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!
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!
This is a small piece (12×12″) as yet untitled that I have been working on over the past week or so. Shown here in its progression. A sweet morning meditation as I continue work on the larger scale series “Where I Stand is Holy” that shines a light on species threatened by climate change. People often ask me how I create my decorative borders. As you can see here, I work out the design on a tissue paper and create the pattern that I will then replicate around the edges. Symbols of transformation continue to appear in my life but this is also representative of our larger collective evolution at this time in our earth’s history.
“Whosoever offers to me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water–that offering of love, of pure heart, I accept” -Bhagavad-Gita.
The completed painting on my easel one recent sunny autumn morning. This painting, “She Who Watches,” is inspired by my recent soul journey with Animas Institute to explore what Bill Plotkin (guide and author of Wild Mind) defines as our Wild Indigenous Self. The experience was yet another homecoming and I felt a deeper communion with all creation. Owl came to me during one of our wanderings, so this painting became a self-portrait around my embodiment of owl spirit and her ability to be still and to watch, listen, and hold vision in the darkness. Thresholds of transformation and shape shifting are alive for me during this time of mid-life and perhaps for you, too. Embracing the journey to live from the soul and serve this divine calling.
Sometimes, when a bird cries out,
Or the wind sweeps through a tree,
Or a dog howls in a far-off farm,
I hold still and listen a long time.
My soul turns and goes back to the place
Where, a thousand forgotten years ago,
The bird and the blowing wind
Were like me, and were my brothers.
My soul turns into a tree,
and an animal, and a cloud bank.
then changed and odd it comes home.
and asks me questions. What should I reply?
“The artist attempts to make inner truths visible, audible, or sensible in some way, by manifesting them in the external, material world (through drawing, painting, song, etc.). To produce their finest works, artists lose themselves in the flow of creation from their inner worlds. The visionary artist creatively expresses her or his personal glimpses of the Divine Imagination.” -Alex Grey, Visionary Artist
Although many visionary artists employ entheogens to ignite visions of the transcendent, my work emerges out of a profound mystical experience that occurred twelve years ago. This awareness of our radical inter-connectedness in the web of creation continues to inform the thread that I follow around my life and work. From this experience and wanting to better understand the historical roots of our religious traditions, and how Western civilization had become dis-connected from our place in the life web, I attended graduate school at Marylhurst University here in Portland. It was post 9/11, I was mid-forties, a lapsed Protestant, and knew very little about Islam except for the poetry of Rumi. To my surprise, Islam emerged out of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Christianity in 610c.e. So much of what the media puts out around Islam is misleading. Sadly, there are fundamentalist groups in every religion and I think it’s important to remember that Christianity also has a long history of violence against the other including women and the genocide of Native Americans on this continent. I often contemplate what the original founders, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, would think of the ways their visions around love for God and the neighbor have been distorted over the millennia. I hold out some small hope that as Catholics and Protestants eventually found peace, so perhaps shall the Sunni and Shia. In the meantime, I pray for the innocent civilians in Iraq and those in Israel and Gaza who are suffering.
So, how does art contribute to this conversation?
I’ve always loved the beauty of Islamic art and had been researching this sacred art for some time in preparation for the painting shown above. Because there can be no representations of Allah(God), the sacred art of Islam is expressed through sacred geometry, arabesque (the winding vines), and calligraphy. The mihrab is a niche inside a mosque, facing east towards the Kabba in Mecca, and the direction that Muslims must pray. According to my research, the mihrab is also considered the place where the divine presence dwells on earth. So, my vision was to find a way to bridge the immanent (cosmology) and the transcendent (God) within the Islamic tradition.
I began studying sacred geometry and for any of you who have explored this realm you know that it is a vast landscape where one can spend an entire life wandering. Shown here is my drawing of the “Seed of Life,” the seven intertwining circles that represent the seven days of creation. From this, what emerges are two intersecting triangles that form the Star of David (Judaism) and the Seal of Solomon (Islam). The seed of life rests amidst the cosmos/stars on the floor inside the mihrab. The arabic in the heart of the compass within the tree of life translates as love in Arabic.
It might also surprise some to discover that the Prophet Mohammed was considered an environmental steward. The Hadith, a companion text to the Qur’an, details reports of statements or actions of Muhammad that include his philosophy on the natural world. I saved this issue of Parabola magazine with articles on religion and the holy earth from grad school: “The Prophet’s (SAW) environmental philosophy is first of all holistic: it assumes a fundamental link and interdependency between all natural elements and bases its teachings on the premise that if man abuses or exhausts one element, the natural world as a whole will suffer direct consequences….The three most important principles of the Prophet’s philosophy of nature are based on the Qur’anic teachings and the concepts of tawhid (unity), khalifa (stewardship) and amana (trust).” -Francesca De Chatel, from Environmentalism and Islam, Parabola, 2007.
I hope you find this as interesting as I have during the research and creation of this sacred art. If you have any thoughts about what I have shared, please feel free to send me your feedback. Part of creating peace is starting the dialogue and finding the common threads of our shared humanity.
there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi