Monday, October 30, 2006

One Hundred Men

For the last four days I have lived with a close-knit group of one hundred men in a spectacular, Spartan setting without women. The theme of the men's wellness conference is “Soul Searching.” Activities from dawn into the night include: simple meditations and QiQong, group rituals, sweat lodges, African dance, guided soul searching with discussions, mask making, singing, a grief ceremony, writing workshops, rugged mountain hikes, gift giving and a talking circle. Really amazing what is accomplished in a short time. The outcome of our soul searching is both individually and collectively rewarding.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Diving Into the Unconscious

Saturday, October 22,
My wife Jean went to Chicago to visit our daughter Sarah, and although we have been separated almost two months, I stayed at our house a few days, taking care of the dog, cat, plants, doing some yard work, and sorting through some of my belongings that remain at home. I love the house and surroundings that I put so much of my life into, yet, at bedtime I felt too anxious to sleep. My heart is torn by opposing wishes.
Tonight I saw a movie called The Science of Sleep. It was both funny in a slap-dash way, and also thought provoking. The protagonist could not differentiate between his dreaming and waking. This blurring made life incredibly vivid, and also got him in trouble. The film showed that our unconscious world has no boundaries, while our “real” waking life is subject to many rules that often are in conflict with our inner desires. Personally, I try to allow as much room as possible for the rich workings of the unconscious, which in many ways is closer to Spirit. It was not always like this. In my early adulthood, my unconscious terrified me, and I tried all day long to keep myself together by isolating it. The suffering was almost unbearable, and in fact I spent a few days in a mental hospital. Now, I am much happier diving into the unconscious, comfortasble with it's darkness as well as light.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Life is not fair

Monday, October 16,
My father called today from his home in Santa Barbara, California and immediately I sensed something was wrong. Someone close to both of us had tried to commit suicide by slitting her wrists. I do not know all the facts, and what comes out of my family is sometimes dramatic and fantastical. Nonetheless, the news overwhelmed me and caused weeping.
What is it about the world that it is so beautiful and painful both?
Naomi, during her forced march through the “valley of the shadow of death,” had so many occasions to complain bitterly, yet only said, “Life is not fair.” She regarded negativity in the same way as the cancer in her body, and retaliated with affirmations. One affirmation she wrote that I am particularly fond of is: “Show up and be lovingly present, no matter what it looks like out there or inside yourself. Always speak the truth of your heart.”

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Glow

Thursday, October 12,
A dear man died. Only a week ago this friend stood before me at a Baha’i meeting, smiling, kidding around with a twinkle in his eye. He had problems with his lungs, and mentioned with trepidation some medical tests that were being done, and yet he seemed to glow. Come to think of it, I know that “glow” of someone near death. My precious Naomi glowed from head to foot before she died at the age of nineteen. Sometimes I could see it, and I always felt it.
So, when I learned that Jimmy died I prayed alone at home for the progress of his soul. As I prayed, I felt him near, and as sometimes happens, his etheric presence formed a picture in my mind. His identity remained, but more powerful, at peace and happy . . . even joyful. So I said hello, and asked him to convey my love to Naomi, abiding in the same realm above.
Today, I made a painting from a photograph I took recently. The painting looks much better. In the photo, the golden trees seem static, in the painting they sparkle and dance. The sky in the photo is a bit washed out, and in the painting, fluffy white clouds drift across the deep blue space of sky. Even the shadows falling across the path are richer and deeper in paint. I am glad that I can take pictures wherever I go, and then use them for thumbnail sketches in making finished paintings.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Calling

Sunday, October 7
I went to a lecture by a world-renowned doctor and activist, Dr. Paul Farmer, who co-founded the organization Partners in Health. Under his inspired guidance and through his dedication and vision, entire communities of poor and sick people in third world countries have been raised to new life and given hope for better futures.
As Dr. Farmer spoke eloquently of the necessity to help the weak, and how cooperation does wonders, he gave a visual presentation that included pictures of poor, emaciated, sick people and what they looked like after being given food and medicine, nursed back to health.
Afterwards, I felt inspired, and also guilty at my own introspection. My work is in art—a solo activity that does not involve others. But as I reflect further, I realize that each of us has a calling, and everyone in their place is important: the mother raising and educating the child, the farmer growing food, laborers, the scientist developing new medicines, pilots who fly airplanes, the writers and yes, artists too. All essential for the balance of the world.

Innocent Trust

Thursday, October 5
During the last counseling session with my long time psychologist we explored my past, and delved into my earliest parental memories, in order to find possible sources of grief and anguish in my life. I shared what seemed to be innocent enough recollections, but he noticed that most had some subtle element of loss. For instance, when I was about four years old, my mother was sitting at the kitchen table chatting with a friend while I played a few feet away. Scribbling with crayons on paper, I would take them to her and she pretended to read musical notes, and then sing them. It felt wonderful and fascinating to me, and I was enthralled with this new game, but she eventually tired of my exuberance and demands. So, finally she told me that my notes did not mean anything. I was crushed, and have remembered all these years, though I don’t bear a grudge or anything. Nonetheless, I am more aware of how I learned that distances can exist and thwart seemingly strong emotional bonds.

Higher elevations

Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Yesterday, Jean and I drove to higher elevations in the mountains, and then hiked under a clear sky. The well-worn trail took us over terrain covered with brilliant aspens, interspersed with a smattering of conifers. Further up, whole stands of aspens had already lost their leaves, probable because of a recent early snowfall.
We reached a secluded meadow and rested beside a gurgling brook, a place we have been to many times and never tire of, sitting in silence, absorbing the lovely charm of our surroundings. Eventually, our conversation turned to our relationship and we both affirmed our bond of friendship. The space we are creating between us is healthy, and seems necessary to untangle ourselves, and feel the unique, separate and holy breath of primal being again. Minds unclouded by attachment, we can see each other more clearly and analyze our relationship.

Autumn days

Sunday, October 1, 2006
These autumn days are gorgeous. Nature everywhere proclaims, “Look at me, look at me!” The air too, has been perfect, with days starting cool and brisk, then steadily warming to balmy temperatures. Thanks to a wetter than usual summer, flowering plants are everywhere, especially in complimentary colors of yellows and purples. Wild grasses are turning to russet tones and in the mountains whole slopes of aspen trees are shimmering their golden leaves. The landscape painters are in heaven.
I have been seeing Jean—yesterday I worked at the house, stayed for dinner, and then we went to a movie. When we parted around 10:00 PM, we hugged and kissed good-bye. Later that evening, she sent me an E-mail expressing her happiness and affection. I replied likewise. Tomorrow, we will hike in the Aspen covered mountains.
I like being with Jean, and also feel awkward, realizing we are separated. In the old days, we would hold hands and kiss. Now I am uncertain of our future, and for the time being have an invisible boundary not to cross. This quandary has for the most part upset my life, and I find myself struggling to be independent, but also guided to the highest good.

What a day!

Friday, September 29. 2006

What a day! I woke up with the familiar feelings I have had upon waking for weeks: an aching heart, a confused sense of my purpose and destiny, as well as chronic pain in my shoulders. (A month ago my wife of 21 years told me she wanted a separation, so I moved out of the home we built together and now live alone.) Forcing myself out of bed, I went to the toilet and got dressed in some old clothes to go out painting as I planned. My first stop was a local restaurant for coffee, eggs, fried potatoes, and sausage while I read the newspaper. The drive out of town took about an hour. I drove the entire distance in silence, thinking about my relationships, pondering my dilemmas, contemplating who I am and what I might do with my life. Pulling off the highway onto a dirt road, the next nine miles wound around and over rolling hills, sometimes along a river and often with stunning 360° views of the broad plains, mountain ranges and cliff faces. I stopped frequently to get out and take pictures.
It is always a challenge getting just the right spot to paint. I settled at an area down a tiny rutted road that ended by the river in a grove of scrub oak. The view looked up the river, past golden autumn fields and tree dotted hills to a rocky mountain range in the not so far distance. Not a cloud in the sky, and the air warm. No soul anywhere to be seen, just as I wanted—only the sound of the river, soft breezes rustling the leaves, and an occasional bird warble. The sun felt hot, so I put on a safari hat and changed into a light shirt, then began setting up my easel, canvas and paints. Suddenly, as I turned from getting something out of the back of my van, a man on a bicycle appeared and pulled up in front of me, grinning from ear to ear. “Steve!” he said, looking straight into my eyes.
My God, it’s Joseph, an artist friend of mine from Santa Fe. He had seen my van drive by the place he was camping out. After exchanging incredulous exclamations at the serendipitous happenstance of meeting in the wilderness amidst such incredible solitude and beauty, we promised to see each other later, after I had finished painting.
Although I had brought my I-Pod to listen to music while I painted, once I began putting the colors down in silence, a rhythm established that just flowed along and before long, three hours had passed and I was finished. These days, silence suits me. Washing paint off my hands in the cool river, I paused, thanking God for allowing me to consciously experience His beautiful world.
On the way out, I found Joseph and we shared our paintings with each other. By the time I got home it was 5:30, but I had enough energy to hurriedly get things in the house and set off to the Friday afternoon art openings at local galleries. The air was still balmy and light. As usual, I bumped into friends and fellow artists. My gallery, Adieb Khadoure Fine Art was hosting an opening for the magical-symbolist, and abstract artist, Robert Anderson, who came from his home in Phoenix. Hanging out with crowds of art lovers and collectors is entertaining, especially as I am an artist and, soon people were talking with me about my paintings hanging on the walls. Something funny happened that Robert, his wife and I had a good laugh about. As I was passing through the room where my paintings are exhibited, a lady was staring at a self-portrait I had made, and commenting under her breath to her friend in a somewhat mock horrific tone that the face looked like someone she had seen in the paper recently. “You know that guy . . .”, but before she finished, I looked at her and asked, “Who?” She stammered, wondering who I was and maybe surprised that I looked like the portrait. She would not finish, but I guessed that she was referring to one of the common criminals who appear regularly in print for some horrible thing they have done. Anyway, later, as we stood looking at the rather serious portrait I had painted, I joked that I could have painted myself holding a placard across my chest with jail-cell numerals emblazoned on it. Laughing felt good—especially laughing at how serious I can be about myself.
See more of my artwork on my website