Monday, January 7, 2013

SOHO 1985 by Kathy Robinson

I was a mix of college tweed, 1970s mentality and dread of my impending graduation from a small school in Westchester County, just north of the Bronx.  First kid in the family to continue her education beyond high school with a dream of success labeled “Getting Out.”  As independence from 16 years of schooling neared, I realized how empty the promise of a corporate career felt.  That, in comparison to the curious stirrings I felt walking the streets of Soho, stumbling through galleries looking at art I didn’t understand.  But I grabbed onto the crackle of energy coursing through the dirty streets, camera in hand, shooting black and white photos of layers of torn flyers announcing concerts, performance art, poetry readings – remnants of unknown Rembrandts doing anything they could to create their next piece, because they had to.

I spent my college years documenting those times from the peripheral, without the connections or the balls to penetrate those walls and stake my claim to this creative feeling that lay dormant until then.  I remember taking the train back to school, processing the celluloid and developing the prints in the isolation of the darkroom.  The glow of the red light, the smell of the chemicals, alone – watching a white piece of paper awaken with the images captured hours before.  Eight by ten slices of my life that were never composed of scenic waterfronts or skylines.  Rather, I was drawn to the inner workings of the underground – a tangle of bare bulbs and wires hanging like wild sculpture; streaked windows facing crumbling brick walls; rusted wrought iron bars covering heavy locked doors.  Unknown metaphors that would one day drive the artist to finally break free.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

MY DHARMA by Lynne Reitman

We had our Buddha Book Club the other night – my turn – my house – and we were discussing, for the second time, Stephen Cope’s book about finding one’s “Great Work” in life.  I was resistant to this book from the start.  I had gone to a workshop of his and he was a tall, thin, very white man who smiles way too much at his own ideas.  He taught a yoga class that was very half-hearted and spoke too much about his mother, Barbara.

Anyway, the book asserts from the beginning that we all – everyone of us – has a   dharma which he explains is a “gift” that we need to express and if we don’t it will destroy us.  I found that terrifying.  I closed the book and thought – oy vey – another thing I am not doing right.  But being a dutiful group member I reopened the book and tried to understand what he was talking about so I could decide if I needed to despair.

In our first group discussion everyone had felt very inspired – looking for their gift and each other’s gifts – but then the discussion, as usual, deteriorated into one of the member’s new 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment with river views.  Perhaps that was her gift.

Since that group and our closing meditation at the end of our discussion, I have been plagued by this feeling that I must not be living my gift and that’s why I feel so awful.  Frankly, I can’t imagine that I actually have a gift.  It seems pretentious to think that I do.

Then my husband was leaning over the toilet in severe pain, feeling like throwing up and I knew immediately that he had a kidney stone – it is not my gift  that I knew this – my father had them.  So I calmed him down and took charge – getting him to the emergency room and all medicated up and hydrated. Then helping him work through the impenetrable healthcare system which is impossible when you are sick.  I was very pleased with myself – I was comforting and competent and caring.  So I thought – perhaps this is my gift. – caretaker.  After all, I am a psychiatrist and I spend my day listening to people and trying to help them understand a hopefully overcome some of  their pain.

But Stephen Cope said that if you are living your dharma – although it is work and practice and a struggle – it is spiritually fulfilling.  I must admit that I am not spiritually fulfilled by caretaking.  I can be generous in the moment but overall I am resentful and exhausted and often wish everyone would just stop it or take care of themselves.  Or maybe even take care of me.  I actually believe that caretaking has made me physically ill.

So I thought this can’t be it – this is a curse, not a gift.  Then I remembered that someone in the group read a passage from the book that said you have to nurture your gift as if you were in training.  Get good sleep, eat well, practice long hours, and do other, non-gift related things to take care of yourself.

That was interesting – I had missed that part.  Since the meeting was in my house I had provided the snacks. I am terrible at this.  Some people make or find the most delicious snacks.  No matter how I approach this mine seem unappealing.  One time I thought that tootsie roll lollipops were a good idea and they looked so ridiculous on my coffee table when everyone arrived.

But what I did have was my new collection of bowls and platters and mugs that I have been making in my pottery class.  Don’t even think that this is my gift.  Nobody would make that error looking at the final products.  However, I loved making them so much and my pottery class is the highlight of my week.  Saturday afternoon with my lovely, thoughtful, patient teacher who somehow finds something genuinely interesting in everything I make even though I would never have noticed it myself.  This is certainly her gift.  I love the feel of the clay and the organic way the bowl or cup emerges from the wheel.  I love my meditation on the wheel or on the slabs and coils of clay I am piecing together.

So I decided that this must be one of the ways that I take care of myself. Maybe caretaking was my dharma but I needed to do more pottery. I was thinking about this when I got a call from a college student who had been a patient of mine several years ago.  I had helped him and his family when he was adopted from Russia.  His parents had recently called me to see their younger daughter who had also been adopted. He called to tell me that he hopes I do as good a job with his sister as I had done with him.  How adorable is that?  I felt fulfilled.  Maybe not spiritually, but in a secular way.