Mystical Musings

Unveiling Conference of the Birds + Call for Unity

“O people! We have been taught the language of birds, and been given everything
˹we need˺. This is indeed a great privilege.” Quran 27:16

birds, bird bath, and archways

As I shared with you last month, The “Conference of the Birds” was originally inspired by a Sufi text of the same name by Farid Ud-Din Attar, who influenced our most famous Sufi poets and mystics Rumi and Hafez. Though the painting doesn’t include birds from this epic poem, I loved the dialogue among the birds within the text about their journey (including their initial resistance) toward union with the One, the Beloved.

Who hasn’t experienced that resistance on the spiritual journey? There is a lot of fear in our world right now and it would be easy to give up on that which feeds life. But when we answer the call of Spirit, there is no going back sleep. And we will need to deepen our commitment in holding the light in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Attar was Persian, so the arches and textures are inspired by Islamic architecture and designs which render a feeling of the sacred. Per these evolutionary times we are living through, along with the beauty in the Garden, there is darkness around us as the poppy and lily flowers also portend. But here the Cardinal, Goldfinch, Red-winged Black Bird, and Arctic Tern hold the light of hope in the center around the circle of life, the one Divine source. Red, yellow, black and white, we are one people. Let us join together in love and unity for the healing of our world, and the Earth. Though difficult to see at this size, the red calligraphy at the bottom is Farsi, the Persian language, for love.

“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. “ -Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.

flowers, plants, animals in the center of mandala
“Reciprocity Mandala” inspired by Braiding Sweetgrass.

May it be so as we navigate this election day here in the United States and in the days ahead.

With love and gratitude,
Amy

Conference of the Birds

golden arches
From my September newsletter:
“I want to feel both the beauty and the pain of the age we are living in. I want to survive my life without becoming numb. I want to speak and comprehend words of wounding without having these words becoming the landscape where I dwell. I want to possess a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars.” -Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds 

I’ve been at a loss for words given everything happening in our world right now. I’m feeling “the pain of the age we are living in” to quote Williams. And I am also looking to the beauty of what remains around me daily. Some would argue a luxury as a person of privilege. Perhaps it is, but I also believe we each have access to the beauty of the living earth at any given moment. We can take moments to stop. Listen. Breathe. Turn off the phone and look at the trees. Listen to the birds. This and art and books, especially poetry, are keeping me sane. What are the ways you are navigating these times?

The “Conference of the Birds” (above) was originally inspired by a Sufi text of the same name by Farid Ud-Din Attar that I discovered through another author, Belden Lane, though none of the birds in this epic poem are included in this painting. Instead, there is Cardinal, Goldfinch, Red-winged Black Bird, and Arctic Tern.

I’m drawing once again from the wisdom of Chief Arvol Looking Horse during the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2015 that inspired the “All Nations Tree of Life” below. With so much divisiveness in our country right now, this message could not be more urgent. He said: “Red, yellow, black, and white, we must join together as a spiritual community to heal Mother Earth.” Read previous post here.

What I found interesting while working on the “All Nations” painting was the connection to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The raven (in the tree) appears in many indigenous origin stories and also in the Hebrew bible. Noah releases a raven before the dove. (Gen 8) The same four colors of the medicine wheel appear in the Shamanic Judaism (according Rabbi Gershon Winkler). And in the New Testament: “On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Rev 22).

There are so many ways we are interdependent and pray that we come together as a nation to heal the wounds of racial and economic inequality, divisiveness, and the climate crisis. Sending prayers to all being impacted by the fires on the West coast of the US and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, and to those around the World facing the challenges of our times.

With gratitude and love, Amy

Welcoming Autumn & Archangel Raphael

four archangels in medicine wheel with horses
“Wheel of the Four Winds” ©Amy Livingstone

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/

Nature as Muse. New prints!

fawn sleeping in grass
From my July newsletter:

I woke very early one morning recently to see this sweet fawn nestled against this large grass. With my 35mm and zoom lens, I was able to capture this precious moment. I am also now watching over three turtle nests, or clutches, here on the land. The turtles wandered up from the pond nearby and deposited their eggs within view of the kitchen where I now await their emergence next month. I pray over each one on my way to the studio and hope the little ones make it back to the pond. I feel blessed to have many of these magical moments with creatures of all kinds here.

As lonely as it can feel during this pandemic, I am grateful for the kinship and beauty with “the peace of wild things” to borrow from poet Wendell Berry. My beloved former home of Portland is under siege right now and sending my love and support to my community there who are involved in standing up for racial justice.

Is art a luxury during such a challenging and uncertain time? Some days you might wonder, but imagine this pandemic without the arts? Our creativity. No paintings, books, music, poetry, movies, videos, etc. And the amazing murals giving expresson to our time. I’m heartened by the way people, having been forced to slow down, are also now hearing the birdsong out their window and are being present to all the wonders of the natural world. That is hopeful in spite of the darkness right now. To quote Thoreau, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” And the soul, I would add.

What wonders are you seeing around you. Right now in this moment? 

DOODLE OR DRAW YOUR EXPERIENCE OF THE WORLD AROUND YOU.

From an early age, Nature was my muse. Though I’m working on several larger paintings pencil drawing which was my first medium is fun for me and a meditation. Here, the Luna Moth, a recent visitor to the studio. I invite you to join me for this practice in seeing, being present, and giving expression!

NEW PRINTS AND FREE SHIPPING
During this quarantine time, I have updated my website, YouTube channel (see a virtual tour of my studio here in NC) and my online shop with free shipping on giclee prints! There are so many new prints available now including canvas prints. Watch the video below to learn more.

Introducing
Introducing “Reciprocity Mandala” canvas prints

SUPPORT THE MORE BEAUTIFUL WORLD OUR HEARTS KNOW IS POSSIBLE.

For love of the Earth!

Alchemy of Change

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
Alchemy of Change, 12×12″ 2020, ©Amy Livingstone

From my June Newsletter

Greetings Earth Lovers

What a difference a few weeks makes. We are living in extraordinary times indeed. I know many of us are feeling the sorrow (and outrage) of our collective history and the racial injustice towards people of color in this country. We are a nation founded on genocide and slavery and it now feels there is reckoning for those of us who have had the luxury to turn away. But the time is now. Change is here. I pray that like the lotus that grows out of the watery muck and the butterfly that emerges from the darkness of its chrysalis, that the beauty of unity, justice, healing, and reconciliation will blossom.

The arts are playing a significant role at this time. Numerous books, films, and documentaries offer us an opportunity to learn and understand. I don’t know how to have the difficult conversations but as a white woman, right now I am educating myself and ready to listen.

Arts & Activism Symposium
If you missed the “Arts & Activism Symposium” recently, you can view it at this link. I start my presentation “Sacred Art and Spiritual Ecology” at 50 minutes but the other speakers are so inspiring and moving. Learn about the “Under Sea Garden: An interwoven collaboration utilizing reclaimed marine rope and ghost netting” from Emily Miller and Shelby Silver and also “Meeting Trauma With Laughter” from David Lichtenstein (Clowns Without Borders).
Arts and Activism
Arts & Activism Symposium with
Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network, GPSEN.org
In solidarity and love,
Amy

Your Chrysalis & the Mythic Imagination

Inanna: Queen of Heaven & Earth. 2019, 15x30", Acrylic and Jewels

The Holy Longing
Goethe

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.

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,
Amy

Unveiling Yggdrasil Tree of Life

Yggdrasil Tree of Life

Unveiling “Yggdrasil Tree of Life.” For the beauty and mythic narratives of our ancestors who also lived through times of profound uncertainty. May we rise to the challenges of our time with courage, faith, and an open heart. This is long but wanted to share the meaning behind this complex cosmology. What do you see?

My intention was to research the cosmology and mythology of my Swedish ancestors. I wonder if my grandmother Gerda heard about this as a fairytale when she was a child? This work continues with my vision to draw out the pre-Christian, indigenous roots (earth-based spirituality) within our own lineage or faith traditions in order to remember and reconnect to our interconnectedness in the web of life. Our separation from Nature has contributed to the multiple crises we are currently experiencing including the climate crisis and the global pandemic.

I began with the colors of the Swedish and Sami, the indigenous peoples of Scandinavia, flags. The border colors represent the former—blue and yellow. Around the border, the ancient Rune language. The inner ring symbolizes the Sami flag with red (fire), blue (water), yellow (air), and green (earth). And the flowers are similar to those used in their clothing and textiles.

In the Norse cosmology, Yggdrasil is an Ash Tree that forever remains green. It is the holy place of the gods. Because Odin is associated with the tree, his ravens hold the space surrounding the mandala or medicine wheel. The goddess Freya’s cats hold court on either side of Yggdrasil. Three roots of the tree hold it up and stretch out widely. There are nine realms that include humans, gods, giants and fairies.

Ratatosk, is the squirrel, who delivers messages along the rainbow bridge from the eagle above to Nidhogg, the dragon, below. Four stags—Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór—gnaw on the buds of the tree. The swans represent the well of Urd where the Norns reside and who were a group (in some sources), a trio of very wise female entities whose magical abilities were unmatched by those of any other being. The shamans and wise women of Yggdrasil!

 

 

Our Painting for Pachamama

Amy Livingstone painting at her easel

From my January Newsletter:
New Year. New Decade. New beginnings. Holding this as I navigate darker feelings than usual around the state of our world, and Mother Earth. The fires in Australia. The loss of species. I know we’re all feeling the intensity of these troubled times. Art and beauty save me daily but it’s been a struggle. How about you?

I’ve painted over our communal painting (read here or previous post if you missed that invitation) several times. I read this from Stephen Pressfield in his book The War of Art today: “Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is that it means there’s tremendous love there too.” Not unlike our grief, which is also an expression of our love. Grief and/or resistance, I’ve returned to my original intention for this painting which is as an offering in the spirit of the Despacho ceremony inspired by my pilgrimage to Peru.

Here, I am painting the Kintu leaves (groups of 3 cocoa leaves), naming the places and creatures you have shared with me. Blowing my breath into the leaf image as a prayer on the wind. The bee at the center, declared the most important bee-ing on the planet.This will likely be a slow process  but I am grateful to be a hollow little bone for spirit, to give expression for all your beloved beings.

 

Co-Create a Communal Painting for Hope

Would you like to contribute to the vision for a communally-inspired painting as an offering of hope and healing for our world? If you have been following along on my journey, you probably are familiar with and share my deep concerns for our beloved Mother Earth. But I want to hear from you!

What being(s) in the more-than-human world do you love? Who would you grieve if that being is lost due to the ecological crisis including climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, ocean acidification, plastics? Perhaps a special place? Or a bird? A creature? Trees? Coffee beans? Bees? Salmon? Coral reefs? Respond to this email as soon as possible!

Let’s co-create this offering of beauty for the earth. I can see showing this when it is complete and having others contribute as well. More to come as this project evolves.  

“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” -Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

I look forward to hearing from you! Namasté.

 

Sneak Peek “Vespers: Prayer for the Sacred Waters”

venus emerging from the water with animals in border
“Vespers: Prayer for the Sacred Waters.” ©Amy Livingstone
Vespers is the evening prayer of thanksgiving and praise in the Liturgy of the Hours. This was the most challenging painting for the “Where We Stand is Holy” installation as every body of water and her creatures are threatened. It was difficult to discern what to include: dolphins, sharks, blue fin tuna? The list is endless. Inspired by an interview I heard with world-reknowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle who spoke of the profound beauty when she started diving and given that our coral reefs are in crisis, I included many of the beautiful fish that call these underwater lungs home.   

The figure became Aphrodite who was born of the sea. Doves, the scallop shell, and pearl are some of her sacred symbols. And the chalice at the center, signifies the holiness of water that is used in every spiritual tradition for liturgical ritual. Water is life. Water is sacred.    

Thank you for following along on this journey that began many years ago. After the first two panels were complete, I placed it on hold while I cared for my elderly father and made the transition back to the East coast. It felt like an overwhelming vision when I began and grateful to Spirit for guiding my hand.     

Trust is an important aspect of the creative process!   

Working on the rest of the pieces for the installation that will create a temple space to celebrate the sanctity and beauty of the creation and to grieve what is being lost. Sending prayers to those in California who are affected by the recent wildfires. May all beings be safe.   

With love and gratitude, 
Amy

www.sacredartstudio.net
In Praise of Water  

Let us bless the grace of water: 
The imagination of the primeval ocean
Where the first forms of life stirred
And emerged to dress the vacant earth
With warm quilts of color. 

The well whose liquid root worked
Through the long night of clay,
Trusting ahead of itself openings
That would yet yield to its yearning
Until at last it arises in the desire of light
To discover the pure quiver of itself
Flowing crystal clear and free
Through delighted emptiness.

The courage of a river to continue belief
In the slow fall of ground,
Always falling farther
Toward the unseen ocean. 

The river does what words would love,
Keeping its appearance
By insisting on disappearance;
Its only life surrendered
To the event of pilgrimage,
Carrying the origin to the end, 

Seldom pushing or straining,
Keeping itself to itself
Everywhere all along its flow,
All at one with its sinuous mind,
An utter rhythm, never awkward,
It continues to swirl
Through all unlikeness,
With elegance:
A ceaseless traverse of presence
Soothing on each side
The stilled fields,
Sounding out its journey,
Raising up a buried music
Where the silence of time
Becomes almost audible. 

Tides stirred by the eros of the moon
Draw from that permanent restlessness
Perfect waves that languidly rise
And pleat in gradual forms of aquamarine
To offer every last tear of delight
At the altar of stillness inland.
And the rain in the night, driven
By the loneliness of the wind
To perforate the darkness,
As though some air pocket might open
To release the perfume of the lost day
And salvage some memory
From its forsaken turbulence 

And drop its weight of longing
Into the earth, and anchor. 

Let us bless the humility of water,
Always willing to take the shape
Of whatever otherness holds it, 

The buoyancy of water
Stronger than the deadening,
Downward drag of gravity,The innocence of water,
Flowing forth, without thought
Of what awaits it,The refreshment of water,
Dissolving the crystals of thirst. 

Water: voice of grief,
Cry of love,
In the flowing tear. 

Water: vehicle and idiom
Of all the inner voyaging
That keeps us alive. 

Blessed be water,
Our first mother. 

~ John O’Donohue