In 2001, a group of friends graduated from college and set out on a cross-country road trip to interview people who lived “lives centered around what was meaningful for them.”
The boys acquired an RV, and wandered around countryside filming a documentary about their trip in which they brazenly approached all sorts of people who were doing what looked like interesting things and asked them a lot of personal questions about life-issues like, “How do you know that this thing you do is right for you?” and “What was your worst mistake?” and “What advice do you have for a lost puppy like me?”
The documentary the friends made of their journey was expanded into a series on PBS. They wrote a book about the first road trip.
This first book was followed by other books, by other projects all designed to help other people get the kind of insights the young men acquired on their own original road trip.
Eventually they and the team they assembled along the way launched a nonprofit called “Roadtrip Nation.” The goal of this nonprofit is to help other young people who need advice for shaping their own careers into something fulfilling, for living a life doing what matters most to them.
In the following YouTube video, “Road Trip Nation: The RT Nation Story,” the three friends, Mike Marriner, Nathan Gebhard and Brian McAllister, tell the story of their continuing journey.
They point out that going around the country asking people they encountered questions about how they ended up living lives that had meaning and mana helped each of them find their own truths, their own self-definitions, and their own kind of good life.
Asking questions and listening to the answers from people who had taken their own paths was profoundly useful to them. It helped them answer that age-old question, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
What started as a madcap adventure-cum-vision quest has spawned a whole movement of young people who are looking for their own answers to this most important question.
Besides an assortment of books, Roadtrip Nation maintains an extensive on-line video library of the interviews they conducted on their PBS series.
If you click on the “watch” link you can browse the PBS series by season. Within each season you can browse each episode by interview subject. Among those interviewed are everything from CEOs of major corporations to everyday workers in all kinds of industries and working situations who love what they do.
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): a growing awareness that all phenomena are empty and illusory and the only meaning and mana in any situation is what the people involved bring to it. [It’s a cool thing to realize that we humans are the arbiters of the meaning and mana in our own lives.]
The search for meaning and mana is a very human thing. It’s been going on for centuries now. The words themselves are so nebulous that it’s hard not to head off into the woo-woo zone when you talk about them.
According to Hart, Presence is that “tug of aliveness in the silence.” I do love that phrase. It’s beautiful! However, it doesn’t really say much. (That’s the problem with all this wisdom-stuff. You end up spouting poetry and everybody around you just goes, “HUH?”)
Hart goes on to say that Presence is an “openness to beauty and mystery.” He says Presence requires the capacity to be silent and still, to endure emptiness in order to witness and open to the good, the beautiful, and the true. Yeah, yeah. I know. More beautiful blather.
The components of Presence, according to Hart, are:
Appreciation (that openness to Beauty and Mystery)
Focus and Attention, which includes things like steadying your mind, not-doing, centering yourself, and pausing in your walk to notice the World around you.
APPRECIATION REQUIRES HUMILITY
Being open to the Beauty and Mystery of what is in front of you is often called “appreciation.” It does seem to require humility.
If you are complacent in your knowledge of the World and if you are armored in your sureness that you know what’s what and what is really going on, it’s sort of hard to get entranced by the Mystery of the World around you.
Mystery is what you don’t know. Mystery provokes wonder. When you think you know all of the everything, it seems to me, the World gets a lot narrower and shallower.
THE WORLD BECOMES YOU
It’s a funny thing: the World is pretty obliging. No matter how you think and no matter what you know, it’s pretty easy to see what you believe. Evidence mounts up all around you that you are right, right, right.
The World is quite malleable. It is perfectly willing to climb into the box you’ve constructed. You can get a heck of a lot of World into a very small box, apparently.
Do you think that people are out to get you? Guess what. You’ll find plenty of evidence that, indeed, they are. Do you think people just naturally like to help each other? You’ll find lots of evidence that is true as well. Do you find the World unsatisfactory and boring? That, too, can be arranged….
So if you want to glimpse the Mystery at the heart of the World, then you have to be really careful that you’re not letting your mind order the World around. Since it’s something we humans are really good at, this is a very hard thing to not-do.
IS IT ME? IS IT I?
In his writing, Hart seems to be separating out “I” and “me” from each other. They are both inside of you, he posits, but they are nuanced and different.
There’s a part of you that observes and witnesses the World in all its glory, trying to see what is really there. That’s the “I” part.
Then there’s the “me” part. “Me” is mostly just in the world, so distracted and caught up in the busy that it’s swimming around in one big chaotic soup. “Me” gets lost a lot.
I’m not sure what to do with this. I do know that I agree with Albert Einstein’s thought that either it’s all a miracle or none of it is.
I really think that it’s my “me” part that is responsible for most of my poetry. The confusion that comes from immersing yourself in the World produces more interesting thoughts than the observer-“I” part that sort of stands back and keeps trying to sort out the glory and reduce it so it can fit into neat little boxes.
This thought reminds me of my ch’i kung explorations of Mountain energy…getting grounded in Earth energy and all that. I do notice that the one thing people with mana have in common is the ability to be still.
My Si’fu (teacher) once demonstrated a particularly powerful stance to our kung fu class. He stood there in the center of the circle, perfectly poised with his arms and hands at the ready. He didn’t do anything….and, literally, no one could attack him.
Remarkably, the man conquered us with his stillness. There was no opening, no invitation for an attack, and none of the students in the circle felt any sort of aggressiveness was warranted, even though we had been instructed to move against him.
It is a thing I have tried to emulate ever since with very little success.
Another kind of still focus is illustrated by this picture of a Tibetan Buddhist high lama, His Holiness Dilgo Kyentse Rimpoche. He is displaying the vitarka mudra, a hand gesture that signifies “teaching, giving instruction, reason and preaching.”
Perhaps this kind of centered stillness might also be effectively applied to the way an artist and a writer goes about making art as well. Art, after all, is only an extension of the one doing it.
It occurs to me that practicing any form of art is sort of like weapons-training in kung fu. We are taught that any hand-held weapon is just an extension of your arm and hand. It does things, but you’re the one directing it using your body and your mind.
The same thing happens when you use the skills and tools you’ve developed to make your art or your poetry. Your art, your poem, your dance performance takes form as your mind and body give it direction.
Stillness is the ground for focus and attention. If you can’t be still you are unlikely to develop enough focus to actually finish anything meaningful. (Mana doesn’t come with built-in octopus tentacle suckers it seems.)
And if you are flibbertigibitting around like a demented butterfly, it is unlikely that you’ll be capable of giving anything much attention.
Stillness, according to all the wisdom teachers, is also the ground for tranquility and for peacefulness, so it is probably a good thing to work on.
Hart has a number of guidelines for how to work with the mana mindset. Here are a trio of ideas I picked up on:
Sensations and feelings can be used as a guidance system and built-in feedback loop which can help you stay aware of the world around you.
It’s sort of like that hunter-sense of terrain and place. If you know in your body where you are and what you’re standing on, you automatically move in ways that don’t disturb the world around you.
This one does take a lot of practice.
Pleasure is a tool for understanding what nurtures you. That one, taken to the extreme, sounds like a hedonistic sort of thing –”It feels good, so it’s gotta be good.”
I suppose if I were an academic sort, I could probably get lost in the nuances of the differences between a pleasure like an ice-cream sundae and one like wild jungle sex or something….Hmmm. Might-be, could-be actually fun!
Mindfulness is a way to experience the world deeply. Sometimes I can really get behind this and sometimes not. My problem is that Mindful-Me tends to be like that centipede lying in a ditch trying to figure out how to walk around with all those legs.
When I look at the people who I consider powerful and filled with their own kind of mana, I do see all of the qualities Hart mentions. The work these people produce does seem imbued with echoes of their own “presence.”
They are fully human, these people, so I am guessing that if I want to produce art with mana, it means I have to keep working on just being a real human being
Thank you for sharing in this bit of silliness with me.
As a reward, I offer this beautiful YouTube video, “Icheon Master Hand” that was put together by the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) to celebrate the exhibit, “ICHEON: Reviving the Korean Ceramic Tradition” which was on display at the Museum in 2013.
The video features five masters, Lee Hyang-gu, Kim Seong-tae, You Yong-chul, Choi In-gyu, and Jo Se-yeon. They live in Icheon in South Korea, a designated UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art, and are part of the city’s efforts to revive a 5,000-year old tradition of Korean ceramics.
I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s an artist thing to ponder frequently on the direction you want to head. (You tend to spend a lot of time making course-corrections when you’re flying by the seat of your pants, I find.)
I have been musing on this a lot lately. I think I am trying, in all my work – in my art, my poetry, my writing and even in my property management gig — to incorporate the Oceanic mindsets in which I’ve been steeped.
Oceania includes Australia, New Guinea, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Adrienne L. Kaeppler, in her book THE PACIFIC ARTS OF POLYNESIA AND MICRONESIA postulates that the goal of Oceanic art is to produce fine art that makes Pacific themes understandable in today’s worlds. She points out that contemporary Oceanic artists don’t slavishly copy old products or art processes. Their work is based, instead on knowledge of traditional aesthetic systems. She goes into detail, explaining this concept of hers.
THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR AUDIENCE (CUSTOMERS)
One very real aspect of doing work that arises out of an indigenous mindset is the awareness of the importance of the audience. (For a business person, I suppose that would be your customers.)
I remember watching a friend (a sculptor of stones) looking at and appreciating the Light of My Life’s rock work. He did a series of petroglyph carvings on rocks that he set in a spiral in the yard as a memorial for his dad who had died at the beginning of that year of carving. He was also aiming at honoring the old Hawaiians who taught him so much when he first came to the island.
Mat’s petroglyphs basically arose out of traditional Hawaiian motifs but they are definitely not exact copies of the old stuff. Each bit is layered with a superficial theme and then deeper kaona, inner meaning, metaphor, and symbolism.
My friend Cecilia didn’t understand the cultural references at all and may not have even been aware of them, but she did appreciate that there were layers of meaning in there. Just knowing that deepened the experience of the things for her, I think. It could be, too, that Cecilia is particularly sensitive to stone her own self and that also was an enriching factor.
LAYERS AND LAYERS AND LAYERS
It’s important, I think, to remember that the layers incorporated in a work may be deep or shallow. The one looking at it brings his or her own world and views to it as well. Hmmm….
Native scholar Greg Cajete has written that in indigenous ways of thinking, we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion and spirit. My goal is to make art and poetry that tap into these indigenous ways of knowing….
People are affected by my poetry because they arise out of my life experiences that are mirrors of their own. Everyone has experienced loss. Everyone has experienced anger, betrayal, disappointment and pain. Everyone has experienced joy. Everyone makes decisions about the paths they will take and the ones they will not.
This is what I share with others – my own paths toward grace. For me, the paths that lead to grace are buried in the detritus of the everyday and they are also illuminated by my own cultural understandings and mindsets. My mission seems to have been about finding the paths and byways that resonate with me, marking them, trying to follow them.
Webb has spent 25 years helping people gain insights into what their customers want. His company, Cravve, provides counseling and training in customer design and innovation for many of the world’s top brands. This book tells you how you, too, can figure out what all those eyes that you’re trying to get to notice you are wanting to see.
In this YouTube podcast posted by CT Corporation (a subsidiary of Wulters Kluwer) as part of their business marketing “toolbox,” Webb talks about his ideas for dealing with “touch points” – the places where you connect with other people. As I listened to the podcast, it struck me that Webb’s ideas are all about making good connections. They are positively Oceanic in mindset.
(Wulters Kluwer is a multi-national information services company based in the Netherlands with operations in over 35 countries. CT Corporation is “the largest registered agent service firm in the world representing hundreds of thousands of business entities worldwide. It provides software and services that legal professionals use,” it says here.)
My audience is probably going to be made up of the people who are trying to do the same as me, people who are trying to add mana and meaning to their own everyday lives. I think there may be a market somewhere in all that. I just need to refine my walk so that I can connect with the people who are already working on that their own selves.
As I am learning my craft and learning more about my market, my real reward will be spending a bunch of time in what I call “Little-G World”…where I can be just like a little god, making it all up as I go along. That is a cool thing, I am thinking.
Also, I am thinking that the late, great Ray Kroc once said, “If you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.” In WHAT CUSTOMERS CRAVE, Webb helps you figure out how to influence other people to love you for doing what you love. This, too, is a good thing…and it’s very Oceanic.
And here’s a poem:
CONNECTING THE DOTS
What is art?
Art is not a piece of work.
It is a reaching inward and a coming back.
What is an artist?
What are artists for real if they are more than
The producers of pretty objects
Meant to cover up some wall space or match a couch.
In my own art and poetry, I am wanting a “Polynesian aesthetic” in my work … what I hope is a “native” feeling to it. Even more than that, I’d like it to be a part of my business. This Polynesian aesthetic incorporates three things – a high level of skill, indirectness, and mo’olelo (story).
What makes an object a work of art to me is a feeling that the thing is “special,” imbued with a sense of the person who made the thing and the place where that person grew into the artist he or she is. Art evokes presence, I am thinking, and that is why it is special.
The process of the manufacture of an art object or the performance of some song or dance or story has to incorporate the history, meaning and cultural identity inherent in the artist and in the place, I am thinking. If art is to be a real expression of the person who is making it, then it does have to built out of pieces of that person’s heart.
A business is also a human-made thing. Could it not be practiced as an art? Hmmm….
The making of lauhala hats is an honored Hawaiian art form passed down from generation to generation. Aunty Elizabeth Lee is the acknowledged best of the practitioners in Hawaii and she has been one of the people who has helped to keep the art form alive.
Many of the artists who are Polynesian tell us that in order to produce good work the artist must be “of good heart.” This, they say, will “show” in the work. In the hat-weaving, for example, anger and discontent in a person is transmitted through the hands and the weave shows a tension that is not there when the person is calm and at peace. The hats get misshapen and lumpy. For this reason, many of these artists seem to make the art they do into a moving meditation filled with ritual and mindfulness.
Ritual is an important part of the Polynesian aesthetic and when ritual is a part of the object then the object becomes an amazing thing. It becomes an opening and a gateway to a world where everything is interconnected and the parts all move in concert to more cosmic rhythms than are discernible in everyday life. Usually, when someone is learning an indigenous art form, at some point they will be introduced to the rituals involved in the making of the craft.
A touching You-Tube Video, “Weaving From the Heart,” is a documentary made by Alayna Kobayashi about weaver Lynette Roster and her thoughts about weaving the lauhala, the leaves of the pandanus tree, into a hat. The weaver in the video, Lynette Roster, mentions that the weaver “asks” the tree for the leaves that will be used for making her hats. The weaver thanks the tree and also takes care of the tree which supplies her materials. This, it seems to me, adds another dimension to the process of weaving a hat. It adds gravitas, a kind of spiritual “weight.”
Since much of the cosmic, “other” world is hidden from direct perception it can only be approached sideways…obliquely. That’s why kaona, the hidden meaning, is important. However, kaona slides away from a direct gaze.
Making this way of doing things a part of modern life is a bit of a puzzlement. We moderns are so straightforward: Okay….there’s the leaves….grab a ladder…pick the leaves…and so on and so forth. Ritual gets us making faces and going, “You want me to TALK TO A TREE? HUH?”
It gets even more hairy when you’re trying to put together a business. The hard-nosed bean-counters roll their eyes at you when you talk about “meaning” and “mana.” Still, the times they are a-changing.
Here’s another video…one showing Steve Jobs talking about modern-day branding. In this video, where Steve Jobs introduces Apple’s Crazy Ones campaign to investors and his top people, he starts from the premise that marketing is about core values, values that don’t change. He says, “People with a passion can change the world….Those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do.”
One of the best marketers of the modern age is talking about “meaning” and talking about “mana” and how his company is going to promote some. Interesting, huh?
Maybe “meaning” and “mana” has relevance in more than just the world of native arts and crafts. Maybe it might have relevance for you as well.
What do you think? Let me know.
Here’s another poem….
SMALL ENOUGH FOR DREAMS
It’s a complex thing,
This trying to get back to simple,
Reaching towards the place
That is small enough for your dreams.
The details of a life lived out loud can overflow,
Flooding through you,
Submerging the shine of
The mana-bits that sparkle in you
In an urgent, onrushing tide of
Holding onto even the memory of your own dreams
Grabbing hold with both hands on
The knowledge that you are on your way to
Your own place in that onslaught
Can be a battle against an overwhelming force sometimes.