UNCLASSIFIED FEELINGS OF BLUES

May 5, 2017


There is always some madness in love.

But there is also always some reason in madness.
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

 

I have been losing myself over and over again every time I wake up. I won’t even try and explain my absence and lack of motivation to write. I cannot write a single line if I cannot look at myself in the mirror and be honest with the story I am proposing to tell. That no longer applies to this moment.

The nakedness of my thoughts shall be as revealing as it will be unabashedly confusing and contradictory even as I attempt to put it into words. No more canvas to paint a nice picture. There will not be, however, spaces for the convalescence of the mind; the mental healing process unfolds unadulterated without granting room for self-pity, guilt, regret or revenge.

My mind has been a vortex of conflicting thoughts that pull me towards opposing directions in a constant flow of a sculptured  synergy that creates and destroys itself at every second. It is like being on the edge of an abyss and facing the impending moment when your body is being pulled by forces beyond your control.

People from my past materializes in cyberspace (I know, it sounds so 90’s) as reintegrated ghosts that carry little resemblance to what they have once been; and I do not know how to respond. I carry inside of me the very seed that will cause my demise – like a self-replicating system that recreates its own version completely different from the ones that came before. I feel like sound bytes assembling and disassembling the essence and the identities of who I am not and who I will never be.  I need a new language to communicate the state of entropy that manifests differently in the organism that seems to be who I really am.

the-menin-road

‘Images of wartime’, The Menin Road by Paul Nash

Everything and everyone folds and unfolds and reshapes in multiple forms before my eyes. I have no identity to speak for. everything is revisited, reshaped, replaced, upgraded and put to rest as soon as a new cycle begins.

I had a vivid vision of bodies interlocked after electromagnetic sexual impulses prompted them to look for a connection impossible to be reached. All of them in search of a seemingly misleading sense of belonging and validation. It is pure dead madness! Like Paolo and Francesca (in Dante’s second circle of hell) forever doomed to be swept away in the air in their eternal lustful embrace.

I read once this quote by Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez that said: “sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love”. As much as I feel perplexed contemplating this thought, I cant shake off the disturbing fact that there is indeed some truth to it. Real love goes beyond our own self-created needs and selfish impulses. Sex, on the other hand, is a basic instinct for self-preservation, dominance and power – an intrinsic part of our own evolution as a species – even though we seem to be stuck in the illusion fabricated in our world to keep us all hooked as junkies in need of a never-ending and immediate fix. ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock-and-roll‘ never seemed so ghastly.

“I searched for God and found only myself.

I searched for myself and found only God”. (Sufi Proverb)

We are all searching for answers. There are no formulas, or miracle pills. The truth is facing right back at us. We see it, but like in  a hall of mirrors, we get lost with the illusion of the projections we make. At any moment in time, we can find the way out.

 

“Be kind to your sleeping heart. Take it out into the vast fields of light…

And let it breathe.  

I wish I could show you the astonishing light of your own being.” 

HAFIZ

 

 

A GLIMPSE OF SPRING IN THE FALL

November 9, 2015


COLLAGE

It is our choice to see the good in the world and in people. It is our choice to let the world see the good in us.

Every day we wake up, we are faced with many challenges. From simple pleasures like indulging a few more minutes in your bed on a rainy Monday, when you know you can’t because you need to get up for work, to the more complex challenges that we will encounter throughout the day.  We will deal with complaints, bad mood from the people around you, or the inescapable reality of the social problems that the world presents us at every corner.

No matter where we live, or where we are in life, we will deal with negativity. It is my belief, however, that we actually have the power to control how any experience will affect us. When we are aware of our feelings and emotions we can choose the positive elements that make us feel better in order to fight the negativity that tries to creep into our lives when we are not fully present in the moment. We are made of energy, and as such, we operate under similar conditions as far as external stimuli trigger thoughts that generate emotions flowing in different directions, much like an Alternative Current (AC) does with a stream of charges that reverses direction. It is a perfect system. As we become mindful of our breathing, and we get in touch with our Higher Selves, we are able to navigate the polarity between negative and positive responses with clarity and balance. It is this complex electrical structure that makes us part of the universe.

Any conflict we experience in life derives from our resistance to accept what is. When we accept we are flowing in harmony with creation itself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with who we are.

We are naturally predisposed to seek joy and fulfillment, and sometimes the way to happiness goes through some degree of pain. When we change, a part of ourselves that longer serves us dies and we no longer have the need to hide or suppress our true selves. The moment we need to suppress who we are, we are saying no to the life force within us. It requires the courage of a hero to stand our ground and walk our path. It is a long journey, but one that needs to be undertaken if we ever want to live a happy, fulfilled life.

There is so much beauty in this world that we should not have to look harder in order to choose a positive stance. It is our choice to be happy and kind. It is our choice to be compassionate and understanding. It is our choice to be brave. We have to become our own wizards or love warlocks, and like an alchemist of love, transform every seemingly negative experience into the possibility of a life-changing opportunity. As a love warlock, or the legendary Merlin of our own lives, we make magic through the alchemy of our emotions. It is through the transmutation of our fears into love that we can see the world with clear eyes. What separates us from each other is fear. What separates us from an experience is fear. Fear is the reason behind all negativity and disorder.

When we are operating from the perspective of love we can notice the smile of a child when we are waiting in line somewhere. We can see the pain and suffering in someone’s eyes, when they are responding with anger. We can see the wet leaves on a tree, glistening on a rainy day. We can look around, smile and see that we are all one and the same. And we can breathe and be grateful that we are part of it all, and that our actions make a difference if only we take the first step and choose love instead of fear.

I get my life lessons from everyone and everything. We are mirrors reflecting each other. We receive from each other to the proportion that we give back. The challenge is when what we receive is not positive. Then we have to summon our love warlock powers from within so we can transmute the energy. When we do that, we strengthen ourselves and we change. The dynamic of every situation also changes in the process because we are no longer resisting and reacting with fear. We now made a conscious choice to act with love. We are acting instead of reacting.

On an epic night in my life, an alchemist of love touched my soul. The sun set in one part of the world when the other was already dark. The mysteries of the universe were revealed and we whirled away past billions of galaxies where we met in the interstices of time and space, where nobody had gone before, and we became one with each other in a blissful dance of true love. Never will I be the same. Never will he be the same. We reside within each other’s hearts where we found our home. We tasted the absolute nectar of infinity’s bliss, and we arrived home.

There is a love that transcends barriers. There is a love that overrides words. It is a love so calm and so pure that only the heart can understand. It is the kind of love that sets free and still loves even more. It renews the cells in our bodies like a potent collagen, transforming us, healing us. It is the kind of love that makes us give the best part of ourselves no matter what. We become a better version of ourselves, our true selves.

We can go outside in the world and see that it’s huge and complex but we can also choose to see it as a global city where we all live together as part of creation. We feel so isolated sometimes, so distant and preoccupied with our lives that we forget that we are not alone here. We do have each other. We are no longer countries, and cities and provinces and neighborhoods, but one large community. We belong to the earth, and this planet connects us like a mother brings their children together with acts of love and kindness. Somehow, somewhere we meet, and magic happens.

It is our choice to choose to be happy. It is our choice to choose to respond with love. It is our choice to make this world a better place, and see glimpses of Spring even in the Fall. This is love.

❦ ❦ ❦

THE WIZARD OF LOVE

It is the name of love

That calls me to infinity;

It is the name of love

That makes me surrender.

I listen.

I dance.

I smile.

And I am completely free.

And so is the wizard beside me.

❦ ❦ ❦

THAT PLACE BY THE LAKE

November 6, 2015


LAKE TAHOE_Golden_Hour_at_Emerald_Bay

“Golden Hour at Emerald Bay – Lake Tahoe” by © Frank Schulenburg /. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Springtime

Will be like celestial chimes

echoing in my mind forever.

Those are the sounds that will

Bring me closer

to a perfect kind of  love and paradise.

The search will be over

As long as the encounter

Takes place.

Springtime,

 Forever filling me whole

with memories of innocence

beauty and bliss;

For there is a place,

By the lake and the river

that love

Gently touched my lips

– In Springtime –

When I allowed the fresh breeze

to make it All Cool, every day.

________________________________

SO IT’S ALL COME TO THIS

October 15, 2015


IMG_1273 (1)

Whenever we are engaged in any activity, it is really all there is to it. We hold on to the moments we enjoy and are afraid of letting go lest we don’t experience them the same way. In our attempt to hold on to our cherished moments we take photographs, make videos, write journals etc, in an attempt to freeze a moment in time. Later, we look at those documented moments with a smile in our faces and our hearts filled with joy longing for those moments we once had.

I notice that a lot of times we are more preoccupied in capturing those amazing moments with our cameras than actually being present to actually live that moment thoroughly. There is a constant peer pressure to capture every moment we have and share with the world through social media. Every person becomes a self-proclaimed celebrity competing for the most number of likes or comments.

The noise and confusion of social media prompted me to cancel my account with Facebook a few years ago. I got tired. Yes, there are a lot of positive aspects in being part of an online community like that, but I realized that the time I was spending was far exceeding the few benefits I was acquiring for myself. Too much social noise and clutter was disturbing my life. Have I achieved anything with this decision? Perhaps not, but at least I am reading more books.

We are, by nature, addicted to pleasure in all forms. We crave the most delicious types of tastes, the most mellifluous sounds, outstanding images and incredible experiences and sensations. It’s all understandable; who wants to seek out pain and suffering? However, it seems that we sometimes go to far in order to prolong moments of joy in our lives instead of slowly settling into the new landscapes that the winds of change blow towards us. Why? Maybe fear? Fear of becoming static and dying altogether. After all, life is pure energy in movement, in motion. Sometimes, because of that paralyzing fear we repeat mistakes that have taken us nowhere close to what we visualized for ourselves in order to fulfill our potential, or become who we truly are while standing our ground with confidence and joy. As we get busy with the social noise surrounding our lives, our heads become filled with that clutter and we fail to follow our hearts and our passions. We start to pay too much attention to the noise outside and the repercussions in our minds and we repeat the model dictated by others. We forget about our own lives. We become what others expect us to be because they, too, are afraid to express who they are, after all, being different is the best thing that anyone can offer to the the world at large. But it takes balls.

Being fully happy is a work in progress; it’s a soul-searching journey that requires the courage to break free from those  social and ideological shackles that try to impose ideas of who we can be. We are already that what we seek; we only need to actualize that potential and bring it to the fore. It’s no easy task to be comfortable in our skin, but it is the only way to happiness. We need to be able to face our contradictions and look at ourselves honestly from our own perspective and not the one that is looking at us from outside. We can’t please everyone, but in order to please ourselves we need to be grounded in our truth. Honesty, respect and compassion should be the core tenets of any spiritual practice.

I have seen many people fall prey to promises of happiness and peace of mind, and I’ve seen those same people suffering and unhappy because they cannot love themselves for who they truly are. They always seem to live up to the expectations of other people or some ideological construct that obstruct their lives and make them feel inadequate. It’s time we learned something from history. It’s time we looked for guidance within ourselves instead. After all, who can know us better than ourselves? We need to celebrate our differences instead of being afraid of them.

By celebrating our differences we break this divide among people, we end the separation. It is no longer “I am right, you are wrong”, but it’s an all inclusive truth of the amazing experience of being human in all its glorious manifestations. This way we can actually learn from each other as we share our stories on this beautiful planet, our home, regardless of race, beliefs, lifestyle, sexual orientation, social class or personal views.

There were times that I felt discouraged and felt a bit negative that we as a species would never evolve to the point that we can accept each other for who we are. However, I started to accept that it is all part of this great mystery that created everything, it is all part of a process and we evolve by taking baby steps, even though sometimes big leaps take place and all changes very quickly. We can only do our part in building a society that is maintained by mutual support, respect and acceptance.

As I investigate my experiences, I come to the realization that it all boils down to overcoming our fears and challenges without feeling like victims or sinners, but as one of the infinite number of threads that make up this colorful fabric of life.

So I look at myself on the mirror of life and I see that it all comes to this. Every experience in life takes us closer to the opportunity we have to become who we are. All led me to this moment, this life, this particular story. It all comes to how intrinsically brave we are to accept ourselves and others without judgement or fear, but with dignity and compassion. The best gift we can offer each other is ourselves as we truly are. That’s when the magic happens and connections are made, and the stars shine brightly in the sky and we feel the sense of belonging with all that is out there. There is a pragmatic reason why it all led us to where we are at every moment in our lives individually and as a whole. We are no longer separated, we are no longer alone. It all comes to this moment.  It’s all come to now. It’s all come to this.

LET YOUNG BOYS SLEEP

September 12, 2015


Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015 by Mstyslav Chernov

Let young boys sleep and

Don’t wake them up in their dreams.

Let young boys sleep.

Don’t mention the war stories

Or the lack of fish,

But let young boys sleep

Aylan crossing the seas,

Drowning right by our feet.

Let the young boys sleep

Fly away from the site

And stare the beast in the eye.

The story is one and the same

Not a drop of blood lost in vain.

Let’s wake up from the trance

And adopt a new stance.

Let young boys sleep

Giving them a fighting chance.

Spend the night by their side,

Sing them a lullaby.

Purify the air,

Invite the angels to this dance.

Leave the windows open

So the moonlight can touch their skin,

Be like the gentle wind

Enveloping their nakedness

With the sweet aromas of the night.

Fight your demons in the dark

Be forever brave, or evil,

But let young boys sleep

I suddenly begin to vanish and

Understand

What it all meant.

I achieved again

A nondescript reality

Between my head and

the hand that writes.

Behind a curtain that hides the very essence of my burnt skin,

I rediscover the beginning

Of my torment.

It all reveals in vain

The moments described

And the pain I suffered

In vain in my lonely heart.

Nothing was descriptive

Nothing was

The same,

and I

remained silent, watchful –

While you – volatile muse of my writing demons –

Cherished the darkness of my dancing soul.

  • (FEATURED IMAGE: “FASCINATION” by Victor Brauner, 1939 – San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

EVERY MOMENT OF LIFE IS A MOMENT TO SAY GOODBYE

August 12, 2015


28bIn a way or another we are constantly dealing with the experience of death in some form. Life is made up by a succession of experiences that are moving through us all the time. In one moment we are delighting ourselves while eating a delicious dessert and the next moment we might be working at our desks on an important project. We rarely pay attention to the changes at every second of our lives unless something major makes us stop and notice that something is indeed taking place – or not.

Chances are that the only times we indeed take notice of the changes in our lives are in those moments when those changes are bringing some sort of negative experience or discomfort. However, every moment is flowing into another moment in an incessant flow of minuscule changes. One moment is never the same as the one which preceded it, while at the same time every moment is always a repetition of a previous model already set in motion before.

All we really have is the present moment, and even the concept of the present moment is an abstraction that ceases to be valid the moment we think of it because it is no longer there. Whether time is an illusion or not, fundamental or not, is all part of a debate that is yet to find a conclusion due to the limitations of our understanding of time-space as being relative or something fundamental from a total quantum mechanics perspective.

Are we predetermined to repeat models in eternal succession, or are we able to act as agents of our own stories co-creating our futures and manipulating realities at will? All in all, one can unquestionably argue that human perception is subjective and the physical reality we experience is relative  to the individuality of one’s understanding and interpretation of any given event.

The flow of time is an illusion and it takes place in our understanding of events from the perspective of an objective and temporal phenomenon applied to the atemporal manifestation of the universe. The truth of the matter is that it is a puzzle that have entertained scientists, philosophers and laymen alike for centuries.

In relativity, reality is all part of a compact mass where past, present and future already exist in a static structure that seems doomed to repeat itself in a deterministic fashion. In quantum mechanics the probabilities are varied and the angle of perception of the observer and the implications result in parallel universes being combined, recreated and experienced all the time. It is within this field that we may question reality according through the perceptions experienced by each individual.

Each person experiences reality differently. This fact alone brings us to the concept of moral relativism and the resulting discussion that nobody is objectively right or wrong and therefore all perceptions or perspectives need to be taken into account when we try to understand any phenomenon we are conscious of.

Can we really tell we are experiencing anything at all while we are in the process of living through an event of some sort? Scientists agree that time actually exists; what does not exist is the flow of time as an active entity permeating the universe. In a four dimensional universe, time is only another component that intersects with, let’s say, length, height or breadth, thus generating a continuum that meshes them together and creates multiple and malleable realities within any given energetic field.

In order for us to consider the concept of time we need the presence of an observer and an object in relation to the velocity one passes from the other. So, the perception and duration of time is relative in relation to the other three dimensions active during the phenomenon observed. as we contemplate this, we cannot fail to realize that all understanding and interpretation of reality is relative to the one observing and therefore never objective. It is interesting to note how cosmology and mathematical laws are pointing to similar conclusions found in spiritual traditions. If my interpretation and understanding is always relative to my own experience of reality through my senses, how can I be completely right if someone else is also interpreting the same reality according through their own subjective perceptions of that same reality? We are both right in our interpretations because the probabilities are manifold and only together they can be whole.

In a way, from a simplistic viewpoint, we are constantly saying goodbye to things, situations, people, places etc, at every moment. Because time is never linear but cyclical, the concept of the “eternal recurrence” proposes that there is a strong probability that life can repeat itself ad infinitum. Since every configuration of atoms and events are also possible to occur, the probability of life occurring differently in its repetition of combinations is also suggested here.

In this sense, the acceptance proposed in Buddhist philosophy agrees with Nietzsche’s concept of “amor fati” – or “love of one’s fate”. It is the premise that reality cannot be argued, disputed or refused, but instead it is what it is and one can only accept without judgement. It does not mean we should not strive to change circumstances, but it says that being in opposition with reality will not change the components that brought the facts together as an intrinsic and necessary aspect of that reality.

As we meet time and space in a manifold conceptualization of the universe, we may come to realize that all events are combined into past, present and future altogether. Through this perspective, today, August 12th – exactly 2045 years ago -Cleaopatra commits suicide. We might as well meet at the point where that event took place and observe, through our perspective, that day in history, and wonder how many Cleopatras are repeating the same historical act today.

Oncle Cacá est mort! Il est mort. Morreu. Uncle Cacá passed away.

I never met the man, but he made himself present in my life.

In a land far away, where a two-river system nourishes the soil and impregnates the landscape with the tantalizing nectar that make up the air molecules we breathe, death opened its overarching wings and glided, smoothly passing through the living with its remarkable touch that silences our souls. Loss is inevitable, and everything changes all the time, anyway.

Abby – a four-year-old girl who has been battling leukemia – marries her favorite, handsome nurse Matt, in Albany, New York. The ceremony celebrated life, the strength of the human spirit and unconditional love.

Life and death hold hands and dance around while projecting shadows on the walls of time through darkness and light. This ancestral dance speaks of our pain and suffering as we sing about our joys and loving kindness in most unexpected ways.

Oncle Cacá est mort. Ele morreu. Cacá – the uncle – passed away. The ground shook under their feet. We danced the night away at the Church of the Whirling Souls. We celebrated life. We breathed. We live.The innocent child with golden eyes seduced our hearts and sang the words of glorious poets. She married the one who loved her without conditions.

Oncle Cacá has died. WE die. We live. We go through life and we die every day in a succession of many seemingly impossible occurrences. Life is a surrealist game painted on a distorted canvas hung upside down by an artist who does not know the concepts of morality or comfortable beliefs. Nobody has answers to anything. The human experience is a world of madness covered in a veil of suspicions and flustered attempts at being right. How presumptuous of our species to even consider ourselves apt to this luxurious task.

Death makes us humble. Through the experience of death we are face-to-face with our basic fears of not being able to be remembered. We fear the false appearance of our existence. Who are we? What do we really want? How would we like to be remembered? Does it make any difference at all? How do we know? Why do we question? Why do we feel separate, distant, disconnected, aloof and indifferent?

I am following my own path of discovery, inquiring and self-love. For so long, I have been running away from myself, from who I am. The essence of who you are is the intrinsic part of the whole composition of your perception, reflection and life imprint of the universal creation, bestowed upon you, as an indispensable function of the role you play in every interaction in which you find yourself.

There is no map, no guidelines, no GPS. We find our way as we get lost in the fantastic landscape of our dreams and personal stories. We are the artists painting on the canvas of our lives. All experience comes to us as a form of seduction. The energy exorcise the fears within the abyss of who we are. We look transfigured, transubstantiated. It is a continuous dance of love infused by the obsession of passion and all-inclusive love.

We all fear loss and pain, and yet the essence of life flows through the pathways that are not always easy for us to accept. I want to be peaceful and true to the journey upon which I set myself off. Life is a shitty hole to the level that we do not accept it the way it is being revealed to us.

We can only hope to accomplish and perform the activities necessary to follow through with one’s mission and talents in every second of life, experiencing the physical reality of the body while tending to the needs of an inner calling that incites us into action and change.

When my mom died I felt liberated, in some strange way, from primeval fears. However, I also noticed a trail of uncertainty and doubt before me. Now death happens every day and I see the impact it leaves all around me through the stories of those I know, but also the faceless ones, with their own stories, that passed by me, and remind me that one day I will be gone as well.

Today we have the safe illusion of technology to create the distance from the philosophical questions that intrigued humankind for so long. It is, in my way of seeing things, through the contact with our inner emotions that we seem to get closer to an understanding of our ontological nature, and that understanding becomes materialized in our complete surrender and acceptance of what we do not know without creating devices, mental or otherwise, that mask the true nature of life. Only then are we able to rest in peace, while living.

* Featured image: Lyonel Feininger “Bird Cloud” – 1926

Have you ever felt as if your entire life you have been trying to be just the perfect individual, or say the perfect thing in every situation, or be this example of human being that you have believed all your life to be what people expect you to be? Have you ever tried to live your life based on old beliefs of success the way they are laid out in front of you by the existing norm? Well, you are not alone.

All my life I have not done what others seemed to expect from me, but then, I lived with the dissatisfaction that somehow I wasn’t following the correct path everyone seemed to do so well. The great surprise in my case came early in my life because I realized that everyone seemed to be criticizing each other and trying to pretend they were doing the very things that had been told to them, but in reality they were also living a double life where their desires and motivations fell short in face of the pre-established patterns that they had to follow; a pattern that had never actually proved to be the perfect formula for personal success and happiness. Big wake-up call!

We are born without beliefs. We simply have no awareness of what it means to be a woman or a man, or what nationality we have, or what ethnic background we belong to. As we grow up we learn how to behave within the social context of our parents, family and friends. That’s where the conflict starts. We all want to be free and act according to our own motivations, talents, inclinations and desires. When those drives are in accordance with the main social ideology our family subscribes to, and that we tend to feel comfortable navigating through, the course of our lives flows in a relatively smooth way. However, when we see life in a way that questions and differs from those around us, that’s when the road gets bumpy.

In our times the emphasis on expressing yourself and having your own identity is so intensely advertised that sounds mawkish and ridiculous. Companies have jumped on the bandwagon and are shrewdly cashing in on the philosophy of “be yourself”.

Identities are malleable and easily created. Our culture shapes the identities that will generate powerful consumers. We also have our own set of identities which we have created during the course of our lives and that were influenced by fear, trauma, need for acceptance and other general belief systems. I know, the picture seems quite grim when we observe that our lives, and what we think, are dictated by something beyond our control. It is rather depressing to think that the concept of freedom is a far cry from our dreams and ideals of being unique and expressing ourselves genuinely.

Can we sincerely answer to the ultimate question? If someone asks you: “Who are you?”- can we sincerely be honest enough to let them know who we are? Do we know who we are? What motivates us? Are we sure about anything at all, or are we simply an undistinguished mass of unknown motivations? It is my understanding through constant observation of my own self that we act as we go along with our ever-changing stories. The choices we make shape and pave the way ahead of us.

Every minute we are faced with choices. Sometimes it is difficult to make a choice when we are experiencing intense emotions and emotional drives. Our subconscious world is still a vast unmapped territory that will unleash unexpected parts of our personalities we have never been aware of. It is there, however. And, at critical moments, we experience this overwhelming power testing us out and building our character.

It is important to stay true to what we believe while keeping an open mind to accept other people’s beliefs, opinions and lifestyles without intransigence, but also without compromising our own truth. Dealing with our own drives and desires is also challenging because we need to accommodate our inner world with the objectivity of the implications of our choices in real-life situations.

When we are confronted with real situations that’s when we have the opportunity to let our true selves come to the fore. Our unaltered true nature will be able to reveal itself when there is space for the forces of desire stemming from the egoist part of our personalities subside in face of what path we would like for us. Eventually we will be able to determine the exact moment when those choices are available to us at the time that they will actually make a difference for our own improvement and happiness.

In a world that is constantly pushing everyone to be themselves, when can one actually determine that they are exercising their free will and not putting into practice the dictates of the dominant ideology subliminally inserted into positive messages of self-improvement? The answer should be found inside ourselves. We ought to be the light that will guide our own paths, and ultimately find the way that will bring us happiness while having an attitude of respect and compassion for our struggles as well as of those around us.

This post was originally intended to be the last one on a series of koan-like expanded pieces of my experiences while revisiting my native city, making peace with my past and tapping into the lucid reality of its present. I might not be able to accomplish this task exactly the way I had planned, but I will give it a try.

Going back to your native city after a stretch of time has passed since you first left can be an interesting experience; going back after more than twenty years have passed, is fraught with expectation, fear, doubts, and flaming inquietude.

I was born in Anshan in 664 BCE. At the age of six I had already crossed the seas and traveled to distant lands and explored a variety of wild jungles with my mother and aunt. Uruk became my temporary residence.  I communed with the spirits of the land, the birds, the animals, the reptiles, and otherworldly beings. The galaxies opened up a world of stars and possibilities that materialized in front of me. I was touched by the Great Eagle and learned the secrets of arrow shooting at an early age. As a trickster I had to tame the darkness of my soul. But kids are always what they are, no matter what may come out of them.

A world of fantastical creatures and monsters inhabited my space without my control. Voodoo dolls and magic potions surrounded my space in a hallucinatory and psychedelic composition. Those were the times of great knowledge and wars that shaped and mapped the history and the landscape of my native country. I was the scion of the ruling dynasty in my imaginary world. The political powers at the time generated a coup d’état to overthrow the government and bring about the downfall of the entire civilization by establishing a military autocracy, a ruthless dictatorship.

Writers, artists, poets, playwrights, educators and singers were stifled, silenced, or killed. Many fled the country in order to survive. Others simply perished while fighting and defending their beliefs and ideals. I was unaware of the many crimes committed at that time. Throughout the world, it was also a time of revolt and change.

When I returned to Anshan, I was almost twelve years old. I never met King Gudea – my father. He was the missing puzzle in this historical hodgepodge of sorts. Upon my arrival in Anshan, I had a harsh encounter with the Devil himself, or was it Ishkur, the storm-god,  striking me back to life? I will never know. My mother and aunt raised me in the city of rivers, the fertile land of ancient times broken apart from the original Pangaea. The land and the mud is within me. The spirit of gypsies, the culture of the eastern  Slavic civilizations, the Sephardim Jews that brought with their genes the Ashkenazim life into my soul. Prophet Mohammed spoke to me in my dreams, and Moses’ Burning Bush fired up in my heart with the Light of Yahweh, Adonei ha’ adonim: Lord of lords.

I am made up of all the constituent parts that inscribed the history of our civilization on this planet. I come from all galaxies above and beyond. I exist. I am caught between the crossroads of this knowledge and the evanescent seeming reality of our impermanent selves. I meet my descendants and ancestors at the same time.

Death made its first introduction in my life when it took my aunt, but left the sound of the aulos within me. Later it took my mother too, but left in me the power to see within and be in harmony with the spirits of all directions.

I left.

I got a call from “those who live at red earth hole”. The spirit world of the Pomo people summoned me here to return home for shamanic healing . That is where I belong. My roots were entwined with those of so many who came before me, and without giving any thought, I heeded the call. I came. I arrived. I answered. I drank the wine and the nectar and infused my veins with the strength and the ultimate connection with those sacred elements. I invoked them. They answered me. I showed up. I am a creature of the night. My veins are open to absorb the gaseous, billowing flow of smoke that brings the presence of spirit and light and the whole of nature in one glimpse of truth that is all too simple to grasp, and yet, it reveals the incomprehensible state of human life as we know it.

Time penetrates the incongruous spaces of the physicality of things, but can never clearly capture the essence of spirit that lives beyond the conceptualism and duality inherent in the illusion of nominalism, reality, and the metaphysical investigations of ontology and cosmology. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism weaving the history of our lives together. In the theory and principles of Monadology “everything which exists has a sufficient reason to exist”“Nothing arises from nothing”.

An overall interest in meditation has been increasing over the years all over the world. People are turning to meditation for numerous reasons. However, it is my firm belief that this interest comes from the ancient Greek aphorism “Know Thyself”. Only by careful observation of one’s own mind and intentions can one intrinsically know who they are. The true spiritual quest is the acknowledgement that we set ourselves off on a journey that begins with the spark of creation infinite eons ago. It is an ongoing process of self-actualization and evolution established upon reoccurring principles that follow universal patterns imbued with an energetic ripple effect.

My entire being rejoices with gratitude for partaking in this complex system. I follow rivers. I cover myself with the dust of time and the presence of foreign lands. The whole universe is contained in me and only in silence am I able to catch rare glimpses into the intricate simplicity of everything there is. There is nothing to know and yet so much to see. The mind must be under constant scrutiny because it is as ethereal and unsubstantial as the air itself.

I am a beginner. I am a constant learner and I am starting everyday anew, with what I have and with who I am, doing what I can, giving my best shot. And, always, trying again and again, and moving forward – certain that I am already home and at peace. I put the ghosts to sleep. Medusa has been dethroned. I survive.

There are days that we feel that we can conquer the world. There are days we feel motivated and energetic, filled with inspiration and absolute determination and joy. However, there are those many days that everything we wish for ourselves seem but a distant dim light at he end of a long tunnel. Every day is an open spectrum of undetermined occurrences and random situations that test our abilities for adaptation.

Are we willing to take upon the challenges of becoming the best we can be, or are we destined to be ruled by circumstances beyond our immediate control? Are we able to deal with fear and doubt in an objective way, step out of our comfort zone, face our dreaded ghosts and accomplish our goals that we set out to achieve, or are we going to succumb to the immobility that takes over us and renders victims of our own unbridled minds? Can we bridge the gap between the practical reality that requires our direct and objective participation and the subjective inner world of our dreams, desires and utmost potential for greatness?

It comes as no surprise to anyone that many times we feel as if we do not belong, or as if our place in the world is unfounded and compounded of a whirlpool of doubts and insecurities. A lot of times we have a set of goals in mind that seem to take up our time and involve in a way that we feel as if consumed by a creative fire that burns brightly and handsomely within us. Then, all of a sudden, we feel nothing. We are completely numbed and absorbed in muddled state of lassitude and prostration. We lose the enthusiasm we started with. This happens more frequently than we would like to admit, and we make our way to the verge of quitting.

It is easy to lose track of our goals. It is easy to lack the motivation and discipline necessary to continue on the road to success. These are the so-called bumps in the road. We need to learn how to navigate all types of terrain in order to follow our path and not get lost along the way, or lose sight of why we started on that particular path to begin with.

It is not only my personal experience on that matter, but I have also heard numerous times from my friends, and acquaintances alike, that they are often confronted with incontrovertible evidence that they, also, lack the motivation and determination to continue what they started so eagerly enthusiastic about. How many times have we started a work-out program only to stop after a few weeks due to an injury, a vacation, or any other unplanned break in our routine? Any other project we attempt to undertake is susceptible to an unexpected failure. How can we fix that so we do not have to feel bad about ourselves, especially when our intentions come across as honorable but our disposition and interests do not remain stable enough to keep up with the rhythm required to bring all the positive elements to fruition? We need to do something about it.

When opposing forces are at work during the process of any undertaking, such as the intention to change one’s life or habit, but an opposite force, in the form of an old habit, pull us back to a state of lethargy and immobility, these forces are actually pushing against each other. The situation is not stable enough and at some point, something’s gotta give. One force will overpower the other; it’s the boiling point of a given state.

It is precisely at this stage that we ought to remember what reasons prompted us to initiate an activity, a new habit or the changes we want to operate in our lives. We need to stop and get clear about the reasons that made us start  in the first place. Quitting is not an option for those who wish to find out how to break through boredom and intermittent periods of inertia. The key is to keep going and find one simple task that we can accomplish during those times so we can make a small dent in our attitude when we feel overtaken by passivity and discouragement.

We must come to terms that behavior is not set in stone and that every day, every moment, we need to look at things from the perspective that we are always beginners. No matter how much we have accomplished, we should never rest on our laurels. As long as we live, we are constantly paving the way for ourselves and others. The experience of life teaches us to stay humble while reaching for our goals.

There is a popular quote (author unknown) that inspires me every time I am beset with stumbling blocks such as fear, doubts or obstacles of any kind: “When you feel like quitting: think about why you started”. This concept always helps me to gain perspective and have the humility to admit to myself that I am a constant work in progress and a beginner at heart.

Without veering towards politics, today (June 26th 2015) marks a great victory for human rights in this country (U.S.A.). It certainly corroborates the fact that the experience of life is following an unfinished path of evolution. We are all part of this process together, and the world as a whole becomes better with each act of justice, freedom and respect for one another which, in turn, improves the consciousness of this planet of ours. The process, however, is unfinished, and it is up to each one of us to contribute, in our own unique way, wherever we might find ourselves in our lives.

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* Featured image: Screen shot from the Apple mobile game “Monument Valley”

Everyone looks carefree from the outside. Other people’s lives often seem more exciting than our own. Our problems and woes feel heavier on our shoulders. If only everyone knew how each other feels. If only…

The way our social landscape is structured, it gives us the impression of some perfect model of living that is disconcerting and in opposite relation to what we see on a day to day basis for each individual. we are far from being perfect, and yet, we are perfect just the way we are. That plastic, perfect picture displayed on our TV sets, magazines, and social media galore, with all the simulacra under layers of filters, do not represent who we truly are. It only captures that idea or concept of some far-flung representation of some kind of optimum ideal or deep-rooted desire to be flawless and be able to control reality and the conditions of impermanence we are all under the influence of.

We look at each other and we back off in face of the reading we make when we come in contact with one another. Our conditioned minds respond to people and situations through the lens of the interpretations we perform filtered by our clouded minds. We judge, we interpret, we classify and we label in a vain attempt to control. Little do we know that we cannot really change people, or the reality of what we experience, based on our resistance to fully accept what is not expected, anticipated or desired. Each person is what they are regardless of what we wish them to be.

Being present in our lives requires that we abandon our attempt to change what is. We gotta move along and learn with each other; learn with our pain, and learn with our weirdness. There is simply no right or wrong. There are only possibilities, views, perspectives, choices, and the flowing rhythm of our lives together as a community. As a group we grow stronger and heal each other, with our personal stories, our experiences.

To be grounded in compassion is to be able to recognize that everyone is going through similar challenges to our own. Everyone is afflicted by doubts, emotional and physical suffering, trauma and psychological disorders; everyone is prone to disease. Our defense mechanisms, of course, will prompt us to show that we are all fine, and that our lives are going smoothly and untouched by the conditions that affect the human experience.

We only need to sit with each other, let our guard down, and look each other in the eye to realize how similar we are. When we share our stories unabashedly, we come closer to a mutual understanding that it is all right to become vulnerable and be open to trust. When this type of dialogue takes place between two people, or in a group, healing also takes place and we all become better human beings in the process.

It is overwhelmingly tiring to try and pretend that we are strong all the time and that we have super powers and that nothing affects us. It is like we are swimming upstream. By letting go and trusting, we actually get stronger in our weakness. It is tremendously inspiring to hear someone open up about their fears, struggles, frustrations and pain. When that kind of communication happens, something deeply profound becomes apparent: our interconnectedness.

Our lives are interconnected and the energy of life flows through us all in a ritual of constant evolution. Our communities are strengthened when each person is able to contribute with their unique stories.  We create bonds that  tie us together in the universal fabric of the human experience. We get in touch with our essence and we start seeing the world through new lenses. The world starts to make sense and we perceive meaning in the smallest details.

Every time I have the chance to connect with someone on that level I take the opportunity to be present and listen. I feel I grow so much from the experience of being in contact with someone in a atmosphere of honesty and trust. After all, even if the shoelaces are missing, two people are better than one to find new laces and tie them together. At times, our own shoelaces might come untied, and it is nice to have someone around to let us know of the fact before we stumble and fall.

Let’s walk together and watch our steps, confident that we can trust each other. Let’s walk that extra mile as if we were walking in each other’s shoes. Then we will know!

One of the most difficult concepts in Buddhism or any spiritual practice for that matter is that of acceptance. Notwithstanding the challenge, it is by all means,  one of the most important concepts to practice and, hopefully, master. Every element in nature attests the truth of the experience involving acceptance.

We all want to be happy and well and we often look for things outside ourselves that will give us the feeling or impression of this sought-after sense of permanent well-being and bliss. We all know so well that nothing is permanent, however. Our lives are in constant motion.

Being mindful about our lives requires that we accept each moment as it comes without refusing it. It requires from us the ability to adapt and change according to the circumstances, and we ride the waves as best as we can. Well, I am no surfer, so in this case, I would rather compare life to dance. We have to find our own rhythm at every moment. Sometimes the dance is fast and energizing; other times it’s as slow as it could be and we have to allow our bodies to flow into the movement of life with our bodies, minds and spirits always alert.

It easy to take things for granted when we are young. As time goes by, and we mature, we start to notice changes in our bodies and in our ways of seeing ourselves. We realize that there is a process taking place. Our external appearance changes, but, curiously, there is a depth of awareness that show us that our innermost essence is intact. We do not feel different inside. There is a presence of spirit that goes beyond the physical body; an energy that inhabits our bodies that seems to be aware of itself and its timelessness.

A lot of people think of acceptance as being passive towards life, but quite the contrary happens when we accept. We become full in control of our responses. It is not an act of letting life trample us as we are being tossed and blown around helplessly. It is a time to go within and work with what we have.

The path towards acceptance starts with ourselves. Do we accept ourselves as we are at every moment? Our minds are in a constant state of judgement with everything including ourselves. In order to accept oneself, the person needs to get in touch with who they are. We are not unilateral beings. We are composed by layers and layers uniting body, mind and spirit or energy. Every component is following a natural process, and, therefore, is not wrong or imperfect.

As a new day starts, we are always beginning again. We get up, brush our teeth, take a shower, get dressed and have breakfast: a new day starts. We are reborn, and we are ready to create a new path, a new way of thinking, with a new perspective. Such is the beauty of nature. It is a constant process of renewal, of death and rebirth. We go through these cycles most of he times without paying attention. We want to repeat the joyous experiences and we dread anything negative coming our way. We need challenges in order to grow, but we are afraid of them. Then, we tend to repeat self-created formulas so that we can recreate similar experiences, and we refuse to accept the new and unknown challenges in front of us. We do not seem to notice that the joy we felt after succeeding happened because we embraced life without resisting it.

By accepting who we are, or a given situation, we are not doomed to a state of passivity. We are, in reality, committing ourselves to allow change to take place and propel us forward. We are operating from a place of commitment with what is, instead of an imaginary or desired world created by our minds. We are rooted in the present moment and working with what we have at our disposal, molding and transforming energy and matter in complete awareness and presence.

It is all right to accept our emotions just as they are, without resistance or wishing they were not there. Without acceptance we will not be able to know ourselves and we get stuck. With acceptance the energy is released and there is an open space for change to happen. The concept and practice of acceptance is a magnificent tool that allows us to observe ourselves and our experiences and explore the possibilities. Acceptance is at the core of any creative process. We accept and we go beyond; it is our leap of faith.

During meditation we are constantly returning to the breath. The breath is like the thread that Princess Ariadne gave Theseus in order to find his way out of the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur. Through our breath we find our way back to the present moment. Through the breath we become alive and renewed. Through the breath we find peace.

“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  That’s one of the most famous lines in Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Blanche DuBois, the main character in the play, at the point of no return in her hopeless, deranged mental state, turns to the doctor, and accepting to be immobilized in a straitjacket, surrenders to her own fate uttering these enigmatic words.

Ever since I first read Williams’ play, Blanche’s sentence got stuck in my mind and I find myself repeating it in different situations. Gratitude – with a slight ironic twist that few can quite capture, unless I explain my humorous intentions –  is the feeling that motivates me to quote and extract the juice and punch line spirit of this line. I know, of course, that Blanche was not acting from a place of gratitude, but rather a psychologically disturbed state that preyed on her targeted victims as a survival mechanism to fit her selfish motives and needs. It is, undoubtedly, a priceless literary closing line for her complex character, leaving the audience stuck in the web of a shattered mental chaos.

Now, back to how I use the sentence. Gratitude is one of the most powerful “potions” that we have at our disposal as we concoct our magical brew. The feeling of gratitude has to come from within, and then it enters and permeates all areas of our lives. When we feel gratitude, we are actually inviting the energy of abundance into our lives. There is enormous power in that.

Some may say that it is difficult at first to find things that one could be grateful for on a daily basis. It is not. Awareness is all that is needed. All we have to do is keep our senses open to everything surrounding us and observe. All we need is to give us the opportunity to stop and experience the silence within our hearts and minds and experience the spectacle of life taking place right before our eyes at every moment.

A lot of people might think that we need a tremendously positive event in order for us to be able to experience the transforming energy of gratitude. We all have heard about the terms “chain reaction” and “snowball effect”, where the amount of energy initially released will grow exponentially as the system increases entropy. The same concept applies to our thoughts and actions. Everything starts with a minimum amount of energy released that will increase the levels of disorder and finally cause the system to collapse into itself generating another system that will generate other causes and effects and so on.

Our minds have the potential to influence the reality we experience and recreate our experiences accordingly. Our minds are constantly assessing situations and labeling them in order to feel safe and in control. We feel afraid to trust, surrender and let go, and we create friction. This happens every single day. The connection we seek lies in our release of control, in our complete letting go of expected outcomes.

Many people may wonder how we can feel grateful in the midst of suffering and pain. However, it is exactly in our suffering that gratitude is most needed and its energy releases the necessary push that will turn the situation around. I have seen example of this in my life and the lives of many others over and over again.

Every single day offers us plenty of opportunity for us to change our tunes and align ourselves with the beauty that surrounds us. We have all heard the saying “Stop and smell the flowers”, but few of us have actually put this into practice on a daily basis in those moments when that pause is the one element that will shift our focus and perspective. It is all relative.

When we are in the middle of a situation that falls far short of our expectations or desires we often experience resistance, frustration and anger. All these emotions disturb the natural flow of energy in our brains creating a cycle of unwanted similar emotions triggered by our conditioned inability to stay present and perceive the “flowers”  around us that will give us the breathing space we need to approach the challenge that robbed us of our poise and peace. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it is exactly how the system works in our lives.

It is a concession we make when we allot the time to breathe and notice elements present in our reality that draw our attention to its beauty and change our perspective towards love and acceptance. It is a choice we can make. We are not retreating from action. On the contrary, we are reshaping our thought processes so we can reassess our situations from a privileged angle.

Gratitude is an acknowledgement that there are plenty of things that we can be grateful for every single minute of our lives. When we are grateful we become present and we notice. We act from a place of love, not fear. When in the midst of chaos we notice the smile of a child, a flower, a rainbow, a tree, a random act of kindness, the sky or anything at all, we lift our hearts and minds higher than any experience we might be facing, and transformation takes place right before our eyes. Every time we do that we are winners travelling together, and we ride the streetcar of life in the right direction.

Thank you!

The kid was running up and down the street bouncing the ball on the pavement unaware of any worries. Innocence in its blissful state and a total presence of mind in the moment. We all have moments like these from our childhood. Somehow, at some point, something snaps and trauma sets in.

The wounded part of ourselves are usually the parts we don’t want to notice or acknowledge, and, most of the times, even ignore them or loathe them. It took me a while to understand that unless we dig deeper within, do some searching for all these split-up parts of ourselves, and accept and embrace them unconditionally, we will not heal.

Suffering and wounding is part of life. As we come into this world we already experience trauma at the moment of birth. We are literally expelled out of the comfort of our mother’s wombs and into a harsh environment where we are completely vulnerable and dependent on someone else for our survival. Slowly, we start to learn to fend for ourselves. However, the process into adulthood is not without some bumps in the road that we all need to ride over as best as we can.

We certainly need to be more patient and compassionate towards ourselves and embrace our weakness and broken pieces as part of who we are. It takes time and courage for anyone to realize that all the dark areas of one’s personalities stem out of negative experiences that took place, mainly, during our childhoods. Once we identify the source of the pain, we should adopt an attitude of respect for the experiences we had, and honor and protect those wounded parts as we would do for a scared and defenseless child.

That is how we heal. We look at that child we once were, and we lift them up in our arms and we assure them that they need not be afraid anymore. We are now taking the fundamental steps of becoming our own parents. Our personalities have been formed around the traumatic experiences from the past. These negatively charged emotions stay with us and get imprinted in the complex structure of our limbic system, in our brains. This complex system is responsible for a series of functions related to our behavior, emotions, motivations and memories. Our scared and defenseless child is imprisoned, so to speak, in this area. We ought to rescue our primordial formation as a child from the dictates of the automatism stored in that part of our brains.

Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1909 (Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

“Hansel and Gretel” – Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1909 (Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

We make amends with all the abuse we feel we suffered from people or situations and we detach any feelings of guilt, shame or self-victimization from the experiences that marred our sense of Self. In reality, our Self is intact, but the negative experiences create the illusion that we are inadequate and inferior. We feel fragmented and we struggle to find our way amidst the our emotional chaos. We are lost in a hostile environment much like when Hansel and Gretel found out that the birds had eaten the trail of bread crumbs they had left along the way so that they would be able to find their way back home. In our stories, we are by ourselves, but we are definitely able to find our way back home to our hearts, where we belong.

Like a lot of people, I have many fragmented parts of my Self, and I made the commitment to put them together and make myself whole again. I trust myself that I am capable of doing this work. For me, it is the only way I can live. It is worth the journey, and I feel that is the reason for which I am here. The components of my story make up the necessary landscape that will bring me to the stage where I can make a difference in my life. It is a choice I have at my disposal. I am finally ready to take my inner child in my arms and take care of him. I am finally able to address that child and let him know that he is who I am and there is nothing to fear anymore because now I understand. We are not separate anymore. We are one and the same. I am proud of my inner child and how he handled things. Now it is time I led the way with the knowledge and wisdom he gave me. We are whole and unadulterated. We now hold hands and walk together healing each other. The bread crumbs are not needed. We are creating a new path, our own path.

The journey can sometimes be arduous, but it is the peace of mind that I can only do my best at every moment that guides me through. My intentions establish the foundation for my victories. And I intend to continue. I intend to survive. I intend to live.

We all want to be listened. We all want to be understood. The relationship we have with everyone and everything affects our lives as well as others. Our connections happen within the space of gratitude or refusal to be with our pain.

Nobody lives in isolation. We are constantly in relationship with things, people and ideas. Life is about relationships. When two people generate another being, relationships are being formed in a cellular and energetic level. Throughout our lives we will form relationships with the world around and, most importantly, with ourselves.

We are certainly part of an organic and cosmic evolution that have puzzled the minds of many who marveled at its mystery. All organisms are evolving together in a cycle that are subjected to basic physical laws that govern the universe we inhabit. We are all born under similar physiological circumstances; we are all impacted by the random vulnerabilities, we all fight for survival. We all experience pain, suffering, joy and success, and we all get transformed along the way. It is like that with everyone, regardless of social class, race, personal beliefs, gender, evolutionary species or geographic location: we learn through experience and observation.

The encounter between two beings (human or not) is a magical moment where something greater takes place and adds meaning to our lives. That’s where life takes place: through encounters and interactions. Our interactions with everything, other people, animals, the environment, circumstances, food, entertainment, technology, work, objects and ideologies form the basic foundation upon which our personalities, inclinations and identities will develop. To me, every encounter is an opportunity for me to bow in reverence for the chance to learn from the experience of connection.

Every encounter we have, be it with another human being, an animal, a situation, the objects of our desire or any phenomena, for that matter, offers the chance for us to step out of ourselves and be 100% present with the other. We live most of our lives involved with the inner conversations going on in our minds and we forget to pay attention to what is taking place in front of us from an objective and fresh standpoint. Instead we are often too preoccupied with what to say or involved in our personal stories and needs. We fail to experience the moment for what it is and bask in its full potential and possibilities.

When we listen to each other, or when we are completely present in a situation – without judgement, rejection or attachment – we are able to see things clearly and respond accordingly. It is really not about ourselves anymore, but about the interaction and the responsiveness that will allow for effective communication to take place.

When we interact with another being (or anything at all), we must enter that sacred space with complete reverence for the experience. We need to be open to allow the flow of energy and the range of emotions we experience with serenity, poise and accountability for our thoughts, words and actions. Being present and mindful will guide us through this journey as we keep our reactions in check, and respond, instead, in a more balanced and integrated state of mind.

Usually when we listen to people we are constantly relating what they say to our own personal stories and experiences and we label what they are telling us and categorize it to fit our perceptions and opinions. Instead, we should allow the possibility of a conversation where we just listen and let the other person communicate their perceptions without any personal meaning attached to what they say. After all, it is their experience, not ours. We are there to listen and try and understand how they see it, and what makes them feel the way they do.

When we are present we step out of ourselves and become one with the person who is interacting with us, another being, or a situation. There is no need to pay attention to the incessant need that our minds have to label and relate whatever we are experiencing with something that took place in the past. The mind needs that in  order to survive through its logical categorization, but we do not. The key to understanding this process is in itself  the doorway that will enable us to become more mindful and observe our minds thinking, and realize that  those stories are only stories and that we do not need to be prisoners of automatic reactions based on those ingrained acts of labeling and old habits.

It is not an easy process in any way, but I find it interesting to observe and have the compassion to accept myself just as I am. Fear lies at the foundation of our reactions. It’s our wounded personification of ourselves as a child. We need to nurture those disconnected parts of our selves and integrate them as a whole. It is who we are and we should honor that. But we can also find the space to heal and become our own parent.

Interacting with people, all beings and situations gives us the opportunity to simply listen and observe, and step out of our self-centered need to relate whatever someone is saying, or whatever we might encounter in the form of experience, as negatively directed towards us. We are all in this together and we heal each other as we give our time and full attention at every moment. As we look into one another’s eyes we recognize ourselves as part of the connected organism we are.

In the end, as we look at one another and recognize how similar and familiar we are, we can only smile and bow in reverence and gratitude for the many ways we touch each other with our presence and attention as we all heal together in this wondrous process.

Life is an ongoing exercise in overcoming our deepest fears. We all have fears, but they are basically imaginary fears. We create fears all the time, and by doing so we create our identities around them.

The mind is constantly trying to label every experience and place it into a category. The thoughts we have about an experience does not accurately represent that experience. It only points towards the interpretations we make based on fear. It takes a daily practice for us to actively be aware of all our thoughts and observe them without attaching meaning to them.

We need to take a leap of faith every single day and start anew. Every day is a new opportunity to be reborn, fresh and unencumbered by the experiences we had before in similar situations. It takes observation and a total state of presence in order to transcend the myriad of thoughts that run wild in our minds, stories we keep telling ourselves over and over again.

I always think about the old bumper cars when I think about how the mind operates. The most common bumper car designs uses a conductive floor and ceiling. Contacts under the vehicle touch the floor while a pole-mounted contact touches the ceiling, completing the circuit. Our contact with reality send information to the brain that uses significant neural pathways according to the thoughts triggered by the experience. In our case, it is as if we were wired to connect to certain electrical, neural pathways and then we react accordingly.

The practice of mindfulness will enable us to become aware of the thoughts in our minds and be able to discern that they do not represent the experience and stay away from the story that’s being generated. In every situation, it all boils down to how we respond. Typically, two types of energy establish the quality of our lives: love and fear. We are in constant relationship with the world and we either respond with love or react with fear.

When we react, we are at the mercy of our thoughts and emotions without the inner awareness necessary to make effective and functional choices. When we respond, however, we are operating from a neutral standpoint where we are no longer following the dictates of the unbridled flow of thoughts. We recognize and are aware of their presence, but we no longer attach meaning to them. As soon as we become mindful of this dynamics we set ourselves free and are able to make choices that are poised and centered.

We are free to choose in every situation how we want to respond. We need to practice mindfulness in order to exercise this power and make our lives richer and more fulfilling. It is a constant practice of ongoing observation. Whenever a thought comes we need to question the validity of that thought, and transcend it.

There’s a constant chatter inside our minds and it is up to us if we want to pay attention to it, or let it dwindle away every time we disconnect our attention from that thought. After all they have no real substance; they are all thoughts, stories, jabbering. The image they create might seem initially real, but when we look closely, they dissipate. In the end, those seemingly sharp knives are rather dull, and they vanish as soon as we dare to touch them.

Unexpected things happen to us all the time. If only we took the time to pay attention to the small miracles of life manifesting in front of us all the time we would be able to live happier and more fulfilling lives.

Every moment we have the opportunity to respond to a given situation with love or fear. It is our choice to pay attention to what goes on inside our minds and be able to discern what represents a danger and what doesn’t. It is part of the natural activity of the mind to generate thoughts. It is part of our innate ability to grow and improve to connect to the reality around us without reacting to our interpretations and ensuing attachments or rejections to any situation.

Life unfolds before our eyes, and we, often enough, are too busy in our worlds to pay attention to the abounding experiences that come our way to enlighten and enrich our lives. It is a  lack of awareness that impels us towards a passive interaction with the people and situations around us.

The connections with other beings is the most fundamental experience we will ever have. we are in relationship with every single element in the world. We crave for a deeper and meaningful connection with people and situations, but when the time comes we hide behind our social masks, our self-imposed identities, and we fail to let the other person in front of us to see our genuine self.

Our lives flow naturally through the sincere connections we form with one another, and we are more connected than we think we are. We share the same compound of emotions that defines the parts of our personalities which share a common bond with those of others. Our lives are more similar than we are ready to admit.

When we look deeper into each other’s eyes, we can see ourselves reflected in their aspirations, goals, sufferings, hopes, pain, and above all, the love that bonds us all. It is when we truly connect that the magic happens and fear dissipates.

Our self-imposed beliefs of who we think we are creates the separation, the doubts and the fear. We need to let go of these fears with the constant awareness that we have the option to look at things differently, without judgement, attachment or rejection.

Respect for all beings, in all forms, is indispensable for healthy relationships to be established. When we look at one another we are looking at ourselves. If we are afraid we will look with fear in our hearts. If we are compassionate towards ourselves, then we will interact with the eyes of compassion and relatedness.

We need to look with eyes wide open. We need to pay attention. We need to help each other heal knowing that we do not live in isolation, but as a part of a connected organism. We need to remember that after us, others will use the bathroom.

People are inherently good. Our nature is fundamentally wired towards kindness despite our shortcomings that cause us pain. This series of posts is an experiment; an experiment in observation.

If only we were open to recognize the world around us and the display of activity happening right before our eyes, we would see the colors that enrich our minutes, hours and days.

We have a tendency to complain and flail our arms around when things don’t go according to our expectations of what’s ideal for us. We fail to understand that there is an order and wisdom to all events, and they flow according to the internal psychic predisposition we hold in our minds.

Letting go is an act of complete surrender and trust and can be an extremely difficult process. We often hold on to the identities we create for ourselves. Those are identities are in opposition to whom we truly are. In order to develop Zen monk and teacher Suzuki Roshi refers to as cultivating a “beginner’s mind”, we need to be constantly reminded to look at the world with the eyes of a child and absorb each experience as something new and fresh, unobstructed by the conditions of the past, or the unreal expectations of the future.

Each moment is a new moment filled with possibilities in itself, and, then, it is no more. The only thing we have is ourselves in direct contact with the experience unfolding in front of us. We breathe, we look, and move on to the next one.

* The beautiful dog on the featured image is called “Shadow”. She’s a beautiful “girl” enjoying the flight from SFO to LAX with total presence and poise.

I was sad to hear, this week, that Africa’s western black rhino was declared extinct. It is disheartening the fact that our species take so many things for granted that most of us do not even give much thought to the signs of decline or suffering within our civilization. In the days of internet communication we are bombarded with information from every angle, and yet we seem to have been desensitized to the point of an utter disconnect between our lives and those of many around us. How much longer will it take for us to connect the dots and realize what’s really at stake when we fail to make the necessary changes to save the very system we depend on?

It is appalling to see that a YouTube video showing the conservationists methods to save animals from extinction has a puny number of views compared to other more popular videos depicting a nonsensical and egotistical verbiage, or lewd acts of insanity which attract viewers, and grant the individual who posted it, a celebrity status. At some level this shallow aspect of pop culture has always existed, but the internet and social platforms only augmented it and made it exponentially more visible.

As much as there is an increasing fertile ground of awareness and mindfulness in the globe, we are still a far cry from the kind of sophisticated society we hoped technology would bring to us. Poaching is the illegal hunting, killing or capturing of wild animals. This practice is observed all over the world, up to the present, for commercial purposes. It goes to show that there is still an overall lack of mindfulness in the planet that pervades every aspect of our social fabric. This lack of mindfulness eventually reproduces the models of existence and culture that we have been struggling so hard to change.

Mindfulness is a state of mind that will define how we make our choices on a day-to-day basis. It is the awareness that gives the individuals the necessary tools to observe their thoughts, words and actions. It is through these components – thoughts, words and actions – that we become co-creators of our reality and the reality we share with others.

The nature of everything in the physical realm of existence is dualistic and the opposites need to be integrated in order for a state of balance to become present in our lives. Everywhere we look we see signs of suffering and decay, and yet we tend to delude ourselves by creating an illusion of a glossy and immutable world, despite the elements of impermanence and change denying this view altogether. We create an immense amount of stress trying to create a reality that does not change; a reality that needs to stay intact and flawless so that we can control it. Our culture offers us this reality every day through advertisements, TV programs, movies, and the media in general that cater to the identities that we have created, but which contradict the essence of who we are. No wonder our external appearances improve and sparkle, but our faces show an emptiness and that elusive lack of something else that we do not seem to be able to grasp.

Our society has become increasingly addictive, and we all seem to live our lives by the dictates of the consumerist ideology governing our behavior. It is time we all shifted our consciousness towards more awareness. Only with awareness can we be within every situation on a level that we are able to consider our options and make choices that are not emotionally hindered, but rather, harmonically centered with the needed response.

Only in the present moment we experience life at a cellular level. All our experiences point towards that. Our interconnectedness goes beyond the schmaltzy expressions of brotherhood/sisterhood and the unity of all beings and events. We are intrinsically reflecting one another and everything else. Without awareness we cannot connect those dots, and the idea of separateness puts us in trouble. The illusion is created in the mind. When we observe the mind thinking, the illusion eventually dissipates and we are able to see.

We are always living our lives in such a haste, as if we need to get somewhere at a certain time. We are often imposing rules of conduct, limitations, beliefs and whatnot, on ourselves. We are setting ourselves up for failure and suffering. There is an immanent quality of trust and surrender to the natural mechanism of life. We must do our part and then leave it to the universe as we unfold as a whole. The level of consciousness needs to be lifted every single day. There are no miracle pills or magical formulas. As much as we differentiate, we are part of every particle in the universe, and it lives through us and in us.

The world can seem chaotic and doomed to failure, but there is nothing really wrong with it. It is a reflection of everything else. This world is breathing together and this energy makes up the reality we see. Children die every day of starvation, underdeveloped country workers are continually exploited, women and children are constantly abused, religion promotes suffering in the name of a vengeful God, wars break out in such numbers that we don’t even care so much, if we are not involved; so much misery surrounding us, and yet we are unable to see the connection, the need for inclusion, and the necessary shift on how we look at each other.

Then, there are the black rhinos. They became extinct because of our own need to use their horns. Should we feel so lucky that there is not a culture (at least yet) that would hunt us down and keep us in captivity to extract our nails because they are a valuable item coveted by many? It’s all about perspective and perspectives change, like everything else.

We are the black rhinos looking ourselves in the eye. We are the ones contemplating ourselves on the swirling pool of our desires. The universe, this world, our lives is the greatest koan humanity has ever contemplated. Look in the eye of each being, look at everything around you and they will look back at you. This is it.

IF you could save only one movie for future generations, which movie would that be?

Let’s say a huge meteor is on its way to collide with earth, resulting in a total obliteration of our planet, and scientists are working with world organizations to send a capsule to space containing a sample of humanity’s achievements and heritage. If it was given to you the choice to pick one movie to be saved, what movie would you pick, and what would be the reasons for your choice?

sac 24 posterI have my answer in the blink of an eye. If I had to choose one movie I would – without a shadow of a doubt – choose Andrei Tarkovski’s “The Sacrifice”. To me, Tarkovski’s “The Sacrifice” sums up every meaningful human discourse put together in a plausible and current plot woven into masterfully orchestrated film-making. Every detail of this movie is a work of art; every nuance a tour de force, every scene a master class.

Watching a Tarkovski movie is like taking part in a religious ritual. You embark in a spiritual journey that leaves you in a blissful state of astonishment and awe in face of the unknown of what you are experiencing. It is that intangible quality that gives his movies a sense of the sacred and the eternal. I watched Andrei Tarkovski’s The Sacrifice when it was released in 1986 and my ongoing appreciation for movies was born.

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Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 –1986)

Andrei Tarkovski was born in 1932 in Zavrazhye, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union. He died at the age of 54 in 1986 in Paris, France. His filmography consists of seven films, of which the first five were directed in the Soviet Union: Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972), Mirror (1975) and Stalker (1979). The last two films were, respectively, directed in Italy Nostalghia (1983), and “The Sacrifice”, his last one, in 1986 in Sweden.

Please note that there are spoilers in the following analysis of the film.

THE SACREDNESS OF ALL THINGS AND THE FEARFUL VOID

offret_opening“The Sacrifice” opens up with a detail of “The Adoration of the Magi”(1481) by Leonardo da Vinci. The magi surround Mary as she holds the infant Jesus in her arms. They come to pay their respects and offer their gifts. Mary, baby Jesus and the magi form a triangle that gives harmony and balance to the composition. The Tree of Life representing triumph is in the center, and we observe this scene as we listen to the aria “Erbarme Dich” (Have Mercy) from Bach’s sacred oratorio St. Matthew’s Passion. Tarkovski deliberately wants us to stop and listen. Throughout the movie we will be enveloped in an atmosphere that draws our attention to the moment and the passage of time always marking its presence. This movie demands our full attention. It is precisely in our technological times, when our attention is so fragmented, that Tarkovski’s vision reveals itself so indispensable and vitally relevant.

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The Sacrifice was filmed on the Swedish island of Gotland, and not on the nearby Fårö as it had been claimed before. Erland Josephson plays Alexander, a middle-aged retired actor who opts for a life of voluntary semi-reclusion with his son, and stepdaughter Martha, on the idyllic and bucolic island. It is the day of his birthday and Alexander and his son, referred to as “Little Man”, are seen together planting a leafless and seemingly dead tree. Little Man is temporarily unable to speak due to a recent throat operation. Alexander tells his son the story of the old monk Pamve who had planted a withered tree on a hill and told his disciple Ioann Kolov to water the tree every morning to bring it back to life. Tarkovski begins his tale by handing out to us this unattainable and clearly impossible task.

NIETZSCHE’s THE ETERNAL RECURRENCE

sacWe are now introduced to an interesting and pivotal character named Otto, played by Allan Edwall. Otto, now retired, used to teach history at a secondary school. He is now the local postman, a part-time job he took to help fund his peculiar hobby of collecting odd, paranormal incidents. This scene where Otto meets Alexander and Little Man turns into a philosophical discussion on Nietzsche’s theory that the universe is bound to repeat itself in a cyclic evolution where humans will therefore experience the same events over and over again ad infinitum. When Otto leaves after the conversation about the oscillating model of the universe, Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood) and Victor (Sven Wollter) arrive by car. Victor is the family doctor, and close friend, who performed the surgery on Little Man. Adelaide is Alexander’s distant wife, herself an actress, who seems to struggle with her husband’s choice of cutting short his career as an actor to live as a recluse while working as a journalist, critic and lecturer on aesthetics. Adelaide appears to have a co-dependent relationship with Victor, a fact that becomes clearer as the story’s main event unfolds.

THE IMBALANCE BETWEEN OUR MATERIAL AND SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT

sac16Alexander’s monologue, or rather, his conversation with his son begins by recounting how he and Adelaide encountered the house they now live in. Soon, his discourse becomes confounded and crestfallen. According to his observations, our material development came about at the expense of spirituality or a more meaningful existence, which corroborates Nietzsche’s idea of the fearful void swallowing us up. Alexander’s dispirited views on humanity, and the way evolution is leading the world to its own demise, carry him into a state of nightmarish visions and panic.

Tarkovski’s approach to his films was always carefully planned. He had a precise vision of what he wanted to accomplish and how he wanted us to experience his films. Every cinematic component had a far-reaching and substantial symbolism to the scene. From sounds to color; from the dialogue and silences to film effects, his movies – and in particular “The Sacrifice” – pulsate with the presence of life in a space and time that engages the viewer in a total connection with this experience in its most fundamental realization.

“EVERY GIFT INVOLVES A SACRIFICE; IF NOT, WHAT KIND OF GIFT WOULD IT BE?”

tark3782Thus posits Otto, upon presenting a framed genuine map of Europe from the late 1600’s as his birthday gift to Alexander. When he states that a gift carries in itself an act of sacrifice, Otto sets the tone of the movie. This is a character that can be interpreted as Alexander’s Über-Ich (Super-ego); the very essence of the ideal models of one’s conscience. The old map of Europe has a striking symbolic effect as we consider the event that follows, and Alexander’s act of redemption in the end. Victor’s gift also introduces a suggestive element. He gives Alexander a refined book of charming and delicate icon paintings. Alexander is pleased and fascinated with the book images as he pored over them and recognized the profound wisdom, spirituality and childlike innocence that humanity seemed to have lost over the years. To him, the images are like a prayer, and so is this movie: a prayer in the most profound and seminal act of creation. Both gifts, the map and the book, point towards something vital that has been lost and that is imperative to the survival of our civilization.

Two important characters are slowly making their presence subtly felt. First we see Julia, played by Valérie Mairesse who is a kind of nurse-maid or governess, extremely protective of Little Man. And Maria, played by Filippa Franzén. Maria is a secretive and mysterious character who lives alone in a nearby house, and who seems to inflict fear on Adelaide. She is, however, described as a witch with seeming supernatural powers, in Otto’s opinion.

ENTROPY REVEALED AND THE UNSPEAKABLE EVENT

OffretFRlobby5As we were already expecting from the initial developing ideas in the film, a convergent state of chaos and disorder had been set into motion and the pressure created reached its maximum and brought about the predicament the characters are now facing. The world seems to have come to an end. It’s WWIII – a nuclear holocaust, the ultimate catastrophe. The characters are stupefied, in shock. Adelaide bursts out into hysteria and needs to be medicated. Alexander is perplexed, afraid, realizing the culmination of all his fears. From the first scene to the last the camerawork is inconspicuous. Tarkovski uses his camera as if the space were moving around his characters. Each scene has a fluidity that involves us in such a way that we feel part of the narrative. We also feel the presence of time and the burden and terror of our own existence in a world devoid of meaning where we look at each other for answers we are unable to get.

Apart from Bach’s aria, the only other music we hear is the intermittent melodious Zen-like atmosphere brought about by the sound of the bamboo flute played by Watazumido-Shuso in Alexander’s stereo system. The other sounds are brilliantly orchestrated by Swedish sound mixer Owen Svensson. We hear every single nuance of a multitude of sounds that gives us a sensorial experience unparalleled in the history of cinema. It is particularly haunting the woman’s cow calls we hear in the background and which permeates throughout the film. We hear the grass brushing together in the wind, the leaves in the trees, the creaking sound of the floorboards in Alexander’s house, flowing water, the rumble sound of the jets in such a multilayered composition that feels natural, and organically in synchrony with the scenes.

THE PRAYER

sac_prayer In his darkest hour, when all hope for salvation seemed to have vanquished, Alexander sits on the floor and addresses God, looking straight to the camera, into our eyes. It is an emotional and sincere moment. In the beginning of the film, when he is talking to Otto by the seashore after having planted the dead tree, Alexander tells Otto that his relationship with God is nonexistent. When he’s looking at the icon paintings on the book Victor had given him for his birthday, he declares that humanity lost that profound spirituality and purity, and that we don’t even know how to pray anymore. Now Alexander feels impelled to go deep within himself and pray. It is a long and fervent prayer where he makes the ultimate sacrifice. He promises that if God delivers his family and friends and gives another chance to humanity he will abandon his family, his house, even his beloved son, and live forever in silence. He is determined to redeem himself and the world for the excesses we have committed in our material evolution. He concludes his prayer and sleeps while contemplating the horror of this moment in his dream.

Sacrifice10Otto wakes him up and tells him he needs to go see Maria. He needs to sleep with Maria in order to save the world from total destruction; it is the only way, he says. Alexander, initially reluctant, goes to Maria’s house. When he meets Maria, his hands are covered in mud because he fell off the bike on his way there. She washes his hands and again the symbolism of the water and the cleansing is striking with ample connotations. They embrace and make love while levitating and spinning gently above the bed. This is one of Tarkovski’s signature visual effects. It’s almost an act of transubstantiation. In the Eucharist the bread and wine is transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. Here Alexander and Maria go beyond their physical bodies and attain the sacredness of that timeless moment.

THE SACRIFICE

sac15The morning after, Alexander wakes up on the sofa he had fallen asleep the night before, after he prayed and made his promise to renounce his life for the sake of his son, his family and the world. Was it only a dream? Has it all happened? Regardless of what really took place, Alexander is now determined he cannot go back and he knows he must come through. While the others are having breakfast he leaves a note asking to not be disturbed because he couldn’t sleep the night before. When they leave for a walk, he puts his plan into action. Dressed in a black Buddhist-type robe with the yin-yang symbol on his back, Alexander sets his own house on fire. All the others hurry back to the scene in complete shock. Alexander tries to speak, but then quickly realizes he promised never to utter a word for as long as he lives. He is certain he made the right choice and his sacrifice saved the world. All the characters are there with him: Adelaide, Victor, Julia, Maria and Otto all confused and shocked to see Alexander in such state. The ambulance arrives and Alexander is taken away, surprisingly at his own will. Only Little Man – played by Tommy Kjellqvist – is not present. We see Little Man alone, carrying two buckets of water. He waters the dead tree, and lies down under it, resting his head on its trunk. Bach’s aria is plaintive: “Have mercy, My God, for the sake of my tears”. For the first time in the movie we hear Little Man speak. He recites the first sentence of the first verse of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the word”. Then he asks: “Why is that Papa?” The camera pedestals up to the top of the dead tree. The prayer is completed.

Sac1bThe Sacrifice is a movie to be watched over and over again. It’s a testament to humanity and artistic achievement of the highest quality in the history of film-making. Andrei Tarkovski knew very well what he wanted to convey and worked with artists and technicians who understood and trusted him unconditionally. Sven Nykvist was the cinematographer, and together with Tarkovski, applied considerable amounts of color reduction to the film. This technique gave the ethereal quality and range of emotions we experience in every shot. The bottom line: the cinematography is impeccable.

I could go on and on raving about The Sacrifice. It is a movie that needs to be watched quietly and attentively. It is a meditation on life; a universal call to prayer, but not in the religious sense of the word. The Sacrifice is not a religious movie, but it is a movie about the human spirit and its quest to improve the conditions of life. It touches the very core of our vulnerabilities as a species trying to come to terms with the complex world we have woven around us. It asks profound questions, but it does not give us any simplistic answers. It lays out the fabric of our lives before us so we can contemplate and investigate our motivations that clearly lead to the quality of life we are creating together. In a world where words do not mean much, Tarkovsky silently underscores the need for integration.

LITTLE MANStructurally speaking, the movie is also subjected to the overarching concept of the “eternal recurrence” which was introduced right from the beginning by Otto in his philosophical reflections with Alexander about Nietzsche. At the end, Little Man addresses the father when he asks his question about Creation. Alexander is gone and cannot provide him with any answers. Little Man is alone and God is silent. The answers must come from within. We are the creators unraveling the mystery of life.

I am lying down in a nondescript place. The space extends far away to all directions. It’s all white and I can’t move. All of a sudden, I see, right above me, a gargantuan object resembling a can being tilted as if about to pour its content all over me. The substance resembled, and felt like, condensed milk, and I saw myself being engulfed by it. I could not escape.  I felt paralyzed and unable to breathe. Other times, I would see myself mixed up with the thick substance as the massive can was turned over and I would be poured out slowly with the gooey and dense stuff. I would wake up with a jolt, covered in cold sweat, unable to go back to sleep, such was the intensity and verisimilitude of this recurring dream of mine.

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“In the Tower of Sleep”, 1938 – Andre Masson

Dreams have always been an area that fascinates both scientists and the general individual alike. The dream state has the capacity to transport the person to a space where one can experience situations that elicit deep-rooted emotional responses. While dreaming we feel as if we are going through the real thing. In the dream space we access the subconscious part of our minds through symbolic images that are highly charged with primeval drives. The surrealist artists explored the world of dreams and the subconscious through the use of automatic expressions that liberated the subconscious mind from the control and censorship of the waking state.

When we think of surrealist painters the first name that comes to mind is unequivocally that of Salvador Dali. Dali explored his dreams in a way that left no room for the objective reality. His paintings were live psychoanalytical tableaux that revealed a far deeper understanding and representation of his motivations by making use of a multitude of symbols and myths. He stirred archetypes together and transcended the limitations of time and space while depicting an eroticism embedded with sacred connotations.

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“Pasiphaé”, 1937 – Andre Masson

Andre Masson

André-Aimé-René Masson (1896 – 1987)

André Masson is not a name that most people will recall when they think of surrealism. Masson was born in France in 1896. He explored many methods that would enable the subconscious to be expressed freely in his attempts to paint the so-called “inscapes” or the the inner world and its images contained in the subconscious mind. Masson explored automatic drawing and other methods such as being under the influence of drugs with Antonin Artaud, Michel Leiris, Joan Miró, Georges Bataille, Jean Dubuffet, and Georges Malkine. Until today, Masson is not well-known as an important figure in the history of surrealism.It is about time he received the accolade he so rightfully deserves.

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“Portrait of the poet Kleist”, 1939 – André Masson

Surrealist Art was directly influenced by the theories of psychoanalysis, in particular the dream theories of Sigmund Freud. As much as any surrealist work attempted to depict the workings of the subconscious mind through the use of automatic drawings, writings etc., Freud denied that these works were a product of direct manifestations of the subconscious. Freud observed that “pure psyche automatism”, in the sense of what the surrealist artists were doing, was still being mediated by the directives of the conscious mind.

Regardless of any agreement on the direct expression of the subconscious mind, the images the surrealist artists rendered comprise a motley collection of “inscapes” that investigate the human psyche nonetheless. André Masson was a prominent figure in surrealism art. Masson himself had been wounded in WWI and was interned in mental institutions for years due to insubordination. His paintings and drawings show an artist who ventured into the exploration of his psyche.

Masson was a pioneer in automatic drawing and all his explorations led him eventually to biomorphic abstraction which uses forms and lines that are found in nature, thus giving birth to an organic abstractionism that melts forms into one another and creates a landscape rife with vigor, eroticism, vibrancy and violent movement. Shapes become alive as if bodies were in constant revolt. The nonlinear, pictorial quality of this type of expression frees the viewer from an objective identification, allowing a free association that can usually be found in oneiric images.

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“There is no world ended”, 1942 – Andre Masson

Dreams are often confused and violent and independent from a linear narrative. Many times dreams can only be understood outside the objective mind. It functions as a sort of gateway that incorporates shapes and forms with deep archetypical resonance. The Surrealism movement employed the Freudian “free association” in vogue among artists and the intellectual elite around the end of the 19th century, and gave birth to a new language that was able to translate the new social landscape that was forming in the new century. Even today surrealism is part of the artistic arsenal of our culture. It visually translates complex emotions and instinctive drives within the socio-cultural tapestry that make up our intricate world today.

The mind is a powerful organism that can engender a multitude of images with an intense energy output. Artists have been making use of the unmapped territory of the mind for millennia. The surrealists absorbed the revolution brought about by psychoanalysis with Freud, and created nightmarish visions as well as beautiful abstract landscapes. This post attempts to offer a few glimpses into the oeuvre of André Msson and hopefully instigate more people to get to know this prolific artist.

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“The Metamorphosis of the Lovers”, 1938 – Andre Masson

When we dream we are not aware we are dreaming, unless it’s a lucid dream. Philosophers questioned how do we know that we are not actually dreaming when we seem to be awake, since we are not able to make that distinction when we are dreaming.

The Chinese philosopher Chuang-Zhou, who lived around the 4th century BC, postulated that he dreamed that he was a butterfly and that, while dreaming, he was aware of his being a butterfly. When he was awakened, he questioned the reality he was now experiencing. He did not know whether he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or instead a butterfly now dreaming he was a man. Such is the reality of dreams. As in the world of dreams, the apparent reality of the objective world is in constant transformation and things may not be what they seem; we might all be dreaming this dream.

* Top painting:

“The Metamorphosis of the Lovers”, 1938 – Andre Masson

Our relationship with the world is quite simply actualized through the concepts we form in our minds that enable us to speak about the reality we perceive. It is in this context that Plato’s allegory of the cave became one of the most famous philosophical metaphors in quotidian parlance. Our perception of reality is always filtered by our senses therefore it is not reality itself, but a subjective view of the object perceived. If that premise is accurate, each person perceives the world according to their own model achieved during the socialization process. Can we really know anything at all without the constraints of the dominant ideology mediating our experience?

books3In a way, every ideology within a social system destroys the very essence of individuality and creates an illusion of a common good. Every thought or idea serving a higher purpose benefits the very structure on which the system was founded. If an individual, or group of individuals, questions the core beliefs that motivate that system, they will either be ignored or be eradicated for the sake of the system.

We are all born into social groups that are culturally diverse. Countries are different from each other, and within a specific country there will be numerous regional and cultural differences with their own set of beliefs, their own ideology. The individuals learn how to conform to the ideology of the social structure in which they find themselves in, and perpetuate that set of beliefs in a cultural succession. The government, school, religion and family are the pillars of any given society. It’s through their united force and influence that society exists. We can rightly include the media in this list as an important vehicle used to reproduce wanted behaviors and support normative beliefs.

An ideology only survives as long as it’s not questioned. Once it’s questioned the whole reason of its existence is broken into pieces and it’ll eventually cease to exist. There’s no inherent meaning to it. It’s empty. There’s a process of identification with an imagined meaning we all attach to the things and ideas within the historical context we live in. This association is quite automatic and our responses are therefore conditioned. We live as if in a dream of the reality we think we perceive, but truthfully we are simply reproducing the model represented by the chained individuals looking at the shadows in the darkness of Plato’s cave.

??????????It is difficult to break free from the operating ideologies that sustain the dominant system. It’s a constant exercise of disassociation from the copy of reality, the simulacrum. One individual might be aware and free from the power exercised by the ongoing ideology in a social expression, and still be completely entangled in other manifestations of that same ideology in other areas of the social landscape. We are social beings and we depend on the social organism for our survival, therefore, our behavior will somehow always be determined by different ideologies, one way or another.

In Plato’s allegory of the cave human beings are chained by the hands, legs and neck and they can’t move or turn around. They face a big screen. Behind them there’s a suspended bridge or passageway. Behind this bridge there’s a large fire. On the bridge puppeteers hold objects that are thus projected on the screen. The helpless, chained men see the shadows projected on the screen and perceive them as real. At some point, one of them is set free and turns around and sees all that’s going on. He is taken outside by climbing the rough pathway leading out of the cave and is blinded by the daylight. Initially he can’t look at the sun because his eyes hurt. It’s all too bright and painful for now he sees. When he returns and tries to tell his companions about the truth he experienced, they all dismiss him calling him crazy and threatening him. In this allegory, Plato shows that the truth hurts and people are afraid to change their beliefs.

Slavoj  Zizek

“What if the way we perceive a problem is already part of the problem?” – SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK

Slovene philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek joins film director Sophie Fiennes to create an explosion of intriguing philosophical analysis in the 2012 documentary “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology”. The center of Žižek’s arguments in the engaging documentary revolves around Plato’s cave. From this idea Žižek weaves his incessant philosophical discourse on the ideology behind every image and linguistic composition that serves the purpose of maintaining a social, political and economic structure developed by the operating government.

Perverts-mind-to-ideologyŽižek makes use of movies to talk about the role of ideology in our lives and how it, surreptitiously, determines the way we behave within the social group.  Žižek’s ideas billow towards us unrelentingly. He knows how to put forth his ideas without confusion. His voice and stocky figure comes in and out of reproductions of the movie sets as he muses over the different ideologies inserted into apparently simple scenes. This documentary follows “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” (2016), also directed by Sophie Fiennes and using the same format where Žižek analyzes the movies using an array of philosophical and psychoanalytical theories within the recreated movie sets.

In “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology”, the first movie examined under Žižek’s sharp lenses is John Carpenter’s “They Live” – a science fiction film made in 1988. The Slovene philosopher dissects Carpenter’s “politically subversive” film by introducing the ideas that will support his analysis for each movie he will discuss during the documentary. With the movie “They Live, we get the first glimpse into Plato’s allegory of the cave with the metaphor of the “ideology glasses” that the main character John Nada uses to unveil the truth behind the dominant message. Philosophy becomes as fascinating as Hollywood itself under Žižek’s guidance. He is funny and passionate about his subject, and even if a bit too authoritative at times, he still manages to seduce us with his arguments.

pervert3His views on specific details on “The Sound of Music, “Taxi Driver, “Jaws” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” are quite gripping and leave a lot for us to think about. In “The Last Temptation of Christ” he goes on to affirm that what dies on the cross is God Himself, eliciting that the only way to true atheism is through Christianity. You may or may not agree with him in his philosophical approach but the fact is that this documentary holds your attention with a serious discourse, however odd and zany it might sound at first.

pervert2We all agree that philosophers challenge people’s conventional opinions, but what role would a philosopher have in our convoluted times? According to Žižek himself, the philosopher’s role is to help us ask the right questions. They certainly do not have the answers any more than we do, but they can help us to think. We are approaching a social crisis and we need to find ways that we can deal with the new problems we are faced today.

It is fundamentally positive when we are challenged in our core beliefs because it is only when we let go of what we believe that we can transcend the idea and truly experience what is. Reality only exists outside language; only outside language the real can be manifested. Our experience of the Real will, therefore, take place in that space between one thought and another, between our need to be right and our willingness to understand.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’s trailer:

I had a weekend dedicated to the pleasures of the senses. The good company of friends, scrumptious food, wine and dancing into the night: the philosophy of Epicurus suitably and diligently put into practice with the ardor of a dedicated student. The Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy yielded to the latter. There’s an innocent abandon when one surrenders to the gratification of the senses, a complete surrender to the moment and an implicit trust in the unraveling of one’s life.

I’m not, however, advocating a life of excess and irresponsible behavior, but the simple relinquishment of worries and the need to control things from time to time, a tip of the scales by exercising the choice we have to trust the natural flow of life and lose oneself into a day and night of revelry and chaos. It rejuvenates the cells and unblocks energy in the body. I understand a lot of people can’t quite balance these energies and end up in a cycle of addiction that can involve gambling, partying and sex.

yoshiwara5Prostitution has been prevalent in all ancient cultures moving on to the present. From ancient Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome up to the red light district in Amsterdam, the sex industry has revealed itself as one of the oldest professions. I felt compelled to visit this world this last weekend. Okay, before you get all on fire, hold your horses. I did not mean literally.

I felt inspired by an exhibit I saw at the Asian Art Museum entitled: “Seduction: Japan’s Floating World. This exhibit covers the works, objects and sartorial pieces from the Yoshiwara walled district of Edo (present day Tokyo). In simple words Yoshiwara was the red light district in Edo in the early 17th century until well into the 20th century when the Japanese government outlawed prostitution after WWII in 1958.

Edo literally means “bay-entrance” or “estuary” and it was the former name of Tokyo. The Edo period, ruled by the Toguwawa Shogunate (the last feudal military government in Japan), was a period of great economic growth and a widespread interest in arts, culture and entertainment. During this period, Edo became one of the largest cities in the world and gave birth to an urban lifestyle that facilitated pleasure in many forms. This culture was known as “Ukyio” – “The Floating World”.

yoshiwara6The exhibit at the Asian Art Museum gives us more than a glimpse into this sunken world. It offers us the opportunity to experience the beauty and extravagance of a privileged elite group that enjoyed the sumptuous, opulent and lavish experiences that money could provide. The system was divided into classes and the average individual would end up with lower class courtesans for a cheap price. A darker reality hid beneath the surface of the illusion created by the commerce of sex. That’s the way it was; that’s the way it is.

By 1700, Yoshiwara was a bustling complex that catered to the needs of every individual’s taste and budget. But this moated complex was more than just brothels and sex. It was a sophisticated entertainment structure that involved singing, dancing, parlor games, intricate tea rituals, food and wine, and the art of kabuki theater; all intentionally put together to make the men linger in the premises and spend their money while enjoying every pleasure they so desired in a memorable night that would guarantee their return many a night thereafter.
yoshiwara_entertainmentIn this exhibit: “Seduction – Japan’s Floating World”, the viewers can delight in a considerable display of magnificent pieces, prints and exquisite kimonos, outer robes and kimono-shaped bed covers embossed with dazzling patterns and motifs. This combination of ravishing elements conjured up a fantasy world that thrilled the viewer and offered them an experience of joy and elegance they would not forget. To the expensive, well-trained courtesans, the only way out would be to secure a patron who would take care and support them, thus giving them the possibility of a new life outside the confines of Yoshiwara. The unlucky, poor ones would eventually die too young, victims of the sex trade.

To me, from the numerous pieces displayed, the highlights were, undoubtedly, the splendid and incomparable hand-scroll “A visit to the Yoshiwara” (late 1680’s) by Japanese artist Hishikawa Moronobu (1618 –1694). His hand-scroll astoundingly measures 21” ⅛ in height x 693 ½ in width. A feast for the eyes showing the splendor of Yoshiwara spread across 58 feet of scroll paper. Moronobu himself was well-acquainted with the structure of the place, being married to a former courtesan. The details are extraordinarily and meticulously represented, from the entrance gate where the visitors arrived, passing through a primping station, an assignment house, the bustling streets with commerce, merchants, prostitutes lounging in latticed parlors, couples engaged in lovemaking, to the final scene where the clients would pay their bills on the following day. Yoshiwara was often referred to as the “Nightless City” – appropriately suggested in the exhibit as a present day Las Vegas, perhaps.

yoshiwara1The other two pieces that struck me for their rich detail and gracious artistry were the “Pear-form bottle with Daoist sages (ca. 1655-1680), and the “Pear-form bottle with peony and decorative-rock design (1650-1660). These spectacular porcelain bottles are extremely attractive and were possibly used to serve an alcoholic beverage such as sake during festive events. These are expensive, luxury items that only the wealthiest consumers of that period were able to afford.

This journey back in the past of old Tokyo shows the world that is not very different from that one we find in big cities all over the world. The industry of sex still capitalizes on human desires, weaknesses and the fleeting pleasure-seeking culture that exploits beauty and youth for a profit. In our convoluted and cramped cities, huddles of kids come out at night to work the streets; many of those still in their early teens. The stories are similar: poverty, escaping abusive parents and abandonment. These kids end up in the streets, eventually caving in to the lewd pursuits of men from a more privileged economic status. The world they will know will be one of drugs, sex, robbery, diseases and deceit.

All over the world prostitution runs rampant as countries struggle with a staggering poor economy that forces families to use their kids as bread winners out in the streets, at any cost. Those kids are denied of a healthy childhood and will be psychologically marred for the rest of their lives, making it almost impossible for them to be rehabilitated into society. Everywhere we hear news of sexual slaves, rape, abandonment and neglect. Losing the trust in their families, these kids grow up to be cynical individuals that will use sex and robbery as a means of survival.

yoshiwara4Upscale and ritzy prostitution might look glamorous on the outside, but the consequences are likely the same. The individual, regardless of their looks and youth, will always be regarded as a second-class element within their community and will often be a target to violence, discrimination and abuse. The Yoshiwara presents us a world of elegance and luxury, but behind this alluring façade, the less talented and poor prostitutes slaved themselves away while hoping that one day some generous patron would whisk them away and save their lives. As the seasons come and go, so do our lives. The Floating World would no longer float under its own weight, and the waters of history would silence the voices and sobs of those who perished within it.

In the end, we are left with the Latin aphorism “CARPE DIEM (“seize the day” or “live in the moment”) in counterpoise to “MEMENTO MORI (“remember (that you have) to die”) for life’s impermanence is reflected all around us, and the beauty of the cherry blossoms vanishes in the blink of an eye.

On a brighter note, here’s an Oiran Parade, in a scene from the movie “Yoshiwara Enjo”, showing “hachi monji” – a complicated way of walking invented by a legendary courtesan Katsuyama, and used by high-ranking Japanese courtesans – tayuu and oiran. This intricate walk of a courtesan, as they paraded on the streets, could last up to two hours. The effect is spellbinding:

My blogging experience is very recent. I officially started posting December 2014 after a trip that triggered my desire to write on a regular basis. I am still finding my way around. I decided to challenge myself to write a post per week for a year and see what happens.

This week I came across Idiot Writer’s blog and her work entitled “Stars Twin Flame”. On her post, she challenges her readers to write their interpretation, views and observations on her outstanding virtual painting. Her work is beautiful and extremely detailed, proving that computer art is no different than any art form, and, therefore, can touch the viewer the same way classic painters did with their oils. David Hockney has a plethora of works using his iPad as canvas.

After I left my comment on Idiot Writer‘s page, she replied to it. To my delight, she was pleased with it. Not only that, but she also, kindly, made a few suggestions to improve my blog visibility, considering that I am fairly new to blogging and the WordPress platform. I take this opportunity to thank her for taking the time to give me some beginner’s tips, and post my review of her virtual painting “Stars Twin Flame”.

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“Stars Twin Flame” by Idiot Writer

“Stars Twin Flame” shows three characters: a man, a woman and a serpent. The whole scene seems very ethereal and volatile, as if they are in a different dimension as their bodies appear suspended in time in some sort of ghostly hologram. They all seem part of each other in a connection that transcends their individuality. The man hangs from the tree with a rope around his neck.

His left hand holds the rope as if pointing to the fact that although he has been hanged he somehow lives beyond this image, we’ve been offered, of his own death. He holds the woman’s left hand with his right one, producing a cross-effect that gives balance and harmony to the composition.

A serpent is entwined on a large branch of the tree on the right side of the composition. Its head, with luminous blue eyes, is raised towards the apparently doomed couple. Also, the couple’s hands meet at the level of the man’s genitals, suggesting sexuality or even procreation, since some ancient symbolism involving serpents are closely related to fertility. It is interesting to note that the body of the snake seems to go up and end in what would be the rope around the man’s neck, suggesting a possible connection between his fate and the action of the serpent.

The blue color is only contrasted by the dark bark of the tree and the luminescence of what looks like water or light particles enveloping the couple. The whole image has an organic feel to it that centers the two individuals in a field of energy that is beyond the physical realm of existence. Only the tree seems to have a physicality that is quite palpable. Even the serpent, albeit rich in detail, seems to resemble a fantastic creature rather than one from an earthly landscape.

The serpent, the man and the woman are intrinsically the same; they co-exist within one another in a symbiosis that reveals the very nature of being human. It is the impetus of desire, and the necessary action rising from it, that gives birth to a new creation. All these fleeting pictorial details bring forth a world that’s foreign, but might echo a subconscious representation of the archetype of the first two humans, according to the Bible. However, this approach to the topic leaves it open to fresh interpretations.

In hindsight, I can’t seem to shake off this image of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta in Gustave Doré and Ary Sheffer‘s interpretations of Dante’s account in the second circle of Hell. Destined to be forever swept away in the harrowing whirlwind of the lustful, the couple elicited pity and sorrow from Dante.

The overall feeling is that of a continuum where every element becomes dependent on the next. The scene might initially appear eerie, but in reality it’s much like a leap of faith when the act of surrender brings the ultimate deliverance. In my view, by exercising free will – upon accepting the invitation, the offer – both individuals are able to merge and transcend their reality. The whole concept evokes an invitation that passes from one character to the other, forming an organic triad that illustrates the seminal quest for knowledge which inhabits our minds for millennia. Outstanding work!

I woke up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and as I got ready and went out for some early brunch, I accidentally stepped on dog poop in the hallway of my building. That’s quite an interesting way to start your day. Not only did I have to clean both my boots, but also the hallway carpet, leaving it free from any odors. After stepping on dog poop four times in a space of two weeks I can clearly see a pattern forming here.
dogWhy aren’t pet owners more conscientious about taking responsibility for their pets’ behavior and random bowel movement’s needs? How many times do we have a similar experience outside in the street or in parks where pet owners just fail to clean after their dogs? Big cities everywhere have a proliferation of incidents like that, making the lives of the rest of the population miserable. Those ones who choose to not have a pet, feel frustrated, angry and somehow wronged by certain elements in their community that are protected by a social group that share the same pet lover credo that: “it’s actually not a big deal”. Well, it is a big deal. People should be responsible for the choices they make, and if you want to have a pet you need to take full responsibility and not let your beloved animal disrupt the lives of those people who are happily enjoying their own company and solitude. Try to talk to someone who has a dog about the “poop plague” that’s taking over the city, and they will quickly look at you as if you are against pets, some kind of abomination in the circle of a pet friendly city. I experienced that a few times. They just don’t get it that it’s not about the pet, but about them.

A woman who used to live in my building asked me if I could feed her cats while she was out of town for the weekend. She was quite attractive: tall, blond, fair, smooth skin, skinny body like that of a model. She looked incredibly beautiful when you would meet her at the lobby. Of course I was more than happy to help her out, being a cat lover myself and all. From day one I was in for a big surprise. Her house was a big mess: clothes all over the floor and clutter everywhere. But the worst was the intense, nauseating smell of ammonia and dirty litter. As I looked for the litter box and the food bowls, I had to literally tip-toe across the main room towards the kitchen, carefully avoiding the dried cat poop everywhere. I felt like walking on a land mine; luckily for me, the explosives were all visible. I just had to make sure I’d miss all of them. How can anyone live like that? I thought. I suppose your sense of smell gets so used to it that you just don’t smell it anymore. But I did.

I feel that the dog poop issue is actually something that reminds other heated arguments, discussions that frequently lead to frustration and animosity among neighbors and people within a close community. I’m quite sure that many cultures have a similar saying: “Religion and politics should not be discussed”, it is an old belief for sure. This pithy warning usually comes from the mouth of someone who has, suddenly, ventured into the intrepid waters of such subjects, or has witnessed other people’s boats on the verge of sinking. When can we have challenging conversations, with divergent views, without slicing each other’s throats open?

talkingPeople become very defensive when you talk to them about certain things. We seem to hold our opinions in such high regard that we safeguard it at all costs. Are we incapable of accepting a view that’s completely different from our own without judging or thinking that we are really right and the other person is completely wrong? Are we really so self-centered that we think we have the right answers and the others don’t? What makes us so sure we are right?

It appears to me that our minds are really what get us in this confusion? We often believe what we think without even questioning, and we go on further by attaching words and labels to the things we are describing or identifying. Words are arbitrary symbols, but once it’s attached to an idea they actually color our perceptions of reality and define who we are.

Our_Father 2_redIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” These are the words from the Gospel of St. John. Words stick to us like a second skin and they carry meaning beyond our imagination. I was always intrigued by the word “GOD”. In my Catholic upbringing, God was always a reference to some old, bearded man, dressed in the style of the Renaissance period. God was always caring, understanding, yet distant and intangible. To top it off, the Catholic guilt has a definite purpose in keeping the faithful sheep in their community so closely-knit that any discussion that will undermine the main tenets or dogmas can never be achieved. You feel as if you are the black sheep, the fallen angel, or the pariah who dared to doubt and question the established order.

I’ve always felt inadequate in the religious community. It was as if I wasn’t holy enough to deserve the peace of mind that comes from blind faith. I never focused enough, it seemed. I was too distracted with being a kid and later a teenager. I used to fall asleep during nightly prayers which, incidentally, lasted over an hour in a succession of tedious repetitions of litanies. The very atmosphere of church rituals bore me to pieces. The smell of incense, wafting from the single chain thurible, always made me feel nauseous and smothered. I felt the walls of the temple closing in on me and the feeling was of anguish and fear rather than peace. I felt giddy and looked forward to being home reading my cherished comic books over breakfast.  God was nowhere to be found. I felt alone and unheard.

crossingI was probably in my teens when a peculiar event happened in my life. I was being really stubborn, having a tantrum and behaving like a real brat. I hid myself behind the wardrobe and refused to come to the table to have lunch. I needed attention, I suppose. Next thing I remember, our neighbor, who was a self-proclaimed medium, came into the picture and dragged me from behind the wardrobe and started “exorcising” me with her incantations and trance-like groans. Looking back, I was not possessed, but the whole experienced scared the hell out of me, and prompted me to behave in a more “religious” manner thereafter, that meaning going to church without complaining and staying alert during the long nightly prayers.

I tried my best, but eventually the boredom set in again. I guess I was not pious enough. Once I went to college, my life took a different turn. I was free to read the books I wanted, and now my ideas of that God faded away. I was proud to announce I was an atheist. But that did not last long. The spiritual fire still burned within me somehow. I can say I have finally found that one God I had been looking for. It was all around me all the time, but the preaching, the candles and the smoke coming out of the thuribles would not allow me to see it.

I can say I had a dialectic experience with spirituality. It started with blind faith, it quickly moved on to a rebellious and complacent atheism, and then it turned into a constant practice of the spirituality within me. To me GOD revealed itself as everything there is, the very source of who I am and reality itself. The word god became unimportant. I freed myself from the constraints of the symbol. Instead, my experience of god is the energy of creation. In this sense we are all co-creators of reality. Reality is in a constant flow of change. The moment we are present with ourselves, and we feel ourselves breathing and being without thinking or conceptualizing, we are GOD, we are the energy that surrounds us all the time. In that space we are always safe.

There’s really nobody to ask or place to go to but within. The experience of God is found when we learn who we are and we make the effort every day to live mindfully, ever watchful, always observing. It is in our every step that we find the essence of God as the energy of creation present in everything. It is in that sacred space that we find peace. There are no guarantees in life, no promised land to be experienced at some other time. The time is now. We need to pay attention to our lives now because it’s really all we have. Every second counts, every breath, every step.

Our minds try over and over again to catch our attention by fabricating innumerable stories and attaching erroneous meanings to them. It is our task to untangle ourselves from this living hell. We are the only ones who can successfully accomplish this. We need to be a light unto ourselves, said the Buddha. It’s the function of the mind to store experiences and possible scenarios. We only need to acknowledge them, and move on. It is in this space that I find God every time in every situation; even when I feel tempted to resist and complain after stepping on a pile of dog poop.

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Stepping on dog poop gives me the chance to be with myself and be in the moment. The first reaction is to be angry and complain. But then, some magic happens and I stay present, as if in a moment of meditation while cleaning the poop off my boots. It brought me to the present moment. It brought me to myself. It brought me to God. It brought me to the energy of life that lives inside me and keeps me connected with everything else. In God I trust. In Reality I am. With my Breath, I am present – even while cleaning dog poop.

EVERY TIME AN ARTIST DIES…

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Every time an artist dies, a star forever dims its light in the firmament.

Tomie Ohtake and Tetsuya Ishida were both from Japan. They were both painters, and they are both deceased. Their style of painting couldn’t be more dissimilar. Their views of the world and the reality they experienced even more divergent; their life spans, astoundingly disparate.

1913: Tomie Ohtake is born in Kyoto, Japan.

1973: Sixty years later, Tetsuya Ishida was born in Yaizu, Shizuoka, Japan.

They lived in different times, during their youth, and experienced different social and personal problems, but they poured their hearts and souls into their work, manifesting their vision in a ceremonial act of reaching out to others and communicating joy, and angst.

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At the age of 23 Ohtake went to Brazil to visit her brother in 1936. The Sino-Japanese war broke out, and soon afterwards WWII, making her return to Japan impossible. Ohtake settled in São Paulo, Brazil. She got married, had two children and started a new life.

tetsuya-ishidaAfter graduating from High School at the age of 19, Tetsuya Ishida began to feel the pressure his parents put on him to pursue an academic career and become a teacher or chemist. Ishida’s father, a member of parliament, and his mother, a housewife, denied him any financial support during his years at Musashino Art University.

tomie-ohtake (1)Tomie Ohtake never learned Portuguese fluently, maintaining a strong accent that only added charm to her artistic persona.  She communicated as an artist through color and abstract form that she intuitively and organically brought to life. She says that upon arriving in Brazil she felt fascinated with the light of the sun, the magnificent yellow light glistening on the new landscape before her attentively amused eyes.

Tetsuya Ishida 4Ishida showed signs of his artistic talents from an early age, but he lived in times of enormous economic crisis; this would have a colossal impact on his work. During his years at the university, Japan had entered a great recession known as the “lost Decade” comprising the years of 1991 to 2000, but recently they have also included a second decade from 2001 to 2010. After the economic anomalies that made Japan enjoy an economic growth during 1980’s, the following decade drowned Japan into debt, creating a serious asset bubble with prices going up, over-inflating the economy. Prices went up so quickly over a short period of time that made it impossible to support the demand for the products. It doesn’t take too much to recognize analogous scenarios worldwide. Prices going up and shortage of basic products contributing to full-blown inflation.

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Tomie Ohtake was a painter and sculptor. She expressed her art through an informal abstractionism that linked her Japanese heritage with an international presence in the arts in Brazil. Ohtake had a phenomenological approach to painting. Her interaction with the paint was organic and was brought forth through a constant integration of the body and the senses in her perception and relationship with reality. Ohtake would say: “I don’t like small things. I don’t like to paint with finger tips. I use the whole body.”

tetsuya-ishida04I have recently been to the first Tetsuya Ishida’s exhibit at the Asian Art Museum and found myself transported to a world that left me suspended in a state of weightlessness.  His work is said to be a type of dark surrealism, but I would rather see it as “ontological surrealism”, a surrealism that is concerned with the relationship of human beings and their condition in the world. I don’t find his work dark. I find his work reflective and meditative of the social systems that affect our lives so intrusively. The landscape is familiar but the construct is volatile and ethereal. In Ishida’s work, human beings are often morphed into objects like cans, sinks, buildings; as if they were imprisoned by the concept of those objects that falsely define their identity within the context of modern societies. There are instances where people are coming out of the bodies of reptiles or insects, organically obliterating the fine lines between our prosaic reality and nightmarish visions of life. In Ishida said that he was attracted to artists who “feel the pain of all mankind” and who “truly believe that the world is saved a little with each brushstroke.”

Tomie-Ohtake-Sem-Titulo-1987-acrilica-sobre-tela-150-x-150--size-598When you look at a Tomie Ohtake painting you can feel the vibrancy of life in the way she painted. There’s movement and chaos, but also an abundant state of awe for life, an innate urgency to communicate though color and organically reproduced shapes that redefines our perceptions. Ohtake’s style of painting is usually labeled as informal abstractionism, aka lyrical abstraction. In simple words, this style is classified as being free of the constraints of mathematical geometric forms. In the case of Ohtake’s paintings her shapes are born out of an organic impulse to become active through the relationship of the painter’s body and his senses when interpreting reality with the knowledge acquired by this holistic and phenomenological approach to art. She even painted with eyes closed, letting her body and internal imagery guide her hand. Her paintings are full of life and movement which defies simple rationalism or congruous interpretations.

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Ishida liked Franz Kafka. It’s unquestionably ubiquitous the Kafkaesque atmosphere in Ishida’s paintings. The more overt examples are easily noticeable in the blending of human and reptiles or insects; even cockroaches are coalesced into the human form suggesting the same type of alienation that Kafka so brilliantly explored and exposed in his stories. The subjects in Ishida’s work are not happy, but they are not fighting back either. There seems to be a complacent apathy in his painting that holds the individual captive and offers no possibility for change. There’s always an expression of disillusionment on the faces of the subjects portrayed. They display a vague look as if they are hopeless and are only waiting for their impending deaths. In that sense, Ishida’s work resonates with that of American painter George Tooker. A recognizable aura of isolation and disassociation of the individual within the social landscape is found in Tooker’s paintings giving us a similar experience where the individual feels lost and unable to find their place in the world. (example 1; example 2; example 3; example 4)

to12In contrast to Ishida’s themes, Ohtake’s representational world cries out life with its vibrant colors. Her paintings have movement and almost seem to be at the point where the paint will pour out of the canvas and enwrap us.  Striking colors dance before our eyes from layers of subdued tonalities which suddenly come up to the surface under the hefty organic shape created by the artist. It seems Ohtake starts with an idea that could be a dot or a smudge and develops it into a receding ripple that creates a fascinating interplay with other colors or hues of the same color. There are times that the paint seem to be the effect of the rays of the sun on the surface of water causing a glistening moving layer of sparkling flakes or scales. Or perhaps, they are part of foliage that reveals translucent or even opaque shadows. Ohtake’s paintings open the door to a mystic relationship between the viewer and her unpretentious abstractionism. Her paintings are easy on the eyes of those who would otherwise, most likely, snub abstract art. Through the many phases she experimented with during her long career, Ohtake developed a connection with the paint and brush that surpassed academic theories. She painted with her soul in a symbiosis that joined together her mental construct and her entire body. This artistic and sensual maneuver on her part resulted in vivid tableaux that captured the attention of not only the artistic, trained elite, but also the simple, laymen who felt transcended into a world of movement and color, inviting their silence within to be expressed with the plain act of just looking.

The key to understanding a work of art is mainly allowing oneself to be open and giving the artist one’s undivided attention and time to let the work speak to you. It is in these interstices that we go beyond the artistic debate, and the intention that motivated the artist in the first place is fully reached in its full force of elements, reaching the zenith of the artistic experience.

tumblr_lyiukiQOIU1r32unvo1_1280Tetsuya Ishida died too young, at the age of 31. There are inconclusive narratives that his death was not an accident, but rather a successful attempt to leave this world on his own terms. He was hit by a train and died instantly, at a railroad crossing, in the city of Machida, part of the metropolitan area of Tokyo. He left behind, during a ten-year career as an artist, over 180 paintings. On May 23rd  2015, it will be the 10th anniversary of his untimely death. The world is finally getting to know this brilliant artist, initially through the internet. We only hope that more comprehensive exhibits will give us all the chance to be touched by this young man’s vision and existential unease that are so familiar to us all in the context of inflated and dysfunctional societies within which we are intrinsically bound in the silence of our unheard voices. We are following a similar path.

ti2The world Ishida represented on his canvas is no different than ours. It places us at center stage. We are the subject of his paintings. We are the individuals chained together in the economic landscape that makes us captive and forces us to walk endlessly towards the barren wasteland of our unfulfilled dreams. Reduced to mere cogs in the system that maintains our idealized lifestyles we fail to recognize that our identities have been smashed in this mechanized process. We become entangled with the objects of our consumeristic desires, devalued by the same principle that creates the novelty. Ishida had the courage to look beneath the surface of the glittering reality and see, for himself, the swirling and dangerous waters that drown the lives of every individual lost in the myriad of empty promises for a better life. The forlorn depiction he offered us was not coming from negativism, or the assumption that life was not worth living for, nor a dismissive attitude towards the world. Quite the opposite, in his desperate but quiet representations of a dismal reality he was urging us to pay attention so we can see ourselves reflected in the madness of it all.

Tetsuya_Ishida_-_primary_bThe world has lost two different artists. Two different visions, same desire to inspire. Tomie Ohtake passed away in February 12th 2015, at the age of 101. Tetsuya Ishida died ten years ago, in May 23rd 2005, at 31 years of age. Both artists come from Japan in different times. Both complement each other in our shared humanity. Creation and destruction, in and of itself, part of who we are. It is life giving birth and death recreating the elusive quality of our lives. Looking at their work, we cannot feel indifferent for the impact is too grand to be overseen. The indelible images these artists fabricated follow us like a mirage of ourselves, of what we are, of what we were, of what we could have been and what we will be. It is our choice to listen to them. It is the explosion of the universe inside us with all its fervent colors and soothing expanding effects. It’s our discombobulated creation wreathed around us like the carcass of an insect organically attached to our bodies that seem foreign to us, yet accepted with a startling nonchalance. It is a constant movement of life and renewal. It is time we listened to what they are trying to say. It is time we paid attention to ourselves as a unique organism affecting one another in our evolutionary steps.

2 Tomie Ohtake - 1963I miss Tetsuya Ishida and I miss Tomie Ohtake. I miss them both. And I wish I had known them and that I had become friends with them. I wish I were able to call them Tetsu and Tomie.  I wish I could have listened to them talk about the way they viewed the world and how they expressed that sentiment in their works. These two artists belong to the pantheon of many other artists who managed to cross into the space of immortality through their oeuvres. They were able to put their vision and their existential experience into their paintings and touch us closely with their lives. These extraordinary beings achieved the remarkably tenuous task of transcribing onto the canvases their innermost feelings and emotions without the use of words. It is exactly through silence that we get closer to them; it is through silence that they speak to us in the exact moment and place where our human sacredness meets theirs.
1414503142.3374_115_oI feel sad. Nothing horrible, though. I feel the type of sadness originated by an existential longing that we all feel somehow, but can’t quite put it into words. I strangely miss these two artists, as if missing them I’m missing a part of myself that died with them. It’s a beautiful feeling. That kind of feeling we have when we listen to a doleful adagio, or experience the sunset in complete silence and solitude. It is also the feeling we have when we acknowledge the vastness of the night sky by ourselves. I feel both Tomie and Tetsu with me and I miss them fiercely. It’s quite odd when we spend time with people like them without even having had the opportunity to meet them in person. They come to us and change us somehow. They bring their whole world into ours. That’s what the magic encounter with a true artist is like; painters, writers, poets, musicians, philosophers, composers, singers, a friend or companion, our neighbor: they all have the ability to change us and touch us in the depths of our beings with their creative souls. That’s what the magic encounter with the other is like. It is the connection that does it for us, and we miss that so much. I have felt that way since the first time I saw Ohtake’s paintings because they’re so primitive and seminal. Then I met Ishida, and he took me to the other side of the mirror, and I saw myself depicted in his paintings, locked up, lost and unsure.

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I miss Tetsuya. I miss Tomie. I miss everything that’s beautiful and pure in us. I miss our forgotten simplicity and our capacity to just be.

We are all artists in our own way, capable of creating beauty every time we make that choice, every time we touch another being.

WinternomadeGrowing up I was always moving from city to city. This might be the reason I never established roots anywhere until later in life when the decision to choose a place I could call home was all mine. I am an only child and I never met my father; this experience left me unattached to the memories of family life circumscribed by a specific geographical area. I felt loose, unrestrained, unfettered by that sense of belonging that prevents people from stepping outside their comfort zone. I was already outside my comfort zone. I felt different and unable to relate to other kids who shared an extensive family life.

mom_auntIn my experience, the nomadic character of my childhood was beyond my control and I had to follow the two people who raised me: my mother, and my aunt who was then often stationed in different regions throughout the country as a chief nurse. They raised me together and I had no choice but to go with them – not that I have any complaints on that respect. On the contrary, I believe my life was exponentially improved by being exposed to this constant change of places. Later in life, I made my own decision of where I wanted to live.

Syr_Darya_Oblast._Kyrgyz_Migration_WDL10987 (1)Now I consider all those people who are nomadic by nature, who are constantly moving from one city to another, one state to another, one country to another; many times with no more than two years apart between places. What drives them to move? What impels them to start again in a new place?

Perhaps, a dissatisfaction with the way their lives are going drives them to a constant search for a different place that will give them the chance to start anew; a blank slate or canvas where they can rewrite their own stories, in an attempt to avoid the mistakes they deem responsible for their uneasiness and discontent. Starting again in a new place, where nobody knows us, might bring a nub of relief from the self-imposed pressure coming from an erroneous belief that we might have failed somewhere, somehow. We never truly fail. But we beat ourselves up when we think we did, and leaving the place where things supposedly went awry, will at least boost the morale and open the flow of energy once again.

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BUT, GOING TO MARS?

In 2011 a nonprofit foundation announced its plan to take the first humans to Mars and establish the first settlement, a new colony. A staggering number of more than 200,000 people replied to the primary selection phase of the Mars One Mission. What motivates people, from all over the world, to take part in this unique scientific experiment that seems so risky and ostensibly far-fetched? It is, undeniably, a brave and laudable decision that those embarking on this journey have made when they applied to fill in the four-person spaceship on their one-way ticket to Mars.

The reasons are different from person to person, but the one aspect this varied and large group seems to have in common is the belief that they are opening a new frontier to mankind, and that they are willing to take upon the risks – even if it means disintegrating, in a matter of seconds, while entering the Mars’ atmosphere, if the angle of entry is not quite as it should be. Furthermore, they also defend the idea that life on earth, under the evolutionary pattern we have been following, is reaching its demise and extinction. There isn’t much hope, or a rational positive prognostic, that reversing this old and devastatingly stagnant model is possible to achieve. Considering the level of dissociation that human beings have been identified with, and the ensuing relationship with the very system that societies at large have adopted in their increasingly competitive global economic race, we are all in big trouble.

600px-MARS-VikingThrough the examples of the people who responded to the initial selection to go to Mars, it is hard, and quite disturbing, to imagine someone leaving their wife and kids behind to pursue this dream of finding a higher purpose and meaning in their lives. Somehow it feels that some of these people are lost or confused in a world that spawns isolation and social dislocation due to a mechanized lifestyle that stifles one’s individuality and uniqueness. It is rather unsettling to listen to these people because we feel incapable of disputing their motivations and reasoning. It is just disheartening and doleful to see the amount of personal suffering that individuals go through, to the point that they would rather choose to be dead for the people they are leaving behind on earth than committing to struggling and finding their way around the chaos in their lives. Some may even say this mission could be a new form of suicide with a higher purpose and legacy as the main rational justification for making that choice. In any case, it is a personal choice and one that has profound social, psychological and spiritual ramifications for everyone.

The initial phase of the selection process has already started; registration opened in 2011 and it’s now closed. The cost to send the first four people going to Mars is 6 billion US$. Some of the applicants have appeared in interviews that make up interesting short movies about this mission. One candidate is only 18 years of age and mentioned that he never had sex or kissed anyone in his life. Another applicant said that love is not something that she needs and that nobody has ever had that effect on her. So are these the qualities they will be looking for in the perfect candidate to start this new era of human evolution on another planet? Love and human emotions will no longer be seen as an important and defining trait of humanity?

NASA_Mars_RoverI have mixed feelings towards this enterprise. I can’t make up my mind as yet. I would like to think that our Earth still needs to be looked at from the perspective of a live organism and not some decaying system soon to be discarded. I am well aware of the overwhelming and critical problems we face due to overpopulation, but I would still like to think that we could revert this process, if only the focus would be given to social and economic justice and education in a large scale, on all levels. I’m not saying we should not explore the universe, but to see other human beings ready to embrace this journey, leaving Earth behind forever, makes me feel a longing and nostalgia for something that is quite indefinable and which I struggle to grasp.

The first group of four to embark on this unprecedented journey is scheduled for 2024. The crew will travel through space for 210 days on their way to Mars. Once they land safely on the Red Planet’s surface, they will go through a period of readjusting to gravity, recovering from the long journey, and starting the settlement necessary for their survival. Subsequent missions will arrive every two years with other groups of four each.  Each succeeding mission will cost 4 billion US$. This is an ambitious mission, not only financially, but also in terms of the magnitude of the project.

779px-MarsSunsetI am a firm believer that we should explore and cross new frontiers in order to improve, evolve and expand our knowledge of the universe and ourselves. However, I also feel that the most fundamental stepping stone to humanity’s advancement comes, first and foremost, from within. Carved inside Apollo’s Temple at Delphi was the famous maxim: “Know Thyself”. This ancient maxim has been exhaustively explored in its possible meanings, but the reference to a personal investigation seems almost impossible to ignore. It is through self-knowledge that man can syllogistically come to understand others and the reality around. The inescapable, but preventable, social problems we have been experiencing since the birth of our civilization suggest a dearth of this primary knowledge, for we still feel separate from one another, and identify our relationships as possible threats to our survival, much like our primitive ancestors responded to the challenging unknown world around them.

ArtificialFictionBrainHow can we explore other worlds as possible sites for the perpetuation of our species if we are not able to establish a functional community here on earth that is no longer defined in terms of force, economic clout and political anomaly? How can we envisage a new society on a far-away planet if we can’t embrace each other’s differences, and as a result, often resort to war, segregation, violence and genocide to resolve disputes? How can we create a new community if we carry the old model within?  My biggest fear in such a visionary enterprise, that the Mars One Mission is planning to carry out, is not the recognizable and conspicuous risks of this journey, but how the individuals who succeed to land safely on the red planet will engage in a healthy relationship among themselves. Are they going to be able to create a new community, or will they repeat a similar pattern to the one we already have here?

Comet-SidingSpring-Passing-PlanetMars-On-20141019-ArtistConcept-20140905Whoever wishes to apply to participate in this mission needs to be at least 18 years of age; there’s no maximum age to apply as long as the candidate meets the normal medical and physical requirements. One fact that needs to be understood is that once you initiate this journey, there’s no ticket back to Earth. The astronaut will be saying good-bye to family, friends and loved ones forever, and Earth will only be a distant image in their cherished memories. It is a hard choice to make. I admire those people who are brave enough to sacrifice their lives by leaving our planet and their homes to open a new frontier to mankind; their true motivations only known to themselves.

I feel that there’s an intense thrill of discovering a new world, much like the way the early colonizers sailed away in search of new places to explore. Wasn’t it the way the Americas were colonized by Portugal and Spain in the 15th century, and later on the West Indies by the British, the Danish and the Dutch from the 17th to the 19th centuries? Are we starting a new phase of colonization with a space imperialism of sorts?

koyaanisqatsi_400x400Godfrey Reggio’s movie “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance” came out in 1982 and left me with this impending sense of doom that our civilization was led to despair and extinction. In the movie, sumptuously choreographed with startling images and haunting soundtrack and cinematography, Reggio silently and eerily suggests, that technology is not to blame for the state of moral corruption and turmoil (in the Hopi definition of the movie title), we are experiencing, but rather our own relationship with the systems we have created in our society from politics to language, culture and religion – to name a few of the interconnected elements that influence our perceptions of the world we live in. It is our relationship with these systems that will define how we approach technology and make use of it to recreate the paradigm of society founded on the blueprint of our beliefs. Before we attempt to save our species by transporting people to other planets, we need first to activate a shift in conscience that will validate the reason to perpetuate our species and our evolution. Or else, we might end up saving a failed civilization that has long become extinct without our knowing.

Messier_91_(M91)Of course we need to explore, of course we need to investigate, but not without acknowledging our own problems first, lest we don’t recreate the same images of crumbling existence and ongoing suffering we constantly see in the world today in astounding proportion. It is as if man is still the prisoner deep down below in Plato’s Cave, taking the shadows he sees as the real world while some freed men dare to escape and realize for themselves the truth of the real world. Never fully understood, these “freed men” are, ironically, taken for fools or lunatics. In Plato’s theory of education, knowledge is the process of remembering or anamnesis, but in our civilization we seem to remember nothing. We don’t seem to learn from history because the facts show that we continue to repeat, through new technology, the dominant and savage model of warfare. Are we doomed to live in the darkness of ignorance as the cave men we once were?

Copy_of_earth_and_moon_photo_taken_by_ISSI like to think that the world is still a beautiful place filled with inspiring examples of love and tenderness brought forth by people like us all over the world. These people inspire me to be greater and to believe in the pure essence of the human spirit, unencumbered by the illusion of separateness and isolation. I believe in life and that we are able to recreate a model of existence with our choices and actions, breathing together as one live organism rooted on this planet in absolute interconnectedness.

I salute and command these courageous people who are dreaming of leaving their legacy, as explorers of a new planet, to the future generations. I admire their courage and support their decision. As for me, I am ready to continue my journey of self-exploration, on this planet, with the other more than seven billion individuals, not quite ready to leave this wonderful world yet.

MARS ONE MISSION PAGEhttp://www.mars-one.com/

For those interested to learn more about this mission here are four short films that show the thoughts of some of the people who registered for the initial selection phase:

1- MARS CALLING

2- IF I DIE ON MARS

3- MARS ONE WAY

4- MARS ONE

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All photos are from Wikimedia Commons. Credit and info below:

1) By D Mitriy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f7/Colonization_of_Mars.jpg

2) “Winternomade” by Honza Soukup – http://bit.ly/1FYjpb7

3) “Syr Darya Oblast. Kyrgyz Migration WDL10987” by Kun, Aleksandr L., 1840-1888 – http://bit.ly/1BfsRUJ

4) By D Mitriy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1d/Man_on_Mars.jpg

5) By Viking mission team (NASA/JPL) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/MARS-Viking.jpg

6) By NASA/JPL/Cornell University, Maas Digital LLC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d8/NASA_Mars_Rover.jpg

7) By NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/69/MarsSunset.jpg

8) “ArtificialFictionBrain”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ArtificialFictionBrain.png#mediaviewer/File:ArtificialFictionBrain.png

9) By NASA/JPL-Caltech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/df/Comet-SidingSpring-Passing-PlanetMars-On-20141019-ArtistConcept-20140905.jpg

10) Koyaanisqatsi – movie credits – http://eviltwinbooking.org/films/koyaanisqatsi/

11) “Messier 91 (M91)” by Jschulman555 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Messier_91_(M91).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Messier_91_(M91).jpg

12) “Copy of earth and moon photo taken by ISS” by Larrypearson1 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Copy_of_earth_and_moon_photo_taken_by_ISS.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Copy_of_earth_and_moon_photo_taken_by_ISS.jpg

Closeup of candle flame.The lights go down; the curtain goes up: with these two simple actions a universe of mystery is brought to life. On the stage the actors are no longer people, but living incantations and personifications of attributes that relates to us on the realm of symbols and myriad archetypes, speaking to us from the ancient tombs of our prehistoric ancestors. Such is the life and strength of theater. From the darkness of the room we sit in silence watching the flickering of light and bodies moving in an imagined landscape that trace the contours of our minds in search for an identification that will purge us from inside out.

My experience with theater took place organically through experimentation with the material elements that put together the farce. I can say I was lucky to be exposed, from an early age, to the great minds of theater writers and their literary concoctions and transubstantiation into the scene.

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To me, the theater has always been the place of the absurd, the chaos and the madness of human beings. It has always been a fertile ground that seeded my imagination and made me soar high with the ability that the creative mind has to understand and reflect man’s chaotic existential experience in contradictory and absurd ways. It is from the chaos that we make sense of our existence.

I was fortunate to watch Robert Wilson’s The Old Woman in the fall of 2014, a special treat from a dear friend. This was my first exposure to Wilson’s work and I have to confess that I was fascinated by his genius. This is the kind of theater I want in my life. That’s the kind of theater I was exposed when I was in college and that’s how I forged my theater experience. For a long time I have been craving this intensity on the stage. I was tired of experiencing the same stale productions that left me bored and dissatisfied. I needed to be challenged  in a multisensory level in order to transcend the limitations of my reality and reach that space that connects me with the performance beyond the sphere of logic and simplified linearity.

daniil kharms1The Old Woman was brought to the stage by a combination of talents starting with the text itself. Daniil Kharms wrote this exquisite and superb absurdist piece on the cusp of WWII in 1939 in Russia. It is a story about a writer facing writer’s block. He is determined to sit and start writing on the idea of a miracle worker who does not perform any miracles, not even to benefit himself. The only thing the writer brings himself to write is the sentence: “The miracle worker was tall”. From this point on, a series of fantastic encounters and bizarre events take place, defeating his inspiration to write. The presence of the old woman in the beginning of the story opens a space for many interpretations of what the old woman might mean. Perhaps, she doesn’t even mean anything at all; alluding to the possibility of lack of meaning in our own existence, or in any task an individual might become involved with. We are always trying to attach meaning to events and to the objects around us. It is in this sense that the figure of the old woman questions the very essence of our unquenchable need for meaning.
ow7The old woman holds a clock without any hands and when asked what time it is she points out that it is exactly a quarter to three.

The old woman shows up at the writers quarters uninvited. She enters his room and soon falls dead. It is at this point in the story that the writer faces his predicament. It is his own inability to write that somehow brings about the surreal nature of his situation. He now needs to get rid of the corpse, or, in his own words, the carrion of this old woman. He initially intends to contact the super of his building but all his efforts are in vain.  Outside, he meets a lady while waiting in line at a bakery. He establishes a connection with this woman but can’t invite her over to his apartment until he gets rid of the corpse.
ow3When he is back in his place, the dead old woman keeps disappearing and reappearing in the most phantasmagorical circumstances. In one moment the old woman is advancing towards him on all fours in a menacing manner; in the next, she’s back in the same position as before, still dead. The story culminates when the writer takes matters on his own hands and decides to put the body of the old woman in a suitcase and dump her in a swamp. The writer has a friend whom he initially would have liked to ask for help but decides not to for fear that he would not understand. While riding the train to dispose of the corpse, the suitcase containing the body of the old woman mysteriously disappears. The writer finally completes his manuscript that strangely seemed to be following its course all along in the story itself.

daniil kharmsDaniil Kharms’ story is quite open to interpretations, but in my opinion it reveals the challenges and obstacles a writer experiences during the process of writing. It is a visionary tale of sorts; a symbolic play with words, a sleight of hand brilliantly crafted and performed by the writer, but unnoticed by the reader until the end.

Darryl Pinckney’s adaptation of the text to the stage is outstanding. He deconstructs Kharm’s story and puts it together in an innovative collage that composes a mosaic and reveals a palimpsest of subtle images and influences that incorporate Russian folklore, myth, song, Russian language and avant-garde art, each layer carrying the collective imaginary of the culture that motivated Khrams’ oeuvre.

ow_wilsonRobert Wilson’s orchestration of the mis-en-scène adds another intricate layer to Daniil Kharms’ story. It is through layers upon layers of different expressive media that a possibility of meanings can be extracted from the text in a fresh investigation of the work. The vaudevillian tone of the performance fits nicely with the surrealism of the scenic elements of the story. Now we have the actors. Two big names are on the stage, quite unrecognizable in their costumes and kabuki-theater-meets-geisha make-up, rendering a performance that is unequivocally a tour de force.

ow_actors2Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov complement each other in a varied interplay of characters that echo their counterparts admirably. The play opens with the scene of the clock. Then, the two actors are suspended on a swing above the stage as they recite over and over again to exhaustion: “This is how hunger begins: In the morning you wake lively, then weakness, then boredom, then comes the loss of quick reason’s strength – then comes calm, and then horror”. Throughout the play the actors mirror each other and wring out every single drop of meaning from the text through repetitions, bilingual interactions with Baryshnikov saying his lines in Russian and Dafoe repeating them in English, thus echoing the original language in which the text was written. Both actors play different characters all the time, but also play each other, in an interchange that sometimes is hard for the spectator to decide which character is played by whom. This giddy atmosphere references the absurdist reality of Kharms’ story.

ow8The lighting is magnificent. There’s so much definition of color in such a precise way that the lighting stands apart as a complete artistic work in itself. I can’t think of one person who watched this play who can say they were not mesmerized and left in a state of awe. It is just intensely beautiful. The lighting can isolate the characters, bring them to the foreground or push them away into the distance. It defines their outlines and extracts their presence in such hyper-realism that almost feels like a digitally manipulated photograph.

ow11The costumes are simple but infuse the characters with an air of literary dandyism that counterbalances the absurdist components of the other visual elements, again the make-up reminding us of the kabuki theater or the Geisha faces, and the hairstyles in its statically flowing corkscrew shape gives these characters a semblance that brings to mind a sort of cartoonish cut-out pieces in an explosion of pantomime. It’s as if the characters themselves have been cut out from the text and materialized in their paper-like appearance to us. The effect is hypnotic as they are superimposed upon layers of other cut-out elements like oversized birds that appear from nowhere, a chicken coop accompanied by a rooster, trees and polygonal windows, door frames and furniture that compose this fantastic landscape rendering a stunning post-expressionist set design.

ow10The sound effects are razor-sharp and clashes into the scene with an aggressive vibrancy and fluid motion that startle both characters and audience alike. It provides a deep sensually auditory experience that whisks us from our seats in a burst of drama and theatrical reverberance that follows us home in a haunting ravishment. The repetitive nature of the dialogue causes a mental friction that extracts a variety of meanings from sentences that seemed initially devoid of logic. The repetition accentuates the absurdist imageries and penetrates the tenuous veil of logic and reason allowing the madness and the poetry of shocking events to be peeled off in order to reveal the substance of our own ontological inquietude. Isn’t art the paradigm of our culture? And aren’t the avant-garde movements designed to break the very systems that imprison us in our pseudo-intellectualism and reveal that there’s really nothing that can be said with unequivocal assurance about anything in particular? Aren’t we supposed to laugh of ourselves as we think we got it all figured out?

ow9It’s precisely through this kind of twisted humor that Daniil Kharms writes. Kharms observes the horror of a tragic situation by the use of mockery and mad humor, but, on the same token, catches the element of pain, drama, and horror in the subtlety of laughter. It’s this inversion of perspective that allows us to catch glimpses into our own fragile existence and the fleeting understanding that comes during these moments. Robert Wilson translated this complex perception onto the stage with a combination of elements rooted in the outstanding performances of Dafoe and Baryshnikov. They complement each other like the ebb and flow that create the dramatic presence of Daniil Kharms’ words.

tragedy comedy tilesThe theater, as a performance space, is a live organism that breathes life from all the different elements of the scene concocted by the director from the standpoint of a sorcerer. It’s the place that vibrates with life in its raw magnitude and the piercing power to touch us deeply and change us softly. It’s what Antonin Artaud described in his proposal of the “theater of cruelty”. A theater that is not swallowed by the text, but rather incorporates the text in such a manner that makes it up-to-date and alive by going beyond the constraints of language; a theater that plays with images and archetypes and offers the audience the possibility to immerse in a profound and fresh experience of the spirit in a sacred act of renewal and rebirth.

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Photos info/credit:

1) The generic images used are free reference images from “MorgueFile”.

2) The Daniil Kharms image (graffiti) is also a free image from “Wikipedia Commons” By V. Vizu (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

3) The Mosaic depicting theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy, 2nd century AD, from Rome Thermae Decianae (?), Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums (12830396085).jpg is By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

4) The images of the play “The Old Woman” are all from a promo video snippet:

Reading Clarice Lispector is an act of courage. It is an act of courage not because her writing is hermetic or pretentious, but because Clarice dares to reveal our raw nakedness while roping us unwittingly and unbeknownst to us. We are, then, pulled into the obscure depths of our minds, our existential madness and chaos.

CLLispector’s writing is simple and it reaches the reader directly without adornments or unnecessary linguistic pretentiousness. It is never shallow or naïve, however. It delves into the soul of man and exposes the chaotic nature of mankind’s uncompromising determination to unravel the mysteries of the cycles of life and death, and the ensuing implications of questioning the mind and the seeming reality of things. As a writer, Lispector is not afraid to lay bare the existential conflicts and paradoxical ethics inherent in all individuals bonded as a group by moral agreements previously established.

In her novel The Passion According to G.H. (published in 1964), Clarice Lispector dares to cross that invisible line that restrains all attempts to traverse the divide separating the material from the immaterial, the world of forms from the world of the spirit. It is in that sphere that Lispector concocts her literary libation and weaves the complex pathos that brings forth the verbiage of the inner life of her character in an incessant monologue, an outburst of the stream of consciousness. Clarice becomes a phenomenologist of her own characters conducting investigations that surreptitiously reach our own perceptions. To read this book is an act of religious exercise; a profound mystical experience takes place within the reader as we let go of the awkward moments every time we relate to the strangeness and initially ludicrous madness.

clarice02Clarice Lispector was born Chaya Lispector in a small town in Ukraine. Her parents and sister changed their names when they arrived in Brazil, fleeing oppression in their native country for being Jewish. They had suffered extreme persecution in their region and Clarice’s mother had been raped during one of the many pogroms. Marieta, her mother, contracted syphilis and believed that if she became pregnant she would heal. When Marieta died, Clarice was only 9 years old and the family was living in Recife, after a brief period in Maceió. After Marietas’s death, Pedro, her husband, decided to take Clarice and her sister Elisa to Rio de Janeiro in search of a better life. In Rio Clarice attended Law School and started her career as a writer, writing chronicles for a newspaper. She married a Brazilian diplomat and lived abroad for 15 years both in the USA and Europe.

Those who are fortunate to read Clarice Lispector in her original language, Portuguese, will marvel at her ability to create extensive monologues rich in painstaking observations of the human mind and soul. However, the many translations of Lispector’s work have done her justice and provide the foreign reader with the opportunity to immerse into a literary experience to be remembered.

clisClarice Lispector starts her novel with a little introductory note to her “possible readers”. She states that this book is like any other book but that she would be happy if it would be read only by people whose souls are already formed. It is quite a significant warning. It brings to mind the inscription at the entrance of Dante’s Inferno, line 9, Canto 3: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”. It serves as an indication of what lies ahead waiting for the unsuspecting and unprepared reader. Clarice dives deep into the soul of her character, and by doing so it splits us open and bares our contradictory emotions and inner world liberating us from false Christian moralities. She calls for the redemption of the human spirit; redemption through sacrifice of all that seemed familiar and under our control.

G.H. is the quintessential iconoclast. She is the live goat offered in sacrifice on the day of our atonement. As in the Hindu triad, G.H. incarnates the force of Shiva, the destroyer and transformer by becoming one with the cockroach, the element responsible for her mystical experience and transformation. The sun invading the room is the source of creation itself as Brahma; the maid’s room as the preserver of forms in the figure of Vishnu. In this sense, the essence of life takes place, the essence of religion.

clarice_lispector_momentosOne needs courage to follow Clarice as those Argonauts had the courage to follow Jason in his quest to find the Golden Fleece. It is a risky journey filled with perils and challenges to be overcome. G.H. found herself face to face with her humanity and embraced her shadow not without fear or pain. We too feel the pestilence. We too get infected and experience the pustulous virulence wreaking its havoc in our bodies and minds, leaving us in a state of torpor and death. I too feel sick; my strength and life force evanescing languidly in that white room where G.H. met her destiny.

In the Passion according to G.H., the main character is confronted with her own pestilence. It is her moment to purge herself, but in order to get to this point she needs to cross the deep, murky waters of the rivers Acheron and Styx in the company of Charon. G.H. will traverse the rivers and enter the land of the damned souls; the ones who dared to touch the ignoble side of life and became contemptible and degraded. She had torn down the veil of ignorance and chased away the vendors in front of the temple just like Jesus once did.

clarice_lispector_frases_verdade_inventadaAs you immerse yourself into the world of G.H. you are possessed by powers that run so deep that you feel your body burning with fever as the virus consumes everything you knew until then. You need to be patient and let the virus complete its cycle so that the cleansing can take place within you, only then redemption can be achieved. It is the trust that you will be renewed, transfigured, rewired. Old dogmas and distorted beliefs no longer have a place in your heart. All ideas of what you’ve thought you were are surrendered to the chaos and the pestilence covering your soul. You embrace the pestilence within, the essence of what lies behind the cover, the shadow of your soul. Then you unleash the monster that you’ve become. It has always been there. You unite both sides and you let the beast run wild and free, and true, at last.

Like G.H., we also become one with the cockroach. We become one with the mud, with the repugnant and despicable part of ourselves. The initials G.H.  is not only the name of the main character but also stands for “Gênero Humano” (Humankind or Human Species.). It is not randomly that Lispector chose the name for her character this way. It is a mystical, philosophical and existential narrative.

clarice_lispector_me_abreceIt is not by chance that G.H. goes through her existential and mystical crisis in the maid’s room. The social tensions between the relationship of boss and house servant within the context of Brazilian social classes is much heated and goes back to the time of slavery. G.H. is the white and dominant element in the household. Janair, the maid, is present throughout the narrative and she becomes the driving force that propels G.H. into the whirlwind of internal dialogue that will eventually redeem her. Janair has the presence of silences and empty spaces bearing much weight in her seemingly anonymous presence. The maid becomes the ruler of the house, the one that exposes the awkwardness and artificial happiness of her “mistress”. These are two different worlds living under the same roof but apart from each other. The co-dependency and condescending relationship engenders a series of unspoken emotions. G.H. comes face-to-face with the implications of this surreptitious dynamics when she enters the maid’s room and finds the drawing in the wall. Race and social class is a convergent topic in Brazil. From the top of her upper middle class penthouse the main character observes the slums in the distance.

ng1346596To me, Clarice Lispector is a hurricane that whisks you away with violence and trepidation without much warning. She forces the reader to come to terms with the ugliness of reality and find redemption in their shadow. It’s a journey through hell in a literal sense. One must find solace in the company of a “helping hand”, in the case of G.H, or the presence of the poet Virgil in the case of Dante. Either way, one must have the safety of a friend that will anchor our spirit against the madness that surrounds us; in our case, Clarice is ever present by our side. If we brave through the darkness and face our demons, the vision of reality becomes soft and embraceable for we see nature for what it is, without the veils of superstition and mystic illusions.

As a writer in Brazil, Clarice Lispector was loved and hated. For many, she seemed too obscure and enigmatic; for others, she was a celebrated priestess and goddess. In her real life she kept a low profile and seemed unpredictable and provocative. American writer Benjamin Moser fell in love with Clarice and went on to write a biography of this Brazilian writer titled “Why This World”.

Amerikanische_Großschabe_1Brazil was entering one of the darkest periods of its history in 1964, the year The Passion According to G.H. was published. The coup d’état led by the Armed Forces would initiate a military dictatorship that would last for 21 years. Censorship, persecution and torture would then become the elements of a stifling regime that would provide a model for other military regimes and dictatorships throughout Latin America. Artists and writers became the bastion of resistance to the cost of their own liberty, and many times their lives. During this time, Brazil experienced one of the most creative periods in the Arts. As it is always the case, it’s through suffering and pain that the artist becomes more necessary as a revolutionary voice that tries to keep the freedom of their people alive in a heroic attempt to save humanity from the chaos of extinction and misery. We owe to them the right to keep our voices heard and our spirit intact.

Clarice-Lispector

To me, Clarice is a force to be reckoned with. She is a magnificent writer and a beautiful and charming and mesmerizing woman. We get to know her slowly. She reveals herself delicately. We miss her forever.

Clarice Lispector is one of those writers, like Franz Kafka, that need to be known and read world-wide. It is only by spending time with these minds that we get a glimpse of our own chaotic humanity. We only hope that readers will become acquainted with the world of Clarice and dare to investigate their worlds as they embark into the journey that will lead them to liberation from the constraints of outdated and pedestrian belief systems. Maybe this way, by changing our world, we can attempt to change the world at large one page at a time.

Here’s an outstanding and honest interview with Clarice Lispector at the studios of TV Cultura in São Paulo a few months before her untimely death in 1977:

I like visiting museums. From the Ancient Greek “Mouseion” – a place or temple dedicated to the muses (patron divinities of the arts in Greek Mythology), a building for the study and preservation of the arts. It’s not a place for old stuff, as many might feel. It is a place to feel inspired, renovated, transcended. Whenever I travel I take the opportunity to visit as many museums as possible. To me, visiting a museum is a chance to get in touch with the culture of a place in a more intimate way. A lot of people share the same interest and include museums as part of their sightseeing escapades. However, when we are back from our vacation, we seem to take for granted our local museums. How many of us can tell they have visited all the museums their city has to offer? Or, at least the main ones, thoroughly?

Art History

When I was taking an Art History class a few years ago, one of our assignments was to go to a local museum and choose a piece from the period we were studying and write about it. I was rather apprehensive since I wasn’t sure that I would find something that would fit the requirements of my assignment. I have to admit that I was underestimating the extent of our museums’ collections. Not only did I find the piece I was looking for but I also found out our museum had much more to offer than I had imagined.

The Lion-Shaped Rhyton:  Libations and ancient offerings

The piece I chose for my description was the Lion-Shaped Rhyton from the collection of The Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. This piece was found in Anatolia, a region comprising most of Turkey today. It is dated around 1860 – 1780 B.C., falling into the Assyrian Colonial Period during the Bronze Age where commerce formed a network of trading routes connecting the city-states. This object struck me in a pleasing way at first glance. Not only did I like it, but it was also different from other objects of the same period. Even though the description said it was a lion, I couldn’t actually see the resemblance. To me, it looked like a dog. Were there dogs in Anatolia 3800 years ago? Perhaps it is indeed a lion cub.

Looking

The material used is terracotta which is basically clay, and can be seen in various other objects like vases and statues. This Lion-Shaped Rhyton is a very attractive piece. I was surprised by its well-preserved condition. There are some cracks which were obviously repaired, but its overall appearance is intact, giving us a solid idea of what I looked like when it was made. The lion is painted in what seems to be a type of harness covering all its body, including a molded muzzle. The harness straps are painted in brick red with hard black outlines suggesting the idea that this animal might be serving a purpose, and therefore needs to have its animal instincts under control. It stands on its feet and its paws show clearly distinguishable carvings. The body of the animal can be seen in all areas not covered by the intricate network of the harness. It is painted in what seems to be mustard or tan and it has thin lines on its legs and its side hinting a soft fur. The vertical and horizontal brick red stripes with strong black outlines offer a striking contrast with the color of the body itself. Although the Lion-Shapped Rhyton is a small piece (it is 7” ⅝ in height), it has symmetrical proportions which renders balance and harmony to the figure. The lion’s posture imbues the object with imposing power and magnanimity. The menacing face of the lion with its open jaw showing sharp white teeth and large bulging eyes adds to its majestic and dominant demeanor, well-suited to the purpose it has. There is this peculiar protrusion on the back of the lion in the form of a cup. I didn’t know what a rhyton was until I saw this piece, but the data on the object’s tag calls it “a libation vessel”, and that I knew from classic Greek tragedies. Libation is basically the act of pouring a liquid (wine, water, oil) as an offering to a deity or a god. Therefore, our lion cub must have been part of religious ceremonies or rituals where a priest or priestess would pour liquid into a cup, give it as an offering, and maybe drink from it or pour it on the ground afterwards. The image of the lion is presumably being used as a symbol of overriding power, protectiveness and uncontrollable strength. These are qualities that benefit a creature invoked to take on the role of a cupbearer for a priest. It is interesting and tempting to note and speculate a variety of creative details that will enhance the definition of the object as a rhyton or libation vessel. Any visit to a museum offers the opportunity to immerse oneself in a world of stories and different cultures. You can have any kind of experience you like. Your visit doesn’t have to be necessarily academic. You can set the mood. If you are like me, you will previously go over the museum’s permanent collection and temporary exhibits on its website to get acquainted with the works you will find there, it surely adds to the excitement. A lot of people say they feel quite overwhelmed when visiting a large museum and they don’t know how to approach it. Well, unless you are, as a dedicated art history enthusiast, willing to spend six to 8 hours in a museum, you shouldn’t let the extensive art collection of these museums bring you down. Each person is different, and there will sure be a specific section of that museum that will hold your interest.

Do some research before you go to a museum. Don’t try to see everything. Concentrate on the areas you selected, maybe the highlights at first if you don’t have much time.

A lot of people find it easy to go into one room and pick one painting, for example, and then taking some time to look at it without any pre-conceived, academic notions. Just looking at the painting and observing it for what it is. It is telling a story. What can you tell from what you see in the painting? What’s your reaction to the way the elements in the painting were organized, color, subject material, methods of representation chosen by the artist and so on. Can you spend time enough that you can create your own story about the painting based on what you see?

Going deeper – Enhancing your experience

If you wish to go further, you can look up the data about the painting either on the museum catalog or the information plaque on the side of that particular painting and see if the description might open new perspectives and meanings to your initial observations. An audio guide might be a great asset to help with specific works as you explore the numerous rooms in a museum. Again, you don’t have to listen to every single work. You can hit play for the ones that draw your attention. The experience one has with art is both academic but, above all, very personal. It’s like savoring wine. You need to find the wine that fits your palate and explore the similarities and nuances as you find new ones. It’s an opportunity to learn something about you and let yourself be taken by the vision of a particular artist. Art is not something perceived from some distant realm or pedestal that only has an appeal to those stilted highbrow individuals that come up with complicated jargon to explain something that the artist was not even thinking about at the moment of creation. Art is about having the sensibility to be open to look at things with a fresh mind and unclouded eyes. It’s about having the joy in discovering new things, experiencing the different perspectives the world has to offer. In the end we are touched with something new and feel ourselves transformed by a new way of thinking. Next time you are at a museum, try and see the works from that perspective. Take your time to explore what you want. There are no formulas or codes of conduct. Choose one, two or three works, and if you leave the museum with at least one work that touched you deeply that in itself is a most splendid experience.

“Arbeit Macht Frei” – “Work will set you free”. Many crossed the infamous gate into Auschwitz. ManIMG_2360y never left. On the Fall of 2014, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the most dreadful concentration camps ever created during the Nazi regime. I, too, crossed that gate into the experience of hell created by man.

At 7 a.m. we were at the bus station in Krakow waiting for our bus to leave for the town of Oświęcim, Auschwitz in Polish. The air was moist and cold with a temperature of around 43F. A slight drizzle covered the pavement. The bus left the platform on time. It took about ten minutes winding through the streets of the busy city center, which, at this time, had just woken up and filled the streets with locals getting their coffee fix while rushing onto crowded public transportation vehicles in order to get to work. Once on the expressway, traffic moved quickly but heavily. The skies were gray and the drizzle grew thicker. It felt comfortable and cozy sitting on my seat. The PKSiS line motor coach rode smoothly for the 1.5-hour long trip to Auschwitz.

11As we neared the region where the town of Oświęcim is located, other small towns along the road seemed simple, and comprised the mixed urban-rural industrial municipality of the same name. I had prepared myself for this visit by reading and studying everything related to the holocaust and the events and structure of the concentration camp. Despite all my preparations, I still couldn’t shake off the unrelenting uneasiness I felt inside me. I was anxious. As the motor coach approached the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum, I pondered the details of the many people huddled together in a convoy of cattle cars arriving at this factory of death to a fate undisclosed to them. I felt how disoriented, scared and exhausted they were at that crucial moment in their lives when the train made its final stop and the living got up and went out to face their fates, while the dead, on the floor of the cattle cars, found peace in their final sleep during the long trip to the camp.

IMG_2380Visiting Auschwitz is never an easy experience. It is a meditation on life and death. We are confronted with our own fears in face of the dark shadow within each one of us. It is a cathartic experience since we observe those events guarded by the distance of time, but still, it scars our hearts with the suffering of human life no different than our own. We start in Auschwitz I, the main camp. The history of this camp dates back to the 19th century when it served as the grounds for Austrian military barracks. The SS (the paramilitary squadron under the Nazi Party) built the camp in 1940. Initially that’s where POW’s and political prisoners awaited their death sentences. The hideous future of the camp was, however, under way. This part of the visit is where you will find the exhibits occupying the original barracks that served as temporary shelters to the numbers of victims who perished there under cruel circumstances.

IMG_2378It is important to allow one full day for a thorough visit to this memorial site encompassing Auschwitz I and II, the latter referred to as Birkenau. Monowitz-Buna (aka Birkenau III was part of a sub-camp complex that used slave labor on the site of the IG Farben industrial complex owned by the Germans. A trip to this memorial to the victims of the holocaust is not to be taken lightly. One should embark on this experience as one enrolls in a university class in the sense that will demand dedication and observation. It requires patience, study of the human soul, objectivity, and above all, a deep sense of compassion for the lives of those who perished there, as well as for those who survived. The motivation to go is not only to remember, but also to educate ourselves and others so that the generations to come won’t be at risk of seeing it all happen again in different forms. In a way, in a smaller scale, similar genocide continues to take place all over the world, and, we, to some extent, still respond with silence and distance.

The Shoah is the word in Hebrew to describe the Holocaust. Shoah (in Hebrew: השואה) means literally HaShoah “the catastrophe”. To some Jews the word “Shoah” is preferred  to “holocaust” due to the religious nature attached to the word “holocaust” which refers to the ancient religious animal sacrifice being completely consumed by fire: from the Greek “holókaustos”: hólos, “whole” and kaustós, “burnt”. It is impossible, even with all evidence available today, to have a complete idea of the hideous crimes and the extent of the suffering undergone during life in the concentration camps. It is hard for the human mind to fully comprehend the reasons behind the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. The Jews were the main target but other ethnic groups and peoples, who represented a threat to the Nazi ideology, were also affected, namely the Romani and Simi people (popularly known as “gypsies”), homosexuals, Poles, Soviet POW’s, political prisoners and dissidents, as well as the mentally and physically disabled. A walloping number of people were exterminated. Eleven million people were killed during the holocaust, of which one million were Jewish children alone. These facts and figures are unimaginable to anyone who hasn’t experienced the tragedy first-hand.

5 (2)bIt is even hard for anyone to understand and accept the fact that other monstrous types of genocide have happened after Auschwitz and still happen today despite the horrors unveiled after WWII. The Rwandan Tutsi Genocide in 1994 was another mass murder on the grounds of ethnicity, the Cambodian genocide in the 1970’s, the Bosnian genocide, the Israel-Gaza conflict, to name just a few of the ongoing massacre and crimes committed on similar circumstances. The numbers of occurrences of crimes against humanity is alarming and somehow brings to light an eerie prognostics that humanity hasn’t really learned much from the horrible mistakes perpetrated in history, and that it is up to each one of us to speak up and do our part so that these crimes don’t continue to be the characteristic that will define our species on this planet for the generations to come. It is so devastatingly sad and discouraging to admit that the human mind can devise plots that aim at the complete destruction of other ethnic groups or people different from the privileged class in control. It defies logic and decency that humans can create a plan to annihilate and kill thousands or millions of people without even feeling any qualms in one’s conscience. How is the distance and indifference created?

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It is intriguing to observe that the same minds that devised the concentration camps, the tortures, the executions, the use of carbon exhaust fumes and later Zyklon B cans in the gas chambers, and the horrific system of disposal of corpses, were the minds of common men who led normal and healthy lives, not only within the sphere of their own families, but also in their personal and social lives. These were men who cultivated the arts, literature and classical music, who had spouses and children and spent quality time with them in leisure, like any other person. It is on this premise that Hannah Arendt so eloquently wrote her theory on “The Banality of Evil” during the Eichmann trial. Despite the controversial implications of Arendt’s observations within the Jewish community, one cannot fail to be puzzled, if not completely intrigued by the reasoning behind this analysis. It is rather shocking to observe that the minds that created murderous plans to exterminate so many people are really not much different than our own, and that just a twisted diversion in the perspective adopted when interpreting reality is enough to make one cross the line that qualifies our inherent humanity.

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From an epistemological point of view, all forms of knowledge are conditioned knowledge, and, therefore, based on our perceptions and personal experiences and resultant interpretations of a given situation, phenomenon or reality. Political ideologies come into existence out of a system of beliefs shared by the common interests of a dominant group that imparts those core beliefs to the public at large; this creates a support system that guarantees the survival and maintenance of the operative ideology and subsequent developments. It is within this scope that individuals adhere to incongruent political ideas in the beginning and later on struggle with personal opposition and dissent. The majority of the elements in a group, on the other hand, choose to follow orders without questioning or doubting, even if there’s a fiddlestick of opposition in their present views, for fear of the unforeseen consequences their actions might bring upon themselves. Others, nevertheless, don’t even bother to occupy their minds with questions or doubts, and, therefore, choose to perform their duties to the letter.

IMG_2379The system implemented in the concentration camps, and in Auschwitz-Birkenau in particular, was  so complex that it baffles the mind of anyone who tries to understand the internal workings of the effective organism the Nazis constructed. The procedures for this complex system was postulated in the  “Endlösung der Judenfrage” – the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, the euphemism used by the Nazis as they officially put into action the plan to exterminate the Jewish population through genocide in the Nazi-occupied Europe. The abominable plan had its beginning at the Wannsee Conference in 1942 resulting in the catastrophe that came to be known as the Shoah or the Holocaust. Two thirds of the Jewish population of Europe was exterminated in different forms but mainly by asphyxiation through gassing.

A lot of people wonder why the Jewish population seemed to accept their fate so passively and without revolt. However, the ideology supporting this industry of death had profound psychological implications that incapacitated the individual from inside out, extracting from each one of the victims their sacredness for life, the dignity of the human spirit. Few were the ones who were able to safeguard their spirits and survive. The annihilation of their humanity followed phases that eventually led them to meet their doomed destinies. When the segregation started, and their rights as citizens were denied, the first blow to their identity had been given.

IMG_2363In March of 1942 Birkenau opened its gate as the largest extermination camp in history. It initiated killing on an industrial scale. The transportation to the camp in those cattle cars, where people were huddled together during a trip that lasted days, was a lethal blow to their already feeble remnants of dignity. Many died of starvation, thirst and cold during the long journey. The ones who survived the trip would soon go through the process of selection upon arrival. This phase was also psychologically disturbing. Families were split apart when the women were separated from the men, while the weak, the sick and the children were exterminated right away. The physically demanding reality of the life in the camp forced these individual to abandon any bit of hope left in them. Faith somehow seemed pointless to some of them. They felt that even God had left them alone in their darkest hour.

IMG_2355It was hard to find a higher meaning in the midst of the chaos and tragedy. Only those strong enough to enter that sacred space were able to access the kind of power that kept them going forward and not giving up. The signs that one had given up were easily noticeable. In a given day, that one individual would just not get up, and lie, in their soiled straw-covered wooden bunks, in a unwavering state of torpor and apathy that proceeds that type of agonizing death. Torture, exhaustion, humiliation, illness, constant beatings and extreme weather conditions took its toll in a steadfast but rapid fashion. The organized system of the concentration camps, and in particular Auschwitz-Birkenau, was designed to destroy the individual from inside out, leaving no trace of dignity and humanity to serve as a stronghold or refuge for the human spirit. Still movements of organized resistance within the prisoners took shape internally in a secretive network of informants. That serves to illustrate that the Shoah was not passively accepted as many might think.

The philosophical axiom that “nations and governments never learned anything from history” is an intriguing starting  point of reasoning of the conditions we bring upon ourselves in the scheme of an absolute design of evolution. We seem to be intrinsically bound together by astringent universal laws that go beyond our seemingly disposition to attempt to control anything. It seems to me that it is in our attempt to understand that we give meaning to the chaos and embrace all phenomena for what they are.

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On this day, February 27th 2015, the United Nations invite everyone to remember the victims of the Shoah. It is the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. We remember always, but it is our duty to educate everyone so that that they, too, may be touched by the experience of this dark moment in the history of mankind, and how it has impacted our lives as we struggle with hatred, injustice, strife and genocide today, and make a commitment to free each other’s mental shackles of prejudice and  opposition; that we may be able to accept one another in all our differences, without threat, but with the understanding that there’s not one single truth, and that reality comes about when embrace it in its limitless manifestations, making it whole within ourselves.

IMG_2354As I walked the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau I walked with them all. I communed with their pain. I carried the burden of their fragile bodies and listened to their voices echoing in my heart. I felt the cold breeze on my face. I heard the trees and the leaves whispering their names. I covered their corpses with flowers and love, and I assured them it was not in vain. I felt the Isolation, the longing. Lost and disoriented I succumbed to sadness, fear and anguish. I also felt peace in my heart and felt their warming smiles receiving my prayers. There’s beauty even in places we don’t expect to see. I have a feeling that they saw that as well. They felt the beauty and they cried and felt free.

IMG_2365I felt as if walking on well-known territory. I felt the heavy weight on my shoulders of my own pain. My tears welled up in my eyes. I had a knot in my stomach and a deep longing in my heart I cannot explain. I couldn’t grasp the multitude of emotions taking over me. I am there. I have always been there. It has always been in me. It whispered in my soul and I heard the cries for help in agonizing numbers, the cries for prayer and absolution. I thought about their pain and hope and lost memories.
I was there for a moment. I was there for eternity. I am there now. I will be there for all eternity. They sleep with me and I am with them in my waking hours. Never will I close my eyes again. Never will I dismiss the signs of the dark clouds that scarred our souls. The trees, the sky, they speak. They call their names. They call every name. They will call forever.

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The confinement – the darkness – the cold – the wind freezing our hearts forever. The pages burned, the wings cut. The memories, the pain. The faces, the hope, the eyes. I heard the screeching sound of the architecture of the railway tracks echoing in the landscape. It spoke of dreams lost forever. It spoke of our silence. It spoke our names. The flames pulverizing our lives, burning our dreams. The trees confessed to the sky. It cried. It will cry forever. I’m lost and I’m found in them. Their presence welcome me and rejoice. I remember. I let them live. I let them know they are here.