Archived entries for Books

truly more better

Things that are Relevant…









Six years ago, I scribbled that list. Then, from the word Beauty I drew a squiggly line down the page to the title of a second list, Things that are more Complex…





Not one, but two exclamation points. Truth is always a tricky business, and a fraught one for those of us who have turned away from the religions of our families and tribes in search of something seemingly “more” true. Religious fans of the pronoun “the” attached to “truth” seem to either pity us more-ians as hopeless floaters in a bardo of spiritual relativity or denigrate us as somehow less spiritual because we are apparently less “sure” of our beliefs. What about seeing and sensing divinity IN ultimate unknowability? What about something that is not a “The,” but a forever unfolding, being the belief?

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target moving or moving target

“But, why?” When you are doing something that just lights you up and a new employee of Morgan Stanley asks this question, be peaceful in the faith and conviction that you are moving in a good direction.

I was effusively showing my old college buddy recent graphic studies and sketches I had been making based upon the incredible mathematical ratio known as the Golden Section. It is also called the Divine Proportion, and my introduction to it in a somewhat dusty, pedantic and oh-so-British tome from 1914 entitled The Curves of Life was my first glimpse into God in All Things. One of those old Royal Society types, Theodore Andrea Cook, had spent twenty years documenting how this mystical proportion and its concomitant spiral growth patterns underlie every form in nature. Leaves spiral around branches at the exact same ratio as sunflower seeds whirling in their meditative circles. Our own hearts beat with a rhythm proportionally the same as the spiral of every shell and the branching of every tree. I had been happily going pretty much nuts over all of this, throwing curves with my old compass and protractor on voluminous scraps of paper and then throwing paint and other messy marks on top. Sure, I was trying to make beautiful things. But, I realize now that what I was really doing was learning to be reverent in the presence of beauty, and learning that beauty is everywhere. My good friend admitted that it was all sort of cool, but really just wanted to know, “What are you trying to accomplish with this?”

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perfectly imperfect

Two Wednesdays ago, as I was looking for an image of Mu Qi’s “Six Persimmons” to attach to that week’s essay, I began typing “the six per…” into Safari’s search bar. The first suggested connection was “the six perfections.” The universe speaks in many ways. Like an embarrassed woman bumping into someone to whom you have owed a thank you note for a looong time, I recalled where I had first seen these words, how much they had taught me, and how little I had been attending to them of late. I had to admit that in the last several months, while I was initiating this blog about my spiritual path and practice, I had started to slide on actually practicing it. Oh Yeah! Spiritual practice! Something you DO! I DO have one, really! It’s around here, somewhere. On my desk, I think… right under those bills, that rough draft, these books. You know.

Six years ago, as I began the long walk across a soul’s ocean floor that is divorce, three books by American-born Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön were constant friends on my bedside table for four years thereafter—When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, and Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. These very easy reads about very tough things first gave me oxygen, then the space for a deep breath with which to breathe it, and then a complete re-conception of our existence, our purpose, and our potential for happiness, enlightenment, whatever you want to call it… with clear and practical, if not always comfortable, instructions included!

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forgiveness or death

I googled forgiveness. I really needed to. Forty and just now arrived at the implosive conclusion that I had to get divorced, I was at an emotional precipice in 2004. With two beloved daughters, only five and not quite eight years old, I could clearly see how far we all could fall if I didn’t get this just right. Only thanks to nearly twenty years of asking again and again, really, what is the truest truth I can honor was I barely able to admit to the uncomfortable fact that the only common denominator in all of my life’s suffering was… me. That no one else could release me from any suffering. That I could wring neither change nor retribution out of anyone, and that such more common efforts and explosions would change nothing anyway. That THE ONLY THING I could do to do this right was to change myself. To simply, and profoundly, let go of all pain… to forgive.  But HOW?

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wrong the rights

Six Persimmons.”  “No, Five.”  “No, SIX.”  “FIVE.”  “The SIX Persimmons.”  “FIVE PERSIMMONS… and no ‘THE’!”

I was right. There were six. And, I was wrong. To even bother arguing about it. With a lover who was a gift and a wide-open door in my young life, no less. Oh, but I was the one who had taken the course on Asian Art.  I had studied this, the most revered ink painting in all of Zendom, in detail. I had oohed and aahed over those six perfectly imperfectly executed blobs of produce many times. The fact that the only thing worth meditating upon all this time, and all that this man was attempting to share with me, was Beauty… well, needless to say, I blew right past that on my way to Being Right.

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noooo way

The Hindu, the Buddhist, and the Christian were all sitting together. They were taking questions now. There was a big pause. I had not intended to cause discomfort. I had actually hoped for a different answer.

The Christian, a Methodist minister with a warm and quiet demeanor, had spoken gently about God as Love and about how we are all called to this Love by this Loving God. Lots of love, lots of God. Very nice. But, this Christian never actually got around to mentioning Jesus of Nazareth. This was confusing.

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black magic

Mark Rothko made me do it. I will be ever grateful to that plenitude of enigmatic black paint in his chapel for pushing me out the door. Because, at eighteen, I really did not get it. Well, them. Fourteen giant canvases of dark earth to inky night, arranged in an octagonal building on the grounds of the Menil Museum in Houston, Texas. They are oddly appealing, but opaque. Very opaque. And very very black. No words of explanation anywhere, though declaring it a chapel implied an obvious spiritual intention. In no way obvious to me, I asked at the museum for a book. The attendant suggested the Brazos Bookstore, just down Bissonnet Street.

Independent before that adjective was even necessary, the store was small and beautifully strange to eyes just now emerging from twelve years of parochial schooling. Exquisite art monographs hung like paintings on thin bracket moldings along the east wall. Categories like “Shambhala” and “Jungian Analysis” leapt up from short stacks alongside the sunny windows. But, most intriguing to me was a ten-foot by ten-foot block of shelves on the back wall behind the desk, dense with curious titles and crowned with but one word, capitalized. TRAVEL.

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first the ecstasy, then the peanut m&m’s

I was trying to eat peanut M&M’s in the First Baptist Church OF AMERICA. Only twenty-two, and in my first (and what would turn out to be my last) year at the Rhode Island School of Design, I saw its steeple each day from the hall window of my rickety apartment building on Benefit Street in Providence. An austere and elegant structure, I had nevertheless tended to skirt around it. Anyone who has ever grappled with the Southern Baptist Convention would understand.

Yet, this was The North. These were Yankees. I was the pilgrim from far far away, and I required of myself curiosity and open-mindedness in all other exotic lands. Why not New England?
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walls without sides

Mani walls are like generous mounds of pause buttons in and along the paths of the Himalaya. So called because each flat stone has been carved with the mantra “Om mani padme hum,” they are meant to be walked around, a momentary 360 degrees, a freely offered chance to take an intentional breath and get a glimpse of how wide the world really is between all the various point A’s and B’s.

I was twenty-four, sitting on a backpack and leaning back upon sacred words, but ruminating on how my father, in response to this little revelation, would likely mutter that I had been wandering around a bunch of mani for close to three years now. Twelve time zones away, so young and trying so hard to “get” somewhere in my life, and with the amazing good fortune to even be there at all, and I was still in Houston, Texas.  Running away, but arriving nowhere.
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pesky plumage and the right to bear wings

Feathers grace my path. Like fuzzy talismans, like they are saying Yes, so far so good, keep going this way. So many, recently, that I almost feel like yelling back to the universe, “OK!  I got it, really. I GOT it!”  But, of course, I don’t completely get it. I believe in signs, but I feel them more than I really understand them. I am, like all of us, an unfolding spirit. I do seem to be “getting” things a bit more and more these days, but never fully. I am never finished. Nor are you.
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the blog of Anne Elizabeth Wynn. Copyright © 2004–2010. All rights reserved.