Sunday, June 29, 2008

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Photo - Alden Smith

There is quite a lot in the name of this yacht. The photograph is of a schooner that is moored near my yacht Mariner. She is a large vessel and a family live on board. Often they give a cheery wave as they row past my boat in a big dory. There is quite a lot to the name of this yacht.

The name comes the very well known Poem ' Desiderata'. The author is Max Ehrmann a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, who lived from 1872 to 1945. It has been reported that Desiderata was inspired by an urge that Ehrmann wrote about in his diary: I should like, if I could, to leave a humble gift -- a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods.

DESIDERATA (Latin for "desired things" ) - Max Ehrmann - 1927

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let not this blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams; it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

Friday, June 27, 2008

TO BE OR NOT TO BE

Photo of a photo of a photo.

One of the most universally known quotations would surely be the beginning of Hamlet's soliloquy:

- "To be, or not to be, that is the Question: Whether 'tis Nobler in the minde to suffer The Slings and Arrowes of outragious Fortune, Or to take Armes against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them: to dye,"

There seems to be two interpretations of these lines. The first is that the "To be" part means to live and accept the vicissitudes of life and all that it brings, the "Not to be" part means that by taking "Armes against a sea of troubles" is to commit suicide (because you can't win against the over whelming troubles of life). So we can either choose life with all that it entails or we can choose death.

The other interpretation is that we can choose a life of action rather than a life of silent acceptance. To many a life of silent acceptance is itself a death of sorts.

One point of view is that the sea of troubles is not necessarily something to always wage war against. Rather the "Sea of troubles" is the context in which our lives are shaped and the troubles are rather problems and issues which are addressed and solved in creative ways.

In Jungian psychological terms the process that deals with the 'sea of troubles' is the process of 'Individuation'. Individuation is an autonomous, inborn process, which does not require external stimulation for it to come into existence. To say that the process is inborn is to say that it is archetypal. The process moves the aspects of personality from a state of undifferentiated wholeness into a fully differentiated, balanced and unified personality. It is said that full and complete differentiation is rare and is only found in a Buddha or a Jesus type personality. The goal of the Individuation process is the wholeness of the individual - for the individual to be all that it is capable of being - fully formed, fully integrated and fully human in every sense.

The term differentiation means that each aspect of the human personality moves from the simple to the complex. As individuation takes place the aspects of the personality seek to express themselves in more complex, subtle and intricate ways.

The aspects of the human personality that become differentiated over the lifetime of the individual are the Psyche, Consciousness, Ego, Personal Unconscious and the Collective Unconscious.

Just as the body can become stunted and deformed because of bad diet and lack of exercise, so too can the development of the personality become distorted and twisted without the required experiences and education.

The way that an individual reacts to his or her genetic makeup, family relationships, education and upbringing in the earlier years and builds on with reflection and action in later years will determine to some degree the individuation process. The 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' is part of the matrix in which all this takes place. Many of the slings and arrows are general to the whole of humanity, many are particular to the individual.

Jung said that the call to life is the call to battle, but it is not a battle where you "take Armes against a sea of troubles" but rather the battle that is required to "suffer the slings and arrowes of outragious fortune". By suffering, acceptance and action we integrate the complexities, challenges, ironies and paradoxes of life into the tapestry of our own lives, thus continuing the process of individuation. It is the journey of a hero really, and every life lived with honesty and integrity is an heroic act. - and what is the reward for this battle?

There is a metaphor spoken by Jesus which for me sums up the process. Some may say I am taking the metaphor out of context but I am not so sure.

Jesus said, " It is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and planted in his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the wild birds, the birds of the field found shelter and roosted and nested in its branches".

The influence of Carl Gustav Jung for many has been enormous. His writings have been a big influence on my understanding of myself, other people and the world at large - my 'world view'.

The Jungian concept of Individuation is one from a huge body of his work which includes - Archetypes, Stages of Life, Symbols and Dreams, Synchronicity, and Personality Types. The Jung 'industry' is immense and there are numerous books. One book worth reading is his Autobiography "Memories, Dreams and Reflections".


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

AN OBSESSIONAL TOAD

Copy of Cartoon by Alden Smith

I was thinking today about an event in Kenneth Graham’s book ‘The Wind In The Willows’ concerning Toad of Toad Hall which is a wonderful example of the human behaviour of desire and attachment. A Toad can teach us many things. Toad is everyman and everywoman.

In the story Toad persuades Ratty and Mole to take to the open road in his Canary Coloured gypsy caravan.

----- “There you are cried the Toad… there’s the real life for you, the dusty highways, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities, here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow Travel, change, interest, excitement ….. “

Toad is besotted by his new interest and to humour him and because they have a lot of affection for their old friend they agree to go along. All goes reasonably well until the gypsy caravan is run off the road and wrecked by a large (beeping, poop - pooping) motor car. As Toads friends scream “road hog” and “villains” in the direction of the car and then tend to all the carnage and the bird in the birdcage sobbing pitifully and calling to be let out, Toad is nowhere to be seen. The friends search and he is finally found. Toad has had a road to Damascus experience of the motor vehicle kind. He has done a complete flip flop, a complete turnaround, an incredible conversion. They find Toad sitting in the middle of the road staring into the middle distance.

------“Glorious, stirring sight! Murmured Toad, never offering to move. The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here today – in next week, tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped – always somebody else’s horizon! O bliss! O poop – poop! O my! O my!.......”

Toads obsession with canary coloured caravans is now an obsession with motor cars of the big brash 'poop, poop' kind.
For those of you who don't know the story, the rest of the book deals with Toads escapades in motor cars, his imprisonment, the invading of Toad Hall by the Rats and Weasels, the escape of Toad from prison and the retaking of Toad Hall by Toad's long suffering friends. Toads behaviour is typical of Toad, it's vintage Toad. He is never satisfied for any length of time and if the book had been twice the length I am sure it would have involved more sudden conversions of Toad to all manner of interests and obsessions - Maybe the next thing would have been ice skating!!!?? Toads problem is the universal problem of desire and attachment and all the chaos that this delivers.


Attachment is one of the causes of life’s difficulties. Attachment causes suffering and it arises because of our never ending craving for the things of this world. Not only the material things of this world but cravings for people, thoughts, feeling, career, objectives etc, etc.
There are allusions to attachment in the New Testament when Jesus says not to store up treasure that will rust and decay, or that thieves will steal. Rather store up treasure in heaven i.e. spiritual treasure (love, forgiveness, reconciliation, sacrifice, faith, trust etc). Jesus is a wise man, he knows that only these spiritual things have ultimate value. There is a call in the New Testament to “be in the world, but not of it”, in other words, take part in the world but do not be driven by non spiritual values. I think there is also talk in the book of Acts of how the members of the early church eschewed materialistic values and held everything in common, focusing on the things of the spirit. The New Testament of the Bible is a good place to read about enduring spiritual values.

Buddhism perhaps details how to walk a spiritual path in a specific way. One aspect of the spiritual path it talks about is attachment when it defines the Second Noble Truth i.e. Life is difficult because of attachment, because we crave satisfaction in ways that are inherently dissatisfying. It is not the objects or people that we crave that are the problem, it is our attachment to and our identification with the objects that causes an inner clinging that entangles us.

Most of us know both intellectually and experientially that the shiny baubles don’t cut the mustard in terms of finding satisfaction, rest or peace. On a higher level are relationships of love, friendship and involvement with community. But ultimately these do not satisfy either because they are tied up with problems of craving and the problems of continuing change and flux. Nothing ever stays the same. A good introductory book that talks about these ideas is “Awakening The Buddha Within” by Lama Surya Das. Not forgetting the unforgettable read which is Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows"


Monday, June 23, 2008

RABBITS IN RED RAIN COATS AND GUILLAUME LE GENTIL

Copy of Cartoon by Alden Smith

Life is not just like a straight graph line you know. Ask any rabbit in a red raincoat if life is a flat lining graph and he or she will answer, "life is very spiky and I have the ripped raincoat and wet bruised feet to proof it". I know this for a fact for some of my best friends are rabbits and they have told me as much.

I have found life to be generally spiky a lot of the time. Sometimes you just have to put on your red raincoat and repeat the words, "life is just one spiky thing after another" and get on with it. But today I have some important news. Here is a story to console yourself with when the smooth granite paving stones beneath your feet feel like layers of schist and you say to yourself, " I think I'm having a bit of a schist day today."

In the early days of science Edmond Halley suggested that if you measured the transit of Venus over the face of the sun from different parts of the world you could use the mathematical principles of triangulation to work out the distance of the earth from the sun. Transits of Venus over the sun come in pairs 8 years apart and then there is a gap of a century or more.

In 1761 scientists set off to more than 100 sites all over the globe to observe the transit of Venus. A Frenchman Guillaume le Gentil set off for India but his ship was late and he missed the transit. Undeterred he carried on to India and waited 8 years for the next transit. He build a wonderful viewing tower, he tested and tested and tested his instruments and made sure that everything was perfect for the great day of the transit. He was ready. On the morning of June 4th 1769 he awoke to a fine bright day. But as Venus began its transit of the sun a large cloud blanketed the sun for the duration of the transit which was about 3 hours, 14 minutes and 7 seconds.

So Guillaume le Gentil packed up and went back to France. When he arrived back after suffering sickness on the voyage and near shipwreck he was met with more bad news. In his absence his relatives had had him declared dead, sold his estate and divided the spoils.

So when things get spiky and you feel a bout of red raincoat weather in the offing, take heart and think of poor old le Gentil. Stand tall on your raft in the rain with your wet feet. Remember dry land is a lot less than 8 years away and no one will have nicked your burrow when you get there.

Guillaume le Gentil's story and very many more are in Bill Bryson's wonderful and popular book 'A Short History of Nearly Everything'. A very enjoyable and accessible way of enjoying science. Its written in the vernacular for ordinary rabbits like me.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

THE SPECIAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY AND A SHADOW


You can't eat this birthday cake. It is made of papier mache. We use it at our junior school assemblies to celebrate birthdays. The Mark One model was an upturned ice cream container beautifully decorated by moi with candles stuck on with plasticine. This cake was made by a kind parent who saw that the cracked and faded glory of Mr Mark One was at an end. I don't know what happened to this old cake. So we now have the new model that has been sung at and blown over more times than I care to remember.

In four more days it will be my birthday and I will be 57 years old (ouch). I am giving you plenty of warning so that you can buy me something small and park it in the driveway or moor it in the river.
Birthdays remind us of the passing years and I have a theory that I learnt from my old boat building grandad. He told me that at his age (he was in his eighties) that every year seemed like about two weeks. I think he was exaggerating a little bit but you are allowed to do that when you are eighty and telling a finely honed theory to a small and inquisitive boy. His theory was that when you are 5 years old one year is a 5th of your life therefore it is a relatively a long time. When you are eighty years old one year is an 80th of your life therefore it is a relatively short time. So my grandfathers special theory of relativity has stayed with me all my life right from the time he told me in his boat building workshop.
Now that I am 56 turning 57 I can say with some authority that my grandfather was correct. I know that one 57th is faster than one 56th of a lifetime. I also know something else which is related to someone else's theory. In amongst the writings of C. G. Jung the great psychoanalist he noted that the future casts a shadow backwards into the present and that if we are very observant we can faintly glimpse some of these talismans of change. They are easy to see in retrospect, but you have to be very cunning to see them before they arrive. It isn't like having a crystal ball and seeing dates and pack drill, its more like hearing a distant song and trying to hear the words and the tune.
I am 57 years old in four days time and I am looking out for a shadow that has my name on it because the silhouette that it casts may be a whisper and glimmer of my future. Come to think of it I know what happened to that old Mark One birthday cake ice cream container. A small boy made a yacht out of it and floated it down a sparkling little stream, the shadow of its beautiful sail a crisp triangle in the bright morning sun -- Hmmmm, .... come on, you're allowed a bit of wishful thinking when you turn 57 in four days time - anyone knows that!!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN

Photograph - Anon

Alexander is the official artist for this blog spot. He has been generous in allowing me to use his material. He is a generous person at heart. He is also my son. He is one of my heroes, as are all my children.

He is one of my heroes because he himself is a hero. Gnarly old buggers like me know a hero when we see one. In his quest to become an artist he is "Following his own bliss" as the inspiring teacher, writer and lecturer Joseph Campbell recommended. But it takes courage to follow a calling. The path is long and dangerous and there are many dragons to slay. But it is the path to life itself. It is the journey we all take to a greater or lesser extent in living life and claiming wholeness by embracing those imperatives we know we must pursue. Of course the quest does not involve only pursing our talents and interests. It also entails facing and overcoming all the universal challenges that each stage of life presents to us. Issues of work and relationships, the list is as big as life itself.

So what is it that do heroes do? Well the writer Carol S. Pearson put it like this:

"Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves. Although they may feel very alone during the quest, at its end their reward is a sense of community: with themselves, with other people, and with the earth. Every time we confront death in life we confront a dragon, and every time we choose life over non life and move deeper into the ongoing discovery of who we are, we vanquish the dragon; we bring new life to ourselves and to our culture. We change the world. The need to take the journey is innate in the species. If we do not risk, if we play prescribed social roles instead of taking our journeys, we feel numb; we experience a sense of alienation, a void, an emptiness inside. People who are discouraged from slaying dragons internalise the urge and slay themselves by declaring war on their fat, their selfishness, or some other attribute they think does not please. Or they become ill and have to struggle to get well. In shying away from the quest, we experience non life and, accordingly, we call forth less life in the culture."

So thanks for the art work Alex, it's as unique as the prints on the fingers and palms of your hands.

Friday, June 20, 2008

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE / KAREN ARMSTRONG / AND WHAT EXACTLY DOES IT ALL MEAN? - REVISITED

Photograph - Alden Smith

In an earlier post I asked the question, "What exactly does it all mean ?" and talked about the existential questions that arise in our lives. Most of us push the questions out to the boundaries of our lives and they are often only revisited during times of trauma or great stress - the death of a loved one, a fall from grace from a very great height or worse - sometimes it may be our own impending death.

Many of us spend our lives thinking about these questions. It becomes a lifetimes work or perhaps an obsession. Sometimes the prompting has come from unusual or formidable transcendental experience of one sort or another. For me it has been an enjoyable obsession. I have read many of the western philosophers, delved into the works of Carl Jung the great psychoanalyst, read some of the more accessible theologians and read much on comparative religion, especially Christianity and Buddhism.

The conclusion that I have come to is that the meaning of life is not a set of philosophical principals, a system of beliefs, but a process of finding out how to be fully human, to live with intensity and creativity in the present moment. Why this conclusion? - because to try and understand ultimate reality is impossible. The ultimate answer is Gods alone, however you might conceive the term God. If this ultimate enlightenment comes to us it will be in another life, another reality, beyond our present situation.

Perhaps one book that has struck a resonance with me beyond all others has been "THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE - My Climb out of Darkness" by Karen Armstrong. Her story is about becoming human, being recognised and finally recognising herself, about dead end byways off the main track that paradoxically in the end help her find her own royal highway to self hood and a kind of redemption. It is a wonderful story. At the end of the book she has this to say:

" He had told me that in most traditions, faith was not about belief but about practice. Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. It you believe in a certain way you will be transformed. The myths and laws of religion are not true because they conform to some metaphysical, scientific, or historical reality but because they are life enhancing. They tell you how human nature functions, but you will not discover their truth unless you apply these myths and doctrines to your own life and put them into practice."
"I have discovered that the religious quest is not about discovering "The Truth" or The Meaning of Life" but about living as intensely as possible in the here and now. The idea is not to latch on to some superhuman personality or to "get to heaven" but to discover how to be fully human - hence the images of the perfect or enlightened man, or the deified human being. Archetypal figures such as Muhammad, the Buddha and Jesus become icons of fulfilled humanity. God or Nirvana is not an optional extra, tacked on to our human nature. Men and women have a potential for the divine, and are not complete unless they realise it within themselves. A passing Brahman priest once asked the Buddha whether he was a god, a spirit, or an angel. None of these the Buddha replied; "I am awake." "

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A QUESTION OF BALANCE

Drawing By Alexander Smith ©

Recently I went to the opening of a local artists exhibition of paintings. The artist was Joanne Hardy and the exhibition was a sell out. One of paintings that intrigued me was a landscape with a number of rectangles superimposed, floating all over the canvas. The painting was called “The Bare Bones”.

Looking at the size and shape of the rectangles, my take on the meaning was that it was a painting making reference to the “Golden Rectangle” This rectangle has a particular ratio of the length of the short side to the length of the long side. Whatever the length of the long side the short side will have to divide into the long side 1.618 times for the triangle to be a “Golden Rectangle”. This rectangle has a particular harmony to it, a particular balance.

The face of the Mona Lisa fits into a golden rectangle, as does the Parthenon, the floor plan of the tomb of Ramses IV, as do groupings of subjects in many classical and modern paintings. This ratio is well known and is used consciously by artists. The French artist Le Corbusier committed himself to using golden proportions in his work as did Seurat, Durer and Mondrian. What is also interesting is that golden proportions are clearly visible in nature.

The profile of a chicken egg fits into a golden rectangle, as do certain types of sea shells. Many evergreen trees grow to fit neatly within boundaries of a golden rectangle. Golden proportions and ratios can be seen in animal horns, ocean waves, galaxies, pinecones, ferns and sea horses.

Now the golden proportions are the function of a sequence of numbers called Fibonacci numbers. (Fee – buh – NOTCH – ee).The sequence begins with 1 (0 + 1) with each number that follows being the sum of the previous two numbers:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89 ..........

To see one of an absolute myriad of examples in nature of Fibonacci numbers look into the head of a mature sunflower. “We can observe two distinctly different spirals of seeds, one going clockwise, and the other going counterclockwise….the usual number of spirals in a sunflower head is 34 going one way and 55 going the other. Giant sunflowers have 55 going one way and 89 going the other. Other sunflowers have 55 going one way and 89 going the other. Other sunflowers have been reported as having 89 and 144, or 144 and 233” ---- All of these are adjacent Fibonacci numbers!

So within the arrangement of creation there seems to be a pattern, I hope it is a blessed pattern rather than a random one. One thing is sure, Hamlet was correct when he said “And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”

Monday, June 16, 2008

READING, RITING, RITHMETIC AND BLOOM'S TAXONOMY


There is a theory about learning or rather a description of learning stages called Bloom’s Taxonomy which I was taught over thirty years ago at Teachers Training College. Simply put it is a hierarchical process that starts with receiving basic knowledge, comprehending that knowledge, applying that knowledge, then analysing and evaluating the knowledge and finally synthesizing and creating something unique – an insight of some sort, a new way of thinking, seeing or doing something.

In the visual arts a great synthesis would be the production of a new and original work of art. A greater synthesis would be to create a new “school” of art. Baroque · Classicism · Cubism · Dada · Expressionism are all examples of this.

I think that what is true for the individual also works for groups as well. The knowledge and experience of a group or movement can be synthesized into something that is greater than its individual parts.

A similar process takes place within all individual and / or group endeavours and activities whether it is philosophy, boat building, science or knitting.

I see this process in my work as a teacher at its most fundamental and individual level. Children who arrive on my classroom doorstep have the enthusiasm, biological hardwiring, the influence and learning from the family culture and maybe preschool experiences. Most have a smattering of prerequisite learning to build on, many have nothing. We climb the big mountain together and at the end a great and wonderful synthesis takes place. This is an old synthesis for many but for those who inhabit the early world it is a brand new magic key. Out of small beginnings is forged the colossus of Reading, Riting and Rithmetic.




Sunday, June 15, 2008

THE INFLUENCE OF THOSE THAT LOVE US

Photograph Sutton Estate ©

There is a passage in the Old Testament of the Bible stating that ".. the sins of the father shall be visited upon the son ". It is true of course because the negative behaviour both in and outside the family of the 'significant others' in our lives have repercussions for the sons and the daughters - sometimes the 'sins' can have inter generational significance. But there is another side to this old testament gloominess and that is that the positive and joyful actions of the significant people in our lives can have powerful positive effects on us.

This is a photograph of my grandfather (on my mothers side) standing next to the 'Tahiti Ketch' he built in Christchurch. He built it in Bamford Street in Woolston. When it was completed in the late 1950s a team levered it across the road and launched it sideways 'American Style' into the Heathcote river. She was taken down to the bridge at Mt Pleasant and the masts lowered into place. Those who recognise the area will recognise the Port Hills and Castle Rock in the background.

The reason my grandfather was a positive influence on my life is not just that he provided an example of yacht building (positive as that was), but for an entirely other reason.
My mother's father and mother always engaged me in conversation as an individual. They talked to me, about ideas and experiences. They were interested in me and my siblings as individuals with our own ideas and opinions. We were respected. We weren't indulged with expensive presents, talked down to or seen as 'cute'. I remember that aspect of my interaction with them as being a gift for the growth of my self hood and confidence. Life batters all of us, but for me my grandparents have put down many deposits in a special sort of bank account of the soul which has a balance that never diminishes. They are two of many people from the past and the present whose unconditional acceptance helps me as I sail on this voyage towards human wholeness.

Both my grandparents had a very hard time during the great depression of the 1930s and my grandfather had to go away from his family for long periods of time to work in government work camps. Despite all this my grandfather's dream was to have his own yacht. He took seventeen years to build it. The example I was shown was that dreams are achievable even in the toughest of circumstances, that projects have a beginning a middle and an end and that you get to the end with hard work, determination and perseverance.

My grandfathers boat is the same size as mine - 30 feet - the biggest yacht anyone should undertake alone. I sometimes think of him when I am sailing as I think about my dad who was another big influence in my love of the sea and sailing, but the story of my dad I shall leave for another post.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

SLOOP D'JOUR

Photograph - Alden Smith ©

This is a recent photograph of the good ship Mariner. She is a 30 foot sloop. 24 feet on the waterline, 9 feet 8 inches beam and draws about 5 feet in cruising trim. She is constructed of two skins of heart kauri over one inch square stringers with a laminated backbone and many laminated frames. She can sleep four people but for any extended cruise 2 to 3 people is enough. I built her over a period of four years and launched her in 1979. I have been all around the coast of Northland in her and she has proved to be a fast and weatherly type.

Sailing is at the heart of what I love to do. It's not just the sailing itself which as an activity and sensation is to me poetry in motion, it is the associated peripheral things, which when gathered together make for a pleasing and enchanting whole.

To steer her up the coast hard on the wind, at the tiller hour after hour thinking only of the relationship of the angle of the genoa jib to the eye of the wind and to exult in the way the boat cleaves herself through the waves; or to run downwind like smoke feeling her make use of each wave, is to be immersed in and aware of every interaction of the boat with its environment.To do this is to enter into a meditation of sorts, it is a way for me to be entirely in the present moment and I rejoice in that.

For me, experiencing the many moods of the sea is a blessing. Each time it is as if I am experiencing it for the very first time. The wind, the waves, the sky all have an elemental cadence to them. Watching a mirror like calm change to the spindrift blown spray of forty knots or more of wind and wave, and to sail through all this after reefing her well down and watching the destination grow slowly larger on a bright or hazy horizon, for me is being immersed in contentment itself.

Then the safe harbour, the snug anchorage, rowing ashore, pulling the trusty dinghy up on the beach. The walks along the beach and climbing a hill to look down at the boat now a toy anchored contentedly in the bay below.

At night the meal shared, to lights reflected in varnished mahongony and the warm glow of conversation and camaraderie - and the stars. Not just any old stars - sailing stars, high, high, high stars clear and bright, bright, bright, away from the pollution of the city. The whole sweep of the milky way and the cosmos - and as the chill of the night comes, seeking the cosy haven below in a little cabin made for reflection, reading, meditation and contentment.

But you must remember this, the nuances of sailing are a lifes work, it is always a work in progress and it doesn't suit a plastic caravan mentality, for you see wooden yachts are living things and if you are very quiet and listen carefully they will reveal to you their secrets.

Friday, June 13, 2008

GIVE ME THE CHILD UNTIL HE IS SEVEN AND I WILL PROBABLY END UP TEACHING HIS SON

Pastel and Dye Picture by Oscar Kippenberger Age 5 years ©

After discussing how wonderful I think children's art is - then displaying something of my own! I thought it appropriate to display the real thing.

I chose this picture in pastel and dye for two reasons. The first reason is that it is a good example of the sort of art
that a five year old does - in art development speak it is the 'schemata stage'. From the 'scribble' stage through to the 'schematic' and the 'true to appearance' stage children are unselfconscious and spontaneous. Further on in their art development as they approach adolescence there is a real concern about getting their drawings "right", they are concerned with photographic like representation and they are troubled if they cannot attain it. Their art can become awkward and self conscious. Some art teachers say that
this is a delicate time, but with the correct help they can go on to become confident drawers with a life long skill. They see artistic skill as being an attainable universal skill
like oral language.

The second reason I chose this work of Oscars is because he is the son whose father I taught some twenty five years or more ago. Oscar is one of two children in my present class whose fathers I have taught. Last term we had our annual Junior School camp which involves a sleep over. The parents and children sleep Marae style in our hall. There was a certain resonance, a certain sense of continuity to see Oscar with his dad; sleeping bags side by side. I felt there was a certain pattern to things, and I also felt old!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

THE ART FACILITATOR PAINTS A PICTURE

Celebration - Painting in MSPaint By Alden Smith ©

Today in the classroom the children used pastels and dyes to create their pictures. There were pictures of trucks and fairies and flags and castles and houses and flowers. Using dye with either crayons or pastels always produces work that is bright and fresh. Children's art has such a vibrancy, potency and innocence about it. Trees can be blue or pink and castles and horses can float in mid air - of course they can. Unconsciously their pictures have a balance and symmetry to them that is uncanny. Many of the great artists say that their aim is to be able to paint or draw with the innocence and immediacy of a child.

After seeing all these great works of art strewn all over the classroom I gathered up all the brightness and light in my mind and went and used MSPaint to capture and express what I had seen.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

THE LOVE POETRY OF PABLO NERUDA



When we think and talk about love in popular culture we are usually talking about the love called Eros, (There being four loves - Affection, Friendship, Agape and Eros). These 'four loves' are explored in depth in an interesting book by C.S.Lewis called, funnily enough 'The Four Loves'.
There was a time when the youthful imperative on the high veld of my romantic inclinations and emotions lead me to a second hand bookstore bookshelf where I discovered Mr Pablo Neruda. I am glad that I discovered him.
"Neruda (1904 - 1973) was born in Chile. At the age of twenty three he was acknowledged as one of Chile's most promising younger poets and following a long standing tradition, appointed him to a diplomatic career that took him all over the world. In 1970, when Chiles Communist Party chose Neruda as its candidate, he stood down in favour of Salvador Allende." In 1971 Pablo Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.




I Remember You As You Were
-
I remember you as you were in the last autumn.
You were the grey beret and the still heart.
In your eyes the flames of the twilight fought on.
And the leaves fell in the water of your soul.
-
Clasping my arms like a climbing plant
the leaves garnered your voice, that was
slow and at peace.
Bonfire of awe in which my thirst was burning.
Sweet blue hyacinth twisted over my soul.
-
I feel your eyes travelling, and the
autumn is far off:
grey beret, voice of a bird, heart like a house
towards which my deep longings migrated
and my kisses fell, happy as embers.
-
Sky from a ship. Field from the hills:
Your memory is made of light, of
smoke, of a still pond!
Beyond your eyes, farther on, the
evenings were blazing.
Dry autumn leaves revolved your soul.

Monday, June 9, 2008

WHAT EXACTLY DOES IT ALL MEAN?



For most of my life I have spent a lot of time thinking and reading about the existential questions. Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Is there life after death? What does the word God mean? What is ultimate reality? what is the nature of consciousness? - the questions are endless. The answers are partial, and scratching the existential itch continues unabated.

The photograph above is of a sculpture by the early twentieth century artist Marcel Duchamp. To me it symbolises the conundrum of existence. What is the meaning of what we see here? These are familiar things, a stool and a bicycle wheel. Placed in their own contexts of riding on and sitting on we can make sense of these objects. When juxtaposed in an incongruent way we are puzzled and confused. They remind me of other incongruousness. Young innocence and painful death. The good dying young. The fullness and richness of life ending in death. The pain of love. Evil so often seeming to triumph. Injustice and suffering. What does it all mean?

For me life up to this point it has been a very rich and meaningful one; full of happiness as well as suffering just like most people. But the ultimate questions remain. What have you learnt? what are some of your partial answers?