The Circle of Existence – Prologue

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by DCH Park

A mother comes home from the hospital with her new child. She is met at the door by her 4 year old son. He’s excited to be an older brother and she’s happy.

As the days go by, she notices that her 4 year old is spending a lot of time with the baby. He watches her change it and feed it. He sings to it. He spends hours every day silently watching it sleep.

At first, she attributes this attentiveness to his excitement but his behavior doesn’t change. She tries to be patient but finally asks him why he’s spending so much time with the baby.

He replies very matter-of-factly, “Mommy, I’m beginning to forget the face of God.”

Whether you call it “God,” or not, whether you see it as an impersonal force, something intimately involved in your personal life, something else entirely, or whether you discount the existence of a divine being at all, it is undeniable that something is going on. Children are born joyful and in the moment. They are completely present. As soon as their concerns are addressed they stop crying and return to their peaceful, joyful state, the upset completely forgotten.

Scientific evidence now shows that the child psychologists’ standard lines about object permanence – one of the first set of expectations that babies have about the world – the age at which it develops, and how it develops are, at best, incomplete. There is a form of object permanence that occurs before conventional “wisdom” says object permanence is supposed to develop. This form of object permanence has to do with trends. Perhaps “trend permanence” would be a better name. Perhaps we are born with it. Not only that, this “trend permanence” persists throughout life. It can be seen even in adult decisions. (See Baillargeon R , DeVos J., “Object permanence in young infants: further evidence”, Child Dev. 1991 Dec; 62(6):1227-46, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1786712, retrieved 2 JUL 14.)

Is it possible that the same is true of things like joy and silence later in life? Might joy and peace be natural states that we are all heir to, just as we are all heir to breathing? Is it possible that we have it backward, or more correctly, that what we thought we knew, the way we have been characterizing things somehow distorts things? Could it be that joy and silence are not hallmarks of childish silliness but instead are reflections of an inexpressible wisdom that transcends life itself?

I remember hearing the little boy story for the first time. It’s not that I recall all of the physical details but I recall how powerful it was, how the teacher cried, and how I felt when I heard it. I wasn’t alone in feeling that, either. I suspect that I’m not alone now.

When stories evoke such powerful feelings, it is because they touch upon something true. Our challenge is to discern and to live by that truth.

Such discernment is not a static thing. It is not something that you can do once and expect it to never change. On the other hand, it is definitely amenable to pulling together with others. By this, I don’t mean to say that you need to go along with the crowd, but you do benefit from really hearing other people’s points of view. Remember the parable of the blind men and the elephant? None of them was wrong but none of their descriptions was complete either. The whole truth of life encompasses everyone’s observations, just as the whole truth of the elephant encompassed all of the blind men’s observations.

Until you are willing to listen to others, learn from others, and enlarge your sense of the truth to encompass everyone, you are bound to be incomplete in your experiences of the truth. Such openness starts with healing the wounds in yourself. It is necessary first to recognize and heal the wounds in yourself because as you heal the wounds in yourself, you are naturally more flexible and open – you have fewer sore spots. This allows you to be more open to the truth and more ready to accept it regardless of where it comes from, even when it comes from someone else.

Until we can do that, each person remains literally separate.

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More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Passing On the Gift

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by DCH Park

Recently, a mother posted a query to our metaphysics group asking for advice about schooling for her one year old daughter. She was concerned about making sure that her daughter was challenged but also focused on giving her daughter opportunities to learn a spiritual wisdom tradition. Her concern was that public schools might not provide all of the opportunities to learn that her daughter could benefit from.

The following essay is drawn in part from my response to her.

First of all, please let me respond to your concern about waiting until she’s “too old” to teach her about or expose her to a wisdom tradition. Is there really such a thing as “too old?” Certainly, some people come to a realization of the value of their consciousness and how to use it earlier in life than others, but each person comes to things when he or she is ready. I have met several young people who seem to have a much deeper working knowledge of mental hygiene and success principles than I remember having when I was younger, yet many of them tend, in my experience, to have a relatively narrow focus. Their insight, abilities, and levels of success and happiness are indeed advanced, but their abilities to understand and make meaningful connections across disparate traditions and to find value in even common and difficult circumstances seem to be limited, generally speaking.

I am beginning to suspect that perhaps the times of late childhood, teen, and early adulthood are times when a young person goes through a period of personal turmoil and self-definition perhaps reflective of the transitional states of neurological development and restructuring in the brain that occur throughout those years.

During this time of life, the brain grows and develops radically and rapidly. As connections proliferate and then are pruned in the brain, certain things may from time to time literally fail to connect. It has been observed that functionally, this bears a striking resemblance to brain damage. Of course, it is actually a natural part of growth and development, nonetheless, it might be the case that some degree of turmoil is inevitable during those ages, regardless of the type of training received in childhood.

I’m inclined to believe that a young person raised to practice self awareness will tend to have less difficulty in an absolute sense than someone who hasn’t, however, I suspect that the personal experience from the young person’s perspective might tend to misery. In other words, although my child may do well compared to me when I was his age or compared to his peers, perhaps his experience of his life is full of things that he felt were hard.

On the other hand, I imagine that there are cases in which family, school, community, and religion align perfectly so that a growing child’s life is happy and turmoil-free from birth through say the third or fourth decade of life, however, I wonder how flexible and robust such a person’s worldview and attitudes are likely to be. It’s commonly accepted that the way to raise a spoiled child is to make sure that she gets whatever she wants. I once read in a parental discipline book that the role of a parent is to frustrate the child whenever his demands become unreasonable or inconsiderate. Would raising a child in a completely turmoil-free manner create a monster?

Perhaps there is a link between the degree of difficulty that a person experiences and her ability to transcend difficulty and distractions in life. Gautama didn’t begin his journey to become the Buddha until after he realized that suffering exists and he didn’t transcend suffering as the Buddha until after he understood suffering from personal experience. If he had stayed in his father’s palace, enjoying his family and wealth, he would have not become the Buddha, even if he knew about suffering as an abstraction.

As an aside, it is interesting to recall that Gautama was foretold to be destined to either become a great spiritual master and teacher or to become a great military leader and conqueror. If he had stayed within the palace grounds and embraced his wife and son as part of a life that was defined by the world, he might have been impelled by his awareness of suffering to try to wipe it out. This might easily have translated into mounting war to bring the benefits of abundance to as many people as he could and thereby to ease or eliminate their suffering.

The wisest, richest, happiest, and most serene people I know have grown that way not because of their early childhood training, but because of what they discovered in themselves as they met and transcended the demons of pain, fear, suffering, and distraction in their lives, just as the Buddha did. In meeting and transcending these demons, we learn from first hand discovery not only that we are capable of transcending them and healing our wounds, but also what such demons are and where they come from. We grow in power and wisdom and eventually discover from personal experience the source and nature of wisdom and power.

Perhaps these are things that cannot be taught. Perhaps in trying to raise a child in traditions that we have found useful, we simply invite him or her to become brittle and deaf to the wisdom in a tradition different from the one we were raised in (and grew to be deaf and brittle to). One person may easily feel inspired by Judaism or Christianity and convert into that faith at the same time that someone else may go in the opposite direction for the same reasons.

In the end, intuition tells me that observing my own practices and sharing the benefits of my practice through my accepting presence and love is the most important factor. By being open with my child about what I understand as well as what I am as yet unclear about (but am sitting with) about the world and myself, I set an example and offer insights into a living process of growth and opening to wisdom. The child can follow it or not, use it as a launching point for creation/discovery of his own practices or not, as he chooses.

In this way, we can provide living examples of the tools in use and how the wisdom they lead to is recognized and received. This may be the most important and powerful lesson that we can offer our children.

In my case, I consciously realized that I would not always be able to protect my son and that he would want to be recognized and honored for his decisions, just as I wanted to be honored as I was growing up. I started by acknowledging that he made good decisions to the extent that he was able to make decisions – which, of course, has grown as he has grown – and let him know that I had confidence in his decisions. This provided a foundation and a forum within which we could (and can and do) discuss decisions. As he has grown, our discussions have grown from explaining things and decisions that I have made to probing his thinking, expectations, and decision process and possibly offering suggestions or challenges (or possible consequences) for him to consider but always with the understanding that he is naturally expected to follow his own sense of what is right with my support.

Of course, this also means that he takes responsibility for his decisions with my support. I have “taken him to task” and reminded him of his responsibilities and opportunities for change more than once in this vein. Sometimes he realizes that he hasn’t been fully aware of how his decisions have affected others or himself and sometimes he has made decisions knowing their possible ramifications. In either case, he has ultimately always taken responsibility for himself and his choices.

Spiritual enlightenment is essentially being aware. As I grow more aware of the myriad ways in which I have fallen into habitual shortcuts in how I perceive, receive, and act in the world, I find that with greater awareness comes greater choice and freedom. As I am aware of how I behave, I can choose to exercise a different way of being. In the same fashion, recognizing and accepting responsibility opens the possibility of exercising choice, even to the extent of changing a decision I have made in the past. Without awareness and responsibility, such choice and change are not possible. Perhaps this is why suffering and transcending suffering is linked with enlightenment.

Parents have by far the greatest impact in a child’s life. Although it would probably be better if school and culture (including TV, music, video games, etc.) were all in alignment with you, even if none of them were, your daughter will learn the deepest lessons from you. The manner in which you live your life and in which you treat yourself, her, and other people in your lives together will be the most important factor. When we live well, life is good. What better lesson could we hope to pass on?

© 2013, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Importance of Speaking Out – IV

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by DCH Park

Naturally, it does little good to prattle on about truth or honor when your audience is not able or willing to hear you. Nevertheless, action holds power that cannot be denied by detractors and naysayers.

Speaking out in this way – with words when possible and with action and being always – has two-fold power. It illuminates internally and reflects outwardly. The outward potency of this illumination is limited only by the courage and honesty of your internal experience.

Remarkably, as your inward exploration progresses, it enables you to bring strength and authenticity to your outward expression while simultaneously further illuminate your inner knowing. As you grow in the clarity and directness of your outward expression, you further your experience and understanding of truth and wisdom – you discover the depth, immediacy, and constant availability of your own connection to wisdom. In other words, your wisdom empowers you to honor your truth and honoring that truth unfolds your wisdom in your life.

In order to stop living a small, frightened existence, all that is required is to live in truth.

This is why personal integrity and openness are so important – not because of some esoteric moral or ethical prescription imposed by society, religion, or parents, but because deceitfulness, secrecy, and convenient justifications get in your way. They are habits of thought, speech, and behavior that impede living in your larger self. They trap you in the small ways of fear, repression, and control.

I knew someone who tried to get involved in her daughter’s school PTA because she wanted to help to make her daughter’s educational experience as rich and rewarding as possible. She became active in the school community and soon became known for speaking her own mind, which made some of the teachers and other parents uneasy because she would not conform to their narrow goals and interests or automatically rubber-stamp the faculty representatives’ requests.

Even though she stated in many meetings, both formal and impromptu, her dedication to furtherance of educational excellence and demonstrated her grasp of issues (she had studied developmental psychology and educational policy in graduate school), she was not trusted and came to be actively disliked.

As resentment grew, it became harder for her to accomplish anything. Nevertheless, she persevered and met with some success. When she was approached by a group of parents and asked to run for PTA president, she agreed even though she had some reservations about the time commitment.

During the months leading up to the election, she was subjected to increasing pressure from various parent groups and even some teachers toward one end or another, not all of which were compatible. She was shocked to find at one point that some parents and teachers were inventing and circulating rumors about her in order to discredit her.

The week before the election, the faculty and administration held an “emergency staff meeting” at which a small but passionate group stirred up fear and strong-armed those who weren’t panicked into opposing her. At least one teacher left the school over this incident and how it was handled.

Seeing how ugly the situation was becoming and wanting to be more available for her children’s weekly activities, she dropped out of the race at the last moment. Over the remaining years that her children were at this school, she focused solely on supporting and working with her own children’s teachers – organizing parental support groups and so on completely outside of the PTA.

As time went on, the sincerity of her intentions and efforts to make things better became clear to everyone. Partly because of this and in light of how political the situation had gotten, the core group of parents, faculty, and administration who had opposed her so passionately lost face and influence. Several retired, some withdrew from public view, others transferred away. Consequently, although the roots of this conflict and distrust were very deep in this school community, they were ultimately able to heal from them and move toward a more open, honest, and trusting standard of behavior and speech.

Whether or not such healing would have occurred without this parent’s influence is moot. She was part of the community and took a stand for what she held to be true as a member of the community. As such what she did and said and how she honored who she was became part of the mechanism by which the community began to finally heal.

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Charisma

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by DCH Park

I remember sitting in class at school when I was 10 or 11 years old and hearing about John Kennedy’s assassination. My teacher was telling us about her experiences that day. She was saying that people who were old enough then tended to remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. I imagine that it was similar to the experience that most people of younger generations have with remembering the 11th of September, 2001.

As a child, though, I had a hard time understanding why so many people would be so profoundly distraught over one man’s death that the incidental details of what would otherwise have been a very unremarkable day became indelibly etched into their memories. This question has many levels and in many ways takes us to the heart of what it means to be human. My teacher struggled with it in what I have come to recognize as the quest to fit nuanced feelings and insights into a context and vocabulary that an intelligent 10 year old can grasp.

What she came up with was a description of Kennedy and how he inspired and symbolized the best hopes and dreams of a nation. She spoke of how he was able to touch and warm the hearts of those he spoke with. She said that he was charismatic. She explained that some people had charisma and that it could help them to become great leaders. She taught me a new word, but she left me with a mystery – exactly what is charisma and how does it work? Also, is it something you are born with, like black hair, or can you learn it?

One dictionary definition of charisma describes it as “a personal attractiveness that enables you to influence others; personal appeal or magnetism.” Though this defines the term, it falls short of illuminating the mechanism or essence of charisma, not to mention why hundreds of millions of people would feel the loss of one man so personally.

Looking to great leaders and teachers holds one clue. They are generally held to be those who speak great truths. Often, the truly great or immortal teachers and leaders are the ones who can speak the truths of our own hearts better than we can ourselves. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King come to mind.

On the other hand, charismatic leaders have also become infamous due to their success in persuading people to perform morally repugnant acts that they wouldn’t otherwise consider. One author cites the examples of Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler as two men who created cults of personality that were both immoral and brutal.

Such charismatic leaders can be likened to con artists. Great con artists can speak to the heart, just as great teachers can, but as I understand it, they speak of what we might want to be true but isn’t and ultimately offer a cheat – a way to steal or otherwise gain an unfair advantage over someone else – which backfires, providing the payoff for the con artist and the “sting” to the victim (or “mark”).

The well known Nigerian swindle is an example of this. In case you’ve never heard of it before, one version of it involves an email from some unknown person who claims to be an unfairly persecuted dignitary in need of funds. He has plenty of money but can’t get direct access to it due to some technical reason. He asks for help in accessing the funds in the form of a relatively smaller amount for fees, bribing corrupt officials, etc. In return for this “help” the con artist promises an exceedingly large profit.

The hook that catches the “mark” is the promise of an unfairly large payoff which is made possible by taking advantage of someone else’s misfortune. It denies the reality of connection. There is no connection with the other person because the mark is fully immersed in the story of huge profit. Thus, the successful con is one that takes us into our own stories and fears of loss and separation (from the other person, society, or divine truth) and then offers a cheat or magical fix that will supposedly make things instantly better (like bribing corrupt officials, killing the Jews, gypsies, and gays, or drinking the kool-aid).

However, even after the magical fix, the con leaves us in essentially the same position we were in to begin with, if not worse for the experience. Any advantage that we may have gained only ties us more tightly to the ego-story of ultimate separation.

In contrast, great leaders and teachers gain their charismatic draw from their clarity and courageous devotion to the truth. They are divinely inspired and share their inspiration with others. They remind us through their examples, words, and deeds of truths that we have always known but have forgotten in our daily lives. Yet in no case do they claim to have special access to truth that exceeds anyone else’s.

In fact, I sense that this is where the answer to our mystery lies. The loss of JFK was a personal blow to so many because they experienced him personally. He inspired in them a greater awareness of their own reality and connections to divine truth. Is it any wonder that such a man might be charismatic and persuasive?

This also points the way to becoming more charismatic ourselves. If inspiring others to recognize and reconnect with their own divine natures is the key to being an effective, charismatic leader, how better to learn to do this than to become intimately acquainted with our own divine natures first?

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Your Greatest Teacher

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by DCH Park

I have heard it said many times that the things and people who set you off the most are your greatest teachers. Is this true? How is that possible? Can the jerk who just cut you off really be a teacher? Doesn’t he just need an attitude adjustment? What about the idiot boss who never appreciates or even notices all of the hard work you do? She just criticizes. Is she a teacher?

In a similar vein, there are those who seem to take the saying that “the world is a reflection” as literal truth. In the past, I found it extremely annoying when someone would ask (smugly, as it often seemed to me) how I was doing the same thing that so annoyed me about others.

But what if those people and situations really are chances to learn and grow – to become better people, to enjoy life and love more – to be more ourselves? If there is even a tiny chance that this might be true, don’t we owe it to ourselves to consider the possibility? There’s a line from an old movie called Punchline in which Tom Hanks is coaching Sally Field as a comedienne. He says, “Everyone’s life is funny. We’re God’s animated cartoons.”

The cosmic joke is that we don’t see how we create our own reality. We play this joke on ourselves. We become embroiled in the drama of being cheated or wronged and outraged at the injustice of it all and never see ourselves from the outside. If we did see ourselves from the outside, we would recognize in ourselves the same frustrations of the coyote hunting the roadrunner and Elmer hunting the rabbit.

We really are God’s animated cartoons, but we don’t have to stay that way. The thing that traps Elmer and Daffy in their animated cartoon perspective is inability or unwillingness to step outside of the box that frames their world. If they did, their perspective would widen and they would have a chance to heal and transcend their limitations. They are stuck inside of their dramas. They lack perspective. Ironically and mercifully, as long as a wider perspective is maintained, the route to healing the wounds that plague us can be found through the very things that annoy us the most. There is great truth and wisdom in this, not to mention more than a little humor.

When we adopt a point of view or accept a wound as part of who we are, it gives rise to recurring experiences in life that remind us of the original wound, just as the soft spot on your gum after losing a tooth draws the tongue. There is a natural tendency to revisit pain associated with unhealed wounds. There is a curious sense of satisfaction that comes from repeating the pain of open wounds.

When this repeating pattern leads to re-injury, the wound can’t heal. The pattern repeats endlessly. In fact, it can get more severe with time, especially when the wound is emotional or spiritual in nature.

This gives rise to the observation that when we don’t learn and grow from the pains and annoyances that life brings, the universe patiently repeats the lesson, each time with more volume. Perhaps the challenge starts as a minor annoyance, but if it is ignored for long enough, it grows to staggering dimensions. What may start as a gentle tap on the shoulder will become a tug on the sleeve if we continue to ignore it. Eventually, it’ll become a two-by-four to the back of the head. All offered with love and grace.

It is interesting that we are free to think of this in different ways. Some speak of lessons and growth. Others speak of healing and growth. In either paradigm, the patterns of frustration, annoyance, and so on are nothing more than repeated occurrences of opportunities to learn and heal.

We are free to choose our responses to those opportunities. We can continue to ignore them and dive into the associated story, becoming lost like Elmer and Daffy, and obsess on how the other person or the whole world really needs to change. This route leads to greater and greater suffering as the volume is turned up and our emotional reactions grow. We can eventually immerse ourselves so completely in the emotional reaction that we no longer have a separate sense of who we are. All we know of ourselves is the anger, fear, pain, etc.

Alternatively, we can be aware that there is a path to healing and learning in the suffering and open to it. The truth at the heart of the suffering is liberating. Amazingly (and laughingly), the emotional upset that we feel is both the tip off that there’s something there for us and the means to track it back to the foundational lesson or wound.

How can we do this? The first step is to recognize that a lesson is presenting itself. Witness consciousness can open this door.

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Holding With Your Deepest Knowing

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by DCH Park

One question that comes up in everyone’s life sooner or later is, “What should I do with my life?” or equivalently, “How will I know what’s right for me?”

This is not an easy question to answer or even to pose at first. Many people have spent a major portion of their time and energy doing things and avoiding others for no reason other than because someone else wanted them to. Usually, the “someone” is significant, like a parent, teacher, spouse, etc., but it isn’t always. Sometimes it’s someone who is not central or even a real person.

For example, there was a time when I was very reluctant to tell people about my metaphysical experiences. I was afraid that they might think badly of me or what they might say about me to their friends. I would be wary even of sharing with friendly strangers – people I met on the street or in a shop.

I didn’t know any of these people and I was unlikely to ever meet them again. Yet, the images I had built up and was carrying in my imagination held me back. I was focused on what people whom I hadn’t even met might think. They didn’t have names or faces. The only reality they had was in my imagination. Yet, they held me back. It’s easy to comment on how they were unreal at this point, but at the time, the threat of their judgment and condemnation felt very potent.

When I am asked how to get to the point where you feel free of such peer or social pressure, the first thing that springs to mind is the truism that our deepest being is full of lightness and joy. When we connect with this deepest self, the joy and peace flow effortlessly. What is remarkable is that the sense of joy, peace, and well-being also serves as a compass or guide that can take us into connection with our deepest truth. Abraham call this the “inner guidance system.”

We are hardwired for happiness. The things that are good for us also make us happy. Thus, a practice of cultivating joy is equivalent to cultivating a connection with our deepest truth. Ultimately, this practice leads to a realization of whatever it is that we are uniquely well-suited to do – that thing that we do very well and that we enjoy. The more we do it and learn about it, the more fun it becomes – unlike some things that become boring as we pursue them and learn more about them.

Recognizing this inner wisdom and honoring it in your life is key in finding your way to your deepest self and in making your way forward in life with joy. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to do this in plain view of everyone. On the contrary, it is often the case that developing a connection with deep wisdom is initially best done in solitude and silence.

In solitude it is easier to avoid distractions and therefore easier to notice nuances of texture, quality, and shading. Subtle variations can lead to significant truths. Likewise, in silence it becomes easier to hear the voice of your inner wisdom – some might call it the voice of your soul or of .your higher self. This voice is always with you but in the durm und strang of daily life in modern society, it is easily drowned out and ignored. Silence makes it easier to open to this voice and hear what it whispers.

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The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse: An Interview with Erika Johnson

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Erika Johnson

Breathing Life Into Usable Refuse, Rescuing Things from Landfills: An Interview with Erika Johnson

Erika Johnson is the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse (PCCR) located at 214 North Lexington St., Pittsburgh, PA 15208. She is an engaging, interesting conversationalist for those who are lucky enough to get some of her time. All of the people who work at the center are friendly, engaging, and extremely approachable.

DCHP: How are you connecting with people to get that word out?

EJ (Erika Johnson): It’s probably not the most efficient or fastest marketing strategy, but a really strong value for us is being the most welcoming, safe, friendly, encouraging, inspiring place we can possibly be. That’s been our ethic from the beginning – to be a place in the community where your creativity will be encouraged, where you’ll be listened to, where your things will be respected, and where you can find a creative home in some ways.

We have grown slowly because we’ve invested a lot of energy in the human side of our organization and haven’t spent money on hiring a PR person or something like that. I think that’s helped us grow in a way that’s sustainable and has helped us to develop a community that is passionate about what we do. Among other things, they’ll tell their friends and they’ll feel comfortable in encouraging other people to come here.

As we grow, I would like 20% of our operations to come from the funding community and other entities. We’d like another 10% to come from the community in the form of individuals that care about what we do and the businesses that benefit by our activities.

We want to keep our earned revenue at about 70% of our budget. That’s what it’s been historically. Sometimes it’s been higher than that – some years we didn’t get anything other than what we earned. We’ve never done a very good job asking just because we’ve been so busy doing. So we’re working on doing a better job of asking people to help us. We find that when we do ask, people want to help.

DCHP: Wow. Interesting problem.

EJ: It’s a great problem. It’s interesting because we’ve always been kind of grass-rootsy. But now we’re growing up and we need to think about installing formal procedures.

Before, when we were small, you could just say to someone, “Hey, can you do that,” and wherever you were in the store, you could work together. Now you really can’t. We need more paid staff time. We need some infrastructure, computers, and a strategic plan. The list goes on.

It’s very exciting because the reason we need all of that is that people have discovered us and they want to shop with us, give us their stuff, and want us to come out and teach them what we do and we just don’t have enough people to do it all.

DCHP: What’s your overall vision?

EJ: We have never as an organization developed a vision statement but we are pretty clear about where we see ourselves growing. We would like to divert a very significant amount of material from the landfill. Right now, over the course of a year, we’re doing about 30 tons of materials. That’s a lot for us but in the scheme of how much is generated in the city, that’s really small.

We would also like to make sure that every teacher can rely on us as a resource for materials [and to] really support education in our city. We would like every educator in town to know they could count on us.

We would like every artist and every business to know that there is a place where the useful things that they used to have to throw away can have a home and another life.

DCHP: Being too busy to ask for money may have helped you to find your own voice.

EJ: I think that’s really true. I’m proud of the way we’ve grown organically. It’s let us have our own personality and supported us in saying, “Here’s who we are. If you want to support that, great,” rather than, “We think we want to be something. If you’ll give us the money, you can tell us what to be.”

DCHP: (laughs) Which unfortunately, happens…

EJ: (laughing, too) …happens a lot, yeah. It’s a danger at any phase of an organization’s life. That possibility of chasing the money or saying, “Foundations really want to fund XYZ. That’s not really what we’re doing but if we do that then they’ll give us some money.” But if you do that, then you’ve just changed who you are.

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Finding Truth in Performance: An Interview with Bobbi Williams

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Bobbi Williams works as a teacher, healer, and performance artist. She also participates in the Maker movement. She can be found at parties, events, and/or leading classes around Pittsburgh. She also provides acting, massage, Body Evolution, and reiki through classes and on a 1:1 basis. She can be reached at smokifantastic.com, GAIA HARMONIC JUKU, or dj smokifantastic.

DCHP: You’ve got a lot of art all around!

BW: Mm, hm.

[Back] when I was 23, 24 I was focusing on acting and really starting to get into esoteric studies. I got into shamanism because I wanted to understand the root of storytelling. At Carnegie Mellon, they had an exchange program where I studied in Russia for a year. In Russia the theater is very passionate and spiritual and mystical and I really vibed with that. I wanted to explore how theater can be a transformational experience.

That’s how I started to go down the shamanic journey of trying to understand how stories can heal.

DCHP: Actually the notion that stories can heal is very powerful, I think.

BW: I call what I do Urban Shamanism because it’s a mix of a bunch of different things. I’ve had two shaman teachers that were both very progressive and alternative.

My first shaman teacher was a businessman. He knew so many healing modalities that it inspired me. The other was amazing [, too]. He’s gay. He has this feminine side and he’s very open.

Everybody has some light within them. But when you go through [reiki] initiation then you also have the within and without. So you’re channeling this reiki energy that comes into you through you but it’s also something that’s already inside of you. You are co-creating with this energy and this energy is independent of itself.

This is because we are multi-dimensional beings and we have many parts of ourselves that work together all the time. So it seems kind of confusing when you think about it in a dualistic way.

[However,] to say I’m not dualistic would not be realistic because this is where we are. We deal with linear time. We deal with male and female. This is the world that we live in. So to say that I exist outside that world wouldn’t be realistic.

DCHP: You obviously continue to carry the shamanism with you here in Pittsburgh.

BW: Basically, it kind of bleeds into everything that I teach. I have a class called Mythmakers. I teach basic fundamental acting, Russian technique. We work with dreams and we do a lot of experimenting. It’s kind of the first step in a disciplined awareness of storytelling.

DCHP: It sounds like what you are doing or encouraging is for people to see themselves as the narrator of the story and then for the narrator to be on a journey.

BW: It’s giving people the empowerment to tell stories in their own way. You can become a shapeshifter in your day-to-day life.

For me, the shaman is a functional artist and the work is geared toward the community and making the community a better place. That’s what I’m trying to do. My artwork is functional in society.

I don’t think that all art has to be that way. I’m really open to expression and the freedom of expression. If there’re artists that are doing art that’s not trying to change society, then I’m not like, “Oh, they should…” [or] “They have to do this…”

One time, I saw a van Gogh for the first time. It changed my life. The paint was so thick coming off the canvas. When you see it in a book, it’s flat. You don’t know it’s almost like a sculpture. You can really see all the effort and the work that was involved. It’s really quite amazing.

For me art is about purification. Art brings you to this place where you can go to awareness, an awareness state.

DCHP: Is the relationship between shamanism and art something that you discovered in your own life?

BW: It’s something that I discovered. Around the time that I started to go down this path, my mom passed away. My mom was a very psychic person. She would see ghosts and things like that so my childhood was always about this other world.

She really didn’t know that it was okay to have boundaries, even with the other side. So I was the person to ground her. I would tell her to ask the ghost what they wanted or tell them to leave. When she passed away, I was getting into how stories heal. That was also right when I went to Russia. So I found myself going for my Master’s degree, which is very intense, and being in a very intense, passionate place, and grieving.

We were doing Three Sisters the old-school Russian way, which is to study a play, [playing] the same character and [studying] each moment for 8 months. So I just hyper-focused and it totally helped me. I was able to not be myself. So that was the first thing. Every day, I [didn’t] have to be Bobbi for a few hours, which really gave me a little bit of freedom and slack from my life.

[In] the Russian theater, every single moment has to be organic. [In] every single moment, you have to be present. It’s not like Method Acting where you can pull stuff from your past. You really should be focusing on your character and every single tiny moment. Skipping a moment is like skipping a couple of beats in music.

So we really pulled out those moments. We would do a moment for like three hours.

After that I went to New York City. I just wanted to not be in school. And the music is so awesome there. You can dance to anything. So I went dancing all the time. And [I found that] I started to grieve and move it out of my body and also pray. So while I’m praying and dancing, I started to get really uplifted. I was starting to liberate myself. I was moving much better than I ever did before and I could feel this healing happening.

We always think of our mind and our brain as the only place where intelligence lives but there is intelligence throughout your whole body. So when you move, it will answer things, solve problems, you become more grounded and connected with the earth and a healing can occur through movement.

There are a lot of healing modalities that teach you how to move, like Tai Chi. [I] do this thing called Body Evolution through which you can understand your body and what your body is trying to tell you.

[In Body Evolution,] you might do something like in yoga except for the fact that you’re breathing through your mouth and you’re lengthening the spine, something like that. If I work on someone, I might be pushing on their body while they push in the opposite direction. In that way I can work deeper. And it’s good for the client, too, because that way they can heal themselves and not feel so dependent [on me for their healing.]

Some people just want to lie there and get a massage. That’s totally fine. But for someone who’s trying to work something out and really change their life, it’s good for them to physically do it.

DCHP: I recently spoke to David Smith. He talks about the wisdom of the elders and his own experiences. One of the things that he made clear is that the real key is to be aware of your everyday life. The more aware you are, the more powerful you are. The more yourself you are.

BW: Yeah. Awareness is huge. It’s going to determine what kinds of choices you are going to make.

My thing is more like I’m on a shamanic path. I think in the new paradigm, everyone’s a shaman.

For me, it’s about action and choices. Awareness, action, choices, or decisions that you’re going to make. When you make that decision, that’s when you step into your power.

I feel that the way things are set up in society right now, it’s to wait for somebody [else] make a decision for you. So when people start talking about freedom, a lot of people say they are all for it but when they get a chance to do things, to make decisions, they are reluctant [to “stand out.”]

DCHP: I think that you’re right. A lot of people latch on to words like freedom and liberty because of their appeal or their popularity. But they don’t necessarily have a very deep understanding of them. And when they are faced with that [possibility], I think they get scared.

BW: Oh, absolutely. It’s a responsibility. Freedom means that you have to be responsible.

DCHP: Is part of what you’re saying perhaps that people who are really progressive, so to speak, are actually being responsible and living their lives as opposed to getting out on the streets and protesting?

BW: Right, exactly. I’m not saying that protesting doesn’t serve a purpose, but I think that for me protesting is education. I’m an artist/educator. I’m a performance artist. A performance artist is kind of like a tree with everything going on beneath it.

I have a character that I play called Smokifantastik – a love Goddess from the planet Venus. She’s like my brand. Everything comes under the name Smokifantastik. That’s just about mythology. It’s about creating your own myth.

People will automatically go into their own play state. It would be like if we were kids and you had this character that you always played when we got together. When you saw me you would automatically start playing.

I say I’m a performance artist because [it] sort of frees me up. I can be a little more intuitive with what I’m doing when I’m performing.For me, the installation is the conversation we’re having right now. (laughs)

It’s a lifestyle. So that gives me the freedom to do art all the time, any time, and in a spontaneous way.

DCHP: I can definitely see what you say about the installation being the conversation and practicing art every day as part of what you do. I can see how that’s related to healing and shamanism. Does that bring anything up for you?

BW: Yeah. It allows this healing space to open without me having to be a shaman or without me having to be the healer. It allows for the other people involved to interact in a really dynamic way and also to empower themselves in a really simplistic (accessible) way and a real fun way. It’s not in this esoteric, deep, soul-searching way.

That needs to happen when it needs to happen but it’s also good to know that you can experience deep things in your everyday life without having to go through initiation or something.

So this gives you opportunity to really start to know yourself.

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”Finding Truth in Performance: An Interview with Bobbi Williams” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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