Saturday, July 14, 2018

Kilonova, Part 2: Locutions

Kilonova - two stars colliding, releasing a mammoth energy burst that is still being detected 130 million years after the fact.  Somehow this was portentous to me, a metaphorical catalyst, one that came to me in a chance meeting with a friend.  Certainly a synchronicity by definition, whatever you might think of the notion of synchronicity.  But what did it portend?

Whatever was to come, it was clear to me that this particular astronomical event/metaphor resonated with something inside me.  As I've suggested before, this kind of resonance coming to someone involved in a creative practice is not to be ignored, which is why I went through a flurry of activity fleshing out the contours of this hint from the far reaches of space.  When I did step back from the frenzied exploration and took the time to wonder what it was that I had been doing, a very clear answer came to me - it was the omen of a coming personal Kilonova that I was pursuing .  When I say the answer was clear, I mean CLEAR, almost as if there was another voice stepping into my interior dialogue.  And this voice was not only clear, it was authoritative, compelling, trustworthy; in other words, true.  This was not the usual voice of little jeffy richards, prattling away in his head about this or that bit of nonsense.  This was... who... what... from where?

I'm sure many of you have heard fiction authors talk of setting out to write a novel by outlining the story, laying out the characters with each one's personal history in the background, and then proceeding with confidence - only to have the characters start to write their own dialogue, tell their own very different histories, take the author's carefully planned outline of a story and throw it in the trash.  This sort of thing happens to me and most artists I know all of the time, and I've often wondered about the mystery of this aspect of the creative process, when you step back from a finished piece and ask yourself where the hell that came from.  The very clear voice I heard seemed to come from that same zone of mystery, as did the other very clear voice years ago, the one that commanded "Don't be a coward!" as I was about to give in to fear and instead gave in to the sensation at the base of my spine, allowing a stream of astonishing energy to burst up my spine and into my head - the initiation of a Kundalini activation that continues to this day almost 10 years later.

Gopi Krishna, the 20th Century Pandit from India who wrote extensively on his own Kundalini experiences, had a related moment come over him at one point in his transformative process.  He was a family man and a low level bureaucrat in British occupied India, someone with no creative interests whatsoever.  One day much to his astonishment he began reciting poetry to a friend who was chatting with him as they strolled down the street together.  The words simply came to him with no forethought, and in the months and years that followed whole poems of several pages would appear in his mind, some of these poems in languages he had no knowledge of  (OK, as a poet friend who is familiar with his work pointed out to me one day, they weren't very good poems...but what the hell!!).  Here's what Krishna had to say about this phenomenon:

" During the creative periods, I distinctly perceive that the ideas that flash across my mind and the words I use to express them come from the surrounding emptiness.  In the formulation of ideas the ego is never absent.  I know  that the idea is mine and that I am the author of it.  But both the "I" and the "idea" are not now confined within the periphery of my individual mind, but seem to be parts of a vast reservoir of thought encircling me.  The ideas and the language for their expression emerge from this reservoir and, soon after, disappear to sink back into it again."

We tend to feel that our thoughts are generated in our brain, right there inside our head; that certainly is how it feels  But what Krishna seems to be implying is that, at least to some extent beyond self-generation, our brain is actually a receiver of  thoughts, much like a radio is a receiver of radio waves.  We already know the brain is a receiver of our experience in the material world - our senses pick up energy information from our surroundings, send that information to the brain which then translates it into a kind of gestalt which allows us to make sense of and act in the material world.  The thought world certainly is invisible to our 5 senses, but it's hard to deny that it is there, it exists - and that it is energy.  Who knows what the extent of that world is?  If it's invisible, with no apparent boundaries, why should it be bottled up inside the parameters of our brains?  If the brain is a receiver of sense impressions, why should it not also be a receiver of invisible thought impressions, impressions in that "vast reservoir" surrounding our individual mind?

This begs the question, is our brain able to receive elements from the thought world that arrive from beyond its physical location?  Or is our brain able to reach out somehow, to expand itself non-physically into the realms of the 'vast reservoir?  Did that clear, authoritative, trustworthy voice reach out to me?  Or did I reach out to it?

In either case, there is a relationship, one built over long hard years...a little like two orbiting stars slowly spiraling toward each other over the millennia, until...

To be continued...

Postscript:  I originally titled this posting "Voices".  Since then I've been reading "Interior Castle" by the 16th Century Spanish Nun/Mystic Theresa of Avila, and ran into a discussion touching on what I had been exploring.  Theresa uses the term 'locution', who's dictionary definition is 'a particular form of expression, or a peculiar phrasing'.  In her writings she speaks of several types of locutions, breaking them down roughly into voice of God, voice of imagination, voice of the devil, and explains how one would distinguish  them from each other.  Which category embraces my kilonova voice is still a bit unclear, but in deference to that great saint I've altered my title.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Kilonova, Part 1: A Galaxy of Metaphors

                                                       Kilonova #1

In August of 2017 astronomical observatories and satellites around the world began reporting the appearance of what appeared to be a rather intense new supernova in the night sky.  As data continued to pour in it became apparent that this was no run-of-the-mill supernova - a single exploding star - but rather the collision of two stars that had for millions of years been locked in mutual orbit, slowly spiraling toward each other until finally colliding in a massive explosion 130 million years in the past, the light and energy of that event only now reaching Earth.  By correlating data from different locations around the globe scientists were able to amass information that allowed them to prove more than a few speculative astronomical theories, among them a prediction Albert Einstein made in the early 20th century that gravity traveled in waves; they were indeed, for the first time, able to detect gravity waves.  Needless to say, the astronomical community was in quite a buzz over these spectacular observations and had labeled the event a "Kilonova".

By mid-October of that year I was not yet aware of this discovery.  That's when an artist who works in a space in my studio building, sensing quite correctly I might find this of interest, queried me if I had heard of the Kilonova.  I replied I hadn't, wondering what the hell such a funny term might mean.  She pulled out her cell phone and uploaded a website discussing the discovery, including impressive graphics and clear layman-oriented explanations.  Wee oohed and  ahhed over this for a few minutes, wherein my colleague looked at me and said "You know Jeff, I bet you could make a Kilonova."  This caught me off guard for a moment, but then, being one who loves a challenge (and this was indeed a challenge from a well respected fellow artist), I simply uttered a "hmm", and the wheels began turning in my mind.

I was barely into a new piece and decided to jettison that meager beginning and embark on my own exploration of Kilonova.  For several days I ran down many blind alleys and dead ends in my search, miles of rejected thread piling up in the trash can next to my working easel.  After awhile I began to despair that the Kilonova would elude me;  but nonetheless something was prodding me, some mysterious, veiled yet sharply pointed intuition.  Often creativity works with, if not a logic, at least a kind of order, a natural progression.  B follows A, simply because A laid the groundwork, the context, for B; without A, B just would not arise.  Yet at times C jumps in between seemingly out of nowhere, kicks you in the butt, then runs off in the mist.  In that case there's nothing to be done but follow the scent and move onward through the fog, blind but sniffing. And indeed eventually the fog began to lift and I caught a glimmer of the solution.  I grabbed that glimmer and shook it like a dog shaking its favorite stuffed toy, and suddenly the Kilonova began to unfold.  in only a few hours I had it (and yes, the image at the head of this blog entry is that very work).

I showed the result to my friend and she agreed with delight that I had pulled it off.  Curiously for me, that was not enough.  I began a series of further explorations of Kilonovas, experimenting with color combinations, element relationships, backgrounds, panel shapes and sizes.  I worked myself into some kind of creative tizzy, and in a couple of weeks I had 5 or 6 successful versions, not counting the further miles of discarded thread heaped in my trash bin.  It was then that a question suddenly popped into my head - Why am I doing this????  And just as quickly the answer appeared - I'm headed into my own personal Kilonova!!!  This was as clear as clear could be, yet I had no idea what this would mean, or how it would unfold.  Something was afoot, and it had the feel of a coming internal collision, an explosion, a burst of light and energy.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 1, 2018

My Significant Other is the Kosmos: Return of the Aesthetic Jedi, Part 7 - Closing Circle, or Sprial?

Reorientation, of course, can be triggered by all sorts of experiences not normally considered 'aesthetic' - drug experiences like LSD or Ayahuasca, near-death experiences, other kinds of trauma, extreme depression, and more.  In this exploration I've been emphasizing the more traditional aesthetic experience that comes about through encounters with the arts.  This seems especially significant since the arts are part of human cultural interaction, or as I've pointed out, the webs of interlocution we weave together.  This weaving is dependent on the 'we' of things, not the 'me' of things, and it is from that we-space that individual cultural evolution occurs; it is what orients human cultural and individual development, so to speak.  And as I suggested earlier, it takes place in what I've labeled the fifth dimension.

The fifth dimension, however, is not just about orientation.  It is, in a mysterious fashion, a source of seemingly infinite energy.  The kind of energy I'm speaking of here is not quite energy in the sense a physicist would speak of; after all, most physicists assume there is only so much energy, no more, no less, and certainly not infinite.  But there do seem to be correlates between the physicists' energy and this fifth dimensional energy I've hinted at.  I''m sure many if not most reading this have experienced the sudden surge of energy that arose after an especially vivid encounter with a work of visual art, a musical performance, an immersion in the space of a particularly stunning architectural environment.  Life seemed normal, even mundane, maybe stressful, maybe trivial, and suddenly... BOOM, you're dancing in the streets, energy coursing through your entire being!  What energy source did you just tap into?

In many ways this fifth dimensional energy is intimately related to emotion.  If you strip out the content of your emotions - your anger at an injustice, your joy at the smile of a baby, your sadness at a tragic event - what do you have left?  Energy, nothing but pure energy.  And if I may say so, energy that you may harness.  As much as they are alike, this is where fifth dimensional energy has an edge over emotional energy, because in the fifth dimension you are being oriented, you are given a direction in which to apply that energy.  Orientation and energy are a potent duo - you need them both to be involved effectively in a process.  And the more of both you have the further the process moves; think of 13.7 billion years of evolution, rocks to roses to Rumi, and likely still going somewhere.  Astonishing!!  Right out of the fifth dimension.


This is (arbitrarily perhaps) the final entry of 'Return of the Aesthetic Jedi', so I'd like to complete the circle I began, and that brings us back to the Kundalini phenomenon and my inquiry into its mystery.  I would suggest that, just as Kundalini and aesthetic experience are related as process, they are related as coming from the same source - the infinite potential energy source of what I've termed the fifth dimension.  I've described the rapturous surges of energy I experienced (and still experience) with the arising of this odd, if increasingly less odd, psycho/physical process known in some circles as Kundalini awakening.  I've also described the surges of energy one can experience in an aesthetic experience, oftentimes also rapturous.  But what they also share in common sourced from that mysterious dimension is their potential for reorientation.  Perhaps the strongest initial reaction I had after that fateful day in August, 2008 was "I had no idea!!!!!.  It was then I suddenly and dramatically realized that everything I thought I knew was now in question.  I mean everything.  How could I not be reoriented?  And ironically, that first step of reorientation was the discovery, for the first time at the ripe age of 57, of Beginner's Mind.  And what was the first thing I came to know from this perspective of Beginner's Mind?  I came to know, to really know, that my significant other is, indeed, the Kosmos. 

And btw, you all are part of the Kosmos.

The end...for now...

Monday, September 11, 2017

My Significant Other is the Kosmos: Return of the Aesthetic Jedi Part 6 - Adventures in the 5th Dimension

There is another factor involved in process that is not quite directly related to time but is just as fundamental.  If we take Einstein's cue that time is the fourth dimension (space-time as some would say, binding time with the three dimensions of space) then perhaps the other dimensions need to be teased out a little.  Depth, width and height bring us location in space, which is obviously one way of determining our physical place in a process, the fourth dimension of time determining when we are in a process, and the four together describing a pretty good map of the process in general.  I would suggest that, at least in terms of a process, there is a fifth dimension, and that fifth dimension has everything to do with orientation.  In other words, not just where we are, at this time, but what direction are we pointing toward?

Let's think back to my youth and that reading of 'War and Peace'.  At that time in the process I'll call 'my development' I was, shall I say, disoriented.  A friend at the time labeled it 'Modern Americanitis', a borderline pathological condition exhibited by many of the boomer generation as the counter-culture of the sixties collapsed with the end of the Vietnam War and the demise of the hippy movement.  In my case I was drifting without clear orientation, and because of this the arc of my personal development was more than a bit fuzzy.  When I read the Tolstoy novel and experienced that aesthetic moment I already had a place in three dimensional space and fourth dimensional time, but the fifth dimension of orientation was tenuous and shifting.  What that profound aesthetic moment did was establish a definite orientation, and with that the developmental process could proceed. 

Of course there were many such moments that helped adjust my orientation toward creativity.  One memorable one was a visit to the Mark Rothko Chapel near Houston, just sitting quietly surrounded by those amazing color-field paintings.  Another came years later in a cathedral in San Francisco listening to a performance of Benjamin Brittens's 'War Requiem', a performance which left the audience of several hundred in attendance in a stunned silence for many minutes after the conclusion, nary a clap or bravo as we all tried to absorb what we had just experienced.  And perhaps to reorient ourselves a bit.

While recently pondering this idea of orientation as the fifth dimension I happened to pick up another book on Buddhism - 'Zen and the Psychology of Transformation', published in 1955 by a French psychiatrist, Hubert Benoit.  This is a deeply thoughtful and densely written book by someone who had obviously spent many years exploring the nature of mind both in the context of western psychoanalysis and of Zen Buddhist philosophy.

Benoit's book is primarily a series of essays exploring the Zen Buddhist notion of satori, something akin to enlightenment, or Christ Consciousness, liberation or ultimate freedom.  It was here that I was given a slightly different but essential interpretation of the Buddhist Doctrine of Dependent Origination, which I have written of previously.  In that discussion I declared Dependent Origination as fundamentally a doctrine of cause and effect.  In speaking of the attainment of satori I might have stated that that attainment would be the result of the correct series of causes - perhaps many hours of sitting meditation, contemplation of Buddhist teachings, of following the Way of the Eight-fold path, etc...in other words, follow the recipe, the 'practice', and satori will occur: cause and effect.  However, Benoit points out that, according to Zen Masters who have achieved satori, satori is not caused, is not the result of effort; it is in fact already here now, closer than the tip of your nose.  You and I are just blind to it.  Then he quotes the Buddha himself on Dependent Origin - "This being so, that happens".  Notice the subtlety here - the Buddha didn't say "This being so causes that to happen".  It is rather, "This being so is the condition for that to happen.  It took me awhile to grasp this subtle distinction, but once I did it became apparent that "This being so, that happens" could potentially be rephrased as "This orientation being so, that happens".  The orientation doesn't cause that to happen, it is a necessary condition for that (satori, or perhaps a delicious fruit pie) to happen.

And so, in the context I'm exploring of aesthetic experience, orientation suddenly becomes an important element that is influenced, or perhaps we might say adjusted, by the condition that the aesthetic experience creates in its interaction with the receiver of that experience  ( or, to hearken back to the philosopher Charles Taylor, the web of interlocution that is a condition of that experience).

I'm thinking things start to get very interesting when one finds oneself wandering in the fifth dimension.....

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My Significant Other is the Kosmos: Return of the Aesthetic Jedi, Part 5 - Demise of the Oopsters

Oops.  Quite a concept to arrive at given the rather stunning scientific revelations vis a vis evolution and the Big Bang.  Next time you take a look at some of those aforementioned Hubble Telescope images say to yourself  "oops" and see how that holds up as an explanation.

Curiously, even the Buddha, some 2500 years ago, knew better then to say oops.  I ran into that insight recently when I decided to actually get some basic understanding of Buddhism by reading a book on the subject ("Essentials of Buddhism - Basic Terminology and Concepts of Buddhist Philosophy and Practice" by Kogen Mizuno, a contemporary Buddhist scholar.  Highly recommended, clear and concisely written).  It seems there is a fundamental concept in Buddhist thought known as "The Doctrine of Dependent Origination".  To quote Mizuno, "Phenomena are impermanent, constantly undergoing change.  This change is not arbitrary; given the requisite conditions, each cause produces an inevitable effect.  This principle of change is called dependent origination".  In other words,cause and effect, without exception.  Things don't happen out of a vacuum, they are caused, and each cause is itself the result of a cause.  To quote Mizuno again, "this change is not arbitrary." (italics mine).  So much for oops, at least according to Buddhism.

In general terms this statement is self-evident; hit a billiard ball with a cue stick, it hits another ball at a certain angle and sends the second ball to another destination - cause and effect.  Nothing special there, even an elementary school student can figure that one out.  So why is dependent origination a fundamental concept in Buddhism?  It's because Buddhism's primary religious concern is not with billiard balls, but with the alleviation of suffering.  The Buddha's very first proclamation after returning from his awakening experience and period of meditation on that experience was what he called "The Four Noble Truths".  The very first of these noble truths (noble because they were beyond the mundane and everyday) is the truth of suffering.  Yes, that was the very first utterance of his teachings, the truth of suffering.  The second noble truth is that suffering has a cause; and there you have dependent origination.  Suffering doesn't just happen, it is caused.

At this point you might be thinking that Buddhism is an awfully pessimistic religion, and in fact many have criticized it for just this emphasis on suffering.  But hold off on that criticism!  The third noble truth is.....suffering can be alleviated.  It can be alleviated because it has a cause, and by eliminating that cause you eliminate suffering.  And then, you get the fourth noble truth - the way to eliminate suffering, known as the eight-fold path.  So there!

I won't go into detail about the eight-fold path, or what is known as the chain of dependent origination, both of which are worthy of exploration in another context.  However, it's interesting to extend the concept of dependent origination out to the entire universe and stumble upon the truth that everything is dependent on everything!  Now extend it back in time to the big bang and you realize that dependence goes all the way back in known history.  To put it another way, it's all one ginormous process!!  (If you have a picture of me right now with a tiny angel on each shoulder strumming a guitar and singing in my ear "All is one, one is all, kumbaya my lord, kumbaya" I can't say I blame you.  But I do request that you delete that image immediately, and while you're at it empty the trash bin.)

There's that word again, process.  And of course, process always involves time.  Dependent origination involves time - cause followed by effect.  Development involves time.  Aesthetics involves time.  Kundalini activation involves time.  Evolution involves time.  And, a process over time is going somewhere.  If you're a Buddhist you might say that somewhere is either nirvana or samsara, liberation or rebirth into the world of suffering. A Buddhist might also say if you're aware that you're in a process of dependent origination you have an opportunity, through understanding the causes, to effect where you're going, suffering or liberation from suffering.  But first you have to understand that you are in a process to begin with.  We are not just stumbling around aimlessly, making the best of it until we die.

We are, in fact, always in a process, and I would suggest that that process is moving toward... value, pulled by value attractors - the good, the true, the beautiful in so many words.  That's why aesthetics is so importance, because it engages a process of movement toward value through dependent origination - cause and effect. Because I feel the value attraction of great literature I hear a radio program reading part of War and Peace, causing me to read War and Peace, causing me to reorient myself in a creative direction, setting in a chain of causes through dependent origination that culminates (for the time being) in the words coming out on this very page.  And some completely different chain of dependent origination, possibly going back many years, culminated in you reading these words.

 I think we're going somewhere.

To be continued...