Monday, May 30, 2011

In Love with Beauty

Beauty. It is intangible, our sense of it fleeting -- though in itself, beauty is all pervasive. Rather than celebrating the object we find beautiful we should rather celebrate the moments our minds awaken to it. Beauty is up to us to perceive. We tend to wait for it to pounce on us, to assault us with its power, to overtake us with its awe-inspiring qualities. 

If we wait like this and do not reach, search, look, and become curious about beauty, then there is no foundation for an ongoing relationship with beauty and we will experience it rarely. 

When I wake in the morning, surrounded by beautiful objects, selected and arranged by me, the start of my day is beautiful. My home, where I land for rest and rejuvenation, is beauty. With endless places and angles and scenes upon which my eye anrest, I remain nourished by my home. My aesthetic is not functional or modern, but historical -- the objects in my home, most acquired second-hand, have stories in themselves that go beyond my possession of them. This is what I find beautiful.

There are the traditional faces of beauty -- a flower arrangement, a painting with harmonious colors, and woman with almond eyes, cascading hair, and full lips. An elegantly shaped vase, mountain peaks covered in the previous season's snow, a lake that reflects the moon. All these are beautiful to the senses. But what is beautiful to the mind? 

I would say that when the mind engages with beauty, it does so through stories. The history of an object, a place, or a human being enriches our appreciation, our admiration of what this thing in front of us is. As a result, we begin to expand our experience of the five physical senses into a mind and heart sense. Through this, we can more deeply understand the object and our hearts open and reach out to the beauty we perceive. 

In doing so, we are no longer distant observers. We are now in relationship, allowing beauty to enter us and become part of us. Our emotions begin to dance around the form, color, and story, imagination can take hold as we engage empathy to put ourselves, for example, into 17th century England when a portrait was painted, into the feeling of silks and robes and jewels, into nobility, into the personality that has been revealed. 

It is through this reaching out with our minds and hearts that we fall in love with beauty. And this is how we begin to see it everywhere we look.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Artfully Wedded in Britain

As the royal wedding proceedings rest for photographs and inner-sanctum formalities, electricity is surely surging across Britain as everyone flips the switch on their kettles for tea. I myself flipped the switch, but being a amalgamated citizen of both Britain and the United States, I am making Starbucks coffee in my French press.

What a beautiful experience to rise at 2am and witness this world event. I have been asked several times of my motivation for such a determination to do so -- fellow Britons living here in Denver have declaired they will be watching the replay at a decent hour, albeit we all agreed that the event would be accompanied by tears and hankies. I always responded to the inquiries by telling people that one day Catherine would be my Queen. This answer reflects my sense of belonging to a nation in which I have spent many wonderful holidays with family and one extended stay during which I had the good fortune of working on the Thames in London. Altogether, if I were to add it all up, I have spent just over a year of my life Britain.

So why the determination? Longing and nostalgia which is physical. My feelings for the place have the powerful quality of birthright, of wandering around Westminster Abbey in my parents' arms, in sandals and a sundress, in too-short cutoffs and a tank top. Most recently, I stopped by after work, wearing loafers that tapped with a professional cadence as I walked the cross into the inner sanctum of the altar. No red carpet for me, but a feeling of having inherited the place all the same in a kind of cultural imagination.

But there is another reason for my keen interest. In my life of collecting citizenships, I have two that come by birth and one that arrived by choice. I am also a citizen of Shambhala, a global society based on the principles of basic goodness in all beings, community enlightenment, and enlightened monarchy. So I will declare to the world that I am a fan of the monarchy, in Britain and in Shambhala. To me, monarchs hold the central seat for a society and the quality of their reign more reflects the qualities of these royal persons than the roller coaster whims of the general populace. Whether or not the monarchy has governing power doesn't matter. These are the people we look up to and should hold dear as a symbol for what is important. If we don't treat them well, if we hound them and terrorize them with criticism or praise alike, then that is a sign of degenerate times.

That said, perhaps my friend reading this will understand my early-morning insanity -- though those who truly know me know that I love to wake pre-dawn anyway, especially to write. As I type, the Rocky Mountains are turning purple outside my bay windows, birds are loud, and traffic is only just showing the first signs of picking up. And Colorado Public Radio just played their daily "Sunrise Serenade."

I have to watch the time to be sure not to miss the ancient tradition of balcony waving, as Catherine greets the crowd from Buckingham Palace, which is now her home. I want to see the new bride, hopefully feeling at home and not intimidated by her in-laws and the formalities that life as a royal brings. I personally feel her level head and her heart, grounded in the simple elegance of humanity's virtues, is reflected in her choice of dress, the hair that fell around her shoulders, and the softness of her makeup -- hardly tinged with color. Women truly do express their inner thoughts and feelings through dress and my truly did heart skipped a beat when I saw the low scoop in the neckline of her sister and maid-of-honor, Phillipa. The loose fabric adds a profound soft sweetness to her attendant role. But when I saw the fold and lace of Catherine's neckline -- sweet, light veil and petaled drapes and hem aside -- my breath left and mouth fell open at my admiration of her sophistication and elegance.

How can it be that elegance is so simple? That is how I would describe the whole event: True elegance is just that -- simple. It holds tradition with respect and honor, it graces everything with touches of personality and flair, it expresses where we've been and where we're going. I found this in the choice of cars that delivered superstars, friends, family, and diplomats to Westminster Abbey. The alternation of Jaguars and Rolls Royces or Bentleys or whatever they were. The order of arrival, the different greeters and escorts who led guests to their seats -- it all had to be incredibly complicated to pull off just right. But the effect was simplicity and acknowledgment -- not of importance or who's-better-then-who -- but of who holds what seat and role in society. The elegant, the clumsy, the attention-getting, all these faces were scattered everywhere among the classes.

My observations had the good fortune of not being augmented by televisor's commentary -- I streamed the event through the BBC's website and found that I could watch the events at Westminster Abbey as the people in attendance experienced it. With the sounds of organ, orchestra, choir, priests, and wedding couple I was relieved to have the fullness and solemn gaiety to myself and to accompany every movement with my own observations. When I wanted, I could check the Twitter feed to the right of the video and was able to follow who designed the bride's dress, what people were saying on the street, and just who was speaking -- all in my own time and according to my own desires. It was a fabulous broadcast experience: kudos to the BBC and their magnificent camerawork. Some of the shots will stay in my mind's eye forever.

I feel proud of my heritage, and felt even more faith in monarchy upon the reading of the couple's prayer to bring benefit to the suffering. As a Buddhist practitioner, I felt completely satisfied and elated watching this Church of England ceremony. The "Generous Love" spoken of, the descriptions of the nature of marriage, and the way in which each and every marrying couple is -- in his and her own right -- the King and Queen of their domain. I hope the messages shared dispel the reputation of stuffiness and haughtiness that plagues the British and especially the monarchy. I find instead deep humility and genuine kindness behind their civility. At heart, the forms they practice actually protect and preserve those qualities. And the power of those forms was reflected today. Even the first public, balcony kiss was just right, as was the Duke of Cambridge's subtle flush afterward.

And my pride in experiencing this event from all these points of view -- as a Briton with such a long and distinguished inheritance, as an American who can carve her own path in life, and as a Shambhalian who has been properly trained to appreciate all these things as well as the grand, distinguished honor of having been born into the human race -- the truly noble citizenry we all belong to -- swells as I watch a woman in white marry her prince in uniform and a world celebrating such an ancient affair.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring in Bloom

Every week for the last month, I have been arranging flowers -- in a Japanese style called Ikebana -- for the tokanomas at the Colorado Academy of Martial Arts. 

A few days ago, I found myself in the changing room cleaning up leaves, sticks, and bowls. A troop of very perky and intelligent little girls entered, having just finished their class. One of them sweetly and shyly told me that my flowers were very beautiful. I smiled at her and caught a whiff of what beauty might be to this nine-year-old, remembering the magic and fullness of encountering a reality that met the powerful imagination I had when I was that age. 

So I began talking about how in ikebana, we seek to bring what we see outside, inside. In little miniature scenes that seek to capture a feeling, or atmosphere, the season can be felt everywhere. Then we can't insulate ourselves indoors and forget about nature.

I explained that the reason why my arrangements had so many branch blossoms was because that is where the flowers are blooming right now. There aren't very many coming up from the ground -- they are all in the trees. As outside, so inside. 

That explanation is enough for the seeds planted in children's minds to find fertile ground and possibly grow. They had all listened quietly and politely while changing into their street clothes, and almost as soon as I was done talking they resumed the flute concerto of little girls talking and laughing. 

As outside, so inside. That is a profound way to not only arrange flowers in a space, but also to regard our inner workings. As the seasons change, progressing from one to the next in infinite stages of gradual growth or death, we too take steps forward in our lives, we too are changed by the weather, the position of the sun, the thickness of the clouds, the moisture that falls and saturates the earth. 

Every year, I seem to find an excuse to photograph the seasons as they change. I have built up quite a collection. Please, enjoy a taste of Colorado in bloom.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Dusting

Snow in spring is something I'm learning to live with. Growing up in Colorado, spring seemed to take forever. I would wait, and wait, but not wait inside. My heart and gut would be bursting with the flowers I longed to see. Always ahead of the season, when spring finally came and it snowed, blooms would chill and branches would break under the weight of just-revived, living juices frozen brittle.

Living on the East Coast was to live in alignment with the season. Spring arrived suddenly, fully, and early. Once it was flourishing in the incredible abundance that is New York flora, not much happened to reverse the display. Brilliant colors and an overwhelming feeling of life -- pure, fresh, vibrant life -- would propel the summer into action and provide fodder for the autumn.

This year in Colorful Colorado, it has spring-snowed twice. Neither involved a deep freeze. Just a lovely little dusting. The first time (which thankfully preceded the flowering of trees), I ran out to Sterne Park at dawn with my iPhone to shutterbug and freeze my fingers while tapping the screen to change focus and depth of field, to adjust the aperture and shift into more dramatic light, to zoom into places where I could not walk. 

In my utter ecstasy I aggravated a thumb injury, insulted a casual conversationalist by not caring to pause to talk, and -- most sad of all -- had to endure the actual sunrise alone with the iPhone dead in my lap. Drawing an electronic curtain to my exuberance, it had turned off and refused to come back on. For no apparent reason other than it needed a little nap. But it had chosen to take this nap the moment the sun first graced the lakewater. I grieved to watch the dimness turn a definitive gold, to see the lake fowl celebrate the warmth on their feathers with much flapping and splashing. I grieved in that sweet way, when we know we are alone witnessing something exquisite and have no way to share it with another human being.

All in all -- despite the blend of ecstatic and pain-laden moments -- I came away with some pleasing shots. My father, the authority who formally studied the art in Paris and London, has complemented my compositions and says some are quite dreamlike. Perfect feedback. I was a little dreamy pre-dawn, chasing visions in the freezing cold. 

I walked home feeling at peace with this spring dusting. One more step to re-acclimating to this beloved home. 

Please, enjoy the gallery.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

March's Amazing Full Moon

Remember the amazingly large full moon in March?  The one that we will not see again so large and full until 2029? Here are some sketches and one painting. I'll add more paintings as I complete them.

Moonrise with Boyscouts
To view the moonrise, I went for a hike on a ridge near Morrison, CO that overlooks the eastern horizon. Along the way, I happened upon a troop of boyscouts with the same purpose for being on the ridge as me. They invited me to join them and I got to observe them "rock hop," make silly comments we've all enjoyed at some time in our lives (the people look like ants, the cars like toys, hey... I can squish downtown Denver with my fingertips!), and squawked along with the loud and clumsy symphony composed by a troop of exited nine-year-old boys.

After a long and sometimes precarious walk at the ridge's apex, we picked a spot and as we waited for the moonrise they practiced their knot-tying and I pulled out a bic pen and began sketching the landscape. 

I drew everything in the dark, without as much as a flashlight to help. The purpose? To rely only on the light emanating from the moon. That evening yielded two sketches of the moonrise, one with the moon behind the needles of a Ponderosa Pine tree and another of the moon rising on the horizon with the lights and roads of Denver in the foreground. I drew with ballpoint pen, highlighter, and sharpie in the dark. 

Here are the sketches. When I paint them, I'll upload them to this post ~ so do check back! 

Sunrise Moon with My Cat, Kitomaru

As a naturally early riser, I of course made sure to be up for the moon to set over the mountains in the west. My view of the entire Front Range of the Rocky Mountains ~ from Long's Peak clear south past Castlerock ~ from the back porch is an endless source of peace and blessing. 

As usual, Kitomaru was by my side participating in what I was doing. When I'm painting, he is under the low table that I work on. When I'm typing, he is on my lap. And when I'm scribbling in a notebook, he is at my feet ~ though lately he likes to watch me do this from on top of the refrigerator. 

The moon's decent was so beautiful but what was just amazing was when the sun began to rise. The moon stayed the same yellowish-white color, but everything changed around it. The sky went from black to navy blue, the mountains turned purple (which, btw, inspired the lyrics in  America the Beautiful that mentions "purple mountains majesty"), and Kitomaru jumped up on the railing to watch it all happen with me. I hear cats are colorblind, so I think what he really wanted was to watch the birds wake up. 

Just yesterday, I took the sketch I had done in March and painted this little acrylic piece to send to my Grandmother for Easter. The poem that accompanies it is specially written for Artfully in Full Bloom. 


      Kitomaru's Sunrise Moon
      My purple morning mountains
      My sky of rose at dawn
      My little haven
                My moon-viewing terrace
      My moment. 
      But no, it was his too
      Kitomaru's Sunrise Moon.

I hear that blogs are the place where total honesty is possible, so I'll tell you that this was my first time painting with acrylics EVER. How'd I do? I like comments and feedback, and this little adventure has inspired me to start a six-week class in acrylic next Thursday. 

 Thanks for enjoying this moment with me!