|COFFEE JESUS-3 yrs. of daily coffee cups and coffee blend labels, Christmas lights, snapshots, and index cards-8'x72' 1998-2001|
Saturday, January 31, 2015
I’ve come to the conclusion this week that knowing who I am is impossible, and exhausting. I’ve hit the wall of logic, and finally realize that the question is just too big and profound, like what is Love? Time? Infinity? Maybe not knowing who I am is just the way it really is. I’m paraphrasing the Zen teacher John Tarrant who described this possibility in the recent issue of Shambhala Sun magazine1.
What a relief! I’ve been asking the question since college days when I learned about Descartes and his dictum “Cogito ergo sum”…”I think, therefore I am”. For me, real life has always been about “Sensio ergo sum.” “I feel therefore I am.”
Art, poetry and performance have been my tools for self-understanding because they plumb non-logical insight and feelings. I’ve explored Who I Am with answers like, “I’m a mother, I’m a daughter, I’m Cecelia, I’m a face that people recognize as me, I’m an aging woman, I’m a body and heart and mind full of thoughts and feelings. I’m a coffee addict. I’m a terrorist. I’m a citizen. I’m basically good.
But even the artistic method seems like I’m trying too hard. So I’m taking a break. Taking a breath and consciously letting go and just being in nature up here in Vermont with trees that seem so full of wisdom and quiet endurance. No goal. Just being like a maple tree. Painting them, walking around them, and playing with sticks.
The other day I found a photo of myself from 1968 wearing a “selfie” dress with my college yearbook headshot all over it. Back then I paid a printer to silkscreen my face on a few yards of white linen, then I fashioned it into a dress for an art project my senior year at the University of Vermont. This was way before the days of T-shirt screen printing operations. I wish I had a dress like this now that pokes some fun at this self-conscious me.
I’ll close with the Tao Te Ching, written 2,500 years ago in China by Lao Tsu. It talks about “The Way” (things are) in insightful, sometimes funny, often mind-bending prose and verse. I’ve quoted the first chapter before. It describes the conundrum of reality. Here it is again from the 1997 translation by Ursula Le Guinn:
The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.
Heaven and earth
begin in the unnamed:
name’s the mother
of the ten thousand things.
So the unwanting soul
Sees what’s hidden,
And the ever-wanting soul
Sees only what it wants.
Two things, one origin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery.
Mystery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.
(Remember Cecelia: It’s a mystery, and relax!)
1. Shambhala Sun, March 2015 p.66
Monday, January 19, 2015
|Co-retreat leader Brother Elias with Cecelia Kane at Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers Georgia|
|Co-retreat leader Brother Cassian with Cecelia Kane at Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers Georgia|
Five values of a monk:Prayer, Silence, Solitude, Community, Work
Almost a year ago at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers Georgia, I attended a lay weekend retreat entitled “The Monk Within”. It was a taste of living a Cistercian (Trappist) monk’s life. I ate simple food in silence, slept in a clean no-nonsense room,
|My room in the retreat house|
I walked the grounds, and prayed the rosary in honor of my mother while sitting by the lake.
I rose at 3:30 am to recite the Liturgy of the Hours with the monks, praising God before dawn,
and again in the evening.
|A monk sets out the liturgy and hymns to be recited before dawn|
My group of retreatants and I attended two study groups in which we learned the history of the Desert Fathers in the early years of Christianity and monasticism, and their desire to have a close connection with God without layers of dogma and church hierarchy. (I never knew that!) Another class dealt with that Sunday’s gospel story with its emphasis on radical generosity.
“If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also”. Luke 6:29
This provided lots of discussion and an example of a link between meditation, solitude and actually doing good in the community.
My current year and a half in rural Peacham Vermont is a continuation of that retreat, albeit a self-directed one. I’m figuring out how to balance contemplation, outreach and the use of the imagination of art as a way to find transcendence. I'm still unfolding how to go about this.
I’ve come to the conclusion that living a life of kindness, simplicity and creativity offers openings to a spiritual path beyond religious rules and orthodoxy.
The British x-Catholic nun and religious thinker Karen Armstrong explains that deep spiritual experiences occur when we as humans go beyond our conceptual grasp. In other words, transformation begins when we hit the wall and give up on logic.1 Zen Buddhists use the conundrum of koans which are word pretzels, like the famous “What’s the sound of one-hand clapping?” to crack open the mind beyond ordinary thinking. Christian monks in the Middle Ages employed deep reading of Scriptural texts to induce surrender from logic and enable passage into a state of open vulnerability and receptivity to insight.2
And so I sit and meditate to clear the mind,
|Contemplating the natural landscape in meditation|
I make small intimate oil paintings in my studio depicting my essence as an ancient maple tree.
I play with imaginary maps and machines for processing monk-inspired text, like groups of gentle words, compassionate words, kind and silent words, interacting with and influencing other monkish words
|Closeup of a group of monk-related words in motion|
I walk in the northern woods to feel the essence of nature, and prepare to move outward into the community.
|A walking meditation in the snow|
Last week I installed 31 of my self-portraits on vintage family hankies at StudioPlace Arts, Second Floor Gallery in Barre, Vermont, expanding my art circle beyond my small town of Peacham.The opening is this Saturday, January 24th 3:30-5:30, 201 North Main Street, Barre VT 05641. Come if you are in the area.
I printed my face on vintage family handkerchiefs, quilted them, added accents of acrylic paint, embroidery and sometimes glass beads – a form of meditative nightly lap-work.
1. Parabola Magazine, “Thinking”, volume 31, Fall 2006 p.21
2. Parabola Magazine, “Thinking”, volume 31, Fall 2006 p.16
Sunday, January 4, 2015
|My i-phone weather for nearest town through the week|
Sunday, January 4, 2015
10:00 AM-ish, Peacham Vermont
We’re in it now–winter full on, with its bitter bag of snow, icy wind, and freezing rain forecast for most of the week. It was in the 20’s this morning, (a heat wave), but tomorrow night the temperatures will drop to the negative numbers, warming to the single digits Tuesday night, then back down to below zero through Friday evening.(-20 Wednesday night)
Time to hunker and cuddle, read, cook and sit by a wood stove with a hot drink. Unfortunately I will have to curl up near my electric baseboard-heating units. They work, just are not as woodsy or Vermont-y as smelling the logs and listening to the crackle.
I love the word ‘hunker down”. The University of Georgia Bulldog football fans use it to mean digging in against an offensive play, something a tenacious bulldog would do in a fight. It’s a word with muscle and weight and hard edges that falls out of the mouth like a rock. Bracing for an onslaught is what it is, except bracing sounds too feeble in the face of winter’s wrath. So Etta and I hunker down to see if we can enjoy
being housebound. Vermonters will plow the roads, drive their cars, and get to school or work, but outdoor activities like walks are less enjoyable for me. Etta hates the cold and her legs are too short for the snowdrifts.
3. Get to the library for a good book.
13. Write a novel…start a painting
14. Look out the window---go back to bed.
|Plow guy arrives to clear the driveway before dawn|
Thursday, January 1, 2015
|Sunrise from my upstairs window–January 1, 2015, Peacham, Vermont|
A year ago I asked myself what my life would look like if I had only a year to live.
My answer: A. Become a monk, and B. Strive to embody the virtues of Poverty (Charity), Simplicity (Gentleness) and Honesty (Trusting my self). I’m still unraveling these.
My contemplative, uncluttered and creative living experiment in a furnished apartment in the North East Kingdom of Vermont has been the result.
|The Place for Seeing and Listening with Etta's Ottoman|
I spend a part of each day looking out my upstairs window thinking and watching the clouds slide across the sky and the snows fall. I notice the sounds of crows, chickadees, and wind in the pines, and sometimes the smell of balsam and earth when the window is open on warmer days. The silence of winter is a dense presence rather than an emptiness. I have the sensation of feeling the quiet like a felted blanket. There's weight and volume to it. The continual snowfalls and the shortness of daylight lend an existential other-worldliness to my view. The mountains, streams, and trees endure. Outside I walk slowly among them and am dwarfed by their majesty.
A part of each day I create. My studio is a nice, comfortable mess. It’s a thrilling jumble of artworks, experiments and supplies. Right now I’m working on my Becoming a Tree series of small oil paintings. Here is the latest, inspired by a fallen maple trunk that I lay down upon last Fall.
So…Here I go again. My spiritual path continues for another year, only this time I’ll be sending out some tendrils of connection to the community. I have a solo show of my hankie self-portraits at SPA gallery this winter in nearby Barre, Vermont. I hope to blog for the Shambhala Meditation Center of St. Johnsbury, and I’ve expressed interest in working with kids at Peacham Elementary in the after-school programs of art, and creative field trips. The trick is to keep my involvement simple.
Practicing walking, thinking, painting and noticing gives me quiet hope for 2015.