“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.
“The Guardian” 30×40″ ©Amy Livingstone
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Summer greetings my July newsletter:
Sweltering heat has settled over North Carolina (and for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere) while fireflies dance about in the evenings, deer pass through the land stopping for a nibble under the bird feeder, and the setting sun illuminates pine trees with a magenta glow. “For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
It has been months since my last newsletter but I’ve been so focused on my recovery and regaining strength in my leg—it’s been all consuming. Today is the six month anniversary of my injury when I slipped on black ice and shattered my knee cap/patella. It has been a grueling recovery especially the first three months when my knee couldn’t bend to 90º, the first indicator to determine if I would regain full use of my leg. Screaming, wailing, crying—4x a day for months—pushing to get my knee to bend. It was brutal. I wrote about this journey at my blog which you can read below.
Fortunately, after five months of physical therapy, I am now bending at 132º. I drive now, care for my daily needs, and am walking much better. The first time I walked nearly two miles around a local lake, I had a “Rocky” moment and wept. When my surgeon first saw my X-rays six months ago, he wasn’t confident that I would walk again (perhaps meaning a return to my former abilities). I wept with joy and gratitude.
There’s still pain and they tell me it will likely be many months before it feels “normal” so I continue with daily PT and strength training. I am gradually painting again and looking to what comes next around this holy calling. We are in the midst of so much global change and after nearly 20 years with this particular vision, I am contemplating what might want to change or be updated in my work if anything. Not clear yet but trusting. Some adventure and travel is likewise calling!
I know that art is essential for the healing of our world. In an interview with the late, beloved Barry Lopez, his parting words—to all of us who are artists, writers, healers, and creatives working for the good of our planet—was: “Don’t be distracted. Stay in your prayer. Just keep doing the work.” At times, it can feel hopeless but I’m taking his words to heart. The world needs all of our creative gifts now more than ever—and yes, you do have a gift!
For love of the Earth!
It’s February 2nd and already the first signs of spring are here with daffodils emerging and little buds on the hydrangeas beginning to show themselves in the garden. A mild winter in the Northwest but we are still only half way to the Spring Equinox. Today is Imbolc which originated within the pagan tradition and is one of the cross-quarter days which falls between the Solstice and the Equinox. The day became associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid who was later adopted by the early Christians and is revered as St. Brigid. From chalicecenter.net/imbolc:
The Second of February belongs to Brigid, (Brighid, Brigit, Bride,) the Celtic goddess who in later times became revered as a Christian saint. Originally, her festival on February 1 was known as Imbolc or Oimelc, two names which refer to the lactation of the ewes, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life-giving forces of spring. Later, the Catholic Church replaced this festival with Candlemas Day, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features candlelight processions. The powerful figure of Brigid the Light-Bringer overlights both pagan and Christian celebrations.
In secular culture this time of year became known as Groundhog Day—which was a big deal growing up in New Hampshire where the winters were fierce and we kids yearned for the sun to return so we could play outside again. Growing up, I did not know this yearly visitation of the groundhog had its roots in the ancient ways of our ancestors. Imbolc is a festival of the hearth and home and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. It was a time to start preparing the fields for the first planting and to bless the crop seeds saved and stored from the last harvest. This is the time for purification and renewal.
Today, we can begin to till our actual gardens and we can also symbolically till the soil of our souls by letting go of something (or some action) that no longer serves us and plant a seed of intention to bring into our lives what we most want to harvest this year. Like our ancestors, I joined with several of my women friends in circle this weekend to honor this turn of the wheel and to set intentions for what we would like to see blossom in our own lives. It was a sacred ceremony that was blessed by fire and water, the two elements most associated with Brigid.
For me, these are symbolic of the feminine aspect of the life-giving water and the masculine energy of the fire—like the sun—that when joined together in union give birth to new life. Growth and opportunity are abundant in this landscape. During the winter season, we rest in the darkness of the womb and the sun will now purify and bring energy and light to a new vision for ourselves and our world. What are you longing for? What would you like to see bloom more fully in your life, your work, your relationships? Plant the seeds of intention now, nurture the ground, and harvest the gifts as we journey through the cycles of the seasons in the coming year.
Brigid was the goddess of healing, inspiration, craftsmanship and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge. “Song” from Wendell Berry—farmer, tiller of the soil and soul, and poet:
Within the circles of our lives
we dance the circles of the years,
the circles of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the seasons,
the circles of our reason
within the cycles of the moon.
Again, again we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all
Only music keeps us here,
each by all the others held.
In the holds of hands and eyes
we turn in pairs, that joining
joining each to all again.
And then we turn aside, alone,
out of the sunlight gone
into the darker circles of return.
New energy is pulsating within me and in my work as Spring brings forth the fecundity of the living earth. Amidst the stress of what is unfolding in our political scene, I find great comfort in the beauty that abounds from the sound of birdsong to daffodils; from the decomposing leaves waiting to be raked from the beds to the a splattering of St John’s Wort peeking through the soil—ripe with the smell of humus. The earth is indeed alive and “so much is in bud” to quote Levertov.
On Monday, I changed the altar cloth to yellow in the studio in celebration of Spring and in honor of Saraswati. Resting here in the center, holding her veena (string instrument) she is the Hindu goddess of learning, wisdom, and the creative arts. Now is an especially fruitful time to create as Mother Earth brings forward her beauty. No matter where you are, there is some piece of beauty at hand. A stone, a flower, an apple, a leaf, a bird….listen….look…breathe.
“From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea–“
But we have only begun
To love the earth.
We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?
— so much is in bud.
How can desire fail?
— we have only begun
to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision
how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.
Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?
Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet–
there is too much broken
that must be mended,
too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,
so much is in bud.
My 92 year old father fell and broke his hip in December. It has been a wild journey in moving him from the hospital, to rehab, and now to assisted living. For any of you who have walked this path with your elders, you know the intensity and time this takes. I have had some sweet moments in the studio, working on various projects including sketches for the interfaith prayer room at a local hospital. I continue to believe in the power of art and beauty to heal our hearts and our world even amidst the insanity of what is unfolding in our country.
I will return soon with more offerings, art, poetry, and inspiration!
In our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace
Tiny presence amidst the holy waters of Tahoma.
Nestled sweetly within the cool, clear rippling stream.
Silent sentinel to the raging waters nearby.
Light-sprinkled tendrils reach to the heavens.
Bearing witness to shape-shifting White River.
Holding court among swaying algae in the shadow
of what remains of the Creator’s architectural beauty.
Stone people. Ancient ones.
Keepers of memories in a changing world and
holding a vision for what might be
as new life emerges
from the generous, heart-shaped valley of her coat.
Silent. Still presence in this cathedral
where earth, air, fire and water meet.
She offers a prayer that humanity
awaken from its slumber to this;
the revelatory miracle that is Creation.
Baptized by her waters. I offer love.
Together our souls are one.
-Amy Livingstone, July 28, 2014
Reflecting this week on my Animas Journey from 2 years ago. Worth sharing again, friends. Wild Blessings.
Tahoma is one of the indigenous names for Mt. Rainier. A powerful apus (Mt. Spirit from the Andean spiritual tradition), his presence was palpable during my recent trek into the Wilderness of Soul with Animas Institute. I felt a deep soul connection to the mountain, the stone people… my ancestors the “living stones,” and the holy waters of Tahoma and wanted to give expression to that through this painting on my return. And although most of you know me as a deep appreciator of poetry, I seldom write poetry. However, the joy of being in the presence of not only this sacred landscape but also being with men and women appreciating, reading, and writing poetry, I felt a sense of belonging with kindred souls that is often difficult to find in the wildly busy, technologically-driven world we live in. So, I was invited and inspired to write a few poems during my wanderings, and I share this one with you. The natural world is a ready muse anytime we take time to be slow and present to the more than human world at any given moment.
A note on soul as defined by Bill Plotkin, founder of Animas Institute, in Wild Mind: “The soul is a person’s unique purpose or identity, a mythopoetic identity, something much deeper than personality or social-vocational role, an identity revealed and expressed through symbol and metaphor, image and dream, archetype and myth. . . . Soul is the particular ecological niche, or place, a person was to born to occupy.”
I’ve been in a wandering mood since my return, enjoying long walks and a lovely hike into Dry Creek Falls the other day, so I will keep this brief but wanted to touch base before Autumn returns next month. My Animas journey was affirming of my own particular way of engaging the world and of the necessity for me to continue following my soul around art, spirituality, beauty and how these contribute to to the healing of the earth. To quote poet Mary Oliver, “My work is in loving the world.” What is your soul calling to you around your unique purpose at this time? Painters, poets, musicians, writers, filmmakers, dancers, singers, all the arts, play a necessary and important role in our world to sustain the soul of a people. We can have a world where technology, efficiency, consumerism and rationality rule, but it would be a soulless one.
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” -from Dead Poet’s Society. In memory of Robin Williams.
Wild blessings and love for the EARTH!
You stand at the edge of the pulsating river.
Carved by wind, water, and time.
Smooth like the curve of Tahoma’s back.
Gently, I slide on to your sweet spot of bliss.
Wrapping my arms around you,
we caress each other with our firm bodies.
Hot from the sun, you melt my defenses;
and embrace my sensuous self.
You hear my pain and love for the earth.
We are one.
I leave your warm embrace and wander
through the deep, milky pools towards the edge
of the throbbing white river of life.
Spreading my legs; I welcome in the seeds
of passion and purpose.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Answering the call of the wild.
There is something magical about the turning of the wheel towards the heat of summer, the fecundity of the earth and her abundance that is bursting forth. And the season associated with the element of fire that ignites eros and invites us to give expression to our passions and our creativity. What Bill Plotkin, in his brilliant book Wild Mind, has coined our “wild indigenous self.” I’m feeling a restlessness to get back into the wild(er)ness and have been re-reading my journal from my Wilderness Journey with Animas Institute last July. (You can read more about that here). During one particular day while wandering amidst the stone ladened banks of the White River, I had a sensuous encounter with this very smooth and curvaceous being (the large stone seen in the lower right corner of the painting shown above) that inspired this rather erotic poem. I felt a deep kinship with this ancient one and long to return to that sacred place. I sense many of us, especially in the developed world where the dis-ease of busyness is now considered the norm, are hungry to remember and return to this deep interbeingness with the the earth, and to our creaturely selves. I know that I want more of this in my life. How about you?
In Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, David Abrams puts forward an insightful and inspiring thesis “about becoming a two-legged animal entirely a part of the animate world whose life swells within and unfolds all around us. . . and seeks a new way of speaking, one that enacts our interbeing with the earth.” I highly recommend reading Abrams book or you can also read a paper I posted under Notes at my Facebook page: “Reconnecting to the Natural World: The Neolithic to the Ecozoic Era.”
While I may not be off in the wilderness at the moment, I am enjoying a slice of Eden here with nearly daily visits from a hummingbird and red-breasted sapsucker in the garden. Work continues on various paintings in progress including a soul-symbol mandala commission for a lovely woman in the Boston area. More to come when that is complete.
May whatever spark of eros that is alive in you come to fruition in your life and through your creativity. Art heals ourselves and our world. “The artist, like the shaman, demonstrates how one can live with heightened sensitivity and how art heals by restoring soul and by transforming our actions and our perception of life.” – Shaun McNiff.
For love of the EARTH!
World Environment Day was June 5th. It’s a day when the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of environmental issues and encourages political action. In conjunction with WED, GPSEN (Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network), a UN-based, growing network of regional educators, students, non-profits, political and industry leaders, and community members collaborating to promote sustainability had their launch celebration. This is quite an honor for Portland. GPSEN has been acknowledged as a Regional Centre of Expertise on education for sustainable development, by the United Nations University. We join a coalition of 129 RCEs around the world committed to creating a healthy, just, and thriving future.
I was invited to bring my sacred art and nature mandala ceremony to the event. A Native American elder from Wisdom of the Elders opened with a blessing. Rev. Jayna Gieber from my spiritual community People of the Heart offered a poem for the earth. Appreciate that we were all able to bring the spiritual component to the evening. It brings the Condor heart into the landscape of the Eagle mind as foretold in the ancient prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor.. Gratitude to visionary leader Kim Smith and to so many individuals and organizations working for a sustainable future.
Prior to dismantling the mandala I offered this poem from John O’Donohue poem and dedicated this offering to our children, their children, and future generations. It’s for them that we do our work. For love of the earth.
Praise for the Earth
Let us bless
The imagination of the Earth.
Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.
Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.
The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring.
Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.
Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,
The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.
That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.
Walking the Borders
Sometimes in the evenings a translator walks out
and listens by streams that wander back and forth
across borders. The translator holds a mint
on the tongue, turns it over to try
a new side, then tastes a wild new flavor,
a flavor that enlivens those fading languages
of cursing and calling each other those names
that destroyed millions by swinging a cross
like an ax, or a crescent curved like a knife,
or a star so red it burned its way over the ground.
The wild new flavor fades away too,
but lingers awhile along borders for a translator to savor
secretly, borrowing from both sides, holding
for a moment the smooth round world
in that cool instant of evening before the sun goes down.
The background shows the Ten Commandments, a moral doctrine that for me is the fading language that has separated us from each other and from the Creation. The new language is one of interdependence in the web of life and the coming ecozoic era where we come back into balance as foretold in the ancient prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, shown flying here wing-to-wing in the sky. In the center, the Hebrew word Ah-ha-VAH translates as Love. (Note: I chose Hebrew as it is the first of the Abrahamic traditions followed by Christianity and Islam.)
Stafford was a pacifist and conscientious objector during WWII. In his poem, he is referencing the Abrahamic traditions: “those fading languages of cursing and calling each other those names that destroyed millions by swinging a cross (Christianity) like an ax, or a crescent (Islam) curved like a knife, or a star (Judaism) so red it burned its way over the ground.” If we look at history, human beings have been killing each other over religious differences for thousands of years. Consider the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust. And more recently, the white supremacist who killed three people outside a Jewish community center. So, in going back to the Ten Commandments which inform the Abrahamic faiths and culture on some level even if one is secularist/atheist. I was contemplating the sixth commandment (it’s also in a different color in the painting, though hard to see that at this size) that says “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” So my painting, and the poem, is questioning what it means to live by a doctrine that hasn’t worked to ensure peace among us. I honor all paths to God, the Divine, but the question for me is how do we create a new “language” that recognizes our interconnectedness in the web of creation that puts aside our differences in order to ensure a liveable, peaceful, and sustainable future for life on earth?
|Trillum at Tryon Creek Park|
will also stand opened, thoughtless, frightened
by the joy she feels, the pathway in the field
branching to a hundred more, no one has explored.
and is found in her body,
what she is given is secret even from her.
of everything she is
and falling through her body
to the ground from which she comes,
it finds a hidden place to grow
and rises, and flowers, in old wild places,
where the dark-edged sickle cannot go.
THE SONG OF THE LARK
In RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press