Category Archives: holy listening
Happy Solstice + Heartspace Anthology Now Available
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again’.” -Lewis Carroll
Frosty mornings here on the land. ©Amy Livingstone
Very chilly mornings have arrived here in North Carolina! Warm thoughts to those who are experiencing the deep polar vortex and pray for those vulnerable to the cold—human and more-than-human. I’m grateful for shelter and embrace the interiority of the season and the darkness as a time of reflection, inspiration, and creative visioning. May the beauty of the season be yours and inspire your own creativity in the spirit of joy, peace, and healing.
Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
tossed an indeterminate number
of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.
I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –
it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried
over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out
my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,
whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.
I feel blessed to be included in this anthology of essays around grief, healing, and transformation. It’s published by Heart2Heart, a local non-profit here in North Carolina that supports individuals, families and communities who are in the sacred passage of the dying time, and also those that are navigating grief through movement, massage therapy, and sacred music.
My contribution in this collection is titled: “The Healing Power of Art and Holy Listening” about my transformative journey through grief after the deaths of my brother and mother thirty years ago that led me to this path. There are many other inspirational stories that I look forward to reading as well. If you are looking for support or inspiration on your journey, it’s available on Kindle or in paperback here.
Compassion in Action: Reflections from the Parliament
New Painting in Process, ©Amy Livingstone
From my October newsletter:
I returned home from the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City a week ago but my heart is still in Utah with the 10,0000 people who attended the Parliament. Ten thousand men, women, and children/youth from 80 countries and 50 faith traditions ranging from indigenous, goddess, pagan, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, B’ahai, Buddhist, Hindu, artists, activists, priestesses, and healers. All in agreement to the holiness of our sacred container where love and compassion were generated in our honoring of diversity while recognizing the common threads of our shared humanity. I felt that I traveled the world in five days and found a home. A tribe. The theme this year was centered around “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity.”
The Ute tribe of Utah welcomed us to their ancestral lands and our indigenous brothers and sisters lit a sacred fire that burned throughout the Parliament. There was much praying, chanting, singing, dancing, a Cosmic Mass, and ceremonies but many tears were shed as well as we listened and bore witness to the numerous crises of our time. Religious extremism, social and economic inequality, climate change, and the rights of women and indigenous peoples.
The message was clear, people of faith (wouldn’t that be all of us?) have a moral obligation to step up and take action. Every plenary, every talk I attended addressed the urgency of this critical time and that we each have a role to play. Large and small. It was affirming of my work as a sacred artist and activist and returned energized to continue my mission in service to Mother Earth and all beings that began a decade ago.
What is calling you during this evolutionary time?
There were so many powerful moments and presenters, many whose work I have followed for years including Vandana Shiva, Terry Tempest Williams, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Marianne Williamson, Karen Armstrong, Jane Goodall, and the Dali Lama who spoke to us via satellite. The indigenous plenary was one of the most profound and moving. An elder from Greenland told us that the ice is melting and there is nothing we can do about it. He was looking for the one hope for future generations. I don’t know that I can ever forget his wailing song to the ancestors who we will need if we are to survive the future.
It is a good time with Sawhain (Halloween) this week to honor and welcome back your ancestors.
Our time together was an urgent call but it was surprisingly filled with hope. So many people on the ground doing the Great Work for other beings, human and non-human, and our beloved Mother Earth, Gaia, Pachamama.
I’ve been working on this new painting since my return. Our fragile world is cracking and transformation is assured. What will our world look like in 20 years? What part are you playing or will play in this Great Turning? “Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.” -Terry Tempest Williams.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
For love of the EARTH!
I want to write about faith,
about the way the moon rises
over cold snow, night after night,
faithful even as it fades from fullness,
slowly becoming that last curing and impossible
slither of light before the final darkness.
But I have no faith myself
I refuse it the smallest entry.
Let this then, my small poem,
like a moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith.
What does it mean to have faith? Faith in god(s)? Faith in science? Faith that our elected officials will indeed make choices that benefit all citizens of this country while passing legislation to protect our ailing planet and all her creatures? Or closer to home: faith that my father will walk without pain and the assistance of a walker? It has been an excruciating few months for us all as both he and my stepmother have been in and out of hospitals, rehab, and seeing countless specialists for one ailment or another. This is a world that most of us, including myself, are ill prepared for and I have ridden every emotional wave one can imagine. Walking a spiritual path is certainly easier when the way is smooth but how do we navigate the physical, emotional, and psychic landscape of our being as we hit the inevitable bumps in the road on this human journey? On a good day, when I’m not exhausted, I know from my history that I am standing in a threshold and that on the other side is, ultimately, transformation. How to keep faith in that?
First. Knowing that we are not alone. That most of us collectively, and globally, are experiencing similar upheavals in our lives and on a much larger scale than my scenario. That we are all standing in a common threshold amidst one of the largest evolutionary periods that has occurred in our human history. According to the Andean prophecy of “The Eagle and the Condor,” we are living in a time known as the Fifth Pachacuti, meaning world turned upside down. I first learned of the prophecy when I was preparing to go on pilgrimage to Peru in 2006. Since then, we have been witnessing what social thinker and visionary David Korten has coined the great unraveling in the larger context of the current global economic, political, and ecological crises. As this prophecy plays out on a microcosmic level in our personal lives, how can we find ways to support one another as we go forward? In my workshops and retreats, participants practice compassionate listening and I have seen the power of this seemingly simple act time and again. Listening with an open heart. Out of our own discomfort, we often feel an impulse to give advice or share our experience when the person we love is going through a painful transition. But being silent, listening deeply, is the greatest gift we can give to one another. When we feel heard, we can heal the wounded heart.
Second. Keeping faith in human creativity which I have written about often here. And a profound belief that art in all its forms contributes to the healing of our hearts and our world. Though my time in the studio has been limited over the past few months, I am excited to share that the short-documentary (10 min) “Journey into the Creation” is complete. “Like” Sacred Art Studio on Facebook to learn more about the symbolism behind the “Lovers of Creation” triptych and watch for opportunities to view the painting and the video.
Sadly, I may not have faith in our political system to change, but like Whyte, I have faith in the moon. Faith in the ability of the earth, Pachamama as she is known in South America, to heal and regenerate herself. Having faith in the wisdom of the earth is a coming home to our place in the web of life and what the prophecy is asking of us now at this time. To remember we are all of the earth and to make those often difficult choices to live mindfully and sustainably on this beloved planet. May it be so.
What or who do you have faith in? As always, I welcome your thoughts.
For love of the EARTH!
The Art of Waiting
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!
To sign up for my monthly newsletter, go to www.sacredartstudio.net
Gifts from the Mother
Although my grief has subsided over time, I can’t help but feel a few pangs of sorrow on Mother’s Days. Like many of us, I am missing mother love from the woman who gave birth to me. Hard to believe it will be twenty years next month since my mom died suddenly from heart failure. I was out of the country at the time and returned home a day too late, to find her gone—poof—vanished into thin air, or so it seemed. It had only been ten days since I left but it felt like I had just waved goodbye to her as I headed to the airport for my vacation to Bora Bora. The last thing she said to me was: “I hope you have so much fun that you don’t finish your book.” Then she was gone. She died nine months after my brother’s death from AIDS. Not being a mother myself, I can only imagine how heart wrenching it was for her to see her only beloved son suffer in such pain in those final weeks, days, moments. I felt the anguish having been present as well but not through the lens of a mother. Friends who are parents now tell me it is their worst nightmare. I couldn’t ease her pain.
During that same period of time, my brother’s partner also died as well as a very close friend of mine from a brain hemorrhage. There was so much death around me. I was broken and ill prepared at that age to deal with my grief. I also didn’t have guidance or the wisdom to find my way through this emotional landscape and I began a rapid descent into darkness.
To the world, I probably appeared to be functioning but on the inside and when alone, I was nearly suicidal. St. John of the Cross and what is now commonly referred to as the “dark night of the soul” were unknown to me then but looking back I see that descent as the initiation into my spiritual journey and it took a decade to fully emerge into the light—a dark cloud having comfortably settled in above me over the years. Aside from the possibility of a few guardian angels, I believe what “saved” me early on was finding a compassionate therapist and the act of painting. [Shown here is my painting that honors what my mother loved most. Her wedding dress (my father), gardenia (her favorite flower), our home in New Hamsphire, and her five children.] This is why I believe so passionately in holy listening and creativity to transform the wounded heart and why I feel called to bring these healing modalities to others on their journey as well. This is the gift that has emerged out of my dark night of the soul. Gifts from my mother. Compassion. Being of service to others as well as to the healing of the Earth.
There are many gifts that emerge out of our suffering and numerous examples of this happening in our world today. In our grief, we often begin to ask deeper questions about the meaning of life. Why am I here? What is my purpose? How best can I serve? Our suffering brings life more fully into focus and enlivens us to what is most essential. For most of us, that is LOVE. Love of the other, family, the beloved, God/Spirit. And for me, love of the Earth. Tomorrow we will celebrate and remember our mothers. I honor my mother and bow to all mothers around the globe for their tireless devotion to raising our children—our future generations. What a sacred task they have in our world. Blessed be! And may we also celebrate the Great Mother of us all, Mother Earth who gives and sustains all life. May we honor and protect her from harm. May we send a prayer of healing to the Gulf of Mexico and all the creatures who are and will be affected by this crisis. In gratitude and love.
Here is a poem written by my late brother for my mother:
In my mother I see this lady of grace
An uncertain mystery ‘neath filmy lace.
She is mine and she is yours, shining
Like twin suns in our own starry night.
Unconquerable and undiminished, she is our light;
And so, guiding us through rocky terrain
As if only ‘twere casual summer rain.
How my thoughts do run to thee
In any chosen season, be it shimmering
Spring or a faltering fall, you visit
Me in my peaceful sleep like the
Kiss of sweet angels sent from heaven
To be my recompense in the long nights silence.
Rejoice, my fragrant soulful woman,
womb of this all too solid flesh,
Celebrate the love of all whom you know
And I will see you when summer breezes blow.
–Richard H Livingstone, Jr. (1974)