|“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!
“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.” -Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge.
This painting came through me very quickly on one hand just prior to my move but I have long been drawn to the tragic story of the Passenger Pigeon. With a population between 3-5 billion, it was the most abundant bird in North America. Flocks would darken the sky for days as they flew overhead. Yet human exploitation drove this species to extinction over the course of a few decades. “Martha” the last Passenger Pigeon died in 1914. Originating in Scotland, the cairn or stacked stones, implies a funereal monument and in the lower left corner, the extinction symbol. Created by a London artist Xylo: “The circle signifies the planet, while the hourglass inside serves as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species” during what is now being defined in our time as the Sixth Mass Extinction of Species.
The demise of the Passenger Pigeon is also an urgent message around our own vulnerability in the face of ecological degradation including climate change. “How might we act with restraint” to quote Williams? And how do we navigate these changing times? And with grace?
While speaking at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in November, indigenous elder Jim Dumont, of the Anishinabeck Nation, encouraged us to “Speak for the plants. Speak for the creation. Speak to the conscience of those who are destroying them.” This was affirming of my work and deeply moving. I wept. Art plays an important role not only in communicating a message/vision but, as most of you know, the process itself offers healing and a spiritual practice for resilience during troubled times. Even something as simple as coloring, drumming, planting flowers, or the latest ZenTangle can have enormous benefits for your well being and stress level.
I am settling into the new home and studio here in the Panther Branch Township (in Raleigh NC) and will share more next month. You can always check out Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for updates between newsletters. As always, I welcome your thoughts.
For love of the EARTH!
“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.”
I painted this mandala in 2006 while attending graduate school and studying the world’s religions. It was profound to be discovering all the threads of interconnections that we share in common. Any of you who have been following my work know how profoundly I believe in this truth. If we could only take the time to really study our own religion and that of other faiths, perhaps humanity might come to find peace. This is my hope and my vision for our world.
This stain glass inspired mandala began with the hand in the center. The hamsa hand (Arabic) or hamesh hand (Hebrew) is a symbol of protection and a popular icon throughout the Middle East and N. Africa. The words hamsa and hamesh mean “five” and refer to the digits on the hand and is also referred to as the Hand of Fatima (Islam), Hand of Miriam (Judaism), and the Hand of Mary (Christianity). Represented here are also the four elements—tree/earth, fish/water, dove/air, and snake/fire—sacred symbols that appear throughout our religious texts. Bound together by the elements, the cycles of the moon and the seasons, the message here is that no matter what faith we choose or inherit, we are all interconnected in the web of creation. We are one. The calligraphy translates as peace—Shalom in Hebrew, Shanti in Sanskrit, Salam in Arabic.
You can purchase small posters of this painting here.
The completed “Reverence” that became a companion piece to “Resurrection” (below). While working on this painting, the title that kept coming to me was “Why Do We Crucify Ourselves?” but ultimately the message for me, and all my work, is around reverencing the earth. I was drawn to add the Celtic knot pattern from my ancestral Scottish homeland and symbols of the four elements from the ancient alchemists. Remembering the wisdom of the ancients. I think it is important to also remember that Jesus worshiped and preached by the sea, in the desert, and in the garden; Moses received the Ten Commandments from Yahweh atop a mountain; and the Prophet Muhammad received the holy Koran in a cave. They experienced and encountered God, the Divine, in nature. Reverencing the earth as holy isn’t in opposition to loving and worshiping one’s personal God and today there is ever more urgency for humanity to awaken to this truth and to remember our innate interconnectedness in the web of creation. This is the call coming from Standing Rock (#NoDAPL) and our indigenous brothers and sisters. Are we listening? It is time to “resurrect” indigenous and ancestral ways of knowing that connect us to the sacredness of the earth to ensure a livable planet for all beings and future generations.
From theologian Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality: “Divinity and the universe seem deeply biased in favor of the future. Both celebrate emergence. Call it: Resurrection. Call it: New Life or New Creation. Call it: Evolution or Creativity. I believe in the future and the possibilities of hope.” May it be so.
“Resurrection” 2016 ©Amy Livingstone
Holy mother earth with the seed of life nestled in the heart of the web of life. Our current paradigm is cracking open. Transformation is assured. To maintain life on earth, we need the return or “resurrection” of ancient ways of knowing associated with our indigenous ancestors and the Divine Feminine.
“Andean Dreams” ©2014 Amy Livingstone
A new painting inspired by my Peru pilgrimage. (Read more about that here.)
Symbolism around birthing and new beginnings continues. Original (12x12x1.5″) and prints will be available after the painting returns from my photographer.
About Siwa Kinti, or the Royal Hummingbird in the Andean Spiritual Tradition:
“One of the highest vibrational energies in nature is carried by the hummingbird. In the Quecha lanaguage of the Andes, the hummingbird is called Kinti and is the archetype representing the direction of the North. This direction holds the qualities of Siwa Kinti, the rainbow hummingbird, who lives between the worlds and serves as a bridge to those who have come before us (our ancestors) and those who will come after us (our children and children’s children). It is said Siwa Kinti was the sacred being of Machu Picchu in Peru and today bridges the two worlds of North and South America. According to the Andean System, royal hummingbird has access to the center of the Hanaq Pacha, or upper world, where Spirit is found. Hummingbird represents the paradox between action and stillness.” Read more here: http://puakaihealing.com/hummingbird/
“The artist attempts to make inner truths visible, audible, or sensible in some way, by manifesting them in the external, material world (through drawing, painting, song, etc.). To produce their finest works, artists lose themselves in the flow of creation from their inner worlds. The visionary artist creatively expresses her or his personal glimpses of the Divine Imagination.” -Alex Grey, Visionary Artist
Although many visionary artists employ entheogens to ignite visions of the transcendent, my work emerges out of a profound mystical experience that occurred twelve years ago. This awareness of our radical inter-connectedness in the web of creation continues to inform the thread that I follow around my life and work. From this experience and wanting to better understand the historical roots of our religious traditions, and how Western civilization had become dis-connected from our place in the life web, I attended graduate school at Marylhurst University here in Portland. It was post 9/11, I was mid-forties, a lapsed Protestant, and knew very little about Islam except for the poetry of Rumi. To my surprise, Islam emerged out of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Christianity in 610c.e. So much of what the media puts out around Islam is misleading. Sadly, there are fundamentalist groups in every religion and I think it’s important to remember that Christianity also has a long history of violence against the other including women and the genocide of Native Americans on this continent. I often contemplate what the original founders, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, would think of the ways their visions around love for God and the neighbor have been distorted over the millennia. I hold out some small hope that as Catholics and Protestants eventually found peace, so perhaps shall the Sunni and Shia. In the meantime, I pray for the innocent civilians in Iraq and those in Israel and Gaza who are suffering.
So, how does art contribute to this conversation?
I’ve always loved the beauty of Islamic art and had been researching this sacred art for some time in preparation for the painting shown above. Because there can be no representations of Allah(God), the sacred art of Islam is expressed through sacred geometry, arabesque (the winding vines), and calligraphy. The mihrab is a niche inside a mosque, facing east towards the Kabba in Mecca, and the direction that Muslims must pray. According to my research, the mihrab is also considered the place where the divine presence dwells on earth. So, my vision was to find a way to bridge the immanent (cosmology) and the transcendent (God) within the Islamic tradition.
I began studying sacred geometry and for any of you who have explored this realm you know that it is a vast landscape where one can spend an entire life wandering. Shown here is my drawing of the “Seed of Life,” the seven intertwining circles that represent the seven days of creation. From this, what emerges are two intersecting triangles that form the Star of David (Judaism) and the Seal of Solomon (Islam). The seed of life rests amidst the cosmos/stars on the floor inside the mihrab. The arabic in the heart of the compass within the tree of life translates as love in Arabic.
It might also surprise some to discover that the Prophet Mohammed was considered an environmental steward. The Hadith, a companion text to the Qur’an, details reports of statements or actions of Muhammad that include his philosophy on the natural world. I saved this issue of Parabola magazine with articles on religion and the holy earth from grad school: “The Prophet’s (SAW) environmental philosophy is first of all holistic: it assumes a fundamental link and interdependency between all natural elements and bases its teachings on the premise that if man abuses or exhausts one element, the natural world as a whole will suffer direct consequences….The three most important principles of the Prophet’s philosophy of nature are based on the Qur’anic teachings and the concepts of tawhid (unity), khalifa (stewardship) and amana (trust).” -Francesca De Chatel, from Environmentalism and Islam, Parabola, 2007.
I hope you find this as interesting as I have during the research and creation of this sacred art. If you have any thoughts about what I have shared, please feel free to send me your feedback. Part of creating peace is starting the dialogue and finding the common threads of our shared humanity.
In 2006, I went on pilgrimage to Peru to learn and partake in the ancient spiritual teachings of the Andean people. This was a life-changing experience for me and their wisdom continues to inform my spiritual life. I’ve written about some of these teachings and the intention behind the journey (based on the Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor) on my blog. Click here to read more. One of the most sacred rituals performed there is the despacho ceremony which are ceremonies of gratitude and thanksgiving to Pachamama (Mother Earth) or an Apus. While in Peru, we were told that the despacho is also considered a work of art, or a painting. It was at that moment I had a vision for the painting above. I knew when I returned home that I would create my own despacho, and then paint it as an offering to Pachamama.
The “despacho” is an ancient ceremony performed in the Andes. These are offerings to either Pachamama (Mother Earth) or an Apus (mountain spirit). The former is distinguished by an abundance of red objects/flowers, the latter by white. They typically begin with a shell in the center to represent the feminine, a cross to represent the masculine, and Kintus (3 cocoa leaves grouped together). In the Andes, additional items might include money, food items, ribbons, alcohol, dung, or a llama fetus. These are determined by the paqo or shaman performing the ceremony which is very elaborate and includes praying, group cocoa exchange as well as music and sharing of the pipe. Overall this was a magical and mystical experience for me and words just don’t do it justice. For my painting, I went to the local market, chose items I felt would please Pachamama, and created my own despacho which I then painted as an offering. My process is one of devotion and is a prayer for the healing of the earth. Ayni, or reciprocity, is at the core of the Andean way of life and rituals like the despacho honor our relationships to the earth, the living energy, and to each other.
This past weekend, I was invited and honored to share this ceremony with my spiritual community, People of the Heart, during one of our shamanic training retreats. I substituted the cocoa leaves, which are illegal in the States, with another of the leaf family but included many sweets, grains, seeds, herbs, jewels, red flowers, and miscellaneous goodies that I felt would please Pachamama. Drumming and rattling. With reverence and gratitude, we each offered these gifts as prayers for healing ourselves, each other, and our world. Singing. When the ceremony was complete I bundled up the despacho, wrapped it in ribbon, and placed it in a cloth. Sending the bundle around the circle, we blew our breath and our prayers into the despacho. Drumming. After blessing everyone in the circle and a closing poem, we then buried the bundle on the land.
I feel humbled by the simple beauty of this ritual as a gift for the healing of our world, and the Earth. I give thanks to my teachers: dear friends and guides Carol, Jim, Terence; don Sebastian of the Q’ero; and the Winay Taki for sharing their wisdom with me/us.
With countless others awakening we walk upon Her now.
We are One Remembering
Women of Vision speaking to inspire what follows.
Love is our word
Men of Heart embracing, to shape new ways to live.
With each other making us One
And sustaining our interconnection with all life.
Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, and Great Mountain Spirits.
Vision and heartfelt action benefiting all life
We are one of many within us all
We are restoring our story…
From Carol Stewart’s poem “Rainbow Threads”