If you have been following any of Ridgely’s social media you know that we have been closed since the middle of Feb. because of the cold and hugely snowy winter we are having here in the Northeast.

I have used this time to take a retreat of my own with the definite purpose of reviving my practice of creating art as prayer/contemplation. It is the first time in almost 10 years that I have really immersed myself into this spiritual practice. Ridiculous really-to allow the mind of an administrator (gotta get this Ridgely stuff done!) to bury one of my main sources of inspiration. Even more insidiously, I FORGOT how art as connection to the Divine is both grounding and illuminating at the same time.

I believe that creating any kind of art-visual, music or written word- automatically connects us to the source of creation itself. I’m sure most of you who create art will agree. With the ego stepped down, the hands just create…and sometimes we are aware that it is not us-this limited sense of ME-doing the creating. We are just the hands (or ears) of the Divine. Those of us who create art know that if the rational mind inserts itself and starts its endless analyzing and planning the Divine connection falters.

The kind of art does not matter. Art as a spiritual practice isn’t about the result. It’s a prayer, a contemplation, a small sort of union. We start the process with the intention of connecting to the Divine and set to work. If we have too many fixed ideas about what we want to create we close the door to those quirky and sometimes sublime moments of inspiration: “What if ……?”

Creativity as a spiritual practice balances any tendency we may have to become too concrete, set in our limited views of the Infinite, too enamored of the “way we do our practices” etc. It provides a way to speak our joys and our sadnesses. If we are open to the process sudden pops of clarity and intuition help us to dive more deeply into our lives, to see that we are all interconnected in the Divine, in the One.

You can see from the photos that I have uploaded that I love to work with mixed media in the color-saturated illustration style where anything goes and the creative possibilities are infinite. This month I have been playing with an art journal, a format that combines visual art and journaling (another wonderful spiritual practice). I have been doing it since childhood, this making of blank books and then drawing and writing in them. If you want inspiration, just google ‘art journaling’. You should find your own inspirations, but I want to mention one of mine:Valerie Sjodin. You can see her work here. There are so many really creative individuals…and, as a matter of fact, I think we all are creative individuals. Some of us , thanks to outside influences, believe that we are not.

The main point is, choose whatever art form makes your heart sing, remember that all hands and minds are ultimately Divine by nature and go for it. Play some inspiring music or immerse yourself in silence. You can practice with others but I feel it is better to connect with the Divine in solitude. Alone with the Alone.

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An installation at Storm King Art Center

An installation at Storm King Art Center by Alyson Shotz

Open Mouth Already A Mistake is the title of a book written by the Korean Zen master Wu Kwang. I am borrowing his title here because I think it is the perfect and pithy way to say that Reality/Brahman/Truth cannot ever be captured by words, concepts, or thoughts of any kind. Sri Ramakrishna put it in another way. He said, “Everything that can be spoken about Brahman/God is ucchistha.” ‘Ucchistha’ usually is translated as ‘defiled’ and mostly applies, in Indian culture, to food. I open a new bottle of juice and take a swig. Then I offer it to you. You don’t get the juice as it is, in its ‘pure’ state; you get the juice altered by germs from my mouth. The great non-dual philosopher and yogi, Shankaracharya, coined a word: ‘ anirvacaniya’ means ‘absolutely not to be conceptualized or put into language’.

All our notions about the Divine fall short. That means ALL of them. They are, at best, temporary mind-markers on our journey. Our notions of God, of Self, help us to bring the small sense of limited Me right out to the edge where mind cannot go.

To be a seeker of Truth is to be a dweller on the edge. It is to live our question, as the poet Rilke said. It is to work to cultivate a state of mind that questions all our assumptions about reality, including our cherished spiritual notions, always seeking to take the leap from the edge into Infinity.

We love to cling to our notions. Most of the time we are not even aware that we have them! We just listen to the voice in our head saying whatever it says and we think “That’s me!” We believe everything we think.

Through meditation and other mindful practices, we come to perceive that we are not that endless commentarial app that is autoloaded “inside our head”. We begin to adopt a new set of notions- “I am That”; “I am a child of God”; “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form”. These are the guideposts on our spiritual journey……

……but they are notions. We have to be careful not to fall into the trap of loving our notions of God more than God. Just as we strive not to cling to the self, we also must be careful not to cling to the Self…or to a something called Emptiness for that matter.

Paradoxically the religious/spiritual traditions of the world have to rely on words in order to point the way to that place where words fail and “speech falls back, vanquished” as the Kena Upanishad says. Then comes the clinging to notions and, before you know it, the arguments begin, the dogmas, the destructive arrogance of being the “right” one.

I think this is why Swami Vivekananda said, “It is good to be born in a church but bad to die in one.” We need the notions, the ideas of the Divine (being born in the church) but we should avoid the trap of clinging tenaciously to those concepts for dear life as if they were the Truth itself ( but bad to die in one).

The Truth can live in us but we can never speak it.

This post is another learning post for me. I am working on updating Ridgely’s online communication. In the learning phase it takes countless hours learning, trying things out and fixing things that don’t work. Of course, life is kind of like that.

I don’t make a distinction between so-called worldly life and so-called spiritual life. In fact, I believe that more harm than good comes from making those distinctions because they can open the door to all sorts of judgmental notions, of others or ourselves. What makes a life spiritual is not our social status (i.e. being a monk or a lay person) and it isn’t really what we do (meditate in a cave or have a 9-5 job, family etc.). A spiritual life is one lived with a Divine ideal in mind. Personally, I like the way Swami Vivekananda put it: ” In one word, the ideal is that you are divine,’Thou art That’. This is the essence of Vedanta.” Others may resonate with language more like Brother Lawrence’s” practice of the presence of God.”

With our ideal in mind we experience our life with what the Zen Buddhist tradition calls ‘beginner mind’-an open mind willing to experience every moment freshly, with a certain curiosity and a desire to learn. And then we live one moment at a time, in whatever situation we experience, learning, trying things out and making adjustments with the goal of living our way into the experience where there is no self and other.

 

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One of the main reasons I have started my own separate blog is to teach myself about the world of ever-changing multimedia and how it all can be interconnected. I don’t want to learn using Ridgely’s web pages as the testing ground.

I have a friend whose little daughter could use his computer even before she could talk.

That’s not me; I was born at the end of the baby boom, a hippie rebel from Berkeley who spent all free time wandering in nature or buried in a book. Silence was, and still is, my preference. My participation in the world of techno interconnectivity is an act of hopefully selfless service. I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to be born, as it were, with a smartphone in one hand and a keyboard in the other.

I am always wondering, how can we incorporate all this media into a spiritually-oriented life? You might have read the recent studies that show that multitasking, surfing the net with several devices at once, etc. has a detrimental effect on the ability to concentrate. Minds are racing, distracted, incapable of truly coming to rest. Those of us who meditate regularly find one-pointed concentration hard enough. How much harder will it be for a mind used to flitting through countless external images as well as internal ones?

And yet, I keep thinking-all the tech is here to stay; it is part of life now just about everywhere. How can we use it creatively, wisely in our spiritual life? Of course, I don’t really make a distinction between spiritual life and daily life. So, the question really is how can we use the media to focus rather than using it as a distraction?

Immediately the saying of Swami Vivekananda comes to mind: “ Everything that makes for oneness is truth. Love is truth, and hatred is false. It is a disintegrating power; it separates and destroys….Therefore in all our actions we have to judge whether it is making for diversity or for oneness.” CW 2:304

Reading the quote above, I substitute the word ’divisiveness’ for the one Swamiji used, ‘diversity’.

So, what are we doing with our internet access? Are we using it to connect, to understand that everything is indeed interconnected? Are we using it to live a story of divisiveness, a them-against-us mentality? Do we fail to see and listen to the person right in front of us because we have someone else we are texting, emails we believe we have to check? Or, on the other hand, do we look down our nose at the world of smartphones, iPads etc. in the name of a certain ‘purity’, possibly consigning ourselves to a froggie-in- the- well type of isolation as the world changes all around us?

Each one of us has to determine where we stand with regard to all the technology in our lives. Like so much else we encounter, it is a neutral ground that we can use wisely or foolishly.

Meanwhile, I will go on laboriously learning all these processes because I believe that the creative possibilities for using technology as an aid to spiritual growth far outweigh the distracting, or destructive ones.

Here is a new Ridgely tour video:

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January 1 is celebrated by the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and most of its affiliate organizations as “Kalpataru Day”. Why?

‘Kalpa-taru’ refers to the mythological wish-fulfilling tree, one of the Indian variants on the pan-cultural tree of life.

Kalpataru Day marks an historical occasion in the life of Sri Ramakrishna, which took place during his final illness at Cossipore Garden House. January 1 being a holiday, many devotees gathered at the Cossipore house. Suddenly, Sri Ramakrishna emerged from his room in a transcendent state of mind and, by a touch or word, bestowed an ecstatic state of consciousness on one and then many of the people gathered there, according to their wishes.

So, OK, it is wonderful to commemorate this occasion on January 1. However, I feel that it is very important to remember that EVERY day is Kalpataru day. Sri Ramakrishna said, “The wind of grace is always blowing; you must set your sail.”

If we confine our understanding to the historical event that took place on January 1, in a way, we negate the very point of the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. I feel we always need to bear in mind that when the Divine takes a form, it is to demonstrate how to “set our sail”, so to speak. You may recall that Sri Ramakrishna said, “If you do one-sixteenth of what I have done, you will succeed.”

To me, the historical event of Kalpataru day demonstrates how the human soul can be transformed at the touch the of Divine, by grace. In every moment of our lives, not just on January 1, that touch of the Divine, that grace, is there, drawing us back into our true state, which is Oneness, Divine Consciousness.

How can we set our sail? If you examine the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, he continually named what he deemed the most important factor in the spiritual search-yearning. I think of yearning as a very focused intention. We set our sail through intention. If our intention is weak, we will continue to be distracted by all the endless  thoughts, events and things in our life. If our intention is strong we will keep our focus on our goal. Then all the thoughts, events etc. in our lifecan be redirected towards that goal. We catch the wind of grace. If we can maintain our strong intention, it will bear us along.

If we are to celebrate Kalpataru Day or decide to make New Year’s resolutions, a good way to do so is to take some time to set our sail, to set a very strong intention to arise, awake and stop not until the goal is reached. Grace is always there. The Divine is always “calling us back” in every moment of our lives. Do we catch the wind, or not?