the joy of inquiry

“Inquiry can be like a love affair, and the inquirer like a lover. Our passion for our subject can drive us to near-obsession, with a deep desire to understand the beloved, to be with her or him, to explore every nook and cranny of body and soul. Inquiry can be passionate, overwhelming. In (auto-) biographical accounts of inquiry by scientists and philosophers and writers, there are numerous stories of staying up all night, of being teased by subtle but ambiguous clues, of feeling seduced and rejected, of breakups and temporary separations followed by hurried reconciliations. Love may not always be easy, but it’s a powerful force. We want to know the objects of our affection, know their deepest feelings and desires, learn about what makes them happy, where they came from, how they appeared in our lives. And it is when inquiry ceases in relationships, when we think we know our partner, and subsequently start taking her or him for granted, that we know the relationship is starting to go in the wrong direction. In some ways, love is inquiry, at a deep feeling level, understanding who “we” are, who “we,” this new entity, can be . . . And love, as the research of social psychologists Elaine and Art Aron (1986) have shown, leads to an expansion of the self: people in love tend to write more, and more about themselves, than people who are not in love. We become more as we fall in love; we draw on more of our potential, more of who we can be. We are motivated, indeed driven, to pursue the object of our affection, and in the process, draw on more and more of ourselves. Lovers may sing and write poetry and find ways to express themselves to their beloved, even if they have no history of involvements in these arts previous to this outburst. Inquirers similarly dig deep and draw on all their resources to understand the subject of their undivided attention.”

The Joy of Inquiry – Alfonso Montuori

wolf

I was out very late last night walking the dog. She was nervous and touchy and very interested in something up on the steep hill going into the forest before us. I wouldn’t let her off the lead; it was dark and I didn’t fancy standing out in the rain waiting for her to return after an extended foray chasing deer up in the woods. I got the distinct impression that whatever was up there was not deer, however. She does not paw the ground and whine like that when she catches the scent of deer. It felt like there was something very different looking down on us from the woods; something that was sending the dog into a circle of frenzy, alert and desperate to follow. Later on – at around ten o’clock – a single gunshot echoed across the valley. I was left wondering what on earth a hunter could be shooting at; the month of March being well outside the hunting season and men from the village very rarely shoot at foxes or badgers late into the night. Could he have been shooting at the one thing we have been hearing more and more about recently in these parts? If so, then it is quite possible that today, there is one less wolf roaming around these mountains and one more mate waiting for his safe return. Hunters feel they have every right to shoot at wolves round here – I hear reports of at least 200 sheep being killed since they came over into France from Italy ten years ago but still, I do not think it is right; this place has become more magical because of them and I have become wilder. The balance seems to be closer to tipping back into a true alignment since they came and I have been nourished by their presence, however strange it may feel to have unseen eyes looking down at me from the hillside at night whilst I am out walking the dog.

secrets

“Secrets have power. And that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with even one other person, will change them. Writing them down is worse, because who can tell how many eyes might see them inscribed on paper, no matter how careful you might be with it. So it’s really best to keep your secrets when you have them, for their own good, as well as yours.”

― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

Saying the Difficult Thing

In 2016 I finished a poetry pamphlet but then found myself unable to send it out into the world. Its power was overwhelming and I wasn’t ready to be exposed in that way. It was written about abusive relationships that were taking place within my family at the time. I made the excuse that I would hurt the person whom I was writing about (who had hurt me and others) and that I wasn’t prepared to face their wrath if they ever found out that they had been exposed, so I decided to publish incognito and spent hours choosing a pseudonym and working out the damage limitation to all the publicity and attention I thought the pamphlet may receive. It was like I was arranging the complicated logistics of going into battle (‘An Army of Me’ as Bjork once sang); I became so completely obsessed with protecting myself against all perceived repercussions, that bringing my work out into the open became too hard to contemplate. No matter I had spent the good part of two years writing it; it was, I concluded, just more water under the bridge. No matter that it would sit on the shelf and quietly rot until the time that the abuser had died and I could publish it. No matter at all. I could cope with the wait.

The fear of publishing that pamphlet was a strange, somewhat invisible force that I realise has manifested in my life in many different ways and continues to control me and keep me half-hidden. It keeps me from coming out into the world a full shining version of myself. In response, I fashion a workaround; I immerse myself in metaphor, myth and archetype, in fairy stories that speak directly to me so I do not have to speak directly about myself. I am deeply fascinated in masks and mummery, the otherworld, of walking in the shadows; poetry and fine art always appealing to me because of the way they allow me to hide within them. Even in my dreams I am constantly covering myself in protective wrappings, constantly finding the smallest place to squeeze into; I dream of many-roomed houses that remain shut up and unexplored, make elaborate costumes and disguises for myself to wear out in public. I align myself to creatures who run close to the earth and sleep underground. When I dream I am exposed in any way, be it through nakedness in public or being asked to perform in front of an audience, the dream becomes a nightmare. I am frightened of flying and I am unable to fly in my dreams and although I regularly have a plane journeys to make, I nearly always ‘arrange’ to miss them through the inability to pack the right belongings or get to the airport on time. When I do manage to make the flight, the plane never leaves the ground or flies so low that I feel that it is all a pretence.

Since leaving the solidity and solidarity of Art College, my creative life has moved in inexorable circles; always galloping ahead to a certain point and then collapsing inwards like a blackhole when I am on the cusp of success in my endeavours. The saboteur still reigns supreme. I create for myself and never tell anyone; I write poetry pamphlets and never publish them; I start knitting projects but never finish them; I draw only in very small sketchbooks; I spend hours planning but rarely start; I get to the point where one or two people find out about what I’m doing and I swerve off in a different direction, I run for cover; ever the beginner, ever starting over, with a knowledge base spreading ever more thinly over more and more disciplines. I make sure my footprints are always swept up behind me so that I can never be followed back to my den where my pups are always waiting hungry and thirsty. They need to be fed yet I am always drained. And each time I start afresh it gets harder and harder. In my 50th year, it is not so easy to start dancing like the 20 year old I wish I still was or pick up that creative spark I wish I still had when I left college 25 years ago. Sometimes I feel I absolutely must start again but most days I don’t feel strong enough, so that act of bravery is put off for another year. I often look back at my journals and realise that I have been struggling with this for a long, long time.

I recently read of other people who have braved everything to expose their abuse through their art. They talk openly and oh, how difficult it must be for them to face their audience alone and still unflinchingly endure. They use their work as therapy and it rewards them in a myriad of ways. I know that in this way, they make Real Art. This is the art that inspires me most. Although I tried (and failed) to do the same myself through publishing my poetry pamphlet, I know all is not lost and I can at least try again with something else. I cannot give up. I take one small step; one baby step. And I am trying not to feel afraid. And if it feels like no-one will ever read this then yes, I will press the publish button and not dwell on it too much but I must summon the courage to leave it exposed without taking it down after a few hours like I have done with other posts in the past.

confinement

Excavating to the depths of the psyche is an absolute necessity. It can be done by welcoming the Wild One into one’s practice; by sleeping and dreaming, by immersing oneself in faery, by dancing and by making Art in a totally unusual way that feels 100% authentic. It is a place where we can let go, nourish ourselves, step out of the cycles that bind us in unhealthy ways.

I recently finished reading a book called Illuminations by Mary Sharratt. It was about the life of Hildegard von Bingen, a German Mystic who was enclosed as an anchorite in a cell at the monastery of Disibodenberg in Germany in the twelfth century. She was literally walled up in to a room with another, older women – her ‘magistra’ and keeper – at the age of eight. She was ‘released’ around the age of thirty.

I have also been writing about anchorites and the life of confinement. I am fascinated by this life – although Hildegard was tithed to the church by her parents, some other women in Europe offered themselves freely to the church and were walled up until the day they died. I have been thinking about the psychic and physical result of being contained like this and wondering what effect that sense of safety (and restriction) would have on one’s artistic life and how could one willingly want it?

It reminded me of the story of Bluebeard and his wife who is contained in his huge mansion whilst he leaves on a business trip. Fortunately for her, she has many, many rooms to explore and discover and each one of them holds incredible treasures and is chock full with wonderful things. This keeps her very busy for a while. But of course there is the tiny key that Bluebeard expresses adamantly she must not use. This key is the start of her initiation; something she must go through in order to achieve fulfilment in her life, otherwise she must stay confined in that castle for eternity, being a good girl, doing nothing wrong, not succumbing to temptation. We could see that kind of life as one of purgatory but it also could signify a huge opportunity to explore the inner realms. 

It is interesting that anchorites were walled up in order that they be ‘good’ in the eyes of God, i.e. hidden away from temptation. They were committed into a life of prayer and contemplation, which afforded them the most amazing opportunities to go deeper within themselves, to explore the wondrous rooms of the castle, searching for the lock for the tiny key. No wonder that many of them were blessed with healing powers or became great artists and writers. Hildegard herself never had the opportunity of exploring a single physical room other than the one she lived in exclusively whilst she was walled up in her anchorage and I feel that this, although seen by many as horrific, must have been strangely, an advantage. She was compelled to explore her own inner rooms and the otherworld of her deep psyche through prayer and then ultimately, through creative practice. She was prolific in her working life, producing major illuminated texts, which were copied and distributed widely all over Europe. She was also a healer and scientist and wrote a canon of canticles and songs for the church, amongst other things.

I think I am coming to understand how containment can be a blessing for some people. Sometimes I yearn for all the distractions of real life to fade away so that I can traverse my inner world with my tiny key searching for the lock that it fits. Sometimes, when it feels like I am on a sacred quest, I understand how hermits and monks can successfully hide themselves away from the world in order to live a fully spiritual life in close communion with God. Confinement feels like sanctuary and deep artistic practice resembles a communion. 

I think as artists, we know instinctively when we must spend time in this inner world, free from the distractions that everyday life brings; we know when to contain ourselves and make a practice of searching through our rooms of wonders in order to find the final cellar that we have been expressly told not to enter; the Cave of Bones; the Dark Night of the Soul. Sometimes we are compelled to do it, other times we have that compulsion forced upon us but ultimately, it is incredibly enriching and nourishing.

This place is where we start to make sense of our vocation and break away from ‘true’ confinement – the cycles that bind us – to start working from an authentic place where we are more able to welcome the Wild One home, just like Hildegard von Bingen and Bluebeard’s wife did. 

the dress

I was making a huge dress with a cape flowing out of the back and it was incredibly detailed. I was sewing bits and pieces onto it constantly; coins and bows and butterflies and lace, all manner of found things – I felt that it was a bit of a show-stopper and I absolutely knew that I was going to be wearing it in the future. It was like I was preparing a new way of being for myself, a new dress to slip into and wear. When I put this outfit on I knew that I would look and feel amazing. It was a very simple dream. One of my friends had come to admire it and look at the intricacies of it in detail. It was almost as if it was standing there by itself, like it was its own animal, alive and animate. A completely magnificent creature. ~ 30th December 2018

Dreams are incredibly important to one’s inner mythic life. I have been noting down my dreams and it is amazing how, once you start to record them, it gets easier and easier to remember them each morning. I wake up with an inkling of the dream and then, after sitting in front of a plain piece of paper for a few minutes, something of it – more often than not – flashes through my mind and I use that small fragment as an anchor to start pulling the threads of the dream out onto the page. In this way, I can construct the whole narrative in no time. I usually have two or three dreams a night depending on the moon phase, the weather and how tired I am. Over time, I have been able to track the subtle shifts and trends in my dreamworld and I have started to understand how they mirror and inform my waking world. I mostly have recurring dreams but I also have one-off dreams that follow a familiar structure. Many dreams I quickly forget after they have been recorded with others staying vivid all day long. Like tarot cards, I have learned to interpret individual dreams within a setting; juxtaposing them one to the other like I am spreading them out on a table in order to see the bigger picture. I have also learned to identify the major themes and archetypes that occur again and again in different dream scenarios and settings. The most important thing I remember when interpreting dreams is that each element within the dream is actually just one part of my own psyche and represents differing parts of myself.

The dream mentioned above took place a while ago but is one that occurs regularly, especially when I am creating something new. I often have dreams that include very detailed objects that I am continually ‘adding to’ over time. I see this as a representation of not only a specific project I may be working on but a representation of my artistic life. It is a positive dream with a very good outcome, with the dress representing something I am striving to continually improve and embellish in order that it becomes richer and fuller and I am looking forward to displaying with pride. I feel very strongly in my dream that the dress I am working on is alive and has its own animism, something I love to imbue my creations with. It confirms to me the importance of this animism in my work and the influence of fairy stories and myths where objects take on a life of their own and are able to influence the outcome of things in a mischievous way. I know that a large chunk of my creative life stays very firmly within a private realm, shown by the fact that this dream takes place in a bedroom – the most private room of the house (rooms play a huge role in my dreams and I see that as representing different parts of my personality). What a grand room it is – highlighting the fact that I place huge importance on my inner life and thoughts but the fact that my friend is there too, looking over my creation with great admiration shows that I am ready to send my art out into the world, a very positive dream to have.

books I have read recently

  • Mary Sharratt – Illuminations
  • Clarissa Pinkola Estés – Theatre of the Imagination (Vol 1), The Faithful Gardener
  • Paulo Coelho – Veronika Decides to Die
  • The Contemplative Journey – Father Thomas Keating
  • Resurrecting Jesus – Adyashanti
  • The Heart of Centering Prayer – Cynthia Bourgeault
  • Memories, Dreams and Reflections – C.G. Jung
  • Ted Hughes – The Unauthorised Life, Complete Poems and Selected Letters
  • Kamila Shamsie – Home Fire
  • Kassia St. Clair – The Golden Thread

the hunter

The sky is so full of stars; complete. I have had to stand out in the garden for a few minutes even thought the cold is biting. I have had to witness this scene it is so perfect. The snow on the the roof tops, the black black sky, the bright bright stars – perfect. I have never seen anything like this before, even though living in the mountains, I have seen quite a few starry evenings. I stand out regularly and watch the International space station float overhead, that artificial meteorite that never falls. Tonight, Orion’s Belt is twinkling; I have never seen the stars twinkle like this. Sirius in his faithfulness, follows at Orion’s heels and positively shimmers. Red and blue and white light a diamond hanging there. He feels so close, I could, really could touch him. And the hunter moves to the right, his bow held aloft and quivering, Taurus fights back, azure jewels set on his head.

I could say that it is the density of the atmosphere that has created such a spectacle; the crisp and clear weather we have been having recently has been conducive to these boundless night skies but I can’t be satisfied with saying it is just a meteorological phenomenon; I want to look deeper. Framed by this low stage where two mountainsides give way to open sky – this is a scene set up by gods and goddesses; appearing to show us this story of the Hunt; the divine chase; the steady march across the sky these winter characters play every night after the sliver of moon has set herself down for the evening.  It has also come to tell us of my ancestors who sat out on a late February night exactly like this, around a fire on a mountainside, maybe telling stories to each other, playing instruments, singing songs, weaving a slow melancholic dance for the life that ebbs and flows in all of creation. This stellar chain is like a belt slung low on the hips of these dancers; pulsating to a divine rhythm; in homage to the draw of things we do not know and cannot comprehend. These people search out into the night sky for stories, songs and for the inspiration to move their bodies in mysterious and sacred ways.

Just like I am doing tonight.

art

maybe this is what it is all about. slowly getting madder and madder and then it all cracks open. maybe this is what the process actually wants to make available and vincent van gogh was doing it right; looking into the nature of things and then slowly (or violently) breaking through it all into a reality consisting of Nothing. suicide. art is just a process of looking into the nature of reality; poetry, painting, sculpting, music. there is actually no point in doing any of it apart from process. it makes no difference if it is great art or not. it is the state the artist must move into. observation (real or imagined).

i am thinking that i do not want to think any more. and to observe. to see things in the world as they are. to create as if i can forget about being a past or future. an exercise in presence. in dissection. i’ll be okay because i won’t be okay. i will disappear. getting madder and madder. all this.

should art be known as ‘evidence of observation’? but say we have pure observation with no physical evidence – maybe this could be defined as the highest form of Art? art as a tool. as excavation towards the heart of consciousness. that is all. using it as a way to disappear. to move closer to god. the artwork is no longer about getting a message across. about making the audience react in a certain way. that became irrelevant a long time ago. probably around 27 July 1890, the date when vincent shot himself in the hayfield where he was painting. he died 30 hours later.

is art an awakened dreaming state or is art just a thing that has been touched by someone? duchamps’ urinal was placed in a gallery and called art. albeit a modern concept of art. did it need a critical audience to label it as such? that world has become madder and madder. a light bulb turning on and off. art destroys itself. the perfect awakening. the perfect dream.

is art a personal expression of experience? the intangible is made tangible. a thought. an idea. an experiment. a sensation. a feeling. a mood; non-reality fixed to reality as vibration. movement. intention.

can art be made by a machine without involving a single element of human experience? can art be mindless? emotionless? dependent on the artist. the viewer. does there need to be an interaction between the two? can/must the artist be the viewer? in reality, is there neither? deus. ex. machina. if art is an expression of consciousness, can a cactus create art in the desert solely by blooming? does a fox make art every time she walks across a snowy field? deus. ex. anima.

auldous huxley. the doors of perception. what i am struggling to achieve is what LSD can give me easily or i’ll go mad or something first. people got into these kinds of states long before synthates. they used to go into the jungle and find plant compounds. they yearned for spiritual realisation. union. transcendence. all i am doing is trying to find a way to get into that state. experience. expression. experimentation. emergency.

if i can’t find a field there is always the revolver.

is art spiritual experience or just madness appearing as Truth? when you get busy with your life and pick up where you left off, the seeking stops. the awakening stops. you become yourself again. you forget about Nothing. you forget that you are involved in an act of forgetting. instead you remember to be someone and then you start making art for art’s sake. it manifests but it is struggle. depression. it turns madder and madder. you are not sure of a way forward. again you come to a standstill. towards crisis point. you become anonymous. experimented upon by nobody. made into no thing. there is absolutely no possibility that anything can be made out of any of it. it is a path one must stay off/no one must stay on. you take solace in the fact that nobody need find out about your death in order for it to be real. for you. you experience the shock of unrealness. the Truth. Truth. Truth.

this is all so stupid. i am writing this in order to validate nothing. no one writing this writing. wanting to diminish my self after believing i was everything that ever mattered. like an idiot. i’m going to lose it all. no one cares this way or that. it makes no difference which way it continues. there is this emergency i know. it is neither right nor wrong. that my head is filling with so many thoughts. that the observation experience is disappearing. i see i have done myself a disservice. exchanging myself for nothing. exchanging nothing for art. 

where i observe some things coming in and out of awareness

the world is ever fresh and new. there are no labels. there is only This. there is thinking and there is writing and there is moving of fingers across the keyboard and scanning of the eyes across the screen. writing arises and also great pleasure, no matter what the words are trying to say. they appear as they want to appear.

people who live close to the earth with little formal education know that there is a constant sphere of awareness surrounding them and that consciousness expands to fit this sphere. often it is from horizon to horizon as far as the eye can see, the ear can hear the nose can smell. anything beyond this does not exist. advaita vedanta shows that in a world that has no opposites, no concepts, no labels, nothing exists apart from a field of energy and from that, there may be a continued ‘sensation’ of objects coming into this field of energy. this is what ‘awakened’ people often refer to the ‘freshness of the world being reborn again and again in the ever-present moment’. oh words are so hard sometimes.

if you want to put it another way, you could say, “nothing exists in the world except what is right here right now”. this is quite an interesting concept to get one’s head around. i like to think of this kind of stuff all the time. there is of course, a time when thinking merges automatically into sensing and experiencing – the classic awakening moment, but for all lesser mortals, thinking seems to be the way to go for the time being (language is such a funny thing). my children are not in the room, i know that they have taken the dog out for a walk but of course, that is just a thought that continues in my head in order that i may recognise them again when they come back into the house. at this moment they do not actually exist. they are not in my sphere of awareness, they are only kept alive by a thought, an electrical impulse, which quite frankly is a rather dodgy thing anyway.

oh well there you go, i hear footsteps on the path outside, the door is opening and i know without doubt that my children are coming back into the house with the dog. my thought process has created the continuum. i recognise them.

in a non-dual world there is no i, no recognising, no children, no dog, no path, no footsteps, no door, no thought continuum, just energy flowing; what bob sailor adamson calls ‘intellegence energy’. the world gets on with what it does without any prompting, without anyone directing it, without the person receiving impressions about it, it just does (or to be more precise, it just IS)

but if we feel more comfortable with having a few concepts thrown into the mix (otherwise there is not really a lot that can be said about any of it) we might call it a collection of neurons adjusting to apparent changes in the energy field and seeing/hearing/sensing takes place to induce recognition; footsteps, children, dog, door – it is pure sensory perception before the brain computes anything of individual merit, before the brain is able to put a label on those individual ‘happenings’. it is all just swimming in a sea of sensation, waves rippling all around.

along with this swimming, comes a huge sense of peace. there is no director, no directed, there are no concepts to label this scenario good, bad or indifferent. there is no sense of a finite world that is constantly changing, finally to end sometime in an unknown future. there is no future. there is no sense of a self that ever lived or that will some day die. there is also no past to base any expectations on. there is no sense that objects, people, animals are separate things – all is one and with this oneness comes peace.

then there can be no doubt that everything is just as it is, fresh, renewed, alive all in this one moment.