How do I find words or images that give form to a deepening sense that when Joseph Campbell said say yes to everything, that this is the same as God is everywhere – or, as Christian Wiman said– in every riven thing? In spite of my doubt about where I am headed, I reach for impossible things. I search for a less intellectual, more childlike immediacy. You may remember Alice, in a discouraged moment, complaining to the Queen:
“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'
I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast...” – Lewis Carroll
Inspiration comes unexpectedly, by taking risks, by trying out new ideas as an experiment. The experiment is about finding out what you think, rather than beginning with something you believe in. You go where you haven't ventured.
It is not a simple matter to experience god, or some glimmer of possibility, in every broken thing– even if a only for a moment. I know I am headed in the right direction in taking a risk– and here I am speaking about my work– if I feel some fear.
My “method” is always changing, and recently I have had an experience that is still working on me and changing me in ways I don’t understand. Even though I have been memorizing poetry for many years, I am just beginning to feel the transformative power of the spoken word, of sound. Going back to ancient times, the chanting of certain sounds is a powerful tool for opening “the doors of perception”. This is why music can be so potent. Poetry is essentially music, and developed before the separation between speech and song*. Before the written word, speech was committed to the heart"s memory, was song.
In my recent experience of opening, I took the risk of reciting a poem in class that has continuous references to God. This is something I generally avoid because the “God word” is rife with a range of aversions, persuasions, passions and beliefs, and it makes me uncomfortable. "God" has many diverse meanings for different people, and my wish is for the poetry to include everyone. For myself, reference to the Mystery, or the Unsayable, or God, are all words that point us in a direction outside our small selves and toward belonging to something much larger.
At the same time, respect for the astounding mystery of being here directs you inward, and opens your imagination. It gives you an anchor to create from, even if that anchor is grounded in uncertainty. When you begin with your own smallness, with the universality of the unknowable mystery– of how you got here, and where you are going – then you are ready to create from authenticity. Everyone needs to find language that makes sense to him or her, for no one is excluded, and no words are adequate.
In any case, just the saying of the poem Every Riven Thing – aloud for the first time – surprised me, and took me apart. There was an explosion inside my heart that made it feel nearly impossible to get through the recitation. It was like those terrifying dreams when you show up for class, and then discover – there you are, in front of everyone, stark naked. It occurs to me that I can think of nothing more honest than suddenly finding yourself naked in front of others. This is a universal experience that has nothing to do with will – it happens when you least wish it. I felt naked and filled with presence all at once. It has not ended yet.
What I believe keeps evolving and changing. Whatever faith may be, it is not a static condition - it remains alive by having faith in change, in impermanence, in what is. There is that saying: I pray for what happens. I am trying to incorporate faith in change, in riven things – into the paintings I am struggling with, into the world we live in – for example. The very best work you have inside you (and everyone has this seed) is accessed by beginning right where you are.
Try reading this poem aloud, more than once.
Keep in mind that the spirit of this poem includes every riven part of you, every riven thing you have made, every riven thing you have done and every riven thing that has happened to you.
Every Riven Thing
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into the stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
– Christian Wiman, from Every Riven Thing (2010).
What risks are you taking in your work, in your communication with others? I'd love to hear from you.
* From Tim Ingold's Ways of Mind Walking