We’re all taught – or, rather, misled – by our families, our schools, our occupational or professional training, by the ubiquitous stream of advertisements, to believe that what is unreal is real, what is real is unreal; that what is poisonous or trivial is priceless, that what is priceless isn’t worth our time. How often people said, when I was growing up (and nowhere more than in the halls of higher education): “That’s just a myth” or “That’s just nonsense and mysticism” or “That’s just poetry and romanticizing.”
We’re taught, on the one hand, to ignore or forget experiences that have the taste of the divine or the uncanny. We think of the great mystics and prophets, and their experiences and feats, as things from a far-off, imaginary past. Or we’re made to feel that such things are beyond us, only for those who breathed or who breathe an air more rarefied than what we inhale. (As you may know, the word for “spirit” in the Bible translates literally as “breath,” as in what God breathed into Adam, giving him life.)
One of the things that I want to emphasize, in bold and underlined, is that if I write about Moses at the Burning-Bush or an experience of direct reality, it’s because those things exist within all of us, because such things, including works like the Tao Te Ching and the Zen Buddhist Mumonkan (sometimes translated “The Gateless Gate”), were intended for all of us, for our growth and guidance and joyous fulfillment, for our strength in the face of evil and despair, for our lives. The apostle John, in the first section of his Gospel, writes: “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Sadly, as he also said, most of us are trained or choose to turn away from that Light. But that radiance is for us and in us.
And it isn’t to be had by intellectual analysis. I want to share with you, as we set out here, some practical advice. I promised to give you, from time to time, pairs of texts or images or audio files that, taken together, would have an increased chance of pushing you or drawing you closer to that jump into reality beyond the matrix of concept and convention. What I want to impress on you is that you shouldn’t take them as challenges to your intellect to “figure them out.” That can’t be done. That’s not how it happens.
Instead of trying to analyze or philosophize, take the bread-crumbs that I offer you and eat them slowly, savor them as you would a favorite food. Read them, look at them, or listen to them carefully, calmly, as if you were sitting on the bank of a stream, gazing at a full moon’s reflection on the barely-wavering water, in almost-total darkness and silence. Don’t work at or worry over what they “mean.” Let them do the speaking, you the absorbing.
Here is my first pair of mystery-signs to draw you on through the forest. Below is a painting by Rene Magritte, a great 20th-Century painter. The words in French at its bottom mean: “This is not a pipe.”
Next, I offer you an anecdote about Pablo Picasso. I’m sorry – I remember it well, but I haven’t been able to go back & locate its source. For our purpose, though, it really doesn’t matter if it’s merely fictitious:
Picasso was commissioned by a wealthy businessman to paint a portrait of his wife. When Picasso showed his client the finished work, the man was startled and angry. “That doesn’t look anything like my wife!” To which Picasso replied, “Can you show me something that does look like your wife?” The man pulled out a black-and-white snapshot and handed it to the artist. Picasso studied it slowly, with exaggerated interest, and then said: “My friend, you have my sympathy. I had no idea that your wife was so gray and flat!”
I’ll have another post for you no later than October 1. I plan to write to you a bit about the importance of not insisting on finishing or “winning” in our voyages here — about having patience and trust that the unseen seeds, once planted, keep growing throughout our nights. In the meantime, have a wonderful Labor Day weekend and a wonderful whatever-else-you’re-having!
Was the Alfred P. Sloan Scholar for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. Obtained a Master of the Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was selected as a Writing Fellow in Poetry by the Program faculty. Have published poems, essays and reviews in many magazines, anthologies, reference works, and other publications, including The Nation, The Iowa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Parabola, OMNI, and the exhibition catalogue for Art at the Edge of the Law at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Received a law degree from the University of Michigan, and have changed the law and created educational programs in the fields of arts law, historic preservation law, and public construction and contracting law in the State of Connecticut. My photographs have appeared in international, national, regional and state juried exhibitions, and have been selected for awards including Honorable Mentions in the Architecture, Fine Art (series), Nature (series), Open Theme (series), Portrait, and Seascape categories from the international Fine Art Photography Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Fine Art-Other category from the International Photography Awards. Photographs of mine have been selected for exhibition or publications by or in the 2019 International Juried Exhibition of the Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, CA), 2019 International Competition of The Photo Review, the 2019 Open Exhibition of the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins CO, F-Stop Magazine, Shadow & Light Magazine, Black Box Gallery in Portland OR, Praxis Gallery in Minneapolis MN, the Darkroom Gallery in VT, PhotoPlace Gallery in VT, A Smith Gallery in TX, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and many other journals and venues. My work has also been selected for inclusion in the Flatfile Program of Artspace New Haven (CT). My photography website is at www.lawrenceruss.com .