The Middle Way

Zen Spot #229 - Mindfulness, meditation and three stories being told at once November 8, 2019 00:00

Stanislaw

A Polish-American illustrator who survived a Nazi death camp as a child, Stanislaw Zagorski worked for many of the most well-known record labels from 1960–2000. From 1982–1984, I was his student. What he taught, my mind understood but my hands didn’t. His work is distinct and esoteric while, at the same time, being completely accessible. Never one to simply paint a picture, his illustrations always offered a conceptual twist in an attempt to represent the product being sold or the story being told.

The illustration shown here failed miserably in its twist, but succeeded as a package. Had I not been fascinated by the cover, I would never have listened to the music. Zagorski introduced me to Kirk.

Rahsaan

Imagine a jazz musician standing on stage with three or more wind instruments hanging from his neck — mostly saxophones. Further imagine that musician playing at least two of the instruments at one time, seemingly writing two different stories at the same time. Hemingway and Faulkner. Picasso and Warhol. Cunningham and Fonzie. At some point, it can sound like noise but, then again, so can a mantra.

His name was Rahsaan Roland Kirk. I’ve never heard or seen anything like him, with the possible exception of contemporary horn player Tom Harrell. Their respective genres are unknown to me, except to categorize them as jazz. 

Experimentation and improvisation

Kirk was nothing if not an innovator. Perhaps, like the painters Jean Dubuffet and Cy Twombly, he appeared to choose to discard everything but the idea of play, completely ostracizing technical mastery. That said, I know nothing of technical mastery. Perhaps I am a Philistine. 

Unlike Dubuffet, Twombly and every other avant-garde painter, while performing live, Kirk was creating stories in real time, without a net. Having seen videos of some of his concerts, I have no idea whether he succeeded or failed. Every artist knows both. I suspect my desire to even ask a binary question, instead of simply listening in the moment, with eyes closed and no expectations, is a self-imposed limit on my ability to focus.

Check out the mantras with closed eyes.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #184 — Mindfulness, meditation and Sonny Rollins standing on the bridge in Giverny April 9, 2018 00:00

Monet

A case can be made that Claude Monet invented Impressionism. He painted an inspiring series of water lilies in his gardens in Giverny France. Familiar to most art believers, the painting shown above is an exceptional example of his greatest works. In particular, the bridge is a well-known icon. 

That said, when viewed in-person, paintings from the Giverny series are among the best examples of abstract expression I’ve ever seen. Stand within three feet of an individual water lily and it disappears completely — and becomes a brushstroke of pure color exclusive of story, composition and context.

While the central images of his extensive Giverny series don’t seem to be metaphorical, they do tell a powerful visceral story of serenity and calm. The bridge is singular despite inspiring a different myth for each viewer. I believed the bridge to span 400 meters despite my understanding of the average size of a water lily.

I want the bridge to span 2500 meters. I want the bridge to descend into chaos on both sides. I want a mindful calmness too.

Sonny Rollins

Despite both sides of the Williamsburg Bridge descending into chaos, neighbors in both New York City boroughs frown on the volume of certain types of noise. Control is a funny and unpredictable thing. In the early 1960s, later in the evening, when he needed a place to practice his saxophone, myth holds that he would walk the span perfecting his instrument’s voice.

I’d love to hear him playing while standing on the bridge in Giverny--improvising mindfully, even if he chose silence as his statement.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #53 — Mindfulness, meditation, chance and The Village Vanguard March 16, 2018 00:17

 

The Green Monster

Some churches have soaring stained-glass windows that light up their insides likes neon signs light up the streets outside corner taverns. Other churches are planned and precisely plain. Altars, too, occupy a continuum, from the serene to the inspiring to the intimidating to the torturous. What one brings to the interiors, in the shopping bags of the mind, while standing with head bowed, often determines the quality of love.

On Lansdowne Street, in Boston, a minimalist gargoyle stands guard inside a particular church. That church is the finest professional baseball park on planet earth — Fenway.

The first time a believer walks through any tunnel, from underneath the grandstand, and watches a billion square feet of diamond fold open, a monster rises three stories from beneath the sea of green. An aberration to the extreme, the left field wall appears impenetrable to those who stand in the batter’s box. Perhaps another million square feet of vertical fear — the Green Monster — elicits legends of love, hate, fear and loathing.

Built in 1912, many of the world’s best professional baseball players have stepped onto the field of dreams that is Fenway. The list goes on forever — Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Wade Boggs, Carlton Fisk and many more.

I love baseball. I know baseball. If Hank Aaron were to walk by on the street, I would know who he was. If he walked by my children, or many of my friends, or my extended family, he would simply be another old man.

Hank Aaron is not another old man.

John Coltrane just walked by

I’ve heard the name. I’ve been moved by the magic. That said, if he was alive and walked by, I would keep eating my sandwich and thusly remain whatever specie of Philistine I am. I wouldn’t recognize him if he wrote me a million dollar check.

I don’t know jazz.

178 Seventh Avenue South

The Village Vanguard is Fenway Park. Pursuant to my self-identifying as a Philistine, despite The Vanguard being located in Manhattan, I will never speak metaphorically of the pin-striped ballpark ten miles north of Greenwich Village because, well, I am a Red Sox fan.

The Vanguard is Fenway. Its’ stage is The Monster.

Opened in 1935 by Max Gordon, many of the world’s most gifted musicians have stepped onto the field of dreams that is The Vanguard. The list goes on forever — John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and many more.

I know because I checked, not because I know.

Descending into the unknown

I always knew The Vanguard would be down stairs. Not sure how. Not even sure when it came into my field of vision. I just knew the music would be closer to subway trains.

Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg

Before descending the staircase, my wife and I had spent the afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art. She loved the Jackson Pollock. When asked, I offered the thought that Pollock’s work is a combination of Japanese calligraphy and improvisational jazz. When he picked up the brush, he didn’t know quite where he was going but he chose a rhythm and began to splatter and drip.

We shared the Robert Rauschenberg — Among Friends exhibition while at MOMA. The sublime power of the show can barely be contained in the pages of one book, much less this paragraph. Among the more powerful elements of Rauschenberg’s body of work, with an emphasis on this show, is his collaboration with peers — and their integration of performance. By combining sounds, symbols, movement and color, the peers create very specific moments and memories. And, inside each, there is an affectation of genius that, if one takes the time to look, is evidence of a plain and profound gift.

Mayrose Diner

Around 26th and Broadway. Around 1999. The best meal ever. Chicken noodle soup chased by baked macaroni and cheese. February. Brilliantly cold, the sun blasts through the giant plate glass windows.

I walked in hungry, expecting a sandwich.

At the bottom of the stairs

The Vanguard is cozy and warm. Architecture of the mind’s eye. I was afraid before we entered. As much can be gained as lost.

Tom Harrell just walked by

I bought two tickets to the 10:30 pm Saturday show for my wife and myself. The choice between a comedy show or a visit to the Vanguard had been offered and, without reason, jazz was chosen. Tom Harrell’s name was on the ticket. Who’s Tom Harrell?

I walked in excited, expecting music.

It is impossible to separate what you see from what you hear

The lights went down and four musicians were led to the stage by a man whose eyes were fixed on the floor. Straight silver-white hair mopped and styled gently. A white beard. A nicely tailored suede indigo sport coat hanging off of a mild frame, his arms fell straight to his side barely moving while he walked. A performance was pending. Not just music.

He grunted the launch.

Blunt force trauma of a soul feather

There are no words for the music, so I’m not even going to try, with the exception of the feeling of it reaching down inside to pull something up and out. Holy crap. Too, it helped to close my eyes at times, even if I missed something. That said, there was an un-subway rumble that was more easily felt with eyes opened, watching the man play his horn. I suspect his music just amplifies whatever is within the shopping bag of a listener’s mind.

And I don’t know anything about jazz.

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Visit Tom’s website: http://www.tomharrell.com/

Buy Tom’s music: http://amzn.to/2u8rdoZ

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?