Change (art poem)

I was thinking about the nature of change, and how we tend to assume there is a continuity of “us” that, when we really probe the matter, turns out to be essentially untrue.

Do you keep journals? Have you ever gone back to read really old entries, and found yourself visiting an exotic place all but unknown to you? Who is the “you” who wrote those entries all those years ago, or who appears in the old family portrait?

We want to cling to who we were; we are perhaps afraid of being adrift, or more adrift that we already feel. But is this really so scary, or is this maybe the very key to our freedom and happiness, that if we really try, we can begin, and begin again?

I thought it would be interesting to flip to random pages of old journals to see what I could find, and I found this on the first page I flipped to …


The Art of Love: Celebrating Wuthering Heights for National Book Month

Day 2

My Street Japan. DAY 2. Tammy T. Stone


The Art of Love: Celebrating Wuthering Heights for National Book Month

I am a writer. This means that I am also – by nature, inclination and disposition, with everything in me – a devoted reader. Since the time I was a young girl sneak-reading under my blue-and-white checkered Mickey Mouse and Pluto covers with a flashlight, devouring everything from Archie Comics and “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, to the “Sweet Valley High” and “Flowers in the Attic” series, books have been my co-conspirators in life. They have been, at times, companions, friends, heated debate partners, gentle witnesses and yes, also very much like lovers.

I don’t mean to imply that books gave me something their human counterparts did not, or that I irretrievably escaped into them (though I have at times), but that the responses they evoke speak to the ability of the written word to generate the unfurling passions that also infuse and can inspire our interpersonal relationships.

Increasingly, I’ve come to believe that this is the greatest power of books, and of all the arts: to ignite our emotional selves by seeping into the deepest, most generative parts of us. We’re starting to understand, in contemporary science, that emotions drive the way we think and reason; our thinking minds are very much guided by our emotions, as elusive, fleeting, seemingly irrational and enigmatic as they might be.

I was raised, and I believe many of us are, to value my logical and pragmatic sides, and to keep my emotions “in check” in both personal and professional dealings. Looking back on any given year of my life, though, what do I remember more, the reasons behind the day-to-day decisions I made, big and small, or how I was feeling when I made them? Do I remember what I ate for lunch when I was in high school, or how uncomfortable I felt in my own skin sitting in the cafeteria? Do I remember the content of my university essays and business reports, or how satisfied I was with my work, or the feeling of obsession I developed for the subject matter?

I often think in images. When our nature as humans comes to mind, I see beings of light, and within this vision of us, I see tiny, particle-sized bubbles filled with emotions and memories. The memories have a sort of substance – there are images and sounds, for instance – but these too, are laden with emotional content, which I see as colours. What’s inside these emotion-memory bubbles is potent: it makes and remakes us daily, and forms the basis of everything we put into the world. The world, then, is a kaleidoscope of our enmeshed memories and emotions in action.

Where do these come from? When we start to examine our habit patterns, our tendencies to get sad, or angry, or feel rejected or abandoned, we ultimately realize that some of our core emotions are very deeply ingrained. It might feel like they are thousands of years old, and they might bring us at least as far back as childhood, when we were pure and magical emotional beings, pre-cognitive, that is, before reason could grab its hold on us. Uncovering and then observing and letting go of our largest and most impactful emotions is a life’s work, and I would argue that this kind of work is the very life blood of the artist.

There is artistry, too, in the active participation required to take in an artwork, be it a painting, piece of music, or a book. At our most engaged, we are entering into true dialogue with the artist or with the artwork itself, meeting in a shared space where emotions can commingle, limits can be tested, and there can be explosive eruptions of meaning. Many argue that this is the place where art truly originates, is born, along with the person experiencing it.

Through this active dialogue we are forming and are being formed; we learn so much about ourselves in the mirrors and teachers the most glorious artworks can be.

This is why, in choosing from the vast selection of books I’ve read over the years, up to and including my recent preoccupation with the Buddhist teachings of Pema Chödrön and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I’d have to say that Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” stands out as a beacon. I read it ages ago, when I was an awkward-banged, braces-encumbered teenager reading stomach-down on my bed in a room whose dusty rose walls I hated (though I chose the colour), flanked by posters of the Beatles, Tom Cruise in “Top Gun” and Dylan Thomas quotes (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”), pausing constantly to obsess over my first crush to the strains of Air Supply’s “Making love Out of Nothing at All.”

I don’t remember more than the most basic plot lines of the book, any more than I remember the movie version I saw years later as a film student. I do remember my hand fluttering to my chest as I became swept away in the tempestuous love unleashing itself madly against a backdrop of moody moors, a combining of inner and outer storms I’d recently learned in English class was called “pathetic fallacy.”

I couldn’t tell you any of the characters’ names other than Heathcliff and Catherine, but I can hear, still reverberating in the chambers of my heart, the words,

“Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you – haunt me, then!! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only DO not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul!”

(I didn’t Google this; capped words may be my interpretation.)

I remember being on the phone with my friend Jasmine, who was also reading the book, standing on my bed and swooning as I yelled these lines to her, placing emphasis on different words until we were satisfied that we found the perfect expression for the glorious torment and suffering that was sure to kill us, because who could survive in a grey, moor-less world after knowing (about) his kind of devastating romance and passion?

More than twenty years after reading it, I remember Heathcliff’s words the way I do the lyrics of all my favorite songs. I remember them because they were the progenitors of my capacity to feel, and also the perfect manifestation of this as yet hidden power. They turned me into a fledgling superhero battling to the death in the name of Love. They simultaneously sublimated my desires and unlocked a need in me to seek the life of passion and possibility they represented, a passion that begins with love and spreads, as love does, to everything else under the sun.

The older I get, and the more I realize that life is nothing without connection, empathy and compassion, the more I feel I’m indebted to the mysterious forces which led me to a love for words and artistic expression in the first place, and to those pivotal works of art around which I have, inadvertently or not, built my life.

A single phrase, musical note, dance move or textured, sculptural curve can make a beeline directly into our most formative consciousness, interacting with those tiny bubbles of memory-emotions we harbor, thereby creating new ones. How lucky we are to have art in the world, and to be such incredible, gifted and magical beings capable of living in the light of art that awakens, heals and transform us every time we engage with it. How lucky we are that we are art’s mirrors, works of art ourselves, lighting the world with our passion and love.




A New Year with our Beautiful, Old Selves.

bubby desktop

Plain and simple: our thoughts are never entirely new.

Imagine if every time you had a thought, a little fact-checking creature inside of you rang a gong and shouted, “Unoriginal thought! The thought you just experienced already occurred at place X, by person Y, in the year Z.”

To be constantly reminded that there is nothing original issuing from this mind I bounded into the world with would be terrifying in a Matrix-y, déjà vu, time-warpy, Stepford Wives-ish kind of way— if that makes sense, which it probably doesn’t.

Buddhist teachings, and eventually common sense, tell us this is more or less the case; minus the little creature inside incessantly yammering away with that clanging gong.

Not just in that annoying way when we think of the perfect title for our book or blog until Google tells us it already exists. Or even in that horrifying way when we mount an entire project, like a thesis, on a series of premises that not only exists somewhere on dusty pages throughout the globe, but that have been thoroughly refuted by a gang of experts.

Every time we have that thought it is not only dependent on a whole variety of external factors, but is also hot off the presses of an assembly line made up of our past thoughts, feelings and experiences.

It took me awhile to wrap my head around this. I’d like to think I have the slightest potential to be a free-thinking being, that I can burst forth and issue shiny original thoughts from a pure place where magical brilliance resides.

We are free, though; or at least we have the potential to be, if we can let go of our attachment to the very need to be original, and to our perceived sanctity of self and ego that go along with the territory–if we can accept that who we are is always being shaped out of that huge cosmos of our past selves.

I will always be influenced by the society I live in, for example, and how I was raised. I have the power, however, of critical thinking, and can observe and test the limits of my thoughts and the thoughts of others, and there is a freedom in that.

On a deeper level, though, we need to be okay with not being independent islands of thought.

If we want to connect with others, we need to really recognize how connected we already are to everything and everyone else. We also cannot escape the pervasive need to “know thyself”, which sages have been reminding us of all along. To this end, we can try to absorb:

  • We are our own worst enemies.
  • We are the masters of our own lives and future selves.
  • How are we our own worst enemies?

Well, no one can cage us in more subversively than ourselves. It’s a lot easier to spot the manipulations and deceits of others, for example, than of our own deep mind. If someone tells me candy is health food and fruit is poison, I’ll dismiss this information out of hand (despite my fervent wish that Reese’s Pieces were a food group).

When I believe with all my heart that strawberries are heinous intrusions into our universe—and this feels totally true to me, can I refute myself with facts when my whole being shudders in revulsion when I lay my eyes on them?

What if it turns out that when I was little, I saw a TV news show talking about carcinogens and death and disease to images of strawberry fields, and this association of strawberries and death became infused into the fabric of my being for a very long time?

True story. Thankfully, I’m over it now.

This might be an obvious example, but on very subtle levels, everything we do in this world is governed by prior happenings, which generated feelings and emotional responses that have ultimately created our very own, personalized realities.

Unraveling how and why we think the way we do can help free us from negative habit patterns and open us to all kinds of new adventures. A fringe benefit is we learn to dissociate from our own egos by realizing how dependent we are on all things and beings for the how and why of our existence.

We can learn there are perspectives we’ve never considered before, which have a beautiful place in this world. We can learn to be more compassionate, tolerant and accepting, because we’ve been humbled into realizing our thoughts are not Truth.

From Truth—essence, universe, a place of ultimate freedom—we arise, sometimes fledgling and sometimes breaking a little, and it’s up to us to do the work of unpeeling the onion of beliefs we have packed onto our lives over the years.

Heading into the New Year, what better time to begin this kind of excavation?

I like to think of it as observing and befriending our thoughts so that their origins aren’t mysterious anymore, and cannot hold power over us. This may be a lifetime’s work, but we can begin to examine and say goodbye to what no longer serves us, because we now see our thoughts, and the older thoughts they come from, are not us.

We might be lugging around the sum of all we have been, but we also have an amazing gift: the power to self-contemplate, and to create spaces for change and transformation.

Ever inquisitive, go off in search of more hidden beliefs and perceptions possibly hindering our growth, and open up even one tiny crack leading to a new way of being.

May our thoughts, original or not, be ones that free us, which pour compassion into the world and serve others to the benefit of all.