Water Lilies isn’t going to inspire the same feeling or content in all of us.

And, right…it’s late, and I’m tired.  I can’t believe I’ve stayed up this long, already.  I’ll get ready for bed, while I still can…

Souls?

I might as well continue on with this train of thought, right?  I mean, I already started writing about it, and everything.

When I was about 23, I was looking around online for people talking about what I’d, by that time, only heard about in my own family, and/or — possibly, it was a decade ago — either the Library at my then-University, or my World Religions class (if I’d taken it by that point; I can’t remember the year offhand).

The terms pantheism and panentheism, I came across while looking for sites on paranormal phenomena.  Pantheism (All-God-Belief) basically states that the Universe itself is Divine, but also implies that there is no God beyond the natural Universe.  Panentheism (All-In-God-Belief) states that the Universe is Divine, but that there may be something more to it than we can comprehend.  At least, those are my understandings.  Last time I checked, there weren’t that many books out on the latter topic, either — except for two highly academic works focused around Christianity, which were too dense for me to take in at the time.

Aside from an ill-advised pledge to a friend’s church at a wedding when I was about 4 years old (promptly forgotten except for the hell-and-brimstone threat which I thought would curse all of us unless I did so and everyone I loved did so as well), a fairly frightening time with a Children’s Bible (same friend), and celebration of the holidays (which I’m sure the big two of which — Xmas and Easter — it’s known are co-optations of pagan holidays [Yule and Ostara]), I haven’t really been Christian.  And, actually, given my experience, it isn’t surprising.

So, when I started looking for information to explain what I was going through, I wasn’t really looking for Christian sites or anything remotely having to do with Christianity (my experiences later in life via religious conservatives preaching hate against everyone who could have been mistaken for gay [with nearly no resistance or contest from any church I could see except Glide Memorial], drove me away from that possibility).

So, after I returned from my first University with a pretty severe illness (which the widespread hate was instrumental in triggering), there was some kind of exchange between myself and M where she told me to figure out who or what “God” was to me.  At that time, I was fairly mixed up, because I had a good Deity figure who I called God, but I was getting that figure confused with the Christian “God,” which (based on my experiences with his followers), I really did not like.

It took me at least three years of trying to consciously separate the two, before I was able to refer to my own Divinity as the Divine, and not have the Christian element being called in because of that deity’s title.  I’ve kind of grown out of it by now, but usually when you see me say God, it means my personal God (more than likely, not yours); when you see me say “God,” in quotations, it usually means the Abrahamic god (which I don’t capitalize as an honorific, because that god isn’t my god).  I’m more likely to say Deity or God/dess, though, than God; because of the loaded state of the latter term.

Doesn’t mean I have anything against people who follow any of the Abrahamic religions; I just don’t follow any of those religions.  It’s like calling myself a woman — it confuses and hurts me more than it helps, but that doesn’t mean being a woman is in any way objectively bad in itself.  I’m just trying to make subjective sense out of my life, and maintain my own boundaries.

Anyhow — I relate all of this because, when I was younger, the site that I found really spoke to me in some manner was a Spiritualist sect somewhere in New England…it was so long ago, though, that I’m pretty sure the page is either gone or has changed hands.  Doubtless, if it even still exists, the content has changed.

The significance of this is that it did start me off on a kind of psychic bent in my explorations.  It also let me know the only face of the Christian God that I connect with — a Universal Spirit.  When I use the term Spirit, I’m referring to a Spirit of Life, which in my mind is directly responsible for my (and everyone else’s) ability to be self-aware.

I have my own thoughts on the Council of Nicaea (which started Catholic doctrine, including the doctrine of the Trinity), but I really don’t have enough information yet to make any kind of informed claim about it.

I’ve learned from the leg of the journey that finding that one (small) Spiritualist website spurred off in me, but I wouldn’t at this point consider myself confidently “psychic” to the point of selling my skill to anyone, or showing off anywhere.  So, I guess it could be like the time in self-defense class when the sensei told us not to tell anyone we practiced, because then we would get people challenging us and wanting us to prove ourselves — which was antithetical to the reasoning behind taking self-defense!

Particularly, since I’ve really settled in with this last medication, I’ve been having less mental noise and variation than usual; plus, more control over my own mental state.

I’m fairly certain that brain chemistry does have something to do with psychic sensitivity, and may account for some having intuition come more easily to them than it does to others.  Having lived with a brain which was overtly ill to the point that I couldn’t care for myself, and one which is mostly well-adjusted, the difference is apparent.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of those “Sacred Madness” things (to the brink of death and back), only I’ve had outside help in getting it in hand.  I do kind of wonder what would have happened if I’d been in a society where there were shamanic practitioners who could have helped me (as versus psychiatrists to medicate me into a more normal brain activity pattern and teach me better how to think), though I’m sure it would have been much harder.

Anyhow!  I started out thinking about this idea of “souls,” right?  Do souls exist, does a lack of soul exist, is this even the right question to be asking to get a productive response…

When I was working my way through my upper-division credits at University (my second University), I often would take time to go to the Religion/Spirituality/Parapsychology/Occult section, browse, and do some reading.  (I’m really not sure that these topics were all in the same place, but I did seek out these books when I had extra time in between classes.)  I recall doing a lot of reading on Buddhism, because one of my aunts is Buddhist, in the Pure Land tradition in my country (she doesn’t mention it at all, though) — and I figured, why not learn more about my family and roots?

So, first two books on Buddhism down, and I’m thinking to myself, “it can’t be this bad.  There must be cultural issues (e.g. exoticization) in translating the concepts.”  Today, I am thinking that those books which I read first, which were all older texts…were not on contemporary Buddhism.  Nor were they on any complex kind of Buddhism.  When I look around at most books on Buddhism today, just about all of them start out with the story of Buddha’s “enlightenment”…quotes because we don’t really know what that means or if his ascent into nirvana from parinirvana happened, or if his enlightenment is or will be the same thing as your or my enlightenment…

At this point, a bit over a decade in time has passed between now and the time I first started researching Buddhism.  I do get weary of the Buddhism 101 books…though I suppose they are so popular because how are you going to learn about the more refined doctrines if you don’t know the basic foundations of all of the Vehicles…

…but once you do know the basic information, it isn’t so easy to net all of the dogma and trash it so that you can get to working on yourself.

I mention Buddhism because it is a key element of Buddhism that everyone does descend from the same source and that underneath everything, all of the natures of all of the beings in all of the realms are the same:  “Buddha-nature.”  (Quotes, because I hate this term and hate to use it, but then as people-who-might-be-Buddhists go, I’m not one who jives well with doctrines of metta or karma at this point.)  Because all our differences are at the (supposed) end (of samsara) immaterial, it is said that there is no essential self.  Kind of like I mentioned, in the last post — we’re at core, all the same.

I’m not entirely sure I buy into this, though, as it is admitted that something does carry on from one life into the next, though in strictest definition, this is just the net effect of past actions (karma).  This gives one the sense that they were other beings in the past, but it actually wasn’t them in the past, apparently — it was someone else who gave rise to one.  Therefore, the actor is mortal, even though the person they birth will think that they used to be said actor.

Given that I haven’t found a definition of karma that I can accept or fully grasp yet, and given that it differs from its original version in Hindu belief…(it seems to have morphed within Buddhism)…this kind of throws a wrench into the works of my totally accepting this doctrine, which means I can’t accept the entire system whole cloth.

My own experiences, as well, do not point to the nonexistence of spirits (small “s”; not the same as the Universal Spirit [who is the totality and essence of Life], but a piece or fragment of it with its own energy, potential personality, and volition).

I don’t know enough about any variant of Hindu belief to be able to guess about the specific beliefs in soul, other than the doctrine of atman (personal essence) in what I know about Hindu belief and anatman (no-self) in Buddhism.  So…given that atman exists in astika (orthodox) Hindu beliefs (there are a number of them), it would seem like transmigration or reincarnation of a pre-existent soul would happen between lives.

Given anatman in Buddhist beliefs (which, by the way, happen to be nastika [unorthodox] in reference to the Vedas — that is, they do not consider the Vedas [one body of Hindu holy texts] true), we have rebirth, but not reincarnation.  Death of the personal self is final in Buddhism, although something of one does continue on.  Whether that would be the same as one, in some way other than history and karmic transfer, is unknown.  It’s possible that when the texts say that death is final, they are referring to death of the personality and not of the essence (Buddha-nature) carried within one.

Gah.  Okay, I’m tired.

If anyone wants to help me hash this out, I’m open; but right now I’m going to bed.  🙂

Started reading _Art and Fear_ by David Bayles & Ted Orland

Despite the title of the text, this book hasn’t scared me any more than I’ve scared myself.  It’s actually really reassuring.  I was basically up at 3 AM last night, reading this in bed, before I realized that it was 3 AM and I had to rise by 8 AM, at the latest.

As I may or may not have mentioned on this blog, I was introduced to this text about a year ago by my Drawing teacher, who created an assignment around it.  At this point, I’ve run across the clip of the reading I did before.  Oddly comforting, that.  I have the feeling that this book is one that it would really help to read more than once (maybe, much more than once).

Today, I had the somewhat odd choice:  play with brush pens and color relationships and classifications at lunchtime, or read at lunchtime.  Practice, or possibly avoid practice by reading about how to practice?

Given that the size (and bulk) of my collection of brush pens makes carrying them around a bit of a…thing…and I could fit Art and Fear into my purse, plus the fact that I try and keep my art stuff separate from my library stuff because I’m paranoid about germs (and not so about pigments, you ask?  Pigments don’t grow)… well, I ended up taking this little book with me.  It’s 124 pages long, and fairly fast reading for me.  I’ve only run across one word so far that I didn’t recognize.  😉  And I had to really give myself permission to make notes in this thing.  It’s an actual paper book, and I gave up writing in pencil a while ago, 😉 so the notes are permanent.  But even my little stars and arrows and commentaries help make this familiar.  The first little mark in the margin meant that I meant to keep this book.

I think the road traversed in this book will be familiar to anyone who has attempted art, as both of the authors are practicing artists, and they draw their material from their practices and from teaching.  What the book really seems to be about is how to retain those who want to make art (a statistic in the book, IIRC, is that 98% of those who get art degrees have stopped making art five years into the future), along with encouraging those who don’t think they’re “real artists.”

I’ve…seen some people psych themselves out and stop making art because they don’t feel they’re “creative” people.  This is not a problem I myself have confronted, as when I don’t do art or writing or music, my creativity spills over into all kinds of “inappropriate” places.  That is, my mind starts to remake my world when I don’t channel its creativity.  It’s like having one of those glass plasma balls with the electric currents inside going everywhere, and needing a ground in order for the energy to stop being misdirected.

But even in my case, even last semester, I’ve considered giving up as I’ve seen the works of my peers, and thought to myself, “I could never do that.”  But you know what?  It’s not my job to make someone else’s art, no matter how inexplicable or gorgeous it is.  (Envy does not serve me here.)  It’s my job to make my art.

It’s said, within Pure Land Buddhism, that when one awakens, one creates their own Heaven.  Perhaps my art practice is generated out of that Heaven, brings just a portion of that, a little bit of that, to this plane.  Maybe my job, at least in part, is to sense my own world and the world inside me, and bring bits of it back to show that yes, it is possible.  I, and what constitutes what you know as I, am possible.

Who is it possible for you to be?  What is your Heaven — you know, the one it is said we are blinded to prior to awakening to the reality that we are already Buddhas?  (Or is there another metaphor you use to communicate what your art is about?)  What is the core that is left of you after the impurities of this life have been stripped away?

Enlightenment can exist in the quotidian.  It can exist without our knowing it.  I know that I did not always know who I was, but I have never stopped being who I am.

As much as it is any one person’s choice to keep making art or not, it can be (is) a bit sad to see someone who displays as much potential as any of us stop, because they don’t feel they’re good enough.  There is the choice there to continue or stop, very apparently, and for some people, it may just not be the right time.  I may have had to ripen into my 30’s before I could even consider being an artist and being healthy at the same time.  The fear can be too much, and it’s okay to take a break.

But please don’t tell yourself that you’re not any good at art because you’re comparing yourself to others.  They aren’t you, and this is about your journey, not theirs.

I’ve also been in the place where I didn’t know what I was doing, and I really knew I had no idea what I was doing.  But taking that first step into the unknown is only a first step, and those who pay attention to the gaps between their vision of their piece and how it actually turns out, then have fodder for making later pieces.  You can try again to capture what you might not have captured in the first instance.  You can take a different path in your creation of your next artwork than you did in the first instance.

When we make art, we’re making decisions constantly — what to include, what to omit or gloss over, where our focus is, the list goes on.  We’re also choosing a path — one path — which art basically demands of us.  On review, critique, or contemplation, it may become apparent that there was content — meaning — trying to get out in the piece we’ve just finished, which we didn’t realize was there.  We can focus more on this meaning in later pieces.  No one piece has to be perfect.

The creation of art works are byproducts, not end-products, of engaging in the creative process; continually refining, continually exploring, remaining curious about what could be done differently, and then trying it, doing it, working it out.  The easiest place to start from then, is to see where our vision did not meet our execution.  Given the resources, we can always try again, or even move on to what the authors call the “seed crystal” of our next focus.  (I really love that metaphor.)

But once you’ve taken that first step into the unknown, the subsequent steps become easier.  You have a base to work from.  Unless I had done life drawings in ink and brush, and had experiences dealing with watercolor in the first place, I wouldn’t be as confident at trying to create watercolor illustrations.  And I may not yet be at the point where I can fully, comfortably, capably illustrate a graphic novel, but you know what?  If I keep working at it, one day I will be, or at the least, I will be much closer.

But the graphic novel, the dream — the little dream — coming to fruition, is not the point.  Engagement is.

Art classes, in my mind, are all about beginning.  Art practice continues long after the classes are over, if we can nurture ourselves (and maybe our other artist friends) enough, to keep going.