The transfiguration of matter occurs through wonder

Passage by Cornelia Conrads

Cornelia Konrads Passage

James Hillman said that. His friend, the artist George Quasha, has spent a lot of time balancing stones. He balances them, no mortar, no glue, just balance. Cornelia Konrad’s work often allows us to glimpse the lightness of being that exists in all things. James Turrell explores radiance itself. Andy Goldsworthy’s labors delight us over and over by breaking open the matter he works with until we see the spirit inside. In a sense, wonder is our job, the human contribution to the natural world.

When we speak of the transfiguration of Jesus, it refers to a specific event, where he went up onto a mountaintop and suddenly ‘His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white.’ The essence of transfiguration is this radiance, the spiritual fire becoming visible. All things possess this radiance. It is the opening of our perception of it, the dilation of our hearts and spirits that make it known.

Releasing knowingness, but not knowledge, and being willing to wonder, allow us to experience nature’s radiant heart.

George Quasha Axial Stones 4

George Quasha Axial Stones 4

Andy Goldworthy Torn Stone

Andy Goldworthy Torn Stone

Andy Goldworthy Snow Cricles

Andy Goldsworthy Snow Circles

James Turrell Roden's Crater

James Turrell Roden Crater

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listen to their lament and accept

Today I spent a good part of the day talking with an old friend who lives in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where they have had the floods of a century. The rain fell almost 19 inches in a few days in some parts and Faye was describing how fast it crept in and up and up, wiping out river banks, houses, trees, animals and people. There were so many lightning strikes, the instruments couldn’t keep up with them. Here where I live, the spring has been more than usually beautiful. We’ve had a lot of storms, too, but gentler.

Spring, as you know, is married to the Lord of the Dead, Spring is the consort of Death. In the springtime, I hate to bring that up, but inspired by her ravishing of me this year, I’ve been working on the third piece of my Recombinant DNA performance cycle, which is about the marriage of Spring and Death, Persephone and Pluto, so I’ve been writing about her ravishment.


The myths are descriptions of reality, they are lists and explications of correspondences, so the marriage of Spring and the Lord of the Dead is an image of the set-up we’ve got. Our task is to understand their marriage as the conditions under which we live.

In the stories themselves, though Hades inspires fear, he doesn’t particularly act in a fear-inducing way, he isn’t cruel, only implacable. I’ve come to see him more as the guardian of the dead. He accepts absolutely everyone with no exceptions, everyone has a place in his kingdom. It is actually Persephone who has the face that makes the blood run hot and cold. As the daughter of Demeter, the cornucopia of the biosphere, Persephone’s beauty was as world-changing as Helen’s. She wears whatever face pleases her, the face of Spring, the face of horror, the face of the mother of the dead, the queen of the dead, the queen of emerging green, the face of flowers.

Think of it, Spring has offered to be the mother of your death. That green golden budding flower will greet you at the door, will meet you at the river, more beautiful than Helen, a sister to Psyche, to Soul itself.

Carl Jung gave this advice in The Red Book: …turn to the dead, listen to their lament and accept them with love.  That is surely for us to do, but every day that is also what Spring and Death, Mr and Mrs Hades, do, they listen and accept us all.

image: detail from Pluto and Proserpina by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

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let me tell you a story

James Hillman once said to me that he wasn’t very interested in origins. It seemed to be an exhaustion with psychology’s mommy – daddy emphasis, as well as a deeper suspicion about cause and effect, which I share. There is another way. The Warlpiri people of Australia have a point of view that isn’t about cause and effect – it’s about presence. In their traditional initiation experiences, the young people are taken to the early moments of the Creation, to the beginning, the Origin. It is impressed upon them that as with any birth, when one is present at the Creation, one is ever after responsible for it.

The Dreaming is Warlpiri culture and law. It is the time of the creation of the world which continues to exist as an eternal present embodied in songs, stories, dances and places. It is always there, although people may forget or abandon it.  *

This may not be how modern western people see responsibility but even without cultural support, a feeling of tenderness and wonder and budding responsibility arises when we witness and participate in a birth. In this clip, Darren Aronofsky works to give us an opportunity for presence.

*  from Warlpiri Dreamings and Histories by Peggy Rockman Napaljarri,

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your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it *


Abraham Lincoln once said, Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

This is so obvious on its face, that the overwhelming power of capital, the Capitalization of capital as the head Capo de Capi is one of those mysteries that can only be explained by mythology.  The superiority of Capitalist storytelling must be acknowledged – particularly the bit conflating capitalism and democracy. Good trick that.

Many many Americans do not know that there is a difference. While people often see the primary conflict of the last hundred years as Capitalism/Democracy versus Communism,  we are well into the next war of Democracy versus Capitalism. What is so awe-inspiring and horrifying is that the mythos that possesses the ‘developed’ world is so dominant that to even tender another value besides material value is simply considered quaint, possibly interesting, possibly entertaining, but naive, a little silly, something a child would do. Don’t worry your head about it, princess, Big Daddy Money will do the real stuff.

When a myth is this powerful, when a culture or a world is possessed so completely by a story, the most important thing we can do is to hold to the wider and deeper stories and thus values, while the craziness rages around us. We have to tell each other the other stories over and over so we don’t forget them. Yes, universities once were a place for scholars who valued learning more than money! Yes, people actually used to care about art! We may need to put this stuff in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, but we must also hide it in our hearts and push back the crush of gold for each other, so that when the avalanche is over, when the cracks made by the inherent insanity around us begin to appear, there is someone left who can remember that there are other ways of living and of understanding the world.

I often think about the Irish monasteries where much learning was preserved during the Middle Ages, but perhaps more to the point is a moment in Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Yuri, Dr Zhivago, has been captured during the Russian Revolution by one side and then after escaping, by the other, and each time forced to perform his services as a doctor. He is speaking with his half-brother who is a commander in the Red Army, General Yevgraf Zhivago, who says to him, with plenty of good Russian novel philosophy about why, you must choose a side.  And Yuri says, No. Somebody needs to remember how to live.

While the insanity of a world at war during a revolution may be easy to spot, the insanity of the war within ourselves, against the environment and each other created by materialism is less obvious, though possibly more destructive. The good part may be that the depravity and consequent poverty could awaken us to the importance of valuing things other than money, and that the weakening of religion will free our perception of the spiritual.

It is the stupidity and wickedness of materialism that gives religious fundamentalism its strength. Fundamentalists may be fearful people who need an authoritarian hand, but they are also people who feel in their bones that the reality and importance of the spiritual life is being shut out of an increasingly selfish materialistic world. Their solution is backward and a blanket denial of modern values, like science, because thinking it out is too hard, because religion in its most childish form is a blanket to lay over the ravished soul, no nuance, no thinking, no understanding. Cynical religious leaders use the deeply felt longing for spiritual life and twist it for their own purposes. They use this precious essence of the human being for power and politics.

Fundamentalism asks us to sacrifice our brains and materialism asks us to sacrifice out hearts. Unfortunately, these are both essential organs, so the very choice itself is bogus. Meanwhile, somebody needs to remember how to live.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

*  Helen Schucman

Tattoo –  John Clark Tattoos, Arlington, TX

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small dicks

GEORGIA-master675It’s something I didn’t expect to see so close up.  A sort of recreation of the forces that created the Third Reich. In Georgia, we have a new law signed by the governor yesterday that allows guns in schools, churches, McDonalds, in Target (pre-cognitively good name, guys), in the laundramat, hey, in bars – how great of an idea is that, boyz?

I spend a lot of time in working on Creativity in Captivity thinking about and reading about Nazis. It leads me to think about the creation of nazis. My rage at the wickedness of these Georgia legislators and the governor is made worse and better by a bone-deep understanding of the helplessness these people experience within the emptiness of their souls and their pants.

For some reason, there is nothing on this earth as crushing as humiliation. And there is nothing more likely to lead to violence. The men in this picture, in attempting to remedy the situation do not even realize that they may as well be holding a sign over their heads that says, ‘Pitifully Endowed’. Look at their faces. Does this look like a frat party or what? Make no mistake, I take nazis seriously, I take the underlying inadequacy of them seriously, one, because they’re dangerous and two, because even nazis are human beings and the emptiness inside them, the fear, the inadequacy, is a suffering I wish they could be properly comforted from and healed of, for their own sakes, as well as everyone else’s. This is the source of such evil. It takes every ounce of strength to find compassion for them.

Here is Evelin Lindner who was an important part of the Banaz, A Love Story film. Her work on human dignity and humiliation is an opening through the cycles of violence and revenge.


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Give the gift of grief. Allow it. In the Grunewald altar piece, one of humanity’s great works of art, at the crucifixion of Christ, Mary Magdalen looks like a melting candle, her sorrow has turned her molten and she has lost her structure. Her body is burning and melting. Somehow her dress has shredded and it looks as if it has become a translucent rainbow. A quivering rainbow. The Madonna is stiff and insensate as if she too is already lifeless. John, the disciple Christ loved, is pale and in parallel sympathy to the mother, holding her up as his reason for being. The only one in an active posture is John the Baptist, that forerunner who is already dead.


I’ve had so much loss in my life. That isn’t the same as misery, especially the grinding daily misery of poverty and oppression. To lose a lot means to have had something. I have lost all of my original family, but one brother – which means I not only had them once, but also I had their love so that it grieves me for them to be gone. Friends, so many friends gone, which means I have known and loved many people and that many of them were older than I, so the gift of elders has been mine, too. Recently I lost something else, a trust I had in someone, I have lost work, been betrayed and cheated, stolen from, and all of these things mean that I had something to lose. I could have held myself back from taking these people and things into my hands – many people do – and my losses would not be so many or so deep. Those are the choices.

But now I am left with a question and it is of resurrection. What can that possibly mean? It is too ubiquitous for me to cast it off as wishful thinking. That sort of disrespect and sour grapes goes against everything I know. But what is it? That is a mystery. What I do know is that resurrection is not possible without full surrender to the fact and feeling of loss. The clue seems to be in the melting Magdalene.

The willingness to suffer through it, as Christ is doing on the cross is the way that the turning inside out is begun. Every grieving Jewish, Afghani, Syrian, Ukrainian mother does not experience a resurrection. Many of us go down, and to all appearances, stay down. It is not a matter of ‘everything happens for the best.’ If that is true, I have no way of knowing. No, all I’m saying, is that when there is resurrection, when life and transformation assert themselves, surrender has come before it.

Only the melted Magdalene has eyes to see the risen Christ. And that is her resurrection.

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tragedy is inevitable. style is not.

wisteria and nazis was about tragedy as an antidote to fear of failure and respect for the Big, for fate and for fortune. What are the antidotes to tragedy?
The response of these guys just puts a grin on my face. Tragedy is inevitable. Style is not. Style is a determined choice to stand for some form of expression and dignity in the face of fate. The Sapeurs have passed into and through acute tragedy and are living with the enduring consequences – in style, indeed, through style. Joie de vivre as defiance and just as joie.

For many of us, beauty is the consolation for pain and loss. These guys are the cat’s pajamas.

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wisteria, lilacs, nazis

The wisteria are subsumed in an aura of bees, absolutely balmy with intoxication. I sympathize with them. The perfume is so strong it crowds out other thoughts, even damaging motor control.

The beauty and exuberance of spring are often the setting for tragedy. As the whole world becomes young and beautiful, renewing itself, death, illness, being left out and loss become harder to bear. My parents used to play this record that eloquently embodies the feeling

But why do we like this and more deeply, the great tragedies? Perhaps comedy requires more sheer talent than tragedy, but tragedy is considered greater. Why is that? Comedy is so important – crucial and with any luck – daily. Humor is the essential lubricant of life, to distance and laugh, to change the angle of vision and invoke the angel of perspective. But the experience of tragedy and the art forms of tragedy are not something daily. We need time to go where they lead. An artistic tragedy, a film, a play, a book, requires time and a willingness to go under the protection of art through a passage of pain, in order to accept it and so release it. Surrender. Give the agony its due and thus leave some of it in the hands of those who can manage it better than we. We need to keep going without the weight of our losses becoming a pair of cement overshoes. We need help to digest what we can and leave what we can. Since it is both impossible and wrong to simply leave our dead on the side of the road, we have to be given a vehicle in which loss is both the conveyance and the fuel, as well as (a lesser amount of) dead weight.

Tragedy and the tragic viewpoint is also the antidote to anxiety about success and Sisyphisan straining against failure. As Alain de Botton says, the idea that we live in a meritocracy is both lovely and ridiculous. We do not and we never will since it is not possible. But because the mythos of our time, the air we breathe, is the idea that we are equal, that anyone with gumption and talent can be a success, most people live with self-excoriation and fear of failure. Our self-respect is tottery. It seems to be part of the make-up of even those we describe as fabulous successes, this gnawing insecurity, envy, fear of looking down.

We’ve got all the self-help gurus preaching to us that we should believe in ourselves, but that very thing is the problem. We believe in nothing but ourselves. If everything is our own achievement, then everything (including our cancer for godsake) is our own bloody fault.

Euripedes did not believe that, the tellers of Oedipus and Lear and The Trojan Women did not believe that. Yes, the flaw lies not in our stars but in our character, and yet, nature, culture and the gods also have their will and their way.

It is well to take responsibility for one’s life. One of the reasons that it is well is because when we take responsibility, we feel more powerful, capable and willing to try. But the dark side of ‘responsibility’ is an enormously hubristic view that in both good results and bad, we inappropriately appropriate the powers of the gods to ourselves.

This is a mistake of such enormous proportions, that it leads to both the creation of tragedy and the denial of the source of the tragedy. Stay with me.

Dahlan and I have been working hard on the new Creativity in Captivity concert for Puebla, Mexico this summer. When you live with the reality of what people went through in the concentration camps, the repulsiveness of The Secret or the whole ‘you-manifest-your-own-reality’ crew comes home.  Many of those guys get a little squirrelly when confronted with something like the Holocaust, but god love em, many just plow on through because that is where the logic of their argument takes them – that somehow every circumstance is of our own making. If there is one thing the self-help movement is not interested in, it’s tragedy. That may be why the same people who are into it are the ones who send sentimental sad-eyed dog videos – sentimentality being the antithesis of tragedy.

The Muslim women killed in honor-based violence, the Jews and Rom and homosexuals of the Nazi camps, did not create that reality. That reality was created by people whose reading of Nietzsche and his superman made them think they were as gods. That’s crazy-talk. That is the road to the tragedy created by the disrespect of tragedy. Disrespect of tragedy is disrespect of the gods, disrespect of the forces greater than ourselves.

And that is what it looks like blown up big, but small and personal, it looks and feels like our endless anxiety about success and failure. To enter into the tragic universe is to find the seed of compassion, even for yourself.

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rhythm of the saints

Different rhythms create parallel universes. Most of the tiny things that make the world go round – plants, fungi, sponges, corals, plankton and microorganisms that make the oxygen and soil and food, do so in a timeframe that is hard for us to witness. Here, Daniel Stoupin has time-lapsed and sped up the visual process, so humans can see the activity of the species that make life on earth possible. Breathing to a different beat than they do, we can’t normally  appreciate their work.

A long time ago, Dahlan and I worked on a show that was part of the United Nations Pavilion that we did for the World’s Fair in Genoa, Italy called The Seven Underwater Wonders of the World. The beauty of the images, for which we created a 260 degree surround theatre with 60 slide projectors which animated the most amazing underwater photographs, were meant as an enticement to wonder and protection, since much of the world’s coral reef and gorgeous creepy improbable life is endangered.

As an artist, I work with such intensity on my projects, I look at other people’s work, whether Rembrandt or Gehry with admiration and enthusiasm, but when I see what Mama can do, dude! our little masterworks seem quaint.

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Let me begin by saying, Sex – YAY! Love sex, freedom, do your own thang, right on. Here, the emphasis is on whether any given thang is your own.

What I mean by myth or mythic imagination is the deep structures of the mind, the undying architecture of the soul, the gulfstreams and humbolt currents of the heart. I mean that these structures were created for the benefit of the species, though through the marvelous efficiencies of god and nature, they are also ends in themselves for the individual, the family and the culture.

The functions of myth center on survival through wisdom, which is the chief attribute of our species. Wisdom mostly being a long-term thing, the capacity for one generation to pass down its hard-earned wisdom, warnings and methods from one to the next, is the essence of our success. And for better and worse, we are a very successful species. The beauty of myth is that it is survival of all aspects of being a human being that is encoded in myth. While mythic stories and folktales contain many out and out physical survival recommendations, there are just as many psychological and spiritual truths emerging within the universal catnip of storytelling. The storytelling progresses through vivid images. And the images are able to carry many meanings all at once. A mythic image is a grenade that can detonate wisdom at the time it is needed, even if it wasn’t understood on that level when it was originally heard.

When I talk about the deep structures of the mind and soul, I’m mainly talking about stories, images, rhythm, repetition, the things that get something into you and keep it there. As a performance artist, I’m very aware that these are my tools, we all work with the hard-wired virtually inescapable structure of human response and memory.

The greatest danger to you personally, to your society, to the world, is the hijacking of these structures in order to manipulate and subvert human freedom. This mythical imaginative field exists in every person’s mind, heart and soul and we developed it for crucial beneficent reasons. Narrative is the core of the capacity for memory and crucially also for meaning. Meaning establishes priories and determines action. When that part of you is hijacked by Coca Cola or pornography or Al Queda, there is someone else benefitting from your operating system, your power supply, your brain, your heart, your soul – and it isn’t you. Usually the opposite, it is to your detriment.

So here is this guy, Ran Gavrieli, talking about the experience of being hijacked and what he’s decided to do about it. It’s a 15 minute TED talk but he gives his idea in the first two sentences.

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