Category Archives: Spiritual Musings and Conundrums

Fear: Essential Wisdom For Getting Through The Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

Often, books find me when I need them most. They jump off book shelves into my arms, friends pass them on to me with raving reviews, or they stand out on library shelves and something inside me demands I pay attention. Recently, such a book, Fear: Essential Wisdom For Getting Through The Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh, called to me from a garage-sale table, insisting it was meant for my eyes and would open my heart. It was a lovely hard covered edition costing only a dollar.

I’d just been laid off from my job of six years, and was starting to feel moments when fear bubbled beneath the surface of my confident and optimistic surface. “I trust the universe,” I told myself and my friends,” and I do, sort of, sometimes, except when I don’t, and become afraid.

So it seemed Zen Master and Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh had some wisdom and practical advice on how I could deal with that powerful and challenging human emotion that we all face on a daily basis – fear.

Whether we’re fearful of what is happening in the present or afraid of what could or will inevitably happen in our future, we all struggle with the demon of fear. We try to stuff it down and frighten it with our bravado. We try to ignore its demands for attention by eating Oreos, or watching mindless television, or shopping, or whatever drugs of choice temporarily distract us away from our disturbing feelings.

Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to start a practice of mindfulness by saying “hello” to our demon fear and inviting him in for a hug, for a gentle embrace along with a bit of non-judgmental chit chat: Hey fear, tell me more. Why is my sky falling? What am I really wound up about? Will death really kill me? Let’s get to the heart of the matter.

The first part of looking at our fear is just inviting it into our awareness without judgment. We just acknowledge gently that it is there. This brings a lot of relief already. Then, once our fear has calmed down, we can embrace it tenderly and look deeply into its roots, its sources. Understanding the origins of our anxieties and fears will help us let go of them. Is our fear coming from something that is happening right now or is it an old fear, a fear from when we were small that we’ve kept inside? When we practice inviting all our fears up, we become aware that we are still alive, that we still have many things to treasure and enjoy. If we are not pushing down and managing our fear, we can enjoy the sunshine, the fog, the air, and the water. If you can look deep into your fear and have a clear vision of it, then you really can live a life that is worthwhile.
-Thich Nhat Hanh

The book draws on the author’s years of spiritual practice of mindfulness in action, a practice that invites us to live in the present moment, acknowledge and embrace our fears, recognize their origins, and render them powerless. Never trite or simplistic, it offers a deep exploration of the facets and origins of numerous aspects of fear – from childhood abuse and psychological traumas to the universal and existential varieties.

I first learned of Tich Nhat Hanh a number of years ago when I stumbled upon his beautiful book, The Energy of Prayer: How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice. A Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, poet, scholar, and peace activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. he offers simple and powerful practices to move us into a more peaceful way of living in the world and facing our adversaries. All of us confront those adversaries, sometimes called human weaknesses, such as anger, hatred, and fear in unique ways often determined by our backgrounds and upbringing. This gentle, strong, and humble monk offers profound insight our potential to transform our pain, embrace fearlessness, and discover joy in living in the now.


Filed under Book Reviews, Spiritual Musings and Conundrums, Topics I Love

Bloggers for Peace: Art is a Universal Lanquage

Art for Peace

Art for Peace – Collage by Kartika

Bloggers for Peace

This week, I decided to take up the “Blogging for Peace Challenge,” and have committed to blog once each month on a topic that I feel relates to peace.

While for me, art making is a way to enter into a peaceful state because I can temporarily let go of the restraints of daily living, I believe art enhances human relationships and can build connection and communication between people. I also see art as a way for humans to connect with and appreciate the natural environment. Just look at the fields and sky painted by Van Gough – we can see he was in communion with nature. Artists have this gift, this opportunity to share such visions, to move us into states of consciousness where we may not ordinarily go.

We are united in this need to experience beauty, and through human history, the arts have been a universal vehicle for us to both appreciate the creations of others and to create our own unique visions of what is meaningful and beautiful.

Art is timeless

I find it fascinating that we can admire and be moved by the works and artistic expressions of artists from all over the world, from the beginning of time – we can feel connected to the Navaho women who weaved rugs and the Greek artisans who made drinking vessels centuries ago.

Those simple cave paintings created thousands of years ago still move of us. We find them beautiful in their elegant simplicity. And contemporary and modern artists borrow from the styles of all generations of crafters and artisans and artists to inspire their work.

When we visit museums and see artifacts from around the world, whether from Asia, Europe, Africa, or elsewhere, we get a glimpse into the souls of our ancestors. They have all been creators, they have all created beauty from the depths of their souls. They are like us, they are our family. They share our wonder when standing in front The Pieta, they share the need to experience and express the sublime through beauty in all of its forms.

Art is not a luxury that humans can live without. It is a necessity and the artist will go to any lengths to bring his visions into form.

Making art is part of our human DNA – humans are designed to create and to share their creations with others. In this way we come together to appreciate one of our common denominators – our creative potential and the joy of making things, the need to be inspired, and the impulse to follow the muse wherever she takes us. This is the way art can be a bridge to peace and harmony.



Filed under Archetypes and Symbols, Artsy Stuff, Bloggers for Peace, Spiritual Musings and Conundrums, Topics I Love

Happy New Year: A Meditation on Time

Collage - Time
Collage: “Time” by Kartika

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
― Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button screenplay

Happy New Year

It’s time to get clear on my intentions for this New Year. My big brother has offered me some wise words about time. Here it is: Time can be our friend or our enemy depending on how we use it. If we think it is too late to make positive changes, to learn something new, to take on a challenge, and we do nothing, time is not our friend. If we think we are too old or too busy to learn to take pictures or study French, or to start painting or to learn to dance, we let time slip away from us.

Time flies and it is unrelenting, out of our control, leading us into dark and scary places where we are forced to confront demons and battle with the physical world.

If we think it is too late to change, we make the choice to do nothing, and time bears little fruit. If we see time merely as the grim reaper (and, yes it is that too), only as a river of change leading to our ultimate disintegration and demise, it is easy to resent it, to lament its brutal ways. We cannot control it and certainly cannot stop it. As the wise say, “the only constant is change.” Every day offers proof that time can take away things we love, people we depend upon, what we hold most dear.

And so, my intention for the New Year is to remind myself that each moment in time counts and offers opportunities to discover my amazing potential, to express myself in meaningful ways, and to share my gifts with the world – to make time my friend. I may not have the power to stop time from aging my body, from wreaking its challenging havoc that seems chaotic, but is in fact, orderly. I can use it to become wiser, more creative, and more soulful, and try to dance with it, to embrace it as an ally.

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Filed under Artsy Stuff, Collage, Spiritual Musings and Conundrums, Topics I Love

Collage Mandalas

Collage Mandala by Kartika

Collage Mandala by Kartika

“My mandalas were cryptograms concerning the state of the self which was presented to me anew each day…I guarded them like precious pearls….It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the center, to individuation.”

Carl Jung

Over the years, I’ve become fascinated by the mandala in its various forms of artistic and symbolic expression.

But, I was afraid to create my own mandalas because I have little patience for measuring and precision in art making, and so many of the mandalas I admired in the traditional Indian and other Eastern styles are a form of sacred geometry where the angles are mathematically precise.

The Tibetan mandala painting below is an example of this deeply symbolic and complex form of sacred art, often used as a tool for meditation. The mandala in Eastern culture is symbolic – the circle is a symbol of the eternity of the cosmos and the square is a symbol of the earth or of the man-made world. In Sanskrit, the mandala literally means circle and center.

Tibetan Thangka Painting

Tibetan Thangka Painting

However, I was drawn to creating my own simple versions of collage mandalas, and decided to refuse to intimidated (okay perhaps a bit) by masters of the form worldwide. As I read more about this art form, and see the endless ways the circle is used symbolically in all cultures over the world, the possibilities and interpretations are endless.

Mandala Collage by Kartika

Mandala Collage by Kartika

The sacred circle

A circle is the reflection of eternity. It has no beginning and it has no end – and if you put several circles over each other, then you get a spiral.
Maynard James Keenan

Carl Jung became deeply involved with the mandalas as a way to connect with the unconscious and to engage with the universal archetypes that are are the basis of all levels of Self. He had patients create mandalas as a tool for self-understanding and healing.

Currently there is a re-awakening of mandala making – people are realizing that anyone can draw a circle and begin the process of creating a personal mythology that links them to spirit and self understanding. We have been inspired by the traditions of mandala-making and are finding our own ways to create beautiful expressions of the sacred circle.

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Archetypes: Understanding Ourselves and Our Art

Painting in gouache from my art journal – Fire

Bringing spirit into matter

“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”
― Joseph Campbell

I’ve discovered I both consciously and unconsciously use archetypes in my art. And, I’ve found that increasing my awareness of symbols and archetypes makes me more conscious of the themes and ideas that spontaneously arise in my own art making and helps me appreciate the work of other artists. It helps me get in touch with the energies within my own psyche. I see us all as composites of a variety of archetypes. Archetypes are the “generic versions of a person, and they represent the types of energies and patterns of behavior the person embodies or expresses throughout life or at a given time.

One of the tools I have used to help understand mine is, “The Voyager Tarot Cards,” created by James Wanless.  Tarot card decks typically contain the Major and the Minor Arcanas that represent the range of human archetypes. These types are universal and exist in all cultures and traditions. In the Voyager deck there are 10 Major Arcanas.

What are your archetypes?

Here are the Archetypes in the Voyager Deck—I see myself as a composite.:

Fool Child – Typically called “The Fool,” the fool-child represents the intuitive inspiration of genius. It symbolizes those who puts faith in the universe. The fool is able to relax and trust, to go with the flow of life.

Magician – The Magician holds the tools of transformation and materialization in any area of life. This energy can also be use to help others in your world manifest their vision. It provides opportunities and solutions to problems.

Priestess – The Priestess symbolizes the law of inherent wisdom, and is in touch with the subtle levels of reality, such as intuition and wisdom. This is the energy of the wise elder that is revered in all traditions—represents balance and clarity.

Empress – Represents the law of preservation and is the guardian of life and of the earth. This energy is in charge of protecting the earth and honors every aspect of creation for its inherent richness and beauty.

Emperor – Symbolizes the inner fire that builds and achieves professional recognition and monetary reward.

Hierophant – Symbolizes the law of life-mastery. This is the energy of meditative awareness that views all of life as an opportunity for growth—Life is your teacher. Use the lessons of life as a stepping stone to the top of the temple.

Lovers – Represents the union of male and female energies—the union of heart and mind, inner and outer. It represents to force of attraction between others and the embrace of opposites.

Chariot – Represents changes and growth and the movement to create, achieve, and evolve. The charioteer searches for self-realization.

Balance – Represents balance amidst the dance and continuum of life, between the left and right hemispheres of the mind. Balance is moving lightly with the wind like the flute to blend in with the leaves.

Hermit – Symbolizes the sage who shuts out distractions to complete the spiritual pilgrimage. This energy is about the completion of wholeness and using our work in the material world as a spiritual path to achieve our life purpose.

Fortune – The new physics shows us that all foretelling is never certain. Future projects are only projections. This is the energy of looking at life as opportunity and understanding our consciousness creates our reality.
Artists share their personal mythology with the world.

When we make art, we draw energies from the universal field of archetypes and symbols and our creations bring them back into the material world in a personal and unique from of expression. When I look at or experience the work of other artists, when I see a film, hear music, watch a play, or when I read a piece of literature, I get a view into the artists personal storehouse of symbols and archetypal energies. This enlivens that artist’s energies within me. Sharing art is a way of sharing the depths of our personal mythology and psyche with the world.


Filed under Archetypes and Symbols, Artsy Stuff, Spiritual Musings and Conundrums, Topics I Love

Ocean of Pearls

“The True Guru is the ocean of pearls, one attains it according to his Writ. The Sikhs like swans gather together according to the Will of the True Guru. The ocean is full of gems and pearls, the swan eats them, but the ocean always remains full. The Lord wills that the ocean and the swans are not separated. Only that Sikh comes to the Guru, on whose forehead this Writ is recorded from the very beginning. Such a Gursikh not only ferries across the world-ocean, himself, but also saves his family and the whole world.” (Guru Arjan, Var Ramkali

I just watched “Ocean of Pearls” last night on streaming Netflix and I fell in love. I fell in love with the characters, with the story, and with the Director, Sarab Neelam whose film was honest without being didactic, powerful yet gentle, clear yet subtle. Neelam moved with his family from India to Toronto when he was 10, and this film is semi-autobiographical. I think this film has value for everyone regardless of their religion beliefs. We all have to make decisions about who we are, what we believe,  when to compromise, and when to stand up for our values.

“Ocean of Pearls” addresses political and social issues that are both universal and specific to time and place. It’s the story of Amrit,  a young Sikh (beautifully acted by Omid Abtah) who struggles to integrate his cultural values into the contemporary world of a money driven health care system, racial profiling, and a society that requires him to compromise personal integrity. Amrit is a brilliant surgeon who moves from Canada to accept a position at a prestigious hospital in Detroit.

As Amrit strives to balance his goals to advance his career and gain acceptance, his hair becomes the metaphor for his personal struggle to assimilate. Amrit wants to be accepted as doctor in an American hospital while staying true to himself, his girlfriend, and family and community. He struggles with the question of whether or not to cut his hair and remove his turban. He asks himself whether or not keeping his long hair is more important than his opportunity to save lives and advance the field of medicine. He begins to make many of the “reasonable” compromises as he tries to define what is truly important.  He wants to live a life of seva (selfless service to others), which is the basis of his spiritual tradition, yet being part of the American health care system, he is asked to accept that people will die when health insurance companies deny coverage. He continues to ask himself what values of his traditional upbringing are “pearls” that cannot be dismissed and forgotten.

While some reviewers criticized the film for being melodramatic, I did not. I  agree with the decision of “Asia Pacific Arts” to include this film in its top ten films of 2008, saying that “its domestic and romantic melodrama feels true and never sensational, while its passion to reveal social injustice is never didactic.  And,  I was further delighted to hear Snatum Kuar, an American singer songwriter, who is a Sikh, and visited my town of Fairfield Iowa while on tour, chant her beautiful kirtan at the beginning of the film.

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A Website that Rates Gurus!

Rating Your Favorite Guru

Help for Guru Shoppers or Even Guru Hoppers…

If you are shopping for a guru or simply want to check out your own guru’s “rating,” there is a website you may want to check out…It’s called GuruRatings and it called out to me when I saw lots of my favorite gurus featured. It’s a bit like People Magazine for New-Agers.

Some may find rating gurus offensive. But, is guru rating necessarily a bad thing? In today’s world, we are all obsessed with ratings. We rate everything from television shows, to movies, to cars, to toothbrushes. In fact, it’s hard to find anything that isn’t rated. So, why should gurus be exempt or off-limits to this kind of scrutiny?

We need to know the facts about who we are willing to put our faith in, take advice from, and in a many ways, surrender to.  Just because you get a mega-blast of darshan (a blessing from the guru), doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t red flags you should consider, such as:

  • Don’t you want to know if your prospective or current guru advocates celibacy or a more liberal attitude toward sex? You don’t to commit to a lifestyle you simple cannot live up to.
  • Don’t you want to “follow the money?” Does your guru live in a mansion while advocating others take a vow of poverty? If you are told you have to live in a cave, your guru better be walking his walk.
  • Does you guru have sex with his or her followers? I mean this should be cause for concern even if you aren’t a prude.

Of Course rating gurus is subjective and personal – perhaps we can’t actually quantify or measure a gurus value. And some people may become offended if their guru doesn’t measure up, if their guru isn’t even on the site, or if their guru is debunked.  But, if you keep your attachment to other people’s judgements out of it, it can be kind of fun pursuing this site. You may even find yourself tempted to make a switch, so it may be a good test of your level of devotion to your current guru. A testing of our faith can be a good thing.

The author of the site is positioning himself as the “Guru of Rating Gurus.” He does of course, offer us the chance to weigh in and cast our votes, so if you feel inclined to make yours count, give a thumbs up or down accordingly.

Here is a definition of “guru” from website:

gu·ru  (gr, g-r)

n. pl. gu·rus

1. Hinduism & Tibetan Buddhism A personal spiritual teacher.

a. A teacher and guide in spiritual and philosophical matters.
b. A trusted counselor and adviser; a mentor.

a. A recognized leader in a field: the guru of high finance.
b. An acknowledged and influential advocate, as of a movement or idea: “In a culture that worships slimness, he was the Guru of Lean” (Erica Abeel).

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October 22, 2012 · 7:28 pm

Amma is a Non-Denominational Spiritual Leader

Amma has Hugged Millions Worldwide

Amma is for Everyone – Her only Religion is Love

“Lending a helping hand to a neglected soul, feeding the hungry, a compassionate smile towards the sad and dejected—this is the real language of religion. We should invoke God’s compassion in our own hearts and hands. Living only for oneself is not life, but death.” – Amma

Amma is a non-denominational spiritual leader. Buddhist monks, Catholic priests and nuns, Muslims, Jews and people from numerous religious traditions go to receive Amma’s blessings of unconditional love. Amma has frequently said that her only religion is love. While Amma, well respected in religious circles, was named one of three presidents of Hinduism by the 1993 Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago, Illinois, she still acknowledges,

“The basic, underlying principle of all religions is one and the same Truth. Different religions are suited to different people for their spiritual development, and therefore no one religion is superior to any other.” She has also emphasized, “We are all God’s children.”

In 2002, Dr. Jane Goodall presented Amma with the Gandhi-King Award for Non-violence, given in recognition of her lifelong work in furthering the principles of non-violence. During the same event, at the UN headquarters in Geneva, She gave the keynote address at the Global Peace Initiative of Women and Religious Leaders.

I’ve been attending Amma’s public programs in the United States every year since 1990.

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Spirited Spiritual Pissing Contests

Spirited Spiritual Pissing Contests.

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Spirited Spiritual Pissing Contests

My Guru Is Better than Your Guru

Your guru sucks, I say – not exactly in those words, but you know what I mean. My face is all intense as I tell you what I think of your guru’s opinion on architecture. Of course, your guru happens to be my ex-guru and this somehow gives me permission to voice my opposition to your point of view without crossing over the line. “My guru has more important things to do than consider the pros and cons of whether my house, or any one’s house, faces east, west, north or south!”

And I start a mini-rant after you have joined us at our table in the coffee house where I sit with my friend blogging and processing the events of the past week. I wasn’t looking for a fight, but you started it and I intend to finish it (I had just finished a number of repetitions of my mantra that evidently had not taken effect).

I ‘m only going after you because you started it. You said my house would bring me poverty and lack of creativity because it is not proper vastu (according to your guru’s system called, Maharishi Sthapatya Veda (MSV). MSV is a set of architectural and planning principles  based on “ancient Sanskrit texts – kind of like Feng Shui, but Indian. Whatever…

Here’s the deal, Dude, when you take on my house, you take on ME, because I AM my house. No matter how long or how many years I’ve meditated, I’m ATTACHED to MY house and no one gets to disrespect it. I defend it and I really don’t care who your guru is, I believe my house faces the perfect direction.

So here we behaving like a couple of 16-year old boys flexing our muscles and insisting, “My dad can kick your dad’s ass….”

We have both meditated for about 80 years, collectively, and our ego’s are still on high alert ready to defend themselves and our turf with “fighting words.” In fact, all the meditation seems to have enhanced our reflexes.

Yet, I remember a previous generation of adults who had the good sense to never discuss spiritual matters or religion at the table which is what new-agers always do. We sit in cafes and talk about our latest visit to ashrams, or the latest strategy to  attain nirvana. I don’t remember our parent’s generation sitting at the dinner table with friends saying, “So, Marge, you’re Catholic, and I just want to ask you one question, how can Catholics believe all that crap about eating the flesh and blood of Jesus?”

They simply left those matters alone, wisely understanding, such questions are a recipe for unpleasant disagreement, and that matters of spiritual belief are personal. The word discretion is, for our generation, sometimes equated with repression, denial, or an unhealthily rejection of transparency. Thus, our tendency to over-communicate sometimes leads to guru bashing. Guru bashing leads to pissing people off unnecessarily.

Perhaps, the coffee house is not the place for spirited spiritual pissing contests.

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October 22, 2012 · 2:59 am