Sound and Fury

Yesterday, I met Frank Schaeffer.

Frank. Schaeffer.

Friends, you probably don’t know the significance of this moment (give me time, I’ll elaborate). Many of you may not even recognize his name and that’s okay. In the art world, he’s…magnificent. If you like texture and color, reminiscent of VanGogh (a personal favorite), check out Frank’s work (www.frankschaefferart.com). Truly extraordinary. He’s the most famous person I’ve ever met. But more than that, he’s human. He’s just like the rest of us. Knowing of the tormented emotional and mental backgrounds of many of history’s famous artists, I wonder what motivates Frank’s brush to move across the canvas in the manner it does. Why does he choose those colors or the specific designs? What’s the meaning? What thoughts are coursing through his brain, down his arm, and out the tip of his paintbrush?

What you also may not know about Frank Schaeffer is that he’s a New York Times best-selling author for both fiction and non-fiction publications. Another element I believe many artists share…the constant need to move the thoughts from the confines of our craniums out into the universe. Whether that’s through a painting, a blog post, or a novel, etc. The words have to come out. The feelings must evacuate us, lest we become consumed by them. Perhaps my ruminations are simply projections of my own need to create, but that’s a deeper discussion for another time.

Yesterday, Frank spoke at a church I attended at The World of Beer (the only worthy church location). Church scares the shit out of me. I went because a friend of mine told me I should meet Frank because Frank was “my kind of people.” By “my kind of people,” my friend means that Frank doesn’t bullshit, likes beer, participates in deep conversations, and gives a damn about the people in his life. My friend’s assessment was accurate. The moment Frank started to speak, I was captivated. I felt like he stepped inside my brain and walked around for a while. It was the most soothing, most invigorating speech I’d heard in years.

After he concluded, the group of us migrated outdoors for beer and more conversation. I kept feeling the need to talk to Frank directly but like a good introvert, I found an excuse to avoid it. He’s talking to someone else, he’s eating, he’s busy. I’ll just sit here and read his latest book and pine for the moment when I can sit in his proximity. If you’ve never met Frank, you’re missing out. This man looks you in the eyes, holds your hand, hugs you, and talks to you like you matter. He exudes such compassionate energy.

A moment presented itself (thanks to an opening provided by my friend) and I began discussing art with Frank. I’m a painter…and for me, “art is not a thing, it is a way.” Frank and I sat together for over half an hour discussing art. He poured buckets and buckets of encouragement into my mind and soul and rendered me quite speechless. In fact, the entire drive home from the event, I could hardly concentrate on anything else.

I’ve been reading his book (“Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God“) off and on since yesterday and in it, he quotes Macbeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing
.”

Frank has his own reasons for including the text and it carries a specific meaning relevant to the book’s content. But when I read those lines of Shakespeare, I reflected on part of Frank’s talk (in front of 15 people at a random bar church in Arlington, Texas) yesterday. We’re sucking the creativity out of life. We’re stressing out about all the bullshit…the career, the bills, the mediocrity, and we’re losing touch with ourselves, with who we’re supposed to be. We neglect our souls, we discard our families…and for what? The sound a fury of a society who expects us to think and behave like a bunch of fucking robots.

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Life is so much more than sound and fury… Life is “giving love, creating beauty, and finding peace.”

Sometimes We Squander, Sometimes We Cherish

I’m in the last three weeks of my 20’s. Where did the time go? Each week, I attend a Buddhist meditation group where I sit in a circle and try to maintain focus on anything but cheeseburgers, season 2 of Arrow, and paying my bills on time. It’s supposed to be an hour of concentration and attention on the breath or a mantra, but it usually ends up being an hour of reflection. Thinking for the sake of thinking…and remembering. 

I’m truly apprehensive about turning 30, as I’m sure many people are when they reach a specific age milestone. I wonder what this new decade will hold. I hope to god it includes a stable income, a job I don’t hate, and a passion that makes all the struggle and effort worth it. I’m thankful to have another age bracket to experience, even if it does come with more grey hair and wrinkles around my eyes.

In my pondering of the last ten years, I wonder if I’ve wasted most of it. I spent 8 years of my 20’s married, 5 of them to the wrong person. My 20’s were full of mistakes…bad theology, terrible ideology, broken hearts, judgment, ignorance, and lies. At the same time, it brought forth a new understanding of what it means to love others despite my worry or fear that I wouldn’t be good at it. It also gave me the purest of friendships and a love of a man who brings ultimate joy and peace to my life.

Sometimes I think maybe I should have been more brave, traveled the world, learned a new language, or at least followed through on my plan to learn the violin by age 25. Would I still be the same person had I done all of those things in my 20’s or would it have changed my outcome? 

And who knows, perhaps the reason it didn’t happen then is because it’s supposed to happen now, or I’m supposed to make peace with it never happening at all.

At the end of my meditation class, the facilitator always gives us a Buddhist blessing. The last line is, “take heed not to squander your lives.” I know it means we should take every moment and seize it…but sometimes I think the greatest lessons are learned by squandering opportunities. In those moments, we recognize that we missed out on something beautiful or beneficial and we make a conscious effort to not do it again. It motivates us to do better or be better. To reconcile what we have lost and make plans for things to discover. To cherish the moments in between. 

Metta Meditation

Two weeks ago I started attending a meditation group. It’s facilitated by a Buddhist teacher and each week, he opens new pathways to connect our outer self with our inner self. 

I suck at meditation. The great thing about mindful meditation: No judgment. So, according to said principle, I don’t suck at meditation. Meditation is like A.D.D. hell. Sit still for 30 minutes and concentrate on breathing. 

Breath 1, breath 2, air conditioner, cold, jacket, hot chocolate, chocolate ice cream, hungry.

That’s my brain on meditation. If I’m tired, hungry, or just plain bitchy, concentration is as fleeting as my interest in sitting idly.

Last Saturday I was having a particularly difficult time staying focused. I was distracted by some other circumstances: 1) Poor sleep 2) My husband was awaiting a massage by some tart after a 3 week labor intensive business trip 3) I can’t focus on ANYTHING when I’m tired and I know someone other than me is going to have their hands on my man. Note to self: Study deep tissue massage therapy skills and grow some damn muscles. After the standard 30 minute meditation, the group discussed our ability or inability to maintain awareness.

Then something magical happened. The facilitator introduced Metta Meditation. It’s a loving-kindness or compassion meditative practice. It works like ripples in a pond. You begin with yourself. You show compassion towards yourself, then to your family, then your friends, neutral people, and even people you don’t like. You repeat a phrase in your mind over and over, beginning with yourself and then expanding.

The phrase we were given: “May I be well, happy, and peaceful.” We recite the phrase 4 or 5 times and then move on…

“May my family be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May my friends be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May neutral people be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May [person/people I don’t like] be well, happy, and peaceful.”

I did fine until I got to the last phrase. When I visually imagined the difficult person in my life, I actually made a face of disgust. To say it takes energy to wish a malicious bastard wellness, happiness, and peace is an understatement. But I needed to do it. I think the action was proactive and positive and removed some of the weight hanging around my neck. It’s the closest I think I’ll ever get to loving my enemies. I hope that by repeating this phrase, I’ll become a catalyst for change in my own heart and in the hearts and minds of others.

After the session, I was driving home and was cut off by a rude driver in a very large SUV. I had to stop my car to keep from hitting road barrels. I flipped the driver off then laughed and shouted, “May the shitty driver be well, happy, and peaceful!”

Hey, it’s a start.