“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!
First walk on Spring Equinox, 2022.
Someday, emerging at last from the violent insight,
let me sing out jubilation and praise to assenting angels.
Let not even one of the clearly-struck hammers of my heart
fail to sound because of a slack, a doubtful,
or a broken string. Let my joyfully streaming face
make me more radiant; let my hidden weeping arise
and blossom. How dear you will be to me then, you nights
of anguish. Why didn’t I kneel more deeply to accept you,
inconsolable sisters, and surrendering, lose myself
in your loosened hair. How we squander our hours of pain…
-Rainer Marie Rilke, from The Tenth Duino Elegy
Dear earth|art loving friends:
Rilke’s poems, especially the Duino Elegies, have been a constant companion over these past several months. If you have arrived upon my website and haven’t seen my social media posts, I wanted to share some of my journey with you here. On January 18th, my life changed in an instant as happens in life. I slipped on black ice on my way to the mailbox and fractured my patella. A very pretty name for our knee cap. It broke into three pieces and the surgeon was miraculously able to reconstruct it with screws and rods. It has been an excruciating physical journey beginning with the fracture itself, straightening the leg in the emergence room, post-op surgery, and months of physical therapy working to get it back to full functionality. It’s the most difficult thing I have had to do physically in my life to date.
I’ve always worked to stay healthy, active, and athletic throughout my life and bearing witness to my brother’s agonizing death from AIDS thirty-three years ago implanted daily gratitude for the gift of good health, especially as I have aged. Though I nearly died from appendicitis when I was 16 and was bitten by a dog who ripped a big chunk of skin off my left arm six years ago nothing prepared me for this journey. But how can we prepare, truly? Like a diagnosis of any kind, you are thrown into an alternate reality of treatments and, hopefully, healing. I’m grateful that this isn’t a diagnosis, that I am making progress, and expecting a full recovery but that hasn’t been clear from the start.
I kept hearing six-to-eight weeks or I wouldn’t get back the function of my leg sending me into fear and “nights of anguish” to quote Rilke. I prayed for guidance from the angels, and Mother Earth/Pachamama, before and during every bend of my leg. Wailing. Pushing. Crying. Praying to get to 90º. Four times a day. Every day. This went on for several weeks without any progress and was looking at the possibility of a surgical manipulation. Thankfully, as my patella healed, and with new PT practices, my leg slowly began to bend more each and every day. And I continue to progress one brutal step at a time and now can see the light of hope.
I’ve asked Spirit what is it that I am to learn from this experience. I know deeply the finiteness and fragility of life, likely, from my early near death experience, then from the early deaths of my brother, mother, and best friend over 30 years ago. I’ve lived my life knowing that my time is limited and have followed the threads of my soul calling. Perhaps it is trust? Surrendering? Or learning to receive and being cared for which isn’t necessarily easy for a wildly independent woman such as myself? Or to welcome a rest or sabbatical, albeit forced, from my ambitions to serve our besieged Mother Earth? I’m still asking the questions. Rilke is also famous for having advised us to “live the questions.”
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rilke
At work on the “Kinship Mandala, May 2022.”
I haven’t been painting during these months though I am now finding the energy to give attention once again to my art and vision. It’s been so grueling physically that I didn’t have the strength to stand at the easel until now though I have been sketching, doing some design work, and I wrote a chapter titled “The Healing Power of Art and Holy Listening” about my transformative journey through loss for an anthology being published by a local community on the gifts of grief. I’ll share more when it is printed.
I am excited to be emerging from this place of liminality—betwixt and between—and I “sing out jubilation and praise” for this gift of life, beauty, and love. Deep gratitude to my surgeon, physical therapists, and my sister and brother-in-law. And to all those who have been sending prayers and holding the light of healing for me over these months. It takes a village to heal.
And to the angels…
“Rilke’s Angel” (In process).
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,
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”~ John Milton, 17th c poet.
Welcome new friends! As I await Hurricane Dorian’s impact here in my adopted state of NC, contemplating this painting “Reverence.” They say Raleigh-Durham area shouldn’t experience too much damage but sending out prayers to those devastated in the Bahamas and coastal areas. The awe and fierceness of Mother Gaia.
While working on this painting a few years ago, what kept coming to me was “Why Do We Crucify Ourselves?” (in the face of the climate crisis and ecological degradation) but what ultimately came through was “reverence”. How do we reverence the earth so profoundly, that it changes “forever how we experience life and [care for] the world?
I’ve always been drawn to the Celtic Cross when I see them scattered throughout old cemeteries–standing there majestically with their beautiful, ornate designs. Here, I added the Celtic knot pattern inspired by my own ancestral, Scottish homeland and symbols of the four elements (air, fire, earth, water) used by alchemists. I love drawing from the wisdom of the ancients, who have much to teach us about balancing the transcendent with the sacred imminent woven throughout the everyday.
It was a delight to have people from 350 Triangle come together in my new studio space to co-create in preparation for the upcoming Climate Strike here in Raleigh, and there are actions all across the globe. It’s been many years since I’ve had any workshops in my space due in part to caring for my elderly father until his death and then the transition to move back to the East coast. Feel energized again to start offering workshops again this fall. Visit my workshops page to learn more: https://www.sacredartstudio.net/events/
With love and gratitude,
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” -Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
Solnit’s book has become my manifesto during these troubled times. This week here in the U.S. has been particularly grievous with two mass shootings grounded in racism and misogyny further dividing our country. I send out love and a breathe of solidarity to all feeling the heartbreak of this trauma.
If you have been following my work, you know how deeply I believe in our fundamental interconnectedness and oneness with all beings including the more-than-human world. In my grief and outrage, it would be easier to just give up and the last few days have tested my faith in the healing power of art. At the same time, I have continue to show up in the morning and paint my heart on the canvas. What else am I to do, I ask?
I also agree with one of my spiritual teachers, Marianne Williamson, who is running for President. The forces of hatred are so strong that we must LOVE with the same (or more) intensity and conviction. Love of self, love of the neighbor & stranger, love of beauty, love of mother earth.
I don’t know how Julian of Norwich (who inspired the painting above), who lived as an anchoress during the Black Death in Europe, was able to say: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well” but it helps to remember that there have been other dark periods in our human history. And that art and beauty have likewise prevailed. Will you join me in this revolutionary love?
If you would like to support this ministry, you can purchase prints, posters, blankets, and note cards at my online store.
With love and gratitude,
“Sacred Art. Sacred Activism” in the August issue.
From the introduction:
We are living in a time of great change: racial, economic, and political polarities continue; climate change is contributing to record wildfires, drought, and other natural disasters across the globe; and mass shootings are sadly becoming normative to our daily lives.
There is much to grieve as we bear witness to our changing world. In tandem with what has been defined as the great unraveling, many of us are already participating in the birth of a new evolutionary consciousness as the Science of Mind community has long affirmed. Out of this darkness there is a collective rebirth yet to come with the light of love as our guide. As we navigate this threshold between a dying paradigm and a world that works for all, can art hold out a mirror to the truth of our oneness and the sacredness of all creation? Can art inspire hope and action on behalf of the living earth?
Throughout history, human beings have given expression to God, the Divine. Consider the cave paintings of Lascaux, the Hagia Sophia mosque in Turkey, or the golden icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church. To quote the late Irish philosopher John O’Donohue: “God is Beauty.” Sacred art is born of the marriage between the Holy and the creative imagination.
The Science of Mind magazine is available at Barnes and Noble and by subscription. https://scienceofmind.com/
|“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!
“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
It has been a slow unfolding here since my last newsletter. Settling into my new home and studio here in Panther Branch Township just south of downtown Raleigh. It’s now six months since I pulled out of Portland and headed back East to begin a new chapter of life. Something I swore I would never do after moving alone to Portland in 1993. It was hard then and I was in my early 30s. It took time to make a life but a beautiful life it was and remain so grateful for all the many gifts over the years.
Never say never. Here I am approaching 60 and starting over again! Natural concerns about finding community, making meaningful connections, and making a living linger but life–and loss–have taught me too many times that everyday is a gift. Some days I am lonely but on this day of life, I am following my soul. Where it will lead remains a mystery. This is the journey of a pilgrim. Will you join me? “Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life” to quote Oliver. Where are you being called to expand and take a step toward your soul calling? Artistically or otherwise?
Right now, I am committed to finishing the “Where We Stand is Holy” installation by the end of August to begin exhibiting in the Fall. I began the series of paintings around endangered species and landscapes several years ago but got put aside while care taking my father prior to his death and with the cross-country move. Prints of the first two panels (Lauds: Prayer for the Birds and “Sext: Prayer for the Desert”) are available at my shop.
The new studio seen above looks out over a quiet piece of land with wild trees, a little pond, and an abundance of Cardinals and Eastern Bluebirds. I traveled 3000 miles to find peace. Om shanti. Though I do look forward to returning to Portland to visit friends!
For love of the EARTH,
It has been a slow emergence from the cocoon this winter season as I ground into my new home state of North Carolina. Now we’ve passed the New Year, Imbolc on February 2, the mid-point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox in the Celtic tradition, and the start of the Chinese New Year-the year of the Pig. If you’re this sign as well, visit this link to learn more. Looks to be an auspicious year!
There are stirrings of creative energy around the coming season of rebirth as trees begin to bud and bloom here. Perhaps you’re feeling this impulse, too? New paintings are percolating, several are in process, and I recently completed the painting above. When I first painted in the golden crown, I wasn’t clear why until I deepened into the piece. An ancient Sumerian goddess, Inanna’s underworld journey is an archetypal symbol of transformation and rebirth. I first discovered her 18 years ago during another time of deep transformation and if you would like to learn more about her, this is a great text.
Here, she emerges from the yoni, or womb, of the Vesica Piscis, the two intersecting triangles that are considered the “seat of creation” in sacred geometry. One circle representing the transcendent/Sacred and the other, the material/profane. Two circles lead to seven intersecting triangles that become the “Seed of Creation.” This being the foundation for the six-pointed Star of David in Judaism, the Seal of Solomon in Islam, the Shri Yantra in Hinduism, and the hexagram that appears throughout Nature, like the honeycomb seen here in the painting.
I love learning more about sacred geometry as it offers another way to communicate the Sacred that is woven throughout the fabric of our everyday lives. We are interconnected beings. Bridging religion and science, we can discover more commonalities than differences especially among our faith traditions. From Albert Einstein: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
New studio space coming!
I’ve also been in the process of looking for a new home and studio space and am scheduled to close on a new property March 19, right in line with Spring Equinox. This is the photo below of the converted garage that will be the new home of Sacred Art Studio, based in Raleigh.
I continue to feel profound gratitude for your support of this holy ministry and Mother Earth for her beauty and abundance. I’m also feeling hopeful these days with the changes in our Congress and the growing climate awareness/actions especially from our young people. They need our support for their future! As always, I welcome your thoughts.
With love and gratitude,