A Day with the Dalai Lama

July 12, 2015 § 3 Comments

Because it’s not every day one gets to sit in the presence of the Dalai Lama, I thought I’d share some of my experience doing just that. Somehow it didn’t matter that I shared him with 18,000 other people who no doubt felt the same way ~ that it was an honor and a privilege and truly lovely to feel some of his sweetness and magnificence, live and in person. For that, I am fairly wowed.

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

One week ago today, three friends and I had prime seating at Anaheim’s Honda Center, host to a 3-day Global Compassion Summit organized by the Friends of the Dalai Lama. The theme for our day was to be “The Transformative Power of Art and Creativity” (how perfect is that?) as well as a special day of celebration for His Holiness’ 80th birthday.

His birthday wish? The well-being of others. “If humanity is happy, then I’ll be happy, because each of us is dependent on others.”

The Dalai Lama has dedicated his life to the well-being of others; to inner peace as a means to outer peace; to forgiveness; to gratitude; to acts of kindness. He is a force for good, with a message that consistently reminds us to be more compassionate in all we do; with others, with ourselves, and with our planet. It’s a beautiful message. A necessary message. A message that requires action. And in this, His Holiness is exemplary; the very essence of love and compassion. And joy. (Have you heard his laughter? It’s infectious, sheer delight.)

And so we gathered in Anaheim expecting to be graced by not only his presence, but by an event appropriately reverent and reflective of his spirit and his life’s work. As event host Ann Curry told us, because the Dalai Lama always gives so much to others, it was a day to give to the Dalai Lama.

I imagined Tibetan monks, perhaps some chanting. Tibetan music. Dance. Art. (Remember the theme?) Perhaps a prayer or meditation at the beginning or end, or interspersed between speakers and entertainers and birthday cake. I expected stimulating discussions. Something inspiring, uplifting. Something with heart. And with joy.

Instead, we were barraged by two-plus hours of an odd mix of environmental scientists, a few nobel peace laureates, and several second-tier celebrities giving generally self-important speeches around and about the value of compassion. Naturally some were better than others, and while it doesn’t really matter if I recognized them or not, some of those I did recognize had me shaking my head (M.C. Hammer?) There were videos with birthday wishes for His Holiness from people who couldn’t attend the event ~ there again, with the exception of Desmond Tutu and his wife, I’m not sure the significance or value of the chosen set of well-wishers. There was also a big push for people to tweet about compassion. (How very 2015.) So people could feel good about themselves without having to do anything? (Excuse my cynicism. I do understand the idea that at least, even for a 140-character moment, it puts compassion in mind. Spread the word. Jump on the bandwagon. Use social media, I get that. The thing is, compassion is an act, not a promise of one. Okay, rant over.)

There were some high moments ~ particularly when children were involved, the Dalai Lama positively glowed. We were moved by Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden’s words (Personal Emissary for Peace to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Founder and Chair of the independent, non-profit Friends of the Dalai Lama), and I particularly liked the fact that artists were adding finishing touches to the murals stage right and left. (I had hoped that that “interactive” element would have been carried through, but it was not.) When His Holiness spoke (yes, he did finally get a chance), we hung on every word. And he showed his marvelous humor at times, even suggesting that we in the audience “imagine we are enjoying a piece of the cake he was about to eat”.

Yes, there was cake. It was bigger than life and looked rather like gold-painted plastic. There was also a horrendous “gift” at the end with a dancer inside a lotus contraption with space-age music playing and I literally could not conjure a connection to the Dalai Lama, his life or his message in any way, shape or form (except for the symbolism of the lotus itself). This was the big reveal, so to speak. Really? And he would think this was neat, why?

I actually came away feeling embarrassed ~ was this the best we could do with the rare and high honor of celebrating this great man’s 80th birthday? There was a lot of fluff and a lot of ego and a general lacking of soul. Unbefitting.

And yet, there he was, the Dalai Lama, the picture of grace and patience and I would assume detached appreciation.

One has to wonder though, as one of the world’s great spiritual leaders, as someone who’s experienced enormous strife and lived a non-materialistic life devoted to genuine care for humanity ~ and simply as a human being himself! ~ how this largely superficial spectacle came across. Of course, well practiced in the art of inner peace, he was probably fine.

But, oh, what this event could have been.

And that all said… despite my reaction to the whole ~ the good, the bad, and even the ugly ~ I’m still wildly glad I had this very special opportunity to be there. It was an honor. He is that wonderful. And I hope his wish will come true one day soon.

artist applying finishing touches to mural, stage right and left

artist applying finishing touches to mural, stage right and left

 

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

My favorite moment: the Dalai Lama thanking the children's Agape Choir. (photo courtesy of dalailama.com)

My favorite moment: the Dalai Lama thanking the children’s Agape Choir. (photo courtesy of dalailama.com)

Outrageous Happiness #18: Do Stuff

July 9, 2015 § 3 Comments

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Accept invitations. Go places. Be spontaneous. Break routine, crack your shell, burst your seams a bit! Say “yes” to adventure. Do stuff you haven’t done before.

For someone whose nose is usually found inches from the grindstone, I do love a good adventure. I’ve been known to “up and go places” (mostly pre-motherhood, I will admit, but that will change…) – occasionally up-and-staying longer than expected. Two weeks in the Greek Islands turned into four. A week in Sedona turned into nearly 6 months. Africa called, I answered; hippos and lions growling in the night, guards with spears outside my door (trusting they knew how to use them), hot-air ballooning over the Maasai Mara, dining on a long red cloth sprawled out on the plains.

Granted, there are some adventures I’ll never take. Climbing Mt. Everest? I’ll gladly leave that to those who like to dangle from high ledges and don’t mind cold-to-the-bone. And while a stone’s throw away, I’ve managed to skip New Year’s Eve in Times Square. (Something about crowds and – yes – cold, again.)

But an outdoor summer concert in the rain, complete with impromptu slip’n slide tarps? Sure! A whirlwind trip to southern California to be part of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday bash? Absolutely! A chance to meet friends I’ve never met? Big yes.

Memories made. Bonds of friendship strengthened. Things to gripe about (after all they’re part of the experience too, like air travel… ) but mostly, Things to rejoice (did I mention the Dalai Lama? :) ). Sharing time with wonderful people; excellent. Making a scene of hugs and laughter and non-stop talking in Santa Monica with friends-I’d-not-yet-met but feel I’ve known for lifetimes; priceless. Gratitude. Gratitude. For the opportunities, the generosity and kindnesses, the fun, the enrichment.

I could have easily not gone. I have too much work; too little time. I have too much responsibility and not enough money. I’m tired. What if this, what if that. But sometimes you really just need to say “yes”. Because what if it’s wonderful?

Caveat: Saying yes to adventure doesn’t have to be Africa or half a year on an unplanned artistic sabbatical, or a good seat for the Dalai Lama. Truth be told, there have been times when a trip to the grocery store felt like an adventure. Reading a fabulous book can be a marvelously grand adventure. Calling someone you haven’t seen in ages; an impromptu outing to a local watering hole; a bike ride with no plan; walking the unbeaten path through the woods; choosing the road less traveled; wearing the purple hat; taking those singing lessons, volunteering at an old folk’s home, reaching out about something you’ve thought of doing but never knew how to start. No matter how large or small, it’s taking steps into the unknown, uncharted, unpredictable.

Adventure is a thing of spirit that beckons us to leap and stretch our wings. It can fill our hearts with gladness, our stomachs with butterflies, our eyes with wonder – or simply shift the mood of a day, a week, a year. It’s an unleashing. A chance to breathe new life into our veins. A chance to feel outrageously happy.

In our busy, overly compressed lives, adventure is throwing caution to the wind for a little while. But even just a little while can be like ripples in a pond, the effects reaching farther and deeper than we imagined. Planned or unplanned, we grow. We won’t be the same. And that’s called living.

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How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

 

Stars & Stripes: A Visual Tribute to the American Flag

July 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

In May 1776, Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. A year later, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act, establishing an official flag for the new nation:

“Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

However, between 1777 and 1960, Congress passed several legislations that changed the shape, design and arrangement of elements on the flag, eventually settling on extra stars and stripes to reflect each new state. This broad span of time without specific guidelines resulted in many design interpretations – which, in a way, also reflects the deeply rooted sense of freedom so cherished by Americans. The expressions were rich and proud, eventually evolving into the flag we pledge allegiance to today.

Carrying that theme of evolvement forward, in 1986 I discovered a beautiful book by Kit Hinrichs, called “Stars and Stripes” – a compilation of exceptionally creative American Flag images created by some of the finest graphic artists of our time. I found it absolutely delightful, and a great tribute to the creativity and talent that abounds amongst us – and the creative freedom we’re able to enjoy in this great land of the free and home of the brave.

Below are just 13 samples of the many ingenious designs from that book honoring our American flag.  Enjoy, and Happy Birthday USA!

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all images copyright of creator

Things My Father Taught Me

June 21, 2015 § 2 Comments

How to change a tire. How to balance a checkbook. How to pack a suitcase efficiently. That at one time a slide rule could solve almost any homework problem.

He taught me that weeds are best pulled close to the ground when the soil is damp and the moon is waning. Almost anything can be recycled and remade. Material things are overrated. Contribute something positive. Leave the world a better place for your having been there. Nothing is more meaningful than family and nothing more beautiful than the earth.

My father showed me practicality, patience and perseverance. He showed me modesty and humility. Loyalty. Honesty. Standing up for what you believe in.

He gave me his long legs and his sensible disposition. He gave me a weakness for potatoes, and all things fresh from the garden. He did not, however, give me his creative math genius, nor his pension for saving old nails ~ but I’m pretty sure if you looked in the dictionary for the meaning of the word “integrity”, you’d find his name. For that alone I am eternally grateful.

Here’s to you, Dad – and all the fathers who teach even half this stuff. The world is a better place because of you.

Because strawberry shortcake was your favorite dessert.

Because strawberry shortcake was your favorite dessert.

A Plethora of P’s / #87: Peony

June 13, 2015 § 6 Comments

proactively punctuating life with the plausible, powerful possibilities of positive thought presented through a plethora of “P’s”.

– ♥ –

#87: Peony

saxton.P_peony2

Dear Peony ~ Your bloom is brief, and your heavy heads droop low under the weight of folds and folds and folds of petals – deliciously soft, intricate petals going every which way, having blossomed from tightly packed, perfectly round balls to form, perhaps (if there could by such a thing), the perfect flower – oh, how I adore your sweeping grace! You are elegance and beauty; you are divine.

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……………………

(until next time, you can see the ongoing Plethora of P’s here)

Tea, Guacamole and A Blanket

June 7, 2015 § 12 Comments

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Intention: Early morning Sun Salutations. Long walks along the shore; the wide, cream-colored beach hedged by flowering dunes and solid, old homes with weathered shingles and thick white pillars holding up wrap-around porches. Bike rides and ice cream and warm sea breezes fueling inspirations that spread themselves like butter, page after page, in my notebooks. Skin, tingling and alive from the surf and the sun. Hair in happy, salty tangles. Laughter as the sun makes long shadows in the sand and friends share a toast to the tides; to each other; to the red glow on our shoulders (pass the aloe, please). Meditations under the moon; breaths keeping time with the rumbling, tumbling, humbling waves.

Reality: Early morning drizzle followed by chilly, windy torrents. Cold; did I mention, cold? My giant-sized, fluffy red blanket and I step, daily, onto the thick-pillar-adorned porch to admire the angry sea’s spectacular beauty; this week she’s a pounding, twisting, frothy tempest. My blanket-bundled self takes 20 yard walks to the bench at the top of the beach, finds a dry-ish spot to watch the sky for signs of sunshine. Friends arrive, singing “the sun’ll come out, tomorrow…”. My girls, generally hunkered down with their laptops and phones, are otherwise perfecting their omelette and smoothie-making skills. We eat exorbitant amounts of whole-wheat tortilla chips with guacamole dip. We find that Scotty’s fresh flounder tastes just as good in stormy weather as it does in good weather. Thank goodness I remembered to pack the Scrabble board and card decks. And my red blanket.

But still, it’s not enough to see the sea, I need to stand close, near the edge (but not so near to risk dipping my blanket in the surf) ~ so we venture time and again onto the wide, cream-colored coastline and marvel at the ocean’s extraordinary magnificence. My blanket and I enjoy tea under the eaves by the flowering dunes. We read. We take pictures and post them on Instagram. During a break in the unforgiving wind and rain we settle into a comfy spot on the soft sand and attempt to write in my notebook.

Drip.

Drop.

“Oh cruel fate . . . why do you mock me?”

Surrender.

So it’s short walks, no bikes. Ice cream, no warm breezes. Writing inside, not out. Skip the aloe. And despite the lack of shadows for five straight days, we do laugh; and we share toasts to the tides, and, mostly, to each other.

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“Serenely full, the epicure would say, Fate cannot harm me; I have dined to-day.”
– Sydney Smith (1771 – 1845)

 

What Is Art?

May 19, 2015 § 4 Comments

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After creating this poster for my Facebook pages, someone asked me to define art. You might think I’d have a ready answer, but no. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve given it much thought, which is equally surprising. I liked the question though, and what follows is an expanded (rather long-winded!) version of my reply:

Art has varied definitions, I suppose, depending on those doing the defining. As an artist myself, I didn’t always appreciate art, because it was “something I just did” ~ I didn’t consider it a statement or a dramatic emotional expression, or even that it might do something other than possibly give pleasure. I didn’t question why. I didn’t scheme about what I’d do with it. It was simply woven into my being. The same way I have hazel eyes and wild hair; it just is.

That said, my own leaning seems to have been to create art that represented, or imagined, or inspired beauty; even, perhaps, a sense of hope. But that’s me. I know that not all art reflects beauty ~ it may reflect a social condition or an intellectual or philosophical position; it may be confrontational; it may be humorous; it may be elegant or raw; it may be positively ugly to one, pure loveliness to another. It can be painted or crafted or performed; made by hand or machine or both. It can be abstract or figurative; coming from a deep well of spirit, a spark of consciousness, a passing thought or a well-formed concept. Its roots know no economic or cultural boundaries. It transcends, disturbs, balances. It’s a driving force, a balm, an evocateur. It’s so broad as to be nearly undefinable.

But what I’ve come to realize ~ surprisingly late in the game ~ is its value; that a world without art, a world lacking the creative expression that can touch souls in ways otherwise skirted, unseen, unfelt, or trapped, would be a much more dry, sterile place. If there were no paintings, no music-making, no dance, no story-telling, what a very different existence this would be. (The mere thought of its absence feels dark and repressive!)

Art is life, breathing. A passionate, textural experience in this business of being human. An extension of who we are, often with an unwitting power to affect others ~ to inspire, to explore, to uplift, and sometimes, even to heal.

We need it. We need it to buffer the madness; to soften realities or shape new ones. There are such seeds within art, able to plant tonics for the soul, heighten awareness, ignite hearts, raise vibrations. Art is record-keeping and diary-making broadcast from individuals to the world. Shouts in the wilderness, relief from chaos, a connection to the divine. It moves us. It’s entirely personal in origin and yet has the ability to somehow matter to others.  It does matter. It matters a lot.

However we define it.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”. ~Thomas Merton

Celebrating Mom

May 10, 2015 § 4 Comments

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When I was a little girl, my mother was “my world”. She did all the things you’d expect a Mom might do, like hold your hand, read you a story, fix meals, teach manners, dry tears, cheer you up and on. She loved to laugh. She loved to give. She loved life, and tried to worry only on Tuesdays.

She left this world much too soon – but she left gifts. Cherished, timeless words; gifts from the heart, mind and spirit. Her poetry was first published while still in her teens, later works appeared in several anthologies. Perhaps her greatest work was the collection of sonnets published in her book The Pine and The Power.

So on this day reserved for mothers, I’d like to share some of those words as I have in year’s past, in honor and life-giving celebration of mothers near and far, here or remembered. Happy Mother’s Day!

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God help our children to transcend the dark

And walk the earth with dignity and cheer;

God help them seek the mountains, persevere

The road that twists through thorn and tanglebark,

Ascending finally where eagles mark

Their point of vision. Help our children find

Two masters ~ one the spirit, one the mind ~

And rediscover constancy of heart.

Help us to find cathedrals in the skies,

A will to walk the long uncharted mile;

(The will to find in winter’s legacy

The ochre sands from which the lime trees rise!)

Help us to know the measure of the child ~

To live in time and in eternity.

© Carolyn Naught Saxton

Outrageous Happiness #17: Seizing Moments

May 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

When something happy/pleasant/cheerful crosses your path, embrace it. Seize that moment! Enjoy it. Savor it. Let it seep in so you really feel it – no ifs, ands or buts! No “if only (fill in the blank) wasn’t going on so I could really enjoy that.” No “and now something’s bound to ruin this.” No “but I can’t stop to appreciate that, I’m too busy.” None of that. No, no, no.

We’re talking simple things (or big things ~ hey, no discrimination here on size of joy!). Maybe it’s noticing a tree with particularly pretty blossoms. Maybe it’s the sunlight through a red leaf. Maybe it’s a compliment received, or a perfectly cooked plate of fresh vegetables. A goldfinch on your bird-feeder. A favorite song on the radio.

Or maybe it’s a picture, like this one of my daughter, which made me smile on a whole bunch of levels and reminded me how much I love paint and the creative spirit and happy, unpredictable messes. I could have given it a quick “oh, I adore this!” and gone back to my at-the-time incredibly heavy workload, but I chose to take it in, let the happy feeling fill my space for a little longer.

And that ~ moments grabbed, even briefly ~ can make a real difference in the bigger picture. They add up. They might even become habit-forming.

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How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

 

Praising Mother Earth

April 22, 2015 § 1 Comment

“I love not man the less, but Nature more.” ~ Lord Byron

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After a month or more of intensely intense (yes, twice for emphasis) deadlines ~ sanity sustained by pure will, innumerable chats with the Universe, bouts of lavender sniffing and heaping doses of hot fudge ~ I look out my window and see a lone tulip in an unexpected spot, happy and proud as can be where it landed; and while admiring this cheerful sprout, I’m reminded that we have arrived at Earth Day.

In my still rattled brain, I can’t recall if there’s something more significant to Earth Day than honoring this amazing planet we call home, but that’s enough for me.

I grew up with woods as my private playground, with lawn and gardens and trees attentively cared for by my farmer-turned-engineer father whose love for the earth was profound ~ all of which found its way into my mother’s poetry and onto my the pages of my sketchbooks (when my presence wasn’t required for the dreaded chore of weeding). It also found its way into my heart.

I am a lover of the earth. I have, on occasion, been known to hug trees. I find solace in mountains, renewal in the sea, joy in the nightingale’s song and peace while digging in the dirt. I love a cathedral ceiling of deep green hickory leaves as much as the wide open, top-down desert sky watching over red clay carpet and brightly colored lizards and noble cactus families. Grass between my toes. Wind in my hair. Sun on my skin. Rain on my roof. All of it.

The earth is miracle after miracle. Inspiration. Replenishment. It is living, breathing strength, tenderness, wisdom and resilience.

Be good to Mother Earth. She is our lifeblood.

saxton_earthhasmusic

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