Michael Divine

Writings : On Spirituality


The unexamined life is not worth living—so said Plato. And to lead an examined life is to lead a spiritual life. I don’t subscribe to any particular doctrine. Nor does my art seek to promote any one doctrine over another. I am interested in living a full and vibrant and loving life and examining the nuances of that experience along the way. These are some reflections on that experience.

A Day for Love

Some say that Valentine's Day is just a made-up a holiday but the truth is: they're all made up holidays. Christmas, New Year's, Halloween... And don't get me started on all of the other made up stuff - dollar bills, national borders, and so on.

So if we are going to have a made-up day - and especially one for the Northern Hemisphere in the dreary days of February - that short month that always stays too long - then a day that reminds us to love isn't so bad.

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The First Time I Fell in Love

The first time I fell in love, I truly fell for it - head over heels - it was somewhere between the brush and the canvas and my hand - between the music and the walls and my ears - the wind, the sky, and the trees -  between the inhalation and the following exhale - and the exhalation and the proceeding inhale - somewhere - dawn day dusk and night - everywhere - little things - big things - everything - the sacred and the profane - the absolute innocuously mundane - and I never fell out of love again.

And even as I've ambled down best-forgotten paths and for all of my human everything - for all of as many times as I've missed it, there it was (always) again - even lost and alone - I found myself there upon its shore following the thread woven through all things that is all things - hearts to minds to bodies to breath to I - connecting - guiding - leading me onwards - upwards - within - that if not for it's divine chord, the entire symphony of life would cease to be.  And I return to my canvas and we do our work and play our part in that song of songs and life - it just goes on.

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Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

Carl Jung - Letters, Volume 2 (Princeton University Press, 1973)

We dream up new worlds to live and love in. We dream up new ways of being and caring for one another. We are not just ourselves. We are everything else as well. And as we awaken parts of ourselves that might have been asleep, so too do our dreams take ever more beautiful shape.

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Mind is a terribly unreliable narrator. It is hero, villain, victim, confidant, so many stories it retells itself over and over. We can train our minds to create a more focused narrator, but, even then, it is hard to be an objective observer.

We don't know when we are off our rockers. It can be others who notice when we are out of alignment long before we notice it ourselves. Our inner narrator is full of stories, reasons, excuses.

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The Pale Blue Dot

The Apsara and the Dragon #7

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

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Truth is a Pathless Land

Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally...

Take a piece of stick, put it on the mantelpiece and every day put a flower in front of it- give it a flower- put in front of it a flower and repeat some words- "Coca-cola", "Amen", "Om", it doesn't matter what word- any word you like .. listen, don't laugh it off .. do it and you will find out. If you do it, after a month you will see how holy it has become. You have identified yourself with that stick, with that piece of idea and you have made it into something sacred, holy. But it is not. You have given it a sense of holiness out of your fear, out of constant habit of this tradition, giving yourself over, surrendering yourself to something, which you consider holy. The image in the temple is no more holy than a piece of rock by the roadside. So it is very important to find out what is really sacred, what is really holy, if there is such a thing at all.

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Break Through

The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist; a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.

Ursula K. Leguin⁠

Evil. Anyone can be evil. And pain? Pain is all around us. It takes work to feel joyful, dedication to be happy.⁠

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The Sword of Laughter

"What matters is to move surely and calmly, with the appropriate humor and appropriate melancholy in the temporal and spatial landscape that we are."

Michael Krogerus - "The Decision Book"

One of the things I can thank my mother for (and there's many things) is instilling in me a healthily strong sense of humor. Dinner time in my house for the family of five would often see my dad recounting something he'd heard on Paul Harvey, a radio talk show host, while driving home from work. I'd remark on something I thought funny - some increasingly sarcastic off-hand comment. My mom would respond with a leveling up of the funny. Then I'd respond. And so on and we'd bat it back and forth like some kind of ping pong resulting in humorous guffaws and, much to my dad's chagrin, whatever he had to say was lost to the peals of our laughter but at least the dinner table was happy and smiling and, ultimately, maybe that's all that mattered.

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Compassion: Recognizing Ourselves In Others

Here is a thing that boggles my mind: we need to convince other - we need to argue about - why people should be compassionate towards one another. We need to debate why we should guarantee a living wage? How is the bottom line more important than the basic needs of your workers? We discuss into absurdity why we should pass laws to guarantee that our veterans are cared for. And we need to convince people that we should care for the planet instead of just dumping toxic chemicals will-nilly everywhere. And we have the world we've created... that echoes all of these struggles.

Why should we be compassionate and how far should that compassion extend? Just to people who look like us, act like us, think like us? What about the people who are different than us? What about to, say, a tree, a bird, or the air? What's the use - the utility - of compassion?

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What’s In a Name (And the Choosing of our Own)

Names: what we name things. We name things all the time. Often we are using names we've been told to call things. Those names serve the purpose of being a point of reference in a conversation. Sketchbook. Pen. Cat. And then there's more signifying names: my cat's name is Figaro. Or Lukki. Or Maceo. 

I had a name that was given to me when I was born - Michael - and it accompanied a middle name - Robert, my dad's name - and Brown, my father's last name. And that was my identity for many years, tying me to a long family heritage and, on a broader scale, a long system of patriarchy.

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