Friday, August 31, 2007

Clouds, and hope that fire brings light

Andrew linked to a blog entry and these are my thoughts as I read:

This one rang true:

Anonymous said...

Everything I've been feeling in my life resonates very closely with what your troubled dark night of the soul reader describes. I recall that when I was initially drawn on an inward exploration towards God, I was filled with energy, meaning and motivation. All those things that motivated me now seem so shallow and life in so many ways just seems to be a bunch of insanely bizarre events that we must go through. I don't suffer much though since I've also lost my ability to worry about things since its obviously a pointless thing to do, but my God I do see tremendous suffering (usually self inflicted) out in our materially oriented world. I also see so many people so ignorantly putting this suffering on themselves by setting up stupid self centered goals. Sometimes I feel like so much of our society has become geared towards servicing our dumb neurotic wants that I feel like just quiting.
At the same time I have felt the light coming through the cracks and I do know that existence is beyond weird and is all there is and ever will be and is all that I am possibly looking for. Just don't know how to cope with my apparent detachment from the "normal" world of society.
8/28/2007 10:17:00 AM

And another: find what you're happy being - there's some damn good advice!

But the rest - fake it till ya make it? Not genuine. No, I want to live this hell through, and I don't want an easy way out. Help others? When it comes without effort, sure. The problem with so many of these solutions is that they involve trying - I mean, that's the problem I have with them. If I have learned anything, it's that trying really tends to foul things up.

JWM has an excellent tirade. I feel pretty darn good about myself doing a deceptively simple thing well. Pouring concrete would be on my list. Anything involving a trowel is soothing.

Oh look, a mild depression is passing through again. Interesting. Wonder what's for dinner. Love the disconnection of this comment.

One man's mower clippings is another's concrete. I really want a yard, with a huge garden. And a dog.

Religion is for those who fear God; spirituality is for those who have been to hell and back.

Dao Mu ... paradoxically, however, it ALL does matter to God. It just doesn't matter to you. That's the thing. It ain't yours. Like the idea. Can't seem to find a balance between one side of the paradox and the other.

Oh right, the kittens and monkeys. The kitten business sounds a lot like "let go, let God" which is pretty damn stupid advice if you ask me. It's advice that creates expectations for God to do things, and preferably your way. If you're tired, you're allowed to let go. It is what it is.

Oh, and I liked the distinction between what you really want and what you think you want, or have convinced yourself that you want, or anything but what you really want. That was a good comment too.

I'm going up to WI for the weekend, for the wood+salt firing, leaving this afternoon and returning Sunday sometime. There's something about being in front of a kiln that's been something of a religious experience and I hope it is again. Being outside tends to be good for me too.

Things have been too busy lately, at times coming to a beaten down resignation that I will have to drag myself though (two very difficult weeks at work) and the patience that it will end. So I hope it does some good to be away.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


This is a response to Trev's comment on my last post about cycling. I was going to leave it in the comments section, but am really curious about others' experiences with joy and everyday life.

I'm certainly alive on those commutes, but there's not a lot of joy in it. Just the intensity. I miss the joy. But joy isn't readily caught, doesn't perform for one's expectations, just shows up every now and again.

At some times I would have argued that it's in mindset, in being open to finding joy. Now it doesn't seem so easy.

These are really just thoughts off the top of my head. What are yours?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pool of cool water and the Zen of cycling.

This evening I rode home from work. I stayed until nearly 7, dashing away from an in-house meeting just in time to retrieve my bike before the station locked up for the night. (This, of course, meant a different mix of path-users than the rush hour group dominated by bike commuters just trying to get home, and accustomed to riding.)

A mile into the ride, just north of Chicago Ave, along the lake, I had a wonderful experience: I wish the memory were as good as the original.

As I inhaled the lake air, smelling wonderfully fresh, a really cool breeze wrapped itself around me. The tactile experience, combined with the smell, felt, for a moment, just as though I'd dived into a pool of cool clear water. Then, as quickly as I could recognize the sensation, the breeze shifted, warmed, smelt of nothing, and it was over.

I couldn't help but think of Mother Theresa's breath of fresh air, five weeks of joy amidst a long dark night. Those sorts of moments are so precious, yet so few. Perhaps if there were more, they'd mean less. Perhaps.

The other thing I wanted to write about, for the last days really, is the mindset I find myself in while cycling.

Going in to work, there's little traffic, and nearly all are experienced path-travellers, each in their own world, many commuting to work. It becomes a race against the clock, an endurance activity. Sprint after rest after sprint; my ride starts with a street warmup, some twisty path, then the first of three straight "sprint" sections, each separated by some more twisty (at 20mph) narrow path, then the final run into the city. I know where I'll start feeling fatigue, when I do. The game of coaxing my tired body to perform is entirely mental.

The ride home is a true Zen exercise. The phrase that means "skillful means" comes to mind. There are others; I don't use the vocabulary and can't remember them. The path is crowded at times with pedestrians, casual riders, skaters. Lots of people unaware of their surroundings; I'm the fastest one out there, and watch traffic in both directions, endlessly assessing risk, calculating whether I can pass one roadblock before the one going the opposite direction approaches, observing who might be inexperienced and walk across my path or weave into it, ready on the brakes, with a yell, or a bit of silent avoidance.

(If you've ever been buzzed by a cyclist, chances are that the results of a split second calculation were that more danger would be created by alerting you of their presence than of silently passing.)

The challenge of fatigue isn't there; I'm awake, fed, fresh, ready, with seemingly unlimited power to accelerate off any light or slowdown.

I'm prepared for anything, thinking of everything, at the same time, thinking of nothing, watching, ready, watching, watching. When something happens I move smoothly, calmly, moving with my obstacle as I overtake it.

Similarly with cars, except that if anything goes wrong, I'll end up in the hospital. I am as calm as on the path, but the risks are higher, and the calm seems eerie. Sometimes I ride up Lincoln Ave. Cars do the damndest things; they just don't realize that people are in the bike lane and that if it's blocked, they've nowhere to go. I'm hardly shy about planting myself in the middle of a lane (if cars see me they will not hit me) when that's more likely to keep me in one piece, but I do outpace cars because they wait in line for lights and I march to the front of the line. Green means go.

But there's parallel parking on each side of the street. And it's rush hour.

I find myself with an utterly empty mind, even while I ride hard, analyze my speed, traffic, anticipate whatever I'll have to avoid. And yet, empty mind, utterly alert. It's the Zen of cycling.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Pronoia Wrap-Up

I've had Pronoia on my reading list for awhile now. While I haven't finished it, I'm going to do a commentary now.

The notion of Pronoia - that everything is conspiring to work for [one] - is an interesting one. For whatever reason, I was unconvinced, unenthusiastic, unengaged as I read. Didn't really want to participate in many of the exercises, because they seemed forced. The notable exception is one near the beginning that is something of a goal-setting exercise.

There is a gem here and there, but by and large, i just didn't connect. I'd describe another book the same way - read it, had it on the list, didn't review it... didn't connect. The text was too drawn out, and didn't hold my attention. Same with this.

Skepticism - picking the Pronoia point of view is likely a subjective choice rather than an objective reality. Creating reality is a tricky thing. Best to put in the intention and leave the mechanics to figure themselves out.

In general I don't condemn the book, though. There are lots of ways of thinking that serve to give people hope, and generally that's a good thing. How faith weathers a storm, that's another matter entirely.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

You see yourself.

As we are, so do we see.
-William Blake

Food for thought - defend or refute? - I meant to post this (it was the peace quote of the day) last week.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I've responded to the comments on my most recent post.

In ten days is the Bucktown Arts Fest. The work-creation cycle has ended and the show-preparation cycle is underway. I'm in much better shape than last time, but ambitiously decided to design and build a table. If I had a table saw and a panel cutter (I've been spoiled with excellent facilities) it would have been much more wisely done with a sheet of plywood.

A week after the Fest, I'll be doing a wood+salt firing... so, in the next ten days, I'll also be producing more pieces to put in there.

The day before the Fest is a big deadline at work; the interior package for "my" building at the Great Lakes Naval Base is going out. There's no rest for the weary. is up and running! I've put a feed in my blog here, so you can see the new headlines... comments are invited and welcome.

I'm pretty happy with the heavy involvement with ceramics, but it's definitely taking time from responding to blog comments. Please be assured that I read all the comments, and always enjoy them and appreciate the thought that goes into them. Really.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Life as Contribution?

One way to live - everyday life revolves around one's life's work, whatever that is. (I suppose that's true of everyone, whether they live consciously or not). Knowing that - do we make a conscious effort to build something, to make some contribution to humanity-at-large? Is there some advantage to be gained by trying to create some opus? For whom?

I invite all to consider and share thoughts on the notion; I'll work on describing my own.

Life: what is it, and what do I want it to be?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Fire and Water

I spent the day at the studio, doing work and observing a soda firing. I learned a lot; and as the night wore on, spent a lot of time thinking. The notion of preparing work to be sold does alter the path of exploration I might take otherwise; there's a balance to be found there.

Making things, too, is a practice. Sometimes it comes together with a practiced ease that even amazes me; other times, the endeavour requires more effort.

I'd go into the kiln room, put on gloves, pull the peeps, look at glowing clay inside. Jayson taught me what reduction smells like. There's something special, purifying, maybe, about being exposed to the heat, inhaling hot dry air, feeling the radiance of the kiln bricks themselves. It's two thousand degrees on the other side. The experience produces respect, if not awe. There's a subtle intensity. There's something I've found in my favorite places for meditation. There's something else, too, I can't name.

When I finally made my way home, it was after midnight. The air was cool, moist, smelled like rain. Rather than a return to the mere earth from my place on a mountaintop, it was a return to the best that earth has to offer, with its own sounds, smells, sense of isness.

So, um, I spent the entire day in the studio, making pots, learning from a potter, talking claystuff, and I loved it.

Edit: the next day. It's now Sunday evening; I got in late, excited, awake, wrote. Got up late, and had a slow-passing and lovely day. I'm still excited about clay, still excited about the prospect of making work that is somehow... more. If my tired/wired ramblings above mean little to anyone else, for me they mark a turning point, the opening of a door.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Thoughts on Heaven.

This is a response to Andrew's response to my comment to this post.

Early life concepts of Heaven:
    Heaven as the place where God is present (as opposed to hell, lacking God, or purgatory, some sort of inbetween place)

    Heaven as angels clouds and joy (the cartoon version, I guess)

    Heaven as everlasting happiness (this one particularly popular; when I asked my parents if a favorite stuffed animal would be in Heaven, they replied that it would be, if it was needed to make me happy).

More recently:
    Heaven is now / heaven as now. Supported by childhood concept #1, I suppose. Heaven as a matter of perception.

But the concept of heaven I alluded to while commenting to Andrew's post is heaven as the eternal band-aid, the place where everything gets made right (God doing all the fixing, of course). That's a God I no longer subscribe to, and thus a Heaven I no longer believe in. Which is too bad, because it's really comforting in situations with no apparent end, especially tragic and remote ones. All tears wiped from eyes, injustices righted, and such. The concept has the potential to let people count on God to fix things later when perhaps people could do something now, be God's hands or something. (Isn't that in the Bible someplace?) But I'm getting sidetracked.

In any event, all that, are nice thoughts. They're comforting. They might even be true. Who knows. They're stories we tell, to explain the unknown. And that's fine.

In many ways this earthly life might be purgatory and heaven and hell, all depending upon one's consciousness of the presence of God. Maybe the individual bits, us, stop existing and get absorbed back into the whole, at death. The idea of reincarnation is nice, though, because it supports the idea that, in the end, everyone's a winner - or could be - and gains that more eternal perspective for which Christ, Buddha, Lao Tzu, are revered.

Perhaps I'm becoming a sort of militant agnostic, insisting that there are limits to knowledge. Well, yes, that's true, I am. But everything contained in a deep breath, in that moment between exhale and inhale, betrays such an insistence. Maybe it's closer to the truth to say that there are limits to expression.

In the end there are things that can be known but not explained, communicated to others.

And in the end, we wonder, and tell ourselves (and each other) stories to explain what we experience, or what we can't.

Is the unknown a subject of so much exploration because we are curious, or because we're somehow threatened by our own unknowing?