“The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the heartbreaking beauty will remain when there is no heart to break for it.” – John Robinson Jeffers, poet
I’m walking the river by Memorial Park with a friend. The river is ebbing back to the ocean, the wind is moving gently, and opposite of the current, and the sun is creating millions of glistening stars on the surface. Walking under a tree close to the bulkhead, we see the caustic reflection of this meeting of light and water beaming off the leaves. They move in the light breeze, further randomizing this beautiful show. We name it river lightning.
When compared to summer blockbusters, the energy expended to create this show is unmatched by any human effort. Yet nature’s big budget film is balanced and sustainable.
The creation of this special effect begins in the nuclear fusion of the sun, from its center, beaming photons at the speed of light to Earth. Eight minutes later, they pierce the magnetosphere, hit the water, bounce off the infinite variety of angles of random ripples at the confluence of wind and water to a leaf gently turning in the heat-generated breeze, and then find their way to my eyes at the place I happen to be. Nature finding balance, without mind, in the most sustainable way. When water falls through the rocks, it always finds the most efficient path and does not deviate, it does not side-step or make a judgment and say “I like this,” or “I don’t like this,” or take a less efficient path.
Stick with me for a couple minutes. I’m going to call nature’s light show, art. It becomes art at that moment when I call it river lightning. Stanley Kubrick, the universe, whomever or whatever the creator . . . arguably, art becomes art when the ego steps in. Without ego, it is simply expression. Until of course, I like it or I don’t like it. Artists of all types want the flow, the unobstructed heart-to-hand flow, thought to brush, without the filters, inline judgments that impede the flood of creative expression. The universe, egoless and mindless, continually expresses itself and we turn it into art in that every work is an expression of our nature as it reaches the final edit and at once we proclaim “fini”!
Is there a transition from expression to art? A gap? A second or two? Here’s the experiment: Put on your flips and head to the beach. Pause and jot down everything you heard your brain say as soon as you read the previous sentence. (Examples: It’s too hot. I wish I had the time. Some people have to work. Love the salty breeze. Can’t wait to get my feet wet. My board has a ding.) How much time went by between reading the sentence and the brain chatter? Probably none. Nary a brain cycle. It’s how we do, eh? And we haven’t even gotten to the beach yet, folks! Imagine trying to write a song and there is all this chatter between what you want to express and the calluses on your fingertips. Stop already!
It is summertime, so put on your flips for real; let’s go to the beach, the river, the lake, the pool, the water. When you get there you can witness what the light is doing, shed the hibernating winter baggage, and simply witness, touch, feel, listen, and meditate. Watch as that chatter moves off to the horizon and find that gap between expression and self and see what really is. This is an exercise worth doing. You can take your observations, your new reference point, and bring them to Southlight, The Cummer, MOCA, your favorite place. Find that space between what you actually witness and your personification of it. It’s very cool place to hang out.
Do I really need to go to the water to perform this exercise? Yes. Why? Because it’s water. Water changes the way your brain works as soon as you see it or get near it. I observe it frequently in the faces of those who partake. It naturally triggers meditation. This is not mumbo jumbo; it’s science. It calms the brain, slows the cycles. When you do take that trip to the beach, witness the people. Don’t judge; just watch. It’s easy to see. Sit in the sand, listen to the surf. Eventually the static dissipates.
Take some of that home with you and watch the calluses on your fingers start to bleed as the unclogged pipeline echoes off the rosewood of your guitar. This is your river lightning. From the sea, the random acoustics of the surf expressed from some confluence of sun, wind, moon, and tide, to the meditative mind, at the speed of sound. The string tenses for the note under your fingers and the harmony of wire and wood meet in the place you happen to be.
Walking home from Memorial Park, flips clacking on the sidewalk, I hear you in the distance and I like it. Thoughts and feedback? Write Jim at email@example.com. Year of the River #YOTR
Written by Jim Alabiso