What you are

“One day, after gazing at a pattern of red flowers on the tablecloth, I looked up to see that the ceiling, the windows, and the columns seemed to be plastered with the same red floral pattern.

I saw the entire room, my entire body, and the entire universe covered with red flowers, and in that instant my soul was obliterated and I was restored, returned to infinity, to eternal time and absolute space.

This was not illusion but reality itself.”

(Artist Yayoi Kusama, Japan, born 1929)

This is the introduction to Kusama’s exhibit, Flower Obsession, in the art Triennial now showing at the NGV in Melbourne. On entering the exhibit, each visitor is offered a flower sticker or “3D flower” to place where they want so by the end of the Triennial the apartment will be covered in flowers. Kids and adults were enchanted when I was there this week.

For me the best part was the introduction, and that wonderful “… and I was restored.” When I read it, I felt like going home immediately. Nothing more to be said.

I’ve had three spiritual experiences in my life. The first happened about 12 years ago; the second happened 9 years ago, and like Kusama’s, it also involved flower. Not a flower or the flower, just flower. The third one, the big one, happened on Monday, 2 May 2011 around 12:40pm, standing on the corner of Collins Street and Exhibition Street waiting for the lights to change.

Suddenly, a portal in the world opened and who I was was the space in which the world was arising. Everything and everyone that had ever been, and everything and everyone that will ever be, was arising, all of a piece, in this moment. Time was revealed to not exist, and through the space and within the space, there welled in an ever-welling fount a vast force that was Love.

When the experience occurred, I was standing towards the back of a group of about 10-12 people waiting on the corner, and as it happened, everyone in the group turned to look at me and we went through it together.

Afterwards, it seemed to me that if my life had ended on that day or soon after, I would have considered it well-lived because of that one moment. I see Kusama feels similarly because she is now 89 and the experience happened to her when she was a young girl.

I haven’t spoken much about the experience since then. I both long to speak about it, and at the same time I’m reticent. The words are so inadequate, and there’s also a certain impertinence in it when I think of that sacred enormity. Yet Kusama’s words touched and excited me, and that’s why I’m speaking today because my experience may touch someone else.

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Many people have had this same experience down through the centuries and across all cultures. You can see its trace through stories, poems, art, like the footprint of a wild animal in sandy soil. Here it is in a book I read over Christmas:

“One day, I was walking across a park in a suburb of London … what happened then is simply beyond description. I can only inadequately say in words that total stillness and presence seemed to descend over everything. All and everything became timeless and I no longer existed … Oneness with all and everything was what happened. I can’t say I was ‘at one’ because ‘I’ had disappeared. I can only say that oneness with all and everything is what happened, and an overwhelming love filled everything. Together with this there came a total comprehension of the whole. All of this happened in a timeless flash that seemed eternal … Nature, people, birth and death, and our struggles, our fears and our desires are all contained within and reflect unconditional love.” (Tony Parsons, As It Is: The Open Secret of Spiritual Awakening)

Here it is in a woman who’d been engaged in loving-kindness meditation for some time:

“I have opened. I am nothing and I am the whole world. I am the crab apple tree and the frog by the stream and the tired cooks in the evening kitchen and the mud on my shoes and the stars. When my mind thinks about past and future, it is only telling stories. In loving-kindness, there is no past or future, only silence and love.” (From Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology)

And here it is in a wonderful poem:

“Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget – I kept saying – that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago –
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef – they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.” (Late Ripeness by Czeslaw Milosz)

What about you? Have you experienced it? How would you describe it, however inadequately? What have been the consequences for your everyday life? (This is the bit I’ve been mulling over for the last seven years.)

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The passion and courage of women

Repost from an earlier blog, for Mrs Daffodil. The post was written just after the audio tape emerged of Donald Trump talking about grabbing women on the “p—y”.

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If Michelle Obama’s speech on the dignity of women wasn’t enough to cleanse the palate of recent events, here’s a tribute to a man who reveres women, the Spanish filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar.

I just saw his latest movie, Julieta, about women, their mothers and daughters, and how grief and guilt, amongst other wounds, is passed down through the generations by the mechanism of well-intentioned silence. It’s as good as Volver, starring the magnificent Penelope Cruz, which he made in 2006.

Following are pics from Volver and Julieta, starring Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte (click on an image to enlarge it). There’s nothing else to add except give yourself a treat and see them.

The basic misunderstanding

People tell me, “You’re so positive”. If I’m on the ball, sometimes I explain that what they’re responding to in me is happiness, not positivity, because the two are worlds apart. I also hear people saying things like “I’m striving to be a better person”. This gives me a pain in my heart for them, and for myself. They don’t realise they are already fundamental goodness, already fundamental soundness and perfection.

Here is Pema Chödrön on the matter of this basic misunderstanding …

“The innocent mistake that keeps us caught in our own particular style of ignorance, unkindness and shut-down-ness is that we are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness. Instead, there’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, then we would be happy. This is the innocent, naïve misunderstanding that we all share, which keeps us unhappy.”

~ Pema Chödrön, Awakening Loving-Kindness

Image: IAMI by Eugenia Loli

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Hiding from pain

This is everywhere in our society, and also in me: the absence of unconditional friendliness towards ourselves

“Some people come to community seeking consolation from the pain of feeling unloved by responding to whatever demands are made of them. Unconsciously there is a thought pattern: ‘If I satisfy your need then you, or the community, or God will be grateful, will appreciate my existence, will love me.’ Ultimately this can never bring true fulfilment or true growth. It is important that we are attentive to this response, so easily disguised by generosity and goodness. We must help each person to live more and more clearly and deeply from an inner confidence of being loved by God just as they are.”

~ Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p132

Image: Up in the Sky, 1997, Tracey Moffatt

To subscribe to daily thoughts from the publications of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche and winner of the Templeton Prize in 2015, go to his website: http://www.jean-vanier.org/en/home

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The bus driver

This morning I created the intention of waking up in every moment. I was on a bus in the city, the only passenger, when the bus driver started making annoyed comments about pedestrians not crossing the road at the right place, and would-be passengers not signalling him clearly, and so on.

I didn’t make any response but started thinking about him instead and trying to see more clearly what he looked like.

A bit later, I felt OK to ask him a question about how he liked the new bus route. “It’s better for us drivers,” he said, and we chatted for a while. He didn’t quite give up being annoyed at the people we passed, but it lessened. A few minutes later he started talking about his daughter and how she was a teacher, and then out of the blue, he said she’d recently had a nervous breakdown. After that, there was no barrier. He talked about his worries for her, and about he and his wife, and so on. I just listened mostly.

At the end of our trip together, I went up close to him to get off and saw he had the face of a kindly Santa Claus. I realised that if I’d stuck with the initial impression created by his comments about pedestrians, I’d never have seen him at all.

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Image: Detail of Berlin Buddha by Zhang Huan, photo from 2014 installation at Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, Australia

When practising posing

Some readers will know I’m preparing to enter a bodysculpting competition in September, 2017. This is an insight I received when practising …

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I noticed something when practising posing for the comp today. In each case, there’s a movement, a body part, that determines the success of a pose overall. It’s a gesture that unlocks the pose.

Stick it and the pose is guaranteed; miss it and the pose fails. So the task is to uncover this hidden lever.

It’s the same principle featured in this treasured poem about a long-ago Chinese cook:

“Prince Wen Hui’s cook Was cutting up an ox. Out went a hand, Down went a shoulder, He planted a foot, He pressed with a knee, The ox fell apart With a whisper, The bright cleaver murmured Like a gentle wind. Rhythm! Timing! Like a sacred dance, Like ‘The Mulberry Grove,’ Like ancient harmonies!

‘Good work!’ the Prince exclaimed,

‘Your method is faultless!’ ‘Method?’ said the cook Laying aside his cleaver, ‘What I follow is Tao Beyond all methods!

‘When I first began To cut up oxen I would see before me The whole ox All in one mass. After three years I no longer saw this mass. I saw the distinctions.

‘But now I see nothing With the eye. My whole being Apprehends. My senses are idle. The spirit Free to work without plan Follows its own instinct Guided by natural line, By the secret opening, the hidden space, My cleaver finds its own way. I cut through no joint, chop no bone.

‘There are spaces in the joints; The blade is thin and keen: When this thinness Finds that space There is all the room you need! It goes like a breeze! Hence I have this cleaver nineteen years As if newly sharpened!

‘True, there are sometimes Tough joints. I feel them coming, I slow down, I watch closely, Hold back, barely move the blade, And whump! the part falls away Landing like a clod of earth.

‘Then I withdraw the blade, I stand still And let the joy of the work Sink in. I clean the blade And put it away.’

Prince Wen Hui said, ‘This is it! My cook has shown me How I ought to live My own life!’”

~ Chuang Tzu (369-286BC)

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