|“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!
“Humanity stands at a crossroads between horror and hope. In choosing hope, we must seed a new consciousness, a radically fresh approach to life drawing its inspiration from perennial spiritual and moral insights, intuition and experience. We call this new awareness Interspiritual. . . the recovering of the shared mystic heart beating in the center of the world’s deepest spiritual traditions.” -Wayne Teasdale, “The Mystic Heart”
Created specifically for the Mile Hi exhibit, the “Unity Consciousness” mandala is inspired by the Science of Mind teachings of Ernest Holmes and his notion of the “Golden Thread of Truth” that recognizes that thread of connection between all our spiritual traditions. No matter what faith we choose or inherit, including science, we are all interconnected in the web of life. We are one with God, with the Other, and with all Creation symbolized by the cycles of the season. Colorado state animals shown here were my spirit guides during painting sessions. Learn more about Science of Mind here: https://tinyurl.com/y75x7udl
If you are in the Denver area, the show is up through the summer and closes on September 30. I will be on site June 24th and Septhember 30th from 8:30-2pm for the artist meet and greet.
These two recently completed paintings shown above ultimately became companion pieces to one another. Really self-portraits that speak to my own hope and prayer during these dark times. “Hope in the Dark” was originally inspired by 14th c mystic and theologian Julian of Norwich who lived during the time of the Black Death in Europe. You can see an early version of this painting from eight years ago here. While recovering energetically from caring for my father last year, I pulled this canvas out from a stack leaning against the wall and started re-working it and recalling her words throughout my process: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well” (Latin: Omnibus Bene Tibi Erit).
The title of the piece is also a nod to one of my favorite writers and historians Rebecca Solnit who wrote a book of the same title. She writes: “To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty are better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.” Highly recommend reading this book especially for activists who are feeling ineffective at times.
“The Artist’s Prayer” also a prayer for peace among individuals and nations. The quote along the top reads:”Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” -Rumi.
With so much at stake, our creativity in service to our world, to compassion, to love, to beauty, to oneness could not be more important. To hold out a light of hope and love….
Bow of gratitude to those who came to my opening at Karuna Contemplative earlier this month! Nice to reconnect with some old friends that I hadn’t seen in many years. The show will be up until the 26th. Now in preparation for my show at Mile Hi Church in Denver, Colorado. Readying myself for a long drive but it will be great to have my art further out in the world, touching hearts and minds with these sacred offerings. I’ll send out more information as I know some of you have friends in the area who may want to attend.
I will be bringing the nature mandala ceremony to the screening of artist/activist Chris Jordan’s Albatross on June 8th. It addresses the crisis of plastics in the ocean through the lens of the magnificent Albatross on Midway Island in the Pacific. Sure to break open the heart. I’ll send more information out as we approach.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
Rape of the Spirit, 2001, Bronze ©Amy Livingstone
It’s been over a month since my last communication. I hope this email finds you well and enjoying the beauty of Autumn and the lush colors that are abundant this year.
It has been an intense time for me with the sudden death of a good friend and the leader of my spiritual community, and my father’s final passage to the far shore a week ago today. It was hard to see him suffering at the end and am grateful to have been with him when he departed this realm. It was sacred time and naturally brought up memories of sitting by my late brother’s bedside 29 years ago as he lay dying from AIDS. Many of you know of my transformative journey through grief and if not, you can read about it here. My mother’s spirit (as were others) was present in my father’s tiny room over the last several weeks and am imagining them together again.
Art saved me back then and continues to be my saving grace and with so much suffering/violence in our world. The sculpture above “Rape of the Spirit” is one of many sculptures and paintings that emerged out of my own grief. It’s why I believe in the power of art to heal and may be offering some workshops again in the coming year if that is where I am called. Right now, I’m allowing time to grieve and listen for guidance around this next stage of life and work. Where there is an ending, a beginning or rebirth is inevitable and am trusting in that.
I need to be creating, so am slowly getting into the studio and am back to the mandala below. There are many paintings in process and will be sharing those in time. And if you’re starting to think about the holydays, consider purchasing sacred art prints, cards, or originals. I am experimenting with a line of sacred art items and will share more on that soon. Visit the shop here.
“In our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Reciprocity mandala inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.”
It was a very meaningful for me to be at Portland Community College during Earth Week where I brought my art installation “Momento Mori: Our Oceans in Crisis”. I had some powerful conversations with a diverse group of people from all over the world and dedicated our mandala to the people of Micronesia. One student, a kindhearted man from these small islands in the Western Pacific Ocean shared with me: “I am a climate refugee. My people are leaving their homeland to relocate to Australia and other countries due to rising sea levels and contaminated food sources from oil spills from tankers.” He was very grateful for my message as he feels that the world has not acknowledged them. He put a very real face to the climate crisis.
Many of the young students also gave me hope. After viewing my exhibit, a young woman shared with me that she felt sad. When I asked how she processes her sorrow around ecological issues, she said she goes to the beach and picks up other people’s garbage. Action is indeed the antidote to despair.
I put together a list of suggestions of what each of us can do on a daily basis to make a difference including self care and ways to get involved. You can view that here: What You Can Do Flyer
You can learn more about the nature mandala ceremony here.
For love of the EARTH!
Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the mass man will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.
In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you,
when you see the silent candle burning.
Now you are no longer caught
in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.
Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced this:
to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.
Greetings Earth Lovers
This poem felt appropriate given my recent reworking of the Butterfly Woman Mandala shown above along with Vernal Equinox and Easter weekend upon us. Emerging from the dark chrysalis of winter, we find ourselves once again in this time of rebirth where beauty abounds. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, Mother Earth is coming back to life–trees, flowers, and shrubs are budding and birdsong is abundant.
It’s no coincidence that Easter coincides with Spring Equinox. Scholars agree that Christianity borrowed from, and was grafted over, the pagan cultures of the ancient world. The etymology of Easter originates from Astarte, the goddess of spring, fertility and sexuality. Hence the rabbits and eggs during the holy day festivities. This time of year does usher in a fecundity, a ripening energy that is the life force that feeds new growth, communion with the beloved, and our creativity. Perhaps you are feeling “insane for the light” as Goethe writes?
Butterfly Woman was the first mandala that I painted during a 4-day workshop in Canada back in 2003. It was my first piece of sacred art as I was launching Sacred Art Studio that same year and a year prior to the start of my graduate studies in Spiritual Traditions & Ethics. This mandala never felt quite finished and I was inspired to revisit the painting in celebration of Spring. Adding the earth adds balance and gives a universality to a message of global transformation that is attempting to be born during this evolutionary time. Here, the divine feminine emerges from the dark womb of her chrysalis, and holds the light of hope as Christ offered in his time. Once again, resurrecting a new, and ancient, way of being in relationship to each other and our world, Pachamama.
Spring and Easter blessings!
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.
This is a small piece (12×12″) as yet untitled that I have been working on over the past week or so. Shown here in its progression. A sweet morning meditation as I continue work on the larger scale series “Where I Stand is Holy” that shines a light on species threatened by climate change. People often ask me how I create my decorative borders. As you can see here, I work out the design on a tissue paper and create the pattern that I will then replicate around the edges. Symbols of transformation continue to appear in my life but this is also representative of our larger collective evolution at this time in our earth’s history.
“Whosoever offers to me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water–that offering of love, of pure heart, I accept” -Bhagavad-Gita.
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?
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Last week I brought part of the Return to the Garden installation to the AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) conference held at the Convention Center here in Portland. The largest academic sustainability conference in the world brought over 2,000 change agents to Portland. AASHE’s vision is to lead higher education to be a foundation for a thriving, equitable and ecologically healthy world. I appreciated being invited to bring this sacred art and add a voice around our spiritual connection to the earth. To remember our innate interdependence in the web of creation and the role of art and beauty as they contribute to the conversation around sustainability.
My art installation was in the lobby of the convention center so between sessions, attendees were able to stop by to inquire about my work and to participate in co-creating our community nature mandala. I had so many remarkable and inspiring conversations with visionaries and passionate students from all around the world. I walked away feeling very hopeful. There is a lot of great work being done on behalf of our beloved earth and our fellow humans. Just a few included: A young man from Peru is here completing his degree at PSU and will return to Cusco to work with his father around erosion/conservation at Machu Picchu. Another young woman, an artist, makes her own paints and paper from natural materials. A student from University of Colorado is working on zero waste. Many students from small communities in the Midwest, the South, and Hawaii where there isn’t much being done around sustainability are taking on the challenge themselves! Yeah. One company makes solar-powered kiosks for charging electronic devices on college campuses. Another company makes water fountains that also includes filtration so we can refill our reusable water bottles. Imagine, the end of plastic bottles!
I also had the good fortune to hear Annie Leonard, creator of the Story of Stuff movement, and now Executive Director of Greenpeace speak the opening night. I was so inspired and touched by her talk and everyone that I spoke with that during the closing ceremony of our mandala, I dedicated this offering for the healing of the earth to AASHE and all those who attended. Thank you for inspiring me and all those who are working to create a sustainable future that works for all.