I want, I want, I want!

It is like living in an art gallery, this home where I stay in Ubud. The Balinese are born with the creativity gene. Whether it expresses itself in painting, carving, music, dance, or hundreds of other endeavors, there isn’t one of them that escapes it. It is their birthright. They are nonchalant about it. Of course I paint. Of course I carve. Of course I build complex towers of fruits, and sweets, and whole chickens for temple offerings…of course.

I love the art that graces my balcony.

There is a humble clay pot on a pedestal in one corner. 

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And a handsome sculpture of Buddha’s head on a pedestal in the opposite corner.

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Seven women in white robes, one holding a golden light, occupy a huge canvas to the left,P1020306

and two women in dark robes holding flowers wisper to each other on the right. P1020308

I want these two paintings. They have enchanted me. I want to own them. What’s that about?! I just got rid of everything and the last thing I need to be thinking about is re-accumulating stuff! And these are huge, probably 7 feet wide by 5 feet high. Then of course I’d need a house to hang them in…!

And so it goes, the urge to own, to possess beauty, whatever that means. But for now I am concentrating on the inner, rather than the outer trappings. I can appreciate these paintings on my balcony while meditating, or doing kabalabahti, skull shining breaths! I can own the visual joy and the subtler energy of them without allowing them to become baggage to be transported, stored, and eventually begrudged as a burden.

I have much yet to learn about possessions and it is far too soon to experiment. Each thing one owns carries with it a weight and a responsibility. I make no judgement about that, I simply state it as fact. But the truth of it is something to ponder, something not to forget.

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The inimitable Leonard

Where, where, where is my gypsy wife tonight? I’m obsessed with Leonard Cohen. His lyrics are heartbreaking, haunting, and too real at times. They’re complex. They make me think while I’m crying. They explore delicate subjects that may even be considered tabu, with raw honesty. The melodies seduce in dark minor keys, and the man can’t sing. What can I say. His voice is a gravelly cross between Bob Dylan and laryngitis.

But that doesn’t matter. I can’t get enough. When I hear the opening rift of “Take This Waltz” my feet automatically go into the 1, 2, 3…1, 2, 3…1, 2, 3 of that classic dance step. I can’t stop them, my feet that is, and I am elated even though the words paint a forlorn and dismal picture.

Now in Vienna there’s ten pretty women
There’s a shoulder where Death comes to cry
There’s a lobby with nine hundred windows
There’s a tree where the doves go to die
There’s a piece that was torn from the morning
And it hangs in the Gallery of Frost… (Take This Waltz)

…a piece that was torn from the morning…I can’t even articulate what those words do to me. You can’t tear a piece from morning, right? But have you ever awakened not wanting to face another day? Something big and dark has happened in your life and there’s a gaping hole?

Well, maybe its not for everyone…?

But I think I’ve figured out what it is for me, this fascination. It has everything to do with the craft of writing. Leonard Cohen is a master of the art. He sings about the same things that everyone sings about, but he says it in ways that nobody has ever said it before. Even if I don’t understand completely, even if it doesn’t quite make sense when I examine the individual pieces, he creates a mood that resonates. His words, incongruously strung together, make the message even more poignant.

I aspire to write like that. Maybe not as dark…definitely not as dark! But I want to own words the way Leonard does. He makes them his, twists their meanings, and bends them to his will. His work is sheer genius.

Hafiz had it right

I was searching for words this morning. I am a writer, I told myself. There are words for this. Then I asked myself, What is the ‘this’ I am trying to describe? From somewhere subconscious I recalled a poem. I did not remember the author or even the words, but I thought perhaps Rumi, or Hafiz. It took only a few moments of communing with Google to find it. Ahhh. Hafiz. Here is the poem:

I Have Learned So Much

I

Have

Learned

So much from God

That I can no longer

Call

Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,

a Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself

With me

That I can no longer call myself

A man, a woman, an angel,

Or even a pure

Soul.

Love has

Befriended Hafiz so completely

It has turned to ash

And freed

Me

Of every concept and image

my mind has ever known.


From: ‘The Gift’
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Isn’t it beautiful that love is the friend that freed Hafiz from every concept and image his mind had ever known? As I sat with that thought it became clear that love is the only thing that will ever free us. To love others is to accept them in all the ways they are different freeing ourselves from judgement. To love the earth is to protect and care for her freeing ourselves from the consequences of her demise. To love oneself is the ultimate freedom for out of that love comes the capacity for all other love.

The past few days my journey has been inward. The name of this village is Ubud. It means medicine. The essence of Ubud is fundamentally healing to the body, the mind, and the spirit. I have asked myself, why is this so? Is it about the thousands of offerings made daily? The scent of incense ever-present in the air? The constant rituals and ceremonies performed specifically to maintain balance in the spiritual realm? Every day hundreds of tourists parade the streets of Ubud. Every day another rice paddy is drained to make way for a new resort or villa funded by money from the West. But inside the walled compounds of Balinese family homes, life goes on as it has for two thousand years. These people have a way of accepting the new, adjusting to accommodate change, but remaining virtually unchanged themselves. They do this with a self-possessed dignity that defies explanation.

I don’t know the answer to my question. All my life I have believed that everywhere was basically the same as everywhere else. I have traveled and visited amazing countries. I have seen works of art and architecture that left me breathless. I have met wonderful people who genuinely cared for me.  Yet nowhere else has a place whispered to my heart entreating me to stay, to learn, to just be.

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