The Grace of Beginning

Andean Dreams: 2014, 12x12" Acrylic
Art: Andean Dreams, 12×12″, 2014 ©Amy Livingstone

For a New Beginning
-John O’Donohue

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

From my January Newsletter
New Year Greetings:

I hope this note finds each of you well in spirit and in health; invigorated by what O’Donohue calls “the grace of beginning;” of what is yet to be as we enter the new year. Aren’t we often ripe with expectation during these first weeks of January when we contemplate what may unfurl in our lives? We plan. We set intentions. We resolve to do, and to be, the best we can. I often feel like I’m at the starting gate ready to run a race and remind myself that life isn’t a marathon but an unfoldment of each moment, each day, each year. As we walk the path, the journey unfolds before us. This is a lovely reminder from the late Henri Nouwen:

We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new. Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life. Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises.

This can be a daily spiritual practice around gratitude given that life does throw obstacles on our journey and we live in a culture driven by fear. An acupuncturist once shared with me that fear and excitement embody the same level of energy but that ‘fear is excitement without the breath.’ Have you noticed that? In fear, we tend to hold the breath. So, when I begin to feel anxious about the future, the economy, climate change, or any of the myriad crises facing life on planet earth at this time, I stop and remember to breathe in and breathe out. Then I take the next step and continue to walk this path of art, beauty, and service.

The wonder is this: that, as we walk it, the path becomes clear. We have only to trust it into action, then truth reveals itself, shining all the brighter for the darkness of our time. -Joanna Macy

In the studio, I have been continuing with the “Where I Stand is Holy” series (see previous posts) but this sweet little painting, “Andean Dreams,” (above) wanted to be born through me and is inspired once again by my Peru pilgrimage. It’s no accident that hummingbird (Kinti) appeared again in my work as he is a potent symbol for holding our core in stillness amidst the busyness of contemporary life. There is also an urgency in our work on behalf of the living earth and all her creatures. I feel this and know many of you do as well but if we don’t take time for silence and stillness, burnout is inevitable. Breathing in and out? In the Andes, hummingbird is also a symbol of resurrection. New beginnings. Like this moment, this day, this new year. All pregnant with new possibility. What is calling to be born through you?

For love of the EARTH!

Giving Thanks

 

©2013 Amy Livingstone, Munay Pachamama
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 English poet)


Beauty abounds this time of year with flaming reds, burnt umber, and yellow ochre spotting the landscape, now giving way to stark silhouettes of graceful limbs swaying against the autumn sky. Barren trees. Silent sentinels. Having just passed into my 54th year of life, I am ever more present to the preciousness of each day passing day and give thanks for the blessings in my life. Like any human being on this journey of life, I’ve had my share of grief and disappointment (and have shared them with you here over the years), yet I continue to believe that any descent into the dark is an opportunity to break open our hearts and to live more deeply in the midst of life. Or to quote Thoreau, “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

As I was sharing with a friend recently, for me living fully hasn’t been about bunging jumping off a bridge or climbing Mt Everest but about being as present to life as I can be and answering the call of my heart at any given time which has also lead to some unique adventures! Sometimes I have risked my heart for love but isn’t it better to take the risk than protecting oneself for fear of being hurt? The practice becomes learning to embrace it all which is the heart of so many of our spiritual traditions. Grief and praise. 

One calling in my heart was to travel on pilgrimage to Peru in 2006. I attended a lecture the previous year with writer and environmentalist Terry Tempest Williams who had just returned from Rwanda. Her book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World came out of that experience. She spoke of her journey to Africa in the wake of her brother’s death and her initial resistance in going because of her profound grief. She went on to say, “We can never know where we are called and we can not deny our own evolution or education.” Those words and her journey inspired me and felt that it was a message to answer my own call which I had been contemplating for some time. When I returned home, I emailed my confirmation to travel with dear friends from Canada who have a deep connection to Peru and a community there who are sharing the ancient Andean wisdom of the Q’ero with those of us in the North. It was a meeting of the Eagle and the Condor as foretold in the prophecy of the same name.
 
It was a deeply meaningful journey for me and the teachings continue to inform my life, spiritual practice, and art, as you can see from my new painting shown here. The Andean people are so innately connected to their cosmology and express reverence and gratitude by making offerings of cocoa leaves to the water, to the earth, or an Apus (Mt Spirit) as they journey through their day. At the ruins of Tipon, our guide poured a little touch of water from his canteen on to the Earth before drinking. Our Q’ero teacher did the same. Giving thanks to Mother Earth, Pachamama, for her sustaining ALL life on this precious planet. Very simple. As we gather to share in the love of family and friends this Thanksgiving day, may we remember the gifts we receive from the Earth. May we honor both the dark and the light. May give thanks for the bounty and beauty that abounds in this season of life!


About “Munay Pachamama”
Munay (MOON-eye) means love in Quechua the native language of Peru and is the first principle of the Andean spiritual path (knowledge and action being the other two). Munay is an all-encompassing love that also signifies tranquility and beauty. Pachamama is Earth Mother in space-time. The Inka Cross (or Chakana) is an ancient symbol with very complex cosmology and symbolism woven throughout. Here, it was the spirit guides representing the three realms that came forward in my vision. The condor representing the Hanaq Pacha (the upper world of spirit), the puma representing the Kay Pacha, (the world of our everyday existence) and the serpent representing the Ukhu Pacha (the underworld or unconscious). The hummingbird is also revered in the Andes as a symbol of joy, beauty, and resurrection.
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Despacho Ceremony


In 2006, I went on pilgrimage to Peru to learn and partake in the ancient spiritual teachings of the Andean people. This was a life-changing experience for me and their wisdom continues to inform my spiritual life. I’ve written about some of these teachings and the intention behind the journey (based on the Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor) on my blog. Click here to read more. One of the most sacred rituals performed there is the despacho ceremony which are ceremonies of gratitude and thanksgiving to Pachamama (Mother Earth) or an Apus. While in Peru, we were told that the despacho is also considered a work of art, or a painting. It was at that moment I had a vision for the painting above. I knew when I returned home that I would create my own despacho, and then paint it as an offering to Pachamama.

The “despacho” is an ancient ceremony performed in the Andes. These are offerings to either Pachamama (Mother Earth) or an Apus (mountain spirit). The former is distinguished by an abundance of red objects/flowers, the latter by white. They typically begin with a shell in the center to represent the feminine, a cross to represent the masculine, and Kintus (3 cocoa leaves grouped together). In the Andes, additional items might include money, food items, ribbons, alcohol, dung, or a llama fetus. These are determined by the paqo or shaman performing the ceremony which is very elaborate and includes praying, group cocoa exchange as well as music and sharing of the pipe. Overall this was a magical and mystical experience for me and words just don’t do it justice. For my painting, I went to the local market, chose items I felt would please Pachamama, and created my own despacho which I then painted as an offering. My process is one of devotion and is a prayer for the healing of the earth. Ayni, or reciprocity, is at the core of the Andean way of life and rituals like the despacho honor our relationships to the earth, the living energy, and to each other.

This past weekend, I was invited and honored to share this ceremony with my spiritual community, People of the Heart, during one of our shamanic training retreats. I substituted the cocoa leaves, which are illegal in the States, with another of the leaf family but included many sweets, grains, seeds, herbs, jewels, red flowers, and miscellaneous goodies that I felt would please Pachamama. Drumming and rattling. With reverence and gratitude, we each offered these gifts as prayers for healing ourselves, each other, and our world. Singing. When the ceremony was complete I bundled up the despacho, wrapped it in ribbon, and placed it in a cloth. Sending the bundle around the circle, we blew our breath and our prayers into the despacho. Drumming. After blessing everyone in the circle and a closing poem, we then buried the bundle on the land.

I feel humbled by the simple beauty of this ritual as a gift for the healing of our world, and the Earth. I give thanks to my teachers: dear friends and guides Carol, Jim, Terence; don Sebastian of the Q’ero; and the Winay Taki for sharing their wisdom with me/us.

In a time of returning, we give voice to the heart of the Earth.
With countless others awakening we walk upon Her now.

We are One Remembering

Women of Vision speaking to inspire what follows.

Love is our word

Men of Heart embracing, to shape new ways to live.

Communion

With each other making us One

And sustaining our interconnection with all life.

Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, and Great Mountain Spirits.

Vision and heartfelt action benefiting all life

We are one of many within us all

We are restoring our story…

From Carol Stewart’s poem “Rainbow Threads”


Sacred Art Studio Icon and Peru

I thought I’d share the symbolism around my logo and the inspiration behind it as it directly reflects the intention for my work, my spiritual journey, and the vision that I hold for the world during this transformative time in our history. I painted this icon when I returned from a pilgrimage to Peru in 2006. Dear friends from Canada—Terence, Carol, and Jim, who are also spiritual teachers for me—lead small groups to Peru in order that we may experience this sacred landscape and learn from the indigenous peoples the ancient spiritual teachings of the Andes. The intention for our pilgrimage was inspired in part by The Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor. There is a lot on the web around the prophecy but in brief:

The prophecy story relates that in the beginning all the earth’s people were one, but long ago they divided into two groups, and each one followed a different path to development. The people of the Eagle became highly scientific and intellectual, indicative of a masculine energy. This would represent those of us living in the industrialized West. Whereas, the people of the Condor became highly attuned to nature and the intuitive realm, or what might be the feminine energy. This refers to the indigenous peoples—or the people of the heart.

It was foretold in the ancient prophecy that during this period of time, or what is referred to as the Fifth Pachacuti (world turned upside down), civilization would be on the brink of collapse which we are now seeing in the extensive ecological degradation of the planet as well as the recent breakdown of our economic structures. The prophecy says that at this time in the earth’s history, the Eagle people and the Condor people will rejoin. Remembering that they are one people, they will reconnect, remember their common origin, share their knowledge and wisdom, and save each other. The eagle and condor will fly together in the same sky, wing to wing, and the world will come into balance after a point of near extinction. Neither the eagles nor the condors will survive without this collaboration, and from this rejoining of the two peoples, a new alloy consciousness will emerge that honors the Eagle people for their remarkable accomplishments of the mind, and honors the Condor people for the deep wisdom of the heart. Together—and only together—the crisis will be resolved and a sustainable future will emerge for all.

As a small community, or allyu, we visited the holy sites of Machu Picchu, Tipon, Ollantaytambo, and Pisaq where we spent time in ceremony and learning from a native community—dear friends/family of our leaders—who are bringing back the ancient ways under the tutelage of the Q’ero shamans. This wonderful community of men, women, and children opened their hearts to us, invited us into their world, and shared their great wisdom (and music!) with us. I felt a profound connection to all the people of Peru as well as to the Earth, or Pachamama as she is known in South America. This truly was a sacred encounter between the eagle and the condor. What a gift to undertake this journey as so many others who are now being called to this holy land. Our allyu was additionally blessed to encounter His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Cusco while he was there making a visit to meet with the Q’eros people, who continue to live high in the Andes and live in reciprocity, or ayni, with Pachamama.

When I returned I was inspired to begin a series of artworks around this journey and am continuing the project at this time. I also felt called to create an icon or logo that would integrate the wisdom of these teachings to represent the long term vision for my work in the world and the studio. The result is a synthesis of the Inka Cross and the mandala (see Shri Yantra Mandala post for more information on mandalas). The Inka Cross (or Chakana) traditionally has wider sections in the north, east, south, and west quadrants, but I felt inspired to emphasize the symmetry throughout the piece to symbolize the balance between the masculine and feminine—as represented by the sun/moon and the yin/yang symbols. The spiral in the North represents the deepening spiritual journey that is needed for all beings to bring about the new emerging consciousness that the prophecy speaks to. The three-stepped quadrants in each of the four directions symbolize: the places we meet or the three realms (upper, middle, lower), the spirit helpers for each realm (condor, puma, serpent), what we bring to community (mind, body, heart) and the three ways we come together in community (labor for all, connection, reciprocity). The Inka cross essentially represents a spiritual and ethical framework for living in harmony with each other and the Earth. And at the center my icon is the heart of the world—love—which is my vision for a world at peace and one that honors the Earth and all life upon her. May it be so. Aho.