Saturday, June 7, 2008


Radiating ripples break the mirror surface of the pond. Either something has fallen from above, or reached up from below: it gives a dynamic quality to an otherwise quiet and predictable scene. I`m reminded of the Haida Indian explanation of mankinds place in the order of things. There are beings that know only the hidden world beneath the surface - fish, for example. Then there are those who experience reality on the surface membrane of water and land - humans, among others. There are the fowls of the air who know the extacy of the upper regions. Only a few of these can dive below, swim and walk on the surface and fly over all of creation. Only these can have a complete understanding of the nature of reality: the rest of us can have only a partial perspective.

Of course its not that clear anymore. Humans can now dive into the ocean depths, travel quickly to the ends of the earth, and fly so high that they can reach the moon. If the Haida story were strictly about the tangible reality of the world we might be forgiven for placing it in the category of outmoded historical myth. The myth, though, remains current because it is using the metaphor of three world levels to point beyond our limited human perspective to the intangible aspects of spirit reality - realms visited by shaman concerned with maintaining a proper relationship between humans and the underlying and overarching spirit of the visible world.

The creative process too is a kind of interactive metaphor that my human mind uses to process information and make the leap from specific knowledge to a larger understanding. I imagine how it all began: two remote ancestors walk down a wooded trail and catch a blur of shape stretched out in the speckled light and shadowed foliage above them. Their imaginations fill in the missing information.... and see the big hungry cat just about to pounce. They turn, link hands, and run. They survived, that`s why they are our ancestors; and they passed that ability to imagine a larger reality beyond representative parts on to their descendants and they, over time, refined it into cave paintings. These people of maybe thirty thousand years ago saw the partial shapes in the rocky surfaces of caves and refined them into images that captured the forms of the big animals they hunted and who hunted them. The image captures the essence of the real thing; is a visual metaphor. Behind the specific animal, is a master pattern and, by extension, behind all reality is a master pattern. The cave painters can now interact imaginatively, create story, dance and song: enter into the unified mind of all their fellow creatures.

This concept of metaphor is a useful tool for me to understand how I interact with the world. I draw a ripple into a quiet pond scene because the image calls for it; the ripple sets my mind off into deeper thoughts as though it turns a key in my mind. The drawing itself is a metaphor - the reflected tree, the ripple, the water lilies, all say, "This drawing is the essence of ever changing reality; focused and suspended out of time so you can experience it." The individual image represents the greater whole.

I was recently re- reading the old Anglo Saxon epic Beowulf and was reminded of the poetic device called a kenning: a metaphorical devise that lifts the account of brave hero and nasty monsters past a blood and guts rendition to a wider picture of mankind, fate and courage. Last night I watched a movie based on the mythic story of Tristan and Isolde. It was populated with lots of handsome young men and women loving and killing to give an audience a vicarious thrill. I was still touched by the almost obliterated deeper story that shone through: a metaphor that spoke of deep patterns of love, loyalty and the workings of fate. These old stories carry metaphorical thinking forward into the present day.

The picture on the cave wall is the spirit, the master pattern, of the flesh and blood representative. The kenning that calls the ocean " the whales way" creates linking metaphors that point to a larger appreciation of reality. Tristan and Isolde, that Arthurian legend, reaches into our own emotions: we feel the emotion and are the momentary flesh and blood representatives of a master pattern and metaphor is our link to it. Those ripples that break the perfect pond reflection of the overhanging tree and sky are a metaphor that opens the surface of reality: I can use them to open my mind to understand deeper patterns. Those spreading waves are the tones of a bell that focuses my thoughts and guides my pencil .

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