Summer Retreat 2017

This June I went on another retreat at Gethsemani Abbey. This is the third year I?ve started my summer with such a retreat. In 2015, I wrote about my initial experience at the abbey. Now the retreat has become an annual tradition for me, one that marks the transition into summer for me. The retreat also provides a framework that helps with the self-discipline required to sustain my writing efforts throughout the summer. And perhaps most important, my time at Gethsemani Abbey takes me outside the concerns of my own life and brings me in contact with something universal, expansive.

This past winter was a difficult time in my writing life. I wrote about my experience of writer?s block: Not Writing is Writing, and Not Writing is Not Writing. Summer retreats must be scheduled as early as February, so I had to set the intention early in the year. And as spring approached, I began looking forward to the summer months when I could devote several hours a day to my writing. In May I […]

ALF – CU Boulder

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Americas Latino Festival, a prelude to a four-day festival with dozens of writers and artists that is scheduled for 2013. Irene Vilar, the director of the festival, spoke of art being intrinsic to culture and of Latino culture being intrinsic to the Americas. Vilar writes about trauma as a personal, familial, and cultural occurrence. Her book, Impossible Motherhood, is difficult and necessary because it describes her painful experience with abortion in a broad context and does so without political agenda.

Luis J. Rodriguez also spoke about the necessity of art, especially for marginalized communities plagued by violence and poverty. Rodriguez grew up with gangs in East LA, and it was art that saved him. He painted, but it was books, ultimately, that helped him survive and make his life. He and his wife founded the Tia Chucha Bookstore in LA, and he works internationally to end violence and empower young people through art and creativity. During his talk, Rodriguez drew attention to the more than 2 […]

Notes on Violence & Community

Last week, Naropa hosted the inaugural Symposium on Violence and Community at which four writers presented an installation/event, read poetry, and participated in a panel discussion. I missed the installations/events on Tuesday but was able to attend the reading and subsequent panel discussion on Wednesday.

Each participant displayed the hallmark style of poets associated with Naropa and the avant-garde; a panoply of images, concepts, and tropes radically juxtaposed to provoke and transmit. The flow of language, intense and heady, was contagious. Automatist inflected writing–reminiscent of mediums and soothsayers–doesn’t want to convey information but to impart states of mind. In other words, the poetry was mind altering, and my notes reflect this.

Melissa Buzzeo submerges lovers in an ocean, down below the coral reef, among crustaceans and piranha. Refugees from an ancient forest, the lovers are simultaneously sacred and pariah. (shout out: Agamben) A sea change is possible in this context, and meaning becomes lost. The images are rich and strange; I’m not sure she says what I hear. Writing is like waste. Language […]

Writing as Mindfulness-Awareness Practice

My year reading and responding to True Perception concludes with a response to the last point highlighted by Acharya Arawana Hayashi during the weekend training in Boston:

Our message is simply one of appreciating the nature of things as they are and expressing it without any struggle of thoughts and fears. p.2

I explored the first half of that sentence in a previous post on self-representation and the path of dharma art. Here I’m responding to the second half concerning expression without struggle.

Trungpa distinguishes between two types of art: exhibitionist art and genuine art. The adjectives suggest one is better than the other, so I prefer to say dharma art instead of genuine art. He, too, emphasizes that a moralistic approach to art is inappropriate. Exhibitionism is inherent in creativity. Whenever a need for recording your work of art is involved, then there is a tendency toward awareness of oneself… ? p.26

The above statement was made in front of an audience at the Vajradhatu Seminary in 1973 during a recorded talk. […]

Self-Representation and the Path of Dharma Art

Happy New Years. I’m continuing to contemplate the path of Shambhala Art and the weekend training with Acharya Arawana Hayashi last year. Specifically, I’m considering the message of “appreciating the nature of things as they are”. The path of dharma art is a way of perceiving the world based on inquisitiveness rather than fear and desire, seeing without pushing away or pulling towards. This way of perceiving is contrasted with a process that colors and edits our world to reinforce the ideology of self.

In a series of four lectures, Professor Christopher Peacocke at University College London discusses the nature of self-representation. Although his own position on self and self-representation doesn’t easily coincide with the view outlined in True Perception, Peacocke’s lectures are a thorough overview of several philosophical theories related to self. The example he uses to analyze his theory is especially revealing:

“That thing is coming towards me.”

According to Peacocke, this statement is self-representation at a level more basic than conceptual representation. Experiencing a ball coming towards me ? […]

Write Well, Live Well

The third of six essential points from the Shambhala Art weekend that I’m reviewing can be summarized in this sentence:

“In art, as in life generally, we need to study our craft, develop our skills, and absorb the knowledge and insight passed down by tradition.”from page 1 of True Perception

The alternative to this approach, Trungpa says, is very “hit or miss”. A novice can pick up a brush and create a profound work of art but only rarely.

I see this to be true when teaching poetry in schools. Visiting second grade classrooms once a week for two months ensures that almost every student will write a great poem. The creative process itself is beautiful for that reason. But these students invariably struggle the way all artists struggle when confronting a blank page or empty canvas or lump of clay. Confidence falters, and fear arises. My role in the classroom is to bolster students’ confidence so that their natural creativity can shine.

The best and most sustainable means of generating confidence is practice. The […]

Look To Where You Want To Be

As I continue my investigation of the principles Shambhala Art, I’m considering this quote from page one of True Perception: Dharma Art:

“…the artist embodies the viewer as well as the creator of the works. Vision is not separate from operation.”

When I sit down to write a first draft, my tendency is to gather my thoughts before putting pen to page. I don’t necessarily workout each sentence ahead of time, although I know some writers who do. I usually have a general shape in mind before I start making marks.

The process is something like this: I listen to my mind, which is at first silent but not quiet. Perhaps what I hear is indistinct murmuring or the wind or the couple across the hall arguing or the couple snuggled on the couch watching a movie of people arguing. I don’t know what I hear or even if I hear anything until thoughts begin to coagulate into harmonies, and then I begin to write. The marks on the page distinguish the aeolian notes […]

Cesar Chavez Fast

I am fasting April 16th and April 17th as part of a community celebration of Cesar Chavez sponsored by Latino Boys Leadership and Inclusive Lafayette.

In 1982 I saw the movie Gandhi. His life and words captivated me; I went to see the movie several more times and began reading his book of aphorisms and sayings. Even as a 4th grader, I recognized wisdom.

Gandhi’s fasts were a means of self-purification and political protest. As founder of the UFW, Chavez had similar reasons for fasting. Daniel Escalante sent me information about the fast, including this youtube video of first hand accounts of Chavez’s fasting.

Fasting is a spiritual practice and a nonviolent response to a manifest injustice, and so, I follow the legacy of Chavez and Gandhi in dedicating my two day fast to heartfelt spiritual purification and to

reducing incarceration rates, ending the new jim crow, and turning the US prison industry complex into a system of justice.

The millions of men (and their families) whose liberty is curtailed by the prison […]

Shambhala Art Weekend

A couple of weeks ago I was in Boston for a weekend of Shambhala Art taught by Acharya Arawana Hayashi. I’ve been reading True Perceptions: The Path of Dharma Art since the beginning of the year, and this workshop came just at the right time.

The program was concerned with using our senses to realize our connection with the phenomenal world. The mind is creative and very naturally connects with the world. From the beginning of our lives we connect with our world. Our brains are optimized to establish direct connection with the phenomenal world. It’s what we do.

Human beings also have the ability to assign meaning to phenomena. This is a handy tool but inhibits our ability to directly connect with the world. Assigning meaning is not same as perception, but we tend to treat it the same. During the workshop we practiced separating these two activities by focusing on how each of our senses perceives the world. This is a practice of which I am still unsure. Meaning can be very […]

Psyches Iatreim

This week marks the birthday of two of my favorite writers, Edna St. Vincent Milay (born 2/22/1892) and Anais Nin (born 2/21/1903). I appreciate Milay for her combination of free spirit and dedication to the sonnet as a poetic form. Likewise, I admire Nin’s openness to ambivalence and ability to articulate her experience in her diaries.

I’ve kept a diary for almost ten years. Daily journal writing is not only the foundation of all my writing, but is an essential component of my spiritual practice and my mental health and well-being.

Before I participated in my first creative writing class, I took up writing as part of a treatment plan for PTSD. Each week, my therapist asked me to write down my traumatic experiences. Between appointments I would read what I had written aloud to myself; at our weekly session I read the description to my therapist.

Reading and writing is especially effective for treating PTSD, because memory of traumatic events becomes associated with the deactivation of the speech center in the brain. Through intentionally […]