MY FAVORITE THING about the compassion mandala created this week at the Menil from grains of colored sand by a band of Buddhist monks to honor the legacy of Gandhi was not the sound their silver scoops made when they scraped them together, coaxing out small streams of sand. It wasn’t the way they curled their bodies into balls — legs crossed, backs bent — to position their scoops with precision as they hovered over their co-creation, upside-down Michelangelos, adding sand from an aerial perspective. It wasn’t the exactitude of their linework. It wasn’t the finishing touch, white sand sprinkled like sugar over a patch of baby blue waves in one corner of their cosmic diagram. And it wasn’t the moment the robed monk stood and, having frosted the blue waves white, snapped a photo of the mandala with his smartphone, and we knew it was finally complete.
THE MAIN BUBBLE is the largest and most salient feature of a thought bubble. Round, usually horizontally elongated, and with a fluffy perimeter more often than not, it frames the content of the thought. It’s where the cartoonist is directing your attention.
IT'S TRUE THAT HEADS contain brains, but the idea that brains or heads can be said to wholly contain thoughts amounts to a kind of myth. The brain isn’t a central command center out from which thoughts emanate like bubbles. The body isn’t an inert vessel whose sole purpose is to house and nourish the brain as it walks it from location to location.
YOU HEAR A LOT about mindfulness these days. You hear less about awareness, the sister of mindfulness. They’re two sides of the same coin really. Just as the mind can be sharpened into focus — this is mindfulness — the mind can also be fuzzed out and panoramic — this is awareness. Zoom in to a pinpoint — mindfulness. Zoom out to take in the open space all around you — awareness.
IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL I played the Big Bad Wolf in a French version of The Three Little Pigs. I was so committed to the role that I didn't just pretend to huff and puff, I actually huffed and puffed. I blew with all my might.
WENT TO THE BLESSING of the tombs this morning in Catahoula. Wasn't expecting to BE blessed, but that's what happened. Twice! First, standing near my sister's tomb, and again near my grandparents' tomb. (They're on opposite ends of the cemetery, but we had more than enough time to cross the small cemetery as Father made his way up and down each aisle sprinkling the tombs and the people standing in front of them with holy water.) When he sprinkled us the second time, blessing us enough to dampen our clothing, he said with a smile, “Blessings for everyone, the living AND the dead. I think we need it more than they do.” Uncle Cheese said that was more rain than we've had all week.
THE PATIENTS I TREAT rarely thank me. It’s not that they’re ungrateful. Many can’t speak or don’t know where they are, much less what’s happened to them. And those who can speak and aren’t confused think that nothing is wrong with them and that I’m some kind of jailer. Last week I got punched in the mouth when a life care patient of mine asked me when he would get to go home and didn’t get the answer he wanted to hear. A few weeks ago I got peed on helping a guy having a seizure. Yesterday I got called a f*cker at the end of my first appointment. All in a day’s work.
FOUND A CATERPILLAR on our doorstep when I got back from my bike ride, except I thought it was a furry leafy at first. It wasn’t until the what-I-thought-was-a-furry-leaf started walking that I realized it was actually a caterpillar. I wondered what kind of moth he might become. He seemed so fragile, so lost, crawling who knows where across the food desert of our doorstep.
GOOD FRIDAY is a day of fasting and penance. It’s the day Jesus died on the cross, the darkest day on the Catholic calendar, followed by Easter Sunday, the brightest morning. Many Catholics in Louisiana pray the Way of the Cross, walking the 14 stations depicting events in the Passion of Christ and attend liturgical services with readings from the Gospel of John.
LEGEND HAS IT that about two centuries ago, before the arrival of the Acadian exiles, a peaceful Indian village in what is now St. Martin Parish completely disappeared when the earth opened up and swallowed the entire camp.
BACK IN CATAHOULA for more muscadine photography. Realized what I needed was not a zoom lens to get the vines closer to me, but waders for me to get closer to the vines. I made peace with the fact that a snake might slither around my legs, just praying I don't meet up with an alligator. ~September 19
INSPIRED BY THE ELEGANT ironwork I saw during my recent trip to Paris, and by the slightly greenish, ghoulish tint of van Gogh's self portraits at Musee d'Orsay, I combined the photographs of my great-great-grandfather and great-grandmother with a close-up photograph of the main portal of Notre Dame to produce these mock-ups for the front and back covers of the big book of dreams I plan to publish next year.
EVERY NIGHT after I read for a bit and we turn off the lights, I lie on my back and think in the dark with my eyes closed. I don’t think about heavy things or worry. Those five or six minutes I reserve for creating. When the body is still and there is no drive to do anything except imagine, the mind’s juices flow most freely.
DIDN'T HAVE TIME for breakfast this morning. There won't be much sun in a few hours and I wanted to canoe down the little canal near the camp to photograph the muscadine vines while the light was still good.
I PLAN TO VISIT the space museum in Washington, DC this summer and I feel the project would help me to better understand the different exhibits in the museum. Most of the space programs have part of their exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.
IF YOU COULD PLANT anything, what would you plant? The hypnotist had guided our small group through an enticing gateway, into a sun-lighted corner of an imaginary garden, and was conjuring a fertile patch of freshly tilled earth.
. . . my finger across my iPhone this morning it was like the screen had gone numb. No response. Tap. Tap. Tap. Nothing. Then when I stopped touching it it started acting as though I was touching it, but I wasn't.
. . . I opened my wallet and found a photograph — my mom as a young girl standing on one leg. And all the children around her are standing on one leg. It’s the start of a one-legged race, it seems, and they’re on their marks, ready to go.
IT ALWAYS HELPS for me to work out a book project in miniature. Spread out on a table, the tiny pages take the form of a canvas, and I can "see" the whole book all at once. Then, like an impressionist might paint a canvas — a daub of lavender here, now there, now here — I paint the whole of the book, pulling the parts together, but with words instead of shades of lavender.
TEN BILLION thought cells are helping you to read this page. And, as your mind yields up its mysteries to science, those cells — which manufacture thoughts, dreams, sensations and feelings — have been tracked down. Those which generate damaging emotions and behavior are submitting to chemical control. Those which aid learning are being multiplied in their efficiency. The day of the super-mind may be dawning.
All the new facts and exciting implications in this field are presented in an extraordinary volume, The Mind, prepared for the general reader by the Editors of the LIFE Science Library.
In The Mind you'll see revolutionary teaching machines that assail the senses — you'll consider alcoholism as a biochemical deficiency responsive to medication — you'll find intelligence tests to sample and you'll learn how they're constructed — you'll see the world the psychotics inhabit through the medium of their fantastic paintings reproduced in stark color — you'll gain understanding from the brilliant photo-essay on the life and works of Sigmund Freud — you'll learn about "mind changing" drugs and see a witch doctor preparing "magic mushrooms" to induce holy vision — and you'll be amazed at the incredible teamwork of body and spirit required in the making of music.
THIS CONQUEST of inner space, the mind, is even more exciting than our adventures in outer space. In the foreseeable future, we may be able to increase the mind's powers.
To discover the scope of the findings, why not borrow a copy of The Mind, without obligation? Let this excursion into self knowledge be your introduction to the LIFE Science Library. Prepared with a unique combination of authority, clarity, and visual drama. The Mind is typical of this exciting series designed to simplify, unify, organize and dramatize the whole fascinating world of science. Even if your knowledge of psychology extends scarcely beyond your ability to spell the word, you'll be caught up in a world of wonders.
In The Mind you'll learn about physical and chemical possibilities which make standard psychiatry seem pale. Brain chemistry is working new miracles every day. It has already largely replaced shock treatment for the disturbed, and has made some forms of brain surgery, such as prefrontal lobotomy, a thing of the past. Minute electrical charges promise the basis for a new therapy. Experiments indicate that altering the current in the thalamus at the base of the brain can effect tremendous personality changes — even to the altering of sex.
Examine it free. These few words and pictures can't do justice to this achievement. That's why we want you to borrow a copy without obligation for 10 days. Then return it if you wish. Or keep it for less than you'd expect to pay for such a lavish book. In either case be sure your children see the book. This series holds a special fascination for people of all ages.
For some, a pilgrimage is a quest to a holy city or a chapel sacred to a particular saint, a turn through a labyrinth or a journey daily lived. For most, it's a conscious reaching to touch the divine. And yet, sometimes, one steps through a pilgrimage unaware.
The cashier at the Guess store was ringing up my purchase — a pair of jeans — and asked me for my phone number. I hate all those "reward" card systems usually (they reward the merchant more than the consumer in my experience) but I remembered that I'd already signed up in a moment of weakness a couple of years ago, so I went ahead and gave her my number. "Who knows?" I thought to myself. "I might save a few dollars."
Near the calm waters of Catahoula Lake, under the majestic oaks of its banks, the Indians were succeeded by the Acadians, a handful of courageous and religious people; despite their hard work in the Atchafalaya Basin, trapping, fishing, farming, they kept looking at the bright side of life and transmitted to their children their religious and cultural heritage.
Life on planet Bubbles wasn't easy. I remember when we first landed. Our problems started when we were trying to land for the first time. We could not find a place to land. The whole planet was covered with bubbles. That's how the planet got its name.
In the old days, and of course, before television, folks had more time for having their own fun instead of looking and listening to others enjoying theirs. Also, they enjoyed many celebrations which we are so quickly forgetting and which our children know nothing about.
THE JAPANESE PLUMS were so orange, so ripe, but the lowest branches drooping over the gate had already been picked clean. Only a tantalizing cluster at the tip of a high branch — beyond my reach, I imagined, even with a running leap. I tried anyway. I’d just finished a twenty-minute walking meditation, and I was feeling in the zone.
WHEN I SLICED the water moccasin’s long belly open and looked inside we learned it was an elf the snake had swallowed. Poor elf. Whom I’d apparently also sliced open when I ran my scalpel down the water moccasin. Oops. I’d carved the little guy in half almost—a gash from his nose to his navel.
I've had two beers. I'm totally drunk. And the woman sitting next to me on the second-story balcony of my neighbor's Midtown townhouse, a woman I'd just met, she tells me she's written a book. I say oh what's the name of your book. She says what sounds like Tenzin Wangyal, the author of a book on dream yoga I read last year, but what she actually says is One Zentangle something or other. She can't remember. She turns to her friend and says, what's the name of my book? I'm thinking, she doesn't even know the name of her own book? What a horrible book this must be!
THERE’S A COLOR photograph of a boucherie in Catahoula. A hog has just been slaughtered, and its organs are being collected in basins and buckets. A boy facing the camera poses with the head of the hog.
TINY CATAHOULA, where many people still speak only French, was selected for the filming of parts of the Cecil B. DeMille production The Buccaneer in 1937. Catahoula, with its maze of bayous and smaller streams, was where the movie company went to film the scenes of pirates emerging from their wilderness hiding places.
A WINDOW INTO Catahoula history opened in 1928 and stayed open. On Easter Sunday of that year, one year after the Great Flood, Gabriel Rousseau opened a state-of-the-art inn, the largest recreational complex of its kind in Louisiana at the time, on the western shore of Catahoula Lake. Brochures announcing the grand opening included a description of the inn, the lake and its environs, and survive today as Catahoula’s first depiction in images and words. That’s what I mean when I say a window opened in 1928 and stayed open. It’s as though, through the brochure, we can still see into the past:
CATAHOULA LAKE, if you believe the Indian legend, is actually very young. One day several centuries ago, the story goes, the ground cracked open without warning, swallowing an entire encampment in a single terrifying gulp. The Basin belched. And a deep new pocket of water bubbled up from the earth.
I got home from work yesterday, and the breeze and the light of the slowly setting sun were too perfect to ignore, so I hopped on my bike and rode to the park down the street. Sitting among clover, I was transported to the gigantic clover meadow of my youth, and naturally I started tying some together, making clover bouquets, etc.
THERE’S A BLACK-AND-WHITE photograph of six Cajun children standing barefoot on a long gnarly tree branch. The branch stretches horizontally several feet above the ground — low enough, I imagine, for the four oldest ones to have climbed up and onto it all by themselves.
Yet as the branch grows sideways it gets thinner and curls upward, curling so high that the two men standing below it have to stretch to hold the two youngest ones up there.
The tree, I’m told, is still standing in the Basin, but sixty years later so much sediment has deposited the branch is now entirely underground. The ground has grown six feet taller. The children, only two or three more feet.
. . . I was watching an episode of Mad Men in which Monique was married to Don Draper. Don was helping my father do some yard work. He picked up a pick-ax, a double-headed pick-ax, and swung it with all his might. (I shielded my eyes with the parted fingers of my right hand when I saw the accident coming.) The head of the pick-ax slid off of the handle, entered Don just above his anus, exited his abdomen through his navel and went flying, bloody, forward with considerable momentum.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, quaintly, verdant patches of wild meadow interrupted the landscape of Midtown Houston. The sprawl of the suburbs in the eighties and the nineties, unimpeded in every direction, left scattered pockets of land inside the city's innermost loop undeveloped, and even though we lived mere blocks from downtown, from the second story of our townhouse, well into the noughties, we could gaze upon one of those green patches, a mini-meadow about an acre, a rip in the urban fabric in the shape of the letter L.
Andrew will be happy to know that I made it to the grocery store. When he's away for extended periods of time, he worries that I'll go hungry, and for good reason. I start eating whatever's in the refrigerator, and skip meals, and get lost in projects, and never go to the grocery store, and stay up too late, and survive on grilled cheese sandwiches and old wasabi peas, stuff like that.