but the silence of our friends.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
|Alchemy of Change, 12×12″ 2020, ©Amy Livingstone|
From my June Newsletter
Greetings Earth Lovers
What a difference a few weeks makes. We are living in extraordinary times indeed. I know many of us are feeling the sorrow (and outrage) of our collective history and the racial injustice towards people of color in this country. We are a nation founded on genocide and slavery and it now feels there is reckoning for those of us who have had the luxury to turn away. But the time is now. Change is here. I pray that like the lotus that grows out of the watery muck and the butterfly that emerges from the darkness of its chrysalis, that the beauty of unity, justice, healing, and reconciliation will blossom.
The arts are playing a significant role at this time. Numerous books, films, and documentaries offer us an opportunity to learn and understand. I don’t know how to have the difficult conversations but as a white woman, right now I am educating myself and ready to listen.
No surprise then that butterfly woman (see my first mandala at this link) is reappearing at this threshold of my life as I embark on the next stage of this journey and navigate my second Saturn return. This 29-year cycle is often a time of disruption and transformation, and a necessary shedding occurs that opens space for the new. Has this been true for you? My first Saturn return was marked by the deaths of my brother and mother that initiated me into a new awareness of the preciousness of life, prompting my relocation to Portland 25 years ago.
I have been blessed to call this place home all these years and it has been through a long period of discernment that I have decided to move back to the East coast. It’s a leap into the unknown which is at the heart of any pilgrimage. And as pilgrims on the path, we must follow the call of the soul. This doesn’t mean it has been easy or without grief and many sleepless nights but the signs are clear. It’s time to spread my wings.
The signs were emerging four years ago, during an Animas Valley quest into the wild indigenous soul but I was caring for my elderly father and was unable to make a move at that time. This came via email recently from one of my teachers and guides on the quest, Bill Plotkin:
If you’re in Colorado, I’ll be back to Mile Hi for the closing of my show on September 30th. Hope to see you there!
Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the mass man will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.
In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you,
when you see the silent candle burning.
Now you are no longer caught
in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.
Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced this:
to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.
Greetings Earth Lovers
This poem felt appropriate given my recent reworking of the Butterfly Woman Mandala shown above along with Vernal Equinox and Easter weekend upon us. Emerging from the dark chrysalis of winter, we find ourselves once again in this time of rebirth where beauty abounds. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, Mother Earth is coming back to life–trees, flowers, and shrubs are budding and birdsong is abundant.
It’s no coincidence that Easter coincides with Spring Equinox. Scholars agree that Christianity borrowed from, and was grafted over, the pagan cultures of the ancient world. The etymology of Easter originates from Astarte, the goddess of spring, fertility and sexuality. Hence the rabbits and eggs during the holy day festivities. This time of year does usher in a fecundity, a ripening energy that is the life force that feeds new growth, communion with the beloved, and our creativity. Perhaps you are feeling “insane for the light” as Goethe writes?
Butterfly Woman was the first mandala that I painted during a 4-day workshop in Canada back in 2003. It was my first piece of sacred art as I was launching Sacred Art Studio that same year and a year prior to the start of my graduate studies in Spiritual Traditions & Ethics. This mandala never felt quite finished and I was inspired to revisit the painting in celebration of Spring. Adding the earth adds balance and gives a universality to a message of global transformation that is attempting to be born during this evolutionary time. Here, the divine feminine emerges from the dark womb of her chrysalis, and holds the light of hope as Christ offered in his time. Once again, resurrecting a new, and ancient, way of being in relationship to each other and our world, Pachamama.
Spring and Easter blessings!
I was re-visiting my first book of eco-philosophy today, A Sacred Place to Dwell: Living with Reverence Upon the Earth by Henryk Skolimowski, that I discovered in 2003. Reading this sacred text was life changing and inspired me to go on to graduate school to study spiritual traditions and ethics within an interdisciplinary framework. Although I had considered an MFA and a Master’s in Art Therapy at the time, I felt called to this other scholarly path to better understand the disconnect between humanity and all of creation— philosophically, theologically, sociologically, and psychologically, etc. I wasn’t interested in being part of a contemporary art world driven by the notion of art-for-art’s sake or the pathologies of dis-ease associated with art therapy, though I bow in gratitude to those who follow the latter calling. My artwork has been a response to this original inquiry and The Translator especially speaks to the creation of a new language, what some are now calling “the new story,” of our interdependence and reverence for the earth. You can read about the painting here.
Skolimowski put forward this “New Gospel” and share that here with you.
For love of the EARTH!
The New Gospel
- The World is a Sanctuary.
- You were born creative.
- You hold destiny in your hands.
- You have the responsibility to do your part.
- The web of life includes all forms of life, human and non-human.
- Be compassionate to others.
- Be gentle to yourself.
- Be mindful how you treat your body.
- Be mindful of what you think and what you eat.
- You were born into a beautiful world.
- Your nature is divine.
- You divinity must reveal itself in your action.
- Suffering cannot be avoided.
- The fact of death cannot be avoided.
- Celebrate! The universe is in a state of self-celebration.
- What is your path of liberation? To begin with, you need to take yourself seriously.
- Oikos (Eco)—A Sacred Enclosure (oikos is Greek for ‘home.’)
- Achieve wholeness through your own effort.
- We are meaning makers.
A friend recently loaned me Paulo Coelho’s The Valkyries. It’s always interesting the synchronicity in which relevant insights or messages show up in our lives via books or other means just when it is needed most. As I close out this decade and prepare for the next chapter of this amazing journey called life, I have been spending time in reflection as is natural when crossing any threshold that brings us to another level of consciousness or growth. While in the same breath, I wrestle with my Buddha nature that insists that I remain in the present moment. So, I surrender the battle and allow to be as it is and trust that some pearl of wisdom will come forward that needs to be expressed through me. It’s not terribly comfortable in this place—this liminal space, betwixt and between—where there is potential for a symbolic death before a rebirth. Like the quintessential symbol of transformation, the butterfly in the chrysalis, awaiting its emergence to the light. Butterflies have always been a spirit guide for me (long before I knew what that meant) and always appear during times of transition whether through my drawings as a teen, more recently in this mandala as seen above, or like today in my meditation. So, I wait…I reflect. I believe Kierkegaard was correct that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Which leads me back to the Coelho book.
The Valkyries is an autobiographic account of his 40-day pilgrimage into the Mojave Desert to find the answer to: “Why is it that we destroy the things we love most?” The Valkyries are spiritual warriors in the guise of a motorcycle gang made up of leather clad women, led by Valhalla. They are messengers who ride through the desert preaching of a new world to come, one that is grounded in love. (The book is rich with symbolism and I highly recommend reading it.) According to Coelho, we enter into pacts with ourselves and the world around us that keep us from pursuing our dreams.
Ultimately, he adds, out of fear we end up sabotaging our relationships and our potential for success. While reading, this also reminded me of Marianne Williamson who wrote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” The story unfolds like that of an indigenous rite of initiation that includes a tripartite process of separation, transformation, and return. In the book, there occurs what appears to be a ritual cleansing of sorts at the start of the journey where he and his wife go into the desert and nearly die from heat stroke. Separation from reality into non-ordinary reality.
Coelho and his wife then enter a cave (the chrysalis of transformation) with Valhalla and recounts the pact he made with himself when he was in his twenties to stop believing in magic, love, and his gift. He emerges into the light and later receives forgiveness during a ritual theatre encounter. By the end of the novel, Coehlo makes a bet with his angel—a blue butterfly—to believe again. Acceptance and return. A symbolic death/rebirth occurs and the initiation process is complete. We often hear this referred to as the heroes journey to the underworld and his/her triumphant return bearing gifts for the world. In Coehlo’s parable, we discover it is love that is our greatest gift.
He writes: “We, at this moment in history, must develop our own powers. We must believe that the universe doesn’t end at the walls of our room. We must accept the signs, and follow our heart and our dreams. ” And, “The day will come when love will be accepted…..Our defects, our dangerous depths our suppressed hatreds, our moments of weakness and desperation—all are unimportant. If what we want to do is heal ourselves first, so that then we can go in search of our dreams, we will never reach paradise. If, on the other hand, we accept all that is wrong about us—and despite it, believe that we are deserving of a happy life—then we will have thrown open an immense window that will allow Love to enter. Little by little, our defects will disappear, because one who is happy can look at the world only with love—the force that regenerates everything that exists in the Universe.”
A deep soul immersion, or pilgrimage, to the Utah desert has been calling me for some time but taking 40 days out of my life right now isn’t an option. So, I ask myself, how can everyday be a pilgrimage towards opening more fully to love—right here, right now. Love is at the heart of all spiritual traditions. Love for the beloved, the neighbor, for God/Spirit. And for me, love of the Earth. Twenty years ago, I underwent a journey to the underworld and returned transformed out of the darkness. Since that time, I have broken the pact that had prevented me from living my life as an artist but I wonder where are the places in my life where I have prevented love from entering amidst my ambitions, my fears? How do I sabotage my own happiness at times? So, I wait. Sit in the unknowing of this threshold time. I reflect on my life. Learning to accept, to forgive the past, and open more fully to love in the present moment. As Valhalla says, “There is no sin but the lack of love.” What is the pact you have made that prevents you from living your dreams? What is the pact you made that prevents you from believing you are worthy to love and be loved? These are the questions that I am asking of myself these days. Never give up on your dreams or love!
The Truelove by David Whyte
There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours,
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.
I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.
Years ago in the Hebrides
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of baying seals,
who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water,
and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them,
and how we are all
waiting for that
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly,
but more subtly
and intimately in the face
of the one you know
you have to love,
so that when
we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
us, and everything confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown you could,
but you don’t
after all this struggle
and all these years,
you don’t want to any more,
you’ve simply had enough
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness,
however fluid and however
dangerous, to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.