Thursday, January 30, 2014

Image and Spirit

Incoming classes fill out a sheet of questions that enable me to get to know them better. I got a sadly familiar answer to the question of what they see as most destructive in today’s world. The failure of historic religions shows in the feeling of so many young people that religion is one of the most dangerous forces in the world today. Fundamentalism in any form with its need to enforce it’s own worldview separates groups of people and pushes aside spirituality which connects us all. The focus on rules and codes limits freedom and feels righteous while committing horrors in order to control others. The most visible forms of today’s religion have more to do with politics and obedience than spirit and connectedness. Spirit is less apt to pin things down, write rules of absolute truth and fight to protect them. It’s beyond verbalization. The words and codification bleed the spirit away, so what people really want from religion, the immersion in something larger and more meaningful than themselves is cut away. By dominating the representation of religion in the public mind the impression is largely negative and people can’t benefit from the beauty in spiritual imagery that can attune us with a bigger picture.

There are so many fine images throughout the world’s religions that could help facilitate the sense of connection that comes with mystical vision. It begins with the personal resonance with the insight creating a link with the artist. The right image can help us see in a way that makes sense, how we might be embedded in intelligence that includes but goes beyond our own, cannot be properly communicated in words and dogma. We might be neural nodes of a universal mind, local inputs participating in an overall awareness, threads within a larger tapestry of mind. The Net of Indra is a beautiful image from Buddhism that envisions cosmic unity and our interconnectedness as a net of reflective pearls each of which reflect the whole and are reflected in all the others. There are many wonderful artists’ conceptions of this on the Internet.  The net metaphor pervades the modern world so it feels natural to our realty of being in a web of information. The I Ching looks at the different pairings of elements in nature as dynamic patterns with suggestions regarding the best way to harmonize with them.

The anthropocentric notion that we are the pinnacle of intelligence is losing its hold. If magnetic fields and radiation can penetrate our bodies, then why not more inclusive layers of consciousness? Sri Aurobindo talks about a supraconsciousness that presses in on the personal consciousness like an outer form that shapes our experience and guides us in what we are capable of. As Leonard Shlain pointed out in “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess” the unifying images of older cultures got crushed under the armies of the word. This may now be changing as those seeking deeper meaning reconnect with the power of spiritual vision.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


This image was started in the Spring 3013 Illusionism class. Though it was posted over the summer I wanted it here for the beginning of the school year. Begun in pastel. Completed in colored pencil.

Learning Pleasure

The exhilaration of learning something new comes from the exquisitely adapted human survival system that rewards what is good for our survival. The modern commercial atmosphere we breathe hammers the message that pleasure is to be sought from the outside, from external things. And insofar as the environment is an endless source of things to be learned, that’s true. But maintaining demand for products says that consuming is the source of pleasure when in fact those satisfactions are from lower brain centers concerned with immediate bodily needs. They aren’t the high-grade pleasure of strengthening your power of survival. The reason there are such dense neuronal circuits between our highest powers of imagination and reasoning and the primary pleasure center is because that is what our brain evolved to do. It’s our best tool for survival. Being able to review our past and plan into the future enable us to work with larger scale patterns.

Intelligence grows with new skills not just because of the skills but because of the new patterns that open recognition of patterns not seen before. Since beginning my time with the potter’s wheel I’ve become more involved with the concept of spinning as an originating force, of becoming more aware of delicate degrees of pressure and continuous focused intention. In one of the Ted talks by “Millennial’s”, one theme emphasized that the twenties were key years for building the brain you want to have. The frontal lobes develop throughout the twenties, are not considered fully developed until thirty. Since the brain reflects how its used, this is the decade to create the brain with the choices made about what to think about, what to learn, what skills to master and what kinds of experiences will be most enriching. Learning stimulates endorphins, so the pleasure system encourages building knowledge and skills.

Illusionism is an unending source of learning. If I’m working on a long-term piece, by the end I can see flaws in the illusion done at the beginning. Skills can always be stretched so there’s no end to the possibilities. Illusionism is its own field of concepts. They grow what’s learned about the stages of processing, understanding what the priorities and salient features are. Every stage is a type of recognition. We recognize an edge, then separate the object we recognize from the surroundings. We recognize a friend and on up the scale of recognitions to the recognition of an answer or a discovery. “Aha” moments are among the peak human experiences. All peak experiences are about full involvement. That’s why so many of them involve maximum challenge, where there is no attention to spare for anything else. Illusionism is a lifelong opportunity for learning and refining
External pleasures don’t last long because they never went deep enough. The pleasure from new skills is in the acquisition of strength. It becomes part of us, a new resource that builds sensitivity and the confidence in our power to grow.