Thursday, March 29, 2012

Environmentalism and the Spiritual Path

Environmentalism and the spiritual path offer striking evidence of how our egos work. Our concern for the environment may cause us to give lip service to environmental causes. We may roundly condemn polluters and the greedy corporations that put profits before the health of the planet. Seldom does this condemnation incorporate our own part in the damage being done. We rationalize our own behavior while chastising others. All of us are polluters at one time or another. Differences of degree don't necessarily mean differences of definition.
For many the spiritual path is about seeking the ideal external situation in order to foster internal transformation. The innate fallacy of this is usually not even glimpsed by the participants as they board planes for "spiritual retreats" and "yogic seminars".  Our carbon footprint gets bigger and bigger as our aspirations demand more and more evidence that "enlightenment" is coming to us. We must go where the "energy" is. We must experience God somewhere other than where we are at this very moment. For if we experience God always, the trips to find God are revealed for what they really are; the work of that very thing we are trying to overcome. And in the way of circular reasoning we can always tell ourselves that our "path" is leading to this realization so it must be alright.
But the spiritual path is also about self-acceptance. When we accept ourselves as flawed individuals we move closer to understanding that the seeming flaws in the Universe also have a place in the Grand Illusion. We can extend compassion to ourselves and from there to others.
When we look at the destruction of our world we are seeing ourselves. When environmentalism is a platform to judge others it serves no one. Yes, we must seek justice.  And that may entail confrontation. But Love and not Fear needs to be the driving force.
As history has proven disasters befall all civilizations. Catastrophic environmental change is obviously in the cards for us. Environmentalism may be able to mitigate some of the coming catastrophe. But a strong sense of our souls is what we will need to endure it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Our Unpaid Debts

What do we owe successive generations? The generations born since WWII have used more of the world's natural resources than ALL preceding generations. This is an astounding statistic. What makes it to me even more astounding is that we have so little to show for it. Our architecture such as it is is almost without redeeming virtue. We have a country littered with massive big box stores, endless highways, and plastic houses full of plastic junk. Half our population is classified as mentally ill and a whole lot of us are taking some kind of legal or illegal drugs.
Many of us know the story of Savonarola, the cleric who convinced Renaissance Florentines to make a huge bonfire of their material possessions. I shake my head at that because they at least had good stuff to burn. We instead have garage sales where the bric-a-brac of our purchasing history goes on display before finding a new home in someone else's drawer.
So what will future generations think of our civilization? What artifacts will we leave behind that will cause them to marvel at our sense of design, our commitment to beauty? Will they puzzle over what made us despoil a landscape to put up storage containers for our overflow of "stuff". Will they examine the toys from happy meals and conclude that our desire for kitschy objects superseded any impulse to gain insight into our human condition? Will they huddle around desolate campsites cursing us for handing them a resource-depleted world?
The Vedic scriptures call it the Kali Yuga, an age of darkness when greed, arrogance, and the lust for power and material comforts displaces human virtue. It is said, "There is nothing you can do TO Kali Yuga. But there is a great deal you can do IN Kali Yuga." Individually our lives mean very little except to us and a few friends and relatives. Yet still it is worth our time and effort to reach out to the larger society to remind those few awakened beings that we are not so few after all.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Road Ahead

We live in an age of affluence unlike any other in known history. While we have lots of stuff I question whether we're happier than other societies. So we wreck the planet to get more stuff and we're no happier than we would be without all the stuff? This is a marvel of technological innovation?
 My cousin Orin Lyons is a chief of the Seneca Tribe. A few decades back by some strange fluke he had the opportunity to address a G-8 summit in Geneva, Switzerland. He basically lambasted the participants, charging them with reckless endangerment of the planet. It was a good speech and they needed to hear it. After the speech he was approached by a few CEOs of some of the world's largest corporations. They told him that while they agreed with him their hands were tied. They were bound by law to serve the interests of their shareholders and if they didn't they would simply be replaced by someone who would. The technological juggernaut that they serve will not compromise.
The current power structure of our society is an organization which can best be described as a machine. I call it the Machine That Changed the World. It's a machine that devours resources, animals, people and entire countries. It serves no purpose other than to grow. It's like a cancer and we should find no surprise that cancer is the epidemic of our times.
When we talk about the emergence of the Feminine Divine, the ascendance of women, and the creation of a new civilization we're not talking about women becoming clones of men and assuming the trappings of powerful heads of states and corporations. We're not talking about a nominal changing of the guard to suit a politically correct idea of gender equality while continuing to serve the old paradigm. We will hopefully circumvent that old paradigm based as it is on a masculine principle of dominance, control, and exploitation. The way ahead has no map. New rules are being written but we don't get to see them yet. But what many of us feel is the coming of a great nurturance, a life-saving and life-giving model which serves not a few but the whole of humanity.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Beauty is a Species of Value

A visitor to my studio stood in front of one of my paintings and sighed, "I wish I could afford that." The painting in question was priced at $3500. The visitor had arrived in a $35,000 automobile. She probably also owned a $2,000 refrigerator, a $3,000 computer, and a house full of unexceptional furniture that she had paid tens of thousands of dollars for. Her vacations which she took at least twice a year probably cost $7,000-10,000 a throw. The question in my mind at the time was "Is she angling for a better price or does she in fact believe her own statement?" So I asked her if the painting became something she owned what would its value be to her compared to everything else she owned? "Oh," She said, "It would be a treasure." "Why so," I asked. "Because it's just so beautiful," she replied. So I took out my pen and wrote another zero behind the $3500 making it $35,000. "There" I said, "That's a more appropriate price for so rare an object. And I challenge you, Madam, to find something so beautiful for a lesser price." Sadly, she lacked the grace to be humored and left in a huff. For my part, I was elated. I don't make art to make money. I make art to make beauty. Currency can change, money can become worthless, but beauty remains a species of value. Long after all the objects owned by this woman have gone to the dump, the car-crusher, the re-cycling bin, the painting will continue to have value, to serve the human sense of beauty.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A New Civilization

Who would really be distressed to see the demise of our so-called civilization? Leaf-blowers instead of rakes, snowblowers instead of shovels, suburbia instead of community, testing instead of education, jobs instead of vocations, pharmaceuticals instead of mental health, fad diets instead of healthy foods, plastic surgery instead of graceful aging, endless war instead of peace, etc, ad nauseum. Make up your own list. Who's going to miss this?
I've often commented that the old civilization must go before the ground can be cleared to create the new. The new will come from the "seed people". Just as in the fall the leaves turn and fall to the the ground so the world's current population will go. But every tree produces seeds. Most of those seeds to be sure don't make it. Some get a brief foothold in the spring but then quickly die for a number of reasons. But the few that do make it start a whole new tree. My hope is that the cancerous, misshapen tree of today will be replaced by a beautiful, elegant tree of tomorrow. My hope is that humanity will continue on its trek through time considerably chastened by the results of its current lunacy but inspired by the successes we've had so far in making the world a more beautiful place.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Preparing for a Post-Petroleum World

The deck is now stacked against us. The collapse will be as swift as it is inevitable. Our grandiose, technologically glib civilization is going down. Anyone can disagree, call me a dooms-dayer, whatever, it doesn't change the facts. The question is: Who's got a life jacket? And what does it look like?
These Armageddons have been predicted for millennia by everyone from Nostradamus to Christian evangelicals.  But this time we've really tipped the scales in favor of the end-times prognostication. It's not just the changing weather patterns. Anyone with a shred of intuition feels the change coming. Change is after all what this universe is all about. I'm going to suggest that if you're reading this that you prepare yourself. Most people are going to be swept up in the coming changes responding with fear and negative emotions. Through a regimen of meditation and yoga a perspective can be achieved which will liberate us allowing us to stand outside all cataclysmic events and to tune it to a higher power. If your soul hasn't communicated the need to do this then you're probably not listening. Making a bunker and hoarding weapons and food won't cut it. Looking deeply within and finding your true strength will.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Making the world a more beautiful place

First of all; it starts with something internal. Somewhere in that interface between our senses and the outer world a breath of joy is inhaled and the concept of Beauty overwhelms us. We feel small in the face of it even as we feel exalted to behold such magnificence.
Beauty like God is the outward projection of the human soul. And being human the degradation of both God and Beauty seems inevitable. Our current situation demands our attention as the balance has been tipped decidedly in the direction of that degradation. Here's a case in point. I had just finished a painting of a reclining nude woman. A guy stopped over and looked at the painting. "Man, would I like to do her." he said. I laughed. I'm used to hearing it. But there's something tragic in our culture when Beauty is not something that makes us feel reverence but rather lust. Open any magazine and pictures of beautiful women abound with one object; to sell us something. Beauty is in our culture constantly prostituted for profit. And so when I do a painting of a beautiful woman my motives are suspect as well. I spend long hours fashioning an image which to me is a sacred invocation to the spiritual aspect of life and the response is a titillation akin to the images passed around on cell phones at construction sites.
The common person has always been prone to this kind of debasement. Shakespeare understood this as did the theater owners of Elizabethan England. They set an area close to the stage for the "groundlings" to make rude jests and obscene comments. But given the enormous power of even the common person of today to alter the environment, to consume natural resources, and to acquire stuff it no longer suffices to accept this side of human behavior. We must and we will elevate ourselves and our fellow humans. Beauty, the Sacred, and God have restored place in our hearts if our hearts are opened. The cleansing of the doors of perception is imminent. The signs are everywhere.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Voice from the not-to distant future

I had heard that we can create our own reality. So I was looking at the news and wondering what kind of reality we were collectively creating. Then I started having these "visitations" or whatever you call it when a dream turns into an experience in an alternate universe. The first question is of course "Am I going crazy?" Or has my fertile imagination fed me a glimpse into a very possible future?
My first "vision" is of Congressman Chris Gibson, our local guy here in Glens Falls, New York, sitting in his office downtown. He's made the big mistake of returning to his district during a period of martial law. A howling mob of overweight people charges down the street, drags Gibson from his office, takes him to City Park a few blocks away and hangs him from a lamp post. This episode was the first major "food riot" for our little city. It seems that people had drawn a line of connection from the empty shelves in the local food markets to those climate change deniers like Mr. Gibson and had decided to vent their rage in a personal way as though by exterminating Mr. Gibson they could somehow expiate their own sins. After the lynching the military and police showed up and shot a few people effectively dispersing the crowd. I for one couldn't help but feel some sympathy for Mr. Gibson or at least for his family. It wasn't like he had personally created the famine which gripped the good old USA in this soon to be arrived at future. He was just a tool and I will generously imagine that his own carbon footprint was no larger than any one member of the lynch mob that slew him. In fact, the more I think about it the more I'm inclined to say that if we're going to point fingers we should point them at ourselves. We are the participants who engaged so wholeheartedly in the affluence of our so-called civilization. Liberals, progressives, and conservatives alike did a hell of a lot of driving, flying, and general petroleum consumption. I never saw one protest movement to get the American people out of cars and into buses or trains. Everyone wanted to eat their cake too. So here I am in the year 2018. That's just a few years away for anyone reading this. And despite the horror that is unfolding here on planet Earth I see some remarkable opportunities for humanity to get it right this time. More to come. : )