I hope the start of this New Year brings you good health and joy. There seems to be a renewed energy of hope at this moment after what seemed like a year of holding our collective breaths. We’re still here though too many beloveds have departed this realm, but I remain grateful for all who are holding the light these days. As indigenous teacher and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:
“The path is lined with all the world’s people, in all colors of the medicine wheel-red, white, black, yellow-who understand the choice ahead, who share a vision of respect and reciprocity, of fellowship with the more-than-human world. Men with fire, women with water, to reestablish balance, to renew the world. “
May it be so. This quote comes towards the end of Kimmerer’s brilliant hymnal to the Earth, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.” There is abundant wisdom and rich imagery in her book and with only so much space to work with, I simply allowed the species of each plant and animal to guide me. Salmon, heron, ambystoma maculata (salamander), three sisters, aster and goldenrod, medicine plants, etc…Through this co-creative journey, I feel an even deeper kinship with all these beings.
I hear the call from our indigenous brothers and sisters about the need for all of us to unite as a spiritual community to heal the earth. This was also the inspiration, for those new to my work, for the “All Nations Tree of Life” shown below. I/we are seeing this happen within many communities even though it may not be visible in mainstream media.
In closing, from Braiding Sweetgrass: “The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibility for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blanks out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. . . . Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice, and vision all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world. . . . In return for the privilege of breath.”
What is your gift? Would love to hear from you!
For love of the Earth!
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.
The “Interfaith Tree of Hope” is currently hanging at the New Thought Center for Spiritual Living (NTCSL) in Lake Oswego. A percentage of the sale of this painting will benefit this community committed to peace, love, and unity. Peace. Salam. Shalom.
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.
I haven’t disappeared my friends but after five months of events, I am back in the studio working. This summer, my intention is to get as far as I can on completing the “Where We Stand is Holy” series that began with “Lauds: Prayer for the Birds.” Shown here are details from “Sext: Prayer for the Desert.” Desert Tortoise, Sage Grouse, and Black-chinned Hummingbird. There are efforts to list the Sage Grouse as endangered species but much resistance from the oil/gas lobbyists as it would impact exploration and extraction in the SW.
“Sext: Prayer for the Desert” is nearly complete. I am also in various stages with Vespers (water) and Compline (mammals). These paintings inspired by illuminated manuscripts shine a light on endangered species as well as the beauty of those wild places under siege by oil/gas extraction, plastics in the ocean, and climate change. I’m envisioning these panels to be part of larger installation and will share more as that develops. In the meantime, I am offering limited-edition art prints with a percentage of your purchase benefiting organizations working to protect our creatures and wild places. Shop here: http://sacredartstudio.net/product-category/prints/
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!
From my November Newsletter:
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 of God.
I first discovered this quote from the Greek tragedian Aeschylus while doing research in graduate school a decade ago. Robert Kennedy had recited this to a crowd during a campaign stop upon hearing of the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Kennedy was speaking to a grieving nation and it also resonated deeply with my own grief journey after the deaths of my brother and mother 25 years ago.
If we don’t turn away and numb the pain, those profound moments of loss that we all experience have the power to break open our hearts and to remind us of that which is most essential. Love, family (biological or chosen), health, community…a peaceful, sustainable, and just world. And for me, beauty and art of course.
Today, in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the abhorrent backlash against those of the Islamic faith, most of whom likewise desire a safe home, food on the table, and a peaceful world, may we have the wisdom to recognize that we are one human family.
I continue to be inspired by my experience at the Parliament of World Religions last month with so many inspiring visionaries from all faith traditions. A Sikh woman, Valerie Kaur, spoke of Revolutionary Love. I’m attaching the video link here and hope that you will be equally as inspired by her message.
Like many of you, I feel deeply the heaviness of our world but give thanks for this precious gift of life in all its complexities and possibilities. Thank you for your support and as always, I welcome your thoughts.
A blessed Thanksgiving to all.
In gratitude and love,
From my September Newsletter:
Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them –
The summer flowers depart –
Sit still – as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.
From The Autumn by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I welcome the Autumn and the element of water as it begins to rain while writing this message to you. Blessed rain after a long, dry, and hot summer. Though I appreciate the everyday epiphanies of time spent in the outdoors, the garden, and the thrill of growing tomatoes, the turning of the wheel guiding us toward our inner world is my true home. This is a fertile time for our creativity!
Through the summer I have been working on the mandala commission shown above. What I have titled the “Hope Mandala,” was commissioned by a lovely woman, Patti, who lives in the Boston area. It became clear in our exchanges via Skype and email that the universe had conspired to bring us together in order to manifest this work of sacred art that is both personal to her and universal in its message–hope and interconnectedness.
When I asked what she wanted to feel when looking at her mandala, she said hope and inner strength to preserve in her meditation practice. It became clear to her to dedicate her practice to the healing of the earth. I was thrilled that we shared this common vision and when I unveiled her mandala this week, she wept. The highest compliment I can receive for my work as it has touched the soul and why I refer to these commissions as soul-symbol mandalas. Learn more here.
Her chanting of the Great Compassion Mantra (Da Bei Zhou) immediately inspired my vision of Kuan Yin, Bodhisattva of Compassion, or She Who Hears the Cries of the World, to be at the heart of the mandala or yantra. Here, she holds the willow sprinkling the divine nectar of compassion and healing on our beloved mother earth. Behind her, the Taoist symbol of yin/yang symbolizes her dual nature/paths in life: The yang/masculine side as a finance person (represented by the mother board texture). The yin/feminine aspect of your Spiritual Self, who feels connected to the universe as represented by the Gemini constellation, her astrological sign (the twins reinforce her dual nature).
On a macrocosmic scale, these also symbolize the ways in which we are all interconnected in the web of life. Through our technology, our cosmology, and globally as expressed with the longitude/latitude, or energy meridian, that holds the mandala. We are indeed one.
The flowers in the thresholds at each of the four cardinal directions symbolize hope, healing, clarity of vision, and courage/devotion. As a Chinese American woman, I included the kanji which translates as hope.
Prints and cards will be forthcoming and a percentage of the proceeds will benefit an organization working towards the healing of our world. More to come.
I’m currently preparing to attend the Parliament of World Religions next month that is being held in Salt Lake City, Utah. I sense this will be a continuation of my graduate work in our world’s spiritual traditions and the way these studies have informed my work as an artist and activist on behalf of our holy mother earth. Imagining new works, ceremonies, and offerings will emerge from this interfaith and indigenous sacred gathering. Look forward to sharing more as the journey unfolds.
What does it mean to be a contemplative in the modern world? Most often people associate contemplative living with the austerity and isolation of a monastery. At one time, that was true. Although there are still monastic communities around the globe, many of today’s contemplatives participate in the world but bring with them a deep sense of reverence for life, the Holy, into daily life. Like the mystics from all spiritual traditions, there exists an an awareness of the numinous presence that infuses every aspect of our lives. While Buddhist teachings and meditation guide me in deepening my awareness into the present moment, two teachers that also speak to me around contemplative living are Caroline Myss and the late Thomas Merton. In her book “Entering the Castle,” Myss offers a guidebook for answering the call of the soul and she coins the phrase “Mystics without Monasteries” to describe this new way of being in the world. Click here for an excerpt from her book.
And in “New Seeds of Contemplation,” Merton writes: “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, an awareness of the reality of that Source.” Click here for more on Merton.
Living a contemplative life doesn’t require that we renounce the world but it does require choosing a new way of being in the world. Slowing down, unplugging from the technology (at least periodically), and learning to be with the silence in order to create space for encountering what Merton called the “spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life.” Why is this important to those of us who live in the 21st century? As we know, we live in a fast-paced and enormously stressful world. Carving out time in our personal lives for contemplation can open up new possibilities that nurture our spiritual life, our creativity, our relationships (to each other and to the Earth) and bring more calm into our daily lives. I’ve walked the stressed-out, workaholic lifestyle and know that world, too. For all the uncertainty that may come with following my soul’s calling, every day I wake feeling grateful…for life, for beauty, for this present moment…which is all we ever truly have.
I live much of my day in silence, except for the abundant birdsong coming in from the garden, but this may not be possible for those with the demands of family and workplace. So, where to begin if you are just starting out? I recently heard spiritual teacher August Gold interviewed and thought she had a great framework in starting a practice if you don’t have one. She suggests beginning every day with 15 minutes in this way:
· 5 minutes reading inspirational materials
· 5 minutes journaling what is most alive in your heart
· 5 minutes of silent sitting (no TV, radio, computers!)
I would also add, 5 minutes of sketching, doodling, or collaging to tap into your creative source!