She calls herself a “musical consort to time.” She once wrote: “I endeavor, through music, to delve into all time spaces to tap resources of knowledge and power as ancient as the Universe and as young as unborn worlds.”
After listening to her music, I’m convinced this is true.
I’ve never been a huge fan of ambient or electronic music, but I discovered Strom’s on Sunday while drinking my morning coffee in bed, as I always do, and skimming through the day’s headlines on my cell phone. I came across an article about her in the Washington Post. Her first new music album in 30 years, “Angel Tears in Sunlight,” has just been released to much acclaim. It is also her last album, as she died recently in San Francisco.
She was born blind 74 years ago and became a pioneer in electronic music. Her her first album, “Trans-Millenia Consort,” which I’ve included below, was released in 1982. But alas, she was blind, she was a woman, she was fiercely independent, and she was playing in a man’s field of music.
After the release of her first album, she released her work independently out of pure passion. While not widely recognized, she had a fan base that kept her music alive underground. Appreciation for her music was reignited when a compilation of pieces from her previously self-released albums came out in a new album called “Trans Millenia Music” in 2017, garnering much praise and a new enthusiastic audience.
One of the things I enjoyed most about listening to her music that morning on my phone was being able to feel the sound-vibrations in my finger tips. It added a whole new physical dimension to the experience. Interestingly, while listening to it, my fitness tracker registered it as a “deep sleep” experience. Perhaps because of how finely tuned-in I was to the sound waves flowing through me, as if I was travelling with her through time in my own inner-space. A fine consort she is.
For those seeking solace in solitude during these turbulent times and covid isolation, I offer these minimalist paintings for comfort and contemplation.
“My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind.” -Agnes Martin
To truly see and appreciate Martin’s paintings, which are quite large, you might want to click on the images and zoom in to discover how intricately they are designed and woven, how subtle the entwining colors, like the woof and warp of carefully crafted fabric. To see how the order and calmness of the design pulls you in and stills the mind.
When I try to imagine the crafting of such paintings, the meticulous grids, the fine, faintly undulating hand-drawn lines, the cool, retiring colors, the tedious and calming task of such minute work on such a grand scale, I am awed with wonder and delight. What it must have felt like in the moment, the mindstate one would have to have to create such a thing! The be that. To be there. To be. How marvelous.
It reminds me of the huge difference between mind-calming and mind-numbing activities. Huge difference between no-thought meditation and blankness of mind. Subtle rivers of movement and color run through it, stir and dissolve, full and empty, bouyant, light, deeply comforting. An all-embracing, silently singing, hug.
The noted art critic Hilton Kramer once said Martin’s work was “like a religious utterance, almost a form of prayer.”
A few more paintings follow, as well as quotes from articles about Martin, her life, her works, and her philosophy.
“Agnes Martin’s world is one of order and tranquility, as minutely patterned grids and ruler straight bands expand across vast surfaces suggesting wide open space. Yet there is also sensitive musicality at play as lines tremble and colour relationships become vibrating rhythm, tapping into the profound realms of human spirituality.” —Rosie Lesso, Agnes Martin: Mystic Minimalist
“According to Agnes Martin, both paintings and contact with nature can prompt a greater awareness of what she calls perfection. Her essential view of the world is of daily life superimposed on top of an underlying perfection. Both paintings and nature, she believes, provide opportunities for a glimpse into another way of being in the world. The work of art links the daily to the sublime; or, in Martin’s terms, by engaging and moving the viewer, art can reveal the basic perfection. According to Martin, perfection is almost like a map, if we pay attention. Once we have received a glimpse of perfection, she believes, we can seek it on our own, and the reaction to perfection is joy.” –Joanna Webber, The Image Journal
“Nature is like parting a curtain, you go into it. I want to draw a certain response like this … that quality of response from people when they leave themselves behind, often experienced in nature, an experience of simple joy… My paintings are about merging, about formlessness … A world without objects, without interruption.” –Agnes Martin
“Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not just in the eye. It is in the mind. It is our positive response to life.” –Agnes Martin
“[Martin’ adopted a palette of muted shades of brown, beige, gray and white, sometimes warmed by soft washes of pink, orange or blue. The colors and titles, such as “Mountains,” “Dark River,” “Starlight” and “Leaf in the Wind,” suggested the landscape and skies of her adopted New Mexico. They were not realistic depictions but rather subtle evocations of the sensations and emotional weight of the natural world.” —Matt Shudal, Influential Abstract Painter Agnes Martin Dies at 92, Washington Post
“Artwork is a representation of our devotion to life.” –Agnes Martin
Women Dancing in a Circle Warren B. Davis (American, 1865–1928)
Long ago my daughter gifted me with a CD of sacred music from around the world. It became a favorite to play during my morning meditation and exercise routine. I’m not sure you can get the CD anymore, but I was able to find a few of my favorite songs on You-Tube.
If you listen to these, you will notice how the music often starts slow, which is perfect for meditating, stretching or Yoga. But then the rhythm picks up and it’s almost impossible not to want to jump up and move, to dance or jog along with the beat.
The first song, Shema Yisearel (“Hear, O Israel”), is a sacred Jewish prayer sung in the morning and evening. Rita Glassman is an ordained Cantor and composer.
This next one is a mantra sung to the African Goddess Oshun of rivers and waterfalls, the “unseen mother present at every gathering.” Deva Premal is celebrated for her spiritual and meditative music.
This last is a Hindu mantra, or universal prayer, which roughly translates, “You Divine Mother are my everything.” The song ends with the “Om Shanti, Om Shanti, Om Shanti” chant, an invocation for peace. Gina Sala is also well-known for singing sacred chants.
I wrote this years ago, a kind of declaration for a state of being with which I passionately identified, although it seemed so beyond what I or anyone could reach at the time:
Epitaph for a Tombstone
I am compressed within my skin like a time bomb.
There is more to me than time allows to be.
When the end comes I’ll explode like an atom.
It is my end to explore infinity.
It seemed at the time I wrote it that there was so much I wanted to do and explore, and yet I wasted so much time on trivial things, that I feared my end would come before actualizing even a fraction of my potential. I could not accept that such would be the end of me. Surely this keenly felt unlived life would burst through the shell of being into something infinitely elastic, and all that I was or was meant to be would be realized eventually.
Now that my end of days have grown so much nearer, that sense of there being more to me than time allows to be has not diminished. But I think of it somewhat differently. That escape into an ever-expansive sense of self no longer seems to lie upon a birth-death or time-space axis but within the here and now which defies such limitations.
That smallness of being which so ill-fits us, which pinches and punishes, which we all in this present life seem heir to, does not define us and has little in reality to do with us. It’s but an ill-shaped mind-box that seems to contain us but never really can.
It’s as if this limited life which seems to bind us is like a box with four sides. Before and behind us are Birth and Death, and on either side are I and Other. Below is the Ground of Being which supports us. But there is no lid above. It is open to the Wonder or Mystery of Being, enticing us to rise beyond the strictures of time and space, birth and death, I and Other. Inviting us to explore what lies beyond this small sense of self; and so we do, each following our bliss. Through exploration of the sciences or creative arts, or by pursuing the ideals of freedom, equality, justice, service, selfless love, and the common good, we rise somewhat out of our smaller selves into something more expansive.
But until those opposing walls of birth and death, time and space, and I or Other collapse, we are still confined within a smaller, ill-fitting sense of being. We can slip in and out of that box, but cannot escape it altogether. Death is not the door that frees us. Mind is.
Rising to a higher, more expansive sense of self that identifies both with the Ground of Being that supports us, and the Wonder of Being that surrounds us, we find our freedom. There the restrictive walls that would bind us collapse for lack of identity.
All the great spiritual teachings point in that direction. Not toward something outside or apart from us, but toward a more expansive identity : the Kingdom of God, Enlightenment, the Tao. All lie within a higher consciousness or understanding of being.
We know this, it is not new. Nor is it far away. We all taste it, hear it, glimpse it in rarified moments even within this limited sense of self.
When one student asked the sage to show him this higher reality we sometimes call God, the master said, “There, do you not smell it?” as their feet crushed the sweet arbutrus beneath them.
Nothing is hidden. We all catch that whiff of the infinite in humble and exquisite ways along our journey within.
But perhaps this is all too esoteric. Here’s something more concrete.
The other day we all learned how President Trump had contracted Covid. Not a fan of Trump and angry at how he had been been downplaying the disease in a way that appeared to cost thousands of lives, I was not sympathetic. I thought this was his just dessert. I even felt a bit gleeful since he had been mocking Biden about wearing a mask only a few days previously. I hoped he would experience more than mild symptoms so that he would have more compassion for others who had suffered, and not come away saying it wasn’t so bad after all, nothing to worry about to his followers.
Yet thinking this way felt uncomfortable, like putting on shoes a size too small. They pinched. But I couldn’t quite lift my thought away from such feelings, thinking them justified.
The next morning during my spiritual practice my thought completely shifted as I once again began to identify with this higher sense of self, where I and Other melted away. I felt this deep empathy and sympathy toward the president. Not toward his plight contracting Covid. But rather toward the plight we all share when confined within this small, tight, pinched sense of identity. I thought of what he could be, and actually is, when those four walls of restriction fall away and he too experiences that more expansive sense of self where there is no I or Other.
I remembered what his niece, Mary Trump, had written about his upbringing, how he’d been shaped to be the boastful, selfish, egotistical man he seems to be, how his values and sense of self had been warped. Each of us have similar life experiences that shape and limit us, that we all need to outgrow. Perhaps this Covid experience will help him. Perhaps not. Either way it wasn’t my business.
My business was to lift my own sense of self beyond the thought-patterns that had so pinched the day before. To experience the deep sympathy that rises from the ground of being and unites us all. To once again savor that sweet wonder that lifts us beyond ourselves.
In the Time of Corona we all need a little mothering on Mother’s Day.
A huge influence on my understanding of what “mothering” is, or could be, is found in the Tao Te Ching (CHXXV):
There was something complete and nebulous
Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,
Unchanging, standing as One,
Able to be the Mother of the World.
This Mother of the World, of course, is Tao in this passage. And what I see as God, the divine Creator, the all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing. It’s what evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for all its “children,” all individual being.
A tall order for a mere human.
Yet something about that passage spoke to me as a woman and mother. It drew within me the desire to embrace my children in that spirit. And I found the mothering of my own two children improved immensely when I was able to step back and project in some way this more expansive sense of mothering that allows them to feel loved and supported without all the worries and anxieties and criticism and fear that accompany a mere human sense of mothering.
This mothering is not as personal, intense, or myopic, as the latter. It doesn’t hover, it doesn’t obsess, it doesn’t fret. It frees them “to be,” and is based on an immense sense of trust—in myself, in them, and in the universe at large. In God, or Tao, or some divine presence or higher power that embraces all of us, and gives each of us the capacity to mother each other.
This is not to say that I often meet this ideal. Far from it.
But I know I mother my own children best and make fewer mistakes when I’m able to embrace them in that larger, more expansive way. And it feels more natural, less constricted, to mother that way.
I find this kind of mothering works best when all-inclusive. When I embrace all around me with the same mothering spirit. Not just my children, but all children, all people, all things—my home, my community, my work—even the individual objects that fill the space around me and the space outside my window. When I’m able to actually feel and identify with that potential, to “be” the “Mother of the World.”
Mothering, I learned, is a capacity that anyone can embrace: man, woman, child. You don’t have to be a mother, or have children of your own, to mother the world. When you adopt that stance, all things become your children to nurture, cherish, support, love—to help bring to their full potential.
Here’s wishing you all a lovely day of “mothering.”
First printed in a slightly altered version on these pages in 2015. More “mothering” images below.
When I first encountered one of Sohan Qadri’s paintings, I was plunged like a pebble into a still pool, radiating ripples of bliss.
An overstatement? I don’t think so.
The effect was profound, even if the words I use to capture it fail.
“A synthesis of emptiness and peace, radiating power,” is what Qadri is trying to express in his art, he writes.
”Art can have the same effect as meditation,” he tells us, “but only if we drop our constantly interpretating mind and learn to simply see . . . . This can happen if you grasp the painting at a subliminal level, let it filter in through your pores.”
With me at least, he succeeded.
His work is made from thick soft paper deeply saturated in brilliant colors, punctuated by ragged tears and rips, wavering furrows and trails of tiny pinpricks, like scattered drops of light–or bread crumbs — leading toward the vast unconscious.
“When I start on a canvas,” he explains, “first I empty my mind of all images. They dissolve into a primordial space. Only emptiness should communicate with the emptiness of the canvas.”
“People are always interested in dreams. I am interested in the question: ‘Who is the dreamer?’” Qadri writes. “I would like to know: ‘Who is the artist behind the artist?’”
When I entered his painting, I felt the presence of the artist behind the artist.
I think I was drawn to his work because when I’m writing, in some way, I am always trying to do that as well, tap into the writer behind the writer.
At my best writing, I feel as if it’s not “me” writing, but something writing through me, beyond me.
As writers and artists, I think we are seeking to move beyond ourselves, dip our pens and brushes into the deep storehouse of the unconscious, the rich field of the imagination, where colors and forms and images and emotions flow.
We tap into it and let it flow out through us, filtered by our experiences and sensibilities, onto paper or canvas.
Readers and art lovers are also seeking to move beyond themselves, to be swept away into other worlds–magical realms or gripping tales created by words, or rich fields of form and color beyond conceptual thought.
The best writing, the best art, for me is when we feel the presence of the creator behind the creator, and recognize, if only for a moment, the face of our larger selves.
This post was first published in a slightly different format in June 2013.
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not from you.
I first read these words from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet when still in high school, a child myself, although I did not see myself that way. His words moved me then, even as they do now, so many years later, when I am raising a granddaughter.
Then I truly was “life” in its earliest stages “longing” for the life that was to be, that stretched out before me in what seemed an endless and exciting unknown potentiality.
I didn’t want to be hemmed in by the hopes and expectations of my parents, nor by their fears and warnings. I didn’t want to “learn from their mistakes,” as they cautioned me. I wanted to live my life as an adventure, learning from my own mistakes, not theirs. My life was my own and no one else’s. I wanted to risk all, moving at my own direction, and good or bad, I alone would take responsibility for the life I chose. Such were my longings then.
So I found Gibran’s parenting advice immensely inspiring, both for myself as I was moving beyond my parents into adulthood, and also for the kind of parent I wanted to be to my own children.
He goes on to say:
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Now, as the mother of a grown son and the guardian of his child, The Prophet’s words still move me . . . and admonish me.
How I wish now my son had heeded my warnings, and that they had been louder and clearer. How I wish he had chosen paths more safe and sane, had lived up to all the potential I saw in him then and see still.
But those are my fears, my regrets, not his. I must loose him and let him go, and see the direction in which he flew as his own choice. It was never mine to make or change or regret. I had longed when young to make and learn from my own mistakes, and so must he. But that learning is his alone to make or forsake in his own good time.
As for his child, my little granddaughter, she too is an arrow who will fly beyond my bending, beyond my ability to see or guide her life’s flight. Will my warnings to her be louder and clearer? No doubt. Will she heed them, or long to learn from her own mistakes, as I had, as her father must? We shall see.
She, as her father, is in the Archer’s hand. And I must trust, trust, trust that each will reach that mark upon the path of the infinite toward which the Archer aims with gladness. They are, after all, Life’s sweet longing for itself.
“When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” ~ Wendell Berry
I have not lain down where the wood drake rests, but I am coming to find a kind of grace in letting loose, more than letting go, in pressing steadily forward without attachment to the outcome, in a kind of letting be, come what may.
My granddaughter came to live with me at the beginning of summer and she is with me still, having started first grade at a nearby school in which I enrolled her. I am petitioning to become her legal guardian. This comes with the blessing of my son, but not the child’s mother, who will fight this. Both are struggling with addiction, both victims of this opioid crisis.
I grieve for my son and my heart breaks for the mother, even as I fear for my granddaughter. Sometimes it seems overwhelming.
Then I take a deep breath and do what must be done, regardless the outcome.
I move toward “the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief.”
I rest in “the presence of still water,” and feel “the day-blind stars waiting with their light.”
I cannot say I “am free.”
But I do feel the grace of the world, and love of God, surrounding me and mine. I lean on that, and it comforts me.
While neither of these poems have anything in particular to do with remembering those who have given their lives to defend our freedoms, they are reminders that death is not an ending but another beginning. So my heartfelt prayer for them is that they fell into the arms of that great Mothering and are being nurtured and renewed there.
Farewell Letter to My Son
She wrote me a letter
after her death
and I remember
a kind of happy light
falling on the envelope
as I sat by the rose tree
on her old bench
at the back door,
so surprised by its arrival
wondering what she would say,
looking up before I could open it
and laughing to myself
in silent expectation.
Dear son, it is time
for me to leave you.
I am afraid that the words
you are used to hearing
are no longer mine to give,
they are gone and mingled
back in the world
where it is no longer
in my power
to be their first
not their last loving bearer.
You can hear
words of affection now
only from your own mouth
when you speak them
As for me I must forsake
and be bound gladly
to a new childhood.
You must understand
demands of me
an elemental innocence
I ever held in my hands.
I know your generous soul
is well able to let me go
you will in the end
be happy to know
my God was true
and I find myself
after loving you all so long,
in the wide,
of being mothered myself.
P.S. All your intuitions are true.
By David Whyte
To Leave One’s Own Name Behind
Of course, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
to give up customs one barely had time to learn,
not to see roses and other promising Things
in terms of a human future; no longer to be
what one was in infinitely anxious hands; to leave
even one’s own first name behind, forgetting it
as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.
Strange to no longer desire one’s desires. Strange
to see meanings that clung together once, floating away
in every direction. And being dead is hard work
and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel
a trace of eternity. – Though the living are wrong to believe
in the too-sharp distinctions which they themselves have created.
Angels (they say) don’t know whether it is the living
they are moving among, or the dead. The eternal torrent
whirls all ages along in it, through both realms
forever, and their voices are drowned out in its thunderous roar
By Rainer Maria Rilke
from Duino Elegies, The first Elegy
translation by Stephen Mitchell
I found both of these poems and the photo by Edward Steichen on Beauty We Love, a wonderful source of inspiration I turn to often.
That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.
It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.
It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.