That I hide
Sense of pride
Where you’re standing
In your eye
I’ve been served
As you just walk by.
Wanna take what’s outside in
Wanna bleed it out again.
Wanna hold me in your arms
Want to make these pieces whole
I must draw you in again
Reilly sent me an email on Aug 1st with a last minute plea for me to help out at Camp Bright Feathers (CBF) as a CIT (Counselor in Training) facilitator. Reilly has been volunteering at this camp for something like 13 years, but was in Poland at the time and could not attend. I have been feeling like my work lacks meaning, and looking for ways to contribute more, this presented a great opportunity. CBF is a week long camp in New Jersey for children ages 6-13 who are affected by HIV. Some campers have HIV, some have family who do, or have lost someone close to them to it.
So that is where I spent the past week. I was at CBF from August 18-August 25th. I stayed in a cabin with 15-16 year old boys in a village with another cabin of 15-16 year old girls; all CIT’s. They were former campers and new volunteers with ties to the camp.
We spent the week exploring what it means to be a role model for children and attempting to make sure that all of the campers had as much fun as possible despite the fact that it rained most of the time and almost all of the camps activities are usually outdoors. The camps intention is not to focus on HIV or sickness in any way. It actually provides the opposite for the kids. The camp tries to be one environment where this can fall back. Stopping for meds 2 or 3 times a day does not have to be explained, and when meeting new people the pressure of when to divulge certain information can be relaxed a bit.
Many campers seem perfectly healthy, a few have extensive scarring, some have cerebral palsy or some sort of developmental delay, most come from situations at home and in their community that I can only relate to through stories and imagination. The one thing that most all of them seem to have in common is an astounding degree of resilience and so many share a true passion for life. These are children who face hurdles at home and within their own bodies that I have never had to face. So many of the things that I have long taken for granted are a struggle or stretch that never reaches its goal. These are not Magic Johnson’s children. Most come from the inner city in places like Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ. The camp is free for them and the staff is comprised mostly of volunteers. I met a lot of great people, many of whom came to camp years ago and have not stopped coming back. I intend to do the same.
I had to leave camp a bit early on Friday to get back to Manhattan for my sisters rehearsal dinner, followed by drinks, then woke up on Saturday, quick workout, went to pick up flowers for the wedding, dropped some of them off for the bridal party, then went to meet up with the groomsmen. Donned a tux, did the pictures outside in the park thing in 90+ degree weather, and then headed over to the Foundry in a stretch taxi limousine.
The wedding ceremony was great. My sister looked amazing. I love to see her looking so beautiful and happy and surrounded by so many who love her. Ralph’s family is awesome. The room was full of friends and family, many of whom I had not seen in years. It was an intimate 110ish person affair. I can’t describe how blessed I feel to have this as my foundation. The amount of opportunity and support that I have in my life is staggering. It was the realization of this that overwhelmed me.
I am the type of person who usually takes a great deal of alone time. I meditate, read, exercise, play music, sit and pick my nose, whatever. I had spent the entire week in a cabin in the woods with a campers and fellow counselors. In rushing home and jumping into the dinner, wedding, family, friends scene I never really allowed myself any time to process the week or transition back into the day to day city life. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and those around me for most of the night, but towards the end of the night I began to reach a point of overwhelm.
I went upstairs to the balcony overlooking the dance floor with a glass of water to catch my breath and take it all in. Sitting there by myself was the when the week finally caught up with me. Reilly had warned me that it would probably happen at some time during the week, perhaps after taking the campers to the infirmary for meds. The week at camp had been wonderful. I was surrounded by so much strength and resilience in the face of so many hardships that I could not imagine feeling down. I jumped into the camp life fully, resisting nothing, and trying to keep my heart as open as possible at all times. I practiced Tonglen while walking throughout the camp and was honored to have the opportunity to be invited into both the simple and difficult experiences of these strangers lives. It was only here, in the extravagance and familiarity of my own life, that the weight of it all could be felt.
Amy walked by and said “come downstairs and dance, it’s your sisters wedding”, but I had been choking back tears already and felt a bit guilty about bringing my overwhelm into the room. I declined, waited a moment, and then walked downstairs and out the front door into the streets of Long Island City. I made it half a block before the tears came, overcome with tears of joy and sorrow, I walked quite a few more before sitting down to catch my breath and let them stop.
I do not have the words for the weight that the past weak has held. I am so happy for the life that I have been given, and so grateful to be able to share my abundance with others. I am amazed at the energy and compassion that children who have know so much suffering can show towards one another. I am in awe of all of those who consistently give of themselves when faced with the lack of others. It seems as if facing difficulty in life has allowed many to truly care about others and recognize our interconnectivity far more than a life of carefree pleasure ever could have. I am continually thankful for the family and friends that life has presented me and recognize that the suffering that I have faced in life has helped make me who I am and added to my desire to reach out to others stumbling along their path. The opportunity to give is truly that, an opportunity. I hold no delusions of being anyones savior. I am simply honored to hold another’s hand as they take a few steps forward. It’s a shame that it’s taken me so long too figure out the gift that service can be to both myself and others.
I finally watched ‘The Fountain’, a film by Darren Aronofsky. This is the guy who made Pi and Requiem for a Dream. And I have to admit, I was really blown away. Tony has been telling me for months to see this movie. He was right.
First of all yes, the movie is beautiful to look at. The acting is great. The special effects are exciting, yet somehow quieting. The editing is refined. It is a technically awesome movie. Having said that:
My initial reactions were purely emotional. I watched the movie, and was engrossed, but really didn’t know what exactly was going on. I could follow each scene, but an understanding of the story, the connections between the scenes, just wasn’t gelling. Normally, when offered an experience such as this, I feel frustrated or bored or detached from the characters and their plight. Yet, somehow, the exact opposite was happening as I watched this film. My heart was breaking, over and over. My investment in some sort of positive outcome only seemed to increase as my ideas about what that might mean dropped away one after the other.
I was left stunned, in awe and wonderment as the credits rolled.
Then, in the hours after the movie ended it was as if a dust storm had calmed and all of the pieces began to settle on the ground beneath me where I could look more closely at them and see patterns emerge in their arrangement on the ground. Suddenly a wave of ideas washed over me. Life and death merged. Chasing immortality became a fear of life. Love became a denial of that which he already have. Death creates life. One life is many lives. Dis-ease is the path to ease. And in these and so many more paradoxes a much greater, more inclusive truth was illuminated. In the recognition of the ultimate interdependence of relative reality the need to define by opposites became a beautiful tapestry which allowed all of our pain, suffering, joy and triumph to have meaning within the context of one another.
I gotta watch that shit again.
The idea of developing Integral Arts was suggested to me recently by Joanne Rubin. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand I am always interested in developing artistic expression and I feel strongly that Sangha (community-LL) is a hugely important aspect of this.
We often times have this idea of the lone artist. The suffering, isolated genius who feels misunderstood by the all of her peers. I don’t doubt that there is much pain and introspection (UL) in art. It may very well be that it is necessary to embrace these dark sides of life to create truly great art. But the question must still be asked, why create art?
For me art has always been about communication. I could claim, as many have, that true art is a purely personal expression of ones soul that no one, save the artist, need understand. The fact that this is sometimes, and at one level necessarily, the result does not mean that explanation is not being attempted and usually achieved to varying degrees. I believe that did one not have the desire to reach out, the desire to connect, they would never manifest anything at all, never mind something as intimate as art.
There is a reason why art exists as an objective artifact (
This is where the idea of developing Integral Art becomes a bit hairy for me. If you ask me whose art I would like to see or whom I would like to present my art to, I may very well choose an integrally informed community to be a part of this sangha. If we are just talking about gathering like minds in a pot and stirring, then the idea sounds like a potent one indeed.
My resistance comes up when the need to talk about art arises. There is a big difference to me between music and musicology. More importantly, no where do I feel the difference between talking and doing more than in art. For me, art is most easily expressed through music.
I have given much thought to the origins and uses of music. One of the primary issues that I have wrestled with has actually been shown in new light by the bald headed one’s illumination of the pre/trans fallacy. The idea that both pre and trans rational thought will be dismissed by rational logic as simply non-rational, despite the fact that trans-rational transcends and includes rational has interesting implications in my mind. This is mostly because music, as many things, is capable of being all three. But, it is when it is primarily rational that, to me, it seems dead. Perhaps this would make more sense if we explore arts relationship to words.
I have become increasingly aware throughout my life just how much my thoughts are constrained by verbage. I know that there are many levels of consciousness both above and below what I am able to recognize verbally, but far too often it seems as if the only expressions that merit recognition, or are capable of being recognized, are the ones that we can put words to.
What happens to the rest of those thoughts, feelings, emotions, inclinations, intuitions, etc?
Fortunately we have art. As I have said before, I think that art is a way to get in touch with these levels of consciousness.
So why not talk about it?
Because, in my opinion, we are far too good at talking, and thinking, verbally. Our powers to intellectualize are astounding. The integral community, in particular, can talk even spirituality into mathematical formula’s and complex post-metaphysical addresses. This is why I love to be with these people. But how often is great art a product of formula’s alone? I think that inspiration must come from a degree of quieting the thinking mind. In retreat this weekend Daido Roshi spoke of Hara, the physical and spiritual center of one’s body located in the lower belly ‘3 finger below your belly button’ as being the source of artistic inspiration. The subtle body of sleep is a powerful source of artistic inspiration. There is a reason that while drugs can destroy our brains, they can also facilitate the production of great art.
So, I would love to be artistic with the Integral Community. If Integral ideas are ever going to be disseminated than certainly the vessel will have to be beautiful. The question then is twofold:
1. How do we discuss the packaging without defining constraints?
My desire is to find a way beyond simple words. Surely words will have their place. But, we have amazing powers of multi-media communication in this digital age that can walk all over simple words. And we have always had amazingly subtle abilities that are trampled by words. I am eager to find the most inclusive way.
2. How do we create a womb (physical or cyber room?) with an integral embrace from which anyone can be supported during creation?
I am drowning you in words about art this very moment. I recognize that this is something, though it is not enough. So I also offer song.
This is Pantry. Pantry began with a day spent banging on things in the kitchen pantry. Later violin, vocals, harmonica, guitar, bass, synths and congas were recorded and layered accordingly in an intimate, non-verbal communication between myself and 4 other people. Please listen, and allow yourself to let go of everything that I have just said. I’d love to know where you end up.