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August 2013

A woodland meditation

Woodland meditation 1

“For far too long we have been seduced into walking a path that did not lead us to ourselves. For far too long we have said yes when we wanted to say no. And for far too long we have said no when we desperately wanted to say yes....When we don't listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls. And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don't, others will abandon us.”   - Terry Tempest Williams (When Women Were Birds)

Woodland meditation 2

"There are always moments when one feels empty and estranged.
 Such moments are most desirable, 
for it means the soul has cast its moorings and is sailing for distant places. 
This is detachment -- 
when the old is over and the new has not yet come. 
If you are afraid, the state may be distressing, 
but there is really nothing to be afraid of. 
Remember the instruction: 
Whatever you come across -- go beyond."
  - Nisargadatta Maharaj (via Jonathan Caroll)

Woodland meditation 3

“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”  - Alice Walker (Living by the Word)

Woodland meditation 5

"That's the way things come clear. All of a sudden.  And then you realize how obvious they've been all along."  - Madeleine L'Engle (The Arm of the Starfish)

Woodland meditation 5


On balance

Tilly in the woods

"In each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. We’re each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid, something real. We’ve got to forgive ourselves that. I must remember to forgive myself. Because there is a lot of grey to work with. No one can live in the light all the time."  - Libba Bray (A Great and Terrible Beauty)

''Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terror, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.'' - Anais Nin (The Diaries)

Tilly in the woods, 2

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.” - Rumi

"How one walks through the world, the endless small adjustments of balance, is affected by the shifting weights of beautiful things.”  - Elaine Scarry (On Beauty and Just Being)


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Starting off in Ireland today...

Above: "Hugo's Jig" and "Banish Misfortune" performed by Spraoi -- a young band from Sligo -- streamed live from Haragan's Bar, Sligo, in 2010. (For an English translation of the lyrics, go here.)

Below: "Hazeltunes," a sweet video and lovely music from JP Trio, a "Celtic roots funk" group created by three Spraoi veterans: Ted Kelly (banjo and tenor guitar), Jos Kelly (button accordion & keyboards), and Paddy Hazleton (percussion) --  occasionally joined by a fourth, Niamh Farrell (vocals). (Welly boot fans, this one's for you.)

Next, crossing over the Atlantic:

"Lazy John," a recent video by the Sligo Creek Stompers, based the Maryland/DC area. They play a terrific mix of Appalachian Irish, Bluegrass, Old Time, and other American roots music.

And now crossing back over the Atlantic, and back to Sligo, Ireland. (Musical influences, after all, travel both ways.)

Below, the young musicians of Grizzly Dippers cover "James River Blues" by the great American roots bands Old Crow Medicine Show. This is the best way to hear music, in my opinion: out doors, by water or a campfire. Or else in the intimate setting of  pub, like the video at the top of this post.


Reading as reincarnation

Lady Reading in an Interior by Marguerite Gérard

I highly recommend Mark Edmundson's recent essay "The Ideal English Major," published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. It's an exhortation for college-bound young people to consider the value of studying literature over pursuing a more "marketable" degree...but substitute "serious reader" for "English major" and much of this lovely essay applies to us all. Here's a taste:

"The English major [and the serious reader] reads because, as rich as the one life he has may be, one life is not enough. He reads not to see the world through the eyes of other people but effectively to become other people. What is it like to be John Milton, Jane Austen, Chinua Achebe? What is it like to be them at their best, at the top of their games?

Young Man Reading by Candlelight by Matthias Stom

Reading by Eastman Johnson

Interior with Young Man Reading by Vilhelm Hammershøi

"English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who -- let us admit it -- are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are. The experience of merging minds and hearts with Proust or James or Austen makes you see that there is more to the world than you had ever imagined. You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intense -- more alive with meaning than you had thought.

Interior with Girl Reading by Henrique Bernardelli (Brazil)

Young Woman Reading by Giovanni Fattori (Italy)

"Real reading is reincarnation. There is no other way to put it. It is being born again into a higher form of consciousness than we ourselves possess. When we walk the streets of Manhattan with Walt Whitman or contemplate our hopes for eternity with Emily Dickinson, we are reborn into more ample and generous minds.

Anna and Elena Balbusso

Le horla by Anna and Elena Balbusso

Girl in Grey by Louis le Brocquy

" 'Life piled on life / Were all too little,' says Tennyson's 'Ulysses,' and he is right. Given the ragged magnificence of the world, who would wish to live only once? The English major lives many times through the astounding transportive magic of words and the welcoming power of his receptive imagination. The economics major? In all probability he lives but once. If the English major has enough energy and openness of heart, he lives not once but hundreds of times. Not all books are worth being reincarnated into, to be sure—but those that are win Keats's sweet phrase: 'a joy forever.' "

You can read the rest of this lovely essay here.

Lytton Stratchey Reading by Vanessa Bell

Girl Studying by Susan MacDowell Eakins

The art above: "Lady Reading in an Interior" by Marguerite Gérard (French, 1761-1837); "Young Man Reading by Candlelight" by Matthias Stom (Dutch, mid 17th century); "Reading" by Eastman Johnson (American, 1824-1906); "Interior with Young Man Reading" by Vilhelm Hammershøi (Danish, 1864-1916); "Interior with Girl Reading" by Henrique Bernardelli (Brazilian, 1858-1936); "Young Woman Reading" by Giovanni Fattori (Italy, 1825-1908); "Reading"  and "Le horla" by Anna & Elena Balbusso (Italy, contemporary); Girl in Grey by Louis le Brocquy (Irish, 1916 – 2012); "Lytton Stratchey Reading" by Vanessa Bell; and "Girl Studying" by Susan MacDowell Eakins (American, 1851-1938).


Life as art, and art as life

Climbing 1

Climbing 2

Climbing 3

“Art can model the more difficult dynamic of transfiguring one’s life, but at some point the dynamic reverses itself: life models, or forces, the existential crisis by which art -- great art -- is fully experienced. There is a fluidity between art and life, then, in the same way that there is, in the best lives, a fluidity between mind and matter, self and soul, life and death. Experience seems to stream clearly through some lives, rather than getting slowed and clogged up in the drift-waste of ego, or stagnating in little inlets of despair, envy, rage. It has to do with seizing and releasing as a single gesture. It has to do with standing in relation to life and death -- owning an emptiness that, because you have claimed it, has become a source of light, wearing your wound that, like a ramshackle house on some high exposed hill, sings with the hard wind that is steadily destroying it.”     - Christian Wiman (The Bright Abyss)

Climbing 4

Climbing 5

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.”    - Cormac McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses)

Climbing 6

Climbing 7

"We all need to look into the dark side of our nature -- that’s where the energy is, the passion. People are afraid of that because it holds pieces of us we’re busy denying."   - Sue Grafton

Climbing 8

Climbing 9

“And so we polish our own lives, creating landscapes and canyons and peaks with the very silt we try to avoid, the dirt we disavow or hide or deny. It is the dirt of our lives -- the depressions, the losses, the inequities, the failing grades in trigonometry, the e-mails sent in fear or hate or haste, the ways in which we encounter people different from us -- that shape us, polish us to a heady sheen, make us in fact more beautiful, more elemental, more artful and lasting.”    - Terry Tempest Williams (When Women Were Birds)

Climbing 10

Climbing 11

Climbing 12 (Click on pictures for larger versions)