books

The Aesthetics of Enlightenment

MANUSCRIPT COMPLETED!!
I spent long hours over the holiday weekend working on completing the manuscript for When We Pray. The manuscript and the images have all been formatted and sent to the publisher. I will be publishing through Balboa Press Books with an estimated release date of late February- early March provided everything runs smoothly.
The book will be printed in an 8.5 x 11 softcover version which should run about 80-100 pages. I have decided to complete a special illustration for the cover and need to have it completed for publication by mid-January. I AM SOOOO EXCITED!!! I am literally overflowing with anticipation to see one of my lifelong dreams coming to fruition!!

MY NEW COURSE
I have now begun the initial preparations for the creation of an online course that will expand upon and supplement the material presented in When We Pray. The course should be completed and ready for enrollment by the 2nd week of January (if not sooner). The new year is going to start off with a bang!

ARTICLE PUBLISHED
My article, “Conjuring the Muse: A Theology of Inspiration and Imagination” is now in print (finally). It is available in the November issue of the SEEN Journal – HOPE edition, Vol. XVIII (November 2018) a publication of the group CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts).

EXCERPT ROM CHAPTER 
Below are a few selected excerpts from chapter 2. Remember, my manuscript hasn’t been poured over by the editor yet so things could change.:-)

When We Pray II
The Aesthetics of Enlightenment: The Universal & the Particular
                When the word “aesthetics” is mentioned in contemporary circles, most of us associate it with theories regarding how we perceive and understand beauty, but this is a very limited perception that merely props the door open. If we open the door fully, we are invited to enter a much broader landscape which grounds aesthetics in the realm of sensory experience. Our senses are essential to this discussion because beauty must be perceived in order to be experienced, and perception is impossible without the use of our senses. You see a beautiful work of art, you hear beautiful music, you see and taste a beautiful meal, you physically and emotionally feel the power of nature. Beauty, at its most fundamental level, is a celebration of the sensual which props open the door to a wider range of aesthetic experience. “Aesthetics” is derived from the Greek root aesthesis which can best be defined as “of the senses” or “perceptible by the senses”. When the founder of the discipline, Alexander Baumgarten coined the term “Aesthetics” his original intention was to establish a scientific method for the study of empirical experience.[i] If beauty props the door open so we may glimpse what’s on the other side, Aesthetics opens the door and invites us into an exploration of sensory perception and the nature of human embodiment.
Far too many of us live disembodied lives. We are rarely fully present to our experiences due to living in the past, worrying about the future, over medicating, overindulging, blocking or denying our feelings, ignoring or neglecting our bodies…until we reach the end of our lives without ever having truly lived them. Unfortunately, many of our religious and spiritual traditions do more to re-enforce this tendency toward disconnection than encourage healthy and affirming attitudes toward embodiment. We have been told that the body is bad, sinful, part of the reason we suffer and a host of other negative assertions. However, embodiment is essential because It is through the locus of our bodies that we perceive and experience this reality…

               …Science now re-enforces this claim by proving that every perception we have is accompanied by a corresponding physical sensation that is stored in the body as cellular memory. Whether it is a thought, an experience, a feeling…it is still perceived by the brain and the body as sensory data that is recorded and stored within the cellular memory – whether we are consciously aware of the experience or not. This finding supports psychological theories which discuss trauma, PTSD, post-traumatic slave syndrome, recalling experiences in the womb while under hypnosis, and practices such as the curing of ailments through body awareness practices, improving intuition through muscle testing…etc. This process of cellular encoding ensures that all human experience is sensory, embodied, and aesthetic.
If all experience is aesthetic, then the paths to enlightenment, nirvana, and the road to heaven must all be paved with sensory experience. If we are to walk this path, we must first define what we mean by enlightenment. Enlightenment is not a destination to be reached nor a threshold that one must pass through. Enlightenment is a blossoming, a progressive unfolding of insight and revelation into the nature of universal, divine, consciousness. This perspective moves us away from the misguided notion that Enlightenment is a prize to be obtained or a goal that one accomplishes. Neither is it a destination to be reached. This mindset is much too static. A more nuanced perspective allows us to envision a progressive, ongoing, revelation of consciousness that moves us through the sensual toward the supra-sensual until we eventually become one with pure consciousness. The movement toward enlightenment is one of relative degree and expansion into the vastness of all that is…
                 …We have this treasure in earthen vessels. But in order to find the “treasure”, we must be willing to dig for it. We must be ready and willing to get down on our hands and knees and dirty ourselves in the soil of life. This is the true purpose of living. To dig deep into the ground of existence, to struggle to be present to our particular lives and all the experiences it will present us….(excerpt).

[i] Richard Shusterman, “Aesthetic Experience: From Analysis to Eros” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64: 2 (Spring 2006), 218.
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Chapter Sample

Yes, my book is almost done! Finally! The manuscript will be completed by the end of the month and expect the book to be out on the market around mid-March to early April. I didn’t get quite as much completed as I would have liked last month but am making significant headway already this month hand have set myself a hard deadline. Now you have my promise to have it done in print!

Below are a few selected excerpts from chapter 3. Remember, my manuscript hasn’t been poured over by the editor yet so things could change.:-)

When We Pray III
Signs, Symbols and the Sacred

From 2014 to 2018 I maintained a small studio-space within a local gallery in downtown Oakland. On the first Friday of each month, the city and most of the local galleries would host an event known as the “First Friday Art Murmur”. My space along many of the surrounding galleries located within the downtown area would be open during that evening allowing the public to come explore their galleries and the various artist’s studios. Even though I was working full-time for three of the four years I maintained my space, I always did my best to have at least one new piece on display during First Friday. After the first year, this became one of my favorite opportunities to show my work. I welcomed this event because it helped me stay focused during the month, provided me with an opportunity to show my work on a regular basis, and most important of all I was able to observe the visitor’s reactions, hear their comments to one another, and speak with them about my work. This source of direct feedback provided me with insights that have proven invaluable in innumerable ways.

One of the most astounding things about these encounters was the ways in which people responded to the symbols used in my work. Those who were not familiar with a symbol found in a certain piece would usually ask me what it meant and why I had chosen to use it. It was always both humbling and amazing to receive words of appreciation as they began to grasp the connections between the symbol’s meaning and the other elements within the piece. It was as if it all began to click, and most would stay and examine the piece more closely as if this newly acquired knowledge allowed them to digest the imagery more thoroughly. Those who recognized many of the symbols would often speak about how much they appreciated them being used in appropriate ways, and comment about the various nuances in meaning they grasped in a particular work because of one of the symbols encountered within it. This recognition of a familiar or meaningful symbol often increased their appreciation of the work and filled it with more significant meaning for them. These conversations let me know that I was on target with my desire to incorporate symbols into my work and helped me to better grasp the power of symbolism…

…Signs and symbols help us to make things “special”. If human beings lacked the desire to make anything “special” we would all lead very drab, indistinct lives. Making special is as natural to us as eating or breathing. This notion of making things special is one of the most significant aspects of our humanness – particularly for those of us who are striving to live our lives with an intentionally spiritual focus. It is the human desire to make things “special” which lies at the heart of any discussion upon the distinctions between the sacred and the secular. Things which we have designated as “special” are deemed as such because they hold significant psychological value individually or collectively. We prize a particular ideal, experience, object, symbol, person, role…to such a degree that we imbue it with significant psychological value. By doing so, the value we place upon it makes it “special” and in many cases it becomes so special that it enters the realm of the sacred. Making Special is the true essence of the sacred-secular distinction. Whether individually or collectively, human beings possess an innate need to make things special and the degree of value we place upon them determines whether or not they are deemed sacred. Throughout history art, signs, and symbols have played a significant role in this process by helping to: designate something as special, remind us that it is special, or celebrate its particular psychological value…

…What was coming more immediately to the foreground of my consciousness? What did I need to “make special” and why? Asking these kinds of questions increased my trust in spirit and deepened my meditation practice – because it helped me to see how important it was to practice looking for the “signs” instead of wondering and waiting for what was often already right in front of me. So, look for the signs. Open your senses and feelings to the signs. Pray for a sign. Meditate on the signs. Believe you have and will continue to receive the right signs. Give thanks for the signs. Trust the signs. You’ll have more appreciation for the journey, if you pay attention to the signs along the way.

New Opportunities

Last month I accepted a part-time position as a student Art Instructor for the Higher Ground Neighborhood Development Corporation. Higher Ground is a nonprofit organization that provides elementary education and support to youth and County Education offices throughout the East Bay.

My work as an Art Instructor is part of the Afterschool programming component. I help to encourage the creative artistry of youth in the 6th to 8th-grade range. At present, I am working in 9-week intervals at two schools. Once this 9-week period is over, I will move on to another two.

Needless to say, I spent most of last month on the development of lesson plans, researching art suppliers, and prepping for my first round of students. I am excited about the opportunity to share my love for art with young people whom have shown an enthusiasm for creative expression. So far, I have been impressed with the overall level of talent displayed by the students I have encountered. Our first official week of programming begins next week and I am looking forward to meeting many more.

Now that I have my schedule with Higher Ground pinned down it is time to get back to writing. I have already penciled in some dedicated time for writing and am looking forward to digging my heels in and pushing forward on When We Pray: 8 Meditations on the Aesthetics of Prayer and the Spiritual Life. The completion of this project will be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream; to have my own words and images combined into a book format! I am entirely too close to give up now! This will be the first of many!

BE ON THE LOOKOUT…next month I plan to give everyone a few teasers by sneak-peaking excerpts from a few of the chapters along with their accompanying illustrations! 

STUDIO SPACE
Once my manuscript has been completed, I plan to begin searching for a new studio location. If you know of any places that I should check out, please email me directly at: info@damonpowell.com. 

SHOW ME SOME LOVE

I could also use your support as I continue to save and raise funds for a studio deposit and just because you respect my contribution to the world. I am still accepting patrons through Patreon. If you would like to become a patron, please visit my page:

When We Pray – Progress

Greetings Family,

I was unable to complete the whole manuscript of my book last month. Although I was quite enthusiastic to get it done, I think I was a little unrealistic about the amount of time I could actually put not the project without going to a retreat location and write from there. However, I did manage to get four chapters completed which places me at the halfway mark! I have four more to go and will be ready to get back into writing mode as we refocus for a new month.

Unfortunately, I was sick with the flu the whole holiday weekend and spent 85% of my time at home in bed! 😦  But I’m almost well now and plan to get back into the swing of things later this week.

Below is a summary of each chapter of the project. As you can see below I don’t necessarily complete the chapters in order because my brain just won’t work that way. I meditate upon which chapter should come next and trust that Spirit will guide me to the write one, as it inspires me with the needed content.  Hope you find them of interest!

WHEN WE PRAY:
8 MEDITATIONS ON THE AESTHETICS OF PRAYER & THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
CHAPTER SUMMARIES
Preface

Since the book is really a series of essays or meditations (or monographs??) I don’t think a formal introduction to the contents/concepts is needed. However, I do think it important to basically set the tone for the reader and provide a few insights about the overall direction of “When We Pray” and my reasons for developing its content.

When We Pray
Making the Connection: Prayer, Aesthetics & the Spiritual Life
This initial essay will paint a picture of the overall conceptual framework that allows the reader to begin to see and understand the connections between prayer, aesthetics and the spiritual life. In this section, I will define some essential terms, provide some historical and contextual grounding, and lay the overall framework for the more specific points of discussion that will comprise the other meditations.

When We Pray
The Aesthetics of Enlightenment: the Universal & the Particular – COMPLETE
It is here that the real work begins. I delve into the most misunderstood paradox in spirituality, how the seemingly particular act of going within through prayer and meditation ultimately leads to an ever more intimate understanding of that which is most common to all – the universal. This essay will delve into this paradox and help us to understand how the aesthetic dimensions of spiritual life help us to better understand the universal and the particular.

When We Pray III
Making Special: Sacred Symbols, Sight & Geometry – COMPLETE
What does it mean to make something special? How does our concept of the sacred relate to our use of symbols and the ways in which symbol is used on the spiritual path? This meditation will examine these ideas and relate them specifically to the process of spiritual growth and discernment – particularly with regard to the ways both humans and Spirit utilize symbols and signs as a means of communication.

When We Pray IV
The Work is all Divine: The Role of Imagination in Prayer & Manifestation – COMPLETE
In this essay, I will explore the ways in which imagination and manifestation play a central role in prayer and the spiritual life. It will present the conceptual framework and context through which manifestation and imagination helps us to see understand the inherent connection between prayer, imagination, and the process of manifestation.

When We Pray V
Awakening: The Art of Prayer & the Art of Life – COMPLETE
We use the term “art” in relation to a wide range of human endeavors that stretch from the actual creative work of the “Arts” to the facility with which we live our lives. This meditation will explore the term “art” by defining it in a manner that allows us to connect it with aesthetic experience, inspiration, and the spiritual life. Particular emphasis will be placed upon the notion that prayer is an “art” and how human beings can harness the aesthetic dimensions of prayer in order to live inspired and artful lives.

When We Pray VI
In Defense of the “Woo-Woo”: The Aesthetics of Mysticism and the Spiritual Life
The contemporary scientific model and its accompanying evidence-based approaches in the softer sciences have given mysticism a bad name. Even many Spirituality and New Age professionals will often shy away from the mystical or qualify any mystical statements by apologizing for becoming to “Woo-Woo”. In this chapter, I will address this phenomena and put forth a perspective that argues for mysticism and spiritualization as key components in prayer and spiritual development. This meditation will explore the ways in which the aesthetic dimensions of mysticism and mystical experience have always been and continue to be integral to prayer and the spiritual life

When We Pray VII
In the World & of the World
This chapter will focus upon the more practical aspects of living the spiritual life by examining how our spirituality should deeply ground and connect us to the world in which we live. How does one think about and frame their response to the world’s problems from a spiritual perspective, and what can the aesthetic dimensions of our spirituality bring to that discussion? There is a real and needed place for social activism, global thinking and reflection upon the ways in which our spiritual life can be brought to bear upon the needs of our current place in human history.

When We Pray VIII
Coda: There is only Love
Ultimately, love is all there is. This final essay will serve as a concluding segment that will weave together the various strands from the previous meditations through an examination of the concept of divine love. It will provide an overarching vision that incorporates the key concepts from the meditations. However, it will not be a summary, but rather an inspirational vision that is both a didactic and beautific discussion on love and the ways aesthetic insights can aid us in the expression of love in our every day lives.

When We Pray copy