Would you like to win? I'm raffling a drawing from Spain.

Today is a good day to begin again.

Today is a good day to begin again.

This week, to celebrate our time together and my return to the U.S., I am giving you a chance to win a favorite Spanish summer collage!

Seth Godin in one of his daily emails said:

“The opposite of the freeloader problem is the free-giver advantage. Freeloaders, of course, are people who take more than they give, drains on the system. But the opposite, the opposite is magical. These are the people who feed the community first, who give before taking, who figure out how to always give a little more than they take. What happens to a community filled with free-givers? Ironically, every member of that community comes out ahead.”

When I read Seth’s blog, I thought about It’s a Beautiful Practice and my insistence on giving the content away for free. I want the website's content to be part of the free-giver movement. I am also excited to give you a chance to donate to the endeavor and enter our raffle.

To enter the raffle, all you have to do is donate $1.00 to It’s a Beautiful Practice. Each dollar you donate gets you a chance to win.

$1 = 1 chance; $30 = 30 chances. On Friday, September 30th I will draw a name and announce the winner in Sunday's newsletter. My hope is that this raffle adds value to the site by offering what you want. Someone will win this drawing, why not you?

The title of the work, Today Is a Good Day to Begin Again, speaks to the regenerative nature of our ever-changing lives. The work is a 12” x 12” collage I made while here in Spain. The paper is 100% cotton and the elements of the image come from three sources: a catalogue from the Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art, a Spanish fiesta program from my home village of Lliber, and a devotional poster I brought back from Mysore, India. I gathered these elements on my travels. The collage, through the act of mixing the materials, helps to integrate experiences from different parts of the world. 

Fine print: The artwork is unframed. That’s it.

Another Seth Godin post that helped me decide to work on this blog goes like this:

“Make something great. Not because it will sell. Not because it's on the test. Not because it's your job. Merely because you can. The alternative (waiting for the world to align in a way that permits you to make something great) is hardly worth pursuing, right?”

You can sign up for Seth’s emails here. Donate for a chance to win here. And send me an email with questions or comments at kimmanfredi@mac.com. As always, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

Good space, bad space and how the wheel of a bicycle informs our practice.

Marcel Duchamp & his Bicycle Wheel

Marcel Duchamp & his Bicycle Wheel

Thirty spokes share the wheels hub;

it is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;

it is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut the doors and windows for a room;

it is the holes which make them useful.

Therefore profit comes from what is there;

 and usefulness from what is not. 

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu

Today, Chris and I are heading out to watch a bicycle race. Not just any race but La Vuelta.  Also known as Vuelta a Espana, this race is Spain’s Tour de France.  It's mammoth proportion includes a three-week ride consisting of thousands of kilometers and a variety of terrain which includes an annual climb up the Pyrenees. Now, I don’t claim to know a lot about bicycle racing; it actually appears to be a pretty complicated sport. The characteristic time trials and team efforts can mystify a casual observer. That being said, having a leg, the last leg of La Vuelta in our valley is pretty exciting.

Like Vuelta a Espana, a many chaptered race, The Literary Cyclist by James E. Starrs is a collection of writings in poem and prose referring to the bicycle. It illustrates the beauties, thrills, insights, and transformations that come along with the sport. Reading the book created a “good space” in my heart. All the quotes in this post come from Literary Cyclist but their original source is cited where applicable.

Speaking of space, in Yogic Philosophy there are 2 terms Sukha and Dukha which refer to "good" and "bad" space.  Often translated as "pleasure" and "pain", when we look at Sukha and Dukha in terms of space, we can relate to our performance of posture as a skill to be enacted with precision and functional awareness. The etymology of the word Dukha, Wikipedia tells us, is of an Aryan origin. Dukha is derived from terminology referring to the axle hole.

“ The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.” Red and Green, Iris Murdoch

 

Chris and I have been cycling all summer. Every other day we hit our beautiful valley to climb and run; its a pretty mountainous region. We are not pro’s, our longest ride is around 65 kilometers and takes a couple of hours, but oh the joy it brings. A lot like the yoga practice, cycling brings the body, breath and mind together. Bliss is easily found.

Our region of Spain, as it turns out has some of the best biking in the world. The mountains, continents pushed together by some magnificent geological force, allows for challenging uphill and soaring downhill release.

"A wheel is not a wheel without the space for the axle; it cannot function. Neither can we.” Leslie Kaminoff

Our portion of Vuelta a Espana is moving from a city south of us, Benidorm, at sea level, up over our mountain pass, Coll de Rates, into the next couple of valleys, (Orba and Pego) and ends some 200 kilometers from the start. Remember our leg begins 25 days after the tour begins.

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of a country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” Ernest Hemingway

Dukha specifically refers to an axle hole that is made off kilter, causing a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride. It’s important when riding a bike that the wheel rolls true. This requires perfect shape in the center of the wheel and perfect support around the 360-degree circle that is my wheel.

I also like to think about the axle hole in relation to creating space in the center of the body during asana practice. Lifting up is called Prana Vayu. And pressing down is called Apana Vayu. Balancing these two efforts leaves space in the center of the body, which allows one to roll true, so to speak.

From this historical reference we can look at an expansion of the idea put forth by Leslie Kaminoff: 

 If: Du =bad Ka=space

Then: Su=good Ka= space

“The bicycle is mechanical perfection. When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And unlike subsequent inventions for mans convenience, the more he used it the fitter his body became…Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.” Hovel in the Hills, Elizabeth West

Chris and I have met quite a few bikers on our rides, and we've ridden to many different places. We have certainly been passed by a few experts and one thing I can tell you is many of the Spanish riders are tiny.

The pros are slim and muscular with the tiniest behinds you have ever seen. We know because we are always behind and the view is small.

Our first task in watching the race was to find a place from which to view the event. We looked at the map, we scouted for days, and we asked friends. “Where is the best spot?”

Finally, we decided that to climb up the mountain on our bikes and find a place where we could see the cyclists coming down would be fun. Our spot promised that after the riders flew by we would be able to continue to see the road and the racers soar back and forth through the steep pass and into the valley below.

Sukha, which can imply sweetness and lasting pleasure, also implies a perfection that is the good space of a round axle hole, correct in form and function.

Dukha, which implies suffering, discomfort, unease, sadness or any of a number of negative feelings, reminds us how important it is for our support and inner space to be true.

We were not alone, hoards of bikers started out early in the morning to find the perfect spot. We left home around 11 and found a hairpin turn halfway up the mountain by noon and began to wait. We were expecting the riders around one but there was plenty of excitement on the road. The race had began in Benidorm an hour earlier so helicopters, the civil guard, and lots of circus type cars filled with girls and signs and horns, drove by doing security, inciting celebration, and filming for TV.

Chris and I spent time looking for the best angle to take a photo; we had no idea what to expect. The sun kept going in and out and we were surprised that bikers and cars continued to climb the mountain in a steady stream, looking for perfect viewing; the competitors were less than 30 minutes away.

“You can’t despair for the human race when you see someone riding a bicycle.” Spokesong, Stewart Parker

In the yoga sutras, one of Patanjali’s few teachings on posture uses the word sukha to describe correct execution of asana. If we think about sukha as good space, then the idea of axle hole becomes primary in our explorations during the posture practice.

Whether I am riding a bike or practicing asana the shape of my body, the condition of my mat, and the contents of my mind must be sweet. The practice or the posture may not begin out feeling sukha but the process of practice resets the space in my center: balancing lift and grounding. Sukha arrives.

Then they came, don’t ask me who or in what order, it was very fast. There was one or two leading the way, a clump soon followed. Then to my surprise, cars and vans filled with people and loaded with spare bikes squealed by. They struggled on the mountain road to keep up with the leaders….

The transformation from suffering (dukha) to sweetness (sukha) is certainly a goal, if not a by-product of any mindful asana session

“Bicycling…is the nearest approximation I know to the flight of the birds. The airplane simply carries a man on it’s back like an obedient Pegasus; it gives him no wings of his own. There are movements on a bicycle corresponding to almost all the variations in the flight of the larger birds. Plunging free downhill is like a hawk stooping. On the level stretches you may pedal with a steady rhythm like a heron flapping; or you may be like an acciptrine hawk, alternate rapid pedaling with gliding. If you want to test the force and direction of the wind, there is no better way than to circle, banked inward, like a turkey vulture. When you have the wind against you, yawing and wavering, like a crow flying upwind best make headway. I have climbed a steep hill by circling or spiraling, rising each time on the upturn with the momentum of the downturn, like any songbird. I have shot in and out through traffic like a goshawk through the woods. The best way to ride, especially downhill, is with both hands in your pockets and leaning backwards. This is not so hard as it looks: like a bird, you control your direction perfectly by unconscious shifts in your balance. Especially on the long down-slopes, this is to know the freedom of the wind. The air rushing past your ear reminds you that the birds must be partially deafened by their own speed.” Spring in Washington, Louise J. Halle, Jr.

Sukha should be differentiated from fleeting impermanent pleasure. Sanskrit terms referring to the fleeting pleasures might use words like: bhoga and preya. We are referring to the sweetness that inevitably arises with attention.

Posture, like riding a bicycle, requires good architecture, balance and strength. There is a good space in the body and the mind when effort places these characteristics into any given moment. Iyengar, in his commentary on the yoga sutras, says that any asana is a symbol that implies the highest quality of attention to perfection in the space of the body.

The morning of the race there was lots of talk in the bike shop about who would win. Who had the psychological advantage and who possessed pure physical ability? Then after the initial leaders of this leg, which are not necessarily the leaders of the race, came another big clump of riders called the peloton. The leaders are nestled in this group. Cycling is a team sport and there is a lot of support cycling, pacers, and guys who are not out to win the entire race but a leg here or there. I couldn’t tell one rider from the other but after a couple of minutes all the racers, cars, ambulances, spare bikes and security guards had passed and it was over…. for us. The bikers were one hour into a 4-hour leg, 25 days into the race.

“More than any other emotion, melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. A bicycle ride is a flight from sadness. It is a release from despair and a resurgence of hope.” The Literary Cyclist, James E. Starrs

When Patanjali instructs that the posture should be sukha and sthira, it is helpful to apply "good space" to the translation. Applying good space frees us from the misunderstanding that the posture is easy, natural, or even pretty to look at. The good space is functional and supports the many spokes of the wheel of our bodies.

Chris and I got on our bikes and flew down the mountain feeling like pros and getting cheered along the way. The town, Parcent, at the bottom of the hill was full of festivities and as usual we were passed and passed again by the big dogs, with little bottoms but we smiled all the way home. It was really great.

“Sartre much preferred riding a bicycle to walking. The monotony of walking bored him, while the intensity of effort and the rhythm of a bicycle journey varied constantly. He would amuse himself by sprinting on hills. I would become winded and fall behind him…. Both of us loved the freedom of downhill runs. The scenery flew by much more quickly than when we are on foot.” La Force de l’ age, Simone de Beauvoir

Iyengar in his commentary of the Yoga Sutras clarifies this understanding of sukha. The term though implicated earlier in the sutras as a sensation that can lead to attachment and craving, is describes by Iyengar's specifically implying good space:  “A pure state of joy is felt in the cells and the mind…all opposites dissolve.” (As in a wheel.)

Sukha and sthira then point to a very well crafted and high quality experience which requires a concentrated mind and a trained body. Yoga.

The good axle hole is a good space at the center of a wheel. It is not just any space; it is the space at the center of something that enables it to function. To be a wheel, a disk must have the space in the center. People are like wheels; we need space in our center. The space allows us to connect. We connect our form to function and we connect the outside world to the inner experience. Imagine your body as a wheel, with an axle and spokes of support. See what this does to your practice, to your life, to your ride.

I came home after the race and got a nap and a swim. Chris tried to pay attention to the results of La Vuelta online but it’s 7pm and we can’t really understand what happened. We think the Spanish guy won but maybe it was the Italian... we are not too sure. For more on release from suffering read the story of The Spade Sage.

“The Bicycle, surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets. How pleasant if one could prove that the decline in literary delicacy followed the disappearance of the bike from American roads.” The Romany Stain, Christopher Morley

 

 

How to See the World: Brahman's Allegory, The Alchemist and a Pilgrimage to Spain.

Pilgrimage in Spain

Pilgrimage in Spain

Each year I take a journey of spiritual significance, a pilgrimage. The effort allows me to see things as if for the first time. It takes a lot to pry me from my life. I have it pretty good with students I love and a beautiful place to live. I enjoy fun friends, neighbors and parents who also live in my hometown. But still I have to go.

Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, said in a rare public interview with Krista Tippet, (On Being): 

“If I knew what my life was going to be each day: what would happen, how I would feel, and how things would turn out, I would be bored. The best part of life is the mystery of the unknown.  The fact that I don’t know what will happen and how life will be is good. It keeps me alive and awake.”

 

 Pilgrimage in Spain

 Pilgrimage in Spain

My pilgrimage for this year is coming to an end. The journey to Spain has helped me see life like never before. I have spent time learning to bike in mountainous terrain, working out this blog, and preparing new material for teacher trainings. I have spent substantial time this summer loving my husband, enjoying a simple life and simply being kind. It has been a very yogic journey.

One of my favorite projects has been working on philosophy lectures related to these writings. I am preparing a talk on a few of the Upanishads. The Upanishads are seminal writings expounding the Vedas, mostly in terms of practice. The Vedas are ancient teachings that codify the tenants of Vedic religion. They lay much of the groundwork for classical Hinduism and inform a lot of yogic philosophy.

In the Kena Upanishad, which is an inquiry into life, there is an allegory that teaches us the importance of seeing things as if for the first time. Sometimes I must travel to see with a fresh eye, sometimes I can simply wake up, but according to yogic interpretation this freshness is the way things really are - free from the distortions of my opinionated mind:

The story begins like this:

Once upon a time the gods were victorious and they were celebrating: drinking soma (like beer but more colorful) and feeling very proud! Brahman (the whole of the whole, the set of all sets) was victorious but Indra (the god of natural phenomenon, i.e. lightening bolts, thunder, hurricane), Agni (the god of fire), and Vayu (the god of wind) thought it was their effort alone that made the success.

From the perspective of Brahman, the idea that we accomplish anything without the support of the whole is a misguided notion. And Brahman wants nothing more than for the gods (and us) to see this clearly.

Sometimes, to illustrate this kind of misunderstanding, I use the example of turning on the lights. If I were to go to the wall switch, flip it and say, “I turned on the lights!” The statement would be true only from a very limited perspective.

In yoga we are always trying to see things from a larger vantage point. In the lights example, I may have flipped the switch but what about the electrician who put the switch and the wiring in the wall? What about all the people who work at the power company who delivered the electricity to me? And then we have the power itself. What about those who dug the coal, or created the technology to make utilities possible? What about all those people? Who really turned on the lights?

 So in order to teach the gods about their arrogance, Brahman appeared in the form of a YAKSHA (a sprite or a little being that you might think is a hallucination, especially if you are drinking soma)

Yaksha was interesting (new) and the gods were bored by everything, so they were intrigued. The sprite says, “Who are you?” This question can be very irritating, especially if you are a god.

The gods in Hindu mythology are imperfect; they get into loads of trouble so we can learn from their foibles. This question, “Who are you” often comes up on a spiritual journey. Before writing The Alchemist, Paul Coelho, an advocate of pilgrimage, took a 500-mile walk in the North of Spain in 1988. On the famous Camino del Santiago he saw things from a new perspective and asked who am I? In this way, he found his true calling; he calls it his personal legend.

Agni

Agni

So Agni goes first. “I am Agni… I burn things.”

“Oh yeah?” said the sprite, “Well then, burn this!” And he holds up a single piece of grass for the great god to set a blaze.

 Agni tries to burn grass. The blowtorch of his body could not even singe the edges.

When I travel, I am completely removed from the familiar; even my pillow is odd. On this trip I’ve been thinking about Coelho’s alchemical term, “personal legend”. I’ve been thinking about the chapters in my life.  About the many times I have had to leave one thing in order to experience the next. The book, The Alchemist, gives voice to the idea that life is only free when we allow the omens to move us, here and there and there again.

“The wind increased in intensity. Here I am between my flock and my treasure, the boy thought. He had to choose between something he had been accustomed to and something he wanted to have.” The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

Coelho, as he takes the first steps of his pilgrimage, realizes that his initial reaction to the journey is “When is this going to be over?” I understand the apprehension that comes with something new. While learning to bike this summer, I see changes in my legs that may not be conducive to tight binds in the practice. As I write more, I see the determination that is required to get words on paper; it can be uncomfortable. I think it is natural to want to return to the familiar when we are faced with the unknown. But there is no going back.

 Coelho says there are four obstacles to living our dream:

1. We have been told since we are children that everything we want is impossible.

2. We are afraid of hurting those who we love by abandoning what is in pursuit of a dream.

3. Fear of defeat.

4. We look around at those who have not gotten what they want and are riddled by feelings of shame going after what we love.

In a nutshell, my yoga teacher Richard Freeman would say, we are the biggest obstacle.

Vayu

Vayu

And so the story continues….

Next Vayu approaches the sprite. Yaksha asks the windy deity, “Who are you?” Equally insulted, Vayu huffs and puffs and yet cannot blow the grass out of the sprites hand.

When Coelho reached the end of his pilgrimage, instead of feeling the happiness that is predicted when one arrives at the end of the epic walk; he felt sadness. The sadness came because he knew he had lost his old life, that things would never be the same.

This discomfort is true of any journey and can keep us from leaving the familiarity of what we know. It can prevent us from “seeing” the world.

 “He was learning a lot of new things. Some of them were things that he had already experienced, and weren’t really new, but that he had never perceived before. And he had not perceived them because he had become accustomed to them. He realized: If I can learn to understand the language without words, I can learn to understand the world.”  The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Indra

Indra

Finally, Indra strides up to the sprite, he prepares to put a thunderbolt through the grass that all the other gods failed to destroy and.. this is where it gets exciting…the grass simply disappears!

Suddenly there is nothing, the mind has not organized what is. There is an ah-ha moment. The ah-ha moment helped Indra to pay attention. Uninterrupted attention is Samadhi, clear vision and the goal of yoga.

 In the allegory, the goddess Uma appears where the grass once was.  Uma is the archetype of beauty but not just aesthetic beauty; Uma is the whole of nature, the elevation of the senses. It is through the eyes of the entirety Indra asks, “Who is this spirit?”

Coelho, expounding upon the sadness he felt ending his walk:

“What I didn’t know then was that I was at the beginning of my real pilgrimage. I had completed the physical journey and the inner trip was about to begin. It was time to make a choice. I had to fulfill my dream or I had to forget my dream forever.” He followed his dream, at age 40, to be a writer.

The allegory ends with the Sanskrit term, Sa Brahma. This is Brahman. Indra recognizes the whole and becomes enlightened.

 Coelho says nature is never at peace; there is a kind of restlessness in the natural world. He believes that to live in accord with nature, the ceaseless, sometimes brutal change must be acknowledged and embraced. As I pay attention in Spain I see the birds catch the unsuspecting lizards, ouch. The fiery sun is relentless on the heads of the thirsty plants, too hot. The same sun drops down over the mountains and a cold night arrives, with bats, moons and stars, brrrr.

“If I don’t find it, I can always go home.” Santiago says, “I finally have enough money and all the time I need. Why not?” He suddenly felt tremendously happy. He could always go back to being a shepherd. He could always become a crystal salesman again. But maybe the world had other hidden treasures…” The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

The Brahman allegory reveals how from organized points of view or perspectives on knowledge a very limited way of seeing arises. The Alchemists insistence on moving toward that which calls us forces me to expand my view. I am enmeshed in a vast environment that is multidimensional and when something appears it is only part of an entirety. If I am going to flip the switch that turns on the lights, it is foolish to say I turned on the lights.

“One could open a book to any page, or look at a person’s hand; one could turn a card. Or watch the flight of the birds…whatever the thing observed, one could find a connection with his experience of the moment. Actually, it wasn’t those things, in themselves, that revealed anything at all; it was just that people, looking at what was occurring around them, could find a means of penetrating the Soul of the World.” (Coelho’s word for Brahman) The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Pilgrimage in Spain

Pilgrimage in Spain

As I conclude my pilgrimage my eyes are soaked in the questioning mind. Deeper yoga is not achieved mechanically. I watch for my habitual seeing. My mind makes rules that limit my life.  I shouldn’t bike so far because the riding makes my hips tights for postures, but what about the rigidity in my mind? 

“Magic is a bridge that helps one to cross from the visible world to the invisible world.” The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

You can read my writing but behind my writing is an emotion; maybe you can sense it? This is the magic of the world; go find your truth.  

Julio Gonzales: Spain’s generous sculptor at The Valencia Institute of Modern Art. Also, crooked in eight places, the teachings and myth behind the pose.

Like a birth, I take a breath upon entering the exhibition. I look around and it feels new and fresh although all of the sculptures were made before 1939.  The Valencia Institute of Modern Art, commonly known as IVAM, is a collection of galleries nestled on 3 floors and each gallery promises to be as otherworldly as the one before it.  The configuration mimics a beehive with its tightly organized spiral structure. This month there were several shows including a fascinating American Photography exhibit but my favorite is the Julio Gonzales Collection.

IVAM houses the largest number of Julio Gonzales works in the world: 120 sculpture, 20 paintings, and 70 drawings. Julio Gonzales, born in Barcelona, has given Spain a modern artist who played with light and the mind. He messes with our understanding of form. He brings me, the viewer, into a fresh experience of being in my body.

 For me, the Astavakra Gita, like Gonzales sculpture, is also a teaching about being in a body. The book is a beloved poem in the yoga tradition that reminds us, through a plethora of metaphors, about the ever-changing nature of the figure. As most yoga texts do, the Gita tells of the permanent spirit that dwells within our impermanent body. Astavakra, the main character, has an unusually shaped form. This circumstance offers him an opportunity to overcome ridicule and rise into the realm of wisdom.

Verse 1.2 Astavakra Gita

To be free,

shun the experiences of the senses

like poison.

Turn your attention to

forgiveness, sincerity, kindness, simplicity, truth.

Julio Gonzales was raised under the tutelage of his father, Concordio, who was one of Spain’s premiere goldsmiths. This inheritance infuses Julio’s understanding of objects, their shape and structure. The sculptures are formal, balanced, and refined in their craft. His work, like Eusebio Sempere’s art in the Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art, is presented in a darkened room. But unlike Eusebio's work, Gonzales sculptures are lit with precisely aimed bright illumination. This light adds a 4th dimension to the form: shadow. Shadow cast on the pedestal, shadow cast on the wall, my own shadow in relation to the piece.

Astavakra’s life begins with a curse. His father cast misfortune on his son even before the boy was born. The story goes like this: Astavakra loved the words of God but was disturbed by his father mispronunciations of the sacred prayers. The careless chanting made him twist and squirm inside his mother until he could no longer stand it. Finally he chastised his father…. from inside the womb. Astavakra’s father was outraged at his child’s insolence and cursed him with severe deformity. The boy came into the world crooked in eight places.
Astavakra’s early awareness of his father’s mispronounced prayers gives us a hint about the sage’s life’s work. It suggests that his calling will have something to do with hearing the truth and responding honestly, no matter what the cost.

When I first saw Gonzales work I was struck by the strength of the forms. Mostly metal, the pieces are stacked tall like towers but imply body parts or everyday objects: arm, head, cactus, leg, or hairbrush. Like an Indonesian puppet show the play of light and shadow on the shape invites me, the viewer, to tumble into the realm of the imagination.

Astavakra’s deformities did not deter him in life. He was very devout and learned the scriptures well. One day he decided to make a long journey and listen to the royal teachings. The king, Janaka and his group of scholars gathered each week to discuss philosophical riddles. Astavakra was excited to go because the talks were renown but he was also worried because the long journey would be difficult for his troubled body.

The walls of the exhibition are painted dark olive green. They are highlighted by a bright patch of white directly behind the sculpture, creating a screen for the play of light. The sculpture’s shapes are abbreviated. The illustration reduced to essentialities. They are not complete images of the artists understanding but act as indicators.  The artist indicates what he wants me to see. The rest I fill in with my mind.

Verse 2.25 Astavakra Gita

And how wonderful it is!

In the limitless ocean of Myself,

waves of beings

arise, collide, and play for a time,

then disappear—as is their nature.

Astavakra needed the aid of a walking stick but prevails in making the arduous journey to the king’s palace. He is simply exhausted when he arrives. His clothes are dirty and he feels very tired and thirsty. Despite his discomfort, Astavakra settles in and listens to the debates. Then he hears laughter.

Gonzales abstraction is unique. Much of abstraction, as a genre, reduces form to the point of mystery but this artist leaves enough of a figure for us to see his process. Gonzales approach gives us a beginning from which to look. He also uses negative space and light to invite us to walk around the sculpture. This walk is like a movie, transforming the story at every angle.

Verse 4.1 Astavakra Gita

Truly the yogi feels no elation

though he abides in the exalted state

yearned for by Indra and all

the discontented gods

The laughter Astavakra hears is coming from the debaters and to his surprise he notices the whole court is looking in his direction. They were all laughing at him. “What is someone like you doing in our court, listening to our teachings? Crooked, dirty, walking with a stick, what could you possibly understand about our deep philosophical inquiries?”
Astavakra, exhausted from his efforts started to cry.

So looking at Gonzales work takes time, breath and stillness. One must allow the spaces to be filled and the darkness of the material to be illuminated. The eye needs time to take in all there is to see. The surface, welds, transitions, the shadow on the wall and the blinding white that creates reflections, illusions and illumination.

Verse 5.3 Astavakra Gita

Like an imagined snake in a rope

The universe appears to exist

in the immaculate self

but does not…

Some of the sculptures are studies. Images Gonzales made without the formal use of abstraction. There are hands, masks, and portraits. These pieces give us a clue into the artist’s visual language. We see from his rendered hand how to look at his abstracted one. And once we can see the hand within the abstraction we can infer feeling, emotion and the intent of the artist. The understanding of Gonzales visual language is like knowing a code, it conveys me into the invisible, or as we say in yoga, the subtle realm.

But the crying was not crying at all…Astavakra was laughing hysterically, so loudly that the king took notice and walked up to the haggard looking man.

 Verse 7.5 Astavakra Gita

I am Awareness alone.

The world is passing show.

How can thoughts arise

Of acceptance or rejection?

And where?

With abstraction a single figure can imply place, as in cactus man, or age as in mask of an adolescent. A barrel and triangle can point to lovers, geometrically connected in iron, making them somehow more permanent, maybe even eternal?

How dare you laugh at our industry, who are you to come here and insult us. Astavakra took a deep breath and in a strong and booming voice replied to the king, “you all are nothing but jokes. I traveled a longtime because I heard there were wise men participating in thoughtful debates but now I see there is nothing here but clowns.”
He continued, “You and your teachers obviously know nothing about the Truth. You have illustrated this by judging my clothes and my body as indicators of who I am. You know nothing of permanence and reality.”

Verse 9.4 Astavakra Gita

Was there an age or time

men existed without opposites?

Leave the opposites behind.

Be content with what comes.

Perfection

The subject matter of a woman and a mirror is very classical in nature but Gonzales abstraction makes it modern. His reduction of detail allows me to fill in the details of the form, offered in angles, shadows, surfaces, profiles and hollows. I love this quality in Gonzales sculpture and specifically the show at IVAM; I am free to see and to feel. I can ponder the time the artist was working and the circumstance of the world he lived in. I can relate these ponderings to my own situation drawing conclusions about the universality of the human experience but more importantly leaving me with questions, questions, and more questions.

The king heard the truth in Astavakra’s words. Immediately he dismissed his court, sending them all to the monastery for contemplation and reform. The king, Janaka, became Astavakra's private pupil for the rest of his life. The Astavakra Gita is the teaching exchanges between the two.

Verse 10.3 Astavakra Gita

Where there is desire, there is the world.

Be firm in non-attachment

Be free of Desire

Be Happy

You can download a free PDF version of Astavakra Gita translated by Bart Marshall here. I love Alana Kaivala's interpretations of the hindu myths. I also love how she connects those myths to the yoga poses and their meaning. 

 

 

 

Do you like a party? The Spanish fiestas and how the yoga teachings offer us a way to enjoy!

You think Times Square knows how to throw a happening? Well, you ain’t seen anything yet. The fiestas in Spain are a party worth attending. They generally take place in late summer. In our village life, August is the hottest time of the year and this celebration is a welcome respite from the dog days.

When I participate in the fiestas each year, I am reminded of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.18: 

 Prakasha kriya stithi silam bhutendriyatmakam bhogapavargartham drsyam, which translates as:

Life is here for us to enjoy, or to use for freedom from suffering…

Just before fall in Spain, the grapes require patience. They are not quite ready for picking and the farmer’s work comes to a halt until the harvest. The weather does its job of final ripening and villagers need to hang around or… have a party!

…The body, senses, brain, as well as our ability to feel peaceful, excited and sleepy are all here for our enjoyment, or for our awakening.

The festival is an old tradition in Spain. Ian Gibson, in Federico Garcia Lorca’s Biography writes about the poet’s fascination and immersion in village life:

 

“My whole childhood was centered on the village. Sheppards, fields, sky, solitude. Total simplicity. I’m often surprised when people think the things in my work are daring improvisations of my own, a poet’s audacities. Not at all. They’re authentic details…  an approach to life in a simple, straightforward fashion. Looking and listening.” Federico Garcia Lorca

 

BKS Iyengar translates our Sutra 2.18 as follows:

“Nature, its three qualities (sattva, rajas, and tamas) and its evolutes (the elements, mind, sense of perception an organs of action) exist eternally to serve the seer, for enjoyment or emancipation.”

The organization of the typical village festival begins with the Festeras. Each year, a dozen or so teenagers and a few senior members of the community are selected. Being a Festera is a bit like being a homecoming queen or king. You spend the year planning, organizing, and creating decorations for the weeklong extravaganza called the fiesta. As I write, it is early morning (7 AM); the sun has not yet looked out over the edge of the mountains and the fireworks, boom, boom, boom, are going off. These explosions are lit by the chosen Festeras and they remind the villagers that life is short and the festival has begun. Everyone, the cherry bomb shouts, stay awake and love every minute.

The last line of our yoga teaching states that Nature is here for our enjoyment or our emancipation. Even though there is an “or” in the lesson, it is my opinion that one does not preclude the other. The yogic practice heightens our awareness of pleasure and pain. We realize through direct experience, that both sensations arise in our daily existence. For me, the fruit of a sustained yoga practice is the delightful ability to enjoy life when it is pleasurable and to free oneself from increased suffering when pain arises.

Iyengar, in his book Light on the Yoga Sutras, teaches us that existence has three qualities. In Sanskrit these qualities are called the gunas. There are three gunas and there names are sattva, rajas, and tamas. If I were to describe these qualities using the ripening grapes as an example, I would say:

The very ripest grape represents the state of sattva; it is perfectly sweet and ready to eat. This ripeness came about from the plants urge to grow, rajas. If the grape were to stay perfectly ripe for a sustained period of time, without change, it could not be a real grape; it could only be plastic. A real grape continues to ripen until the quality of tamas takes over and the sweetness begins the process of decay or transformation. The decay or tamasic state is integral to our lifecycle. Without the decay, the grape would never fall to the earth and make a fertile bed for its seed. The new plant would never be able to grow.

The qualities of rajas, tamas and sattva are also illustrated in the first three words of our sutra 2.18 

1. Prakasha (brilliance or splendor) is an example of sattva.

2. Kriya (study or investigation) is an example of rajas.

3. Stithi (resting stillness) is an example of tamas.

According to  the yogic philosophy of the sutras, life, and every aspect of life, cycles through the three gunas. Life regularly exhibits qualities of brilliance, self-reflection, and stillness. The festivals in Spain ritualize these three qualities so we can experience the entirety of ourselves in one big extravaganza. It is important to experience and be aware of all aspects of life. The practice prevents us from resisting change. Change may be uncomfortable but is part of our ripening and it is crucial to our lives.

 

The activities of the fiesta range from feasting to fireworks to bull running. Kriya (self-study) occurs during the races, performances, and in the organization of the intricacies of the festival.  Prakasha (brilliance) is personified in the celebratory aspect of the party like fireworks and decorations. And stithi (silence) is palpable during the solemn processions.

The solemn procession is one of my favorite parts of the fiesta. To me, the barefoot walk creates a ritualized microcosm of the big picture that is life. During the procession, villagers carry a designated Saint out of the church and walk his or her image through the streets. There is candlelight and a most lovely brass band…. sort of New Orleans funeral style. The event is a mix of mythology, music, and walking meditation. I truly enjoy the dark streets, filled with silent friends. We use our bodies to reflect. I truly feel alive when I witness these old ways. They connect me directly to our small town, it’s medieval heritage and present day communal life.

"The field
of olive
opens and shuts
like a fan.
Over the olive grove
Is a sunken sky
And a dark rain
Of cold evening stars."
Federico Garcia Lorca

 

This year, when they opened the church for the removal of Saint Roch (the patron Saint of dogs and protector against the plague) from his niche, I noticed how similar this practice is to the daily puja in India. How similar it is to the Brahman opening the door of the temple so the god can be seen. The ritual provides an opportunity to dive into the invisible world of the imagination. The ritual brings a symbolic life into the statue. We can identify and merge with the qualities of the illustrated divinity, allowing for reflection, self-study, and ultimately the transformation that comes with a devotional life.

 

“I love the countryside, I feel myself linked to all my emotions. My oldest childhood memories have a flavor of the earth. The meadows, the fields have done wonders for me.” Federico Garcia Lorca

 

I  can see how the solemn procession also reminds me of our sutra and how our skills on the mat are tools to free us. We can take ourselves out of our own niche, walk the streets, and come alive. The need for emancipation or freedom can be resolved simply by calling upon our beautiful practice.

Everyone in the village has a part to play in the fiesta. If you are not a Festera you might be the family of one: siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles abound. There are tourists, like me, who are welcome to join in; there are countless musicians, bar owners, policeman, and cleaning crews, all with a role to play. It is not uncommon to see wheelchairs, babies, teens, and middle-agers all together, all the time.  The village works like an organism. It feels as if one lives in a castle with the stone streets that wind this way and that, housing the royalty that is you.

 

But unique to village life, the royalty is economically diverse. The barman lives right next to the physician and the schoolteacher right next to the police. There is no separation between the accommodations of the plumber, the lawyer or the hairdresser. I love this symbiosis. It creates diversity and an appreciation of ones contribution to the whole beyond the value of the paycheck. It seems to me, the most valued characteristics in a village are those associated with being loving, helpful, thoughtful and kind.

Here is what Lorca had to say about his first visit to New York

“It’s the spectacle of the worlds money and all it’s splendor, it’s mad abandon, and it’s cruelty. There’d be no use in my trying to express in words the immense tumult of voices, cries, people dashing, hither and dither, lifts, all engaged in the poignant. Dionysian exaltation of money. Here you see the typist with fabulous legs that we have all seen in so many films, the cheery bellboy winking and chewing gum, and your pale individual with his collar up to the throat timidly holding out his hand and begging for five cents. This is where I got a clear idea of what a huge mass of people fighting to make money is really like. The truth is that it is an international war with just a thin veneer of courtesy.” Federico Garcia Lorca

 

Going back to our Sutra 2.18, Patanjali reminds us that all of nature is here to serve the seer. How can I use this moment for enjoyment or freedom? When an experience of tension or a feeling of darkness arises, reaction can occur. As yogi’s we can bring mindfulness to the moment and avoid reaction, cultivating the skill of response. When we take the tools of our practice into hand we can:

1. Manage the feelings associated with the full spectrum of life. For example, this is a difficult emotion but like pleasure, I know it too will pass. 

2. Liberate our actions from the habits we developed as coping mechanisms when we were still immature. These mechanisms include the proverbial fight, flight or freeze response.

Then the bulls arrive.

I don’t know exactly how I feel about the bulls, or at least I don’t think I can put it in a single paragraph. In America our treatment of animals is so corrupt. Bull-running in Spain originally began in the 13th century as a way of corralling beasts headed for the ring. They were run through the streets of Paloma, Spain toward their demise. Today, the running of the bulls is a time-honored tradition. The run conjures images of man against beast and the dominion of humans over nature. It includes all of the required characteristics: bravery, creativity, and agility without a fight to the death. Today the bulls are brought in from the countryside and they are set free in the streets. All of the houses are barricaded in cages and the people are behind the bars. The village arrives for the spectacle and the bulls are let out one at a time, taunted by the people while young men step out to show their bravery and skill. To me it is a bit cruel and antiquated. That being said, these bulls have been around the block and they would just stand there and chew cud if it were not for the taunting…. I try to keep an open mind to the value of cultural identity and it’s preservation... but I can’t watch for too long.

"To burn with desire and keep quiet about it, is the greatest punishment we can bring ourselves.” Federico Garcia Lorca

The tradition of the bulls goes back to a time when there was no television, fast cars, or any other adrenaline pumping activities we safely enjoy today. This was a way to come face to face with fear and overcome that fear in front of your community. No bull is killed and from what I hear, other than August, where they are carted from festival to festival, the bulls have a pretty good, long life. So it is what it is. Everyone gathers to watch and in a sense the bulls are the grand finale…except of course for the fireworks, right over-head, loud, and with a bang we finally sleep.

“As I have not worried to be born, I do not worry to die.” Federico Garcia Lorca

Nature is here to offer us experiences of pleasure and pain, always changing, coming and going. Our nature too, is to rise, peak, and fall away. This is described in the yoga sutra and illustrated in the village fiesta with its insistent celebration after a long year of toil before the final rest of winter. As yogis it is good to remember that we can enjoy pleasure when it comes. We can spread our joy to others in neighborly endeavors like the fiestas and we can know, at the same time, change will come, change will come.

According the yoga sutras, life is here for us to enjoy or to use as a to release from our own suffering. And one does not preclude the other.

 

 

Your art is a prayer. Eusebio Sempere: Valencia’s important Artist and his Prayerful Practice.

The exhibition feels like a charcoal mountaintop just before the rain. I walk in and I can barely make out the never-ending circles. The triangles, spirals and squares are almost invisible because of the dimly lit space. Rebecca Solnit reminds us, there is hope in the dark, and these shapes are hopeful. Their tiny forms make their tinier brushstrokes look as if they are lit from within. The color comes from nature: green, gold, blue and the most unexpected red. They are like light in the storm; like times when the sun shines though a bit of cloud illuminating only what it wants you to see.

Our father who art in heaven let us pay attention to your name.

Before one actually arrives at the door of the Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art, Spain; it is hard to pass by the Santa Maria Cathedral. This Basilica, on Santa Maria Square, is a 16th century gem in the gothic Venetian style. Its baroque entry invites me into the familiar scent of many catholic churches: frankincense and must. Limestone floors offer an echo of the mass in progress and then the gold begins. Each niche features a saint. This church boasts plenty of Mary’s (the patron saint). They are often exquisite and full of suffering. In general, the saints in Spain’s churches are art themselves, unnervingly realistic with skin colored paint and facial expressions that wake up even the sleepiest of visitors.

On the day we visited the museum (AMCA), we stumbled into mass; specifically into the Our Father.

This world is made in your image, with all the beauty and horror of existence.

Pressed right up against the church is the museum. AMCA is housed in a contemporary renovation of Alicante’s oldest civil building,  the Casa de Asegurada (1685). It stands in stark contrast to its neighbor, the basilica. The building itself has clean contemporary lines and a worthwhile collection of paintings and sculptures. Some of my favorites include Juan Miro, Antoni Tapies, Jose Guerro Quattro and a big Juan Usle.

To me, the gem of this art house is a chapel on the third floor. It is an exhibition space entirely dedicated to Alicante’s most important artist Eusebio Sempere. Sempere is best known for his contributions to the kinetic sculptural movement of the 1970’s. But my favorite room contained still and quiet gouache paintings mostly executed in the 1950s.  

And what happens is the work of the whole; sometimes I am filled with pleasure, other times filled with pain.

The gallery space housing these works is dimly lit and the paintings are executed on mid tone-grey, blue, or brown paper. The paper looks soft, like cotton, felt or the finest wool. Sempere, who had vision in only one eye, draws geometric shapes and fills those shapes with the tiniest colored lines. These lines are applied with a very small brush and perfectly mixed opaque, gouache is the medium.

Both here in the world and in our hearts.

Sempere’s skill with color and pattern creates a mosaic of experience: like Spanish tile, or the light through the leaves of an olive tree. He contains this experience within an inch or two, allowing me as the viewer to take the pattern into my heart, my belly or my mind. I can digest the images like a prayer, or tapas, served on a small plate with an glass of wine. These paintings seem like offerings meant to be savored. Like Thomas Nozkowski and his three rules for art making, Sempere's paintings reject the idea of the grand and instead settle onto humble every day experiences: buttons, water droplets, lichen.

I ask for this day and my food. I make this request with love.

Sempere liked to work alone, in silence. His paintings are a meditation. He has created an entire visual alphabet that he uses precisely and with firm intention. I think, in it’s best application, the catholic prayer is not a vocalization of need but a beautiful practice of intention. A practice to place the lips, the mind, and the body all in one space with a very specific, holy attitude. Thomas Merton in his Thoughts on Solitude, says a prayer is not a wish but a real thing that one places into the world like art or music. Sempere’s small, delicate paintings work like this.

The relationship of one shape to another is important. The way one square sits next to it’s neighbor sets the tone of the piece. The negative space in between the shapes is like the path around the nearby mountains, discoverable but slippery and a bit uneven. Every ounce of attention is required to walk from one foothold to the next. I feel like Sempere’s paintings are inquiries into what he should do? How he should be? And who he is?

Labyrinth, lotus, or sun? I can’t tell you for sure. Sempere uses pure geometric abstraction as his tool but these sweet and moving pieces surely draw me in to the realm of myth, story, and biography.  I might imagine stars at night or fish in the sea as I look at the paintings. But their insistence on ambiguity allows inspiration, both yours and mine.

And please, I am so sorry for the times I fail, or forget, or am just too lazy to do my best.

Color is a marvelous quality of this world. Technically, it is a visual perceptual process but its emotional impact should not be missed. Sempere’s color vibrates. It moves forward and back creating harmonies and contrasts. His skill at pairing hues works to calm the mind, like meditation. The same red feels warm and inviting when it is sitting next to yellow but cool and somewhat menacing when it is sitting next to its appointed blue. Sempere uses color like stained glass in the church to elevate, soothe, and give visual delight.

 

I will try to understand that others also do their best. And others fail too, just like me.

The drawings as a whole are like shadows. Shadows do not exist completely in the dark, but at the edge of the light. The works pull the viewer into a world protected from the harsh light of the sun and tell a story in the shade. They exist in a quiet realm more akin to the whisper than a shout. Eusebio Sempere’s gallery is a space of peace.

I make this prayer to remind myself, who is part of you, that I feel better when I act from a place of love. Mindfulness, consciousness.

 Sempere donated most of the art in the museum.  If you happen to be in España, the Plaza of Santa Maria is not to be missed. The Museum of Contemporary Art contains treasures that teach us about Spain’s rich contribution to contemporary art. AMCA is a place of freedom: a place to imagine while seeing the prayerful work of Eusebio Sempere.

“I will place myself in places where I can cultivate positive emotions.” Bruce Lee

And reside in the practice of creating habits that encourage positive emotions.

 For more reading on a contemporary artist who created his own visual alphabet look to: Codex Seraphinus an imagined world. I found it first shared on Jane Chafin's blog.

 

Om

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thich Nhat Hahn shows us How to Love, and The Giving Tree illustrates How Generosity Engenders Happiness.

“Once there was a tree… and she loved a little boy” Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree.

It is better to give than to receive and giving is nothing without love. I first learned this lesson in the 70’s after receiving and reading Shel Silverstein’s beautiful book, The Giving Tree. The story also helped me form an understanding of unconditional love and its price. It was an emotional experience I have never forgotten, like the first time I fired a shotgun…boom. The idea that unconditional love is equal to a happy Hallmark ending is simply untrue but does that make it any less valuable? We should all find a way to give.

“And everyday he would come and he would gather her leaves, and make them into crowns, and play king of the forest.” Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree.

Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Monk and teacher, in his book How to Love, teaches us ways to begin embracing the complexity of generosity in Silverstein's story. The book reads as if he were speaking directly to the predictable needs of the boy and the remarkable sacred offering given by the tree. Even in the deepest black of the night, the tree finds a way to give.

“Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is loves other name.”  Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Love.

When the boy in the book is an actual boy and he plays with renewable resources, leaves and shade, the sacrifice is somehow happy. There is a seeming mutuality between the tree and the boy and every one is pleased. As the boy grows up and takes the trees branches and eventually her trunk, we as viewers can begin to take offense. We begin to see the boy as thoughtless, as selfish.

When I love, I forget myself and I can give. When I remember myself, I am afraid that I do not have enough. I ask why should I give; I need my branches, it won’t make a difference anyway?

Walter Brueggermann’s book, The Other Kingdom, points to neighborliness, fallibility and mystery as worthy endeavors in this life. He argues that the sale of safety, perfection and scarcity that comes with capitalism might be a lie.

Our exploitation of the forest came without regard for the trees and much of our consumer economy came as a result of taming the forest, removing the trees, and planting agriculture. We thought the forest could give infinitely and then it was gone:

“He could scarcely believe it. Where was the forest? The landscape had been corrupted. The village had swollen by fifty houses. The forest had been pushed out of sight, and in their place were rough fields of crops growing between stumps…was the forest as vulnerable as the beaver?” Annie Proulx, Barkskins.

The boy in The Giving Tree is fallible. The mystery of why man does what he does in the name of progress, abundance, and innovation is put forward in the story. I want…says the boy, again and again. I want.

It seems to me that now may be the time for us to ponder whether our wants, desires, and their cost to the whole are worth it? Is there any lasting value to our dream of family, home, boat, two cars in the garage and a storage space? Is the price too high?

“But time went by and the boy grew up.” Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree.

He soon was too big to play and needed money and the tree had no money. I noticed similar concerns rising again and again in Barkskins by Annie Proulx. Somewhere our world took a trading currency and began to see it as an asset that defined character and happiness.

“The name Duquet would change from a curse to an honor. But there were difficulties- especially the ugliness of a toothless, collapsed jaw. It might be impossible to find a handsome wife. Unless he had money.” Annie Proulx,  Barkskins.

But she had fruit and said “Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy." Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree.

Thich Nhat Hanh continues: “Spiritual Practice doesn’t mean blind belief in a spiritual teaching. Spirituality is a practice that brings relief, communication, and transformation.”
“Keep in mind that if the forests and the timberlands are diminished, cropland is very much augmented- more food, more money, more people, more contentment.” Barkskins, Annie Proulx

This dilemma seems very timely even today as we ponder generosity and love. We all have our basic needs fulfilled (food, shelter, clothing) so the question becomes how much is enough? The platform of our economy is based on consumer goods that provide only temporary contentment…in a way we are all the boy. Our needs can never be permanently satisfied when we look to the world for fulfillment.

The boy did not return to the tree until he needed branches for a home, then again when he needed her trunk for a boat.

“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour that same handful into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink.” Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Love.

The tree was like the river in her bounty. Her understanding that love is an experience within. Her realization that love may ask for a sacrifice is truly brave. Offering beyond what we imagine is safe, possible, or acceptable takes courage. I often think about how the forest has given each of us our every desire. The cost to our forest is immeasurable. Each of us has received in the same way as the boy. Our whole life and our way of living deny the tree its branches and trunk.

I think we make a great offering to the trees when we are able to sit with the discomfort of the truth Silverstein pens.

“But even as Sosep spoke, he knew very well that many Mi’kmaq welcomed the ways of the Acadian French - their clothing, their stout boats, their vegetable and pork roasts, the metal tools, glass ornaments and bolts of fabric, their intoxicating spirits and bright flags and even their hot bare bodies, so pale.” Annie Proulx, Barkskins.

Finally the tree is just a stump and the boy is an old man. And still the tree provides a place for the boy to sit.

“True love includes a sense of responsibility and accepting the other person as she is, with all her strengths and weaknesses. If you only like the best things in a person, that is not love.” Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Love.
“They were together again, and the tree was happy.” Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree.

The book does not say the boy was happy. Although he was the one receiving the gifts of the tree, his ceaseless desire seems to have left him unfulfilled. Each one of us knows this feeling. We are all familiar with the treadmill of scarcity and perfection. We live as if something out there will fulfill us when it is inside that needs tending, attention, and care.

Although I have engaged in practice for a sustained period of time, I notice many ways I simply take. I often leave a big footprint in my path. I often follow those footprints back to the source for more.

“He carried it alone to their camp, his feet making a deep impression with every step. After he let down the burden he made them examine his footprints. ‘ You see how deep when a man carries a heavy burden?” Sometimes that person is carrying supplies, sometimes fur packs, and sometimes a bear.”  Annie Proulx, Barkskins.

But I try. I try to spend time each year living simply. In India and in Spain, I live without the trappings of the consumer world. As Whitman would say, rejecting the pull of it all. I think it is good for my soul. It brings ease to my perspective of the world, offering me a softer, more still way to be.

“If we set aside time each day to be in a peaceful environment, to walk in nature, or even just to look at a flower or the sky, then beauty will penetrate us and feed our love and our joy.” Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Love. 

Our  beautiful practice creates strong roots. A tree whose roots are shallow will blow over in the first big storm. If we let our roots grow deep we can be resilient to the sometimes-startling weather of our life. The roots of a lasting relationship, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, are: mindfulness, deep listening, and loving speech. The tree in The Giving Tree embodied these ideals because that was who she wanted to be. And she was happy. The author reminds us of this again and again. David Byrne uses his bicycle to keep sane, the form will vary, but the roots, if deep are apparent.

The boy is a child for the entirety of his life. He never, even when he physically becomes an old man, matures into a place of wisdom.

Thich Nhat Hanh illustrates this immaturity with the metaphor of a pot without a lid.

“We believe our lid is somewhere in the world and if we look very hard, we will find the right lid to cover our pot. But the feeling of emptiness is always there inside us.” Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Love.

This feeling of emptiness is no more or less real that the feeling of wealth that the tree embodied. It is a choice. The feeling we choose implies what we shall do.

Giving what she had, she exists in the now. Although we might consider the stump a kind of death....  

The tree listens to the desire of the boy and gives what she can. True listening is listening without correcting.

“Sometimes someone will say something that surprises us, that is the opposite of the way we see things. Allow the other person to speak freely. Don’t cut your loved one off or criticize his words, when we listen deeply with all of our hearts…we will begin to see them deeply and understand them better.” Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Love.
“And the tree was happy.” Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree.