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.
From my July Newsletter:
In last month’s newsletter I wrote about contemplative living and the practice of slowing down and being present to what the late Trappist monk Thomas Merton referred to as the “spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life.” (Click here to read the issue). Another aspect of contemplative living is practicing the “art of waiting.” We live in a world driven by productivity, so the notion of waiting can feel uncomfortable and generate some anxiety within us. I was noticing this for myself recently after having come through a very fruitful time, artistically and intellectually (post graduate school). I wanted to keep the momentum moving; instead, my energy waned and my efforts in the studio came to naught. While I attributed part of this inertia to my despair over the Gulf crisis, I discovered that it was necessary for me to surrender, to rest in the unknown, and to wait. Instead of trying to push my agenda forward, I had to trust in Spirit…have faith in Divine Imagination. It was about this time when I was drawn back to Sue Monk Kidd’s “When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions.” In a chapter entitled, Quickaholic Spirituality, she writes:
What has happened to our ability to dwell in unknowing, to live inside a question and coexist with the tensions of uncertainty? Where is our willingness to incubate pain and let it birth something new? What has happened to patient unfolding, to endurance? These things are what form the ground of waiting. And if you look carefully, you’ll see that they’re also the seedbed of creativity and growth.
This also brought to mind the poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice in “Letters to A Young Poet.” He wrote:
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Even though it can feel uncomfortable, even chaotic at times, the “art of waiting” (like gestation) is the natural state prior to giving birth. To our Self. To our art/creativity. To a new chapter in our lives. And collectively, giving birth to a new vision for humanity. For me, this is a vision grounded in our interconnectedness in the web of creation and our co-creating a world that works for all. We are living with much uncertainty these days but our spiritual leaders also speak of this time as a period of great transformation and that we are all part of this evolutionary process. The art of waiting…with patience and kindness towards Self…creates space for listening to the soul, discerning inner guidance, developing creativity, and answering the call towards healing ourselves and our world. So, the next time you feel overwhelmed that life isn’t progressing as quickly, or in the way you had envisioned it might…surrender, wait, listen. And remember to breathe!
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Like so many of us, I am completely bereft at the environmental crisis unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. I sob watching the news or while listening to radio commentators pontificate endlessly on who is responsible for this? Yes, BP and ultimately, greed, are responsible. But I also ask myself, aren’t we all responsible on some level? With the world’s desperate need for more and more oil to maintain lifestyles that are not sustainable, I wonder what is the price we are willing to pay for that? How many species will we need to lose before we (in developed countries) radically alter our way of life? Listening to those around me, I hear anger, frustration, grief, despair, and hopelessness. Some are praying. Others turn away. It’s too much to bear. I’ve written much here about the importance of bearing witness but at times like this it can be difficult. I wonder daily if this will be the collective wake-up call humanity requires in order to shift our allegiance, and addiction, to fossil fuels and move more quickly towards sustainable energy. I hope. I pray, too. I simplify.
One way that I am working to reduce my fossil fuel footprint is to limit buying vegetables that are grown (most often with pesticides) and shipped from other parts of the world such as Mexico and South America. For years I have only bought organic, but over the past winter I purchased my vegetables locally or within one state away whenever possible which reduces the amount of petroleum necessary for shipping long distances. Okay, an occasional cucumber slipped by, but for the most part I was consistently checking labels as to where my food was coming from. Here in Portland, we have thriving farmer’s markets throughout the city and many of us are now growing our own food which is great. And there is often a friend or neighbor with extra to share and fresh eggs, too! For me, the choice to be mindful around my food source has also been an opportunity to expand my creativity into the kitchen. Instead of tasteless tomatoes shipped from Mexico, I use other ingredients with salad greens which expands my culinary repertoire while attempting in some small way to lessen my footprint on this beautiful Earth. To quote artist Lily Yeh: “To live your values is political.” (Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams) The food also tastes better and what a wonderful opportunity to bring more creativity into our daily lives. Food growing and creation is truly an art form. This year I am expanding my vegetable garden and am excited to see what delights I can create out of this richness. I’m currently reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which has quickly become a sacred text for me. It is her families account of how for one year they only ate what they could grow or buy from local farmers. It’s very inspiring as well as educational about the food industry, farming, and growing. (Food, Inc. is a documentary worth viewing as well.) The book includes recipes and Kingsolver writes with great humor and insight. Well worth reading if you haven’t checked it out!
In the meantime, life goes on for the rest of us who aren’t immediately affected (not yet anyhow) by the crisis unlike the residents along the Gulf. My heart goes out to the many communities whose lives depend on the waters and her creatures for their livelihood and survival. Many years ago as a young adult, I lived on the coast of Florida. It’s pristine sandy white beaches, aquamarine waters, dolphins, and stunning sunsets were all part of the landscape in which I walked, worked, loved, and played. It was a magical time, in a magical land. May it be saved and preserved for future generations. Pray it may be so. Aho!
The Peace of Wild Things
— Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Reading Alex Grey’s Art Psalms as I begin my days in the studio. His voice and vision encourage me to go on in spite of lingering fears around the challenges of making a living as an artist (and a spiritual artist!) in this world especially within the current economic climate. Making a living these days is difficult enough for many here and abroad and with so many cutbacks, the arts and all creative sectors have been hurt badly. However, once we answer the call there is no going back and it takes fierce courage to stay the course. I believe if we as artists answer that sacred call, it is important to nurture your relationship to the Divine, the universal creative energy that guides each of us, and continue to walk ‘confidently in the direction of [our] dreams’ to quote Thoreau. It’s what is being asked of us during this evolutionary time where new ways of being are emerging as old structures break down. Never give up on your dreams….I love the first line of this mystical rant as he calls them. Art CAN transform the way we see ourselves and the world. Yes!
From “Theosis” by Alex Grey
Art can transform the way we see ourselves and the world.
Sacred art has always depended on this possibility.
Theosis means coming closer to God by contemplation of icons.
New ways of seeing lead to new ways of being.
When your being is transformed,
The world occuring to you transforms.
Contemplation of a Buddha or Christ
Implants the possibility of our own enlightenment.
Icons of a United World, a Sacred Plant
Are essential now, to implant
The possibility of saving our collective lives,
Reverencing our Mother Nature Goddesself,
The One WorldSpirit of all plants and creatures.
Note: There is another stanza between these and I highly recommend buying the book in support of your sacred art calling. As an artist, I try to be mindful of copyright laws for other artists as well even though there is so much available on the web. www.alexgrey.com.
A special day for women seeking to explore the connection
between nature, spirituality, and creativity
Nourish your soul with a day where you can slow down and enter into a sanctuary of contemplation and creativity. Drawing inspiration from the natural world and the four elements of earth/air/fire/water, we will explore the inter-relationship of these elemental energies within the cycles of the seasons and the four stages of a woman’s life. Learn how remembering the ancient wisdom of our ancestors can deepen your connection to the natural world, open new pathways for experiencing your place within the web of life, and inspire your own creativity. Earth, or Gaia, will be our muse for the day as we journey around the wheel of creation and co-create in sacred circle.
Drawing from the earth-honoring traditions and the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the day will include group sharing, play, meditation, contemplative practices, and the creative process. Take away practices that can guide you on your soul path and provide meaningful ways for you to restore your spirit throughout the year.
amy[AT]sacredartstudio.net or 503.239.9671
Directions and what to bring will be provided upon registration.
Space is limited.
The arts, whose task once was considered to be that of manifesting the beautiful, will discuss the idea only to dismiss it, regarding beauty only as the pretty, the simple, the pleasing, the mindless and the easy. Because beauty is conceived so naively, it appears as merely naive, and can be tolerated only if complicated by discord, shock, violence, and harsh terrestrial realities. I therefore feel justified in speaking of the repression of beauty. -James Hillman
And from John O’Donohue’s Beauty: The Invisible Embrace:
“When we awaken to the call of beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world. We were created to be creators. At its deepest heart, creativity is meant to serve and evoke beauty. When this desire and capacity come alive, new wells spring up in parched ground; difficulty becomes invitation and rather than striving against the grain of our nature, we fall into rhythm with its deepest urgency and passion. The time is now ripe for beauty to surprise and liberate us. (7) And “In order to become attentive to beauty, we need to rediscover the art of reverence. . . . A sense of reverence includes the recognition that one is always in the presence of the sacred. To live with reverence is to live without judgment, prejudice and the saturation of consumerism.” (11)
“Beauty will save the world.” —Dostoevsky
Some things to think about on these rainy and blustery Autumnal days. Slowing down, honoring the rhythm of the Earth, the cycles of the seasons, while creating Beauty.
Within the circle of our lives
we dance the circle of the years,
the circles of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the season,
the circles of our reasons
within the cycles of the moon.
Above is my Harvest Moon: Autumn Mandala
The harvest moon is the moon at and about the period of fullness that is nearest to the autumnal equinox. The Fall is the time for going inward. Here, the bears represent the hibernation or inwardness of the spirit as they march to the west which is the cardinal direction associated with the Fall. The dream catcher in the center adds to this theme where the jeweled net of Indra (from the Buddhist tradition) invites us to remember that all phenomena are intimately connected.
I’ve been reflecting on the Hopi message today and watched an interview with Joanna Macy from the Pachamama Alliance. Powerful messages of hope, love, creativity, and imagination! We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Aho
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…”
The Elders, Hopi Nation, Oraibi, Arizona 2000