Centering

October 4, 2012

M. C. Richards in her book, “Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person” draws on the metaphor of the potter centering a piece of clay.  The potter pushes against the clay but leaves space for it to move, until it is well centered on the wheel.  At that point the potter can touch one point of the pot and the whole moving piece of clay will respond.

The potter must be careful — for if the clay gets off center a strong touch might pull it apart.  Instead, the potter will carefully lead the pot back on center, and then continue working it.  Of course there are limits to the strength of the clay, especially when it is wet and heavy. An understanding of this reality must moderate the potter’s touch.

Similarly, we need to re-center ourselves as we begin any meeting, or even any task.  Left unchecked, we may drift or get pulled away from where we need to be.  We may find that we’ve taken a wrong turn, or gotten off the trail and need to find it again.  This is not a sign that we are imperfect or inexperienced, but simply that we are human.  And when we are on center — everything is possible.

Things don’t always go well.  Sometimes “centering down” seems impossible, as laundry lists of tasks and issues keep running through our minds.   Undone tasks, complex relationships, or other matters may loom large, and not let themselves be pushed aside even for an hour.   Withhold judgment, be prepared to let go, and wait.  Let the center find you.

 

Dealing with fear

January 8, 2010

I was inspired to write this when I received a query from Eileen Flanagan about how we cope with fear.  Do look at  her blog,  which is about “Spreading Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom”.

How do I deal with fear?

First, I own it.  As an articulate, well educated, and generally successful person, I might tell myself that I shouldn’t be afraid.  No matter.  The truth is that I am.  I feel fear when a nurse wants to draw a bit of my blood for testing, when I’m about to go down an intermediate ski trail, when I’m about to photograph a new dance piece that I’ve not yet seen.  I’m feeling fear right now, writing an article about a topic I’ve never addressed in print.

Then I ask myself, fear of what? For the examples it might be fear of the momentary pain as a needle is inserted, fear of being out of control on the ski slope, fear of having to create a great image.

Next, I refine that question, to, If my worst fear came true, what would happen? I might feal pain, or hurt myself on the ski slope, or not be able to write an interesting and informative article.

Some fear help protect us from real dangers.  So, I’ll proceed to ask whether this fear is playing such a role.  “Is this fear protecting me from real danger?” Clearly, having a shot of pain, or a dull and uninteresting article, is not dangerous while going down a trail for which I’m not prepared may be.

Read the rest of this entry »

A holiday greeting for all

December 24, 2009

Friends,

I hope that this holiday season can be a wonderful awakening for you, and the beginning of a year that offers peace, appropriate abundance, and great community.

For many, this has been a terribly difficult time. Many of us feel fragile, and we also have a heightened understanding of how delicate our earth is.  Old ways are not working, and new patterns have not yet set in.  We all need courage, compassion, faith, and patience.

That is my message to you — may you be filled with compassion, surrounded with love, blessed with faith, and given the gift of patience.  May this be your best year yet!

A female humpback whale had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines.

She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat.

She also had hundreds of  yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, and her torso, and a line tugging in her mouth.

A fisherman spotted her just east of the Faralon Islands (outside the Golden Gate) and radioed for help.

Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the  only way to save her was to dive in and untangle  her — a very dangerous proposition. One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.

They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her.

When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, nudged them, and pushed gently, thanking them.

Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives.

The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eye was  following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.

May you, and all those you love, be so fortunate … To be surrounded by people who will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you.

And may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude.

Each week I’m delighted to receive  “A Pause for Beauty” — a wonderful newsletter that comes free of charge from Heron Dance. Each issue contains a beautiful watercolor illustration (the original is for sale,  as are cards, prints, etc), along with some spiritually enriching or life affirming text.  The following arrived with issue #144 (sent July 14, 2002):

“One does not need to fast for days and meditate for hours at a time to experience the sense of sublime mystery which constantly envelops us. All one need do is notice intelligently, if even for a brief moment, a blossoming tree, a forest flooded with autumn colors, an infant smiling”.

“Simon Greenburg”, from “A Grateful Heart” by M.J. Ryan

The reality that is present to us and in us:
call it being … Silence.
And the simple fact that by being attentive,
by learning to listen
(or recovering the natural capacity to listen)
we can find ourself engulfed in such happiness
that it cannot be explained:
the happiness of being at one with everything
in that hidden ground of Love
for which there can be no explanations….
May we all grow in grace and peace,
and not neglect the silence that is printed
in the centre of our being.
It will not fail us.

Thomas Merton, in “Prayers for Healing”


This post was originally published  in December 2001, and is included here without changes.  Sadly,  I believe it is at least as relevant today as when it was written.

Kathleen Parkers recent column, “Even Pacifists Benefit From War” (11/30/2001), cries out for a response.  I write as a pacifist and a Quaker — and must say that I don’t benefit in any way from this war.

Part of my pacifism is spiritual and moral.  Believing, as a Quaker, that there is that of God in each person, I feel that killing — for any reason, in any situation — is wrong.  That means that war is wrong, regardless of the justification that may be offered.

As a religious pacifist, I must say “no thank you” to those who offer to fight this war in my name, with my tax money, and for my supposed benefit. There were so many lives lost (in New York, in Washington DC, and in Pennsylvania), and so many lives disrupted.  The war we are waging only adds to the carnage, and seriously disrupts many more lives.  I believe it is morally wrong, whether or not it offers any security benefit. Read the rest of this entry »

Last weekend I was co-leader of a workshop on “Photography as a Spiritual Practice”.  This is how Woolman Hill (a Quaker conference center in South Deerfield, Massachusetts) listed the workshop in their program:

Arthur Fink and Tony Stapleton are both Quaker photographers who carry their photographic work (or play) as a spiritual inquiry or expression.  They invite you to join in this weekend of photographing from within, which will include time for worshiping together, making pictures, sharing our work and process, and just enjoying Woolman Hill.  Our goal is to broaden our vision, open our spiritual awareness, and, in the process, learn how to take more expressive pictures.  This will not be about technical photography instruction, and all photographers are welcome regardless of technical knowledge or experience.

The most important news to report is that we had no trouble finding an energetic  group of participants who agreed with this theme — that photography is part of our spiritual lives.  It’s about discovery and expression, about worship and reverence, about self and other.  Images are metaphors for deeper understanding, even as they are clusters of silver particles or digital pixels that we labor with as we craft our art work.  But these are my words — not theirs.  What I’m reporting is not a manifesto from the group, but my own distillation of what I saw going on.

Sensing that this might workshop might not fill Woolman Hill, the director had scheduled another workshop to share the conference center with us.  We were paired with “The Wisdom to Know The Difference: A Weekend on Discernment”, led by Eileen Flanagan.  I’d strongly recommend her new book, “The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change and When to Let Go” — available at Amazon.com and at other bookstores.  It was wonderful to be constantly reminded that the process of photography is a kind of discernment, as we choose to put our frames around very select portions of the visual world that we experience.

I’m excited about running other similar workshops, as well as more programs on creativity and spirit in general (not tied to a particular artistic discipline, like photography or dance).  I’ve run these in the past, and was always touched by the gifts that each participant shared.

My main message to our  group this weekend — Look and see, before you photograph.  This may sound trivial, or obvious.  It’s not.  The process and technique of photography can easily absorb us, and distract us from sensing where we are, what we feel, and what we have to say and share.

Interested in this dialog?  Please respond here, or contact me.

This was the subject on a promotional e-mail I  received.  What
an oxymoran!  Or is it?

It set me thinking about simplicity, about what we need, want, crave,
appreciate, enjoy, use, draw sustenance from.  What do we have to declare?

No answers, and (without apology) no guilt, but keen interest.

I’m co-leading this workshop the last weekend in October, at Woolman Hill — a Quaker conference center in Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Arthur Fink and Tony Stapleton are  Quaker photographers who carry their photographic work (or play) as a spiritual inquiry or expression.  They invite you to join in this weekend of photographing from within, which will include time for worshiping together, making pictures, sharing our work and process, and just enjoying Woolman Hill.  Our goal is to broaden our vision, open our spiritual awareness, and, in the process, learn how to take more expressive pictures.  This will not be about technical photography instruction, and all photographers are welcome regardless of technical knowledge or experience.

Learning how others see one’s work can be a frightening trap when one lacks confidence or passion, but can be illuminating when it informs a passionate and committed soul.

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