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This is not in sequence.

safety fenceThe more I painted, the better I got. I got to the point where I could genuinely express myself – the complex and intense spirit and emotions that were inside. I developed a sharp sense of balance and composition. I could take a piece of paper and make it into art.

In college, I signed up for a class on 3-Dimensional art, and it was there that my art world began to blow open. Our assignments were designed to encourage us to utilize space and the various senses – to challenge our limited notions. I began to realize that even if the purest of genius were expressed and captured on a canvas, it was still just a 2-dimensional piece sitting in a much vaster, multi-dimensional world.

At some point, the idea of painting 2-dimensional pieces, though so fulfilling, began to seem limiting.

In that class, I had an epiphany. I realized that architecture allowed art to be brought into the third dimension. In architectural expressions, people would walk around inside of the art, living their lives in it, being transformed by it.

But there was a greater epiphany. I realized that we were in it now. Students would create pieces and say “Here is my piece,” and the rest of the class would sit around and critique it, but defining where it started and where it ended was but another limiting box. I looked around the art room and saw the various pieces. I saw the tables filled with supplies. I saw that the art room itself – in all its complexity and originality – far surpassed any of the individual installations.

It was my turn to present. I hadn’t made a piece that week. I took a roll of construction barrier material and threw the end of it over a string crossing the room. The rest of the roll laid on the table. The group gathered, and I said “Here is my piece.” It didn’t make sense. What exactly were they supposed to be looking at? Was it the roll of construction barrier? No. That was simply the entry portal. The barrier stretched to the table. The table was part of the piece. And everything on it. The room was part of the piece. And everything in it. The class was part of the piece. Everyone. The piece was this moment. This unique expression of space and of time.

Every moment is a canvas. The role of a Life Artist is to awaken to that awareness and express him or herself within the now.

I also realized that not all art was optimal for living in. Some art is beautiful; some art is disturbing. As an artist, there is value in expressing that which needs to be expressed. The world is dynamic, and we need different things at different times, but if art has the power to transform, then I personally would prefer living in a piece that is full of beauty – and to be transformed by that beauty – and not in a space of disturbance.

It was there that the seed of my future was planted – that architecture could be utilized as a transformative element to shape our inner states.  And that the world itself, and every single moment, is a rich tapestry waiting to be reshaped through our expressions.

Walking around the world as a Life Artist, one becomes the brush itself and the whole world becomes the canvas. We are all artists, collectively painting and shaping our world, though very few of us are awake to the profundity and responsibility that comes with being that artist. What have you cultivated inside? What is it that you have to give, that you have to express? The role of a Life Artist is to dive deep within – to grasp, to touch the most exquisite of gems they can reach – and then to step back into the world and hopefully, with love, leave their own, unique and precious mark.

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The flame
Of my existence
Burns
Like the flame
Of your existence
Like the flame
Of all existence.

The night, the dark,
Takes flight in our presence;
We are love
And light
Children of the same sun,
We glow.

Though the space between us
May seem vast,
To connect,
We need not parade through the night.

When I look and find
The source of my own lit flame,
My own shining heart,
There, I have found you too.

Here, in the Blaze of Brilliance,
We walk effortlessly together,
Dil se Dil,

Eternal Kin.

js
18 july 2007
mumbai,
india

Everybody seeks.
I seek.
And through manipulation, I con –
    To grab
        What I want
            From a difficult world.
Everybody cons.
Everybody grabs –
    Manipulates, steals, twists –
        Everybody wants
Something.

I want something.
Want to feed the crazy, restless,
    Lonely, lost spirit
        That hungers
            Always
Because
I think
    Like you do
        That I am a fragment,
A shard.

More than a shard,
I am a piece
    Of the whole
        Of which you are a piece
            And the pieces
Never add up
Because they are lies.
    Wicked,
        Stupid,
            Foolish,
Foolish lies.

js
19 december 2006

el sobrante, ca

first_stepI just got an email from someone I’ve never met who has been reading this blog and says that reading it has helped keep her inspired in her own service work with “at risk” adolescents.

I started to write her back and then it occurred to me that what I was going to say was pretty relevant and that I should probably write it here instead.

In life there are many different types of service.  Some types – like what we are doing now – may be seen as big and rewarding. Other types – like what she is doing – are difficult, unglamorous, and may at times even seem like a losing battle.

I realized long ago that we’ve all been dealt different hands in life and to judge one’s merits on the superficial size of one’s accomplishments is not a real indication of success.

Success can only be measured in the moment, relevant to how you respond to the conditions on hand.

Right now, I’ve got enough money to keep going on this project. I have a computer and web access. I am a white male in a country where that has value. I grew up in a good school system.  I am healthy.  I have the right conditions to take on things that one may not be able to take on in the face of poverty, sickness, learning disabilities, discrimination, etc.

Service has two components to it: 1) you try to make a positive difference, and 2) by humbling ourselves in the process of trying to make a difference, we can blossom spiritually. One can work to make a difference by spending years trying to get an autistic child to tune in or by spending years trying to change a law that will affect millions. Both courses are equally valid – they are both ‘The Work’ that needs to be done in our world, and it’s only through our own hearts that we can measure what work feels most important for us to take on.

longjumpJust last night, I met four young boys inhaling solvents on the streets of Delhi. This problem is huge with kids in the cities of India. They are all starved for love and it seems like with enough love and support, they would quickly let go of this habit. I tried talking with them for a while and then put Loveleen on the phone to speak with them in Hindi. We made a minor difference, but to make a real difference, I would have to stop this project and focus on these kids. Wherever we go, there are millions of areas where love and attention is needed and to walk away is always difficult. There is no right path. It is in choosing something – anything – and applying our care to it that we can and will make a difference. What’s important is to keep growing in love and humility and to keep engaging in positive transformation.

As far as growing spiritually in the process, in many ways the less rewarding work is the greater type of work, because through its challenges, the pearl comes more quickly, where in the reward-filled work, ego traps are all around.

little_bird_3I have things to say before I check off of this planet.  In many ways, I was hoping to say these things and be done with them during the period that this Indian adventure was unfolding.  It’s not looking like I will have the chance to say everything however, so this blog will likely have to continue.

Happiness, :) John

One spirit-
    Of many minds,
Brought here together
    Of this moment.

We are the fruition
    Of our ancestors’ deeds,
And trapped in time
    By their misdeeds.

We all pass through life
    And rarely step out
Of our motions
    To see they are motions.

Stop.

One spirit-
    Of many minds,
Together, we share in
    This moment.

Products we are,
    But also producing;
We are the ancestors
    Of tomorrow.

Our motions, the foundation
    Of a world that will follow-
A product of our deeds
    And misdeeds.

Go.

js
11 December 2005
Ahmedabad, India

Ignorance.
Between the knowledge I choose not to assimilate,
     Just yet,
And the Truth that lies concealed behind
     Dense
Clouds of illusion,
I stumble
Around
     And around.

Love.
She is indescribably
     Beautiful.
With her perfumed, overflowing
     Rapture
Waiting
Its chance
To spill freely
     And freely.

Being.
Bouncing around, part of this world
     And that,
Endless discoveries
     Arriving
And leaving.
Not all wanted, nor wasted;
Everything always changing
     And changing.

Wisdom
Knows there is nothing
     To know.
Dropping all pretense,
     Silence
Fills up the room
With emptiness,
Trusting in everything,
     And everything.

js
29 October 2005
Ahmedabad, India

Coconut drops.
The sun blazes down.
     Improbable
To survive these conditions.

Mother is wise.
She has given a thick skin
      To shelter
Her babe for some time.

Coconut sits,
Awaiting its turn
     To sink
All hope in the soil.

Mother is wise.
She has provided the nourishment;
     Enough
Perhaps to get started.

I go to the street man,
Machete in hand,
     Slicing
The top off, he hands it.

With lips on a straw,
I stop just in time
     To understand
The significance of what is unfolding.

Sacred Life,
Can you accept this fate?
     Your birth
Is now lost in my being.

With humility, a request:
Come share my existence.
     Together,
We can reach for the skies.

js
2 October 2005
Delhi

ego_3Monique asked if I could elaborate a little more on ego.

Basically, this whole blog is pure ego. It’s a little shrine to myself.

The nature of ego is that it’s a distorted view of the universe with your manufactured identity at its center. When that identify feels good about itself, then the world is good, and when it feels bad about itself then the world is bad.

I fully recognize my ego and my intention in writing this is largely to tell my story so that I can let go of my story and be free from it. Whether or not it’s a helpful road will remain to be seen, but it is my attempt at finishing something by completing it instead of just dropping it.

The risk I’m taking in going about it this way is that it actually tends to draw me more into the ego. In many ways, this period, which has great potential, is being somewhat squandered as my ego is possibly at its highest over the last many years, which is not cool. It’s not good because where there is ego, there is a lack of true, simple, and genuine connection with the world around you and within. Fortunately, I very much feel that real connection, and live by it, but as the ego grows, we lose our ability to keep it real.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like actually stopping this blog altogether. My feeling from the start was that within this story, there is some real value to be shared. From feedback, I think that some people have gotten something out of it so far, but whether it’s doing more harm or good is hard to say.

As far as the blog goes, there is so much more to write about. I’m just getting a little tired of the subject.
Be true.

I left behind
A home of incense and candles,
Of love and trust.
Abundance and joy

To walk in step
With a deeper surrender.

What exactly is it that I’m capable of reaching?
How much precisely
Am I capable of giving?

Life so often is filled with regrets,
Yet, here I am,
On the other side of regret,
Having followed that scary voice that said,
“Walk,
Into the unknown,
Into the dream.
Reach in, as deep as you can and give it all away.”

But here,
It is not always so clear.
And at moments like now,
The incense and candles,
The love and trust,

Abundance and joy…

Home seems so dear,
So near,
And so far away.

Having taken
A step away from Love,
It would be unforgivable not to take ten or one hundred or
one trillion steps
To an even Greater Love,
One that embraces both the home that is still there waiting,
And the darkness that drags on our world.

If I am to reach,
Let it be deep
And let it be now.

js
1 August 2005
Ahmedabad, India

peakingWhat makes anything better is love and attention. When love and attention are applied to anything, those things begin to heal, to grow, to shine. This is true with objects, with people, with food, with anything.

We have limits and are unable to care for everything, and sometimes neglect will build. The best we can do is to grow conscious of the fact that love and attention is the key to making the world around us and within us glow, and do our best to increase our capacity to spend more of our time living in this mode.

After months of a general deprivation as a result of our vegan diet, in McLeod Ganj we finally ran into some really healthy and delicious food, particularly at a Santa Fe style community café called Khana Nirvana. Though soy milk was still nowhere in sight, we were able to eat actual tofu and pinto beans, and the food was most excellent!

chocolatecakeOne night, after seeing so many pastry shops around, Loveleen and I became particularly keen on finding dessert. We searched high and low and could find no dairyless, eggless treats.

Being vegan can often be a challenge in today’s world, particularly when you are dependent on eating out at restaurants. Before becoming vegan, I used to associate vegans with emaciation. I later learned that this correlation is not because of the diet itself; there are tons of amazing foods and even world champion weightlifters are vegan. Oftentimes, emaciation comes only because vegans too often have to skip meals due to lack of available options.

At the moment when we finally had to conclude that out of a whole town full of delicious options, there was nothing we would be able to eat, I said to Loveleen that it’s particularly important at times like these to connect with the reason why we have chosen to be vegan.

It’s easy to make a choice and then just follow it brainlessly, but there is actually a real reason behind our decision. Obviously, cows are born either male or female. Since nowadays, there is no real use for the males, they are all killed – either instantly or else after being cruelly turned into veal. This fact alone is a really powerful one. If your motivation for being vegetarian is compassion for other beings, or if it is to reduce violence, then the use of dairy is basically the same as eating meat – just with half of the harmful effect. The same is true with eating eggs.

lovecalfThere are many other reasons as well, such as the way the cows are mistreated, the way they are killed early, after their production goes down, etc. Even in India, where the cow is considered sacred, many of these abusive and violent conditions are the norm.

Loveleen and I, Mark, and many others, choose a world of compassion and love. We do not want our money to be supporting an industry designed around violence, and we don’t want to be consuming things that were taken in this way.

Both Loveleen and I love dairy. Butter, milk, ice cream, cheese, ghee, I mean come on! These are some of the greatest things on Earth. And all the things you make with dairy – chocolate, and chai, cakes and pizza. Who on Earth would be willing to stop eating all this? We did because the power of love by far trumps the sensory pleasures, no contest.

But at moments of acute sacrifice, it is important to reflect. With awareness, the intensity of the loss or sacrifice converts itself into fuel for an even stronger compassion, instead of adding sorrow to the saddened self.

In my life, I’ve very rarely preached to anyone about anything. I have developed my understandings, formulated my choices, and done my best to live true.

Recently, I had a second thought about this. I was walking on the street with a group of people. I was working carefully to avoid stepping on the ants. It occurred to me that although my two legs were working hard, the other 28 legs were aimlessly crushing ants at random. I thought about how my separation from others is really just a state of mind. At the core, we are all just one and with this perspective, all 30 legs are really my own. If I can communicate with others, then perhaps we can all grow together in empathy, and perhaps more effectively protect the ants.

My feelings about veganism are similar. Although I work hard to avoid ingesting anything with dairy or eggs, to be honest, I don’t really care. To me, milk is holy because it is food from a mother for its baby. I truly feel that it is sacred and it’s a privilege to ingest it. My true interest in avoiding animal products is in putting an end to the mistreatment of animals. What you put into your mouth has just as much of an impact as what I put into my mouth. Therefore, my real hope would be to share this feeling of empathy with others and have them work together with me to bring loving change.

bananaslug_1Tonight, Loveleen and I headed up to the Tushita meditation center to hear a translation of the Dalai Lama’s discourse. On our way up, we had to walk carefully because the ground was covered with large banana slugs after a recent downpour. After the discourse, the teacher said that it was time for one last question. Loveleen leaned over to me and said that we should leave because it was getting dark and it would be hard to see the slugs. I knew she was right, but also knew that a couple minutes wasn’t going to make much of a difference. I looked around the room and saw 80 or so people who would all soon be leaving – most of whom were interested in compassion, and who probably wouldn’t be looking downward.

I realized that a more effective way to protect the slugs would be to speak out, and in a rare move, I raised my hand and asked everyone to please be careful of the slugs as it was getting dark. People appreciated it and I got the feelings that the ripples would keep going. This was a highly valuable lesson for me.

On my previous trip to India, in October of 2000, I was sitting at the airport in Tokyo, waiting to transfer planes. All of a sudden, I felt a very deep and what I thought to be dark change in the atmosphere around me. It was something I had never experienced before – a strikingly perceptible aura of power – and my first thought was ‘black magic.’ I quickly looked to the right to find the source of what I was feeling.

prayerbeadsAt that very instant, a Tibetan Buddhist monk was walking past me.  I saw people go up to him and bow reverently. He was with other monks, but was clearly the one most recognized and respected.

Only later would I begin to understand what I had felt. When you take a Vipassana course, you are first instructed to carefully observe your breath for an extended period in order to build concentration. Later, you are instructed to observe the sensations around the breath, and then eventually, your focus shifts to observing the sensations throughout the body.

Spending nine days in silence, in virtual isolation, provides a conducive space for self-observation. By applying consistent attention to the seemingly simple task of observing the sensations of the body, previously unknown doors of perception to our own inner reality can eventually become unlocked and opened, allowing us to enter and experience ourselves in a whole new way.

It’s like walking into a room that appears to be pitch black. One may sit and wait for a while and conclude that the room is just impenetrably dark. It’s at this point, where it might seem like there is no gain in staying any longer. For those patient enough, however, faint glimpses of light may soon begin to emerge. These glimpses eventually take some form, and with time one can make out a visual layout of the room that was before totally imperceptible.

It’s in this way that Vipassana works and it’s for this reason that the course is as long as it is – it simply takes time to shift our conscious orientation from outer to inner, from mental to somatic.

As one enters the field of heightened physical awareness, one may find bundles of pain, clumps of tension, and a ceaseless flow of both pleasant and unpleasant sensations. Normally in life, as we encounter these feelings, we react to them – with cravings for more of the positive and with aversions to the unwanted negatives. Unaware, our entire habit of living becomes a series of reactions, and instead of making the wiser choices that may bring us the greatest happiness, out of ignorance, we desire and suffer, desire and suffer, always wanting life to be different than what it is.

broomVipassana teaches us to observe instead of react and through this shift, we gain the ability to stop the endless chain of reaction, and this eventually results in the purification of the inner flow. Having observed my own inner flow of sensations in a less reactive way, I now recognize that this is what the Tibetan monk was doing – internal “sweeping”- the only difference is that he was clearly super accomplished at it, being able to maintain perfect self-awareness even in a non-monastic environment. The purity he generated was so strong that it affected me physically as he passed by.

What’s most amazing about this to me is that it clearly demonstrates that our internal states affect one another. Having observed some of the scar tissue within my own being, I know for certain that there are blemishes on my being which cause misery both to myself and to others, as my unhappiness is contagious. The opposite is also true – the purer and more full of love I become, the more the world around me smiles in accordance.

A Vipassana course can be a very difficult undertaking. For those up to the challenge – and those able to carve out the 10 days to experience it – it is a golden opportunity, to Know Thyself in a very real and perhaps wholly unexpected way. If you are interested in taking a course, feel free to ask me some questions and perhaps I can give you some tips.