Dying Wise

“Everything that has a beginning has an end, Neo.”

(The Matrix)

A friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for several years died suddenly I found out recently. He was younger than me and in good health.  The news was a shock and it brought back memories of him and I suddenly realized how much I missed him, how much he meant to me back when we worked together.

I don’t think death is something we think about until someone close to us has died or is close to dying from an illness. It is not till then that time and mortality and the existential questions of life seem to be of some importance, at least for most people (I presume).

For Stephen Jenkinson however, death has become his life’s work.

“Apprenticed to a master storyteller, he has worked extensively with dying people and their families, is former program director in a major Canadian hospital, former assistant professor in a prominent Canadian medical school, consultant to palliative care and hospice organizations and educator and advocate in the helping professions”

Jenkinson who is the subject of a feature length documentary , ‘Griefwalker’ has written a new book called ‘Die Wise – A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul’.  In this book he

“places death at the center of the page and asks us to behold it in all its painful beauty. Die Wise teaches the skills of dying, skills that have to be learned in the course of living deeply and well…Dying well, Jenkinson writes, is a right and responsibility of everyone. It is a moral, political, and spiritual obligation each person owes their ancestors and their heirs. It is not a lifestyle option. It is a birthright and a debt. Die Wise dreams such a dream, and plots such an uprising. How we die, how we care for dying people, and how we carry our dead: this work makes our village life, or breaks it.”


Griefwalker the documentary referred to earlier has been available to view on Netflix’ streaming service for some time now but recently has been removed. However there are a few websites that are showing it still and it is embedded below. I highly recommend it for anyone who is dealing with the death of a loved one or family member or who is grieving the decline of the health of the planet. This film contains the beginnings of wisdom for us as individuals and as a culture in the west who has lost its connection with its ancestral heritage.

“Orphans are not people who have no parents: they are people who don’t know their parents, who cannot go to them. Ours is a culture built upon the ruthless foundation of mass migration, but it is more so now a culture of people unable to say who their people are. In that way we are, relentlessly, orphans. Being an orphan culture does not mean that we have no wisdom. But wisdom is being confused in our time with information. Wisdom is an achievement, hard earned and faithfully paid for; it’s not a possession.

Not knowing where you are from is not the same thing as being from nowhere, but it does mean that there is work of all kinds to be done. It could be that the only way for successful refugees to make a culture from their flight is to first be faithful witnesses to what their ancestry now asks of them, instead of what it might have fated them to be. Our culture, if a culture it can be called, or all those things we have instead of a culture, has come to a time of savage despair, it seems. We surround ourselves with generations of the debris of refugeehood, to fill the hollow of orphanhood. We have become a danger to ourselves, and a menace to all who will come after us and to the world. We abandon our dead to make our way, and we are mostly singular people. We might now be the twilight of our ancestors’ dream.

An orphan wisdom might be the only culture-making thing we can rightly, honorably or faithfully claim. There is immense grief in knowing this well and going towards it anyway. That grief could be our way of working now, our labor. It could be our beauty, too.”


Griefwalker (link to the film below)




The Pearl Button


“After the acclaimed Nostalgia for the Light (2010), with its study of the desert, the stars, light and time, as well as the recent memory and remains of disappeared people in North Chile under Pinochet, Patricio Guzmán takes us on a journey into the water and ocean of Southern Chile.”

In anticipation of its October 2015 release, a few brief excerpts of ‘The Pearl Button’ have been released.


“The sea holds all the voices of the earth and those that come from outer space. Water receives impetus from the stars and transmits it to living creatures. Water, the longest border in Chile, also holds the secret of two mysterious buttons which were found on its ocean floor.”

“Chile, with its 2,670 miles of coastline and the largest archipelago in the world, presents a supernatural landscape. In it are volcanoes, mountains and glaciers. In it are the voices of the Patagonian Indigenous people and their tragic history, the first English sailors and also those of its political prisoners.”

 “Some say that water has memory. This film gives it a voice”

“Using both archival images and gorgeous new footage, The Pearl Button manages once again to convey different periods of history and geography in a gripping tale of our modern world.”

The Shimmering Space



“…once you have understood the song its no longer of much interest. And some of those great songs that you do that you kind of become aware of new things over the years with [those] songs -its the reason why you keep playing them.  I love the feeling of a song before you understand it. When we’re all playing deep inside the moment the song feels wild and unbroken. And soon it will become domesticated and we will drag it back to something familiar and compliant and we’ll put it in the stable with all the other songs. But there is a moment when the song is still in charge and you just cling on for dear life and you’re hoping you don’t fall off and break your neck or something. It is that fleeting moment that we chase in the studio.”



“The song is heroic because the song confronts death. The song is immortal and bravely stares down our own extinction. The song emerges from the spirit world with the true message – One day I will tell you how to slay the dragon.”



“In the end I am not interested in that which I don’t fully understand. The words I have written over the years are just a veneer. There are truths that lie beneath the surface of the words. Truths that rise up without warning like the humps of a sea monster and then disappear. What performance in song is to me is finding a way to tempt the monster to the surface. To create a space where the creature can break through what is real and what is known to us. This shimmering space where imagination and reality intersect – this is where all love and tears and joy exist. This is the place. This is where we live.”

(All quotes by Nick Cave from ‘20000 Days on Earth’)

A Legacy of Kindness






I am revisiting this post as there is a new video of the work Connections has been doing with a youngster who was featured in their newsletter about three years ago.
Andrea Baldwin and her volunteers do incredible work like this on a daily basis. I just wanted to bring attention to this again.

Watch this incredible and moving video here :

Originally posted on An Elegant Mystery:

A movement began in the middle of the 20th century with a couple of brothers, Tom and Bill Dorrance (pictured here with Ray Hunt). Considered the founders of a new way of working with horses, called Natural Horsemanship, they promoted an alternative to what had been the traditional way of ‘breaking’, training and molding a horse to the rider’s will. Instead they used a more gentle approach using the natural intelligence of the animal. Tom Dorrance said, “The thing you are trying to help the horse do is to use his own mind. You are trying to present something and then let him figure out how to get there.” Some folks referred to them as horse whisperers. In a 1999 obituary in the New York times for Bill Torrance, Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote, “There is no such thing as a horse whisperer. There never has been and never will be. The…

View original 1,027 more words

When something takes on a life of its own

(For Marcus)


J.F Martel describes in his book Reclaiming Art the experience some may have had in the presence of a created work, be it a piece of music, a film, dance, theater, a painting, a moment in a novel, a poem…

The experience is one where the work actually captures you where the emotional reaction is such that you believe that the world you thought you knew is somehow different now, now that you have crossed paths with this creation. That this work is actually having a conversation with you or perhaps speaking to you, acutely and individually just you. As if it were alive, as if it had meaning that only you could decipher.

Martel suggests that this experience is not necessarily caused by the intention of the creator or performer but that it is something that is breaking through, something that has a living presence. Now he describes this in conjunction with great works of art – he uses a friend’s encounter with a painting by Van Gogh as one example. I’ve had something strange and powerful happen with one of my paintings, the one featured above. In no way do I think it falls into the category of ‘great’ or even very good. I cannot look at it without critically going over everything I think is wrong with it.

Yet a couple of years ago it was in a show at the studio where I take classes regularly. I invited some new friends to attend the opening. After one couple had arrived and had meandered around looking at different paintings I discovered to my amazement that one of them had been so overcome with emotion after standing arrested in front of this piece that tears were flowing down his face. He tried to express what was happening inside to cause such a reaction but could not adequately explain only to say that it felt like the woman in this painting had pierced his heart. As he described it, for him this was a life changing experience. I was incredibly humbled that anyone could feel this from looking at one of my paintings. Later I stood in front of it hoping to get a taste of what he had experienced…Of course nothing happened. It had no effect on me whatsoever. But I looked at it as a gift and a mystery of what could happen from something that I was a part of in creating. To this day I still don’t understand what happened that evening but I accept it as something I was privileged to witness. I’m thankful for that.

There is an old phrase that goes, ‘something that takes on a life of its own.’

As Martel says in his book describing the process, “It is more than a creation: it is a creature.”



‘Engaging the psyche on its own terms’

The problem with ‘mainstream’ culture’s conformism and lack of innovation is not the fact that it makes life uninteresting. It is the fact that it endangers life itself.”

(Joshua Ramey)


I love this book, Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice by J.F. Martel. His goal is to start a conversation about the true nature of the transformative power that is characteristic of great art. I know it has sparked my own internal musings about the subject. The following post contains examples of what I believe are incredible works of art that were chosen out of thousands of possible examples. I’m sure everyone can think of many more that are important to them. There are so many!
Most of the following excerpts are from the preface to Martel’s book. I encourage anyone who is an artist or who loves and is inspired by art to purchase his book here or at your local independent bookstore. I believe it is an important and timely call to explore the possibilities of depth in an age when we are so easily hypnotized, manipulated and ultimately destroyed by the shimmering, shallow, unimaginative mirage of modern life.


(William Blake)

 “Every great artistic work is a quiet apocalypse. It tears off the veil of ego, replacing old impressions with new ones that are at once inexorably alien and profoundly meaningful.”

(Vincent van Gogh)

“Great works of art have a unique capacity to arrest the discursive mind, raising it to a level of reality that is more expansive than the egoic dimension we ordinarily inhabit. In this sense, art is the transfiguration of the world.”

(Henri Matisse)

“What could be more superfluous than art in the face of the authoritarian turn in contemporary politics, the systematic devastation of the biosphere, the ever-widening economic gap, or the rising tide of anxiety and mental illness? The objection is valid so long as we continue to see art as simply a source of entertainment or a platform for ‘self-expression.'”

(Wassily Kandinsky)

“Art, however is more than that. It deals in consciousness itself, the stuff dreams are made of.” 

(Pablo Picasso)

“Art is the only truly effective means we have of engaging, in a communal context, the psyche on its own terms.” 

(Leo Kenney)

“My argument is that by rethinking art in that light we can reorient ourselves individually and collectively toward alternative modalities of being, setting the stage for what Daniel Pinchbeck calls a new mythological consciousness able to resolve issues ‘through symbol and image, without need of rational explanation.'”

(Georgia Okeefe)

“Art breaks down the barriers that normally stand between the physical and the psychic, between your soul and the soul of others.”

(Jackson Pollack)

“Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves, to know what another person sees of a universe which is not the same as our own and of which, without art, the landscapes would remain as unknown to us as those that may exist on the moon.” – Marcel Proust

(Mark Rothko)

[For Proust] “Art is a meeting place in which human beings commune at a level that ordinary language and sign systems do not allow. Without art, connection at this deeper level is impossible.”

(Helen Frankenthaler)

“This is a troubling idea to consider in a time when aesthetic forces ranging from sensationalistic news spectacles to manipulative viral marketing seem bent on achieving a very different end.”

(Agnes Martin)

“The all consuming razzle-dazzle of sound and light with which we are bombarded does not draw us into the secret universe of another consciousness.”

(Morris Graves)

“On the contrary, it fools us into taking as self-evident a picture of life that in reality belongs to nobody, effectively producing an artificial space wherein the market and the state can thrive as though they were inextricable parts of the cosmos rather than the mutable accidents of history that they are.”

(Kenneth Callahan)

“We are in danger today of losing the capacity to distinguish between artistic creation as Proust defined it and the aesthetic creativity that goes into a commercial jingle, a new car design, or a hollow summer blockbuster.”

(Frida Kahlo)

“If our confusion suits the reigning political and economic regime just fine, it is because it stands as proof that the operation to supplant the dream-space of soul and psyche with a fully controllable interface is going according to plan.”

(Remedios Varo)

“There is a sense in which art is a cultural contrivance and a sense in which art is a natural phenomenon. Art is a contrivance so far as we limit our conception of it to the things and activities the culture labels as artistic.” (This and the remaining quotes are excerpts from Martel’s Notes Towards An Interpretive Method)

(Francis Bacon)

“Art is a natural phenomenon in that it is the expression of non-human forces in the human world.”

(H.R. Giger)

“Concretely, it inheres in the creation of symbols, that is, crystallizations of psychic energy emerging from the imaginal depths of Nature.”

(Alex Grey)

“Symbols are signs, but signs pointing us to the unknown, perhaps unknowable aspects of reality. They call us to the dark expanses that extend infinitely on every side of the small castellated island that is the human world.”


(Anselm Kiefer)

“If no interpretation of a symbol is ever complete, it is because a symbol’s potential meanings are never exhausted. In fact symbols don’t “mean” anything at all. Rather, they provoke the spontaneous creation of meaning in us.”

(Ernst Fuchs)

“Only art can express the symbolic, and symbols don’t occur outside of art. One possible definition of art is: any activity by which symbols are brought into the world.”

(Andy Kehoe)

“The moment a symbol is extracted from its originating aesthetic substance in order to be “explained,” it becomes an ordinary sign.”

(Kathleen Lolley)

“The work of art that is interpreted without regard for the ineffable power of the symbols it contains turns into an allegory—that is, a cultural artifact rather than a natural force. It thereby loses its connection with the depths.”

(Holly Roberts)

“The symbol is a concrete cosmic force,” Gilles Deleuze wrote. “It is a dynamic process that enlarges, deepens, and expands sensible consciousness; it is an ever increasing becoming-conscious, as opposed to the closing of the moral consciousness upon a fixed allegorical idea.”

(Jeanie Tomanek)

“Met on its own ground, the work of art as vector of symbols is an inexhaustible producer of meaning. Invariably, the work reveals more than its creator ever intended and more than any interpreter can fathom.”

(Meinrad Craighead)

“The artist doesn’t inject meaning into the work of art any more than the interpreter extracts meaning from it. Rather, the work of art by its nature asks us to create its meaning(s), and there are worse definitions of culture than “the act of creating meaning.””

(Philip Rubinov Jacobson)


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