“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” -Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
Solnit’s book has become my manifesto during these troubled times. This week here in the U.S. has been particularly grievous with two mass shootings grounded in racism and misogyny further dividing our country. I send out love and a breathe of solidarity to all feeling the heartbreak of this trauma.
If you have been following my work, you know how deeply I believe in our fundamental interconnectedness and oneness with all beings including the more-than-human world. In my grief and outrage, it would be easier to just give up and the last few days have tested my faith in the healing power of art. At the same time, I have continue to show up in the morning and paint my heart on the canvas. What else am I to do, I ask?
I also agree with one of my spiritual teachers, Marianne Williamson, who is running for President. The forces of hatred are so strong that we must LOVE with the same (or more) intensity and conviction. Love of self, love of the neighbor & stranger, love of beauty, love of mother earth.
I don’t know how Julian of Norwich (who inspired the painting above), who lived as an anchoress during the Black Death in Europe, was able to say: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well” but it helps to remember that there have been other dark periods in our human history. And that art and beauty have likewise prevailed. Will you join me in this revolutionary love?
If you would like to support this ministry, you can purchase prints, posters, blankets, and note cards at my online store.
With love and gratitude,
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.
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)
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
Today is the one day out of the year that we celebrate romantic love in our culture. May we also remember that love is available to us everyday. May we remember love for Self, for God/Spirit, for the neighbor, for love of the Earth, for all beings. May it be so.
I wish I could speak like music.
I wish I could put the swaying splendor
Of the fields into words
So that you could hold Truth
Against your body
I am trying the best I can
With this crude brush, the tongue,
To cover you with light.
I wish I could speak like divine music.
I want to give you the sublime rhythms
Of this earth and the sky’s limbs
As they joyously spin and surrender,
Against God’s luminous breath.
Hafiz wants you to hold me
Against your precious
From “The Gift” by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky
My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks, a temple for idols, and a Ka’ba for the pilgrims; it is a tablet of the Torah, and the book of the Koran. I profess the religion of Love, and whatever direction its steed may take, Love is my religion and my faith.
–Ibn Arabi, 12th c. Sufi
Slow pace in the studio these days as is the rhythm of the Earth in winter. Kuan Yin is my muse as I continue bringing her to life on the canvas. Goddess of compassion, “She Who Hears the Cries of the World.” Listening to Jennifer Berezan’s “She Carries Me,” a long chant to Kuan Yin and the Divine Mother, while I work—evoking the energy and compassion of this bodhisattva.
In Derrick Jensen’s brilliant and heartbreaking A Language Older Than Words, he writes, “Every morning when I wake up I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam. Every day I tell myself I should continue to write. Yet I’m not always convinced I’m making the right decision. I’ve written books and I’ve been an activist. At the same time I know neither a lack of words nor a lack of activism kills salmon here in the Northwest. It is the presence of dams.” I hear his frustration and feel his pain around the extinction of so many species and for what is happening to our beloved planet. The new year has begun and already it seems like it will continue to be business as usual. Our world leaders failed to reach an agreement around climate change in Copenhagen, health care reform looks like it will benefit the insurance companies more than the individual, and there is ever more emphasis on fighting terrorism than in feeding our people or healing the Earth.
Most of us begin the new year with resolutions of one sort or another from losing weight to saving money or being better organized. I normally set intentions of what it is that I would like to actualize through the course of the year, but this year I have been feeling unusually inert as to where to put my time and energy. I get a wild idea to sell everything and go live in Africa or some where there appears to be a greater need, but I realize that there is also work to be done here at home. I ask myself what is my role during this planetary time? What is the role of my art in the face of climate change and environmental degradation? I believe deeply that we each have a role to play in what eco-theologian Thomas Berry coined the “Great Work,” but like Jensen, some days it just doesn’t feel like enough. I want to avoid sinking into helplessness and despair but that happens some days, too and that is okay. I often listen to Krista Tippett’s interviews on Speaking of Faith while I work in the studio and her recent interview called, “The Wisdom of Tenderness,” was with Jean Vanier, the Canadian philosopher and Catholic social innovator who founded L’Arche, a community centered around people with mental disabilities. It is such a beautiful and touching look into this little known community where there is such joy and tenderness. Love. Safe touch. Vanier speaks of falling in love with reality and realizing that in that reality God is present. In another interview, Kate Braestrup, a Unitarian-Universalist minister and author in Maine, “is called in when children disappear in the woods or when snowmobilers disappear under the ice. She calls herself a doer whose sense of God emerges from what happens between and among people.” Both Vanier and Braetrup bring a sacred intention, love, and holy witnessing to their work on behalf of those who are different or who suffer. They remind me that I don’t have to go to Africa to make a difference in the world, I do that right here, right now through my ability to be present to those in grief, my practice around holy listening, and creating beauty. Perhaps that is enough.
In his interview, Vanier quoted Ghandi: “I can’t change the world, but I can change.” This has given rise to my considering “right speech” from the Noble Eightfold Path, the Fourth Noble Truth in the Buddhist tradition. I feel called to speak on behalf our besieged and beautiful Earth, Pachamama, but sometimes my words have been interpreted as judgmental or condemning. I remembering hearing this twenty years ago when I was involved with AIDS education and outreach. Back then, the message was, “to be silent is to be complicit” (or silence=death) and I feel that today around the ecological crisis. I can’t be silent now either and the fact is that this crisis will affect all life on Earth, not just what is perceived as a marginalized group of individuals. My intention is not to judge—after all I am part of the system and use resources, too—but to open the dialogue. Sometimes, in my passionate expression, instead of inviting others into the conversation certain language cuts short the dialogue, so the commitment for me now is: How to hear other perspectives, listen deeply without judgment, and speak from a place of mindfulness? Along with creating art, I intend to be attentive of this as I navigate the landscape of my relationships, my communities, and the larger world. Being more organized might have been a lot easier…sigh. Blessings to all beings in this new year.
Prayer of deep listening
In this century and in any century,
Our deepest hope, our most tender prayer,
Is that we learn to listen.
May we listen to one another in openness and mercy
May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect
May we listen to our hearts in love and forgiveness
May we listen to our deep spirit in quietness and awe.
And in this listening,
Which is boundless in its beauty,
May we find the wisdom to cooperate
With a healing spirit, a divine spirit,
who beckons us into peace and community and creativity.
We do not ask for a perfect world.
But we do ask for a better world.
We ask for deep listening.
-Jay McDaniel, Hendrix College
It has been another month since my last post here. I am just now getting psychically grounded after I was rear-ended at a traffic light on the 26th of last month. Like most of us, I was simply going about my life. In this particular case, I was heading to the market for a loaf of bread to go with my mother’s ‘famous’ spaghetti which had been simmering all afternoon in preparation for dinner with a dear friend that evening. It was raining and dark, but I was was feeling very alive and joyous, singing, when my car was suddenly struck with great force from behind. I have been in a few small fender benders in my life, but for some reason this particular accident struck a deep cord in me. The accident literally stopped me in my tracks and I have been sitting with the notion of impermanence more attentively these days. I have been a student of Buddhism for many years, both in my meditation practice and as a framework in which to encounter life. Certainly the teachings around suffering—the First Noble Truth being that suffering exists—offered me great insight and comfort when I was in a very dark night of the soul twenty years ago after the deaths of my mother and brother (among others at the time). But it has been twenty years since I have experienced the death of someone close to me except several of my beloved four-leggeds. Like all of us, I have had my share of disappointments—loss of friendships and lovers, but no physical deaths close to my heart. I seem overdue somehow. On a smaller scale however, my accident—which totaled my car and left me with some neck injuries—was also another reminder for me of my mortality and how quickly life changes. Change. Impermanence. The cycle of life, like the cycles of nature. I wonder, do we need these traumas, small and large, in order to remember how precious every moment is when we get too complacent about life? I believe there is some truth to this (and wrote about this in my master’s thesis) because these experiences often bring us more fully into the present moment and closer to Spirit, or God. “The wailing of the broken heart is the doorway to God.” —Rumi (Trans: Coleman Barks). Last night, we held a sweat lodge ceremony at my spiritual community for one of our members who is journeying through a dark night of the soul after a series of familial deaths. There amidst the darkness, in the womb of Mother Earth, we each spoke of our grief and loss—both recent and distant—as well as the darkness that comes before the light and the gifts that grow out of our suffering (however long that process takes). We remember that we are grieving because we dared to love so much. It was beautiful, healing, and an honor to bear witness to the deep sharing from the heart.
Over the past two decades, I have worked to not take life for granted, to see the beauty everyday even amidst the grief at times, and acknowledge that death is an inevitable fact of life. As a result, I ask myself often: “What it is that I am here to do, to be?” But life, as it will, happens and sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in busyness or fear especially now with a deep recession and our world in the midst of change. My accident forced me to slow down, stop, and so I am asking the question again and realize that I have been attempting to do too much. I believe we all have many gifts, but also that there is one gift that we are here to serve, to bring to the world. “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” —Buddha. And in answering the question for me, art is always at the forefront of this conversation. How can art and beauty be a vehicle for healing ourselves and our world. I quote this often but feel it bears repeating many many times! “How do we find beauty in a broken world? By creating beauty in the world we find.” —Terry Tempest Williams
So, it is with humble gratitude that I allow myself to be a messenger for spirit to work through me in order that I might create art/beauty that moves the heart. I don’t normally show my work until it is complete but several people have asked me about my process lately, so I wanted to post these photos from my studio. The teal Buddha is complete as you can see on my web site and waiting for its owner to take possession. Inspired by my process in creating the Buddha, the feminine face of the Buddhist tradition asked to be revealed as well, so Kuan Yin or the Goddess of Compassion (She Who Hears the Cries of the World) called out to me. I am answering that call. In closing, from Spiritual Artist, Alex Grey’s book, Art Psalms.
Life is always lived at risk.
We may grow complacent
And not realize it.
We may not smell the fresh sweat
Of anxiety or excitement,
But what are we breathing for?
Touch the nerve of passion
And live for greatness.
Fear of failure stops many,
But Death stops everyone.
So love without restraint,
Create the New,
Follow the courage of your highest dreams.
Fate favors your daring.
Risk surrendering to Love,
And gain your Soul.
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.