Realms of the Soul, April 2019
Realms of the Soul – April, 2019
“We are debris arrangers. equipped with what we have inherited, we try to make a life, make a living and make art. We are assemblers. We force received parts into meaningful compositions. This state of affairs is our plight and our destiny, but it also offers the opportunity to find meaning as well as to find communion with others.” – Anne Bogart, Theater and opera director
Over the years we’ve kept a great many bits and pieces of our life’s experiences placed randomly on tables and shelves or tucked away in drawers and closets. I wasn’t so much aware of this until I started photographing, a few months back, our assemblages for the Realms of the Souls series. Apart from picking up some candles and repurposing a couple of dishes, some wood trays, and a cabinet door, the only additional ‘things’ that have nudged us towards the appearance of being hoarders – so far – have been the addition of things we’ve found in nature, things we’ve kept and brought home instead of leaving to the elements.
When you decide to intentionally identify, gather, and assemble objects and symbols, the discoveries you make about your own life can have the feeling of being on a scavenger or a scared treasure hunt. When you assemble or change out a collection – or a scared space or an altar – with personal or found objects, for instance – you begin to employ an inner sense of awe, of wonder, and a pilgrimage of sorts, within your own life.
Because it is April, and because it feels as if life is ever regenerated in the spring, I assembled “bits and pieces” from our life into both a prayer and a tribute to the month ahead.
In Tibetan tradition, there is a practice and a ritual of offering to Buddha – to the Universe – seven bowls of water placed in front of a shrine. The practice is founded in the intentions of accumulating positive potential for the future and for purifying those tendencies we have to want to cling to the impermanent and to be miserly. In the simplest of descriptions, the ritual is done, not because of the needs of Buddha, but rather as a transformative practice for a person’s own mind and in turn the spirits of those people around the practitioner. This practice is exampled in the following dedication prayer:
“By paying homage, making offerings, confession, and rejoicing, requesting and beseeching, whatever virtue I have gained through these efforts, I dedicate it all to the enlightenment of all beings!”
Instead of water (which is used in Tibetan rituals because of its abundance and because the gathering of it is believed to not cause harm to others), April’s Realm is using seven small salt cellars as vessels to hold things of personal meaning. These objects refer to the history of our life. Things gathered and assembled with thought and intention serve as a place of reverence for our lives and for our hopes about the season ahead.
The tray itself was one of those great finds in a thrift store; five dollars – a slab of bent plywood that had served out its purpose in someone else’s life. With a couple of strips of ¾” wood added to the underside, the tray takes on the character of an elevated altar, one that is small and transportable.
It is difficult to express many of the feelings and meanings of this month’s Realms of the Soul’s elements, but in the spirit of brevity:
April – blue objects – blue skies – we’re attempting to conjure something a bit brighter than the many days of gray skies and rain that we have had.
The word “April” is hard to say without attaching the words, “in Paris.” A quarter of a century ago – this makes one’s experience of 25 years feel practically epic – Kathy and I found the little metal cricket, mid-spring in a book store in Sedona, Arizona. The store was called “The Paris Experience.” In the ensuing and epic years, the cricket has moved around our house and, as April has begun, is being called to by the crickets that have started singing down by our creek.
The nest and stone eggs have been carried over from an Easter centerpiece. We look forward to holidays with our children and grandchildren so much that we like to hang on to those moments a little into the future – hence pinecones and wooden stars on a table in January, photos of a summer beach trip gracing a table when we are cooking soup in October.
Steller Jay feather – As cranky and unpleasant as they sound – a pair of jays have learned to trust us enough this past winter that they come to the sound of our whistling once we put food out in the morning. This feather fell out of the sky and onto our deck like a peace offering last spring.
The bells probably started their journey – like most brass bells do – in India, but we purchased them at a flea market in a village outside of London thirty years ago – even longer than an ‘epic’ period of time. What I remember most about that day was how interested the vendors were in what flea markets were like in the United States. The sound of a small bell is like an invitation; a soothing sound that can calm the spirit; a sound that can evoke the feelings of a season – the joys of December, the cooling breezes of summer, the icy frosts of fall, the opening notes to the melodies of spring. Music was not invented or discovered, but rather something that is innate in our natures. Keeping a small bell within reach (unless you have young grandchildren who are just learning bells) can invite you out of the shadows and the hectic moments of a day.
The small metal bowl, which was once a receptacle for spare change and cigarettes at my wife’s aunt’s house, now holds sage incense which is pierced into crushed pieces of abalone shell. Native Americans believed that burning sage in abalone shells, during smudging ceremonies, would cleanse their spaces and carry their prayers and intentions to the gods. My wife Kathy and I know that we feel calmed when we burn sage and other herbs and pieces of certain woods. We’ve learned, too, that something about the ritual itself can be a path through the daily and perilous news of the world – a path found by paying attention to and honoring the smallest of moments in our lives.
In the seven wood offering bowls (instead of water) are: dried lavender from last year’s garden; lichen from a fallen tree that our old dog Lucky needed help crossing over on the last walk we were able to take along his favorite path; several marbles from my childhood and/or that were gifted by a friend’s father; blue sea glass – the hardest to find – that we’ve collected from several sea shores; tiny tulip bulbs that were divided last fall but which I forgot to plant, but which, once planted in the ground in May – as a metaphor of resilience – will bloom again next spring; several shells I picked up one spring on a beach in the south of England where we were celebrating my birthday with a borrowed blanket, a bottle of soda, two sandwiches, and a bag of chips. And, in a seventh bowl, several polished rocks and one piece of gravel – hard-angled, sharp, driveway gravel. I once worked at a grief center for children. When families “graduated” from the program they were given a small velvet bag which contained eleven smoothed rocks and one rough piece of gravel. The gift of the rocks was to serve as a reminder that despite our healing and acceptance there will remain the sharp, unaltered pain of loss, feelings we must, throughout of lives, continue respect and honor.
Another April, another spring; another chance to offer and honor our memories, our loved ones, and our gratitude.
“What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?” – Antonio Machado
Be encouraged to go on a spring scavenger hunt around your house – through your closets and drawers – through those boxes stored in the garage. Find a place, a table, a shelf, a dish, a tray – gather the symbols of your memories, your beliefs, your experiences and your feelings; an old letter, a necklace, a record album will do – offer them up as a tribute to your own experiences and feelings – offer those feeling up to the season – to spring – to the Universe.