|“It’s absurd to think of artists simply as ‘painting nature.’ . . . For them, nature is a medium, a language by which they reveal their world. What genuine painters do is to reveal the underlying psychological and spiritual conditions of their relationship to their world. . . They have the power to reveal the underlying meaning of any period precisely because the essence of art is the powerful and live encounter between the artist and his or her world.” -Rollo May|
I recently picked up and began re-reading Rollo May’s The Courage to Create that I first encountered back in graduate school. It’s an inspiring manifesto for the artist around the importance of art and creativity in a societal context as well as unconscious obstacles that are necessary to overcome in order to give birth to our artistic vision. For example, the relationship between creativity and death, our immortality, and what he refers to as “an active battle with the gods.”
Not unlike Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art, it means moving past resistance and trusting in the process. That the “gods” are actually on our side. Showing up even when it’s challenging. Not always easy but it is possible at any stage of our life.
It takes courage, which comes from the French root coeur or heart, to show up for creative work. A very talented friend of mine recently picked up a paintbrush again after 30 years. She entered her gorgeous painting into a juried exhibition and it was accepted. It’s never too late to pick up a brush, or the pen.
I can recognize when I’m hitting resistance in my process usually when nearing completion. While working on the above (from the Where We Stand is Holy installation), I needed to surrender for a time and then wrestle with the angels or demons that kept me from moving forward. It’s a breakthrough moment and am now in the finishing stages of this piece that shines a light on the creatures of the Arctic regions threatened by climate change. Where are you resisting your creative expression?
If you read or subscribe to the Science of Mind magazine look for my article, “Sacred Art. Sacred Activism.,” in the August issue.
Happy Interdependence Day!
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.
The winged-ones are speaking through me lately as I work on a new painting; the first in a series I’m calling “Where I Stand is Holy.” This particular vision came to me following my recent wildness trek with Animas Institute. On our last evening, we were invited to share a poem, song, or expression of our soul inspired by our experience. As I shared back in August (see previous post), I felt a deep connection to the forest, Tahoma (Mt Rainier), and White River. The landscape felt holy to me and was reminded of what Yahweh says to Moses: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5). When we are standing on Mother Earth, Pachamama, we are standing on holy ground. So that evening, I walked out in front of our group, removed my sandals, and sang a song that we often sing during our community sweat lodge. I changed the wording from sitting to standing but it goes like this:
Where I stand is holy, holy is this ground.
Forest, mountain, river, listen to the sound.
Great Spirit circles all around me.
Singing is not my particular gift and rarely sing outside the lodge let alone in front of a group of people that I don’t know well but I felt called to share what was alive for me in that moment. The river spoke to me of letting go of safety and trusting in the journey even when the path is uncertain. It was a very sweet moment and am grateful I found the courage to be vulnerable in front of these other beings–human and non-human. How often do we silence ourselves out of fear of being judged or abandoned?
The first painting of this 4-panel series that will once again address threatened species includes the Arctic Tern, Varied Thrush, and American Three-toed Woodpecker (view more at my Facebook and Twitter pages) and they are three of 314 North American birds that are threatened by climate change. The Audubon Society is tracking this and you can learn more and pledge to take action at this link. The painting process has been emerging slowly as the vision becomes clearer to me but there is also a feeling of uncertainty as to whether I can actually manifest what it is that I am being called by Spirit to create. This will be a time-intensive project and feels a bit overwhelming at times. Some days, I hear that little voice inside my head that says I “should” (a word that should be eliminated from our vocabulary!) create artworks that are more commercially viable but this is where my soul is called to be. So everyday, I show up, listen, and trust that I am being guided to serve not only my soul but the earth and the creatures in this way. Where might you be called to serve your soul and our world?
Check back often for updates or visit my Facebook page.
This is a brief excerpt from a paper I wrote in 2004 while completing graduate studies at Marylhurst University. Founded by Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality informs my spiritual path as well as provides a framework for my workshops and retreats.
Creation Spirituality is intrinsically grounded in cosmology and creativity. Its theology is based on a reverence for life and honoring the sacredness in all of creation extending to the universal whole. As we are born of creation—a creative process in itself—we are, therefore, born with an innate desire to create. Creativity imbues the Creation Spirituality tradition in a way that allows us to connect to the Divine, recognize our interconnectivity, and thus act for the welfare of all. Creation Spirituality is the path to awakening, healing, and transformation. It’s ecumenical in its inclusivity and draws on the wisdom of the ancient peoples and the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages, specifically Meister Eckhart, the fourteenth century Dominican mystic. The Four Paths of Creation Spirituality include the Via Positiva, Via Negativa, Via Creativa, and the Via Transformativa. “The backbone of the creation spirituality tradition is its naming of the spiritual journey in the Four Paths. It is important to be able to name the journey so that people can share in a common language” (M. Fox, Creation 17). This is a language that honors the awe and wonder of creation (Path 1), the darkness and letting go (Path 2), creativity as giving birth to our Divinity (Path 3), and an awakening to act in service to justice and compassion (Path 4).
Can Creation Spirituality infused with a reverence for life, cosmology, and art transform cultural attitudes towards the living body of earth?
Most often we think of the natural world as an economic resource, or as a place of recreation after a wearisome period of work, or as something of passing interest for its beauty on an autumn day when the radiant colors of the oak and maple leaves give us a moment of joy. All these attitudes are quite legitimate, yet in them all there is what might be called a certain trivializing attitude. If we were truly moved by the beauty of the world about us, we would honor the earth in a profound way. . . . and turn away with a certain horror from all those activities that violate the integrity of the planet. (T. Berry, Dream 10)
During this time in history, we are facing an environmental crisis never before experienced by any other civilization. The geobiological structure of the earth that has taken billions of years to bring into existence is now being threatened by the anthropocentric-driven relationship that humans have with the earth—all in the name of progress and growth. If we don’t alter our relationship with the natural world from one of exploitation to one of reverence the future of human life on earth remains questionable. Creation Spirituality is one path to a renewed biocentric relationship with the earth and creativity, and by extension the artist, can contribute to the awakening, healing, and transformation our world; however, the resacralization of nature is a choice that humanity must make for the collective good and for the survival of life on this planet. It is a profound homecoming to our interconnectedness in the web of life and it means a paradigm shift at the deepest level of our humanity that requires the support of our economic, political, religious, and educational institutions. It asks for “the recovery of faith in our creativity and in the artist within each of us and the artists among all of us. . . . It has to do with the rekindling of the spark of hope and vision, of adventure and blessing, that a tired civilization needs” (M. Fox, Blessing 187).
From my August newsletter. Sign up at www.sacredartstudio.net
I want to express my gratitude to all of you who responded so compassionately to last month’s newsletter around my emergency room adventure on July 4th. Throughout the month I’ve had more tests and my heart has been given a clean bill of health. Good news indeed. I was also moved deeply by how many of you shared with me your own despair and anxiety around what is occurring in our world these days–socially, politically, and ecologically. No doubt we live in challenging albeit transformative times. Physically I am well but this experience like others before them (about every decade it seems) has given me pause for reflection and discernment. What has come forward most clearly for me is that we can’t journey through the world alone. As the Hopi elders articulate so well in their prophecy, “The time of the lone wolf is over.” (Read the full Hopi message below) Sadly, I didn’t call any of my friends while being whisked away to the hospital assuming that because of the holiday everyone was going to be away or busy having fun! I was wrong. Numerous friends said they were available and would have been happy to be with me during that ordeal. In truth, many were disappointed that I didn’t call. Why is it so difficult to ask for help?
Lesson #1. Community. We need each other. We need community. Letting others help us, also fills a need for them to feel needed. We all know how good that feels, so time to remember and ask for help when we need it.
My teacher, environmentalist Joanna Macy speaks of three threads of consciousness that are occurring simultaneously at this time. 1: Clinging to the way things have been, i.e., the status quo. 2: Doomsayers, end-time theology, and apocalyptic thinking. 3: The emerging paradigm and the necessary creativity required for our times, or the Great Turning. I tend to vacillate between all three of these but am realizing that the first two are based in fear. Three is grounded in hope.
Lesson #2: Focus on the creativity thread and hope.
And finally. Lesson number #3. Play. I have been blessed with love of my work. A calling all my life towards a creative life and service in some form or another but I have been challenged in giving myself permission to play, for the sake of sheer pleasure. I laugh about being a ‘recovering’ over-achiever but sense there is something yet to release around that. This is the hardest lesson for me and am noticing my judgments around the notion of ‘fun.’ So, now I’m making play dates.
Community. Creativity. Play. And I would add that all three are grounded in love. Love of the other, love of beauty, and love for life.
Are you connecting to community, expressing your creativity, and making time to play? If so, how? If not, why? As always, I welcome your thoughts.
For love of the EARTH.
Message from the Hopi Elders
We have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour
And there are things to be considered.
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in the right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore,
and push off and into the river,
Keep our eyes open, and our head above the water.
See who is in there with you and Celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all ourselves.
For the moment that we do,
Our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over, Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that you do now must be done in a sacred manner
And in celebration.
“We are the ones we have been waiting for…”
This week I found myself falling into despair after hearing that the one of the largest dams in the world, Belo Monte, has been approved to move into production on the Amazon in Brazil. This will directly impact the indigenous peoples of the region and force many species into extinction. Coupled with the road now being planned to traverse the Serengeti, affecting the migrating patterns of all those wild creatures who roam that landscape, I wept for the lack of vision from our global political leaders who endorse these large-scale projects, bought and paid for by transnational corporations seeking ever more profit. What came to my mind/heart was “With no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) I fear that this is the road we are traveling down and grieve for my little grandnephews and future generations.
However, today I finally read the latest issue of On Earth, the NRDC’s (National Resources Defense Council) quarterly membership magazine. I’ve been a financial supporter for years, do my share of on-line activism, and today I am grateful and inspired to read of so much creativity being birthed through people, every day, on the ground in their communities. From “Planting The Trees of Life” in Haiti, the creation of a new “Green Chemistry” program at UC Berkeley (For designing new products with no toxic chemicals. Imagine that!) to a young woman, Molly Rockamann, who is training people of all ages to learn organic farming in Missouri. Rockamann also founded EarthDance which distributes the food from the 14-acre plot through a CSA (community sponsored agriculture) to the community at large. Ingenuity. Creativity. Hope.
These are but a few examples of the “Great Work” of our time to quote the late eco-theologian Thomas Berry. In his book of the same name, he writes, “We cannot doubt that we too have been given the intellectual vision, the spiritual insight, and even the physical resources we need for carrying out the transition that is demanded of these times, transition from the period when humans were a disruptive force on the planet Earth to the period when humans become present to the planet in a manner that is mutually enhancing. (p.11) Our political leaders may not have vision but we the people do and it is rising out of the necessity for our very survival. We have our creativity. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. It has been said that the change we need in the world will emerge, ground up, instead of coming down via those in traditional leadership roles. Although we–and this planet–desperately need change in our political system as well, until that occurs it is going to be up to each of us to co-create new structures and ways of being in our communities. In his book, Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken writes of the nearly 2 million individuals and organizations working toward ecological sustainability and social justice. This gives me hope.
It still grieves me that polar bears will likely go extinct in my lifetime, as will many other species. And there will be more suffering as people learn to adapt to the changing climate but on a good day, I believe in the creativity of the human spirit. And today, I guess that is as good as it gets.
For love of the EARTH!
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying. Why is this so important? Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause, serendipity reinforces our purpose. This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers[artists] don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete. Just as Resistance has its seat in hell, so Creation has its home in heaven. And it’s not just a witness, but an eager and active ally. What I call Professionalism someone else might call the Artist’s Code or the Warrior’s Way. It’s an attitude of egolessness and service. The Knights of the Round Table were chaste and self-effacing. Yet they dueled dragons. We’re facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, whom we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential and to release the maiden who is God’s plan and destiny for ourselves and the answer to why we were put on this planet.” From “The War of Art” by Stephen Pressfield.
Time. Time. Time. There never seems to be enough of it for many of us so it seems. I hear this often in the media and from friends, clients, family. There are some days I feel it myself. But committing to our creative calling requires slowing down and showing up day after day, trusting that the universal creative energy and the Muses support us in our work. In January, I committed to finishing a large (48 x 48”) mandala painting, or what I am referring to as an Illumination of the Garden that is right here, right now. Through my deep immersion and devotion, the piece has evolved into a triptych and will include an Eve/Lunar/Feminine panel and an Adam/Solar/Masculine panel as well. Together, the paintings will total 96 x 48.” Sometimes it requires a sacrifice in order to commit to our artistic calling. As Pressfield writes, we must be warriors in service to our art. In January, I chose to be a warrior with my time and to let go of other commitments including my January newsletter (apologies), social engagements, cleaning the house, returning phone calls, etc. But that is part of the creative journey, albeit at times what can feel like an isolating one. Ultimately, it is just me and the canvas (the blank page for some of us) along with faith that Spirit is guiding my hand. I trust in the Divine mystery that this is what I’m here to do.
I’m also thankful to fellow artist and nature mystic Rod MacIver from Heron Dance and his insights from his daily e-journal. He wrote recently:
I remind myself this morning why I’ve chosen to live my life this way, to devote myself to art: It is about what is sacred inside us and in the greater universe. It is my role as the artist to explore and optimize that relationship, or those two relationships. If we often fail, it’s okay. Sticking with the struggle is its own triumph.
So, if you’re feeling a nudge toward your art, carve out some time for it. Trust. Breathe in to the anxiety of beginning. Open to it. Be a warrior and let go of diversions (email/TV/chores) in order to answer your Divine calling. 15-30 minutes every morning informs the universe you are serious and it will make a difference. “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” -Goethe
I believe we all have a soul path that we are born to make manifest in this world. For me, as a young child I liked to draw and had a desire towards art before I knew what that meant. As a teen, I wanted to join the Peace Corp and be of service to others. Later, I studied sign language and wanted to teach deaf children. (None of these early aspirations were encouraged—as viable vocations—by my family of origin.) As a young adult, I found myself supporting friends, lovers, and co-workers through the vicissitudes of life, love, and often much drama. Recently, I have been reflecting on my near-death experience from appendicitis when I was sixteen. Had it not been for visiting family friends, who encouraged the emergency room, I may not be here today. We’ll never know for sure, but my appendix ruptured as I lay on the operating table. On an unconscious level, I believe that experience likely altered, or deepened, my orientation to life and purpose. Later, on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, I was ravaged by the loss of my brother, mother, best friend. Family. After the initial descent into the dark night, my heart broke open to the world. I was reborn again in many ways. To compassion. It was a long journey home and by no means an easy one but I’m grateful for the wisdom that emerged out of that long transformative passageway. Ultimately, it opened a pathway to service offering AIDS education/outreach and later facilitating grieving children at the Dougy Center here in Portland. It also created space for me to emerge as a spiritual artist and to answer the call of Spirit to manifest beauty in the world.
I’m sharing my personal story here to illustrate what I believe to be a universal truth…that we each have a unique calling in life and to encourage others to listen deeply to that inner guidance, even when no one around you affirms it to be so. I remember a few voices from the past including my late brother Richard and others who often didn’t really ‘know’ me, strangers in fact, who reflected back to me my potential and what they saw ‘in me’ that was possible. It made all the difference and gave me confidence to follow the muse where ever she would lead me.
In 2002, Spirit guided me to environmentalist and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy. And to a ten-day despair and empowerment intensive that broke open my heart to the suffering and beauty of the world which was, in every way, a spiritual homecoming to my place in the web of life. At the close of our training, we were invited to speak aloud and declare these Bodhisattva vows for the healing of our world. These vows are what continue to guide me in life, in my work, and in my HEART. For love of the EARTH, Pachamama.
I vow to myself and to each of you:
To commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.
To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products, and energy I consume.
To draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, the future beings, and my brothers and sisters of all species.
To support each other in our work for the world and to ask for help when I feel the need.
To pursue a daily spiritual practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my hart, and supports me in observing these vows.
What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure?
I think it is the hope of loving,
or being loved.
I heard a fable once about the sun going on a journey
to find its source, and how the moon wept
without her lover’s
We weep when light does not reach our hearts.
like fields if someone close
does not rain their
“Love is, in fact, an intensification of love, a completeness, a fullness, a wholeness of life. We not live merely in order to vegetate through our days until we die. Nor do we live merely in order to take part in the routines of work and amusement that go on around us. We are not just machines that have to be cared for and driven carefully until they run down. In other words, life is not a straight horizontal line between two points, birth and death. Life curves upward to a peak of intensity, a high point of value and meaning, at which all its latent creative possibilities go into action and the person transcends himself or herself in encounter, response, and communion with another. It is for this that we came into the world–this communion and self-transcendence. And this must not be confined only to sexual fulfillment: it embraces everything in the human person–the capacity for self-giving, for sharing, for creativity, for mutual care, for spiritual concern.
Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone–we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love. And if this love is unreal, the secret will not be found, the meaning will never reveal itself, the message will never be decoded. At best, we will receive a scrambled and partial message, one that will deceive and confuse us. We will never be fully real until we let ourselves fall in love–either with another human person or with God.”
And I might add, falling in love with the earth! Out of love for the earth, may we walk lightly upon her and care for all her creatures. May it be so.
From my August Newsletter. To sign up for my monthly newsletter, go to www.sacredartstudio.net
August. For our earth-honoring ancestors, this is the month of Lammas, a time of thanksgiving which marks the middle of summer and beginning of the harvest season. Because of our wet Spring, harvest season arrived late here in my garden but there has been an abundance of lettuce and the tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini are finally coming in albeit slowly. Broccoli not so good. I’m still learning but everyday I go into the garden with delight to check on their progress while realizing that growing food, simplifying, and learning the ancient ways connects me to the ancestors. I like that. Our spiritual teachers tell us this is the remembering time. So, amidst the oil spill, global warming, the economic crisis, and the overall challenges of modern life, I’m acutely aware of the sacredness of each day and am mindful to not take this one “wild and precious life” for granted, to quote the poet Mary Oliver. In Messenger, she writes:
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
Oliver speaks so exquisitely to the holiness of our world. Seeing and paying attention to that which is at hand is at the heart of the creative process. “Standing still and learning to be astonished.” Beauty. To create art, we must “learn to see” which requires slowness and attention. I remember my first art instructor during my undergraduate years who wadded up a large piece of white paper, threw it on the model stand, and told the class to draw it. Perplexed by the unglamorous nature of the subject, I remember that being one of the most challenging assignments I was asked to undertake. White was not just white. Under the light, and with more scrutiny, I saw colors of yellow, gray, pale blue, and lavender. Light and deep shadow. It was a valuable lesson in seeing and one that provided an early context in which to view the world around me. Not so many years later, my vision would be transformed once again but through grief and loss. Both the light and the dark invite us into a more intimate encounter with the world around us.
An exercise for practicing the art of seeing:
· Choose an object from nature or let it choose you.
· Sit in silence. Contemplate its characteristics.
· Notice the shape, color, texture, light, dark, edges.
· Feel it, smell it, and roll it around in your hands.
· Draw the object without looking at the paper.
· Or write a poem. Or move with it.
What did you notice?
How are you encountering the world? Are you taking time for the sunflowers and the hummingbirds? For creativity? To write? To draw? To dance? To grieve? To quote Oliver, all the ingredients are here, which is gratitude. Like our beloved poet, my work and, indeed, our work is in loving the world.