Spirituality and Art…or, Things that Are SO Much Better than Therapy


Yesterday I was talking to a new friend on the phone, and he said something so wise it really blew me away.  I’d gone to couples therapy, session #2, and hated it, really, really hated it.  I was VERY upset.  He said, “You’re thinking peace is conditional.  The mind tells you that.  But it’s not.  Right now, if you stop, you’ll find it right inside you, in the midst of the problems and the mess.”

Revelatory.

Maybe other seekers learn earlier that suffering never goes away.  Meaning, you never arrive, attain, move beyond the human lot.  In my twenties I thought I’d achieve happiness and stay there.  But that’s not what happened.  What happened were moments.  Sitting on a hill across from the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, the open courtyard and cobblestones, the beauty of the light on the old castle, the youth in me, the life, and the other travelers, bread, cheese, red wine, the feeling of endless spaciousness, that incredible opening.  Or sitting in a small studio in Carnegie Hall, looking at my Meisner teacher, who said, “You had something different going on every moment.”  And me, suddenly naked, my body open and empty, all the words from all the people who’d ever called me mercurial, unpredictable, moody echoing everywhere as I asked him, “Is that okay?”  And he handed me the first permission to be fully myself.  “You’re fascinating.”  Me: “Really?”

So many moments…my favorite rock at Newcastle beach, the waves spilling onto my notebook in poetry, light everywhere…suddenly and again being in love with the world, so in love it hurt, wanting and not wanting everything, enough and full of longing, the great paradox…

And then getting sick, really sick, my hair falling out, not able to get out of bed, and the relationship problems, and the friend who lost his sobriety and disappeared and who I fear I’ll never see again, and the mistakes with people I loved, and my own human frailty, the flaws, the things I long to better and can’t, or haven’t yet.  Rick, who died of AIDS right before the cocktail came out.  My partner’s friend, whose 12 year old daughter fell over dead in the middle of a soccer game.  We are always vulnerable to loss and death and our own darkness, and we are always on the brink of revelation.

Dukkha is.  The first Noble Truth.  Impermanence and suffering, and if you had handed me that any time in my twenties I would have thrown it back at you and said, “Not me.”  Because I was that full of desperate hope for a much better life.

Peace is not conditional.  The mess never goes away.  But peace is in the middle of the mess.  Beauty persists.

I have been wanting for years to find a way to create art framed by a consciously and explicitly spiritual process.  Some of it arising from the political beliefs of feminism and multiculturalism–that all have a voice, that respect means listening.  But more than that, to build work that looks for redemption, meaning, a way to touch the place where we suffer, and the place where peace is unconditional.  I’ve mostly been disappointed–I’ve made art with other people where some of this happens, but it seems almost accidental.  I’ve made art that was excellent, but the process was extraordinarily painful and evoked my worst faults so I struggled the whole time with trying to behave well and keep my mouth shut.

It’s still inchoate.  This process I want to find.  Maybe I’m longing for permanence.  One long, connected, human, artistic spiritual moment.

I just finished reading A Burning Desire by Kevin Griffith and it annoyed me.  Buddhism can be an endlessly practical religion in the hands of some, and it certainly is in his hands.  He goes on about magical beliefs and kharma as action that results in consequences–like you can’t get a job if you don’t apply for one.  And I’m like, really?  First of all, that’s kind of self-explanatory, and also, it’s not always true.  I’ve ended up in business for myself twice doing very little to make it happen.  It was like the universe grabbed me and put me somewhere.  (Which, frankly, I could use right now.)  Anyhow, I’m Irish, and that means mysticism.  If I want to bring spirituality and archetype together, if what I really want, in theatrical work, is to use archetype to wrench us out of practicality into a level of mystery and meaning that is so terrifyingly beautiful we are mesmerized and full of longing even though we may also want to run away, because we can’t understand, but we know there’s this language, this field of beauty, and it has something for us.  Or, it has something for me.

Forget practicality.  I meditate because it’s interesting.  If I am to be more Buddhist (and with this weekend’s new retreat upcoming, it seems I am), then there has to be room for the mystical, the liminal, that is my heritage and the thing that calls me into awakening.  I’m not an artist because I’m practical.  I’m an artist because I want to touch beauty, make it, find meaning, endure darkness, tell the truth about all of it.

I do buy that as a Buddhist I have to let go of limiting self-definitions like, I am an artist, or at least give up my attachment to such definitions, but I’m happy to say I’m not enlightened enough at the moment to do that.  And since there’s impermanence, I will be that enlightened sometime, and then I won’t be.  Again and again.

Saint John the Divine in Iowa is a script about a woman who is held to a higher calling, who hears God in her life.  If I tell you that it is not autobiographical, and that I don’t believe in that particular kind of God, will you believe me?

There might not be a Trickster God in Buddhism, but that doesn’t mean I’m not held in His thrall.

Metta.  Again and again and again.

PS–I’ve made it easier for people to comment on this blog.  So, comment away.

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