Months ago, I walked into a Balinese haven trapped amidst the concrete grittiness of Oakland because it was called Monkey Forest Road and because from afar it seemed to beckon as an oasis. Another fall evening, I was blessed to try a warm homemade pumpkin pudding at a 25th Street warehouse during the Oakland Art Murmur. I put two and two together and realized that the warehouse housed the artisanal imports from Bali that then get showcased at Monkey Forest Road. The next day, I raved to the barista (I used to know her name, but I left Oakland just before Halloween) about the incredible sweet concoction. "Oh, yeah, the owner made that--special recipe."
I sat down with a cup of oolong, and leafed through a coffee table book lying on a thick hardwood table called, Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance. What I recall from the book--now a half year later--is that it said Balinese culture centered around spirituality and the arts. I whispered, "I wish I lived in a culture that revolved around spirituality and art." I'm interested in a culture where spirituality and art are front and center, not at the fringes. (No, everyone doesn't have to abide by that as a monoculture either; prefer to cherish and honor the flourishing of many, many ways to move about life.)
Not long after that wish, I was introduced to the owner who had heard about my high compliments on the pumpkin pudding. We had the most charming discussion (most of it I'm not privy to share since there seems a particular intimacy there that wasn't to be recorded) about calling and moving towards that calling. In addition, I was introduced to a dancer that also worked there. They attempted to explain an untranslatable word to me: taksu.
Taksu was the most important and elusive quality for an artist to convey and embody--a divine inspiration that breathes through the artist and the work.
“A poet is a blind optimist.
The world is against him for
many reasons. But the
poet persists. He believes
that he is on the right track,
no matter what any of his
fellow men say. In his
eternal search for truth, the
poet is alone.
He tries to be timeless in a
society built on time.”
― Jack Kerouac
Then there's a chapter in Adyashanti's book called "Coming Completely Out of Hiding." I don't particularly like that chapter. Yet it remains an evocative request: come completely out of hiding. It might mean "come completely out of hiding as a separate self," although what's the difference.
Being taksu in private, penning journal entries for my own eyes, is easy in the same vein that claiming nirvana in a cave is easy.
Expressing taksu takes a willingness to be open and vulnerable come what may.
Sometimes that willingness may mean the willingness to possibly offend or confuse or be misunderstood. A willingness to share even when I'm simultaneously persuading myself that my voice has caused loss of income--of potential clients and customers; so wouldn't it be more prudent to stay mum? A willingness to risk even if our art doesn't fit neatly into any how-you-are-supposed-to-make-a-livelihood boxes. Yada yada... these are a few examples of the what if's of the ego's endless story-mongering treadmill.
Contemplating a close friend's recent bout with carpal tunnel syndrome (they use their hand quite a bit as a musician) the other day when the symbolism leapt up from a Seth Godin blog post (emphasis at the end is mine):
With a sure hand
The charisma of a great speech, a powerful graphic design or a well-designed tool (and yes, a well-designed tool can have charisma) comes from certainty.
Not the arrogance of, "I am right and you are not," but from the confidence/certainty of, "I need to say it or draw it or present it just this way and I want you to hear it."
Graphic design that fades into the background, that recycles the safe or is merely banal does nothing for us. But the sure hand of someone who understands what she says and what she wants to communicate can't help but touch us.
This is the difference between the mediocre abstract painting at the local crafts fair and the powerful piece at MOMA. This is the difference between 8 bullet points on a slide and a picture that moves us.
Confidence usually implies that you know it's going to work. I'm not talking about that, because only a fool is confident all the time. No, the sure hand can be open and vulnerable and connected, but above all, at least right this moment, it is sure enough to speak up, without hiding.
Then I watched this video by Amanda Palmer that at first glance seems to be about the future of music (or at least the future of musicians), but it's more about being an artist and relationships built upon trust and vulnerability. Oh, I've heard of Amanda Palmer before, but never paid her any mind. The short talk is worth a listen as she exemplifies that sure hand--open, vulnerable, connected, sure enough to express even if that means some people vilify her, and no hiding.
Who knows? Perhaps there is a cost to being open--there's no guarantee. I'm now willing to bet that there's more of a cost to self-protectiveness.
"My approach to being an artist in society is that the things that you do should have a really big impact. It's not really worth it unless that's the case. When we do it in a public context, it can do it in a fashion that allows us to have the experience together." - Leo Villareal, The Bay Lights
Sneak peak a public project I'm working on: It began coalescing on December 21, 2012. I was entranced by silky rose petals swirling around a crackling fire in Sara's backyard. An intimate gathering to usher in the Golden Age, the next cycle of the Satya Yuga, as many Hindus believe. Many of those gathered have been on pilgrimages to India, lean toward Hinduism or other Indian-influenced traditions such as Advaita Vedanta. Me, I'm inclined to perceive as "golden age" an ever-present intimacy with the timeless that's not coupled to any date.
As I've been researching New Orleans' history for an indie transmedia project, I noticed that some historians view the prosperity and cosmopolitan diversity of antebellum New Orleans during the steamboat era as a "golden age." Picking up on this theme, enter in opera singer Sam Rosen. Traveling through a temporal landscape and landing in different collective peaks in our past, together we'll blaze forth a rough pioneer trail bread-crumbed in the form of correspondences and soundscapes from golden age to golden age right up to the next golden age, whenever and wherever.
BONUS: I opened my friend's copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson's collected essays (part and parcel of my research into 1850s culture) randomly to The Poet, which both glimmers with taksu itself and powerfully speaks of it. Worth savoring the whole essay as it's beyond what any narrow definition of poet and what that implies:
"This insight, which expresses itself by what is called Imagination, is a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees, by sharing the path, or circuit of things through forms, and so making them translucid to others. The path of things is silent. Will they suffer a speaker to go with them? A spy they will not suffer; a lover, a poet, is the transcendency of their own nature, -- him they will suffer. The condition of true naming, on the poet's part, is his resigning himself to the divine aura which breathes through forms, and accompanying that.
It is a secret which every intellectual man quickly learns, that, beyond the energy of his possessed and conscious intellect, he is capable of a new energy (as of an intellect doubled on itself), by abandonment to the nature of things; that, beside his privacy of power as an individual man, there is a great public power, on which he can draw, by unlocking, at all risks, his human doors, and suffering the ethereal tides to roll and circulate through him: then he is caught up into the life of the Universe, his speech is thunder, his thought is law, and his words are universally intelligible as the plants and animals. The poet knows that he speaks adequately, then, only when he speaks somewhat wildly, or, "with the flower of the mind;" not with the intellect, used as an organ, but with the intellect released from all service, and suffered to take its direction from its celestial life; or, as the ancients were wont to express themselves, not with intellect alone, but with the intellect inebriated by nectar. As the traveller who has lost his way, throws his reins on his horse's neck, and trusts to the instinct of the animal to find his road, so must we do with the divine animal who carries us through this world. For if in any manner we can stimulate this instinct, new passages are opened for us into nature, the mind flows into and through things hardest and highest, and the metamorphosis is possible." - The Poet, by Ralph Waldo Emerson