Sacred Art Studio Icon and Peru

I thought I’d share the symbolism around my logo and the inspiration behind it as it directly reflects the intention for my work, my spiritual journey, and the vision that I hold for the world during this transformative time in our history. I painted this icon when I returned from a pilgrimage to Peru in 2006. Dear friends from Canada—Terence, Carol, and Jim, who are also spiritual teachers for me—lead small groups to Peru in order that we may experience this sacred landscape and learn from the indigenous peoples the ancient spiritual teachings of the Andes. The intention for our pilgrimage was inspired in part by The Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor. There is a lot on the web around the prophecy but in brief:

The prophecy story relates that in the beginning all the earth’s people were one, but long ago they divided into two groups, and each one followed a different path to development. The people of the Eagle became highly scientific and intellectual, indicative of a masculine energy. This would represent those of us living in the industrialized West. Whereas, the people of the Condor became highly attuned to nature and the intuitive realm, or what might be the feminine energy. This refers to the indigenous peoples—or the people of the heart.

It was foretold in the ancient prophecy that during this period of time, or what is referred to as the Fifth Pachacuti (world turned upside down), civilization would be on the brink of collapse which we are now seeing in the extensive ecological degradation of the planet as well as the recent breakdown of our economic structures. The prophecy says that at this time in the earth’s history, the Eagle people and the Condor people will rejoin. Remembering that they are one people, they will reconnect, remember their common origin, share their knowledge and wisdom, and save each other. The eagle and condor will fly together in the same sky, wing to wing, and the world will come into balance after a point of near extinction. Neither the eagles nor the condors will survive without this collaboration, and from this rejoining of the two peoples, a new alloy consciousness will emerge that honors the Eagle people for their remarkable accomplishments of the mind, and honors the Condor people for the deep wisdom of the heart. Together—and only together—the crisis will be resolved and a sustainable future will emerge for all.

As a small community, or allyu, we visited the holy sites of Machu Picchu, Tipon, Ollantaytambo, and Pisaq where we spent time in ceremony and learning from a native community—dear friends/family of our leaders—who are bringing back the ancient ways under the tutelage of the Q’ero shamans. This wonderful community of men, women, and children opened their hearts to us, invited us into their world, and shared their great wisdom (and music!) with us. I felt a profound connection to all the people of Peru as well as to the Earth, or Pachamama as she is known in South America. This truly was a sacred encounter between the eagle and the condor. What a gift to undertake this journey as so many others who are now being called to this holy land. Our allyu was additionally blessed to encounter His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Cusco while he was there making a visit to meet with the Q’eros people, who continue to live high in the Andes and live in reciprocity, or ayni, with Pachamama.

When I returned I was inspired to begin a series of artworks around this journey and am continuing the project at this time. I also felt called to create an icon or logo that would integrate the wisdom of these teachings to represent the long term vision for my work in the world and the studio. The result is a synthesis of the Inka Cross and the mandala (see Shri Yantra Mandala post for more information on mandalas). The Inka Cross (or Chakana) traditionally has wider sections in the north, east, south, and west quadrants, but I felt inspired to emphasize the symmetry throughout the piece to symbolize the balance between the masculine and feminine—as represented by the sun/moon and the yin/yang symbols. The spiral in the North represents the deepening spiritual journey that is needed for all beings to bring about the new emerging consciousness that the prophecy speaks to. The three-stepped quadrants in each of the four directions symbolize: the places we meet or the three realms (upper, middle, lower), the spirit helpers for each realm (condor, puma, serpent), what we bring to community (mind, body, heart) and the three ways we come together in community (labor for all, connection, reciprocity). The Inka cross essentially represents a spiritual and ethical framework for living in harmony with each other and the Earth. And at the center my icon is the heart of the world—love—which is my vision for a world at peace and one that honors the Earth and all life upon her. May it be so. Aho.

A Vision

This is one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry and it comes to me after reading yesterday that “the Obama administration approved the sale of timber in a roadless national forest in Alaska. The Tongass National Forest is a 17 million acre temperate rain forest in southeast Alaska, which is home to both endangered species and native Alaskan tribes. It is the largest temperate rain forest in the United States.” (source:

A Vision

–Wendell Berry
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is it possibility.

Rose Mandala

Someone asked me recently if I mapped out my mandalas on the computer. How times have changed! No, I replied, in fact they emerge quite organically. These mandalas are highly detailed and call for intense focus, so my process is very much a meditation for me. Often there are periods of waiting and trusting that what is needing to come forward will show itself to me. I begin all my sessions in the studio by lighting candles on the altar; making an offering to the muses or spirit helpers that want to support me that day; and smudging myself, the work, and the studio. Having created this sacred space, I ask for guidance that I may be a vehicle for spirit to move through me. For personalized soul symbol mandalas, such as this one, I hold a vision of the person that I am creating it for and an intention for bringing forward those aspects of the soul that want to be acknowledged, celebrated, or healed. (see Shri Yantra Mandala post for more information on soul symbol mandalas)

My dear friend, Christina Rose, ask that I paint a mandala for her and gave no specific direction. She simply trusted in my vision. Of course, I wanted there to be a rose to be at the center. At first, I began work on a very different, peach rose but after wrestling with that for a time I realized it just wasn’t working. I let go of my resistance and was guided intuitively to go in a different direction. Over the years, I have come to see that this is part of my process. I start down one road, hit a bump, and turn in another direction. I’ve learned to trust this and know that in the end the work will be better for it.

I drew inspiration from the many aspects of what I know about Christina, her spiritual path, and what nourishes her soul. This is what I shared with her when I presented her with the mandala:

In the Christian tradition, the white rose is a symbol of the Virgin Mary. It represents reverence, purity, and humility. From an Eastern perspective, we might also call this egolessness.

Drawing from the indigenous medicine wheel:
In the North, the earth element: This represents your love of the earth. In the East, the air element: The dove represents your want for peace. In the South, the fire element: The hands and heart represent your love/passion for your partner and community. In the West, the water element: The fish represent your astrological sign, Pisces.

Inspired by the gold that is used in illuminated manuscripts, the gold creates a holy framework to hold each of your soul elements in a sacred manner.

Everything is Sacred

In an interview with Derrick Jensen in Listening to the Land, the late Thomas Berry said, “If nothing is sacred, nothing is safe.” He was referring to those individuals who walk among us who can look at a forest and see boards of lumber (i.e., money) instead of seeing the holiness of the forest, or the trees. Is the Earth not sacred? That which gives us life, food, the air we breath, the water we drink? Right now, in the Amazon of Peru, an attack is being waged against the indigenous peoples and the forest by transnational corporations to extract oil. ( No surprise considering the US and Peru signed a Free Trade Agreement not so long ago. Yesterday, The Washington Post published an article by Sarah Palin who is advocating for extensive oil and gas exploration in Alaska as well as large parts of the American West. ( The oil industry is working overtime to defeat clean energy. This grieves me deeply. I don’t have the answer on how to supply the world with the growing demand for fuel and energy, but from what I understand we do have the technology to bring green, sustainable energy to market.

How do I take in all this information without living in hopelessness or despair? I allow myself to feel the pain of the world. My heart breaks. While in the same breath, the miracle is that I am simply awed by the wonder of creation. The light coming through the trees and the birdsong this morning moved me to tears. Listening to the coo-coo-coo of the mourning dove, we are one. There is so much beauty around us, we need only slow down and be present to it. For me, awakening to beauty is how we awaken to the sacred in the everyday. If everything is sacred, everything is safe. One of my favorite authors and voices for the Earth is Terry Tempest Williams. She writes eloquently about beauty, art, and the natural world. She asks the question “where do we find beauty in a broken world?” in her most recent book and discovers that “we find beauty in a broken world by creating beauty in the world we find.” Creating beauty, art, as a form of devotion to the sacred. This is my calling. What is yours? I believe we each have a gift that is uniquely our own that is asking to be brought forward during this planetary time. We need your gift. The world needs it. To quote the Buddha: “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”

Prayer for Peace

‘Prayer’ 2009
Clay (unfired)

This sculpture transformed through many different variations before this Kuan Yin-like figure emerged out of the clay. Kuan Yin or “She Who Hears the Cries of the World,” is the Bodhisattva of compassion in the Eastern Traditions. In the West, we also know her as Mary, Sophia, Shekinah, the Beloved, or Goddess—the Sacred Feminine who goes by so many names. This piece speaks to me as a prayer for peace through compassion. This is my artful prayer towards ending violence against the other and towards all Creation, our beloved Mother Earth, who gives and sustains life. According to Thich Nhat Hanh: “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.” At this time in history, I believe we are all being called to listen and to bear witness to each other and to the living body of the Earth. By being present in this way, we break open our hearts to compassion and begin the journey towards healing and hope.

Overcome any bitterness that may have come
because you were not up to the magnitude of the pain
that was entrusted upon you.
Like the Mother of the world,
who carries the pain of the world in her heart,
each one of us is part of her heart,
and therefore endowed
with a certain measure of cosmic pain.
You are sharing in the totality of that pain.
You are called upon to meet it in joy
instead of self-pity.
—Sufi saying

May all beings know peace.

Shri Yantra Mandala

Shri Yantra Mandala

Soul-symbol Mandala for G. Ota
At the center of the mandala is a Hindu ‘Shri Yantra.’ This represents the union between the masculine and feminine. The Sri Yantra is a configuration of nine interlacing triangles centered around the bindu (center), drawn by the super imposition of five downward pointing triangles, representing Shakti; the female principle and four upright triangles, representing Shiva; the male principle. The nine triangles also represent the spiritual journey from the material realm to ultimate enlightenment. I was drawn to this symbol for you as it brings together in union your bold, masculine nature (as you spoke of with me) with those feminine aspects of yourself—compassionate heart, relationality, generosity, and healer.

The center of the mandala symbolizes the cosmos, the union with the divine (enoughness), which is then held by the cycles of the moon (31 days to represent your birth month) and nature (where you feel closest to God) and the cycles of the seasons. The four Japanese characters read as the cycles of the seasons. To the North is Winter. To the East is Spring (daffodils). To the South is Summer (echinacea). To the West is Fall. Framing the mandala, I was drawn to the bright red and green from the Japanese culture which represents your ancestral line and wisdom. The lotus pattern a reminder of death, rebirth, and healing. When you meditate with this mandala, my hope is that you will know that you are more than enough and whole. You are one with all creation and a gift to us all.

About Soul Symbol Mandalas
Mandala is sanskrit for circle. The mandala has long been a vehicle for healing and meditation in many spiritual traditions including Native American and Tibetan sand paintings. In Christianity, the twelfth-century abbess and visionary Hildegard of Bingen often expressed her illuminations of God through mandala paintings. A mandala represents wholeness and can be seen as a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our connection to the Divine, or God, as well as our interconnectedness in the web of life. In this way, mandalas are an expression of the Sacred that is both immanent and transcendent.

My studies in the spiritual traditions of the world have given me a broader understanding of the shared symbolism that weaves itself throughout the sacred texts of Eastern and Western religions—most notably within the mystical arms of these religions—with those of earth-honoring traditions. It is my intention to create a visual tapestry that expresses our innate interconnectedness within the web of life. In 2002, I began practicing and studying earth-based spirituality and, more recently, shamanism which is an ancient but still practiced healing modality among indigenous communities around the world. Bringing together these two ancient healing practices of the mandala and shamanism, I offer original soul-symbol mandalas to support you on your spiritual and healing journey. Contact me at for more information. aho