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Can You Feel the Silence?

We search for that breath, and its mindfulness. It’s that deep breath that focuses you on the moment, and fills you with calm and quiet. Too often our lives often become cluttered with the earthly grind of work and worry. We all feel some form of its ache. Some of us find the world is a bumpy road. Some of us find it an easy path to navigate, if not a little dusty now and then. 

May you have the good fortune, at least once in a while, to find yourself on a summer’s drive to the countryside. A smooth ride on the open road, where you step out of the mundane, and your old coat, and into the mystic. Finding that deep breath that focuses you on the moment, you are there, in the green of summer, in a place that feels holy, and you feel whole. And you listen to the silence. Can you feel the silence?

Happy Birthday, Van Morrison. Thank you for the ride….

 

 

The King of Love

January 18, 2016 Leave a comment

 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech on a Wednesday, April 3, 1968.  His words were prophetic and resolute:

 “…Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…”

He was fatally shot a day later. It was Thursday, April 4, 1968.

On Friday, April 5, 1968, Nina Simone’s bass player, Gene Taylor, still in shock and sorrow from the news, composed the song, Why? The King of Love is Dead. Nina Simone’s beautiful rendition was like much of her music, with the deep, low and haunting reaches of her contralto voice echoing a powerful expression of the time. Hers was a voice of the civil rights movement, the healing energy of black pride, of unity, of justice, and of humanity. Here too, we hear the articulation of that path, and its uncertainty, after the loss of the movement’s powerful, peaceful leader, Reverend Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr…as she asks why and what will happen, now that the King of love is dead?

European singer and writer, Lillian Terry, had a jazz radio show in Italy with an impressive roster of jazz artist interviews. In 1968, she added Nina Simone to that list, talking with her poolside at Ms. Simone’s Mount Vernon home in New York. The interview was never heard in the states. Blank on Blank presents the conversation beautifully in animated form. Nina Simone’s words, like her music, are the voice and spirit of the time.

 

 

Out of This World

January 11, 2016 4 comments

David Bowie

A star so bright, it hurt your eyes to gaze upon it, but you had to look. It was dazzling, mesmerizing…and you never saw anything like it, before or since.

How it pulsed in rhythm and frequency determined where its waves originated, how they traveled, and what the star was made of. These variations set it apart from other stars, revealing the unique sound of the light. This celestial music was as vivid and brilliant as the light. I know. I was there from the start, watching, listening, sprinkled with stardust. It was luminous, amorphous, androgynous, rebellious, mellifluous, marvelous, glorious.

A star so far ahead of its time, was it using up its light faster than it should?

In the star’s evolution, it eventually loses its internal heat source, and becomes a white dwarf. This is its last visible stage — it is still shining because it is still hot. It can feel itself cooling, losing energy. A white star. A thin white duke. A resolute transformation, writing its endpoint, sharing it with you, celebrating it with you. It cools to meet the temperature of the cosmic surroundings, until it can no longer shine, and becomes invisible. Black into the blackness. A black dwarf. A Blackstar.

The brightest star was fearless, flawless, measureless, weightless, Lazarus…

 

blackstar

A Soldier In The War On Sadness

August 12, 2015 7 comments

robin-williams-saturday-night-live-1984

He was no ordinary mime. A portal opened from another realm, and he would step through and onto Planet Earth, 40.7789º N, 73.9637º W, before the sweeping steps of the Metropolitan Museum. It was New York City in the 1970s. I was a college student, and my art class met at the museum. Whenever he was there, I was mesmerized by his vibrancy, his intensity, and his silent movement.

Watching him was that moment before lightning hits, when you can sense electricity in the air and feel the back of your neck tingle. He could bend time without uttering a word. Everything would speed up and he’d be manic, weightless, strong. Everything would shift to slow motion. He’d move with grace; centered, solid, fluid.  At times, he was as still as stone. Or animated, funny. Earthy, but not earthly, as his ephemeral creations morphed from this to that. You, my friend, like me, would stop and be in the moment.

I saw him enough that I later recognized him on a TV show, without his face paint, but still out of this world. He played an alien. The show: Happy Days. His name: Robin Williams.

You know the rest of the story. He made us laugh long and loud…he was a soldier in the war on sadness. We knew some of his own battles, but did not, until last year, know how brave he was. With so much of his work filled with language and sound, the memory of him, performing in silence, haunts me.

A portal opened from another realm, 37.9128º N, 122.4756º W. It was Paradise Cay, CA, August 11, 2014. Silently, Robin Williams stepped into it, and out of, Planet Earth. You, my friend, like me, stopped to be in the moment. We let his silence fill us.

Robin Williams

Photo: S Huszar

The Brightness

BB King


He was the king, and they said that being Fire over Fire, he could walk through flames and emerge unscathed.

The I Ching’s double fire sign, Li, means “to cling to something,” and “the brightness.” A luminous thing must contain something within itself that perseveres; otherwise it will burn itself out. It must hold fuel to nourish the flame.

Oh yes, Lord, he held on to it. The clinging fused with his being, behind flesh, beyond flesh, illuminating skin to nerve to bone, flowing through his bloodstream like a river of stars. Everything in him was alive with it, grasping it, lit by it. It informed him, defined him. Music was his flame and his fuel.

It was a Twist night gig, where jealousy and anger filled two men and spilled over into the dance hall. Their fight over a woman set the place ablaze. It almost cost the king his guitar, left behind in the mad rush to the door. He went back into the flames for it. When the smoke cleared, the name of the woman who set the night on fire was revealed. A phoenix rising from the ashes, the brightness and the clinging found its name: Lucille.

He knew he was here for this: the blues. A radiant, full hand rocking the string back and forth, bending time with sound. You are here to give witness to the luminosity, to feel its heat, and its truth. From smoky club to concert hall, the spark of his double fire kindled the lamp of every listener. The vibrato shines its light on a path for you. Go this way, brother. Keep it lit.

Dust Particles In A Shaft Of Light

March 10, 2015 8 comments

light and dust

A beam of sunlight filters in through an open window of a room bathed in shadow. The air is still. In the ray of light, dust particles bounce off of one another, illuminated. The fine concentration of light is filled with tiny, radiant specs that are suspended in space, and yet, in motion: floating, shimmering, tumbling together, touching, separating, touching once more.


The physics of it does not matter. The dust-air interaction does not matter. Brownian motion does not matter. Lucretius’ remarkable vision poem of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe does not matter. Nor does Einstein’s explanation of it. Here’s what matters: You can see it. It is the dust of the world, dazzling in the light.


This is your whole life, right here, right now, contained and elevated, in the ephemeral ray of light pouring in. And you tell yourself: this is the dust of me, the dust around me, what I breathe in, what I breathe out. The dust is filled with thoughts, memories. Mine, yours. Dust from old books. Dust of letters I’ve opened, of papers torn. Dust from my son’s drawings. Dust from cars as their tires leave behind bits of journeys that float through my window, into the beam. Dust of a tissue from my mother’s purse. Dust of my cats, here, and then not here, alive in an eternal way, I suppose, luminous in this narrow beam. Tears evaporate and find their way into the shining zig zag motion. Cherish what you have, and what you have lost. Look for it all, shimmering and tumbling, as dust particles in a shaft of light.

dust particles in light

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. ~Kurt Vonnegut
RIP, kitty

beautiful kitty

tica and kitty

Touching A Magic Chord

March 2, 2015 6 comments

stenciled cave hand

Archaeologists argue the actual date when the first painter stenciled his hand onto cave walls, somewhere in the vicinity of 40,000 years ago. Earliest man was compelled to make a mark, to leave something behind. A memory of him. A gift to us. The human hand is a powerful symbol of our human potential. Flesh and blood, our life coursing through our veins, from our hearts to our hands, and into our sensitive fingers. Touch is how we experience the world.

The hand can reach and grasp: a tool, a paintbrush, a pen, a weapon. Perhaps its greatest strength is what it conveys through gesture, in both the secular and sacred world. Our non verbal communication is a affirmation that something beyond words connects us. The symbolism of a hand gesture may only be within the context of esoteric rite or ritual and known only to that community. Or, it may extend itself to the global family. Our communal symbols and signs are how we experience the world.

From the shameless to the sublime, we know what gestures signify. It is the rudeness of giving someone the proverbial finger. Thumbs up, thumbs down. The calm of the open V peace sign, the power of the fist clenched in solidarity. Deliverance. Defiance. The Hindu and Buddhist mudras. Hands in prayer. The bending of ring finger and pinky in benediction blessing as a sign of the Trinity. A kohen (priest) forming the Hebrew letter “Shin” with both hands, fingers split (“shin” also represents the word Shaddai, a name for God) to confer a blessing.

In an episode of television’s Star Trek called Amok Time, Leonard Nimoy‘s character, Mr. Spock, half human, half alien, is introducing us to other people of his Vulcan race. We are glimpsing an alien greet his alien community. To signify the moment, and to create a richness of their culture and civility, Nimoy created the single hand, split finger version of the kohen’s Hebrew blessing he had seen as a boy. The Vulcan race, with its manner of ritual, of greeting, of community, offers the sign to one another with its message: “Live long and prosper.” It was the power of the hand, the strength of its gesture. Nimoy said that it “touched a magic chord.” It did. We immediately understood.

vulcan sign

nimoy

Leonard Nimoy died on Friday, February 27, 2015. He was 83. He has left his mark, his memory, and his gift to us, in that same unending way as the early man stenciling his hand on a cave wall. To the far reaches of space, where words and time hold no sway, the enduring image remains.

Spock

Orbiting 250 miles (400 km) above earth on the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Terry Virts commemorated the passing of Leonard Nimoy with the Vulcan hand gesture. To the right of Virt’s hand is Nimoy’s home state, Massachusetts, though Leonard Nimoy’s world would become so much bigger. We give the greeting to Mr. Nimoy, who gave it to us, this one last time. We offer it in softest silence, as he, now with his fully human heart at rest, makes his voyage to the eternal frontier.

The Lamb and the Black Moon

February 18, 2015 2 comments

sheep year

Fire, earth, metal, water, wood, each their own element, each birthing the next, ceaselessly turning together in a black and white pinwheel swirl. It is the Taoist yin yang in its true spinning form, not the static symbol we are familiar with. The world is poured into that circle. It is the center of the things. Circles within circles, expressed in the bagua. Life is hard. Life is soft. Life is life in its ever evolving spin.

Within this cosmology are cycles of time: hours, days, months, seasons, years. Years are marked in a cycle of twelve animals, called earthly branches. And the branches combine with the ten heavenly stems, providing an associated yin or yang energy for the five elements. Each year, the animal has either a yin or yang stem with its element.

This Chinese Lunar New Year arrives at midnight, February 19, 2015. It ushers in the Year of the Sheep. The sheep is the eighth animal in the cycle. In Chinese, the number 8 symbolizes abundance, the word for eight is “Ba”. How sheeplike. It is said the sheep is gentle and calm, representing harmony, solidarity. And the stem, yin wood, has the making for a even mellower year, soft as a lamb.

There is also a Black Moon on Chinese New Year’s eve. It’s a new moon and a Super Moon. There are usually three new moons in one season, between a solstice and equinox. When four occur in one season, as is the case now, the third moon is called a black moon.

In honor of Chinese New Year, there is a live webcast with views of the moon hosted by Slooh Community Observatory. It begins February 19, 8PM. Watch it here.

Gong Xi Fa Cai. Happy New Year.

Toni

space reporter

spacereporter.com

Moth

December 28, 2014 8 comments

It seemed too warm and too early for snow. But, from my window, I see it falling in the night light of a streetlamp. Leonard Cohen’s The Traitor is playing in the background.

The song, Cohen says, is about the feeling we have of betraying some mission we believed we were mandated to fulfill, but unable to fulfill; then coming to understand that the real mandate was not to fulfill it; and the deep courage was to stand guiltless in the predicament in which you found yourself.

The snowflakes remind me of moths surrounding the streetlight in a flutter of wings. Lepidopterists say moths are positively phototactic, which means if you turn on a light, they’ll head for it. There is no explanation for this phenomenon, only theories.

Moths might use the light as a reference point, moving towards it to adjust their flight position by maintaining a constant angle relative to the light source. The circling behavior may be caused by a visual distortion common to sighted creatures, called a Mach band. The band is the region surrounding a bright light, in the darkest part of the sky. Moths might be attracted to the band because they seek the cover of darkness for safety as they circle the light until they can navigate away from it. This path is disorienting, pulling them close to the light. It’s a coin toss spiral to freedom or fiery doom.

I’m thinking about moths, missions, snow, listening to Cohen’s words, “…On the battlefields from here to Barcelona, I’m listed with the enemies of love…” The soldier’s military duty is his mandate, but he is pulled off course, war nerves perhaps, seeking refuge, surrendering to desire, knowing the cost of his path.

Love and war. Lust and duty.
We can anthropomorphize moths to a flame, though no moth measured longing against reason. No moth fanned a smoldering desire, felt guilt, guiltless, or asked forgiveness.

The soldier says, “Should rumor of a shabby ending reach you, it was half my fault and half the atmosphere.” That bright light. We understand it, and know its attraction. It calls us away from where we believe we should be. We’ve been flying into the tail lights, under the truth

With our mission failed and unfulfilled, we are light warriors. We may be traitors to our own war, but we head for that light, blinded by it, burned out and burned up by it. Then again, we may be blessed and unburdened by it. Our failure becomes our freedom.

In the dark of night, on a country porch or outside a city window, a light goes on. The pull towards it, and away from everything else, may be your truest mission. May you have the deep courage to stand guiltless, fearless. Get stuck, get scorched, get saved.

Toni Tan

 

Abscission

October 24, 2014 5 comments

©Toni Tan

I see it, a story told in the ephemeral nature of color. It’s impossible not to look, but I close my eyes, and listen. It’s the sound of change. Autumn calling out in its rustling and rain of leaves when the wind blows. I want to remember it. Not just see it, but feel it. On a fall day enveloped in grey mist, a flash of red leaves will interrupt the fog, burning through the space. On a brighter autumn day, sunshine moving through the leaves is as illuminating as enlightenment.

Change is forever our status. Fluidity in time and space, the flow of the circle. We don’t think about change, but sometimes something shakes you into awareness: a birth, a death, or the brief and brilliant leaves coming loose from their branches.

This is part of the cyclical design. Trees are actively cutting off their leaves in a survival process: abscission. As days of autumn fade into cold temps and less sunlight, trees reabsorb nutrients from their leaves. This includes chlorophyll and deprived of it, leafy greenness gives way to color. The leaf shedding allows trees to pull in energy and get through winter. It is a cycle of conservation. And sacrifice. The trees grow new skin over every spot where a leaf once was. The trees will live. The leaves will not, but they are making a grand exit.

Nature shows us tangible, real-time change. Change endlessly seeking balance. Here’s a truth about nature, from the Tao: “heaven and earth are ruthless.” Sometimes brutal. Sometimes bittersweet. Life bulldozes through its bleakness – its broken rocks and its broken hearts and its bankruptcy. It’s a dusty path that leads to more busted rocks and broken hearts. More loss. Loss and gain. Gain too, because it’s a green path as well. Life dances through its brightness – its beauty and its bounty. Hearts and moons waxing to full, emptying, filling. A spectrum from bleak to bright.

Energy is always moving. A seed planted, a harvest reaped. Growth, decay, growth. A mended fence. A broken window. Repair. Despair. Gain. Loss. Life. The ever evolving permutation of things swirling in the yin yang pinwheel. We live, survive, thrive, fail, fly.

There’s a red arrow on the map: You are here on this autumn day. And everything is changing. The leaves animate the space. Vivid. Vibrant. Radiant. For now.

Toni Tan