Saturday, December 27, 2008

Flux and Process...

Shadow Piece by Mieko Shiomi
Make shadows -- still or moving -- of
your body or something on the road, wall,
floor or anything else.
Catch the shadows by some means.
I have some big news to share this week-- on Tuesday I figured it all out: What is my mission in life? What am I here to do?

I was sitting in meditation with a group of dancers for 20 minutes, and it struck me like a big lighthouse in my head, radiating out & illuminating pieces of my life that suddenly strung together to spell out a pretty clear message--

Can I possibly articulate it here? I'll try...
In 2007, I embarked on a nine-month exploration of my relationship to nature, culminating in my solo performance at Intermedia Arts, "The Survival Pages." The program I was in, the "Naked Stages" program, was intended to push our growth as artists, and to really pay attention to our creative process.

That's the key word in all this: PROCESS.

Early in February, I had an inspiration to go outside and practice Butoh-dance in 10-degree weather, wearing a thin dress on top and hefty mukaluks and warm pants below. I set my video camera out on the ice of a lake, and proceeded to walk v-e-r-y slowly across the video frame. At some point my camera froze, and I couldn't feel my fingers anymore. The main thing, though, was that I received a very clear message-- from... Earth? the elements? My inner guide? --
"You must do this again... you must come back. There is so much I want to tell you, and when you walk out in this way, so open and receptive, I can finally be heard."

So, I made a practice of it.

If I had to write down what my practice was, as a score, it would be this:

Butoh Day
1. Write in your calendar, in big letters, "BUTOH DAY", on the solstices, equinoxes, and in-between dates (Feb 2, May 1, Aug 6, Oct 31). Those days are now dedicated to your practice.
2. On a BUTOH DAY, wake up and do not speak to anyone. Drive to a place where you can be alone, in a part of nature you consider beautiful.
3. Walk in this place until you see something that suggests an action.
4. Set up your video camera, figure out where the sight-lines are, and start recording.
5. Do the action-- mindfully, meditatively. Use all of your senses for inspiration. Improvise with the sensation of rain on your skin, or mud drying on your face. The sound of icicles dripping, or the rustle of leaves at your feet. Be in love.
6. Afterwards, clean up, warm up, do what you need to do to be comfortable again, and journal intensively any ideas or inspirations or sensations or realizations you had during the practice. Write until you have nothing more to write. You may speak now, and enter into the rest of your day.

So this is the message:
I am here, as an artist, to deepen my understanding, and to help others deepen their understanding. I deepen my understanding through process; I set up and invent practices for myself that wake me up and lead to new games and new "scores"...

This is something I've always heard other artists say & talk about when they discuss their work, but I guess I am just realizing it in a different, more poignant way. Perhaps it has to do with accepting this -- play-- as a valid reason for existence. That really, there is nothing more sacred I could be doing with my time and my energy and my creativity, than this.

To invent new scores for understanding, and to practice them.

To be a "score-writer"-- a teacher, in a way, to lead others toward thinking differently of themselves, and their relationship to nature, to culture.

The performances, they are just the motivation for doing the practice. They are like a mid-term paper, forcing me to culminate what I've learned and to try to articulate myself-- using my very best skills of humor, beauty, and story.

The light-house in my head lit up, for a split second, the image of myself in the future, using these "scores" I'd honed over time, to host workshops and retreats for people, creating a safe environment for them to experience some of these practices, and to gain what they will from them. I saw myself leading groups of adults and kids, in my someday future nearer-to-nature place I'll live.

This vision is really not that unlike the "Butoh" training I did in Yamanashi, Japan, with Min Tanaka. A small village surrounded by mountains and rice-paddies. We played with Min's "scores" for building awareness. They were nearly all about being a body, where you are, in the moment, and fully disarmouring oneself from the concept of "try".


As a side note, I re-stumbled across the "Fluxus" artist-philosophy lately. Joseph Beuys and Yoko Ono have always been favorite artists of mine. It fits so neatly in to this lighthouse-realization about process, and I think will be making more of an appearance in my own creative practice.

Definition of Fluxus: Good luck. The one on Wikipedia, I think, is less clear than simply reading some of the "scores" to get the idea. I found the following workbook pretty inspiring:

I think my own scores may be too complex to really fall into the realm of true "Fluxus" -- but striving toward openness and simplicity is a good goal to work toward.

As far as "The Culture Pages" goes, I have it in mind to be more conscious of setting up "scores", for the purpose of creatively investigating the (very broad) topic of culture and nature.

For example, this is one score that came to me at Chaco Canyon last spring, as I contemplated what I had just learned about the Hopi Prophecy, and wanted a ritual to think about the 4 races reuniting:

God's Eye (solo exploration) You will need 4 skeins of yarn: black, red, white, yellow. Find a location where it is quiet, and you won't be interrupted. It can be outdoors or indoors.
Tie the end of the red string to a point in the east, and bring the rest of the skein to the center of the space. Think about the passage of the red people through time, as they left on their journey to discover what they know, to the present.
2. Tie the end of the yellow string to a point in the south, and bring the rest of the skein to the center of the space. Think about the passage of the yellow people through time, as they left on their journey to discover what they know, to the present.
Tie the end of the black string to a point in the west, and bring the rest of the skein to the center of the space. Think about the passage of the black people through time, as they left on their journey to discover what they know, to the present.
Tie the end of the white string to a point in the north, and bring the rest of the skein to the center of the space. Think about the passage of the white people through time, as they left on their journey to discover what they know, to the present.
5. Connect the 4 strings. Begin to weave a God's Eye. With every layer of the eye, say out loud a theme you think of in the moment: for example, as you weave the red string, think of a teacher you have learned something from, who is from the red tribe, and say the teaching out loud. Or state fears, rational or not. Name feelings of shame. Feelings of admiration. Acknowledge your feelings and connections to all of the races. Try not to think too much-- just say whatever comes to you, and don't break your rhythm to think about it.
6. When finished, face each direction in the opposite order
as you tied them on. Send thanks or close the "circle" in whatever way feels right in the moment.
7. If outdoors, consider leaving the God's Eye as an offering. The God's Eye can also be taken outside and installed someplace. If the God's Eye contains things you wish to release, it can be destroyed by unravelling or burning (with non-synthetic fibers!)
God's Eye (Circle for 4 Colors of People)
Follow score for God's Eye (Solo), but with one person holding their representative skein as it is brought in from the four directions. Before beginning, decide together upon a central question that will be the focus of discussion. As the strings are tied together, one person sits in each quadrant. The question is named. The God's Eye is woven, and each person speaks in turn as their layer is woven in.
Sample Question: What can we do to recognize each other as relatives, to recognize and value the wisdoms each of our tribes has gained, and to open our minds to learning from each other?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Branches on the Evolutionary Tree

Thoughts on Race, Culture, and Evolutionary Change....

1. "Race"-- the physical similarities we share with other humans based on our place of origin, is just that: adaptions our bodies have made to survive in a particular place.

2. "Culture" is a collection of norms and behaviors we've evolved over time, recognize as useful to our own survival (ie. rules on how to best cooperate as a tribe) & are transmitted through "traditions" and training to our young. Deeply instilled values grow over generations.

3. Feelings of competitiveness and mistrust between members of different cultures and races have deep roots. Conflicts between different tribes enable one cultural/racial group to win greater access to resources and territory.

4. Because of the travels made by our ancestors, "America" is a mishmash of cultures and races and overlapping/conflicting cultures and values. Over generations, transmissions of traditions and values between grandparents to grandchildren change drastically, as the "main culture" of America makes different demands, and the children see the teachings of their culture to be less and less relevant to what they feel is really needed for them to survive.

5. Children begin to mistrust or disregard their parents' teachings. (And some with very good reason-- as the parents have gotten pretty messed up by their own upbringing!) Culture begins to shift and sway more dramatically and less predictably than ever before. Alongside this phenomenon is the increasing saturation of mass media, and mass marketing. Television and "popular culture" replaces parental messages about traditions and values... the essential problem being that the shaping forces behind the mass media are likely to care less about the child's well-being than the parents do. The child is left on their own to sort out which messages to adopt, and which to reject-- with varying degrees of success.

6. America seems to be a nation of individual, self-created pockets of culture. The population of some areas still has strong cultural ties-- especially in rural areas. In other populations, especially urban, individuals seem to have a very fluid and changing concept of "culture"-- and form much smaller, much more specialized "tribes" within the larger population. They live side by side, but do not intermingle much. It is here that the teaching of "tolerance" between cultures and races has required the effort of these different groups to maintain "peace."

7. The "peace" that exists now in urban America is not really peace. "Tolerance" is different than "Equality", and true Peace is impossible without Justice. Justice = a reckoning, through honest conversation, resulting in greater understanding, acceptance, and compassion on the part of all-- leading to a natural and self-motivated desire for fairness and equality in all aspects of our relationships.

8. We have so far to go. Our inability to truly see other humans as our brothers and sisters is only the first step. It is equally vital for us to see and honor the links and relations between ourselves and our fellow creatures and plants. We are all part of the same tree: this is the tree of life-- literally!

9. We have the intelligence and the ability to think forward, and to re-form, consciously, our cultures to include certain values that are not only for our "tribe"'s benefit, but for the benefit of all. It is within our capacity to know what is "right," for the benefit of the whole. It is possible, through understanding and compassion, to cultivate a natural and self-motivated desire for balance in our relationships to all who live in the branches of this great tree.