The beginning. Looking for the beginning? I get born in Louisiana. But art's a good start. Fine art and human depravity are both products of technology. Artists are the real human nobility. I am not an artist.
Art and the spiritual quest. I've come to understand the spiritual quest as the work it takes to turn my life into a work of art: a life full of love and creativity and free of self indulgence and other forms of self harm. Art has been a key element in my spiritual quest ever since my dad got me listening to classical music in the early fifties. Learning and practicing music and now dance has been part of my quest. Art is an expression of human longing, and all our longing is longing for love, one way or another.
Art and entertainment. Any kind of art can be consumed as mere entertainment. If I consume art as entertainment I'm just killing time. Artist or consumer, art has the power to elevate me, to ennoble me, to help me make progress with love. It equally has the power to fill the hours I need to do the hard work of making progress.
Stopover. In the mid-1970s I signed up for an art appreciation class at FSU. I had first encountered painting and sculpture in the 1960s when I was living in Kenya. It woke something up in me, something I had no words for. I wanted to dig into those arts and get a better grounding in them. When I traveled to and from Kenya in the 60s, all the flights were routed through Europe. There were no direct flights from the US to Nairobi. Each trip offered a stopover somewhere in Europe: London, Paris, Rome, Athens.
Athens. In Athens I had an experience that had nothing to do with art, everything to do with addiction. I was hiking with my parents up Lycabettus and I'd forged on ahead. It was a Grecian day right out of a tourist brochure: sunny and hot but with a good breeze. I had walked too fast and I was losing steam. I saw a man with a pushcart selling drinks. I headed over to get something cold. I was disappointed to find he only had one drink, which looked like water. But I figured water was better than nothing and I could see it was cold so I ordered one. He gave me a funny smile and poured me a little glass of cold clear liquid. I started to take a big gulp, but I got a whiff of something in time to ratchet that back to a sip. I still almost dropped my dainty glass. I had unexpectedly scored some booze, and any booze was good news. I sipped away, finishing what I now realized was a large serving before my parents caught up. I don't remember anything else about the day except I got a headache in the bright sun. I didn't learn what ouzo was till years later.
Rome. It was in Rome that art first reached out and grabbed me. Mom and I were on our way to a new life in Kenya. It was my first time in Rome, first time in Europe. We flew to Rome to meet my dad. He'd flown up from Nairobi to meet us. We had three days in Rome so we took in the sights. I saw Michelangelo's Moses in Saint Peter in Chains.
I didn't know any of that. I didn't know anything. I was just some kid. I was able to get up close to it, almost reach out and touch close. That sculpture shook me. It woke something up in me I had no words for. I just knew I wanted more. I remembered seeing replicas of his statues spread out on the sidewalk for the tourists. I got excited; I could buy a small version and take this feeling home with me. I rushed up to the first vendor I saw and picked one up. It was a spontaneous meditation, a moment of bewilderment and deflation. There was nothing there, nothing at all. Just a stupid piece of plastic, an oversized version of one of my green army men.
London. A few years later I had another memorable encounter with sculpture. I'd stopped over in London to get better acquainted with the city. I stumbled on the casting of Rodin's Burghers of Calais in Victoria Tower Gardens.
This time I was able to reach out and touch. I remember holding on to Jean de Fiennes's right index finger, so much bigger than my own. Rodin's sculpture moved me a different way. These men weren't bible heroes, they were just men. They looked defeated but still strong. I could relate to them more directly; they lived in a world that was a lot more like my world than Michelangelo's bible times. Again, I had no words for all this.
The class covered painting, sculpture, and architecture, once over lightly. It was a revelation to me; I didn't study art at all in school. Painting got the lion's share of class time, but I came away with new insights about all three of those fine arts, and a different grounding deep inside me about art in general. Later on this led to my study of calligraphy at Naropa.
Art and meaning. Art can't give my life meaning. I have to create meaning. I have to give my life meaning by surrendering to Leela and dedicating myself to the spiritual quest. But working with art is a crucial part of that quest. Assisting Leela in writing the story of my life is a voyage of discovery into the hidden meaning in my past. I find meaning in the things I did and the things that happened to me, meaning I couldn't grasp at the time. This writing gives my life a depth and grounding I never had before, though I sometimes approached that depth in body meditations like walking and dancing. In those I let go of conscious effort and surrendered to Leela. In this work Leela demands I use my conscious gifts as fully as I possibly can to do the work and still surrender to her.
Conscious versus creative. Before 2006 the conflict between conscious and creative work was just something I heard or read about, of no concern to me personally. Even just beginning to surrender to Leela via muscle testing and body sensing upped the energy level in me to where that might have been a concern if I hadn't been drinking. My alcohol intake kept my energy level low and anesthetized me to stress. The dulling effects of alcohol lingered for years after I stopped drinking. It's a pernicious drug when it comes to making progress. Moving into my new home kicked everything into high gear. My work assisting Leela in this writing began to be stressful. The stress quickly got overwhelming. My previous understanding of the wisdom in my body was that it was wisdom I accumulated over all my incarnations. But the more I looked the less comfortably that sat. How could I accumulate the ability to see through time? That's when the wisdom I call on for guidance reintroduced herself to me as Leela, a wonderfully comforting presence. Leela demands I take this work playfully. To the degree I succeed the psychological stress disappears. Consuming art is also part of my spiritual quest. Leela guides me to watch specific cinematic art. It was hard for me to accept that at first. I had developed a strong aversion to watching the tube in my marriage. Leela helped me overcome that in stages, then guided me to the right content, which keeps changing as my needs change.
Music. I have a deep connection with music, thanks to early exposure via my dad. Visual arts and music are different thanks to advances in technology: I can experience the glory and depth of classical music at home. My boyhood dream of taking art home with me has come true. For music, the reproduction can outshine the live experience. Technology also brings images of painting, sculpture and architecture to my desktop. There is still a difference. I've studied works of art on the Internet and in real life. There's no comparison. Being in the room with one of Rembrandt's self portraits is a world-stopper. Looking at images of it online is not even close. When I watch a performance by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, I have the best seat in the house. Far better than any real seat. hr-Sinfonieorchester are an example of top notch audio coupled with spot-on camerawork, masterminded by video editing that knows the music inside out. I'll end this with a state of the art example. Here's Beethoven's 12th string quartet, one of the great masterpieces of chamber music, performed by the Quartetto di Cremona.