Art and life's edges often overlap and blur... This totem series has a sub theme as I work from totem 10 to totem 1 I follow kabbalistic themes. Last week I began totem 4 (chesed) and 3 (Binah). Which images to choose to create the totem's architecture to explore these themes? I've been drawing a lot from my drawing from babas at the kumbh mela, as well as photos I took of butoh dancers at the local butoh school here... so totem 4's theme is mercy/love, which is very much like buddhist theme of compassion (Bodhisattva), or vedic practice of karma yoga, where the ego is surrendered to be of service as the highest path of connection with the Source, which is in an eternal/continuous state of giving, providing our consciousness with maya to experience, as well sustaining the physical world with a ground for our physical bodies (as well as all other unfolding/decomposing manifested reality).
So, as the theme of compassion and surrender has been on the mind even more so these days, its no surprise the universe reflects in experience what the mind is focused on. Last week on my walk from Dharmkot to Mcleoud Ganj I met a tibetan monk who wanted me to help him practice english pro-nun-sea-ation. I went back to his humble little room and we read _Doctor Dolittle_ together. In his room he had a little shrine set up with images of HH Dali Lama, and Green Tara, and about 12 little bowls filled with water, which were offerings he made every morning for the liberation of all sentient beings. Later in the day I discovered a huge magical ritual sea shell hidden on a shelf in a tailor shop, and after some tai chi bargaining acquired it. From that day forward I have been using it as my "bowl" to pour water into every morning as I put out my intentions to be of service and play my tiny role in the liberation of all sentient beings.
This opportunity has manifested recently as a chance to be of service to an old man I had seen around town over the past few weeks... He has a long white beard and always is getting around with the assistance of fellow travelers. From a distance he inspired curiosity, because traveling around India alone as an elderly disabled person seems very daring/trusting/risky. But recently I had a chance to get to know him and I was very surprised by what I learned.... I was helping him try and vacate his room, and as I was zipping up his bags I saw how neatly everything was packed and folded... I complimented him, and he told me he had been traveling continuously for the last 42 years... wow! I felt like helping him was like connecting with my grandfathers in some way who I never really got to be of service to...(ancestry as totem pole)...so in my head I tried to do the math...he looked about 75 or 80 so I figured he had be traveling since he was in his 30s. A little later I asked how old he was, and he told me 58 (which is younger than my father!). It startled me, and it meant he had been traveling since he was 15, and hadn't shaved since he was 18 (he looks like an old testament jew), but 4 years ago he contracted Parkinson's disease, so his relaxing life of non-stop travel and independence (he didn't want the responsibility of home/family) had drastically turned into a reality of dependence and physical tension.
Somehow I felt like I was seeing a future reflection of possible self, overlapping with now moment self... twice since I've been in India I have manifested illnesses with in my self when I my independence was butting heads with a relationship type situation, and in both cases not until I surrendered to dependence/interconnectedness did my dis-ease dis-appear. So this is what I am learning about mercy/love/compassion ...as I take a break from painting to slow down and spend 5 hours just helping him do very simple tasks (fixing zippers, counting money, paying bills, helping him go to the bathroom, back and neck massages, etc.), I am experiencing this interconnectedness of all of us. As I hold his shaking hands I experience deep vipassana like bliss moments. There is no end reward for service, the process is the portal... To embody that mercy/love is to loose ego self and connect with higher qualities of what it means to be human.
I think back to another old man I met on this trip in India who is living a far different experience. Baba Shyam Kisore Das, so sits and sleeps under a mango tree by the bank of the Ganga in Rishikesh. He is in his mid 60s and has spent his entire adult life as a renunciant sadhu (saint)practicing karma yoga. Everything he gets he gives away half, and he never wants more than what he needs for the next day or two. When I would bring him bananas, he would give one back. If I brought milk he would make us chai tea. If I brought half a kilo of whole wheat he would make us chapaties... As I sat with him every day for a period of weeks it was amazing to watch this flow of energy play out...The more he gave, the more he received. He has a simple satvic diet and a skinny emaciated frame, yet he would show me the most incredible yoga moves where he can stand on one leg, with the other foot resting behind his head and flapping his arms like a bird (garuda asana).
Something I learned in Zohar class recently was that giving takes place in many forms. (Giving with expectation. Giving without expectation...) But the highest form of giving is: to allow others the opportunity to give by receiving. So this is this dance I am having with these two old men...(2 versions of myself played out in the future for me to engage with and learn from)...mercy and love, the play of giving and receiving....
The next totem (3) is "Binah" understanding, the first manifested female principle.... I've already done the skeleton draft, and its filled with birds, eggs, and nests... curious to see what will unfold in life as this totem is worked into....