The Web of Life

“Humankind has not woven the web of life.  We are but one thread within it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”  

Chief Seattle (1780-1866)

Treasure in the Gulf

Treasure in the Gulf:  My homage to the lives lost to the horrific BP Oil Disaster of 2010.

With all of the darkness right now from the embarrassing US presidential scene to Orlando shootings, I am choosing to stand on the side of love and light.  I will do what I can from a place of joy, love, honor, and respect.  For me, that is creating art that lifts up what I value most — nature, the Divine in everything, and the beauty in the everyday.

On April 20, 2010, the horrific BP oil disaster killed and injured countless animals and damaged miles of sea and land.  My empathetic nature brought me to a place of being nearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of what humans have done and continue to do to the earth and sentient beings.  Thankfully, I was inspired to use my art as my voice.  I created a mixed media piece called Treasure In the Gulf to honor the lives of those that suffered and died, specifically the sea turtles.  Art matters.  The Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, Georgia, got wind of this piece and asked to sell prints.  I agreed, donating a portion of the proceeds to the center for the rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles victimized by the tragedy.  In some small way, my art made a difference.  We each have to do what we can when faced with darkness in all its forms.  Sometimes, we cannot fathom how our actions will impact others.  It’s just important to act from the heart.

I’m feeling called again.  We (and this is the universal “we” of the larger culture) invade their (the animals who were here long before us) territory to build homes and businesses then wonder why they are encroaching on “our” space.  We destroy their habitats and put those that remain into captivity then wonder why they act the way they act.  We call ourselves thrill-seekers, putting our lives in harm’s way for the rush we get for being in danger, then wonder why we are attacked.  We wonder why there aren’t as many of a species (or why they vanished) when we hunt them for “sport” and pose for “cutsey” pictures of ourselves with rifles and a beautiful dead beast lying in a pool of its own blood on the ground in front of us.

Look at us.  There are some who have taken the position that we are here to hold dominion over the earth and its other inhabitants (the animals, the trees, the ocean, and all others).  Dominion… domination.  Look where that has gotten us.

My belief holds that we are stewards of the land and that we are here only for a little while to take care of, honor, protect, and love.  Yes, we need places to live and yes, we need food.  We can have those things and be stewards of the earth at the same time.   “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”  Iroquios saying circa 1700-1800.

It is a tragedy when an animal does something that harms or kills a human being.  I do not diminish that with this blog post by any means.  I want to broaden our perspective and take compassion on all the beings involved in these stories.  It is also a tragedy that the animals are blamed and killed when their action is a direct result of our own actions.  They are acting out of their own nature.  It is how they are and how they have lived for thousands of years before we came along and put them in these unnatural positions.

I’m going to let my art speak for my pained heart.  I am only one person but I’m not helpless.  The best emerges when we each stand and do what we can.  For starters, I am inspired to create art that honors Alligator, Silverback Gorilla, Lion, and Shark.  I am sad for people who have suffered or died and I am equally sad for the other victims in these situations– the animals.

“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.”  (Cree saying)

 

 

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Slow and Deliberate

I’ve been recording my dreams for over 30 years, keeping journals & reflecting on the meaning of my dreams for I believe they are messengers that can inform our lives.  In the past few years, I’ve extended my dreamwork wisdom to workshops & women’s groups, with the intention of helping others use their intuitive wisdom to interpret their own dreams.

Our inner council (intuition, gut, guardian angel, etc…) works for our highest good.  It’s up to us to acknowledge that & make changes as needed.

In a recent dream, a white alligator protected a younger version of myself.  The alligator sat half-submerged in the water, unmoving yet vigilant & alert to her surroundings.  Nothing escaped her notice.  I sat timidly in the shelter of some exposed tree roots where the water met the shore.  I was hiding but never saw what the danger was.  The alligator knew… she would make sure I stayed safe.

When I awoke,  I referenced Animal Speak by Ted Andrews.  This resource is full of animal facts & symbolic interpretations that have guided me well for years.  Even if I dream about the same animal more than once, I’m able to get something different & relevant from this book.  This time, the part that resonated for me was a few sentences on the alligator’s eating habits & how it digests its food very slowly.  That spoke to where I am now.  I’m taking in a lot of new information from a variety of sources.  Some is worth retaining & applying to my life.  Other information is merely that endless stream of garbage from the internet, the news, & print media.

If the alligator dream wasn’t enough of a message, I read Grandmothers Counsel the World by Carol Schaefer.  The passage I read aligned perfectly with the dream.  In it, Schaefer quotes a Yupik elder (a tribe of indigenous people near the Arctic Circle) who said, “Yupiks believe it is significant that we are born very small & grow slowly, not eating right away, slowly developing our awareness of the world.”

Synchronicity… I’m hearing the same message to “slow down & be deliberate with my actions” from more than one source.  I take this to mean that I need to limit the intake of information so I can slowly process what I’ve already learned.  Digest what I’ve already bitten off before taking another bite.  To stay in balance, I need to proceed at a pace that’s right for me.  These messages alert me to the fact that I’ve been so eager to learn, grow, & move on to a new project that I’m at risk of making careless mistakes. Instead of working shallow & broad, I need to work deep & narrow, focusing on what truly matters.  What I do is meaningful & I need to take it to a new level without being distracted by the rest of the information bombarding my mind, heart, & soul.

Dreams are powerful.  I’ll honor my own inner wisdom & heed what they have to say.

After the Quest

I hesitate writing about my Vision Quest so soon after the experience, knowing that my initial response to it will resemble spaghetti sauce right after combining the ingredients– good but not nearly as good as it will be if I let it simmer for a while.  My view of my Vision Quest hasn’t gotten the richness, depth, or complexity it will have after it “simmers in me” for a few weeks or months, but I want to share it with you anyway, for these early realizations have merit of their own.

At the campsite, our spiritual guide prepared five of us for our quests by quoting Ralph Blum’s “Druid’s Vow”.

I honor your gods.

I drink at your well.

I bring an unprotected heart to our meeting place.

I hold no cherished outcome.

I will not navigate by withholding.

I am not subject to disappointment.

Intellectually, I got it– no expectations, no disappointment.  What is meant to be will be.  Spiritually, on the other hand, I was to find out that the message hadn’t made it into my heart.  (More on that later.)

Our guide suggested that we take a few things with us- a rattle, objects for an altar, writing materials, & art supplies.  I felt very uncomfortable taking a journal because I wanted to “turn up the volume” on my intuition without the critic in my consciousness interrupting.  She explained that we aren’t to analyze what we experience, merely record it so we don’t forget details that may be of importance to us later.  I questioned the wisdom of that for me, “Can I record without judgment?”  Eventually, I made peace with the idea.  She’s right.  There are so many subtle signs & messages in nature that I may want to jot them down so I can reflect on them later.  My journal & pen went into the backpack.

After what was a sleepless night for some of us, we rose to begin our Quests with a profoundly sublime purification ritual that connected us to one another, our inner selves, nature, & the benevolent spirits around us.  Following the ritual, I practically ran to my place in the meadow, eager to get the logistics of setting up the site over with so I could begin the spiritual aspect of the Quest.  Almost immediately, I heard something greater than myself correct me, “There is no separation of logistics & spirituality; it’s all part of the Quest.”  Chastised, I changed my attitude, walking into the meadow with humble reverence.

I created a sacred space by fastening prayer ties in the north, south, east, & west, invoking the spirits of the directions, then set up my tent & lay out an altar of objects that are deeply meaningful to me.  I raised my voice in prayer, “I’m vulnerable & open to accepting & acting on any message of love you send me for my greatest & highest good.”

There I sat on the mountainside overlooking trees, wildflowers, & the vast expanse of sky I needed to establish a serene sense of connection with all that is.  The nearby brook, babbling noisily over the rocks, was a comforting companion.   “I’m part of this & this is part of me”, I sighed, taking notice of the ground literally vibrating with ants, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies, & other creatures whose entire world is this mountaintop.  “This is all that matters to them– being in this place at this time”, I thought.

While countless species of insects accompanied me both day & night, it was the grasshoppers who stood out from the rest.  At any given moment while I was awake, at least 6 were simply hanging out on my altar.  Sure, butterflies landing on my knee & ants crawling on my skirt are to be expected when I sit in a meadow,  but 6 or more grasshoppers sitting silently on an altar seem a bit out of the ordinary!  I got out my sketchpad & drew each one, noting how different they were.  No two looked alike.  Every creature is unique… it’s not a quality reserved just for the human race.

(Once home, I referenced Ted Andrews book Animal Speak to find out the symbolic meaning of grasshopper.  He wrote, “When grasshopper shows up, there is about to be a new leap forward…  Grasshopper can show up if we are not listening or if we are afraid to make the leap off our mound… Remember, a grasshopper always leaps up or forward.  It doesn’t leap backward… Trust your inner voice.“)

My Vision Quest had both peaks of joy & contentment & valleys of doubt & fear.  At times, I felt at one with all around me & other times I felt like a fraud for even attempting this highly spiritual experience that stretched me far beyond my comfort zone.

Remember what I wrote about having no expectations & not subjecting myself to disappointment?  I have to confess that I did both… I expected a spiritual epiphany in the form of a burning bush or some spiritual being hovering in blindingly white light before my eyes.  After all, I fasted, drove hours from home, & slept in the dark among the deer flies & mosquitoes… didn’t I deserve a spiritual epiphany?  When that didn’t happen, I was disappointed, accusing myself of being a bad Vision Quester.  Really?!  I’m going to beat myself up because I didn’t get a miracle?  That sounds ridiculous but that’s what happened.

I was human.

At that moment, I realized a purpose of my quest… to face my Shadow, the Perfectionist.  I didn’t get a lesson from an angel, Native American spirit guide, or even my power animal; instead, my teachers were the insects all around me, for they knew better than I to live with no expectations & hold no disappointments.  Simply be your authentic self.  That’s all that is asked of any of us.

I knew that… I just needed a reminder.

Nature-Inspired Wall Hangings Part 1

I have a tendency to pick up natural objects as I walk through parks, on nature trails, or along the beach.  That’s why my art studio has baskets overflowing with twigs & bowls brimming with feathers, stones, & seashells.  By bringing Nature into my home, I feel a constant connection to what I hold sacred.  By bringing Her into my art, I can honor that connection & celebrate the beauty found in woods, water, & wildlife.  I hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed creating them.  May your senses be heightened to the beauty all around you.

Spiral Wall Hanging- the spiral is an ancient symbol of creation

Purple Fern Wall Hanging- energy is created by the contrasting purple & gold metallic ink.

Twig Wall Hanging- gnarled branches bring personality & movement

Check out the art I have for sale at www.etsy.com/shop/PureSusan

10% discount coupon available now through Dec. 31, 2012.  Type in “PureSusan2”

My Garden; My Retreat

Last weekend, we went to Landis Valley’s Herb & Garden Faire & the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  I was STARVING for a deeper connection to nature as life has been pretty hectic lately.  It was a great day for a festival with temperatures in the 60s, a blue sky, & fluffy clouds rolling by lazily.  My eyes danced as I took in all the heirloom vegetables, fragrant herbs, native perennials, homemade soap, organic dog biscuits, & gourd birdhouses. Every year, I accept the fact that my wallet is full when I arrive & it will be empty when I leave.  This year was no different; we bought over 50 plants, 3 birdhouses, & a gorgeous wrought iron garden hose holder!

I spent two days on my hands & knees in the dirt with these little plants.  Some will nourish us.  Some will nourish the birds & bees.  And still others will attract butterflies & hummingbirds.  I truly want to make my yard a safe haven for wildlife as well as a peaceful sanctuary for those I love.

Can you tell that I LOVE gardening?

My handy tools have served me well for years.

I welcome new friends into my flowerbeds.

When I bought this house, there was only one small tree & a forsythia bush.  Because I spent a year & a half in England, completely falling in love with cottage gardens, I wanted to replicate that slightly wild, overgrown look here.

The garden has come a long way in 7 years.

This is my back garden today. Doesn’t a picnic lunch outside sound wonderful?

My garden is my retreat.  The 2nd highest compliment given to me is a friend saying, “I love it here.  It’s so peaceful.”  The highest compliment I receive is from Mother Nature– who blesses this space with the return of earthworms, monarch butterflies, centipedes, praying mantis, bunnies, bees, & birds.  I didn’t see a single worm when I began gardening here 7 years ago so turning over a shovel full of dirt to reveal an underground community of critters makes my heart sing.

Whatever I have given back to the earth, She has returned to me tenfold.