5/10/17: Beauty

 Oh, the sights, sounds, and smells of spring. All that natural beauty offered for free, and without the need to promote itself or achieve special recognition. Amazing.  

April 4, 2017: Tree Meditation

In my sketchbook I finally caught an essence of the backyard birch last night as the sun was going down. The textures and colors of the trunk are so mesmerizing. I meditate on this tree regularly and have fallen in love with it. 

March 21, 2017: Sat, Chit, Ananda

“Sat, chit, and ananda: ‘infinite being, infinite awareness, infinite bliss.’ Does the ordinary, decent, secular American aspire to that? Does he see it as within his register? There’s a special circle in Dante’s hell that is populated by souls whose only fault was that their aspirations were too low.” –Huston Smith, Parabola Magazine, Dec. 2016.

I heard this quote in a dharma talk given by Bussho Lahn on Sunday morning at the Minneapolis Zen Center. Smith’s words echoed in my mind later at the Minneapolis Institute of Art while I stood in front of this sculpture titled “Rendevous.” Created in 1981 from Indiana limestone by Apache artist Allan Houser (1914-1994), the sculpture was positioned near a colorful, woven Native American blanket.

I felt transfixed, just drinking it all in. I mean, talk about being, awareness, and bliss! At least for the moment, my aspirations were definitely not too low. And several days later, while drawing and painting the scene with pen and gouache, I experienced it all over again: sat, chit, ananda.

Art, religion, meditation, nature, music, literature...there are so many ways to raise our aspirations.

March 5, 2017: Altogether-Happiness

Sketch from an advertisement photo of writer Joan Dideon
"Miss Dreir made an impatient gesture. 'Georgia O'Keefe wants to be the greatest painter. Everyone can't be that, but all can contribute. Does the bird in the woods care if he is the best singer? He sings because he is happy. It is the altogether-happiness which makes one grand, great chorus.'" --from Growing Pains, a memoir by Canadian artist Emily Carr

This passage from Carr's memoir gives me such inspiration as an artist. The drawings in my journals that I like the most are the ones for which I was totally wrapped up in the process, not thinking about the product. As I drew this sketch, I definitely participated in the altogether-happiness...the grand, great chorus. 

Feb. 25, 2017: Take Sides, But Don't Harden

There were contentious town hall meetings across the country this week, for those legislators brave enough to offer them. 

This week I attended Chuck Grassley's town hall meeting in Garner, Iowa. Some of his responses to the questions disappointed me, and it's true that his voting record has greatly disappointed me in the last few years. Still, he deserved respect for showing up in Garner. I'm sorry that the crowd didn't always give him that.  

How do we retain our equanimity even as we work for change? Maybe these two quotes can help us find our sweet spot:   

"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."  --Ellie Weisel

"To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion, before it hardens into grasping or negativity." --Pema Chodron

Taking sides and working for change, but without hardening -- that's the challenge.  

Feb. 20, 2017: The Place of Art in Placemaking

The place of art in making public spaces more inviting cannot be overrated. I am so grateful to the program, River City Sculptures on Parade, for the year-long exhibit of sculptures enjoyed by the Mason City community. This year there are 49 sculptures within a 1.7 walking loop in and around the downtown. Some of the sculptures are permanent, owned by the city, while others are owned by the artists and loaned to the exhibit for one year. Each year, one of the new sculptures is chosen by the public for the city’s permanent collection.

This one – “Elation” – has been one of my favorites this year and has taken on special meaning during this politically turbulent time.

Thank you, artist Adam Schultz from Laporte, CO, for reminding us to keep in touch with those lighter, brighter moments.  

February 9, 2017: Happy Anniversary to the Pope!

This March 14 will mark the anniversary of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, formerly Buenos Aires archbishop, who became Pope Francis four years ago. I’m not a Catholic, but I have such admiration for the Pope, who has said, “You cannot insult the faith of others.” And: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This not in the Gospel.” May we all have ears to hear.