Sunday, March 27, 2011


Of all animals, only human beings can be absurd. Other animals can act playfully, but not go beyond that into absurdity.

Absurdity is the parallel of rational thought, inverted. For instance, rational thought dictates being careful against self-injury while handling a gun. Absurdity is when an artist, in this case Chris Burden (born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1946), creates an art performance where he shoots himself in the arm. Rational thought says that when we wait for a person to arrive and they do not, we get up and leave. In the famous play by Samuel Beckett (13 April 1906 – 22 December 1989), called Waiting for Godot, two men wait endlessly and in vain for a vague person named Godot to arrive, and from the beginning it seems absurd. Yet, this play was voted "the most significant English language play of the 20th century".

There is use for the absurd. It can jog our minds to question our reality, and so keep us from falling into dogma. Comics use absurdity to make us laugh at life. We assume that we must take everything seriously, especially our selves, but absurdity says laugh at yourself!

In fact, people who take themselves too seriously risk becoming an absurd cartoon. Witness some of the tyrannical rulers in the middle east, who hold on to power at all cost and erect monuments to themselves, thinking themselves as gods worthy of universal admiration. They only see what they want to see, and when someone says, as in the Hans Christian Anderson (Danish, April 2, 1805 – August 4, 1875) story, The Emperors New Clothes, “but you are wearing no clothes”, the person is sent to jail or killed. So, this "absurdity" is only found among human beings, and it is like living in illusion. So many people live in illusion—and not another species of animal does that.

Artists can poke fun at absurdity and in fact that is part of their job. They work with materials to create realities that are mere illusion. The Mona Lisa, by Leonardo DaVinci (Italian, April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519) is a painting, but her smile is so real. Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 5 October 1881 – 8 April 1973) makes a portrait and the woman has both eyes on one side of her head . . . this is absurd, but makes us think, what is real? Could a woman in a dream have two eyes on one side of her head? After all, dreams can be real too, since this is where we reside for about a third of our lives.

Some years ago I made a series of paintings called Hangups. The idea came to me as a funny vision from out of the blue that occurred while I was driving home one day. I saw a face hanging on a clothesline, just like it were laundry. Amused, I could have dismissed the thought, but I am an artist and the vision was so original I knew I had to make a painting of it. Eventually, I made over thirty, and published a book too (view here). People either love them or hate them, and there is no middle ground. This is the way good art is . . .  it has effect, for if it only inspires ambivalence, then it it is more suited to go in the trashcan.

My Hangups are outwardly absurd, but reflect the absurdity that is parallel to reality. For instance, often people think they are immune to life’s disorders and especially, want immunity to death. But mortality has a way of chasing us like a shadow. When we get sick, or feel heartache, or see death, then we are shocked out of our illusion of safety. In my painting called “Pecking Order”, seen below, I push this to an absurd extreme.

If a person is too serious, these paintings are frightful and insulting, but on the other hand, look closely at “reality” and we can see the absurdity that runs so closely alongside of it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Fast

This is the last day of my annual period of fasting. The discipline requires that I give up food and water between sunrise and sunset from March 2-20. It is a requirement of Bahai’s, with exclusion allowed for sick people, travelers of long distances, nursing mothers, those under 15 or over 70 years of age. I have followed the prescription for decades, and always been true, except once—the year my dear Naomi died and then, the most precious of my life had gone away and I did not have strength.

Fasting has been practiced for thousands of years, and is especially common as a spiritual exercise in many religions. Scientific studies have shown that there are also physical benefits that include reducing risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Fasting also promotes weight loss, reduces immune disorders, and slows the aging process—increasing life span. It will produce favorable change in cholesterol.

Each year, as the time of fasting approaches, I begin to eagerly anticipate it. I am happy, and also feel slight trepidation, knowing I will be tested. I wake before dawn and eat . . . my body still drowsy and not ready for food—so I must assert command to change for the sake of devotion. As the day progresses I experience weakness and loss of concentration, and this is because of lack of glucose and protein. Tasks become more difficult and I realize I am multi-tasking because I am simultaneously active with my affairs and also fasting. I get moody and perhaps even cranky as time goes on, and must adopt a sense of equanimity, a virtue useful to all rational thought. When my hunger and thirst press upon me and I know how easy it is to eat or drink and relieve my suffering, instead, I practice will power and patience. Nineteen days is a hefty duration and this deepens all the positive lessons.

These are some of the virtues found in fasting: patience, moderation, temperance, fortitude, will power, devotion, ability to sacrifice, forbearance, bravery, commitment, creativity, detachment, discretion, enthusiasm, flexibility, love, grace, tolerance, honor, integrity, loyalty, perseverance, resourcefulness, simplicity, sincerity, trust. Add to the spiritual virtues the physical benefits of better health and longer life and we can see why fasting is an ancient and common global practice.
Here is a wonderful and in-depth article on fasting: The Ultimate Guide to Intermittent Fasting

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kaleidoscope World

Do you ever ponder infinity, or do you just think, why bother, it is impossible to comprehend. Human beings like to measure. They create units for everything. Time and space is broken down into discernable increments in order that we may manage our environment. Society is based on common assumptions of the physical world. When we make an appointment, we are agreed when the both of us will arrive. When we figure how far to drive from here to there, we can gather how long it will take.
I am not entirely comfortable living within these man-made articles. Rather, I like to lose boundaries and flow in the infinite.

The other day, my girlfriend and I had a deep conversation about our relationship and she confided that she worried that in my traveling I could forget her. I know what she means because I have confided that when I go on trips, I like to “disappear into the matrix”. I lose a sense of self, flowing and melding with my immediate universe. It is difficult to describe the freedom and élan I sense. Barriers fall so that I am not “the other”, but have become “disappeared”. Then, I am not of a particular race, creed, economic position, nationality, or anything separate, but more like a pulse from the sun or moon or from the middle of the earth. It is a meditation of sorts and a forgetting of past, and an exquisite openness to the miraculous present, while trusting that the future will take care of itself. Heidi of the Mountains demands that I always remember her and not lose track for even a minute. The closer we become, the more I realize my wandering days might become circumscribed. Fortunately, she is as adventurous as me, so we can explore together. Yet, the wind has no partner, and I like to be the wind over the earth; unconstrained and even capricious. I like surprise to the extent that I am a surprise to myself.

When I observe fashion, style, business, the structures of society, I can see the inventive usefulness that is purported, and yet I do not want to be embroiled in temporal intrigues. I can appreciate the adventures, and understand that I take my part, but my philosophy is that it is all part of what I call THE DREAM. Civilization and the external cosmos are like a grand kaleidoscope. A kaleidoscope is a circle of mirrors containing loose, colored objects such as beads or pebbles and bits of glass. As the viewer looks into one end, light entering the other end creates a colorful pattern, due to the reflection off the mirrors. Turning the object mixes the ingredients and causes an almost endless display of effects. It is a bit of a dream. And this is how I see the events of life unfolding. Endless, surprising pictures unfold from the bits of life colliding, shaping, destroying and reformulating to become new phenomenon. And do you think there is an observer? In a sense, we are all observers, but can see so little of the miraculous, breathtaking pictures that unfold. We partake of an infinitesimal fraction of the spectrum. Of course, the less we think of the infinite, the bigger even small things become, and people can have heated arguments over mundane trivia.

The kaleidoscope turns moment by moment, always changing, producing new arrangements for us to ponder and explore. This earthly consciousness and viewing  is what Buddhist’s call Saṃsāra. The word has its origin in ancient India, to refer to the physical world, or family, or the universe. In modern parlance, saṃsāra refers to a place, set of objects and possessions, but originally, the word referred to a process of continuous pursuit or flow of life. In accordance with the literal meaning, the word should either refer to a continuous stream of consciousness, or the continuous but random drift of passions, desires, emotions, and experiences. This turning of a wheel, producing new and different effects, is like the kaleidoscope. I see it as dream. The great unchanging reality is the core, the axis upon which everything revolves. The axis is reality; everything else is but a dream.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


What is the essence of love? It must be attraction, a desire to mingle and share with another. If that does not exist, then love does not. In the human realm, there are famous romantic love stories of intense attraction, e.g. Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Orpheus and Eurydice, Layla and Majnun. In all these tales, one lover is willing to offer everything for the other.

Love can also be for truth, or for an ideal. It can be so strong as to cause great sacrifice. A scientist on the trail of discovery can face scathing ridicule, a solider on the battlefield will give his life, and an innocent bystander will jump in front of an onrushing train to save a stranger. We know love when it inspires sacrifice.

Sacrifice is the vital expression of love. If there is a relationship without sacrifice, it is shallow. We know parental love because the mother and father offer themselves in sacrifice to their children until the child can stand on his own.

The Taj Mahal is a love monument, built by Shah Jahan in India in honor of his deceased wife Mumtaz. It took great effort over twenty years to complete. Using white marble and precious inlay, 20,000 workers and 1000 elephants labored twenty years to bring the architecture to fruition. It is among the wonders of the world, and shares with them a foundation in love.

Everyone enjoys being loved. Especially since we know we are valued when we receive a sacrificial offering. For a lover to receive flowers, or a child to receive the gift of time and wisdom from a volunteer tutor; the essence is attraction, thoughtfulness and offering. When I travel in Asia, small shrines laden with gifts are a ubiquitous sight in homes and businesses. Usually, a small Buddha sculpture or Hindu deity is surrounded by flowers, incense, and fruit, and sometimes even soda pop and cigarettes . . . all tokens of sacrifice.

At present, many Baha’i’s, myself included, are fasting, and this is a show of love. From sunrise to sunset we abstain from food or water for nineteen days, between March 2-20 annually. It is difficult and painful to go without sustenance, but sacrifice is easy when one is in love. For true lovers, pain is sweet. And really, God cares not for material things, but He wants what our hearts can give and blesses us in the giving.