There Is No Spoon

Deer Buddha

Recently, I participated in an online retreat with hospice chaplain, Amita Llamo.  Her book, DANDELIONS BLOOMING IN THE CRACKS OF SIDEWALKS, Stories from the Bedside of the Dying reveal the power of simple human kindness and the wisdom of beingness, even as we are faced with our own death.  Especially as we are facing death. While I enjoyed her book and wished I had read it (or something akin) prior to my father’s death 2 years ago, it was Amita’s 5-year meditative retreat that had me signing up for her Zoom retreat.  Amita shared with us her wisdom from this extended time spent in prayer, meditation and introspection.

Over 2 and 1/2 days, Amita introduced us to the concept of 4 worlds that exist simultaneously on Earth.  The first world, where we all live, is the world of form.  Everything measurable and quantifiable lives here.  You can describe it, taste it, weigh it, name it, see it… you get the picture.  The 1st world is every THING.  The 2nd world, is the world of relationships, how we connect to others, other things, the environment, ideas… it’s the world of concepts.  Many of us live here in our heads (maybe even more than our senses) and navigate back and forth between world 1 and world 2 and never go beyond the two worlds of things and concepts.

But as we get to world 3 and 4, we find worlds that are not generally “lived in” but merely touched in moments I will explain later.  Here we are limited by language and words to describe something that is not describable.  So, bear with me as I attempt to use first world words onto 2nd world concepts to illustrate 3rd and 4th world phenomena.

The 3rd world is the world of energy as it exists between form.  As an artist, I would call this negative space… everything that is not a thing.  I hadn’t considered that this negative space was an energy but it makes sense to me.  This energy can be found with a simple exercise: close your eyes and bring your hands together, but not touching, as if in prayer (palms together). Focus on the space between your hands, holding them apart about 5 or 6 inches.  Now, slowly, push them together and feel the space between your hands as they get closer and closer.  Do the same in reverse, pull them apart and see if you can feel the energy elongating from the compressed feeling when they were close together.  If your mind is quiet and you can focus on this exercise, you can feel the energy, almost like pulling etheric taffy.  Try it and see!  This is the energy of the 3rd world.

The 4th world is the collective whole of consciousness and divinity.  Amita described it as a cycle, and used the cycle of water to help us understand.  Water comes down as rain or is transformed into snow, which melt and flows into streams and rivers, eventually making its way to the ocean where it evaporates, transforming again into vapor which then makes clouds and the process begins again.  This cycle is inherent in all things and all non-things.

We reach world 3 and 4 in moments of Grace.  It can come upon you in deep meditation, or after sacred ceremony.  Some find it using psychotropic drugs or plant medicine, yogic breathwork or shamanic practices.  Grace can be found along the bedside of the dying or the birth of a child.  It can be found in the heartbeat of a horrible car accident where time stands still and suddenly you know more than can possible be imagined just seconds before.  Perhaps you have felt a glimmer of grace in a dream like state and it follows you into your waking world as you open your eyes onto the new day. Grace takes many forms but you know it when you feel it.

I have felt many moments of Grace and have glimpsed the 3rd and 4th worlds enough times to know these states exist and are as real as the laptop before me.  My chosen path is the path of meditation, which is why Deer Buddha, is the title painting for this blog post.  Both Deer Buddha and Sacred Cow (from the last post) came to me in a moment of Grace. I truly adore meditation as a path to Grace as it’s far sweeter and easier than sitting at the bedside of the dying or tripping out on acid.  Meditation is a gentle path to these worlds of energy.  I think, perhaps, that as an artist, I tap into these energy worlds and allow ideas and imagery to come through and then, in manifesting this creative energy, I bring these visions forth into the 1st and 2nd worlds.

As I align myself with these energetic worlds, there are more and more synchronicities and moments of divine Grace.  In lifting the veil, I raise my own energy.  As many other spiritual teachers have said, a rising tide lifts all boats.  In lifting my vibrational energy through the manifestation of creative spirit, I raise the energy of the collective.  As do all artists and creative souls; art is a spiritual practice!

In the 1999 movie, The Matrix, the hero, Neo, is on a journey to truth.  At one point, he meets a young spiritual acolyte who is bending spoons with his mind. Spoon Boy says to Neo,

“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible.  Instead, only try to realize the truth… there is no spoon.  Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”

The first time I heard this, I sighed in awe at the profundity of that simple message.  Change your mind and change your reality. But in the movie, Neo is not in the physical world, he is actually in a simulation.  For him, in that world, there is no spoon.  But when he leaves the world of the mind, he returns to a place where spoons do in fact, exist. We are faced with an existential dilemma, is there or isn’t there a spoon? Well, yes, in the many worlds idea of Llamo there is and there isn’t a spoon.

Many on a spiritual path are heavily invested in the physical world and miss the depth of existence by not being able to experience nor even imagine a state of Grace.  Some seek to live in worlds beyond the physical and strive away from where they are now.  They live in the future or ruminate over the past, disregarding the present.  They long for something new, different, better, pleasurable and move away from discomfort.  Buddha says that longing and desire is often the cause of much suffering as we fail to accept and allow and surrender to the reality, we live in.  Even longing for enlightenment is a desire that can cause suffering.

But if we look towards embracing all the 4 worlds, not just the manifestation of the physical world, nor only the etheric world, we begin to see the fullness of all the layers of reality.  We learn to recognize truth and see things more clearly.  All worlds are interconnected, and we are here to experience the many worlds in their own way; though we live in the physical, we are in the world, not of the world.  Sometimes we may even lift up the veil and see, there is a spoon AND there is no spoon. Both are true.

Dancing Green Woman
(She lives in another world)

Blue on Blue

PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA  A field of blue lupins echo the deepening sky as day turns to night.  (Based on the photo by Gabi Fulcher 2014)

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When I started this painting I had no idea how blue it was going to go.  I had been doing a lot of inner work, thinking about my inner self, my concepts, my ideas, my integrity, my weaknesses.  Why do I think this way, what lessons are there to learn from our emotions… when I get frustrated or upset, what does that come from? Does it come from the situation at hand or from a lifetime of similar situations that make the current crisis seem bigger than it is?  I examined all my inner wounds like a forensic investigator, trying to make a case for guilt, innocence or acquittal.  I had no preconceived notions of the outcome but one word rose to the surface and I followed it like a flashlight in the darkness.

That word was compassion.  That I find the compassion in myself, that I nurture the compassion and choose the compassion rather than the hard edged anger and meanness that was trying to gain a foothold. I don’t like the hard edge… though I admire the strength anger has given me.  Anger is a good emotion, it’s a powerful one, but not one that should be driving my car.  You can’t make anger go away, but you can recognize it’s usefulness.  Anger is the fire that burns away the pain and takes you down to ash so you can rise again, clean and new and reborn.

Anger turned inward is depression.  There were too many times I had taken that anger and smoldered the flame with my body, inhaling the toxicity, allowing depression to take a toehold deep inside. And so, with the gray skies of the Pacific NorthWest dumping their seasonal load upon my home and myself, I found a deep blue streak staining my life. I had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit.  I just couldn’t do it, that blue funk was everywhere.

But then there was compassion.  And compassion led me to stories and places and videos and chat groups and forums and a greater understanding.  I followed every lead, turned over every rock, searched in all the drawers, cupboards and forgotten shelves.  The anger that had masqueraded as depression was swept out and dealt with.  The light began to shine again as we rounded the equinox and the sun literally returned to my part of the world.

With gratitude, I stood before a blank canvas and painted yet another in my Wilderness Of Women (WOW), a series of paintings from the trail.  All paintings are from photos taken by women hikers.  So far I’ve only done one from my own photo, the rest were taken by other women hikers.  This image of the PCT is from the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington State. It was sent it to me last winter by the photographer/hiker, Gabi Fulcher.  It’s been hanging in my studio for some time now… and well, now seemed to be it’s moment.

All these WOW paintings have a vivid saturation of color that connects my deep love of these wild places to my heart.  This one was the same in intensity, but different in just one word.  The word is “I”.  As in “I” painted it, because it doesn’t feel like “I” actually did.  I stood before the canvas after sketching it out in my normal fashion.  I was between the 6th and 7th chakra painting in my last series (see previous post) and using the same palette of color I was about to start when I hesitated.  I’ve done this before, and usually with good results, so I trusted the pause.  And I said to my muse: go ahead… you got this one.  Do what you like, I’ll just hold the brush.  And so, she did. Or he… it doesn’t matter, my muse is gender neutral.

Blue on Blue can speak for itself.  It’s so much more than me.  Just like the word compassion.