Beauty blessings during this transition to Autumn in the Northern hemisphere. A belated Shana Tova to my Jewish friends. I’ve been contemplating this painting “Wheel of the Four Winds” again since Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Especially, the direction of the West, where the Archangel Raphael, symbolized by the bull, is our guide and teacher in navigating the darkness. Feels appropriate given the collective traumas of this year and the coming darkness of the autumnal season. In our earth-honoring traditions, this is a time for going within—though most of us have been living this all year! But perhaps we can do this more intentionally, asking ourselves what is asking to be released, like the leaves from the trees, to create the compost for the coming year? Breathing into this. Join me?
This painting is inspired by Rabbi Gershon Winkler’s book “Magic in the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism.” In the Jewish shamanic tradition, “the West is death…the dream place where all the doing ceases and has a chance to process, to become seed for tomorrow’s newness.” And the bull “symbolizes majesty and determination, unrelentingly pushing forward into tomorrow, into the next moment into destiny, against all odds and with a sense of surety and knowing…this is the place of wisdom and understanding.”
The Hebrew transliteration is “tifaret,” or beauty, which sits at the heart of the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life at the center of the medicine wheel. In the four corners Hebrew letters—aleph, mem, and shin—representing the elements of air, fire, water, and earth which Kabbalists ceremonially chant.
Art: “Wheel of the Four Winds.” 2014, 30×48” ©Amy Livingstone. You can read more about this painting here: https://www.sacredartstudio.net/new-year-new-painting/
The Holy Longing
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.
From April 10 newsletter. Happy Easter and Passover to all those who celebrate this holy time. Given this archetypal celebration of death/rebirth, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Sumerian goddess of fertility and wisdom seen emerging from her chrysalis and womb (Vesica Piscis) felt appropriate to share. Her mythic journey to the underworld is symbolic of a death and rebirth like that of Jesus and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. For me, I resonate with the transformational journey of Inanna and the caterpillar into the butterfly. I’ve been drawing from this theme of being in the “chrysalis” over the past month as we quarantine during this global pandemic.
In the ancient myth, Inanna passes through the seven gates of the underworld, forced to give up one symbol of her power at each gate until she arrives in the underworld stripped bare of all worldly possessions. Ultimately, she is killed, but then she is revived with the food and water of life and returns bearing gifts of wisdom. The story speaks to me of what we are each collectively undergoing psychically during this time of darkness. We are like the imaginal cells inside the chrysalis, shape shifting in preparation for our emergence.
Could this be a global initiation? Will we emerge from our cocoons bearing a new vision of living in sacred reciprocity with each other and the living earth. After traveling myself into some dark places around the unknown and tracking the news endlessly, I’ve settled into my interiority and asking myself, what am I being asked or forced to surrender? Sitting with the question. What about you?
Nature Mandala Offering: Day 10
I began this nature mandala offering for the healing of all beings and mother earth on April 1 and will continue to add prayers until the end of the month or until our return. Many of you are familiar with this ceremony that was inspired by my pilgrimage to Peru in 2006 which I have brought to events and installations over the past decade. If you’re not, you can see photos and learn more at this link. Feel free to email me a prayer and I will add it to our mandala in your stead.
With love and gratitude,
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.
From my December newsletter:
Happy Solstice & Holydays
To those of us in the Northern Hemisphere today marks the beginning of winter. My/our Celtic and Scandinavian ancestors had rituals to welcome the return of the light during this darkest of days. And it’s no coincidence that Hanukkah and Christmas fall around the Winter Solstice both of which celebrate the light. In the Jewish faith, it was a vessel of oil that was meant to burn for one day, and lasted for eight, symbolized by the lighting of the menorah. And for those of the Christian faith, a little bundle of hope born into a time of darkness.
I was pulling runes, a Nordic divination system, when working on the mandala below. When drawing ISA (I) the guidance is to stop and go within. It announces a time of restoration and renewal at the deepest level. I’m entering this space as we approach the year’s end and embracing the stillness after two Christmas seasons in the hospital with my father, who departed this realm last month.
At the End of the Year
The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline’s longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.
As this year draws to an end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.
Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.
The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.
The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.
And so we begin to wind down another year. Most of us celebrate the holy days in ways that honor our own unique tradition or struggle through the season nostalgic for remembrance of things past, anxious for the new year to come. I tend to vacillate between the two. We then begin the process of reflecting on the year and visioning for the next. Ending and beginnings. We humans are typically happiest at the beginning of any adventure whether it be the start of a new year, a new relationship, a new project, and subsequently feel sadness at its end. In his work with dying patients, theologian and Griefwalker, Stephen Jenkinson counsels that we need to “learn to love the ending as much as the beginning.” This is no easy task but one I am learning to explore as an essential element to life, in my relationships, and in my work as an artist. Perhaps it comes along with the spiritual journey that invites us to let go and trust in the process. That life is indeed guiding us towards or through a labyrinth of cycles to our soul’s destination.
I felt this recently with the completion of my large-scale painting based on the Garden narrative. As most of you know, this project began late last year with a vision in the wake of the Gulf oil spill and came to life over the past year. I made near daily pilgrimages to the studio to work on the piece and upon completing it, a void emerged. Now what? Of course, to complete the cycle of co-creation, it must be viewed and I am currently seeking a location for a show. However, I felt a sadness or emptiness where once this intense passion had been driving my artistic expression. So I have been sitting with that, noticing it. It’s in the waiting, the in-between spaces that become the spiritual practice. That place of gestation once again that seems to show up over and over again, certainly in my life. And what has emerged is a vision to take this piece into video of some sort. I envision a journey into the heart of the Creation and the diverse layers of symbolism that weave throughout it and why I feel it is an important contribution to the current ecological and theological discourse, especially among those who feel called to reject climate change, species extinction, and the environmental movement overall. (Click here for one example).
Once again I am discovering that in life an ending can be an opportunity for birthing a new beginning, a new vision. And once again I’m happily immersed in the creation of a new soul-symbol mandala commission and the ‘crone’ from my sculpture series that includes the maiden and the mother. And so, allowing for the sadness, “we give thanks to the gifts learned” to borrow from O’Donohue’s poem and hopefully in the process we can learn to love the ending as well as the beginning. Perhaps this is our task in both life and love.
On the importance of carving out time to simply be. “More and more I find that is the issue: how to create time, how to create buffers around us so that we are doing nothing. I think that may be our biggest disease right now–the disease of busyness. With all these modern conveniences that are supposed to be time-savers, I think we’ve never had less time. So I think creating open space, time to do nothing, time to love, time to be, time to dream, to think, to walk, is its own act of civil disobedience.” -Terry Tempest Williams (In an interview with Michael Toms, New Dimensions Radio.)
I haven’t posted here in weeks. Carving out time in the fading days of summer to “be” without stress nor the desire to do more than that while attending to the necessities of everyday living. Some activity in the studio–new sculpture and painting in progress–but allowing time to dream them into being. Spaciousness. Silence. Even though fire is the element of summer what I have been most alive to has been the element of air. The wind. The feel of it on my skin, watching the movement of the leaves in the trees, the birds playing at the feeder, and the breath. Spirit. In Hebrew, Ruah is the word for breath but also for spirit. Air, breath, spirit are one. Air is the one element (out of the four including earth, fire, water) that we can not see but is most essential to life itself and perhaps most taken for granted. In The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram writes, “The air, we might say, is the soul of the visible landscape, the secret realms from whence all beings draw their nourishment. As the very mystery of the living present, it is that most intimate absence from whence the present presences, and thus a key to the forgotten presence of the earth.” By being present to the air we breathe, we remember the sacredness of life, in this present moment. I have often felt that the most radical thing we can do is slow down and the quote above by Williams reinforces that for me. It is an on-going practice. And not always easy as it can open up emotional wounds that have been suppressed by the busyness of life. (A therapist or spiritual director can be of support during this time as it has been on my own journey.) Slowing down doesn’t mean we are lazy or that we don’t do our work in the world. We tend to our lives but we become mindful of the places where we create more stress than is necessary? In the desire for more stuff, more money, or the search for fame or the perfect partner? All the striving, which the Buddha recognized as the source of our suffering (along with our aversions). Simplifying our wants and our desires in order to live a more balanced, peaceful life. We only get one twirl around the dance floor of life so, for me, I want to be as present to life as possible. To beauty. Love. Art. That’s what’s been on my mind these last few weeks. How about you?
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”
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)
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.
~ Wendell Berry ~