The Great Adventure / Japan Part 1

Having just returned from a great adventure, I decided that this blog would be a great place to share some of the inspiration that I received from my latest trip to Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan. I am short on time but keep thinking about all the amazing experiences I had so will try to share....

Not sure if you are familiar with term Wabi Sabi, but there is a wonderful book, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers that you can find on Amazon.

The Japanese view of life embraced a simple aesthetic
that grew stronger as inessentials were eliminated
and trimmed away.
-architect Tadao Ando

"Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent."

Here are a few visuals that I found really inspiring. Not sure how they will be incorporated into my work...will need to wait and see.

The Patra Passage ~ Art at its Best!

Linda Lowe has created an art based experiment that explores the act of giving and receiving. It is a truly inspired project.  
108 Vessel ~ The Patra Passage

“The gift finds the man attractive who stands with an empty bowl he does not own.”
LEWIS HYDE, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World

"The Patra Passage is an art-based project that experiments with a cycle of giving and receiving. The passage centers on the gifting of 108 hand-built ceramic vessels to participants who will re-gift them to others. The giftism cycle will continue for one year until each bowl has been presented and received at least three times, creating a community of over 324 participants. At the end of their circulation, the Patra will be returned and exhibited at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA, sold, and all proceeds given to charity."

 I encourage you to learn more about The Patra Passage HERE.

Portrait of an Art Critic ~ Michael Weinstein

Every Chicago photographer is familiar with Michael Weinstein, the photo critic for the NewCity weekly. He is one of the city's treasures...always present at art openings,  lending a critical eye to the work  and always generous with his insights and time. Michael has an uncanny ability to contextualize work for an artist way before the artist has articulated it for themselves. He sees deeply. In a time of diminishing resources, when there are fewer and fewer critics, Chicago is very lucky to have Michael in our midst!

I asked Michael if he would be willing to be interviewed for this blog post, and he cheerfully agreed.
Here is the interview....

JFA: What is your concept of the role of an art critic?

My practice as an art critic is what the Italian philosopher of the first half of the twentieth century, Benedetto Croce, called "immanent criticism." By that he meant that the critic should not come to a work or body of work with a set of standards or values that would then be applied to judge the work, but, instead, should seek to get inside the work and re-live it as the artist intended it to be experienced, if at all possible. Having followed that procedure to the best of his or her ability, the critic would then seek to express the experience of that work in words. The way I put it is that the work is a gift given to the viewer from the artist, and I want to honor that gift by experiencing it as much as possible as the artist wants me to appreciate it. I would not have any interest in art if it did not provide me with access to the vision of another person, not my own vision or a vision that I personally prefer. Immanent criticism allows one to grow, and my reviews are meant to help readers to grow and to provide a bridge that the readers can cross to the work so that they can experience it for themselves.

Immanent criticism stands for appreciation and against "gatekeeping," the personal preferences of the critic, judgments based on pre-ordained theories, the attempt to push one kind of art at the expense of others, trendiness, making art subserve political or moral positions, criticism as an excuse for the critic to express his or her own ideas about this or that, and helping out friends at the expense of other artists. All of those have no interest for me; I am in front of the work so that I can receive an infusion of visual intelligence. The great photography theorist Rudolf Arnheim said that photography embodies visual "form at a primary level," and is an independent object of intelligence, that is, visual intelligence (which is not my strong suit). I am grateful to photographers, who have visual intelligence, for expanding my experience. To repeat, I would not want to be a critic on any other terms. I do not favor one genre over another, one technique over another, one form of representation over another in my reviewing - I take each on its own terms. Certainly, I have my own personal preferences, but what possible good could it do for readers or artists if I paraded my personal preferences in print? After all, they are simply personal preferences and everyone has personal preferences; mine have no higher standing than anyone else's. What I can do is to use my accumulating knowledge of photography to gain access to a work and then dwell within it as intensely as I can.

JFA : When did you first know you were going to become an art critic?

In 1989 I began a sabbatical, which meant that I was not teaching in my specialty, which is/was political philosophy. At that time I felt that I had accomplished everything I had set out to do in philosophy, which was to figure out and put into writing and have published a philosophy of life that was true to the way I was living. I was at what I call a "zero point" at which "everything is possible and nothing is necessary" with "nowhere to go and anything to do." So, what to do? I hit upon the idea of learning about something that was mildly distasteful to me just to see what would happen - and I chose photography. So, through the summer and fall of 1989, I took pictures, read about photography, and visited galleries. I read an essay by Edward Weston in which he said that he kept a journal of every photographic encounter that he had, and I decided to do the same. One day in February, 1990 I was sitting in the old Houk Gallery in River North writing my journal after viewing an exhibit by Alexandr Rodchenko, and when I read it over I realized that I had written a review. I decided to walk it over to NewCity, my favorite newspaper at that time and now, and met the editor and owner, Brian Hieggelke, who was stationed right in the front room. He looked over my review, said he would publish it, and offered to let me write reviews for NewCity every issue. I've been doing so ever since with a few absences due to illness. My relationship with NewCity has been a highlight of my life; without NewCity, I would never have become a photography critic. That's Chicago - a place where you don't have to be in a clique and don't have to have connections to strike off in a new direction and get encouragement.

JFA: What were the experiences and influences that led to your being an art critic?

As I just explained, there were no conscious influences that led me to become an art critic. Leaving out my psycho-history, through which I have made sense of what happened in retrospect (but that again is personal), the big influence was philosophy. I had read all of Croce's major works before I made my photography experiment, so it wasn't difficult for me to see that immanent criticism was the way that I would go.

JFA: What have been the more challenging aspects of being an art critic?

There have been no challenging aspects of being an art critic from the get-go until now. To me, it's pure enjoyment. What's not to enjoy about receiving and appreciating gifts from people with visual intelligence, and then putting the experience I have into words? I have the freedom to engage the work on its own terms - it's always new and exciting. That's why I'm into my twenty-fourth year of doing it.

JFA: Can you identify any shifts in your perspective as an art critic over the years?

My perspective as an art critic has not changed a bit. Why should it? Immanent criticism always remains the same; it shifts on its own accord from one work and one genre to the next, always open to fresh developments and artists, always alert to the nuances in new manifestations of an extant genre and an established artist.

JFA: How has being an art critic influenced your own photography?

In order to get into taking pictures in 1989, I chose the simplest photographic problem that I could think of - the recording of a two-dimensional still subject in daylight. Aaron Siskind's wall abstractions were crucial for me in showing me how that simple problem could be worked on to get intense (at least for me) results. It led me to graffiti, distressed sides of railroad cars, peeling posters, and so on. I won't claim to be an accomplished photographer in the slightest, but I can say that shooting flat subjects in open-air seclusion has led me to powerful zenlike experiences in which vision narrows to what is in the view finder and one's consciousness is consumed by it. At times the subject seems to become animated and to "dance." It's a "natural high," for sure.

JFA : How would you characterize the current Chicago photographic art scene?

I have been a great lover of the Chicago photographic art scene through all the years I've been part of it. It has always been vibrant. Grassroots galleries continue to pop up, there are always commercial galleries showing a variety of work from local photographers and from the four corners of the earth, there are big and little museums, galleries in businesses, galleries in community centers, university and college galleries - you name it. There are great people to meet if you go to openings. There is that welcoming and open Chicago spirit. There are independent centers of creation rather than a single establishment. When it comes to the Chicago photographic art scene, it's "sweet home Chicago." 

JFA : Now you know why Michael is such a gem. He is one of the few people I know who really sees clearly AND lives in "sweet home Chicago!"

A Meditation

©Ben Canales; The Star Trail;  Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
National Geographic 2011 Traveler Photo winning photo
What is "art" but the effort of giving permanent form---- in language, in painting, sculpture, music ---to those elemental forces in our lives, those passions, hurts, triumphs, and mysteries that have no permanence otherwise, and so require art to be known at all? Our lives, especially at their happiest moments, fly past as quickly as a mountain stream rushing along its rocky course, throwing up frothy, sparkling spray; the effort of art is to slow the rapid motion, to bring it to a halt so that it can be seen, known. All artists know either consciously or instinctively that the secret intention of their life's work is to rescue from the plunge of time something of beauty, permanence, significance in another's eyes."
                                                                              Joyce Carol Oats ; Telling Stories

Wabi Sabi

Never heard of it? Neither had I until my good friend and mentor, Dick Olderman, told me about it and then sent me a book, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers. I read it a few months ago and did not understand it. It is a Japanese aesthetic associated with the tea ceremony.

Burn No. 98 ~ Floating Ash

I reread the book last week and was totally mesmerized by it as I felt that it resonated with much of what I am doing these days.

Burn No. 33

Burn No. 71

I would like to share an excerpt from the book that might give some insights...

"The Wabi-Sabi Universe

Metaphysical Basis
- Things are either devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness

Spiritual Values
- Truth comes from the observation of nature
-"Greatness" exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details
-Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness

State of Mind
- Acceptance of the inevitable
-Appreciation of the cosmic order

Moral Precepts
-Get rid of all that is unnecessary
-Focus on the intrinsic and ignore material hierarchy

Material Qualities
-the suggestion of natural process

Burn No. 96

Maybe I have piqued your interest? If so, have fun learning more about it.

A Thin Place

Did you see the "Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer" article in the NYT travel section on Sunday?

It took my breath away and I am so happy to share it in case you missed it.

I am always so grateful when I read something that totally resonates with how I feel. I find it very difficult to articulate certain states of being.

What is a Thin Place?

"A thin place is a locale where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we're able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, the Infinite Whatever. Not everyone finds the same places thin. It's what a place does to you that counts. It disorients, It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. We are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic of travel."

"Yet, ultimately, an inherent contradiction trips up any spiritual walkabout: The divine supposedly transcends time and space, yet we seek it in very specific places and at very specific times. If God (however defined) is everywhere and “everywhen,” as the Australian aboriginals put it so wonderfully, then why are some places thin and others not? Why isn’t the whole world thin?

Maybe it is but we’re too thick to recognize it. Maybe thin places offer glimpses not of heaven but of earth as it really is, unencumbered. Unmasked."

Eric Weiner's has a new book out, “Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With the Divine”

There is also a wonderful description of someone's encounter with the "divine" in Driftless by David Rhodes, another extraordinary writer.

Happy Friday!

The Magic Button — Make Everything OK this blog is about a lot of things as is mentioned in the title... Life, Love and the Creative Process. I am happy to share a website that pretty much sums it up, in case you were in doubt about anything. Just click on the blue text below.

The magic button — Make Everything OK

I will post the creative collaboration pieces on Monday, March 5th. If you have not sent your work in, please do and I will include a link to your website. If you don't know what I am talking about, check it out HERE. It is not too late to participate.

Finding One's Way

I just love this image. I took it years ago in Washington DC on the Mall in the winter. It has such a sense on mystery to it and expresses how I feel sometimes going thru life. I don't really have much to say other than I have been working tirelessly on my soon to be shown Mexican devotional pieces. It has been a labor of love with much revision and revamping.

I am in the middle of reading the Walter Isaacson’s bio of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. It is an interesting read and one which stimulates much thought into how we see ourselves and our work. It is hard not to think about his obsession with perfection as I am creating these pieces that are all about imperfection!

Steve Jobs said: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary"

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

"We all have a short period of time on this earth. We probably only have the opportunity to do a few things really great and do them well. None of us has any idea how long we’re gong to be here nor do I, but my feeling is I’ve got to accomplish a lot of these things while I’m young."

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.... Stay hungry. Stay foolish!" (Stanford University commencement address, June 2005)

We are all a work in progress...a few thoughts for the New Year

I have just a few minutes to post before I am called away so will make this brief. I have been working on my Mexican "retablos" as of late and am constantly refining the work. I keep finding ways to improve it's presentation. I am collaborating with Luis Alberto Urrea, a wonderful writer who is providing text which I will be incorporating into the pieces, no small challenge!

I am reminded of the movie Ground Hog Day. It is about a weatherman who resisted and disliked his assignment of covering the annual Ground Hog Day only to find himself repeating the day over and over again until he gets it right....that is what it is like to create artwork and to live with awareness. We have the opportunity and challenge to do it better every moment, every day, every year.

Have a wonderful New Year!

The Thin Veil ~ Dia de los Muertos

As we approach the end of October, I am reminded of the "thin veil" that many people think exists this time of the year between the living and the departed.

© Jane Fulton Alt

Much of my photographic life has been spent exploring death and dying, one of the greatest mysteries and the only certainty of our lives. I have photographed and volunteered in hospice programs, been witness to autopsies, slaughter houses, and cremation rituals in Varanasi, the holiest site in India. I also traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico to learn how Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated. It was staggeringly beautiful. It is a holiday where families gather at the grave site to celebrate and remember friends and family members who have died. The cemeteries are filled with flowers and the flickering light from hundreds and hundreds of candles. Most families also build altars in their homes to coax the spirits back for a visit. These altars include sugar skulls, marigolds, candles, copal (an incense) and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed.

I do think that we, as Americans, have much to learn from other cultures that have long standing rituals which pay homage to their ancestors.

© Jane Fulton Alt

“To be afraid of death is only another form of thinking that one is wise when one is not; it is to think that one knows what one does not know. No one knows with regard to death wheather it is not really the greatest blessing that can happen to man; but people dread it as though they were certain it is the greatest evil." -The Last Days of Socrates”
― Plato

Our Situation on Earth ~ by Albert Einstein

Our Situation on Earth
--by Albert Einstein

"Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore. In our daily lives we only feel that man is here for the sake of' others, for those whom we love and for many other beings whose fate is connected with our own. I am often worried at the thought that my life is based to such a large extent on the work of my fellow human beings and I am aware of my great indebtedness to them. I do not believe in freedom of the will. Schopenhauer's words: 'Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills' accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of freedom of will preserves me from taking too seriously myself and my fellow men as acting and deciding individuals and from losing my temper. [...]

Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated. The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavors in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is."

--Albert Einstein

Peace ~ ful

You haven't heard from me lately because I just returned from a retreat at the Omega Institute in upstate NY where I once again met with the Brazilian healer John of God. I had seen him in Abadiania, Brazil last January for a most amazing experience (see former post HERE). This encounter was definitely sacred waterfalls and no one to translate your individual questions among many other things. However, it was enriching in many other ways including being able to understand the guided meditations which, in Brazil, were all in Portuguese!
I was thrilled with the use of rainbow imagery in one guided meditation. My thoughts went immediately to my former post and to a much deeper understanding of chakras (which are referred to often in yoga practice).

©Mexico 2011 Jane Fulton Alt

By day three I found myself in a place of deep inner peace, contentment and serenity. It was so lovely to drink from the well once again.

I am in the throws of trying to incorporate the calm and peace I experienced last week into my everyday life. This has been aided by reading the New York Times bestseller, hamlet's Blackberry by William Powers. It was recommended to me in the comments section of an earlier post On Blogging by fellow photographer, Paul, whose blog, The Bertie Project, is well worth visiting. The book is a very thoughtful and balanced discussion on balancing online activities with the creative life. "The essential idea of the book is simple : to lead happy productive lives in a connected world as we need to master the art of disconnecting....Humans love to journey outward. The connective impulse is central to who we are. But it's the return trip, back to the self and the life around us, that gives our screen time value and meaning."

Quieting of the mind is essential to the creative life.

ON REVERIE by Raphael Enthoven

I am not sure if you saw the article On Reverie in the New York Times yesterday but it is too good not to share. I have posted an excerpt but you can read the full essay online HERE.

August 8

"Imagination, knowing and dreaming into the heart of the matter."

August 6, 2011, 12:46 PM
On Reverie

"It’s a sweet drug that plays with fire. A wasteland — forest of ruins or paved-over jungle depending on whether wakefulness or sleep tips the scales. An old city where the shadows still hold a trace of vanished occupants, where detailed buildings, patiently reconquered by nature, suddenly still are there, sand castles. Through the dreamer’s kaleidoscope where the absence of desire is taken as reality, birds slash through the twilight, cypress trees dive into the pool, stars sparkle in the sea, clouds take on shapes, water lilies bloom in the sky, plans become flexible, the limit to how far things can go relaxes, thought dances, light is lit by shade, opposites are juxtaposed, merge and become linked in a prelude to beauty: reverie is contemplation’s prehistory, the education of the gaze by the eyes of the soul.

Suddenly, the world before concepts.

Daughter of consciousness and sleep, reverie blends their realms. Like intoxication, reverie is lucidity without an object, an activity but one that’s passive, a search that begins by giving up and lets itself be dazzled rather than looking...."

Roy DeCarava on Photograpy

June 15 ~ day 20

excerpt from a talk given by Roy DeCarava at the Museum of Modern Art. © 1996 DeCarava Archives

"How do I know what to photograph? I am at a point where images find me; I don't go looking for them. I interact with the process of photography sometimes by anticipating, at other times by trusting and waiting, or by willing things to happen. Does this shape what happens? We don't know. The laws that are implied or invented do not determine what happens. A photograph is created by a machine, but the product of it is real; that moment had to exist in the real world in order to take a picture of it. No other process demands that kind of veracity.

When I first started, there were standard myths of photography: the individual becomes the subject, all sorts of obvious things. But the more you work, and your work has to be accompanied by an ability to know and to get deeper and deeper into it, the more you find that creation comes in the constructive exploration not only of the subject but of one's own self. To some extent, then, it no longer matters what the subject is; there is always something there to pull out.

The subject becomes a limit in this equation. What is not limited is you. I am not the same person I was 40 years ago, 4 hours ago, 4 minutes ago, yet I am all of them at once. You are multiple in your consciousness: you are the past, the future, the present or all and any other dimensions that we can't yet name. Consciousness expands and is unlimited.

At this point, subject matter doesn't interest me. There is something else out there---or I don't know if it's out there, but I think it is--- and I reach for it.

Photography is about getting back to the self, and the self is infinite, it is consciousness. The refusal to invent a methodology is what makes you free, what enables the consciousness to rise."

Harry Callahan on teaching

June 14 ~ Sixty plus nineteen

Tonight is the last critique session of the year. I really enjoy creating an environment in which photographers can have the space to reflect and grow. I came across an interesting quote by Harry Callahan a while ago while cleaning out my files...

"I really didn't have much to teach. I didn't even believe in it. I felt so strongly that everybody had to find their own way and nobody can teach you your own way. In terms of art, the only real answer that I know of is to do it. If you don't do it, you don't know what happens next."

so true

"Wholehearted and Vulnerable"

This 365 day photo project has brought up interesting issues for me, including feelings of vulnerability. When you photo journal everyday your life is more exposed. There are bound to be some average images mixed in with the not so good and great images. It leaves me with questions on the purpose of the project.

I came across a You Tube video (thanks, Val) which shed some light on the issue. In it Brene Brown, a researcher, storyteller and social worker talks about "leaning into the discomfort of the work." In order for connection to happen, we have to be seen, deeply seen and love with our whole hearts. She ends by talking about a practice of gratitude and joy and working from a place of "I believe I am enough." Being kinder and gentler with ourselves and others is the natural outcome.

For me, this is where life, connection and photography all intersect.

June 13 ~ Morning Light in my Studio

Here is the full TED talk

Nourishing our plants and ourselves....

Heading to Mexico in a few weeks and thought I would see how well an iPhone application works in anticipation of using it down there. It is always a challenge to master new technology. I must say that I am inspired by my father, who at age 91, just bought the iPhone!

June 9 ~ Day 14

As it is graduation time, thought I would share a graduation speech worth your time to consider...

For Grads: You are Not Amazing
By The Rev. Anne S. Howard on May 31, 2011 at 11:43 AM

Commencement Address by The Rev. Anne S. Howard*

We are gathered here to celebrate you graduates—you ascend to a new height today with the conferring of these graduate degrees.
And so I’d like to begin by saying: you are not amazing. Despite your accomplishments, your regalia, your degrees and pedigrees, you are not amazing—but you might be. Let me explain.
The Dalai Lama, in his book Ethics for the New Millennium—the book that was chosen this year for the UCSB program—said, “There is nothing amazing about being highly educated; there is nothing amazing about being rich. Only when the individual has a warm heart do these attributes become worthwhile.”
Well, I think it might be nice if your expensive education were to prove worthwhile, so I’d like to talk about the temperature of your hearts.
By warm heart, the Dalai Lama of course is not talking about the way you feel about your puppy. He is talking about an ethical principle that he sees as necessary for the peace and well-being of our fragile planet. He is talking about that imperative that is at the core of all the great world religions, about something more important than the practice of religion—he’s talking about compassion.

In his book, as you know, he presents a long list of disciplines for achieving a practice of compassion. It’s a daunting list. I recommend each and every virtue he names—but I know it’s just darn hard to master them all. And I’m aware (in my work with The Beatitudes Society with graduate students across the country) that the practice of compassion is not something that we naturally accumulate along with our degrees.
So today I want to offer you a short list, just the elementary basics--a toolkit for compassion. And because I know that commencement speeches are as forgettable as wedding sermons, I want to offer you a brief mnemonic device --the S-A-Ts. I want you to remember the SATs—not your high school SATs—but something new to tuck into your toolkit—along with your diplomas, resumes, job applications, and cleaned up FaceBook Profiles.
First, S. S means stop. Stop what you are doing. Stop working, stop pushing, stop achieving, stop producing. Stop texting, typing, clicking and twittering. Stop on a regular basis. At least once each day. Stop once a week. S means stop—it comes from something the ancients called Sabbath—the early Hebrew notion that workers ought to get a respite from oppressive overlords at least one day a week. Stopping was so important to them that they included it in their creation myth, in their definition of the Creator: on the seventh day, the story goes, God rested. The Hebrew word “rested” translates “exhaled.” God exhaled. Remember Sabbath, remember something you already know, deep in your bones, remember to exhale.
We have trouble remembering to exhale and we have trouble remembering that Sabbath was a time meant for rest, refreshment, delight. Over the centuries, we got it all wrong. Sabbath became a set of “thou shall nots:” do not work, do not dance, do not play cards.
The academy has done a bad job with the notion of Sabbath too—we know that sabbaticals are really only time away from classrooms and committees; time that must be justified by publication. Not time to exhale.
But the beauty of Sabbath persists across cultures. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk, rings a small bell throughout the day in the Buddhist community of Plum Village, a “mindfulness bell.” When the bell rings, it is a signal for all to stop, to take three breaths, and then resume work.
Sabbath means you take time out to engage in the things that feed your body and soul: you eat, you dance, you listen, you make art and music and love and prayer.
You might stop for one full day each week; or it might be an afternoon, a moment. Whatever it is, if we are going to check on the temperature of our hearts, we all have to stop.
Working without stopping, Thomas Merton said, is a form of violence—one that we have perfected with our 24-hour days. This violence colors the way we gobble up resources; it hobbles our capacity for creativity and clear judgment; it tears at the fabric of our relationships. I am told that the Chinese pictograph for busyness is composed of two characters: Heart-plus-Killing.
Stopping is the single most live-saving thing we can do—the most counter-cultural act of resistance we can mount. We stop, so that we can pay attention:
A is for Attention. Be aware. Take a look at where you are. Did you see that cormorant over the lagoon—have you ever noticed one? Did you notice the look in your mother’s eyes when she saw you today in your funny hat? And how about the way you feel right now inside your own skin?
And what about the world beyond your own little sphere? What do you allow into your field of vision, your range of care?
This is the reason Thich Nhat Hanh rings the bell. Be here now. The bush is afire, Moses discovered, and took off his shoes to dance. Heaven is here, Jesus said, and invited everyone to a party; this is the only moment we have to love one another. This moment matters.
Pay attention to what counts: What do you love? Is the work you are about to do with your new degree truly your vocation—that place where your deep joy meets the world’s great need? Or is it just what everyone expects you to do?
One last letter, T. T is for thanks. Practice saying thanks. Start by thinking of all the people who helped you get here today. You know who helped you believe in yourself. Say thanks for them. And you also know who stood in your way, the ones who made your way a little rougher. Say thanks for them too; they were your best teachers, and there will be many more like them along the way.
Saying thanks reminds us that we are contingent beings. We are not alone. You are, I am, more than a solitary mouse-clicking unit staring into a flat screen. We depend upon one another. We know in the 21st century that we can no longer live in our old myth of Western individualism; we do not ride alone on our ponies into the Western sunset. We are learning, after all those cowboy movies, what our great-grandparents knew—and Ayn Rand didn’t: we are better when we stand together, when we recognize our common ground, when we raise a barn roof or build a school or design a national health care system together—for the common good.
Most of you were born around the beginning of the 1980s—you spoke your first words in that decade known as the “me” decade; and here you are in a new century characterized by a new vocabulary: you live a reality shaped by words like network, internet, linked, global, web.
Saying thanks is one simple way to be mindful of your complex web of relationships, and of that pulse of Compassion that beats at the heart of the universe.
That’s it, the SATs. Three letters—and one last quick thing, a picture, a snapshot to paste to the lid of your compassion toolbox; it’s a picture of your Wild Space.
Wild Space is theologian Sallie McFague’s term for that part in each one of us that does not fit our consumer culture’s definition of the good life.
McFague suggests that we discover our Wild Space this way: imagine a circle. Within that circle is the model of the dominant culture: white, Western, male, middle-class, heterosexual, educated, able-bodied, successful. Now, put your own image of yourself over that circle. Some parts may fit that model, some may not. The part of us that falls outside the circle is our Wild Space.
The parts that don’t fit may be obvious: race or gender. Some aren’t so obvious: surviving a failure, or a loss, the struggle with addiction, or simply our refusal to buy into convention. Anything that causes us to question the dominant culture’s notion of success is our Wild Space.
It’s our Wild Space that allows us to question our definitions of power and so discover more egalitarian ways relate to one another. Our Wild Space allows us to re-imagine the way we consume the earth’s resources and so live in such a way that cares for our planet and our neighbors. It’s our Wild Space that allows us to create an alternative vision of the good life. Wild Space is our hidden key to the practice of compassion.
So that’s the tool kit:
Stop. Pay attention. Say thank you. And keep an eye on your Wild Space. I bet your heart will not only warm, it will light on fire.
And then you might just be amazing. I hope so. God knows we need you, our planet needs you, to be nothing less than amazing."

*2009 University of California Santa Barbara Graduate Division


June 7 ~ Day 12

You know, it is not what happens in your life but how you relate to it that is important...your attitude and perspective toward what transpired. You can't change what happened but you can change how you think about it. It is all about perspective. This is what I was thinking about when I took this shot.

June 8 ~ Day 13

Thanks for all your support on the 365 photo diary. Looks like I am continuing...can't keep the flowers from blooming!

I chatted with Cathy about the Just Connect video (see previous blog post). She said she could see it available for people in high stress jobs that just need to chill out for a few minutes. Thinking about retitling it to....
Got Two Minutes? Just Connect
It would be great if it could be used to aid in helping people find some space of peace and relaxation. Please pass on the video if know where it might be of benefit to others.