Flower Mandalas

Flower Mandalas

How “The Matrix” Changed My Life

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Do not try to bend the spoon; that’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth: There is no spoon. Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

- The Matrix

One hope I have for this blog and the accompanying Art, Healing, and Transformation discussion group is that it will become a place for people to share not only their experiences as makers of art, but also as consumers of it. As the authors of the excellent book Art and Fear point out, “In most matters of art it is more nourishing to be a maker than a viewer. But not in all matters…. Your reach as a viewer is vastly greater than your reach as a maker. The art you can experience may have originated a thousand miles away or a thousand years ago.” And that art, too, can be transformative.

In this spirit, I’d like to report on one piece of popular art that literally changed my life: the movie “The Matrix.”

At the time of the movie’s release in early 1999, I had recently won a medical malpractice lawsuit against doctors who had nearly killed me six years before. The moment of victory in the courtroom was a jubilant one. The jury’s award would be more than enough for me to move ahead in the areas of my life that had been sidelined by the injuries themselves and the long period of recuperation. Little did I know, however, in that triumphant moment the previous October, that my attorneys, who had worked so hard at gaining that victory, did so fully intending to make off not only with their 30%, but with all of it.

By the following March, I had already encountered another client of theirs whose money had similarly disappeared and realized that the multiple excuses for why my share of the award had not yet materialized were probably lies. My finger was poised on the “turn them in to the authorities” button, but it remained suspended in that position by their contention that the only way they could repay me the stolen money was by winning cases, and they could not win cases if they were disbarred or imprisoned. I was tormented both by an enormous sense of having been betrayed and by the knowledge that my attorneys, whom I had viewed as allies and saviors, were actually crooks who might, even as I waited in indecision, be robbing others as well.

I was paralyzed for about three weeks. Then, on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of April, I saw “The Matrix.”

I’d been wanting to see this film for a while. It looked, from the previews, like a terrific science fiction action film, one of my favorite genres, and I figured it would be a good distraction from my miseries. Little did I know that it’s effects on me would be life-altering.

The premise of the film is that in the distant future, intelligent machines have taken over the planet. They use human beings as their primary source of energy. To keep us complacent, they created a shared dream world (the “Matrix” for which the film is named), ruled by artificial intelligences. Early in the film the protagonist, Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), is invited to leave the Matrix and enter the real world, where those who are no longer under the machines’ spell carry on a battle for human liberation. A small band of rebels move at will between the two worlds, real and machine-made, attempting in both realms to wrest humanity from its enslavers. They believe there is one person who will lead them to freedom — the Moses of all enslaved humanity. Some of them think Neo might be “the One.”

About midway through the film, Neo goes to a woman believed to be an oracle, whom he hopes can tell him if he is actually the liberator the rebels think him to be. He visits her in her Matrix home, where he waits with several others, all of whom, we assume, might also be “the One.” There he meets an Asian boy who holds in his hand a spoon he is able to bend through telekinesis. Neo also tries to bend the spoon with his mind, but nothing happens. He looks to the boy, who tells him that the secret is, “There is no spoon.” There is no spoon because Neo, the boy, the room they are in, and the spoon itself are in a machine-generated illusion. Neo, armed with this insight, tries again and this time the spoon bends and flows to his will.

This epiphany is the turning point for Neo, who increasingly gains from it the strength to battle and destroy the powerful artificial intelligences that police the Matrix. The knowledge that the spoon and everything else around him are an illusion enables him to shape the machine dream. Illusion progressively gives way to reality. It is a gritty, terrible reality, but still it is better than living as human fuel for the machine rulers.

In that “there is no spoon” moment I had an epiphany as well. I realized that for months I had been living in a matrix that my attorneys and my own needs had created: the life I had imagined my lawsuit money would create for me. My attachment to this fantasy had enabled my attorneys to build their reverse-blackmail scheme and to imprison me in it. In the still-darkened theater I realized I’d given over to them my future. As I drove home from the mall, comparing my story to Neo’s (and in his story, too, there was betrayal), I understood that as long as I stayed in my attorneys’ matrix, played by their rules, I would never get my real life back, and probably not the money, either.

I understood, for the first time, that they had no intention of repaying me, and that the particular future I had imagined was not merely delayed but would never come to pass. The illusion of that new and improved life had a powerful allure that kept me trapped in victimhood. Like the inhabitants of the Matrix who preferred eating mush in the real world to dining on imaginary steak in the Matrix, it was better for me to be free and poor than to be a slave to the matrix my attorneys and my own attachment had created. Much later I learned that the money had never been mine. Seven days after I’d signed the documents that enabled my attorneys to deposit my insurance check, it was gone. But my life was still my own, and if I could not have precisely the future I’d imagined in that triumphant courtroom moment, I would have another.

I left the movie feeling elated. Regardless of whether I ever saw a nickel of my award, I was still free to take any of the almost infinite paths left to me. I did not have to remain ensnared in the mind-forged manacles of attachment. Shortly thereafter, I turned my attorneys in to the district attorney and the licensing board. It was my act of turning them in which ultimately led to their imprisonment and the return of at least some of the stolen money to most of their victims.

The lesson I learned from my experience of watching and interpreting “The Matrix” still resonates today. It has enabled me to put into practice a long-held desire for detachment from outcomes. Stubborn attachment had always hampered me, both in my creative work (the internalized editor trying to shape what I was creating for an audience before the words or images were half out) and in my daily activities and relationships. My Matrix epiphany has helped me to recognize that when I feel something “must” go a certain way, that way is only one of many possible and equally good outcomes, and that whatever outcome occurs is the one meant for me.

An Invitation to you

Watching “The Matrix” was a transformative experience, one of many that have come about through my consumption of art. I have been equally, if differently, altered by the writings of William Blake, various Star Trek episodes, certain children’s books, and numerous painters, photographers, songwriters, and composers too numerous to list.

When and how have you been transformed by art, and in what ways? I invite you to post your responses in the Art, Healing, and Transformation group and look forward to “seeing” you there.

More anon,

- David

Discussion:

How ‘The Matrix’ Changed My Life

Art, Healing, and Transformation group

Flower Mandalas Project group

© 2007, David J. Bookbinder

Mandalas and Sacred Geometry: A Conversation with Vandorn Hinnant

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This is an announcement of the first of what I hope will be a series of online discussions/interviews with people involved in art and transformation.

Vandorn Hinnant is a visual artist currently living in Greensboro, North Carolina. His artwork is a refined synthesis of abstract expressionist painting and Sacred Geometry drawings. His work involves the use of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors and the careful practice of, in his words, “ancient canonical techniques for rendering visible signs of the unseen world.” Many of his works are in corporate collections across North America, and some are in Africa and Europe. Vandorn’s works are created to complement subtle energies beneficial to well-being, and a number of health care professionals have chosen his artwork for their clinics or offices to complement their intent to facilitate their clients’ healing.

Vandorn and I will be discussing art, healing, and transformation in the Art, Healing, and Transformation discussion group. Stop by to read or to join in. A synopsis of our discussion will also appear in a future Flower Mandalas blog entry.

Stay tuned for this and future discussions!

More anon,

- David

Art, Healing, and Transformation group

Flower Mandalas Project group

Vandorn Hinnant: Artist Biography

Vandorn Hinnant received a BA degree in Art Design from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC. He then lived in New York City and worked as an intaglio printer for artist Josef Werner of Germany. In the fall of 1982 and 1984 he studied sculpture at UNC-Greensboro. From 1991 to 1993 he worked in the Artist-In-Schools program through Green Hill Center for NC Art. In 1995 and 1996 he taught studio art courses at Winston-Salem State University. From 1998 through 2002 he served as Curator for the Mattye Reed African Heritage Center at NC A&T State University. He has served as guest curator of art exhibitions, as juror of many fine art competitions, and guest lectured at colleges and universities.

Vandorn is currently teaching at The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke University in Durham, NC. He works in painting, sculpture, mixed media, and installations and he is available for commissions. He also serves as a visual arts educational consultant working with both youth and adult learners.

Discussion:

Mandalas and Sacred Geometry

Contact Information

Vandorn Hinnant

PO Box 20874

Greensboro, NC 27420

336-706-4298

e-mail: Aumnibi@aol.com

website: http://www.lightweavings.com

© 2007, Vandorn Hinnant and David J. Bookbinder

Flower Mandalas, Time Travel, and Self-Healing

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You yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe, deserve your love and affections.

- Buddha

I am large, I contain multitudes.

- Walt Whitman

My work with mandalas has been, in itself, helpful in activating an inner healer and in retrieving previously buried parts of myself, but it has also been part of a more general effort toward self-healing I have been engaged in for 25 years. This pursuit has guided me from a place of narrowness and injury to my current, more open state. Through creative, meditative and psychotherapeutic endeavors, I have learned to access the still-injured parts of myself, to bring to them my most compassionate self, and to relieve their pain. Accessing these previously shielded parts has, in turn, released a store of creativity and aliveness that was also concealed within my defenses.

The process began in an unlikely place: not in a house of worship or an artist’s studio but with a small black-and-white television and a British TV show originally designed for children.

One day in 1982, exhausted from my day’s work as a technical writer, I turned on the TV. On the PBS channel was an episode of “Dr. Who.” Too worn out to do much else, I watched it.

It was the first of many I watched. Dr. Who, who soon became a regular in my house, is a time traveler. More accurately, he is a Timelord. He travels throughout time and space in a chameleon-like device called a Tardis (permanently stuck in the shape of a London police call booth), often meddling in things he shouldn’t tamper with, but always somehow making right what might have gone very, very wrong.

One episodes, in particular, resonated strongly with me. In it, Dr. Who and his lady companion notice that there is a glitch in time. For a few seconds, events repeat themselves exactly, a cosmic deja-vu. Dr. Who eventually traces the source of this glitch to an alien being who, he ultimately learns, first came to earth four billion years ago, when our planet was little more than a rock bathed in a soup of primeval matter. He had landed to repair his vessel, which had been damaged in battle. The landing, however, had destroyed his atmospheric thrusters, and he could not lift off from the planet’s surface. Impulsively, against the warnings of his commanding officers, he gambled on a direct switch to warp drive. The effect was cataclysmic. His ship exploded, releasing a massive amount of energy. He, however, was not destroyed. Instead, because he was already in a space/time warp, found himself scattered throughout Earth’s history. Because all of his fragmented selves were actually versions of one being, they were able to communicate over time, albeit with great effort. When Dr. Who encountered them, they had cooperated in an unthinkable task: to create a device to turn back time itself, retrieving and reuniting his fragments, and ultimately enabling his restored self to reverse his hasty decision, wait for rescue, an continue with his four-billion-year-old mission.

Of course, Dr. Who ultimately thwarts the alien, whose initial blast was the energy that created the first spark of life on this planet, and then goes on to his next adventure. The episode, however, stayed with me. I wanted to reach out to all my scattered selves and, together, turn back the clock and undo the damage done to me in childhood.

Nearly twenty years later, I attended a five-day retreat near Boston held by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The experience of being in a temporary community of 900 monks, retreatants, and Thich Nhat Hanh himself was a powerful one, but equally transformative was a comment by one of the retreatants. She hugged me, then said, “David, when you feel that you need something from someone else, try giving it to yourself first.”

I knew in that moment that what she was saying was exactly right, and that doing this would be a great boon to me, but I had no idea how to do it.

Shortly after the retreat, I began making Flower Mandalas. In this activity, I was able to learn what it was like to give to myself something I typically sought from others. Early in this process, I was preoccupied with regaining the child self I’d come, in therapy, to recognize I’d been cut off from for most of my life. I imagined this little boy to be locked in a thick, titanium shell he had built to protect himself from harm, but which now shielded him — and me — from fully experiencing what it was like to be alive. I sensed great pain in there, but I could not feel it. I sensed, as well, the potential for great joy, but it was unavailable to me.

As time has passed and I have continued to use art, meditation, and psychotherapeutic techniques and relationships, and especially since I have become a therapist myself, I’ve begun to understand that inside me was not only the injured little boy, but also a troubled adolescent, an angry teenager, a fiery and adventurous college student, a twenty-something young man adrift, and numerous other incarnations since and in-between. They are like Russian dolls, each of them containing their younger selves, all of them, at their core, this elusive wounded child who held, as well, my deepest joy. To reach that boy and free him from his self-imposed prison, it was not necessary to work my way through all the nested selves. I could, I realized, access whichever one was handy and give him the benefit of my love and affections. Healing any of these injured selves would help all those who had come before.

Now, when I put my attention to connecting any of my younger selves and my inner healer, the effect is an almost instantaneous sense of being soothed and loved. Regardless of what happens in my life, I have a trusted companion I can count on, 24/7, to attend to my deepest needs. The effect is much like that of Dr. Who: to return to an earlier time and set right what once went wrong, and in that process, to restore to wholeness what had been lacking. And I needn’t reverse four billion years of history to accomplish it!

More anon

- David

Discussion:

Time Travel and Self-Healing

Art, Healing, and Transformation group

Flower Mandalas Project group

© 2007, David J. Bookbinder

Self-Transformation and the Hero’s Journey

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What does not change is the will to change.

- Charles Olson

Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero With a Thousand Faces describes the archetypal hero’s journey. In it, Campbell distills the wisdom of a collection of myths, folktales, and dreams that spans human history. He breaks it down into a succession of discrete stages. Some of these include: 1) A call to action, which begins the adventure; 2) being transported to an alien environment, where many trials are faced and endured; 3) obtaining some kind of boon, which may or may not have been the apparent goal at the start; 4) struggling back to the world from which the hero came, boon intact; and 5) delivering the boon to the world, a treasure which the hero could not have obtained without enduring every step of the journey. Through his struggles, the hero is transformed from an ordinary person into something larger. This story is played out in every action /adventure movie ever shown, and it is also renacted in our own lives. (For more details, see the Wikipedia discussion of Campbell’s book.)

I believe most of us are on the hero’s path. Through illness, injury, loss, misfortune, love, or merely the desire to take the risks necessary to grow, we find ourselves in an alien place, struggling with unknown forces, meeting allies and enemies, guides and tempters. We stumble and fall, lose our way, endure defeat, experience despair, but if we push on, eventually we celebrate triumphs. And through it all, we emerge transformed; regardless of whether our external goals are achieved, our internal growth can never be lost.

What seems to differentiate those who triumph from those who are defeated is that those who complete their path see the purpose of their journey and embrace it. In time, they are able to envision their destination and map their course to it. They learn to keep the vision in sight, no matter how dark things get. It is their North Star.

How do they do this? There is a grade-school riddle that provides an important part of the answer. It asks: “What is the most powerful nation in the world?” And answers: “The Imagi-nation.”

One way I help my clients traverse their hero’s journeys is to ask what solution-focused therapists call the “Miracle Question.” It goes like this:

Imagine that after you finish reading this post you go off and do whatever you do with the rest of the day. Tonight, you fall asleep. And while you’re snoozing, a strange thing happens. The strange thing is that… a miracle occurs! The miracle is a very special one, tailored just to you. The miracle is that all your problems are solved and all your concerns are gone. Poof! But the thing is, the miracle happened while you were asleep, so you don’t know anything about it. When you wake up tomorrow, you are solidly in the world of the miracle, but initially you are unaware that it has occurred. So the first part of the Miracle Question is: Tomorrow morning, when you wake up and as you step through the day, what do you notice — in yourself, in your surroundings, in other people — that eventually gets you scratching your head, thinking, “Something’s different about today. A miracle must have happened!”

The “Miracle Question” is based on the principle that we have the answers to our questions and can find our own solutions. It’s a way to envision, while awake but in a kind of self-induced light trance, what life will be like, in specific detail, when all our problems are solved. Some questions to ask yourself, after asking the Miracle Question:

How do I feel when I open my eyes?

Am I in the same bedroom? The same house? With the same people?

What’s different as I get ready for the day?

What’s different as I walk through it, hour by hour?

What do other people in my life notice about me that’s different?

What do I notice about them?

From the answers to these questions, a vision of life with all the problems
solved is built. Then it’s just a matter of working toward that “miracle,”
one doable step at a time.

Asking yourself this question is akin to the call to adventure of the hero’s journey. It will take you into new territory, and there you will likely encounter struggles you might not otherwise have had to endure. But it is also the first step to finding your personal boon, and to making your miracle your reality.

What will you notice tomorrow, when you find yourself in your miracle world?

I’m interested in hearing your answers to the Miracle Question. I’ve set up an area of the Art, Healing, and Transformation group (for anyone who dares!) for your responses.

This is the first of three parts of the Miracle Question. Stay tuned for the next installment, in which you’ll learn how to find out where you are, right now, in your particular journey, and how to get to the next step toward your miracle.

More anon,

- David

Discussion:

Self-Transformation and the Hero’s Journey

Art, Healing, and Transformation group

Flower Mandalas Project group

© 2007, David J. Bookbinder

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