"If we are absorbed in a movie it may seem at first that the screen lies behind the image. Likewise, if we are so captivated by experience that we overlook the simple experience of being aware or awareness itself, we may first locate it in the background of experience. In this first step, being aware or awareness itself is recognized as the subjective witness of all objective experience. Looking more closely we see that the screen is not just in the background of the image but entirely pervades it. Likewise, all experience is permeated with the knowing with which it is known. It is saturated with the experience of being aware or awareness itself. There is no part of a thought, feeling, sensation or perception that is not infused with the knowing of it.
This second realization collapses, at least to a degree, the distinction between awareness and its objects. In the third step, we understand that it is not even legitimate to claim that knowing, being aware or awareness itself pervades all experience, as if experience were one thing and awareness another. Just as the screen is all there is to an image, so pure knowing, being aware or awareness itself is all there is to experience. All there is to a thought is thinking, and all there is to thinking is knowing. All there is to an emotion is feeling, and all there is to feeling is knowing. All there is to a sensation is sensing, and all there is to sensing is knowing. All there is to a perception is perceiving, and all there is to perceiving is knowing. Thus, all there is to experience is knowing, and it is knowing that knows this knowing. Being all alone, with nothing in itself other than itself with which it could be limited or divided, knowing or pure awareness is whole, perfect, complete, indivisible and without limits.
This absence of duality, separation or otherness is the experience of love or beauty, in which any distinction between a self and an object, other or world has dissolved. Thus, love and beauty are the nature of awareness. In the familiar experience of love or beauty, awareness is tasting its own eternal, infinite reality. It is in this context that the painter Paul Cézanne said that art gives us the ‘taste of nature’s eternity’."
"Why is abstract art perfectly aligned with the spiritual? Abstract art can capture all manner of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. According to scholar and curator Kirk Varnedoe, who wrote Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock, it 'absorbs projection and generates meaning ahead of naming, establishing the form of things unknown, sui generis, in their peculiar complexities,' Moreover, abstraction offers a 'form of enrichment and alteration of experience denied to the fixed mimesis of known things.' It expands beyond depictions of the real world and engenders its own reality. As our ideas of spirituality change over time, abstract idioms evolve, and through abstraction we 'regenerate ourselves by bathing in the extreme...' It is precisely because abstraction is on 'the borderland around the opening into nothingness' that it is such an effective means of expressing the spiritual. Liberated from the constraints of depicting the real world, abstract art is free to explore the invisible Other. It can reflect the subjective reality of the spiritual - inner states of being and spiritual presence - through materials, form, and color alone. For such an adventure, what vehicle - with its ability to convey the complex range of human experience - is more adept at engaging the spiritual in art?"
"Each person carries a hidden poetic unity that reflects the mysterious continuity of the Soul of the World. In the depths of the soul, we are each an old soul able to survive the troubles of the world and contribute to its healing and renewal. The key to what we miss and secretly long for is hidden within us. Medicine men and healers of all kinds from cultures around the world have used various techniques to not only “heal” the soul, but also to restore individuals to their proper place in the world and in their culture. To heal means to “make whole,” and when we feel whole we are in touch with the whole world. When in touch with our underlying soul, we are naturally in touch with nature and the Soul of the World. We are the missing ingredient in the solutions needed for all that ails us, if we but awaken to the nature of our own souls."
Back in September, while on a trip to the Pacific Northwest with my family, I wrote of an "unexpected kindness" that flowed my way in the form of an email from a recent "follower" of my blog, whose note politely inquired about when I'd next post a new picture. As I wrote at the time, the impersonal sterility of our modern world makes it easy to forget that what connects us all are simple, gentle, human gestures, like one photographer reaching out to another over the technological ether to ask, "I enjoy seeing your pictures; you haven't stopped posting have you?" It is in this same spirit of a deep interconnectedness among all living beings, that I offer in this post not a picture (none would do justice to the impact that the story - and its accompanying photographs - I am about to reveal had on me), but rather a link to an extraordinary - and extraordinarily uplifting and visionary - essay ("I Am a Leaf") that was recently posted by photographer Paul Cotter on the website, Gratefulness.org.
It is curious how I came upon Paul's essay (which I had not seen posted on his own site), for it too is evidence of the "interconnectedness" of things. While Paul and I have never met in person (I look forward to the day we do, for our aesthetic travels appear to have much in common), we have exchanged many emails ever since connecting over an essay Paul had published on Wynn Bullock in 2016. I got to Paul's post by following a link I'd seen on Barbara Bullock Wilson's Facebook page; as dedicated readers of my own blog know, Barbara serendipitously become a treasured "virtual" friend of mine soon after the first email she sent me after reading of my "discovery" of her father's color abstractions back in 2012). But back to Paul, interconnectedness, and his remarkable "I am a Leaf." Paul sent me a link to his essay after reading two of my recent posts (“Branches” and “Part of Something Larger”). Both of these posts, in turns out, had resonated strongly with Paul. After you read his essay, you will immediately see why.
Without spoiling your pleasure of reading Paul's own words, here is part of the email I sent Paul soon after I read his essay for the first time (I have read it multiple times since, and will not soon forget it's message): "Paul, thank you so much for sharing your story. I felt a deep chill reading it, though not in an 'ego-centric' manner, rather in a way profoundly devoid of any 'I' whatsoever. Your experience, and the transformative (dare I say, transcendent) quality of embracing being a 'Part of Something Larger', literally (frank admission) brought a tear to my eye. For a moment, just a fleeting moment, through your words and the images accompanying them, I remember losing my sense of self and reveling in pure being."
Now, gentle reader, if you have not done so already, please go here and read what Paul has to say about life, vulnerability, self, reality, impermanence, interconnectedness, and - yes - why we are all, "just" leaves. The accompanying images are also nothing short of breathtaking; luminescent, spiritually infused, and all preternaturally soulful. In short, fine-art photography at its very best.
Please share Paul's message with as many people you believe may benefit from his story. And then stay tuned for things to follow, as Paul has admitted to some long-term plans he has in mind. Thank you, Paul, for sharing your experience!
"On almost every front, we have begun a turning away from a felt relationship with the natural world. The blinding of the stars is only one aspect of this retreat from the real. In so many ways, there has been a prising away of life from place, an abstraction of experience into different kinds of touchlessness. We experience, as no historical period has before, disembodiment and dematerialisation. The almost infinite connectivity of the technological world, for all the benefits that it has brought, has exacted a toll in the coin of contact. We have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like. And so new maladies of the soul have emerged, unhappinesses which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world.
"...up on the summit ridge with the stars falling plainly far above, it seemed to me that our estrangement from the dark was a great and serious loss. We are, as a species, finding it increasingly hard to imagine that we are part of something which is larger than our own capacity. We have come to accept a heresy of aloofness, a humanist belief in human difference, and we suppress wherever possible the checks and balances on us - the reminders that the world is greater than us or that we are contained within it.
"The outcome is this...the whole conscious being is open to spiritual experiences of every kind. It turns toward spiritual truth in thought, feeling, perception, and action; it is adjusted to respond rightly... The second thing is the free influx of all kinds of spiritual experience, experience of self, experience of God and of the divine creative power, experience of the cosmic consciousness, a direct contact with cosmic forces and with the hidden movements of universal Nature, a psychic sympathy, union, inner communication and various kinds of reciprocal relationship with other beings and with Nature as a whole, illumination of the heart through love and devotion, through spiritual joy and ecstasy, illumination of the senses and of the body through higher experiences, illumination of dynamic action in truth and love, purification of mind and spirit, heart, and soul."
"The true splendor of science is not so much that it names and classifies, records and predicts, but that it observes and desires to know the facts, whatever they may turn out to be. However much it may confuse facts with conventions, and reality with arbitrary divisions, in this openness and sincerity of mind it bears some resemblance to religion, understood in its other and deeper sense. The greater the scientist, the more he is impressed with his ignorance of reality, and the more he realizes that his laws and labels, descriptions and definitions, are the products of his own thought. They help him to use the world for purposes of his own devising rather than to understand and explain it. The more he analyzes the universe into infinitesimals, the more things he finds to classify, and the more he perceives the relativity of all classification. What he does not know seems to increase in geometric progression to what he knows. Steadily he approaches the point where what is unknown is not a mere blank space in a web of words but a window in the mind, a window whose name is not ignorance but wonder."
"Neither religious nor artistic contemplation should be regarded as 'things' which happen or 'objects' which one can 'have.' They belong to the much more mysterious realm of what one 'is' - rather 'who' one is. Aesthetic intuition is not merely the act of a faculty, it is also a heightening and intensification of our personal identity and being by the perception of our connatural affinity with 'Being' in the beauty contemplated.
In the case of a Zen artist, there is ...no artistic reflection. The work of art springs 'out of emptiness' and is transferred in a flash, by a few brushstrokes, to paper. It is not a 'representation of' anything, but rather it is the subject itself, existing as light, as art, in a drawing which has, so to speak, 'drawn itself.' The work then is a concretized intuition: not however presented as a unique experience of a specially endowed soul, who can then claim it as his own. On the contrary, to make any such claim would instantly destroy the character of 'emptiness' and suchness which the work might be imagined to have. For the Zen man to pretend to share which 'his' experience would be the height of absurdity. Whose experience? Shared with whom? The artist might well be brusquely invited to go home and consider the question: 'Who do you think you are, anyway?' I do not know if this question is recorded among the traditional koans, but it deserves to be.
A disciple once complained to a Zen master that he was unsettled in his mind. The master said: 'All right, give me your mind and I will settle it for you.' The disciple's helplessness to pick up his mind and hand it over to somebody else gave him some idea of the nature of his 'problems.' One cannot begin to be an artist ... until he has become 'empty,' until he has disappeared."
"For some time, there was a widely held notion (zealously fostered by the daily press) to the effect that the 'thinking ocean' of Solaris was a gigantic brain, prodigiously well-developed and several million years in advance of our own civilization, a sort of 'cosmic yogi,' a sage, a symbol of omniscience, which had long ago understood the vanity of all action and for this reason had retreated into an unbreakable silence. The notion was incorrect, for the living ocean was active. Not, it is true, according to human ideas — it did not build cities or bridges, nor did it manufacture flying machines. It did not try to reduce distances, nor was it concerned with the conquest of Space (the ultimate criterion, some people thought, of man's superiority). But it was engaged in a never-ending process of transformation, an 'ontological autometamorphosis.'"
"No one was out on the water but me. It was a moonless night, and quiet. The only sound I could hear was the soft churning of the engine of my boat. Far from the distracting lights of the mainland, the sky vibrated with stars. Taking a chance, I turned off my running lights, and it got even darker. Then I turned off my engine. I lay down in the boat and looked up. A very dark night sky seen from the ocean is a mystical experience. After a few minutes, my world had dissolved into that star-littered sky. The boat disappeared. My body disappeared. And I found myself falling into infinity. A feeling came over me I’d not experienced before… I felt an overwhelming connection to the stars, as if I were part of them. And the vast expanse of time — extending from the far distant past long before I was born and then into the far distant future long after I will die — seemed compressed to a dot. I felt connected not only to the stars but to all of nature, and to the entire cosmos. I felt a merging with something far larger than myself, a grand and eternal unity, a hint of something absolute. After a time, I sat up and started the engine again. I had no idea how long I’d been lying there looking up."
"A tree is alive, and thus it is always more than you can see. Roots to leaves, yes-those you can, in part, see. But it is more-it is the lichens and moss and ferns that grow on its bark, the life too small to see that lives among its roots, a community we know of, but do not think on. It is every fly and bee and beetle that uses it for shelter or food, every bird that nests in its branches. Every one an individual, and yet every one part of the tree, and the tree part of every one."
"We cannot know the whole in the way in which we know things because we cannot recognize the whole as a thing. If the whole were available to be recognized in the same way as we recognize the things which surround us, then the whole would be counted among these things as one of them. So we could point and say 'here is this' and 'there is that' and 'that’s the whole over there.' If we could do this we would know the whole in the same way that we know its parts, for the whole itself would simply be numbered among its parts, so that the whole would be outside of its parts in just the same way that each part is outside all the other parts… But the whole comes into presence within its parts, so we cannot encounter the whole in the same way as we encounter the parts. Thus we cannot know the whole in the way that we know things and recognize ourselves knowing things. So we should not think of the whole as if it were a thing…, for in so doing we effectively deny the whole inasmuch as we are making as if to externalize that which can presence only within the things which are external with respect to our awareness of them."
"Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told 'There is a ghost in the next room,' and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is 'uncanny' rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply "There is a mighty spirit in the room" and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous."
"Many colors have been described as rough or sticky, others as smooth and uniform, so that one feels inclined to stroke them (e.g., dark ultramarine, chromic oxide green, and rose madder). Equally the distinction between warm and cold colors belongs to this connection. Some colors appear soft (rose madder), others hard (cobalt green, blue-green oxide), so that even fresh from the tube they seem to be dry. The expression “scented colors” is frequently met with. And finally the sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would try to express bright yellow in the bass notes, or dark lake in the treble…
Color is a power which directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.
This essential connection between color and form brings us to the question of the influences of form on color. Form alone, even though totally abstract and geometrical, has a power of inner suggestion. A triangle (without the accessory consideration of its being acute — or obtuse — angled or equilateral) has a spiritual value of its own. In connection with other forms, this value may be somewhat modified, but remains in quality the same. The case is similar with a circle, a square, or any conceivable geometrical figure [which has] a subjective substance in an objective shell.
The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way. From him it gains life and being. Nor is its existence casual and inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in its material and spiritual life. It exists and has power to create spiritual atmosphere; and from this inner standpoint one judges whether it is a good work of art or a bad one. If its “form” is bad it means that the form is too feeble in meaning to call forth corresponding vibrations of the soul… The artist is not only justified in using, but it is his duty to use only those forms which fulfill his own need… Such spiritual freedom is as necessary in art as it is in life."