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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Sacred Smudge Sticks

Like people, each plant has a purpose.  Some provide nourishment, while others offer shelter or have healing properties.  In addition to its use as a culinary herb, Sage is known for protecting one’s environment & healing the energetic field (aura) of the person who uses it.  Some even call it the “Spirit Caller”.   For early Egyptians it promoted fertility & for the Celts, it represented immortality.  At 47, I have no desire for either of those!  Instead, I focus on this aromatic plant’s ability to banish evil & unwanted influences, create sacred space, heal, & inspire wisdom.

I use smudge sticks of Sage (sometimes combined with juniper or cedar) for a variety of reasons, most often, to bless my home.  I light the stick & use an owl feather to direct the scented smoke to the corners of each room.  As I walk in awareness, I say a special blessing for this space to be full of light, laughter, love, & warmth.  I also pray that my family & friends feel welcomed, nurtured, & loved when they enter my home.  Other times, I use sage to prepare for meditation or to dispel the negativity that can follow me home at the end of the day.  I imagine the day’s stress floating on the smoke & eventually disappearing.

Sage 2

As the chance of frost threatens my herb garden, I decided to harvest the varieties of sage to make smudge sticks for my friends. Before I cut the silver green leaves from their woody stems, I said a prayer of gratitude.  Once my basket was full, I brought the sage inside & selected 7 different colors of embroidery floss, representing the chakras, to wrap my sage into bundles.  I grasped a handful of sage, cut the stems evenly across the bottom, & secured them with the floss.   I set the intention that each smudge stick will bring healing & wisdom to the person who uses it.  There is exactly enough sage for the 7 major chakras.  Perfect!  I hope they enjoy the smudge sticks as much as I enjoyed making them.

A Vision Quest… for Me?

I generally recognize the moments in my life when I’m simply to say “Yes!!” without hesitation.  Whether I actually do it or not is another matter entirely.  Sometimes fear makes me second-guess myself, paralyzing me when I most want to act & filling me with regret if I submit to it.  When I find the courage to release the apprehension that grips me, instead confidently seizing life’s opportunities when they appear, I act from an authentic place- a place of intuition & deep knowing.  Then, there can be no regrets for at least I had the courage to try.

One of my spiritual teachers & dear friends offered me the chance to go on a Vision Quest…but wait a minute… aren’t Vision Quests for adolescent boys & girls of Native American descent or other indigenous people desiring a connection with all that is?  Yes.  Can Vision Quests be a way for any of us to connect with all that is, respectfully crying out for a vision for our lives, too?  Absolutely YES.

The Vision Quest is a way to seek clarity during life’s transitions & move forward from a place of greater awareness.  For example, we may need redirection or illumination at stages of our lives such as adolescence, graduation, marriage, divorce, empty-nest syndrome, menopause or retirement.  Any time we feel apprehension, restlessness, self-doubt, or a gnawing eagerness for transformation is a perfect time for a Vision Quest.

Diverse groups of people around the world have participated in Vision Quests for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  There are just as many ways to prepare for a Vision Quest, from purification rituals to fasting, as there are ways to experience the quest itself.  Some believe a Vision Quest should be taken without food & water while others believe water is acceptable.  Some believe it should last several days while others believe a shorter time is just as relevant.  There doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong here.  It’s all about intent.

Can a Vision Quest be a meaningful experience for a middle class, European-American woman,  like me, in the 21st century?  Again, YES.  I approached the concept of Vision Quests carefully for I never want to be disrespectful of someone’s beliefs by arrogantly sticking in my flag, claiming their tradition for my own.  (There’s already been too much of that.)  Yet I continue to consider the value in the quest for I view my spirituality globally, believing wholeheartedly that everything is connected & that truth can be found in a variety of places if viewed with open eyes & open hearts.  I researched & meditated on this topic for weeks to ensure that I was doing this for the right reasons, taking time to consider my motives & expectations.

So why do I want to do this?  Time alone with the Divine speaks to my spirit (my soul) so I’m going to go on the quest, staying open to what will be.

As I prepare,  I realize the need for a physical, mental, emotional, & spiritual commitment on my part… obvious proof that my intentions are pure so I follow my instincts & do what feels right to get ready for this experience.  While some people set a specific purpose for their quest, I choose instead to humbly say, “Communicate with me in a way that I can understand.  Tell me what I need to know for my greatest & highest good.”

The quest itself will be a significant amount of time alone in the wilderness, where I will designate a patch of ground as “sacred space” for my quest.  It is on that patch of ground that I will simply BE… open & aware.  My quest will be like no other for each Vision Quest is as unique as those who quest.

Took a Tech “Time-Out”

I deliberately took a tech “time-out” for several days because I found myself paying more attention to my blog, email, & texts than who I love & what I love.  I was writing about life so much that I wasn’t living it.  So, I took a break to realign with Source & took steps to be more present in the present.  That meant…

Connecting:  spending time with people I love, doing things I love.  We hiked a nearby park along a beautiful lake, enjoyed a cookout with beloved friends, & went on a day trip to Washington DC.  I have to say the National Museum of American Indians is phenomenal & a must-see for anyone curious about early Americans (South, Central, & North).  Reading their creation stories, seeing how they lived felt Holy somehow.  The architecture alone is worth the visit.  While most buildings are harsh & angular, this museum is a hushed whisper, curving to mimic a stream, a breeze, or possibly the curves in a landscape.  Beautiful!!  The Blossom Kite Festival on the Mall also took place the day we were visiting.  I felt pure happiness, almost giddy, watching the brightly colored kites dance against the pale blue sky & marveled to see everyone smiling & laughing.  Kite flying is obviously one of life’s simple pleasures, turning everyone into a kid again. 

  Grounding- aligning myself with nature & all that is.  Now that the weather is warming up, I can lay on the ground or sit with my back against a tree to meditate.  It really soothes my spirit & reminds me of the interconnectedness of all things, allowing me the use of all my senses to recognize the changes Spring brings.  I got dirty, too, by picking weeds, raking out flower beds, & planting seeds in tiny pots for transplanting outside in a few more weeks.  For me, getting dirty while gardening is mystical, too, as all my time in nature is fast becoming.

Decluttering-  cleaning out my house & my Self.  I clean out winter clothing & household goods that could serve someone else & give things to charity.  I reevaluate how I spend my time, keeping what serves & eliminating what doesn’t to make way for the new.  Over time, we all outgrow jobs, hobbies, committees, & other interests.  Let them go & see what fills the space.  I recently had to acknowledge that I was holding onto experiences that weren’t mine to hold– a friend’s divorce, a cancer diagnosis, an acquaintance’s termination from work.  I can support, love, & encourage but cannot & should not control.  When I get too immersed in someone else’s experience, it’s time to surrender to what is greater than myself.

Pause when you hear that little voice inside tell you to pause.  It has your best interest at heart.  After all, that small sacred voice IS your voice.

Here are links to the National Museum of American Indians & a video clip of the Blossom Kite Festival (thanks to YouTube).  Enjoy!!

http://nmai.si.edu/visit/washington/

My First Kirtan

Music unites people in a way that no other form of communication can.  The rhythms & emotions cross all racial, ethnic, religious, & political lines & I wholeheartedly celebrate that!

“One Love” gets it.   This 4-person band uses kirtans to repeatedly chant names for the Divine that cross all faiths.  The night I attended their performance, I soon learned it wasn’t a “performance” at all.  The band & audience members joined to chant various names for Source, including Espiritu de Dios, Allah, Krishna, Sita, Ram, Red Tara, Ganesha, Kali, & Sarasvati.  One Love believes that “each repetition of the Name is a sip of that sweet nectar that is the Divine Presence.  The interesting paradox is that through chanting the Names, we deepen into the experience of the Nameless.”

Before joining their global ecstatic chant last weekend, I did a little research to find out “kirtan” is call & response chanting.  It is a Sanskrit word meaning communicate, celebrate, & praise.  These hymns or mantras are accompanied by a variety of instruments from guitars to drums & flutes.  I found it sublime.

My personal favorite was a chant inspired by a Navajo prayer…

Beauty before me

Beauty behind me

Beauty beneath me

Beauty above me

Beauty beside me

And all around me

Beauty encircles me with love.

I loved being in the company of like-minded individuals who value the interconnectedness of all things & respect spiritual traditions from cultures around the world.  For a couple of magical hours that night, we deepened our connection to the Divine & one another.  It was a profoundly beautiful & unifying experience.

Please check out One Love’s website… http://onelovechant.com

Happy Thanks-Giving!

There are a few holidays that we celebrate in the US that don’t resonate with me.  Columbus Day, commercialized Christmas, & Thanksgiving.  “Thanks Giving” is a great concept; however, our version of it is a bit Euro-centric, to say the least.

I recently discovered a book titled 1621 Thanksgiving: A New Look, published by the National Geographic Society.  It caught my eye because it’s so different from the Thanksgiving books I was exposed to as a child.  Instead of a group of Pilgrims dominating the cover, this book has a beautiful photo of a Native American woman on the front.  It was written by the Plimoth Plantation (that’s how it’s spelled in the book) in collaboration with the Wampanoag Indian Program Advisory Committee.  Wow!!!  A book about Thanksgiving that Native American people co-wrote.  I eagerly devoured the story, confirming that it isn’t the pilgrim-version of Thanksgiving that I want to celebrate… it’s the Wampanoag-version of “Thanks Giving” that speaks to my spirit.  Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday; it’s a way of living in gratitude all year long.

I don’t need to wait until the 4th Thursday in November to express gratitude for all those I love dearly, my health, my cozy home, my backyard retreat that nourishes both people & native wildlife, art, Mother Nature, & countless other things that mean so much.  My Thanks Giving ritual will occur far more often.

May you have a happy Thanksgiving & many reasons to give thanks every day of the year!

Exploring Mandalas

In preparation for my workshop focusing on woman-honoring cultures as they impact our own self-worth & divinity, I’m exploring the mandala which translates “circle” & represents wholeness & life.

Mandalas are everywhere, in all aspects of life!  Spiritually, they are found in Native American traditions, Buddhism, & Hinduism to name a few.  Emotionally, art therapists & psychologists use them to help clients reach a higher level of self-awareness.  Physically, mandalas are in natural objects from flowers to snowflakes.

One of many natural mandalas in my garden.

This Native American medicine wheel (a type of mandala) came from the website healing.about.com

This image of a Tibetan sand mandala came from princessioana.com

Before I ask others to create mandalas, I made one for myself so I can come from a place of knowing & better serve my workshop participants.  When I drew the 3 teardrops in the center, I jumped to the conclusion that this would be a gloomy mandala, revealing the frustration I’m feeling in one area of my life.  Not so!  The teardrops are the buds on thriving young plants with leaves resembling wings; the pink spiral & the smaller red spiral with dewdrops on it symbolize growth & creativity; the light radiating from the center is just as needed for growth as the rain.  I believe the springlike colors & spirals signal a time of new ideas & possibilities.  This is clearly a very positive mandala full of hope!

My first mandala, a symbol of balance, hope, & possibilities.

Trace a circle onto a piece of paper & create your own mandala.  Draw whatever comes to mind.  There is no “right” or “wrong”, only TRUTH.  Reflect on the image, getting to know your Self.

While there are many books on mandalas, I recommend the following as a starting point… Creating Mandalas by Susanne F. Fincher, Mandala:  Luminous Symbols for Healing by Judith Cornell, & The Mandala Book:  Patterns of the Universe by Lori Bailey Cunningham.

Drum Circle Inspires Art

Last night, I participated in a Native American pipe ceremony and drum circle.  What an honor for a non-Native woman from the burbs!  Every moment was sacred from the smudging to honoring the four directions in a sacred circle.  I admire those so deeply rooted in their beliefs that they are completely focused on the moment, free of judgement, and sincere in their practice.  They connect with the sky, earth, ancestors, elements, plants, animals, and each other… a universal community.  We celebrated the 1st anniversary of their handcrafted drum by playing our own drums as the three women beat on the large drum they share.  Each drumbeat was more of a heartbeat, resonating in each of us.

This is exactly the kind of experience that inspires my artwork.  Meaningful, symbolic, beautiful, and pure.  As I heard the words of their prayer and cast my eyes across the landscape, I saw earth, air, fire, and water before me… literally in the view from the backyard.  The small lake, symbolizing hope that water will eventually fall from the sky & break this hot spell.   A crispy brown field baking in the scorching sun, begging for much needed  rain.  A breeze comforting us with  a bit of coolness without promising anything more.

I’m heading into my basement studio, away from the sun’s glare… let’s see what this experience inspires in my art.