Monday, November 25, 2013


There is no doubt that when I am happiest is when I am most inspired.

If I reflect on what inspires me the most it's when people have complete enthusiasm for life. It's so easy to get stuck in fear, or to start to trudge through life as if it were a grim obligation. There are times when life tastes sour. Things can seem difficult and heavy. I'm inspired by people who have the awareness that they make their own reality, the people who laugh at any inhibitions and make the life they want to live appear before them with unwavering confidence. These people know the secret, that reality is a collective dream, and we have a hand in it.

The artists that inspire me the most are not necessarily the best artists, but the ones who on top of creating great objects of beauty lived to their fullest and explored all interests as deeply as they dared, unburdened by fear.

And the most inspired periods of my life have been when I've been able to taste some of this freedom for my own, in which I spent every moment eager for the next, and when all things felt possible. Through some stroke of luck I HAVE been able to break through the barriers that inevitably possess us, and to dance with the infinite in all its possibilities. But they reemerge...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Danger of Spiritual Narcissism

I think much of the spirituality in the West is primarily self-inclined. That is to say, the momentum of Western spirituality is mostly oriented towards the improvement of the feelings and conditions of the individual. What is becoming more apparent to me on my own path of healing, however, is that the healing of the individual can not altogether be independent of the healing of the whole. It is impossible to be altogether healthy within the context of a sick culture. We are too greatly connected for any individual to be in any way isolated from the whole. Such are the conditions of our global climate. Counter-culture bubbles, cozy they may be, are not immune to the influence of the greater culture. It is truly us, and it is truly we, and any healing on an individual level will always be directly symbiotic to that of all civilization.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Hand That Holds the Brush is God Holding God

The Hand that Holds the Brush, is God Holding God. 

I've spent many sleepless nights

in front of my easel

back wretched,

body screaming,

vision blurred,

and lines wobbly.

I savor those precious moments.

Is not the brush that strikes canvas

the hand of God that strikes

Her own woven face?

Each dab of paint,

a drop from the eyes of the Infinite?

As each color is laid to substrate,

the Universe celebrates this small act of Unity.

The hand that holds the brush,

is God holding God.

Lucid Dreaming

Back when I was in high school in 2009, I became extremely interested and began to practice the discipline of Lucid Dreaming. A lucid dream is a dream in which you realize you are dreaming. Aside from my lucid dreams, I also kept a lengthy dream journal which I wrote in each morning. It was a powerful length of time, the repercussions being that I often confused my waking state with my dreaming state, and I slept far later than what was probably healthy in an effort to suck up more dream time. But my dreams became ever more visionary and profound and I had many powerful and even transcendental experiences. It unfortunately demands a lot of energy and attention in order to keep an active dream journal and to induce lucid dreams, so I stopped after I became tired of the practice sometime in 2009, but I would like to try to record my dreams again with some consistency for inspiration and for personal analysis.

Here is an essay I wrote for a class about lucid dreaming in 2009 (excuse the sort of Shakespearean high school writing) :

Jake Kobrin 2009
Lucid Dreaming: Doorways to the Unconscious Mind

Once this paper is in your hands, calmly proceed to levitate from your seat, through the ceiling, and begin to fly towards whatever destination you may wish... because you are dreaming.

That is a ridiculous claim, you may think, but if you were dreaming (and how can you say you currently are not?) your dream-self would likely propose an identical statement. You cannot float through the ceiling and towards your eternal paradise because you are bound by gravity, not unlike whatever forces (within your mind) you would be bound by within a dream.

The solution to these thwarting boundaries is the practice of lucid dreaming, when you become consciously aware of your dreaming state whilst maintaining physical unconsciousness. Once you have identified that you are residing within a dream, you may then control all aspects of said dream, as the dream is within your mind. You have the power to realize that the law of gravity only applies within your dreams because you expect it to and by a simple shift in thought you may soar through the air. Though the task of lucid dreaming may be a difficult one to achieve at first, it is not an impossibility nor even remotely unrealistic and due to the fact that you may venture deep within yourself and interact with your subconscious, the skill presents a vast array of benefits.

The ability to lucid dream is not, actually, as specific to your sleeping behavior as you may think. In fact, the ability to dream lucidly is simply a product of living lucidly. The goal of the entire project is to be able to distinguish between waking life and the dream state which may be achieved by retaining a more thorough state of consciousness within their lives as well as recording and further analyzing their dreams.

Another essential, though shocking, component is that one must adapt an outlook that would be found within their dreams. Essentially, one must always expect that they are dreaming. If a person would dream with the expectation that they are actually awake (as is the case with the “average” dreamer) then it would present a much greater obstacle for their goal of becoming lucid.

This prompts an important question: How can one tell if they are dreaming? The most common method is to test your reality. This entails performing or observing a task in which the outcome would present a noticeable difference within a dream than within reality. Some approaches to this are plugging your nose (if you can still breathe, and it is assumed that you do not a have a large hole in your nostril, then you must be dreaming), reading a line of text, averting your eyes from it for a moment, and then rereading the text (words change dramatically within dreams), or trying to place your hand through a solid object. These tasks should be performed on a regular basis, to the point in which it becomes a habit. The purpose of this is that you willcontinue the habit while dreaming (and perhaps spontaneously realize that you are dreaming.)

Due to the fact that you can do quite literally anything you wish to within your lucid dream, you are presented with the opportunity to create change for yourself. Many people have successfully used lucid dreaming as a means of eliminating recurring nightmares and to rehearse performances to sharpen skills and develop new ones.

Also, lucid dreaming is one of the few ways to reach transcendent states of consciousness (other methods being meditation, brainwave entrainment, and, although mostly illegal, the use of psychedelics.) These experiences are very hard to describe with words but they offer a feeling of utter divinity. I shall recite one of my transcendent lucid dreams, a “negative” though immensely significant experience:

“Sunday, August 29 2009

“I had realized that I was dreaming after having a conversation with my grandfather who, I realized, sounded and looked nothing like the one in my ‘real life.’

“The moment I became lucid I attempted to fly through the ceiling of my dining room and towards the beyond. Because of indiscernible reason, I could not fly and I fell onto my back in the attempt.

“After I recovered from the fall, I suddenly sank through the floor. I became paralyzed and fell for a seemingly infinite amount of time. I eventually managed to close my eyes.

“As I fell deeper the temperature dropped sequentially, eventually reaching a degree of absolute frigidness. As the temperature descended, I became increasingly gripped with negative emotions. I succumbed to the emotion and became overwhelmed with negativity… I had never felt such despair and hopelessness in my entire existence. Terrifying sounds and smells accompanied the dread. I dare not open my eyes for fear of what I may see.

“Eventually I felt something solid beneath my feet and I opened my eyes. I had returned to my dining room with my grandfather still in the room.

“When I awoke the next morning I reflected that what I experienced was truly significant. I felt entirely encompassed by it and it was a feeling that I never had or have since experienced. I felt truly separated from the earth.

"I had met and immersed myself within the whole of the darkness that exists within me…And by meeting it I had reached a rare level of agreement with it. I had freed myself from this burden.”

Since the late 1980's, there has been in an influx in the amount of scientific and practical research completed in the realm of lucid dreaming. Many books have been written on the subject and utilizing such documents, coupled with a proper dosage of experimentation, beginners may learn to dream lucidly.

A prominent book on the subject is Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge. For his dissertation work at Stanford University, Stephen LaBerge conducted a series of experiments and studies in an attempt to eliminate the skepticism surrounding the practice of lucid dreaming. Based on the premise that eye movements enacted in a dream would effect the dreamer’s physical eye movements, LaBerge created an experiment. He told an experienced oneironaut (an explorer of the dream realm) to execute a certain eye pattern the moment they gain lucidity. Using an eye-tracking device called a polysomnograph machine he was able to observe as the dreamer executed the exact eye pattern he had commanded.

Despite the multitude of research, there is still much skepticism about the psychological phenomenon. How can any one person dispense introspective advice towards one's dreams, a phenomenon respected for being very personal and unique for those experiencing it? For this reason studies of lucid dreaming may not apply to the specific person attempting them.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with Kayo Dot, maudlin of the Well, and Tarter Lamb composer Toby Driver in which I discussed the ideas of lucid dreaming and brainwave entrainment (which is a method of brainwave stimulation through the use of binaural audio frequencies). Driver utilized lucid dreaming and astral projection as a means of writing material for the first two maudlin of the Well albums (ensuring that all music was “found, not created”) and is therefore quite experienced with the practice. In fact, it was the discovery of his creative utilization of the skill that initially inspired me to work towards my goal of becoming an oneironaut.

During our conversation about brainwave entrainment, (of which he had never heard of beforehand) I told Driver that often the proposed effects of the particular binaural arrangement will have an entirely different effect upon me, if any at all. He found this very logical, and the idea that there would be a specific effect described absolutely appalling. “Each of our minds are far too unique,” he stated, “for anything to have the exact effect upon them.”

There are also many rumors surrounding lucid dreaming that I feel obligated to rectify. A common fear is of damage towards your health and mind. Due to the fact that you exist as a “simulated being” within a “simulated environment”, it is impossible to damage yourself mentally or physically within any dreams including those that are lucid. This being the case, all negative experiences may be seen as significant and progressive (for it is your own negativity that you are facing, as much a part of you as any fantasy.)

Another invalid rumor is that lucid dreaming will fatigue you due to the fact that your dreams are when your body stores information and completes many other useful tasks. This is a simple claim to refute, as we have hundreds of dreams each night and the maximum amount of lucid dreams I have ever discovered a person having in a night is four. Ultimately your lucid dreams will only occupy a maximum of one percent of your dream time, leaving plenty of time for your mind to recuperate as would in “normal” REM sleep.

Each of us spend a third of our life sleeping which means we spend about 25 years dormant. Lucid dreaming presents the opportunity for us to utilize that time and further progress ourselves. Whether used as a means of wish fulfillment or for reasons of more prominence, not but positivity can be wrought from the practice.

And here is a transcription of a lucid dreaming experience, also from 2009:

Lucid Dream #5 - 7/21/2009

"Precurser" to the Lucid Dream

It was late at night and I was upstairs with my standard poodle Zoe as my parents slept below. I let my dog out before going downstairs. I sat on the couch for a moment and then went to let her back in. When I looked out of the peep hole in the door, I saw the silhouette of several creatures amongst the outside of my house. As they came further into the light I could see them clearer. They looked like distorted hounds, with long tubular snouts and course mains atop their heads. Their snouts were white with pink horizontal stripes along it's length. Despite their obvious disaffiliation, I classified them as raccoons. I opened the door rapidly and screamed "Zoe!". As soon as she darted through, I slammed the door shut and locked the door (the latter being a fairly irrational defense against a vicious animal...) This was followed by the creatures leaping mouth first into the door. Through the peephole I could see their teeth gnashing. 

I glanced at my dog who was sitting undisturbed next to and I laughed at the general absurdity of the scenario. What odd behavior for raccoons! I thought. I made my way down the hall feeling humored and excited. Suddenly I noticed that the radio was on. It was a man speaking in Spanish, interspersed with moments of noise and static. I don't remember ever turning on the radio... I thought to myself. I was worried that my parents would hear the noise and would be awakened and therefore quickly saw to turning the radio off. The buttons were odd and the radio system utter chaos. I had quite a deal of trouble turning it off. Once I turned it off I said, "Wow... what a surreal night this has been! It's as if I am in a dream!" (DING DING DING DING DING!) Despite my obvious resolution I dismissed the thought, somehow... 

Lucid Dream #5

Technique for induction: DILD (Dream Induced Lucid Dream)
Amount of lucidity: 7
Vividness of dream: 8

I don't remember the beginning of this lucid dream or how I became lucid. I know that after the original dream I awoke and was bewildered at the fact that it actually was a dream (as well as scorned myself for not fully recognizing it at the time). It may have been a false awakening meaning that I was still within the dream state and the awakening was only a simulation. Either way, the implications of the awakening were enough to thoroughly install the intention of lucid dreaming. What ever it was, my memory is a black hole for those points... 

Throughout the progression of the dream I remember rubbing my hands together to try to remain within the dream. I'm fairly nervous of my dreams fading quickly... 

T told me to go to this magnificent room of which I forget the purpose. About twenty people (barely of which I can remember specifically) and myself were within what I believed to be a movie theater, although upon recollection it looked like no movie theater I had ever been within before. I asked one of the women working there (even though it was a dream and I could have just walked through the walls or something... :P ) how to find the room and she directed me to it. The room was odd, with the right side of it being entirely abolished, the broken floor boards leading to thin air. I never looked closely out of the vacant space so I am unsure as to how elevated the room was or what I could view. On the left side of the room was a couch and various shelves. It looked like a common entertainment room but lacking a television. 

Within the room were many young girls around the age of 4 and a smaller amount of young boys. The young girls were all sitting towards the opening and gazing out of it. There was a general air of depression amongst them. One of the boys was J.S. who I have actually never met in person. He was playing music from this device that looked like a skull. 

Suddenly I felt the dream fading...My dream eyes had closed and I could feel my eyes in my sleeping body. I knew that if I opened them I would be instantaneously awoken. I could still experience the other sensations within the dream. I disparately tried to grasp onto the dream and began to concentrate on the music that J was playing. Oddly, it was a song by Rage Against the Machine which is a band that I haven't listened to in over a year. (I don't remember what song for those who wish to ask.) As I continued to become immersed in the music, the dream began to slowly solidify again. Once I regained vision I concentrated on the skull-player which was vividly detailed with short spiky hairs thoroughly covering it's exterior like someone who hasn't shaved in a couple of days.

I wanted to go away from that place so I closed my eyes... *jump * 

I went away from the scene and into the house. At the other end of the house there was a line of men at the base of a gigantic stair case/ramp (it wasn't stacked like stairs but rather was a sloped board-walk with thin strips of wood along it's surface for footholds). To the right of the ramp was the house and to the left was a lake or ocean. The men were lined up to dive off of the ramp once they reached a sufficient height. I ran up part of the ramp and jumped (or tripped rather) off. I bellyflopped into the water which was surprisingly quite painful. Once I rose to the surface I said, "Well... at least it's just a dream!" 

I continued to the top of the ramp, which took only a second in dream time. Once at the top of the ramp I thought to myself (for no particular reason) Wow, it's quite exhilarating to be in a lucid dream! At the top of the ramp was an entrance to another house. There was no door, but rather a stone walkway that led through the doorway into the room. Sadly, I cannot quite remember the interior of the house. There were two (I believe... at least one if not) large security guards in blue jumpsuits on either side of the doorway. There was some kind of congregation within, which many people were attending like a party of some sort. 

Whilst in the room, one of the security guards came up to me and pointed towards one of the rocks in the entrance stairway. He started to say something to me like, "Come and have a look at this. It's entirely a secret... I learned of it when I began working here." A couple of the dream characters (people attending the party) and I began to watch closely as he removed the rock, which was shallow with three fragments like a distorted clover, from the arrangement. Underneath the rock, in it's original placement, was a trigger of sorts, like a foot moog pedal. (Only my prog geek friends will get that :P ) A man with dark hair and glasses (who, interestingly looked a bit like J.M.) who was watching the display with me grabbed the rock and ran away with it. I found him and asked him if he thought the trigger was a bomb (which was my original reaction, until I remembered that it was my dream and it could essentially be anything I wanted). He sort of shrugged and just said, "No... I just wanted it." I grabbed it from him and brought it back to the place. 

When I placed the rock back and activated the trigger several small speakers rose around the rock. They emitted a very low and pulsating music, much like Om chanting that I found incredibly stimulating as well spiritually resounding. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thoughts on Originality

by Mr. Brainwash. Derivative? Original?
"Originality: Don't worry about your originality. You could not get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick to you and show you up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do." - Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
Originality. Style. These are buzz topics within the world of art. In the contemporary art world the role of the artist is no longer about making pictures alone (or perhaps not even making pictures at all - depending on your definition of art.) Artists are now obligated to reinvent the wheel each go. It is something that has consumed myself and countless other aspiring artists. Are my works derivative? Does my artwork reveal too much of my influences? Does it fully look like me?

I think to some degree all artists feel that their artwork may very well be more of an extension of their own being than a byproduct of their labor. It's easy to get trapped in the game of equating the quality of your artwork with self-worth in general. And so in the same way the question of originality boils down to the same fundamental root. The question of finding a style is really the same as finding one's self, and maturing fully into one's being, in general. This takes time. People need time to grow into their somebodyness in the same way that artists need time to nurture their own vision.

On reflection of the obsession with personal style, however, we can see that it's really only a post-modern problem and it's one that is existential in nature. Artists of the past were more concerned with the central motive of their artwork than they were originality of style. The focus was beauty, not novelty. Artists of ancient Egypt, for example, made artwork undeviating from a strict visual canon for hundreds of years.

And is it a spiritual ideal worth aspiring for? The root of suffering, in the context of Eastern spirituality, is a result of our identification with ego, which is to say our identification with the illusion that we exist separately and operate independently from the whole cosmos. The idea of self vs other is the root of all conflict, fear, and violence and the essence of all eastern spiritual practice is to reduce our affiliations with things that separate our identity from the whole. In doing so we may reach a state of clear consciousness, where we are not grasping onto I, Me, or Mine but are still within the flow of reality that pulsates within and without all things simultaneously.

Style is not a consideration of the religious artwork of the East. For example, Buddhist Thangka paintings are based on centuries old traditions of imagery. The composition of these paintings are mathematical and hold strict to an established canon that hasn't deviated in form for hundreds of years. (Though there is some variation in Thangka painting depending on the country of origin.) These artworks are also often created in collaboration by a number of monks who work selflessly towards the completion of the image. The focus is on the inspiring power of the imagery alone, and not on who made it.

Would a sunset no longer be beautiful because it doesn't have it's own style?

The striving to create a visual style that is MY style, one that separates the artist from the rest of the artworld, is essentially a game of ego. And it is an irony that creating a individual and self-distinct style is a central focus in the world of visionary art, where artists claim to be illustrating experiences of dissolving into the selfless whole of all being. In any case, it is impossible to deviate from the works of others too greatly, because every artist has their own unique set of sensibilities, habits, and practices and the only way to truly copy an artist would be to become them entirely with their full range of past experiences intact. As the great 20th century art teacher Robert Henri stated, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it, as long as you have a self identity it's going to be visible in the creation of your artwork.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Art Sangha

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the evening with my dear friend and fellow visionary artist Randal Roberts at his studio in Oakland, CA. Aside from being one of my favorite psychedelic painters, Randal qualifies as one of my favorite human beings in general and is always an inspiring companion to hold space with.

Randal continued work on one of his trademark paisley paintings, this one a commission for a friend, and I applied the first layer of oil paint on a new self portrait that I am working on.

Randal at the canvas
I'm trying to use the classical method of indirect flemish oil painting, utilizing new techniques and skills I have been learning in my part time classes at the Sadie Valeri Atelier in San Francisco. This is the first layer of many, and the first underpainting in a succession of three. It is an application of Burnt Umber only, and is called open grisaille. I am trying to be considerate of each separate feature of the face (making sure the nose holds genuine form as a nose when scrutinized, for example) whilst maintaining consistency and control of the values of the whole image. My vision for this particular self portrait is to create something that is rooted in classical aesthetic while remaining subtly psychedelic. The painting is 11x14, slightly smaller than life size.

I greatly enjoy the company of other artists in my studio, or to join others in theirs. Through this I have not only nurtured great friendships but have also learned much about art and the individual routines and practices of each artist. It has been a solution to a question I have often pondered, which is how can I achieve the level of skill I want as an artist, and still have a social life? 

There is no doubt that nearly all of the greatest artists I admire are as skilled as they are because they live the life of a reclusive hermit, and create art constantly. It's a reflection of the pop-psychology concept of the ten thousand hours rule. You need to put in thousands of hours of practice in order to become master of any discipline. But for someone like myself who loves people, and wants to balance my discipline in art with healthy relationships, the prospect of spending days, weeks, or months on end without any social contact is not appealing. 

And so I introduce the Art Sangha. In this way artists can get together, hang out, and make art. It keeps each of us focused on our task of making art, we learn from each other, and inspire each other with our company. 

Here's a picture of me painting with Emma Watkinson in the Wizard's Tower at the Goddess Temple in Boulder Creek, CA, the incredible home retreat of visionary artist Penny Slinger, widow of philosopher and writer Christopher Hills

I have also made art in the homes and studios of many different artists as I've traveled, and it teaches you to consolidate your resources to bare essentials and to channel creativity in any environment. Live painting is another phenomenon that negates the stereotype of the artist as hermit, but that is a topic for another article at a later date. 

If anyone has any thoughts about being an artist while maintaining a healthy social life, I would love to hear it. Comment below. 

Jake Kobrin 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Digital RMX - Exploring Digital Media

A while ago I had the idea of utilizing digital media for remixing existing artwork, much the same way as digital music producers create entirely new compositions using elements of existing songs. I wrote to some of my friends and favorite artists to ask if I could use their paintings to try the idea. Many of them said yes and sent me high resolution versions of their paintings.

This week I finally had some time to play around with the idea, and I decided to start by remixing a beautiful painting by the very talented visionary artist Amanda Sage titled Orphic Awakening.

Orphic Awakening by Amanda Sage

This painting is very multi-layered and has many elements that exist over different dimensions of the artwork so it was a little bit difficult to cleanly isolate parts of the painting that I could remix. I decided to instead think about what parts of the paintings could make a good repetitive pattern or texture that I could use in the creation of a new image.

I started by cutting out parts of the image in Adobe Photoshop and then using selective tools in Corel Painter to create a number of usable patterns and textures. These are the new tools I created from Amanda's painting. 

I decided on a simple composition of a profile of a female face just to play around with the new tools I created and to explore their potential. I worked on this image for about 5 hours in Corel Painter 12. I wouldn't consider this a finished artwork but rather an exploration of the new concept of digitally remixing existing artworks. The idea was to create something completely new and unlike the original while using elements of the original artwork. 

This is what I came up with:

You can see the patterning in the background as well as the textures on the skin. The hair is also made up of elements from Amanda's painting. The color scheme was also influenced by the original painting. While creating this image I was also thinking about composing the image along the golden section, and controlling the saturation of the colors, as well as the value contrast, to areas that I wanted to stand out the most.

I consider this first painting only a test and exploration of what can be achieved by digitally remixing artworks. I'm looking forward to creating a more involved remix of Amanda Sage's Orphic Awakening as well as other artworks from some of my favorite artists.

Jake Kobrin