The art of living. One way to see making progress with love is as an art, the art of living well. Living well is my art. My life is a never-ending work in progress. As an artist of life I work to transform my messy disorganized contradictory life into a beautiful, meaningful work of art: a life full of love and creativity where I realize my human potential. A life free of self destructive habits and self-imposed limitations. I sculpt my life into the life I want by cutting out the harmful parts and refining the good parts to make them even better. I made no progress with the art of living well until I surrendered to Leela, aka my own internal authority. I do whatever is best for my deep health and wellbeing whether my thinking self wants to or not. For me the art of living well incorporates other arts I love dearly: dancing, DJing, and writing these stories.
Art vs. entertainment. Popular culture produces vast quantities of video and musical entertainment that gets called art, and its producers artists. To me a great deal of it is junk food for the soul, worthless and often mendacious dreck that wants to keep me stultified, happily snoozing my life away as a smug consumer. Art makes me work. I've devoted tens of thousands of hours to developing my arts, dancing, DJing, writing, and now living well. Many years of hard work, most of a lifetime. I get far more value out of creating art than I do out of being entertained by it: watching, reading or otherwise consuming works by other artists. But consuming others' work has a place. Consuming art has been part of my life ever since my dad got me started listening to classical music in the mid-1950s. And steeping myself in the work of great artists has been an important part of my spiritual quest all along. What I have to ask myself is, am I consuming this art to be ennobled as part of my spiritual quest, or am I just killing time? Consuming art can elevate me, ennoble me, help me make progress with love. It can also distract me, stealing the time I need to do the hard work of making progress. Even worse it can feed and encourage inner distortions, delusions, parts of me I need to root out. I check and recheck every bit of art I consume by consulting Leela, the wisdom in my body.
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.
Rome. It was in Rome that art first reached out and grabbed me. It was my first time in Rome, first time in Europe. Mom and I were on our way to a new home in Kenya. We flew to Rome to rendezvous with my dad, who had flown up from Nairobi to meet us. All I remember is being utterly transfixed by 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.
Athens. In Athens I had an experience that had nothing to do with art, everything to do with my dive into drug-dependent living. 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: hot and sunny but with a good breeze. I had walked so fast I was losing steam. I saw a man with a pushcart selling drinks. 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 to a kid with an drug-dependent mindset, booze is 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, or about whatever Grecian wonders I saw on that stopover. I just remember getting a nasty headache in the bright sun. It would be many years before I learned what ouzo was.
London. A few years later I had another memorable encounter with sculpture, this time in London. On one of my rambles I stumbled on the casting of Rodin's Burghers of Calais in Victoria Tower Gardens. This time I really could 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, aside from dabbling in dance and theater. Painting got the lion's share of class time, but I came away with insights about all three of those fine arts, and a different grounding deep inside me about art in general. Later on this led me to study 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 my own inner authority, aka Leela, and dedicating myself to my own 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. Writing these stories lets me mine my past for a depth and grounding I never had before. I sometimes approached that depth in body meditations like walking and dancing, times when 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.
Music. Music moves me like no other art form can. That why I love partner dancing so much: I love to be moved by music. I'm moved by music from a wide variety of musical styles. My dad encouraged me by exposure to his own eclectic tastes. He made sure I got early exposure to classical music, but later on also watched Shindig! and Ed Sullivan with me. He was there when I first heard Elvis and the Beatles. Music is a special case when it comes 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. However, I've studied works of art on the Internet and in real life and there's just 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 the Frankfurt Radio Symphony online I have the best seat in the house. Far better than any real seat. Top notch audio coupled with spot-on camerawork, masterminded by video editing that knows the music inside out. Check it out.