Thursday, June 27, 2019

Being the Noise

For 18 years I lived reclusively in the small attic apartment of an old clapboard house on the main route into town. Chimneys ran up through the center of the kitchen and the bedroom; I tracked round and round them. Seagulls sometimes landed with hefty thumps on the roof and fussed at each other. It was like living on a boat in the sky, everything wedged in tight.

In winter it was beautifully quiet up there. With the leaves off of the trees I could see to a small slice of the bay through one of my three windows. But in summer, it got loud and hectic above the road gushing with tourist traffic. Since I found earplugs uncomfortable, I tried to imagine the waves of vehicles passing as ocean sounds, or to drown them in the white noise of a fan, but still my nerves felt abraded.

One summer, construction projects for a sewer line were also happening on two sides of the house. Heavy trucks and machinery started up at 7am and carried on all day. Back-up beep-beep-beeps pierced the air constantly. I felt like I couldn’t stand it. Sometimes I wanted to grab hunks of my hair in each fist and rock, moaning.

My girlfriend found a way to suggest a daring question: what if it really wasn’t all that commotion which was upsetting me, but only my resistance to it? Supposing nothing between my ears seized on those vibrations, identified them as irritants, rejected them? Mightn’t the sound waves just pass right through my mind without bothering me?

I guess this question could have landed with me as irrelevant, or worse: mocking the sensitive victim of objective noise-torment. But as it happened, I felt curious. I was ardently practicing Byron Katie’s Work at the time, so I took the question into self-inquiry meditation. I realized with astonishment that it really was my aversion to the sounds which troubled me, rather than something inherent to the situation. Huh. Good to know. I still didn't like it, though.

Gangaji tells a story of her teacher Papaji reading aloud a letter he’d received to a circle of his longtime students. In the letter, a man described his difficulty in meditating, since he lived above a 24 hour garage which was noisy all the time. “What would you tell him to do?” Papaji asked. The students suggested things like, ‘He should listen for the deeper Silence which holds all sound.” “He might realize that he is one with the noise.” “No,” Papaji said, “Tell him to move!”

Of course, go ahead and adjust circumstances to your liking when you can. Or, maybe you'll see whether you can shift your internal state somehow. But what if you don't have to manipulate or force solutions within or without in order to feel at home?

As I've settled into more understanding of how my experience is created by my thinking, things have gotten easier. My notions, interpretations and projections may still masquerade as solid reality and I may react accordingly, but that illusion is more porous and less convincing and it doesn't last as long. I have less of a personal stake in my own role, less anxious effort to boss situations around. I'm more available to let life move me in creative ways to work things out.

After I'd questioned it, that visceral intolerance towards the construction noise somehow let go of its grip on me. This seemed like a miracle. I remained an introvert who luxuriates in quiet, but I felt more flexible—if I wanted a break, I could go somewhere else, without pining for an imaginary silent apartment that didn’t exist at that moment. 

The next summer, and every one after that until I moved out, the traffic sounds honestly didn’t bother me at all.


Community of the Spirit

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.
Open your hands,
if you want to be held.
Sit down in the circle.
Quit acting like a wolf, and feel
the shepherd’s love filling you.
At night, your beloved wanders.
Don’t accept consolations.
Close your mouth against food.
Taste the lover’s mouth in yours.
You moan, “She left me.” “He left me.”
Twenty more will come.
Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

--From Rumi – Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne

Monday, June 24, 2019

Stopping to Start

"Start small...smaller...even smaller....Start by stopping" Jude Spacks '17

My neighbor the rapid Buddhist was already whizzing away after our chat, when she turned back with one more thing. "I'd like to start writing again--but I never seem to get to it. Could you tell me what to do?"

I adjusted an imaginary coach hat on my head and responded, "How 'bout this? For a few days in a row, write for just 10 minutes and then stop."

She scooted back towards me, shaking her head. "Oh, no, no, no.  I have to write at least a page...that's what I used to do. It takes way longer than 10 minutes."

"Ok, but I hear you haven't been getting to write that page lately. Why not try 10 minutes, or, say, 3 sentences--whatever seems like a very easy amount--then stop? Later you can do more--you'll want to. But warm up first by practicing ease and stopping. That's a good place to start."

I imagined other ways she could play with interrupting the habit of Not-Writing to help shift her can't-get-to-it pattern. Even by mentioning it, she could already be renewing awareness of her lucky freedom to write or not. I didn't say this out loud--she was in a hurry. 

She called back cheerily over her shoulder, "I can always use practice stopping!" as she hustled away. (When I next saw her, she said she'd begun writing her page-a-day again).

Most of us can use practice stopping, especially when there's resistance to starting something creative. Even the thought of the possibility of pausing may unravel the rope in a mental tug-of-war.

What might you want to stop, as an experiment?

  • Stop pushing to prove or fix anything about you and your worthiness. 
  • Stop overlooking that you're already essentially ok, whether you do the thing or not. 
  • Stop trying to strong-arm or cajole or rush yourself. Stop trying to force solutions.
  • Stop insisting you must know what you don't know (yet). Look with curiosity towards Don't Know. Curiosity creates.  
Why not stop waiting for a shinier spark of inspiration, a bigger view, less squirmy fear, a better time? Why not engage with the humble, no-big-deal possibility in front of you now? Follow the path opening footstep by footstep under your own wise feet.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

You, Too

You, too
lit up in brave grace, standing
(or sitting, or lying crumpled
however puny, still in grace)
Thank you. 

Courage tells the truth you know so far
(Listen, maybe you tell only yourself for now)
Thank you, too.

Waiting for the moment you're called--
may you know how to say right then
what only you can say

(maybe it shakes your voice,
shakes the ground, 
quakes the last leaf
of that tree always falling 
in the forest no one hears)


Does it drop like a coin into a well? 
Like a tumbler in a lock? 
Like the full-throated silence 
within a true love song?
Sorrow, fury, terror,
mama bear howls of NO–
they gather flow
all the way down 
to the ocean of YES,
fierce, tender truth
that sets us free

May you know your holy human shine
sensing ever deeper truth to tell:
Thank you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Bloom Where Planted #11 mixed media sculpture Jude Spacks 2016
In mid-winter, around the anniversary of my father's death and my birthday a few days later, I took a break from trying to do whatever I assumed needed doing. Instead, I found myself absorbed in making little homes for the tiny statues my father used to keep on his desk. They'd been falling over and and getting lost on the table near my favorite chair

Little Goddess Shrine (detail) mixed media, Jude Spacks 2016

Barry's Tara(?) mixed media shrine Jude Spacks 2016

Four Altars; mixed media Jude Spacks 2016

Then I couldn't stop this flurry of nest-makingwhich seemed like good luck. I made one after another. For instance, a little angel out of birch bark, and her wild/domestic home.

Birch Angel Shrine; mixed media, Jude Spacks 2016 (available)
Birch Angel Shrine rear–stands alone or hangs on wall
Winter dragged on. The odd lots store got in some hairy sparkly yarn for $1 a roll, and I binged on almost every color. Something had to be done with it. Unexpected furry flowers appeared, and a tiny purple bird in a hairy nest 
Bloom Where Planted #1 mixed media Jude Spacks 2016
Purple Seuss-Bird; mixed media, Jude Spacks 2016

Something possessed me to bring these tousled flowers to the Library, as a token of hope for spring-to-come. It was the week of Dr Seuss' birthday, and the flowers had a Seussian twang to them, so this made a kind of sense. I brought along extra chocolate eggs, like the ones in the bird's nest, for the librarians. The flowers were welcomed to the Library's counter, the chocolate offering stashed in a drawer.

Bloom Where Planted #2 mixed media sculpture, Jude Spacks 2016
Waiting for spring is a watched pot. Waiting for springor for creative insight about a difficulty, or for any kind of fresh startcan be confusing. It feels so urgent, but it can't be rushed. The I Ching says, in Difficulty at the Beginning, "Restless action interferes with the creative process unfolding. If we can persevere in non-action and disengagement, the Creative will resolve everything correctly."A Guide to the I Ching, (Hexagram 3, Difficulty at the Beginning) by Carol Anthony

The restless action that interferes with creative unfolding happens first in the head. The loyal Worried Mind persists in singing its worried song, even though it doesn't help. I was afflicted with Crack-the-Whip thoughts. "We have to hurry up and do something about Important Topics X,Y, Z and especially $!" they insisted. "We don't have time for making more of these silly flowers!"  

March Plow; fabrics and digital Jude Spacks 2015

Last year, there was still a lot of snow in March. This year, the ground was bare, the colors grim and dull, the wind seasonably harsh. My inner weather felt odd. I was being swept along by a fortunate creative thaw, but I couldn't fully surrender to it. Still, even when Worried Mind staged a panic about some seemingly scary circumstances, attention kept pouring into these slow, small pieces.

Before Spring with Nest for Green Rock; mixed media shrine Jude Spacks 2016
detail, Before Spring
An unexpected gust of grateful tears blew in when this Before Spring shrine was finished, late one night. I realized: even while I'd been seeing the current landscape as dismal, something deeper must have been witnessing a living harmony, a crackling spaciousness. Otherwise, how could that beauty have come through into this piece I gazed at with the besotted eyes of a tired new parent? 

I found this reassuring. However Worried Mind might fuss, Open Mind has always been here too, alive with innocent wonder and connection. How could I really know what was important, or useful, what was big or small? It seemed possible to relax more, to get by with a whole lot less of assuming I knew better how things should be. 

Bloom Where Planted #3 mixed media sculpture Jude Spacks 2016
The unassuming hairy flowers kept coming, and I kept bringing them to the Library. The librarians reported that patrons were enjoying them. One person told me she had burst out laughing when she saw the most recent in the series

Solo Flower w/ Librarian Ashley
Solo Flower; mixed media Jude Spacks 2016

They can pose in different positions.

Yellow Flowers; mixed media Jude Spacks 2016
Yellow Flowers 2

Yellow Flowers Embrace

Some have little round mirrors. Many can hang on the wall as well as sitting flat.
Bloom Where Planted #6 mixed media shrine Jude Spacks 2016
Bloom #6 from above J Spacks 2016 (available)

They can keep you company on a desk. They'll bop around on their wire stems in the wind of comings and goings.

Flower and Bud; mixed media sculpture Jude Spacks 2016 (available)

detail, Flower and Bud J Spacks 2016
When it finally warmed up, along came bugs. Some of the bugs have bits of magnet on their feet, and may stick to a can lid (wrapped with silk) in their shrine-house.

Blue Bug Steps Out J Spacks
Blue Bug at Home mixed media Jude Spacks 2016
First Bug with Mirror Moon mixed media J Spacks 2016

Now, summer is already whizzing by. (News flash: seasons, external and internal, always changeready, or over-ready, or not).

In Jen Louden's wonderful free e-book How to Follow Through on Your Creative Project I saw a suggestion to write a letter to whoever a project was for, saying why you made it:
Here's why I've been creating these flowers and shrines for you....I'm guessing you might suffer sometimes, as do so many of us, from wanting to do something significant, something that matters, that really helps, that touches people and fully expresses what you have to express. But so far nothing seems quite big or effective or true enough and sometimes your disappointed expectations feel sore–even though you know better than to think you should be more enlightened or braver or whatever than you are.  

Maybe a surprise meeting with one of these quirky little pieces could remind you of the tender, comic preciousness of simply being a life-form here, being a unique, hairy, time-limited creature made of ordinary magic-stuff, sweet and small, and just as-is. How sacred this one irreplaceable human life is, in this very instant of no-big-deal relatedness with everything!

More than anything else, here's what I want you to know: you are already so loved, this brief blooming of you, with these exact wavelengths radiating from you, here as this, now. This loves you. That's all. 

Summer Bug Before Tail J Spacks 2016
Summer Bug Gets a Tail J Spacks 2016

Camouflage: Summer Bug at Home; mixed media J Spacks 2016


I'm working on an art website (perhaps Project X which Worried Mind wishes were further along) which will eventually offer these and other works for adoption into your world. I'd also love to make a special shrine for some small item of significance to you. Contact me at judespacks[at]gmail[dot]com to start a conversation about such things?

Want more? Read about the creative power of not-assuming and expecting–give yourself a quick I Ching reading on Innocence.