clearskies, bluewater

Insights, reflections and creative imaginings for our awakening world


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Rock and Roll Heart (Ode to Lou Reed)

Lou Reed is gone. His number was up, and he’s left his body, his partner Laurie Anderson, his family and friends, and all of his listeners, and gone to the spiritual world. Lou was an important figure in my life as a teenager, so I would like to pay tribute to him with this post today.

From age sixteen until nearly twenty, Lou Reed was one of my heroes. His songs affected me on many levels with his intensity, ability to juxtapose the joys and highs of being young, with the depths of darkness and suffering that every human sooner or later must face. Though my record collection was small, it contained half a dozen records by Lou Reed, both with the Velvet Underground and solo albums. I played them continually during those first years of leaving home to live with my wannabe rock star boyfriend, Andy. He and I shared our love and admiration for Lou, along with our love of rock music, getting high, and being young. During the two years we stayed together, Lou Reed’s music was my anthem, his presence like a kind of guardian angel in my world. He epitomized the qualities I admired in a human being at the time: outrageousness, sassiness, arrogance, intelligence, humor, worldliness, sarcasm, wit; as well as compassion, a poet’s heart, a lover’s soul.

Lou Reed, a true American Hero.

Lou Reed, a true American Hero.

Lou was tough, the toughest kind of New Yorker imaginable. There wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen or tried, or so my young mind and heart believed. And strong. He had kicked being a heroin addict cold turkey, and to me then, nothing could be more difficult, more of a triumph of human strength. He had been through heaven and hell and back to tell the tale to the rest of us. Lou was my hero, a kind of god, really, and each time I put on one of his albums, I worshipped him and what he stood for anew.

Lou’s music inspired not just one generation of listeners, but has stood the test of time. Young musicians today are creating beautiful, deeply soulful, sometimes painfully honest music inspired by Lou Reed. His album Berlin was probably his most tortured statement about the shadow sides of humanity, filled with songs about betrayal, sexual debauchery, drug addiction, suicide: the stuff of catharsis. Perhaps because I listened to Berlin every day for nearly a year at one point, I was able to live into those human dramas without acting any out for myself. Those songs were filled with angst, with the searing pain of suffering in a human body, of the tortures of the soul. The melancholy of my own young soul resonated with the stories he told so ingeniously through those songs.

Conversely, the other album I listened to (also every day during that period) was my very favorite: Rock and Roll Heart. Here was a lighter, more joyful Lou, joyfully banging on his drum, singing songs and dancing to the great tunes of the day. At the time, I knew every word to every song on that album.

Lou’s music lifted my soul and also brought my to my knees. He was a master storyteller and consummate musician. He met the world at a particular point in history, when his own hunger met the word’s need. Many musicians knew how to play rock music, but for me, no one could do it quite as well as Lou.

Jenny said when she was just bout’ five years old
Hey you know there’s nothin’ happenin’ at all
Not at all
Every time I put on the radio,
You know there’s nothin’ goin’ down at all,
Not at all
But one fine mornin’ she hears a New York station
She doesn’t believe what she heard at all
Hey, not at all
She started dancin’ to that fine fine music
You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll

 

Lou Reed is no longer here with us among the living, but his music will live on. The threads of hope and despair, of razor sharp honesty and deep compassion that ran throughout his musical life will continue to inspire and inform future generations of young musicians across the world. The raw power and energy of his live versions of Sweet Jane and Heroin will keep Lou in his rightful place as the grandfather of punk, the progenitor of a particular kind of rock music. I honor the light that burned so brightly and so deeply in Lou Reed’s soul, and echo his immortal words to himself and the world today:

“I guess I’m just dumb, cuz I know I ain’t smart, but deep down inside I’ve got a Rock and Roll heart.” Thanks, Lou, for sharing your beautiful heart with the rest of us.


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The future’s uncertain and love is always near

Hello again Dear Readers. This will be my last post for a while, as I will be traveling out of Denmark for most of the summer holidays.

This post, then, is dedicated to the idea and truth of Love, because in the end, there is simply nothing more important than this. For me, this past year has been such a roller-coaster ride of emotions combined with a whole lotta inner work (an understatement to say the least). I could even say that it has been possibly the most difficult year of all, in some ways. Am I wiser for having gone through it? I don’t know how to answer this. I guess I could simply say that certain things have crystalized for me, as far as what matters the most in my life, and why any of us are actually here. I know there are no accidents, and that taking responsibility for one’s own life and circumstances is critically important.

That doesn’t mean that life becomes easier for doing so; in fact it seems the opposite. But. I can only take responsibility for my own thoughts, words, and actions, and not for anyone else’s. If another person becomes angry or upset with me, that is ultimately not my responsibility, even though at times it feels like they want it to be mine.Let everything we do

The other huge part of being a loving human being, of course, is learning to truly love oneself. For some of us, this is actually one of the most difficult lessons to learn. I honestly don’t have much good advice about how to do it: I only know that somehow, it is extremely important to DO it. And unconditionally.The world will not improve, nor humanity become a greater version of itself, without people in it who can truly love and honor THEMSELVES as well as all others.

I watched part of a quite interesting talk by an artist named Jerry Wennstrom last evening. His art is so beautiful and evocative, and his words about art and its place in his life, and in life generally, touched me deeply. He said,

“It’s our attachment that destroys more in our life than our willingness to let it go. There’s the sacrifice. Somehow, it’s letting the gods know you mean business. The willingness to let it go is putting it into God’s hands. Or giving it over to the Mystery who knows better than we do, how to carry our life. How do we do that? It’s the things we love the most, that we hold back the most.” Here’s the link for those who wish to watch this  on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=LVVnxThwKLU#t=1775s

More words about love come from a recent blog post from one of my favorite blogs, Oracles and Healers. Here’s the quote:

Love starts with self, with living so that loving self is as natural as breathing. Only then can you give and receive love. Love is contagious, unlimited, omnipresent. It is what changes bleakness of spirit into fullness of spirit, illness into health, lack into prosperity. It is the absence of love that breeds all the woes of your world, and it is filling the void with love that will cure the woes. This is not asking you to love what brings misery and deprivation and harm! It is asking you to simply feel love so you can send forth that energy—it will seek its way to the void.  http://oraclesandhealers.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/matthew-ward-july-4-2013/#more-3606

At its core, Love is a verb. All the pretty words in the world are paltry in comparison to the actual ACT of love, which can change a human being, and hence the world, in an instant.

My gift to you all this evening, dear Readers, is the following prayer.

The Gayatri mantra is one of the oldest and most powerful of Sanskrit mantras. It is believed that by chanting the Gayatri mantra and firmly establishing it in the mind, if you carry on your life and do the work that is ordained for you, your life will be full of happiness.

The word “Gayatri” itself explains the reason for the existence of this mantra. It has its origin in the Sanskrit phrase Gayantam Triyate iti, and refers to that mantra which rescues the chanter from all adverse situations that may lead to mortality.

Aum Bhur Bhuva Svah
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi
Dhiyo Yo Naha Prachodayat

On the absolute reality and its planes,
On that finest spiritual light,
We meditate, as remover of obstacles
That it may inspire and enlighten us.

Here is a beautiful version of this mantra, or chanted prayer, by Deva Premal. I hope you enjoy it, and may you all be blessed with love in every form, the light of Divine Grace, and all the beautiful gifts of this lovely season. Namaste and love, Leigh

<iframe width=”640″ height=”360″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/SlUsoWmso9U” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>
http://www.swamij.com/gayatri.htm

http://hinduism.about.com/od/prayersmantras/a/The-Gayatri-Mantra.htm

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The four magic words of stories

As a writer I love to read stories. It seems I am always reading one, or possibly three, works of fiction at the same time. Due to the fact that I have been teaching English to Danish kids for the past 8 months, it has been a natural outcome that I have become more critically discerning while reading stories. This post is about fiction stories: what makes a story worth taking the time to read it? Or not? I will begin with some words from one of my favorite storytellers, Neil Gaiman. He says,logic_and_imagination_by_19eight_seven

“If I had a library wall to deface, I think I’d just remind people of the power of stories, of why they exist in the first place. I’d put up the four words that anyone telling a story wants to hear. The ones that show it’s working, and that pages will be turned: “… and then what happened?” The joy of fiction, for some of us, is the joy of the imagination, set free from the world and able to imagine.”

Gaiman’s words come from the introduction to a collection of stories that he, along with Al Sarrantonio, edited and contributed to with their own stories. On the subject of Fantasy, Gaiman writes,

“It seemed to us that the fantastic can be, can do, so much more than its detractors assume: it can illuminate the real, it can distort it, it can mask it, it can hide it. It can show you the world you know in a way that makes you realize you’ve never looked at it, not looked at it. G.K. Chesterton compared fantastic fiction to going on holiday– that the importance of your holiday is the moment you return, and you see the place you live through fresh eyes.” (from Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, HarperCollins publishers, 2010)

This particular collection of stories, containing 27 works from contemporary authors of the English-speaking world, is full of horror, fantasy and magical realism, as one might expect. As a reader, my personal preferences run more to the magical realism category than horror or crime tales, preferring the gentler sides of life to the more gruesome and morbid. And yet. I would venture to guess that crime and horror stories are by far the best-selling, hence the most widely read genres of fiction in the world today. Why is this so? one might ask. As I read through this collection of stories, the answer became clear. We read fiction for lots of reasons, obviously. But one of the main purposes, since time immemorial, has to do with the experience of catharsis. According to Wikipedia, “Catharsis (from the Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning “purification” or “cleansing”) refers to the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or to any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.”

Through this we can see that by reading well-crafted stories of horror, crime, violence, sexual degradation and the like, we find an outlet for our deeply hidden desires, longings and secret fantasies concerning these shadow areas of the human psyche, in a harmless way. I was reminded by one of my daughters recently of the importance of seeing ‘reality’ (as she put it) for what it is, and not shying away or pretending that those parts of the human experience do not exist, that it is unhealthy to live in a kind of fairy tale life where everything is happy-dappy all the time, etcetera. Obviously there is much to be said about this one point alone; however for my purposes today I will leave it at that. The point is, she is correct in the sense that by ignoring, or pretending that those shadow aspects of us do not exist, we are in fact doing more harm than good for the human collective. By never acknowledging my deeply hidden fascination with, say, kinky sex or disturbing images of dark magic, or some other equally mysterious and perhaps frightening subjects, I will not be able to come to terms with those sides of being human. But, if I can release my curiosity and desire to indulge in those hidden fantasies through reading really great stories about them, I can bring them out into the light of day, so to say, and therefore release their hidden power over me. Depth psychology aside, the power of stories as catharsis of the human soul cannot, nor should not, be underestimated.

power_of_imagination_by_ssilence

During the past month or more, I read a long novel, nearly 500 pages long, entitled The House of the Wind, by Titania Hardy. Having just returned from a week in Tuscany, this novel fairly jumped off the library shelf and into my hands. As I began to immerse myself in the dual story, however, I couldn’t help but notice a kind of frustration with how the story was told. It is two parallel stories told in turns, chapter after chapter, first of a young woman living in San Francisco in 2007, then of some other women living around Volterra, Tuscany during the mid 14th century. In many ways, it is a very wonderful story, and very well written. But. In another way, reading this quite long novel was rather frustrating. For one thing, I kept wishing that Hardy hadn’t included quite so many details, especially concerning the modern woman’s story. I felt there were descriptions of things that were simply unnecessary and did nothing to really enhance the story, but rather detracted from it. Hardy is a writer who has a lot of historical knowledge, and has written considerable non-fiction, and it shows in her fiction writing. But I found myself impatient, wanting the story to ‘move along’ at a better clip than it often did. From this novel, I also learned a lot about ‘showing, not telling,’ the story. She told too much about how the characters felt, what they thought about, etc., rather than having more economy of words and letting the story tell itself. What evolved into a 500 page novel, could have been accomplished in at least a third less pages, and would have resulted in a better work. Hardy got dangerously close to historical romance several times during this long story, and nearly sentimental at times, neither of which she was intending, I am certain.

In contrast to that type of writing, there are authors, blessedly, like Neil Gaiman. The magic and beauty of Gaiman’s craft shines out of the page, and reading his words becomes a joyful act. He is a writer who understands the power of word economy, and uses it beautifully in his stories. His story, Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, contained in this collection, is a small masterpiece of word economy. Here is an excerpt:

“The clouds came down at noon and the world was blanketed by a mist that was worse than rain: droplets of water hung in the air, soaked our clothes and our skin; the rocks we walked upon became treacherous and Calum and I slowed in our ascent, stepped carefully. We were walking up the mountain, not climbing, up goat paths and craggy sharp ways. The rocks were black and slippery: we walked, and climbed and clambered and clung; we slipped and slid and stumbled and staggered, and even in the mist, Calum knew where he was going, and I followed him.”

Of course, the world is full of creative writers, and many write brilliantly although in thousands of styles and ways. I admit that my preference is for those writers who can say so much with very few words, who choose each word carefully for maximum impact, who can give us strong images without too much elaboration. Plus, I love Gaiman’s use of alliteration here! He really is brilliant.

The collection Stories has several interesting works within it which I enjoyed reading. One of the other favorites is a story called Goblin Lake, by Michael Swanwick. It falls into the magical realism category, where the main character leaves his normal, brutal reality as a soldier in the area of Germany during the 17th century, and enters a watery world at the bottom of a lake, encountering a whole different, and very lovely, reality instead. Here he is given a choice: he can remain there, as a character within the pages of a fantastic story forever, enjoying all the pleasures inherent within it, or return above ground, to his ‘real life’ where he will become old, enduring all of the pains and suffering of that world. This story is also very well-written, and offers the reader a welcome glimpse into a different reality than one’s typical life. Swanwick takes up the challenge set by Gaiman, that of “showing you the world you know in a way that makes you realize you’ve never looked at it before.”

Dear Readers, I know that nearly all of you are writers too; have you thoughts about what constitutes excellent storytelling and why? I would love to read your comments and ideas here, if you can take a few minutes to leave some. As always, thanks for reading, and for contributing your imagination to our world, in order to bring it a little higher and make it a bit better than if you hadn’t.


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God is Love

Dear Readers,

This evening is calm and free here in Denmark, as we head straight into the longest days of the year…. it only becomes truly dark after 11:30 and the sky begins to lighten about 4 am…. right now I am taking it easy and resting a lot, doing quite a lot of inner process work, so apologies for not writing too much these days.  Once I regain some strength, I will continue blogging in a better rhythm, I hope.

In the meantime, I found a truly magical and beautiful song on Youtube and want to share it with all of you, my friends in the blogosphere.  The song is called Aloha ke akua, which means “God is Love.”  It is written and sung by Nahko Bear and Medicine for the People. Please take the time to relax and watch this video, it is very relevant for our current times on Earth.  in the spirit of Aloha,  Leigh


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Peace through music

“Everyone deserves music.” Michael Franti

It is said that music is the universal language. It is a language that cuts through all social and cultural barriers, and hits us straight in the heart and soul. Some also say that humans have our origins in the music of the spheres, that we are literally ‘frozen music.’ The first time I heard that phrase it captured my imagination utterly. Frozen music?! How lyrical, how beautiful, how mysterious!

Music has many meanings and messages for humanity. It can be made on many levels, from the most basic level of rhythm and simplest melody, to the most complex and intricate weavings and layerings of a symphony orchestra. We all have our favorite songs and melodies, our tastes change and grow over the course of living, and yet, I believe that inside us all there is a place that music touches our deepest feelings, brings us alive, gives us a particular kind of joy that cannot be had anywhere else. Music is one of the greatest gifts we have been given by our creators, which we then give to each other in turn.

These days I have taken to listening to music often through Youtube. I love Youtube because not only can I find nearly any song or piece of music I would like to hear in the moment, but also, and perhaps more importantly, because of the opportunity it gives to almost any musician to upload their music and share it with the world. It is an unprecedented opportunity for young musicians of all backgrounds and cultures (nearly) to play music and be heard by people across the globe. How amazing is that!!

Recently I discovered a wonderful group of musicians and supporters, called Playing for Change. This group of people goes around the world, finding and recording musicians who come together to play a particular song together, through the use of virtual technology. The results are brilliant. A street musician in Los Angeles might start the song, and then others join in, playing perhaps in Rio de Janeiro, Jamaica, France, The Netherlands, Israel, various countries in Africa, the list goes on. The music is simply wonderful, filled with spirit and heart and hope. They often record well-known songs, carefully chosen to be uplifting and joyful, spiritual and soulful. The introduction on Playing for Change’s website tells their story:

“Playing for Change is a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music. The idea for this project arose from a common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. No matter whether people come from different geographic, political, economic, spiritual or ideological backgrounds, music has the universal power to transcend and unite us as one human race. And with this truth firmly fixed in our minds, we set out to share it with the world.

One thing that never changed throughout the process was our commitment to create an environment for the musicians in which they could create freely and that placed no barriers between them and those who would eventually experience their music. By leading with that energy and intent everywhere we traveled, we were freely given access to musicians and locations that are usually inaccessible. In this respect, the inspiration that originally set us on this path became a co-creator of the project along with us!

Over the course of this project, we decided it was not enough for our crew just to record and share this music with the world; we wanted to create a way to give back to the musicians and their communities that had shared so much with us. And so in 2007 we created the Playing for Change Foundation, a separate nonprofit corporation whose mission is to do just that. In early 2008, we established Timeless Media, a for-profit entity that funds and extends the work of Playing for Change. Later that year, Timeless Media entered into a joint venture with the Concord Music Group. Our goal is to bring PFC’s music, videos and message to the widest possible audience.
Now, musicians from all over the world are brought together to perform benefit concerts that build music and art schools in communities that are in need of inspiration and hope. In addition to benefit concerts, the Playing for Change band also performs shows around the world. When audiences see and hear musicians who have traveled thousands of miles from their homes, united in purpose and chorus on one stage, everyone is touched by music’s unifying power.
And now, everyone can participate in this transformative experience by joining the Playing for Change Movement. People are hosting screenings, musicians are holding benefit concerts of every size, fans are spreading the message of Playing for Change through our media, and this is only the beginning. Together, we will connect the world through music!” http://www.playingforchange.com/journey/introduction

If you go to Youtube and type in Playing for Change, you will find many of their wonderful songs. Last night I spent a couple of hours listening to their playlist of nearly 50 songs, by musicians around the world. Some of the most touching songs were covers of Higher Ground, by Stevie Wonder, One Love by Bob Marley, an outstanding version of Over the Rainbow & What a Wonderful World combined, Imagine by John Lennon, and a super-great cover of I’d Rather Go Blind by Etta James. I heard songs by wonderful African musicians, Columbian musicians, Jamaican musicians, and a very soulful and mystical song by a large group of musicians from all over Anatolia, singing and playing an old folk song for the Black Sea region and it’s nature.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/WCoL87qingU” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

Listening to all of these songs and watching so many beautiful musicians singing and playing from their heart and soul, filled me with a kind of awe and the realization that music may be the most powerful force for change that exists in our world today. In the face of every conceivable degradation and destruction of our earth and her people, when the odds seem so against Life itself, as the forces of evil and death seem nearly unbeatable, hearing all of this extraordinary music, played simultaneously by people around the world who are united in the cause of Peace, Love and Humanity’s worth, was a revelation to me. A quote from their video of Imagine, by John Lennon, says, “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality.”

Dear Readers, if you love humanity and music and peace, please go to Youtube and watch Playing for Change’s videos. Go to their website and read more about their organization and see their videos there as well. Find out all of the wonderful things that bringing people together for a united dream of peace is doing in our world. And then, if you are inspired, find a friend or a dozen, and make music together! Music for love, for change, for a peaceful future world. We are united in our hearts and souls and spirits, those of us who want it. We only need to reach out and realize that, no matter what it seems from outer appearances, we are One People, and we have tremendous power in that.
http://www.playingforchange.com/


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Life gives you what you need

“God doesn’t give you the people you want, He gives you the people you NEED, to help you , to hurt you , to leave you, to love you and to make you into the person you were meant to be…”– anonymous

Hello again, Dear Readers. This morning the sun is shining and the sky is blue overhead. There can be no denying that Spring has finally come to Denmark. Thank goodness.

Many thoughts are spinning around in my head today. I wish to try to write something cohesive but please bear with me if it comes out a bit of a mess. Guess my soul is in a process right now (is there ever a time when it isn’t?) If I had a life motto, it would be, Work in Progress.

Last night my husband and I watched a movie by the filmmaker Robert Altman, called Short Cuts. It was made twenty years ago. The story takes place around Los Angeles and Bakersfield, and is filled with many characters who are neurotic, dysfunctional, angry, lustful, bored, frustrated, and just trying to get by in this crazy life. There are stories within the larger story, and they are woven loosely together through their relationships to one another. There is much irony in this film, just as there is in life. It was a long story, three hours running. Within this time, we witness people living in the middle of modern life’s sicknesses and excesses, trying to cope with themselves and each other. All the large themes are present: love, jealousy, avarice, lust, deceit, vengeance, desperation, despair, death. People living lives of not so quiet desperation. We watch, helplessly, as the characters hurt one another, lying to each other and themselves, without much compassion. Few of them are innocent, and the one character who is blameless (the good wife and mother, played by Andie Macdowell) is rewarded by having her just-turning eight year old son get hit by a car, go into a coma, and die during the course of a couple of days. This film takes no prisoners, there is no redemption for these people; only the continuation (for most of them) of this endless, sometimes utterly senseless and absurd theatre we know as Life.

The film did what all good stories ought to do; it showed us ourselves in the rough, without gloss or soft lighting. Whatever else you can say about life in a human body, you can also say that, shortly put, we’ve got issues. We’ve ALL got them, there is no one walking the planet today who is immune. We are in turns small, scared, angry, frustrated, guilty, guilt-ridden, loving, sweet, selfish and selfless. We toil, endure endless drudgery and suffering of many fools, not the least of which is our own self. We suffer, and suffer some more. We make decisions out of need, desperation, and desire for relief. What helps, what heals?

Facing the trouble, whatever it is, is a help. Naming it, speaking it out loud, seeing that we are not, are never alone in it. No matter what the trouble is, no matter how ashamed or filled with pain and remorse we may be, we must remember that we are not alone, not the only one with that heartache. On the contrary, there are many others with that same wound, carrying that same pain as us. Rilke once wrote that ‘perhaps all the dragons of our lives are simply princesses who are waiting for us to see them for who they truly are.’ My interpretation of his words is that even the most dark and terrible secret that a person can hold is something to help us learn how to love, how to become more human. The holes in the heart of one can and are healed by sharing them with another. It is painful to share these, yes. It takes time, maybe many years, for the healing to happen. But it CAN happen, it does happen, the miraculous thing is that by sharing one’s wound with others, instead of hiding it away, the wound can be cleansed, dressed, cared for, attended to, healing balm applied, sunshine and fresh air given it until it becomes smaller and smaller, and finally is gone.

We all want healing. We all have wounds and broken places. We are all of us singing over the lost bones of our lives, singing them alive again, calling them back into being. Yes we have lost our way and forgotten totally who we actually are and where we come from. Anyone looking around at the current state of the world will readily agree with that. The question is, are we lost forever? Will we continue sleepwalking through our lives, unwilling to feel or see that others’ pain is equal or perhaps greater than our own? Will we succumb to our own feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, letting the weight of life’s cares crush our spirits and smash any small sprouts of hope?

sometimes all you can do is laugh....

sometimes all you can do is laugh….

There is no one solution to this problem of living, but there are wise ones who have found some tools to help. I have a slip of paper (one of many) at my desk that states, “Practice looking at each situation in your life and forgiving everyone and everything throughout this lifetime, and most especially, yourself.” This is ongoing, daily practice. And it makes good sense, because if I cannot forgive myself for the messes I have made and the hurts I have given to others, then how can they ever forgive me? We are our own judge and jury in this life, ultimately. As in the Robert Altman film, each of us is walking about trying to keep our heads above the swirling waters of insanity which are all around us. How can we cope, unless we begin with self-forgiveness? And after that, forgiveness of everyone else, as difficult as that may seem, is really essential. We cannot possibly change this world into something kinder, more loving and peaceful, as long as each of us still carries hatred, greed and revenge around in our souls. In the movie, there is a woman blues singer who sings at a jazz club every evening. One of the songs she sings talks about being a ‘prisoner of life.’ You could say that this idea is the main underlying theme of this film. It is so easy to feel this way! I have, a thousand times over, and have felt quite justified in doing so. And yet. I am realizing more and more, that if I am life’s prisoner it is because I myself have been my own jailer. Realizing this makes finding the key to unlock the door much easier.

In the end, it is true that Life gives you what you need to grow and become a better, not a worse, human being. In the kitchen last night, after the intense experience of watching the three-hour long film, my husband and I spoke together. He mused, “I actually suffer much more than you do, however I carry my suffering with a lot of dignity.” I gazed at him a moment, and then replied, “Yes, you certainly do. You really have a lot of dignity, and it is one of your most beautiful qualities.” He was pleased to hear my words, and I meant them sincerely. Carrying one’s suffering with dignity is extremely important. So is the ability to laugh at the craziness of this life.

 


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Spilled out on paper, carved through the fingernails (and a history lesson)

A very dear friend of mine wrote a comment of encouragement to me after my last blog post. In it he wrote, ‘may you discover the raw meat, the deepest bloodline of your soul, spilled out on paper, carved through your fingernails, the bone flint in clay and mud with all that is, made whole.” (http://mokalightpoetry.wordpress.com) I wish to thank him for his wonderfully gritty and evocative poetic verse, and for the reminder that no matter how low and uninspired I may become, it is through artistic works that I can rise again, and carry on.

How easy it is to forget this! To forget that there are other precious humans in the world who are also struggling with life’s burdens, with burn-out, exhaustion, dismay, disappointment, disillusionment. That not everyone is blissed out 24-7, including those who claim they are. That now, like in times of old, humans everywhere are overwhelmed, overworked, overburdened, underpaid, underestimated, under others’ thumbs. We may well have entered the fifth dimension and begun a new world in the past little while, but as a whole we are still utterly mired in third dimensional muck, and it is a long road toward salvation, methinks.

Just to put a broader perspective on human cultural life on planet Earth, I would like to share with you some excerpts from the wonderful and enlightening book The Renaissance in Europe, by Margaret King. First, she introduces the reader to various conceptions of what the Renaissance actually was, and then goes on to explain her own concept of it:

“The Renaissance emerges because of the very special circumstances present in Italy from the twelfth century. Those circumstances encouraged a large number of artists and thinkers to integrate into the medieval culture they inherited, grounded in Christian values (themselves rooted in ancient Judaism), the values of classical antiquity. This was the second and final moment in the history of the West when the Judeo-Christian and classical traditions would coalesce. The first was in late antiquity, as Christianity spread and became integrated with classical civilization before the collapse of the western zone of the Roman empire.

This second and definitive reintegration of two ancient cultural traditions permitted European civilization to develop into its modern form. That civilization remained dominant until, in the 20th century, it was challenged by modernism, and then post-modernism, which called for the repudiation of both its classical and Christian pasts. Before that denouement, it was the civilization of the Renaissance, extending and evolving through the Enlightenment and into the 19th century, with its ancient past unforgotten, which characterized Western civilization at its height– the civilization that yielded the liberal ideals of the democratic West.” (pp. Xiii, introduction)

King describes the decline of Rome from its height (around 200 c.e.) until its decline over the following centuries as follows:

“As successor to the empires of the ancient Mediterranean world, Rome was the hub of a great commercial network. Grains, oil and wine wer the most basic commodities and these, together with the ceramics that held them, passed through all the ancient centers. Rome herself was at the time a huge city of between one to two million inhabitants, and fed by the peasant farmers of Sicily, Egypt and the Black Sea. From the edges of the empire came slaves from Africa and Europe, metals from Britain and Spain, and from further east, exotic goods– gems, perfumes, spices and especially silks carried along central Asia’s Silk Road. From the ports to the inland towns and cities, goods and money circulated, spreading and creating wealth.

This commercial system began to suffer disruption during the 3rd century, especially from reforms that the emperor Diocletian (284-305 c.e.) instituted during his critically important reign. He raised taxes, attempting to derive the maximum possible profit from the agricultural sector, but the result was the resentment of a peasant population already pressed to the limit.

Certainly, the Roman economy in the Western Empire descended into chaos during the next two centuries, as the empire languished and failed. Invasion and war contributed to already serious difficulties, commerce stagnated and withered, and the standard of living plummeted with it. The material conditions of life sank to those of a much earlier, pre-imperial ear. Many people fled the cities. Coins, especially the valuable gold coins, fled the west for the east. In the west, people either used small denominations of silver coins or else bartered for goods and services. Italy, which had known a flourishing city life during the empire, deurbanized. Many of the cities withered and nearly ceased to be urban. Rome itself shrank from between one and two million occupants to about 90,000 during the 7th century, down to its low of 35,000 by the start of the 12th century. “ (pp. 18-19)

12centItaly

Italy’s Northern republics gained power by the twelfth century.

As Rome declined, Italy’s more northern lands became more prosperous, and by the 11th and 12th centuries had created “a new social stratum: a citizen elite, composed of wealthy merchants and urbanized nobles, bound together by bonds of mutual self-interest and marriage alliances. This new group launched a “communal revolution’ which transformed the political map of Italy and had huge implications for the later development of Europe. Nowhere else in Europe did this hybrid phenomenon emerge. The nobles were not great landowners but the vassals of vassals. Their profession was violence and their aspirations were as great as their status was low. They moved into the cities, and within a generation or two, they had built fortified urban palaces for themselves. They came to be known as the ‘magnates,’ or great men of the city.” (pp. 22-23)

“From the late 1000s until the 1130s, these magnates joined together as a sworn brotherhood to seize power and jointly rule what they now called their ‘communes.’ These communes were governed as a kind of republic, with an elected council, assemblies of the people, councils and committees, secretaries, minor bureaucrats, notaries and servants. Power was decentralized, no longer in the hands of an emperor or Pope. The communal revolution attempted to replace the rule of bishops and their imperial overlords by self-rule by self-appointed leading citizens. Within a century of the first stirrings of dissident communes, there emerged another social group which launched a second, even more radical revolution. The merchants and artisans who had become enriched by the communal system wanted to have a voice in the political system as well. They called themselves the “Popolo” meaning The People. It suggests a humbler social group, the ordinary people, as opposed to a group of the rich and powerful. This group, the Popolo, was the first truly revolutionary class in modern history.” (pp. 24-25)

Of course we are only up to the earliest chapters in the story of the Renaissance by now. But I present it to you today, dear Readers, as background for what happens next: over the course of the next few centuries, these communes in northern Italy (and eventually Rome, of course) will flourish in all the arts and humanities, experiencing a rebirth of culture never experienced before or after. This rebirth and  consequently creation of the greatest works of architecture, art and writing, music, leading thoughts and discoveries of science, and philosophies concerning being a human being, all happened in a highly concentrated style during the next three centuries, giving rise to the modern western world as we know it today.

For those of you who already know all of this, (and most likely got A’s in European history class in high school) excuse my extremely concise snapshot of this era. Why is it important to know about and understand how the Renaissance came about, and even more, what the Renaissance actually was?

This is a complicated question, without a satisfying answer that says it all. In my opinion, knowing about and understanding where our common ancestors came from, what life was like during those times, and how humans developed their capacity for creativity, artistic vision, genius, and the value of being human itself (known as humanism) is invaluable for those of us who wish to understand these qualities in ourselves in our times. “Know thyself” is one of the basic requisites for developing as a human being, and one cannot truly know oneself if one is unaware of one’s history.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” –Leonardo da Vinci
“The true work of art is but a shadow of the Divine perfection.” –Michelangelo
“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” –Galileo Galilei

Not only that, but when we study the works of the artists who created the masterpieces of Renaissance Italy during the 14th through 16th centuries, it is impossible not to be astounded. How did he do it, I asked myself as I stared at the paintings on the walls of the Uffizi gallery in Florence. Their faces, their expressions, their hands, the gold paint employed to create an unmistakable magic on the surface of Lippi’s paintings, down to the minutest detail, the ornate carvings in marble, in wood… the imagination of these human beings was utterly astounding. What would it take to have another renaissance of humanity of the sort that would allow that degree of genius to flourish once again on Earth, I wonder. I know I would really love to live in that world, as opposed to the one currently available. Perhaps, as my friend wrote, it could happen through digging to find the profoundly deepest blood of ones’ soul, carved through the fingernails, and through using the finest,sharpest instruments at one’s disposal and bleeding more than one ever thought they possibly could.

[footnote: all excerpts taken from The Renaissance in Europe, Margaret L. King, Laurence King Publishing 2003]

Related articles:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_Renaissance


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Being here is so much

Rilke said, ‘Being here is so much.’ It is uncanny how social reality can deaden and numb us so that the mystical wonder of our lives goes totally unnoticed. We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free. The more lonely side of being here is our separation in the world. Many of our attempts to pray, to love, and to create are secret attempts at transfiguring that separation in order to build bridges outward so that others can reach us and we can reach them–John O’Donohue from http://makebelieveboutique.com/2013/04/09/5618/

Since being back in Denmark again after the transformative days in Tuscany, I have felt particularly restless and uninspired. I suppose I am experiencing what John O’Donohue calls “the more lonely side of being here, our separation in the world.” None of my attempts to create any kind of belonging to the world seem to work these days. Even the blogging has gone stale in my mind and heart of late, I admit. I haven’t a name for this feeling: entropy, ennui, stagnation, boredom, frustration all come to mind but no one word or phrase really sums it up.

Tonight I took some time to wade through the never-ending list of blog posts in my WordPress reader, in hopes of finding something interesting to inspire me. It was a disappointingly uninspiring blogroll, dear Readers. Most posts seem to fall into a few basic categories; either meant to be uplifting, ‘look how great and wonderful you are now becoming, dear Human being!” or the ones reporting about the ongoing fall of the evil empire which is responsible for the terrible mess that we are collectively now in, or else they might be reporting upon a particular event, problem, or drama of one sort or another. I am looking for meat, and only coming up with boiled potatoes. Perhaps some of you are feeling similarly?

Being in Italy and experiencing the glorious art, architecture and culture of that land for myself has inspired me in way: now I am reading up on the Renaissance and learning again about the time period from the fall of Rome at the end of the fifth century C.E., through the sixteenth century, when the Renaissance hit its peak. There is a lot to learn and I am not the world’s most methodical scholar. Still, it is fascinating reading! I have found a wonderful book called The Renaissance in Europe, by Margaret King, a professor of Renaissance history, in which she does an amazing job of giving a concise sequence of events and highlights some of the most important figures of each century leading up to and through this hugely important and eventful time in western civilization.

What strikes me as I read King’s book is just how similar (in some basic ways) life today is reflected in the centuries leading up to the Renaissance. Our world might seem smaller and more connected now, but the same power struggles, use of domination by force, political intrigues and moral questioning of the leaders of state remain today just as they did a thousand years before. We humans have copious amounts of hubris and ego enough to believe that we are somehow oh-so-modern and new, that we don’t need to remember or learn about our collective past, that for whatever reasons, our history is simply no longer relevant. The more I learn about it, the more blatantly obvious it becomes that this kind of thinking is largely responsible for getting us into the mess we are currently in.

English: Self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. R...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most brilliant humans to ever walk the face of the planet, once wrote, “Blinding ignorance does mislead us. Oh wretched mortals, open your eyes!” The times we are living in are times of blinding ignorance. Everywhere one looks there is vast evidence of this. One small example that shocked me recently was when I sat with the Danish kids for a lesson just after returning from Tuscany. I was telling them about the wonderous artworks I experienced in the Uffizi Gallery and how I saw a marvellous painting by Michelangelo. One girl had a strange expression on her face and asked, Michelangelo, wasn’t that a character from the mutant teenage ninja turtles? And that’s not the worst of it.

We in the western world are clearly becoming dumber and dumber. There are more ways than ever to keep people stupid and ignorant, not the least of which has to do with technology. A two-edged sword, computers in their various guises can be wonderful tools to access knowledge and learn entire libraries worth of history right in your very own living room, or can be used to zone out, obliterate the former pastime of reading books for pleasure and knowledge, and effectively put a mental strait jacket on humans (particularly the young) to the exclusion of nearly everything else. What is to be done, dear Readers?

The beginning of this blog tonight began with these words from Rainer Maria Rilke: Being here is so much. Well I will clarify that large understatement to say, Being here CAN be so much if only we recognize its enormity, if we are awake to the wonders of being alive on this planet at this juncture in time and space. If we were truly awake, we could begin yet another renaissance, as the energies are actually ripe for a rebirth and reawakening of the triumph of the human spirit. Perhaps some of you would even argue that humanity is undergoing a kind of new renaissance of the spirit. I would say it seems more like a phoenix rising time, although at the moment the fires are definitely burning, Rome is in the middle of falling, and things will most likely become much more chaotic before the phoenix can rise again.

 


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Grazie, Lucca

“What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago.”Erica Jong

“For us to go to Italy and to penetrate into Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery; back, back down the old ways of time. Strange and wonderful chords awake in us, and vibrate again after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness.”D.H. Lawrence

House-Madonna

For eight days and nights at the end of March and into the Easter weekend, I was transported to another world; one filled with beauty, ancient culture, fresh, delicious food, people who spoke a musical, flowing language and were unafraid to show their emotions openly, and the most incredible works of art and architecture I have ever seen. A week in Lucca, Italy.

Here is how one webpage describes Lucca:
Located around an hour away from Florence by train, and half an hour from Pisa, Lucca is a small but significant jewel in the Tuscan crown. Lucca is nestled in among a chain of large, majestic hills (which visitors from flatter locales may call full-on mountains) and is mostly contained within the old medieval city walls.

Lucca was first settled by Tuscan people, including the Etruscans, then occupied by the Romans. The traces of the Roman amphitheater can still be seen in the centre of town, now a picturesque circle of houses around the ‘Piazza del Amfiteatro’. The city then followed the path of many Italian cities and was thrown back and forth between various monarchs and aristocrats, and by the 17th century was the largest city-state after Venice and controlled over 70 ‘districts’ in the region. This ended in the 19th century when it was handed over to Napoleon’s sister.

Lucca-from-tower

The main street is lined with modern fashion shops, but once you turn off into some of the smaller shadowed streets, silence sets in. The centre of the city is very like the small streets of Siena, Florence or Pisa. It is the city wall that sets Lucca apart. At the base of the city walls are pastures of grass. Around the top of the wall is a tree-lined bicycle path where people walk with their children, and elderly men circle around the 4+ kilometer perimeter. The views offered around the city wall are astonishing…the mountains loom up on every side of the city, making you feel like Lucca is a little bubble in the Tuscan countryside, a town set apart from the rest of the world somehow.

A town set apart from the rest of the world, indeed. There is no doubt that Lucca is a unique and lovely place to stay for a holiday. But for me, it was much more than that, it was a Life Experience of the most personal and transformational kind, and therefore not easy to sum up into a short blog post. Still I will try to give you a little snapshot of this special week of my life, dear Readers.

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” –Anna Akhmatova

IMG_0298It just felt so oddly familiar, though I had never been there before in this lifetime. The people’s faces, their mannerisms, the way they seemed to recognize me. They noticed me as I walked through the streets, I wasn’t invisible there the way that I am in Denmark. Though I stupidly went there without having learned even basic Italian, and most of them did not speak English, they were very forgiving, some were quite friendly even. I learned to say buon giorno (good morning), buonasera (good evening), è molto bene (very good), allora (well then), prego (used in many ways, mostly like please, go ahead, your turn, etc.) and of course, ciao. The Lucchese people are people of the heart. They are eccentric, elegant, love their families, care about quality. They care for their city and keep it well. There was not trash on the streets, nor dog piles. The streets are old and patterned with ancient bricks. The buildings, nearly all of them, are substantial and well-maintained. One can feel the solidity of place, the surety of time, the confidence of history everywhere one goes. There are many churchesdetail-archway and they all contain precious artworks from the Renaissance and before; many of them were first built during the 6th and 7th centuries, then built over during the middle ages and into the Renaissance. Beautiful colored marble abounds in intricate, beautiful patterns. Images of the Madonna and Child are everywhere, as well as images of Christ, especially upon the Cross. Angels are common.

What struck me deeply about my time in Lucca was how much the people there care about quality. When I stopped at a small shop that makes pizza, calzones and other lunch items, the owner took pains to explain to me in Italian how special his food was, how it had been carefully prepared and made with original recipes. Every item I purchased was carefully, sometimes lovingly, wrapped and put into pretty bags with ribbons and specially printed seals on the wrapping. The people in Tuscany care about the things they make, sell and give out to the world in a way that has become very rare in today’s modern world. They understand very well that they live in a place with a long tradition of what is truly fine, beautiful, uniquely made by human hands, and they emulate these old traditions, passing them on to their families. They have lived in this traditional way for centuries and what a pleasure and delight it was to experience this way of life firsthand, even if only for a short week!

fresco-Lucca“You should go to Italy, Mom, you’d like it there.” – Mellissa Morgan

After the week in Lucca, we went onto Florence for a disappointingly brief night and day to take in the atmosphere and an incredible time at the Uffizi Gallery, which I will write about in a forthcoming post. When we finally got to the airport in the evening to take our flight back to Denmark, I felt truly disappointed to leave, and felt the need to call out “arrivederci!” to the nearest Florentine before getting on the plane. It was a balmy, sunny evening, the sky a soft shade of blue, the land totally green, the mountains blue-violet as the plane made its way up and out of Tuscany. It was my first trip to that lovely, gentle land, and I pray it won’t be my last.


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A Shining, Glorious Moment

Well they did it. Damn if they didn’t! I admit, I had my doubts. But when their moment came, they were right there, shimmering, resplendent, hilarious, absurd, and utterly, naively, gracefully, gleefully, lovingly, Real. Seventeen Danish kids rose to the occasion to perform their own perfectly imperfect version of Alice in Wonderland, and it was simply brilliant.

A good friend of mine in the States likes the metaphor of seeding, growing, tending and harvesting to describe how life cycles work. Borrowing from her, I can say that this season took basically everything I had to plant, tend, and weed, along with doing what I could to wheedle, cajole, beg, bribe, and get down on my knees and pray for it to work. My degree of frustration, not especially with the kids themselves but with the supposed adults around them, was at times extreme. But. As usual with projects involving a group of people, there were a couple of humans without whom it would not have been possible to create the mini-masterpiece of fun and frolic that we accomplished this week.

There are times in life when all the messiness, chaos, disappointment, and daily sweat of working in the world somehow, magically, gives way, blends together, simmers long and slowly enough, to produce the most beautiful rainbow parade. The two evenings of ‘Alice I Eventyrland’ was one such great moment. All seventeen of them, from the shyest and least actor-like, to the loudest, brashest, and silliest, found that in themselves which produces greatness. Both of the performances were a great success, with the audience of parents, siblings, grandparents, friends and others, giving them extra rounds of applause, (and, with a little help from yours truly) some very fine cat cawls, yowls, loud whistles and the like. The kids drank it all in, basking in the lights, the sounds, the utter appreciation, finally, for what they had accomplished. And not a moment too soon.

As for me, the teacher with whom I had undertaken this enormous project, (and who, very often, left me alone to deal with it all) also found the place of gratitude and grace within himself and did indeed thank me publicly at both the beginning and end of the performance. Flowers had been purchased and were given to each actor and to him, and finally to me. I grinned through it all, simply happy to be witness to the children’s growth and flowering brilliance in carrying off this adventure. I had held the flame of faith for them throughout the past two and a half months, and they all came through, even more magnificently than had I dared to hope.

Now that the play is over, so is my temporary position as the co-teacher of these two classes. After this spring, everything will change for these kids, as many of them will leave Freja Skolen and begin at other schools in the area, make new friends, have new teachers, and continue to grow up. It occurs to me now that this unusual year has in some ways been a great gift and blessing to them. Even though they did not learn so much in the world of academics, they have had a kind of freedom within their middle childhood which is rare in the western world. They have been left to their own devices many days, which they took as opportunities to play, to laugh, to dream together. At this moment they are bonded deeply, and the love which they have shared will undoubtedly nourish them for years to come. Though I have a twinge of sadness because I will no longer see them every day, I too have gained something of great value by knowing these Danish kids. The show went on, and now it is done. There will be more shows, more art, more creations to unfold for me in Denmark. I will take their smiles and laughter and love with me to the next place I journey, with lots of gratitude for all the lessons given and received.