Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ed's World

Each and every one practically cries out to be held and hugged. The place Ed and myself are currently roaming is wall to wall full of nothing but wonderful plush toys. There are creatures and creations in all shapes, sizes and colors. For children who walk in here, it has to be as though they have entered wonderland itself but to an old guy from Queens I just think of it as a visit to F A O Schwartz, the best toy store in New York city.

The store occupies a particularly trendy location on 5th ave and visitors from all over the world love to come here to gawk and shop or perhaps just feel the inner child in their hearts run loose and free once again. I am accompanying Ed Silverton from Bristol England on this August afternoon and he has told me that he tries to come here every time he visits New York. I can easily understand why as I watch him picking up toys with such utter delight and joy. He looks to me as though he is in heaven and it is because of his infectious enthusiasm that I slowly feel the rusty door of my own heart inexorably begin to creak open.

There is a very practical ho hum side to Ed's visit here. He is a talented artist who seems to be constantly designing and creating unusual and child like projects. Surrounded by the best toys seems to give him inspiration for whatever he is working on himself. But as he shakes a puppy to see how its ears wiggle or simply holds a toy up to his face to feel what it is like against his cheek there is also just some old fashioned child like fun taking place here as well. He may have just turned 40 but he is one of the most youthful 40 year old you are ever likely to meet.

He has never really pursued a career using his prodigious skills and creativity. His art has always seemed to be a personal part of his make up that would suffer in someway if exposed to the crass and commercial world. Up until just a week ago he had been a technician in enamels for an Art College but as he talks about it now it is clear that the business side of art just has no appeal to his gentle heart. He seems grateful to have turned that page of his life, even though as we speak now, it is not clear what will come next.

He tells me that he needs to, "love his work." When he speaks about toys he says that people just stop what they are doing when they see them. So it follows when he adds, "I don't get joy from representing the real world. I like to depict what you can't see, what's beyond." Later as I look over a portfolio of his work I am impressed with how everything he makes has a beauty and simplicity and sweetness that seems far, far removed from this materialistic and practical world that so demands our attention. I certainly will not be the first to describe it so, but many others have also identified, that in everything he creates it comes from its own special place, that somehow is simply and best described as, Ed's World.

I am not sure how long we spent in the store but it feels as though we have gone down every aisle and peered into each shelf. He has made a few small purchases that he will take back to England. I am not entirely sure if they are for himself or for his niece and nephew.

It is the kind of place. that one moment you can become the gentlest of Roman centurions or find a backpack that brings out the inner Hulk.

I am surprised at how little was spent during our time here considering the amount of toy examination that took place.

We go to a nearby Dunkin Donuts where the cashier is fascinated by Ed's purchases. A Japanese toy which can be decorated with different faces interests her the most.

Over some hot chocolate Ed tells me more about himself at this juncture in his life. At one point he jokes about his current situation and says, "I have reached a cross roads and just turned around." As for his interest in toys he tells me how as a young child his Mother hand made for him a toy called Bag Puss. It was a popular English Children's character and she made one from scratch. He also, at a very young age became interested in bicycles and tells me he now owns a fleet of them. He still keeps a keen interest in the sport and competes in road, cycle-cross, and time trial races.

He attended the University of the West of England where he learned a lot technically and got a chance to experiment with many forms of creative expression. Sometimes a project starts off with rough hard tools in order to transform something into a thing of exquisite beauty. He had some of his things shown at a small craft shop and reluctantly discovered, as he says, "as an entrepreneur I am hopeless. I am not into commercial success."

This elephant fountain was the piece he built as his senior project. It demonstrates a whimsy and simple elegance that is part and parcel of all his work.

It was while attending University that he first became aware of his late Spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. He was deeply inspired by him in all aspects of his creativity and the many forms he took for manifestation of his inner divinity. He was seriously involved in ceramics at the time and thought he would try and capture his divinity and his profound humility. It was while sketching the piece that he says simply that he, "went somewhere else." It was displayed for a time in the Victoria and Albert museum in 2000.
He says that after he had made the piece he said, "Wow, my God, what happened there." This he says doesn't happen very often. Of his work he says, "I have a vision of how it should be. I don't see it always, but I feel it." It was so personal for him that early on he just gave it away. Now no more are available whatsoever as the mold has been broken. He says of this, "it has forced me to move on. "

Some of his more current work are called bongys. He says that they are a response to kids drawing something very simple. That they should be quick and spontaneous. The name apparently came about as a response from a young niece of his named Lydia. Who when she saw what he was making gave them that name.

His art all demonstrates a purity and sweetness. He says that before he works, "I meditate before hand, keeping my mind as quiet as possible and my expectations too."

The piece on the left he calls the Spanish vase. On the right is a representation of his Patron Saint, St. Edward the confessor. He was the only English King to be named a Christian saint.

It was while working on his Edward piece that he got interested in making horses.

It was as a young student of Sri Chinmoy that he designed a simple pull toy. His teacher was deeply involved with weight lifting at the time. One pulled a string and the figure of Sri Chinmoy would then lift a dumbbell. Sri Chinmoy was so delighted with it that he got copies made to distribute to his students. He said of his face in the figure Ed created, "you captured my smile perfectly." Ed was not available when they were distributed. Sri Chinmoy however sent one to him via a friend. Printed on the chest of the small figure he had enscribed this message, "Ed, My Blessings and My Gratitude,Guru."

Ed also is a very good illustrator. Some of his work has been used in various internet websites. He calls such work his devotional work. He tells me that before he starts his art, "I meditate before I work and offer it to Guru."

After Ed had made the small pull toy he felt fr0m then on that he had made a special inner connection to Sri Chinmoy's weightlifting. Last October therefore, when Sri Chinmoy passed away his tribute to his teacher was a white floral bouquet in the shape of a dumbbell.

Currently Ed can be found pouring coffee in Reykjavik and enjoying Iceland thoroughly. He is presently without a bicycle but seems to have definately made his way well past his personal cross road.

And, if there are some out there, who might like to know one of Ed's creative secrets he tells me, "when I'm working, especially late at night, I like eating sweet things like cookies and chocolate. Not just to keep me awake, but the childlike joy I get from them really helps bring out a sweetness in the work I feel."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lighting Up the World

It is by itself an almost insignificant object. Most people have them tucked away in dusty drawers in their homes. Yet when they come out on those most special occasions and get set ablaze, birthday candles give everyone joy.

Sri Chinmoy's birthday was always a joyous celebration for his students and for those who admired him in the world community. Every August 27th for those, who like myself called him my spiritual teacher, we would look upon this day as the most significant day of the entire year.

Ashrita, for many years now has found unique ways to celebrate this day like no one else. In order to honor Sri Chinmoy and his life of self transcendence he has set over 200 Guinness records. On Sri Chinmoys birthday itself, for a number of years he has drawn forth the assistance of others in the group to help create a project that would be a new world record.

In 2006 he, along with a multinational crew, built the world's largest popcorn cake. It was entirely edible, though I suspect that none of the crew or any of bystanders seriously considered eating it. Last year, when Sri Chinmoy turned 76, he built the world's largest pencil. It was our last birthday with Sri Chinmoy and when this August came around Ashrita was inspired to attempt something spectacular once again.

In 2005 he organized a birthday cake with the most number of burning candles. At that time he was considering going for 13,000, when Sri Chinmoy inspired him to really transcend the record and go for 27,000. It was of course a blazing success. But like all records, it got broken, when someone made a cake with 30,000 candles. Never one to shy away from challenges. Ashrita decided to organize a cake, in honor of Sri Chinmoy's birthday with 47,000 candles.

As the long day progresses Ashrita seems to be everywhere and involved with all the numerous logistical and technical issues.

He is perhaps the most youthful 54 year old I know. Besides his immense physical strength he seems to posses an inexhaustible reservoir of focus and concentration. Despite having done this project on a smaller scale 3 years ago he says this time, "we tried to reinvent the wheel."
22 folding tables are attached together into an enormous rectangle which will hold 151 1/2 feet of cake.

Sundari has spent many years taking part in cake decorating. The sponge cake is coated with real frosting which took Hayden and Grahak most of a night to prepare. They have used 150lbs of frosting sugar and 50lb. of shortening. They will tell me that this is the first time they had ever made frosting. I suspect it will be a long time before they have to do so again

There is something very primal about seeing the flames spark to life and then be quickly extinguished. A rich scent lingers in the August air. It is an intoxicating aroma that is a blend of the smell of wax and sugar also mixed with the sweet scent of blooming honeysuckle.

It is not rocket science but the more you watch this project come together you can't help but be amazed at the ingenuity and just plain old physics that goes into it. Here a flat board with nails is used to mark the cake. Then candles are placed in the holes. There are 300 spikes in the board and 600 holes are punched into each cake.

From Mrs. Senkus's deck you can see how really big the project is.

Papaha is doing one of those small delicate jobs that make it all work smoothly. I just don't know what it is.

There are times, as I watch the cake getting closer and closer to being ready, that I just have to smile. I have never seen so many candles. To be absolutely sure that 47,000 get lit, there are an extra 1,600 as well making 48,600.

As it gets darker the preburning becomes a more spectacular show. It hints about what the cake will look like when they are all set ablaze.

In order to ensure absolute accuracy all the candles are counted once they are stuck into the frosting.

The counting and recording is of course very serious, but sundari is still having fun.

Aryavan gives a demonstration on candle lighting to the 80 boys who will have to light the candles on one cake each.

Just before the start things grow very silent and serious. Each person identifies which cake they are responsible for.

Then it

Of course it is a big success. The small flames soon become many until eventually the vast cake seems to be nothing but dancing flame. The heat ripples in waves up into the night sky. For a while it becomes so bright it as if night itself is dispersed. The hot wax pours off the cake and off the table forming little sticky streams. The scene is intoxicating and joyous and for awhile no one wants for it to end. It as though we are all for one brief moment given a glimpse of a far off bright and joyous other world. It is one in which Sri Chinmoy is still with us and he is happy that his children have not forgotten him. He is glad that they are still trying to reach the world of light and bliss that is within reach inside their hearts.