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.
My soul has been reluctant to let go of the slow rhythm and interiority of the dark winter days yet it is impossible to deny that spring has indeed arrived early in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike the copious amounts of snow that our brothers and sisters on the East coast have endured, our winter weather has been very mild. Blooming earlier than normal, I took these Cherry Tree photos in the cemetery today near my home/studio where I walk almost daily. They are so gorgeous and with the abundant birdsong, I was overwhelmed by the awe and wonder of creation. Over the years, I have come to know this cemetery well (new arrivals or new statues, headstones, flowers, and landscaping) as I walk among the remains of those who have gone before us, often prematurely. People sometimes find it odd that I walk amidst the dead, but for me it is a reminder of the fragility of life which encourages me to appreciate life more fully, to follow my soul’s calling both creatively and spiritually, and to not take this brief time I/we have on this beautiful planet for granted. Sadly, we need look no further than Haiti and Chile to remember that truth. On a personal level, I’ve written about my own losses here so this isn’t new territory but at times—especially during this epoch period of transformation and suffering for so many around the globe—it can be easy to slip into fear of the unknown or the future, so these walking meditations are a way for me to practice being more present to life, beauty, love, and gratitude. What brings you more fully alive? Feel free to share your thoughts or feelings around this.
I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.
Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that’s wide and timeless.
So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots
a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.
–Rainer Maire Rilke
Translation Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy