This Spring's Missal takes a look at Art and how it can be a medium for conveying insight. Many of the sages both ancient and modern struggled to convey their understanding to others,. The use of painting, stories, and movement to illustrate the silent unknown reality has been used as well as the mediums of prose and poetry. We'll take a look at some of the men who have struggled to transmit spiritual insight through their work, and why they believed it important.
was a visionary mystic of the late18th to early 19th century. He was a major poet, profound thinker, and one of the most original English artists of any age. A visionary from childhood, Blake struggled to reproduce his visions in various forms, from painting and prose to handcolored etchings with poetic text. Blake believed that the inner world of his visions were of a higher order than that of physical reality, and that ideals should be taken from that world of inner vision rather than from the world of matter. Blake lived his life as a poor artisan, and was not recognized as a major poet and artist until long after his death. Even though he was never a commercial success, he worked tirelessly right up until his death in 1827, convinced that mankind would profit from his efforts. He realized tension was necessary for creativity and spiritual progress, and never hesitated in his efforts to pass on his insight to others through his poetry and etchings.
" Is he honest who resists his genius or conscience only for the sake of present ease and gratification? "
- William Blake
was a photographer and pianist of the twentieth century, a pioneer in black and white photographs. He began his adulthood with the intention of being a concert pianist, but turned to photography when the ruthless business atmosphere of professional music became apparent. He was tireless, almost obsessed, with his work and would spend countless hours in the lab developing techniques to get just the right look to his pictures. Commercial success eluded him until the last years of his life, his work being driven by his need to convey a sense of the timeless to others. A review of the remarkable Ric Burns documentary on Adams from The Spiritual Teachers
web site conveys this drive:
"As a young man hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Ansel Adams saw something that he would spend the rest of his life trying to convey through his photographs:
" I was suddenly arrested in the long, crunching path of the ridge by an exceedingly pointed awareness of the light. The moment I paused, the full impact of the mood was upon me. I saw more clearly than I'd ever seen before, the minute detail of the grasses, the small flotsam of the forest, the motion of the high clouds streaming above the peaks. I dreamed that for a moment, time stood quietly and the vision became but the shadow of an infinitely greater world, and I had within the grasp of consciousness a transcendental experience. "
- Ansel Adams
Art inspired by such experience has the potential to evoke that experience in others, and this film is a work of art in itself. The timing and intonation of narrator David Ogden Stiers, the grand and graceful videography of Yosemite, the stark black and white photographs of Ansel Adams, and the soundtrack by Brian Keane amplify every nuance of the story, framing the journey of Adams' life in a mood of transcendental possibility. Both the film and the soundtrack are well worth owning."
is a current day photographer on the East Coast of the United States, and ran a nature and tracking school, all conveying his sense of the 'wild within' to others. While his work is mainly known through his extensive photo collection, his thoughts on the why and wherefore of his art strike a chord. His definition of what he calls 'the wild within' is reminiscent of John Muir, and what I refer to as the 'listening attention'
On the wild within: " An uncultivated quality of attention that has within it no intention for anything to be other than what it is; an awareness that is the stillness of our innermost being."
" For me, photography is about awareness, about direct observation, uncluttered by thought. This awareness helps put thought in its place so it doesn't interfere with observation, yet is still there for its technical expertise. We usually think that thought orders awareness, but for me, it's the other way around, awareness brings order to thought. Creativity blossoms not from thought, but from awareness, something I see as an essential ingredient in any art form."
- Paul Rezendes
Copyright: © Paul Rezendes
The common thread among these men is not only their gift of insight, but their keen awareness of how this insight must be shared. In spiritual work, we may hear pleasant words such as 'all is one, there's nothing to be done,' and use them as a rationalization for laziness, pride, and fear, taking the path of no-action rather than non-action, and entirely miss the point. Non-action refers to our sense of self, not our deeds. Awareness and action do not interfere with one another. By conveying our sense of the infinite to others, we help to lift them from their identification with action, personality and the world, and thus bring them and ourselves a bit closer to true non-identification, and our Home within.
“The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual. "
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”
- John Muir
- Related Sites -
The William Blake Archive: "
A hypermedia archive sponsored by the Library of Congress. Over the course of two centuries, respect for the prints, paintings, and poems of William Blake has increased to a degree that would have astonished his contemporaries. Today both his poetry and visual art in several media are admired by a global audience. In the broadest terms, the William Blake Archive is a contemporary response to the needs of this dispersed and various audience of readers and viewers and to the corresponding needs of the collections where Blake's original works are currently held." The best site for viewing Blake's original works. http://www.blakearchive.org/main.html
The Ansel Adams Gallery
: The Ansel Adams Gallery strives to cultivate an aesthetic appreciation and concern for our world by offering visitors a unique variety of books, handcrafts, fine arts, and an extraordinary collection of Ansel Adams orginal photographs. "I hope that my work will encourage self expression in others and stimulate the search for beauty and creative excitement in the great world around us" - Ansel Adams
Paul Rezendes Photography: Specializing in medium- and large-format natural landscapes, Paul Rezendes’ lifelong love for nature is the inspiration for his compelling and transcendent photographs of North America’s wild and rural habitats.
Tricks and Traps
Trap: Feeling you are all alone on the Path. When insight is present, you keep it to yourself, for you think there is no one else to share it with. This can spring from either pride, being that you think we are all one(without actually seeing this) and that your experience must be kept pure and isolated. Or, you suffer from self-pity and fear, forming the belief that anything you know isn't or shouldn't be worth knowing, by you or anyone else.
Trick: Walk a mile in their shoes. By being able to step into another person's head and see their position, we become better at seeing our own. Thus, we realize that there are only so many varieties of heads, and that our own particular version isn't so special. We may even come to see that all of the above stems from self-love, an infatuation with our beloved ego in all its aspects, both negative and positive. By the attempt to see clearly what another is facing, we break the spell of self-identification and find ourselves in a place of universal being, above the trap of 'thing-ness'.
We're All One
"We change personalities like chameleons to fit different social situations, hoping that others will buy our goods. How much time and energy is spent thinking about projecting the right image?
We all have common ground. No one individual is inferior to another. Why should anyone meekly accept another's beliefs or theories or propositions out of fear?
When trying to understand someone, look past his personality and try to get the whole picture."
- Richard Rose
We often hear the comment that we are all one, suggesting that somewhere in the human experience there is a commonality, a oneness linking all individuals. While this sounds good and is easy to believe, how do we experience it in a real way, other than as a platitude or pleasant concept?
When I first attended the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, I came with a lot of ego, feeling that I was THE drunk, that my stories were much more hideous than the ones I was hearing from the other members. I felt I had had it rough, had drunk more, been more depressed, etc. Another member next to me saw this clearly, and kindly told me to 'look at the similarities, not the differences'. This advice somehow made its way through my ruffled feathers and hit home. I came to realize that everyone who came to these meetings felt the same as me, feeling that they were the only one in the room who truly knew what being a drunk was about, that the rest of the crowd's experience was somehow less than theirs.
This is a classic illustration of the ego at work. It must be right, 'better than' or 'worse than', whether that entails being the worst drunk or the best success. It separates itself from others in order to maintain its illusions of grandeur, for to be the same as everyone else would call into question its specialness. Maintaining control at all costs in its illusory world does not allow for others to enter except on their knees or as gods.
I began to see that if I followed the advice of looking for the similarities in my fellows, I came to see that we were all under the gun. The pressure of life and society had led many of us far afield; into fearful isolation, lost in the attempt to fit in at all costs. Any inner wisdom we had when a child was lost in a blitz of 'should'ves, would'ves, could'ves', 'if only's' and 'but's' so that we no longer knew where or what we were. We had looked outside ourselves for guidance, and had found it in endless mirror images of our own frustration and longing, our so-called fellow men. Could there be a way back to something more basic, to an inner wisdom common to all? If our outer problems were similar in pattern and limited, stemming from an ego-need to 'be some-thing', could there be a common foundation beneath us all based on other than fear and desire? I was sure there was, and began to look in earnest.
The guidance that led me in the right direction, back within to my own source, came at first from others. At least it appears so to our mind, being pure paradox if looked at too closely. All I knew for sure was that there were others who had found something, and some of them had opened their mouths, took up their pens or brushes, and told of it. I began to listen rather than argue or agree, and the effect was noticeable. In fact, the hardest part was just the learning to listen. I had been taught that one only engages in conversation in order to get to the part where it's your turn to talk, the listening part had until then been only waiting in disguise. This ability slowly increased until I could hear myself, and what a shock that was. Not as much in what I heard, as in that I was no longer identified with what was doing the talking. I found I could turn the listening within and occasionally get insights about what to do next in order to further the process.
While this sounds like a pleasant journey, it came to catharsis when I realized without a shadow of a doubt that I was Universal Man, that what looked out from my eyes was the same awareness that looked out from all. This was traumatic, for it called into question any idea of individuality, and was a death sentence for that which until then had said "I". Relief came only later, when I realized I was free from 'me', that individual who didn't even exist except as a pattern of experience, frustrated and reactive only, may he someday rest in peace.
When we allow ourselves to see through another's eyes, 'walk in his shoes' so to speak, we find we become better at seeing ourselves. When we can understand, just a bit, some of what the men who have returned Home have struggled with their words and art to convey to us, we become better able to see our own inner world, with its symbols, patterns, and paradox. Beneath our struggling personalities, which must fight to keep their heads above water, there lives another, wiser self. This has been called soul or essence, wisdom or universal intelligence, and it waits beneath the waves of our selfish turmoil. If we take the time and effort to find the beachhead in us where thought and the formless collide, we might meet this Self. Then the words 'we are all one' will no longer be food for the ego alone.
- Quotes of the Month -
" I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception, but my senses discovered the infinite in every thing, and as I was then persuaded, and remain confirmed; that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote." - William Blake
" When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence." - Ansel Adams
" Every person who ever accomplished anything, and it is always one individual that accomplishes anything, masses of people don't make breakthroughs, would have far rather have been dead if he could have gotten away with it. It isn't worth it in any respect. It takes a crucifixion to generate an inner experience." - Jim Burns
" When you teach your child the name of the bird the child will never again see the bird. " - Krishnamurti
Outside is pure energy and colorless substance, all of the rest happens through the mechanism of our senses. Our eyes see just a small fraction of the light in the world. It is a trick to make a colored world, which does not exist outside of human beings." - Albert Hofmann - discoverer of LSD
" You have been imprisoned in an emotionally-based daydream state of thought most of your life. You have not realized it.
" - Roy Masters
" When people forget who they are, then fear seeps in." - Swain Wolfe
" Why, then, O mortal men, do you seek that happiness outside, which lies within yourselves?" - Boethius
"If I had the chance I'd ask the world to dance, and I'd be dancing with my self." - Billy Idol
"There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept." - Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams on being asked which to save first from a burning house - the wife or the negatives..."My wife - she could help me get the negs out! "
Copyright 2008 - Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.
"True religion is the realization of truth."