Posts tagged #beauty

Art, Love and Transmutation - A guest post by Abigail Amalton

Art is about love. It is love, pure love.


I can't even begin to describe what music has done for me. How can an art form, independent of the flaws of its creators, catalyze such deep healing and transformation? How can somebody else's stories lead me back to myself, deeper into my own bliss? The deeper I move into the subjective, the more often I hit the universal. Do we all ultimately share the same core?

Art is love. And love is transcendent, transformative. Love has no opposite. Love is the step beyond dualist thinking. Dualism dissolves completely in the heat and light of pure love. This wonderful step beyond is not even thought nor is it just feeling - it's pure being. Love is being absorbed in the flow: the conscious observer-participant co-creating the universe, the drop of water in the endless ocean of existence. It isn't merely an emotion, not merely a state of mind - love is all-encompassing being. It is a subtle awareness of the life force that flows through us - through bone and bloody capillary, through neural networks and the serpentine energetic currents in our spines.

Love is the knowing that this life force is one and the same with what moves stars to begin their lives in misty stellar nurseries, light years away. It is the possibility that everything in this universe, every last little organism, every drop of blood is alive - purely. And simply waiting for us to realize this.

Love is a new way of being on this planet. It revolutionizes each individual who decides to make it a way of life, changing her so that she may never go back, never settle for anything less than pure joy. So what do lovers do? We live for love. We show, through our lives, that it can be done. That we can partake in this cosmic dance with joy - that this is our birthright. Love is the activation of our potential for continued and unending bliss.

Love transmutes.


It is the knowing that in spite of pain, we live. Pain, however deep, helps us remember that we are embodied and interconnected. When we reflect on our pain, then we remember that we are ensouled. As long as you love, you'll never lose your soul. So, why continue to hurt? Catalyze the transformation with a deliberate joy in every moment of this ecstatic existence. Push for it. Let it open you up. Let joyfulness be a breaking open of the calcified shell of the ego. Decide you'll never live in the egoic mode again - and when you do, laugh at it.

Live this way and let life have its way with you, move through you - let spirit sense matter in whatever way it will, for the purpose of love. Live this way and you won't have to meet with death to finally live - because you will no longer unconsciously push yourself further and further to hurt simply to feel alive.

Gather with other souls in love and explore collaborative ecstasy. Collaborative beauty. Explorations like these are how the planet will begin again, how we can jumpstart conscious evolution. Let go of the patterns we only cling to out of habit and replace them only with love.

Love is how we will reach the stars sooner than we think.

Abigail Amalton is an amazing artist who lives and creates in New York City.  Check her out over at The Silent Infinite!

Revering the Daimon

What follows is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Awesome Your Life.  

Paradoxically, in order to wake up from our sleep-walking, we need to go deeper into dreaming.  The stuff of our night-time dreams, our poetry, our fancy, the various bits of psychic sparkly stuff that we habitually ignore and dismiss—this is the stuff we need to collect and interact with in deep reverence.  By doing this, we honor our poet spirits, our daimons.  The daimon is our highest potential, our most powerful self.  It’s a spiritual image of possibility which hovers in our morphic field of energy around us and calls us to grow into it, just as the spiritual image of a resplendent oak hovers in the energy field surrounding an acorn.  The daimon (also called the soul, genius or heart) knows who we are and who we can be.  It has a vivid connection to the daimon of the world, too, and connects us not only to our personal journey but to that of the planets.

Canada Vac 2011-36 Creative Commons License photo credit: weslowik

Our egos resist attending with tender reverence and seriousness to our dreams and fantasies.  “I have more important things to do,” is its ever-present claim.


It takes sincere humility and rich honesty to embark on this project of uniting the conscious and the unconscious, order and energy.  Honor your struggles and your frustrations as you move forward with this process, because nothing about it is easy.


The play we’re undertaking requires reverence and devotion—reverence for our own daimons, for all the poets around us (sleeping or waking), for every element of our environment, natural or human-made.  Our present culture derides reverence and devotion as foolish attitudes which make one vulnerable to manipulation and control. Criticism and mocking are much more cool than earnest appreciation.  But reverence is to the soul what the most nutritious food is to the body.  The soul can live on irreverence and criticism, fault-finding and cynicism—but these are poor nurturance.  Our genius can come into its full vitality when we practice offering wonder and deep attention to the life around us.  What we offer to the world is actually what we offer to our own soul, and our soul thrives or falls weak accordingly.

To have a weak soul is to have a hungry ghost within, a monster who is never satisfied and will devour beauty and joy out of your life like the terrible Minotaur beneath the ancient city of Crete, who demanded sacrifices of youths and maidens.  The Minotaur came into existence because King Mino of Crete refused to offer the great gift that had been bestowed to him. When out of fear and greed we refuse to offer our deepest gifts, we create a terror that eats us alive.


Reverence and devotion don’t have to be heavy and dry.  They can be light, erotic, liberating and playful.  All of the creative Experiments in this course call upon your reverence and devotion  in concrete practices.


It’s a good idea, as you travel this path, to practice offering your reverence and respect to every person you meet and your devotion to the spirit of love in them.


Try this: when in conversation, allow your own mind to grow very quiet as you listen to another person.  Don’t internally argue with or amend what the other person says.  Offer your listening presence as a whole gift.  Be the presence of love for the one speaking.  Don’t concern yourself with approving or rejecting the content of what the person says or even who she is.  Simply be present, open, and nonjudging. Be the space in which the other can unfold.  When it’s your turn to talk, your reply may come more slowly since you haven’t been busily formulating it as the other person spoke.  Embrace and allow that slowness.  See how it alters the quality of your communication and the enjoyment you have in conversation.


This is a gentle and practical form of meditation which strengthens your daimon and fuels your ecstatic awakening.


As you cultivate the silence within you through this kind of listening and through daily deep meditation, you will become much more sensitive to the spiritual nuances at work in your life and relationships. We all have spiritual senses, just as we have bodily senses.  These spiritual senses go uncultivated in most of us; it’s not something that’s taught in most schools.


Once you’ve cultivated the ability to list to others with inner quiet, reverence and love, you’ll find that you hear them in a whole other way.  You hear them through your heart— you’ll receive and partake of their heart’s energy as you listen to them speak.  Through this reception, you’ll learn much more about the person you’re listening to than you would through merely cognitive listening.  You’ll intuit their whole history of sorrows and joy, connections and solitudes.  Sentences that formerly would have struck you as wrong-headed, which you would have previously dismissed, will now touch you differently.  You’ll feel the heart in those sentences, the energy within the form of the words—and you’ll discern that you’re able to receive rich and profound gifts from people you otherwise would ignore.


This practice is richly liberating, because through it you can learn how to love and sincerely enjoy a much greater range of people.  By letting your judging mind recede, your daimon is free to be strengthened by the exchange of love and reverence with others.


Posted on August 3, 2011 and filed under Creativity.

Become a Visionary

Dear Reader, Do you demure from expressing yourself creatively? Do you insist that you don't have the time or money to acquire the necessary training, skills, and materials requisite to being an artist?

Do you bemoan that whatever kind of work you do isn't fashionable, isn't desired, isn't wanted by the world? Is your name Carolyn Elliott? Because I do all that stuff, every day.

Ever since I was old enough to realize I could get attention with my artistic stylings I've been hobbled by chains of perfectionism and caring-what-others-think tempered in the hands of demonic smithys under the mighty mountain forgery of Self-Doubt.  It's a painful condition. But I'm getting over myself, in large part thanks to inspiration from visionary art.

The Art that Forgets Its Name

What's visionary art? According to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the term

refers to art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself." In short, visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as 'art' by its creator.

So visionary art, much of which is so freakin' cool it makes me quiver (check out that mosaic mirrored egg!), is made by people who lack formal artistic training.  Indeed, it's very often made by people who are in some way marginalized by society and who lack financial resources. Hmmm.  As I consider the vast wonder of things made by self-taught and under-advantaged creators, I begin to seriously lose my excuses for not making more stuff myself.

The thing which really fascinates me about visionary art though, is that its creators often don't even consider it to be art. They just think of it as a necessary expression of their intuition. The section on the American Visionary Art Museum's website which describes the difference between traditional folk art and visionary art goes into more detail on this matter, and I find it so compelling that I have to share it with you:

The essential difference between the two [folk artists and visionary artists], though both may at times use similar materials and methods, is that visionary artists don't listen to anyone else's traditions. They invent their own. They hear their own inner voice so resoundingly that they may not even think of what they do as 'art.' Dubuffet's beloved Art Brut Collections, formed exclusively from the "raw art" creations of non-artists, such as street people, hermits, factory workers, housewives and psychic mediums, motivated him to say: "Art is at its best when it forgets its very name." It is this listening to one's inner voice with such focused attention that contributes to the unusually large number of visionary art works -many of which took decades to create. Yet there are still common threads. The most common theme of visionary artists worldwide is the backyard recreation of the Garden of Eden and other utopian visions -quite literally building heaven on earth.

On reflection, I think I have to agree with Mr. Dubuffet that "Art is at its best when it forgets its very name." I've spent many hours in fine art museums in America and Europe. I volunteered for years at the Carnegie Art Museum and the Andy Warhol Museum. And yet nothing that I've seen in the fine art category grips me as much as art brut.

And isn't it wild that the most common theme of this work is the recreation of the Garden of Eden? Knowing this reminds me of the trippy aboriginal greatness of Womb With Three Births, a work produced by two of my favorite (largely self-taught) geniuses, Sigh Meltingstar and Eliza Bishop, for a show I curated this past summer at the International Children's Gallery on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh.

When I ponder the truth that art is best when it forgets its name, I get a little sad.  I remember all the times I forced myself to do something serious with words or paint or clay because I was indeed aiming to make "art." In my self-imposed seriousness, I've drained most all of the fun out of creating and often ended up with stuff that induced yawns rather than yelps of joy.

A few weeks ago I decided to surrender my conditioned desire to make "art" and instead relax into my authentic preference to produce cool stuff in accordance with the dictates of my inner voice and share it with others by whatever means necessary.

So far, the results have been really fun-- I've started making songs with my friend Jane for our freak folk project and I wrote and performed my first few minutes of stand up comedy.

In the coming days I'll be sharing thoughts and prompts on making the transition from stifled-by-seriousness to trembling-visionary-glitter-bombness.




Image Credit: Picture by LollyKnit of a sculpture in the American Visionary Art Museum, borrowed from Flickr under Creative Commons licensing.

5 Minutes Toward Beauty

Dear Reader, 5 Minutes Toward Beauty is one of the 4 Tools to Awesome Your Life which we haven't yet discussed much. Today I want to talk about these 5 Minutes and their power.

What Is It?

With the 5 Minutes Towards Beauty tool, we just decide to take 5 minutes of our life each day and devote them towards creating something that's not practical or expedient.  What we create doesn't have to be "beautiful" in the classic sense of "wow, that's lovely" but it does have to be beautiful in the sense that it exists for no other reason than to give delight.

In this sense, anything we create that's just fun or extravagant counts for the 5 Minutes Towards Beauty.  In other words, you don't have to paint the Mona Lisa.  It works just as well to make up a song about your socks as you get dressed in the morning.

Why Do It?

Devoting 5 Minutes Toward Beauty each day has the effect of aligning you with a central operating principle of the universe-- extravagant creativity.  I don't know if you've noticed, but whatever forces there are whipping up this world, they are not stingy with creating things that are gorgeous, fun, and weird.

When we decide to be very grown up and just limit ourselves to creating things that serve our little grown up identities and our purely practical concerns, we cut ourselves off from this central operating principle. And we suffer for it-- we feel bored, dead, lifeless, depressed.  We might develop neuroses-- being overly concerned about what other people think about us, feeling like our only value lies in how much money we have or how dazzling our career looks.

Those troubles are all symptoms of creative deficiency.  They come from not being aligned with a central principle of the universe.  Alignment with the spiritual principles that the world turns upon is necessary for us as human beings, because it connects us with positive forces much larger than ourselves that can awesome our lives far beyond our most daring hope.

How to Do It?

Aligning with spiritual principles is a matter of adjusting both attitude and action. Both of these adjustments happen through making small daily decisions.  In order to align with creativity, we need to adjust our attitudes by deciding to see ourselves as divine collaborators in the service of the greatest piece of installation art ever--  planet earth -- not just as self-interested agents out to stay afloat.  Similarly, we need to adjust our actions by deciding to make a small gesture each day that's in line with the spirit of our new decision about ourselves: 5 Minutes Toward Beauty.

Yeah, But What Can I Really Do In 5 Minutes?

More than you think! Here's a list of things that have worked for me and my associates:

1. Make up new song lyrics to your favorite tunes.

Lately I've been working up on coming up with new chants to chant to the Hare Krishna melodies I most enjoy.

2. Propagate tall tales about the unlikely and fantastic adventures of you heroic friends.

"Did you guys hear about the time Connor uncovered a lost treasure of Aztec coins at the bottom of the Highland Park Reservoir and distributed them to orphans in Lawrenceville after presenting his find at the London Archaelogical Society?"

3. Make up nick names for your friends. Keep going till you get one that sticks.

My friend Jon has  surprisingly blond hair which he vigorously denies he has ever dyed. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for me and all others to call him Peroxide Jonny.

My friend Terry has a natural gift for leadership and a penchant for pants which are so close-fitting they remind me of super-hero tights.  Therefore: Boy Wonder.

4. Dream up a rad party to throw. I'm excited about the upcoming Genius Gathering and the Lavender Picnic Tea-Time Fantasia.

5. Draw a stick-figure comic strip about you, your pals and your latest adventure.

6. Open an inspiring cookbook, choose a recipe and decide on your own special twist to add to it.

From recent experience, I suggest Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

7. Invent a new kind of yoga.

The glorious Jane Bullard and I are working on something called Bhakti Flow-- stay tuned for more details!  But there's a whole world out there of innovation for you to still innovate. Like, who's gonna teach me Gardening Yoga? Or Big Fat Doggy Power Style? Perhaps you?

8. Start a blog and write a post.

Then make sure you tell me about it so I can read it, link to it, and love it.

Image Credit: Pink Flowering Gum by Tatters, found on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Innocence amid the Zombie Apocalypse

Dear Reader, In a post on The Absent Narrative from way back in December, my deep-thinking friend Tait McKenzie Johnson reflects upon his life-long sense that there's something amiss in our modern world.

Johnson considers that this something amiss is a set of actions and values which colludes to either steal our souls or, if we ascribe to the romantic Coleridgean / Keatsian idea that individual souls are not inborn but rather made as we go through life, that these actions and values collude to prevent our souls from taking shape.

I do, by the way, ascribe to romantic notion that individual souls are made rather than born.  As Keats suggested in his letters, I think we're all born with sparks of divinity, and then by means of poetic inquiry (aka alchemy) we learn to read the world through our hearts and thus forge our own individual souls as distinct aspects of the divine.

And I think that Johnson is on to something when he offers that there are anti-soul actions and values at work in the world.  He writes:

Granted, I’m not entirely sure what a soul is or where it resides – this has been contended for centuries – but I do know from experience that there is some part of ourselves that, if intact or developed, enables the only honest, free, and responsible response to the totality of life beyond our most immediate animal interests. Without this, life grows meaningless and absurd, and we bury our heads in the sand avoiding anything beyond the struggle to pleasurably survive from day to day, and even that with far less pleasure than we would like.

Johnson is right to suggest that the soul is the part of ourselves which "enables the only honest, free, and responsible response to the totality of life beyond our most immediate animal interests." I never thought of it that way before, but it sure rings true. It's a definition that also coincides with my experience about how the soul is made through a process of contemplative truth-seeking and the subsequent creative expression of those truths discovered-- a process which might likewise be described as the "honest, free, and responsible response to the totality of life."

Wherein Zombies Devour Our Brains

Johnson goes on to offer that the symbolic weight of the soul is made legible in our culture through the representation of its absence in images of zombie apocalypse, images which continue to grow in popularity. And of course, he's right: what better depicts soul-lessness than a glassy-eyed ghoul trying to eat your brains? Heck, what's a better metaphor for our American consumerism than a ghoul trying to eat your brains?

Finally, Johnson offers what is for me a very thought-provoking list of the actions and values present in the world which deny or suppress the soul. Here I offer just a selection of items that resonate especially powerfully with me from the full list:

- The objectification of our own bodies and desires

- The quantatative monetization of all ideas/values/objects

- The exploitation of the natural material world as something corrupt and given to our dominion

- The dogmatic demand for a literal and singular Truth

- The glorification of violence as a problem solver and form of entertainment

- The embarrassment of sincerity and engagement leading to an ironic, belittling emotional detachment

- The giving away of personal choice to corporations whose options for us don’t fill our best interests

- The denial of imagination and myth as having real world validity and effect

- The insistence that the way the world is now is the way it will always be, despite all evidence otherwise

- And if the world does change, it can only do so through an outside cataclysm rather than by our choice toward a new positive future

Yes, we've got soul-threatening problems, and Johnson sums it up very well.

So what can we do to defend ourselves against the soulless zombie apocalypse?

I suggest practicing innocence.

Cultivating Innocence

Innocence, like optimism, gets a bad rap these days.  We tend to think of it as something exclusively belonging to children or to the developmentally different.  For an adult in full possession of all her faculties to cultivate innocence sounds like a weird notion.

I went to pre-school at a Roman Catholic elementary called Holy Innocents. Lovely title for an elementary school, right? Yeah, it was named after the hundreds of infants whom King Herod had slaughtered in his efforts to prevent the prophesied birth of Jesus.

The day they told me this I started crying and wouldn't stop until my mother came to pick me up.

I got the idea pretty well that day that innocence is a liability-- it means you're vulnerable and unprotected, available to be slaughtered by any unscrupulous authority that comes along.

We tend to not value innocence as a virtue because we associate it with the extreme vulnerability of childhood.  In the process of becoming adults, we all suffered various blows to our innocence which woke us up to the fact that the world isn't always kind, and we ourselves can harbor motives and desires which are significantly less than pure. Within this process, we learn to value sophistication above innocence.

The Problem with Sophistication

There's a bit of a problem with loving sophistication-- namely, that "sophistication" is word which describes the process of becoming sophistic -- i.e., like a sophist. Let's consider for a few minutes if we want to be like sophists.  The sophists were travelling teachers of rhetoric in Ancient Greece who charged students lots of money in order to learn the art of rhetoric, namely,  persuasion.  Rhetorical persuasion is, of course, a perennially valuable skill, useful in the market place, in law, and in politics-- in pretty much everything.

The philosopher Socrates had a major problem with the sophists: why? Because the sophists weren't interested in teaching their students to discern truth through their arguments-- just in teaching their students to sound really great.  The sophists offered that it wasn't their concern whether their students used their rhetorical skills for good or for ill, for truth or for falsehood-- rhetoric was just a skill like any other, able to be used for any ends.

Socrates insisted that the art of rhetoric, of argumentation and persuasion, should be used to direct people toward the true and the beautiful.

So how did things play out? Well, the sophists got richer and the people of Athens forced Socrates to drink hemlock and die.

Hmmmm. Maybe I'm not yet offering a very convincing case for innocence.

Why Socrates Rocked

My point, though, is this.  Probably all of you dear readers recognize the name Socrates. Probably very few of you recognize the name Gorgias, who was the most famous sophist in Socrates' time.

In the short term, the world rewards sophistry because it's an efficient means of achieving results which society already thinks useful (start a war, win a law suit) or producing complex arguments which make you look super-smart. Sophistry can be incredibly subtle and fascinating. Most all of modern humanities study, for example, is sophistic.

But over time, the world celebrates radical innocence because it's a means of arriving at truly new thoughts -- ideas which reveal something genuinely fresh and valuable, which don't just achieve an already-known and desired end within the socially established game of life but which alter the whole game itself by revealing new facets of the imaginative and spiritual principles which underlie reality.

The new thoughts which emerge from radical innocence are valued across time and throughout the world because they're genuinely liberating, and there is nothing so exhilarating as liberation.

Genuine new thought is always threatening to the social world in which it immediately emerges, because it's not bound by that social game.  Therefore, the radically innocent people who bring forth liberating new thoughts can be seen as villains and dangers by the societies in which they live.  This is what happened to Socrates.

Socrates was said to have claimed that the only thing he knew for sure was that he didn't know-- a statement of radical innocence if there ever was one. Some folks have suggested that that claim was just a wily fake-out on Socrates' part, and that he actually thought himself quite clever.

I'm inclined to think that Plato, Socrates' student who wrote dialogues depicting Socrates at work  (dialogues which constitute most of our lore about Socrates) was indeed a wily guy who thought himself quite clever-- but that Socrates, the historical figure who was Plato's actual teacher and not just the character depicted in Plato's dialogues, was genuinely a radical innocent. If he wasn't, I don't think he could have elicited so much fresh new thought among the youth of Athens that the authorities would have seen the need to put him to death.

Why Only Innocence Can Defeat the Zombie Apocalypse

Okay, so there are all these zombies.  They're intent on eating human brains, so the general human impulse is to fight back: blow off the zombies' heads with double-barrel shotguns, for example. Trouble is, that's not really a long-term solution, is it? There are far more zombies than bullets.  And building better anti-zombie weapons won't really help either. Zombies are a kind of self-renewing violent parasite: they can reproduce by attacking humans as long as humans continue to reproduce.

Furthermore, they're very single-minded in their goal. Unlike human opponents, zombies don't get demoralized and just give up when they feel outnumbered.  They already are dead, so they don't mourn their dead.  They're going to come after our brains indefinitely. Regular ingenuity, the kind which produces more and more sophisticated weapons and strategies is not going to solve this problem.

In other words, shooting zombies is a video-game type activity that can go on endlessly. It's no way to live.

In order to halt the onslaught of soulless brain-eaters, we need a new game altogether.  We need to see things from a completely different point of view, and change the field of play. We don't need sophisticated weapons and fighting strategies-- we need a truly new thought, a fresh perception of the nature of reality that will alter what we know to be possible.

The zombies are our own dead, our own past which has risen up from where we buried it and become poisonous, aggressive and malignant.  Zombies are the legacy of our old paradigms, a relentless hoard bent on consumption.

In order to defeat them, we need radical innocence.  Zombies don't really just want to eat our brains. They want us to truly use them.

So what's the new insight? What's the new game? Man, I don't quite know.  But we'll continue to see representations of zombies in our popular culture and we'll continue to be assaulted by all the troubling actions and values that Johnson lists until we're able to stretch ourselves wide open and find another way.