Interfaith Peace Mandala

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“Interfaith Peace Mandala” ©Amy Livingstone

I painted this mandala in 2006 while attending graduate school and studying the world’s religions. It was profound to be discovering all the threads of interconnections that we share in common. Any of you who have been following my work know how profoundly I believe in this truth. If we could only take the time to really study our own religion and that of other faiths, perhaps humanity might come to find peace. This is my hope and my vision for our world.

This stain glass inspired mandala began with the hand in the center. The hamsa hand (Arabic) or hamesh hand (Hebrew) is a symbol of protection and a popular icon throughout the Middle East and N. Africa. The words hamsa and hamesh mean “five” and refer to the digits on the hand and is also referred to as the Hand of Fatima (Islam), Hand of Miriam (Judaism), and the Hand of Mary (Christianity). Represented here are also the four elements—tree/earth, fish/water, dove/air, and snake/fire—sacred symbols that appear throughout our religious texts. Bound together by the elements, the cycles of the moon and the seasons, the message here is that no matter what faith we choose or inherit, we are all interconnected in the web of creation. We are one. The calligraphy translates as peace—Shalom in Hebrew, Shanti in Sanskrit, Salam in Arabic.

Namasté
Amy

You can purchase small posters of this painting here.

Reverence for Mother Earth

Reverence: 2016, 15x30" Acrylic & Jewels
“Reverence” 2016 ©Amy Livingstone

The completed “Reverence” that became a companion piece to “Resurrection” (below). While working on this painting, the title that kept coming to me was “Why Do We Crucify Ourselves?” but ultimately the message for me, and all my work, is around reverencing the earth. I was drawn to add the Celtic knot pattern from my ancestral Scottish homeland and symbols of the four elements from the ancient alchemists. Remembering the wisdom of the ancients. I think it is important to also remember that Jesus worshiped and preached by the sea, in the desert, and in the garden; Moses received the Ten Commandments from Yahweh atop a mountain; and the Prophet Muhammad received the holy Koran in a cave. They experienced and encountered God, the Divine, in nature. Reverencing the earth as holy isn’t in opposition to loving and worshiping one’s personal God and today there is ever more urgency for humanity to awaken to this truth and to remember our innate interconnectedness in the web of creation. This is the call coming from Standing Rock (#NoDAPL) and our indigenous brothers and sisters. Are we listening? It is time to “resurrect” indigenous and ancestral ways of knowing that connect us to the sacredness of the earth to ensure a livable planet for all beings and future generations.

From theologian Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality: “Divinity and the universe seem deeply biased in favor of the future. Both celebrate emergence. Call it: Resurrection. Call it: New Life or New Creation. Call it: Evolution or Creativity. I believe in the future and the possibilities of hope.” May it be so.

Resurrection: 2015, 20x24" Acrylic & Jewels
“Resurrection” 2016 ©Amy Livingstone

Holy mother earth with the seed of life nestled in the heart of the web of life. Our current paradigm is cracking open. Transformation is assured. To maintain life on earth, we need the return or “resurrection” of ancient ways of knowing associated with our indigenous  ancestors and the Divine Feminine.

Sext: Prayer for the Desert

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Greetings
I haven’t disappeared my friends but after five months of events, I am back in the studio working. This summer, my intention is to get as far as I can on completing the “Where We Stand is Holy” series that began with “Lauds: Prayer for the Birds.” Shown here are details from “Sext: Prayer for the Desert.” Desert Tortoise, Sage Grouse, and Black-chinned Hummingbird. There are efforts to list the Sage Grouse as endangered species but much resistance from the oil/gas lobbyists as it would impact exploration and extraction in the SW.

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“Sext: Prayer for the Desert” is nearly complete. I am also in various stages with Vespers (water) and Compline (mammals). These paintings inspired by illuminated manuscripts shine a light on endangered species as well as the beauty of those wild places under siege by oil/gas extraction, plastics in the ocean, and climate change. I’m envisioning these panels to be part of larger installation and will share more as that develops. In the meantime, I am offering limited-edition art prints with a percentage of your purchase benefiting organizations working to protect our creatures and wild places. Shop here: http://sacredartstudio.net/product-category/prints/

Shown below is the first in the series: “Lauds: Prayer for the Birds.”
©LivingstonePrayer

Butterfly Woman: Spring Mandala

Butterfly Woman Mandala (Spring): 2003/2016, 24x24" Acrylic & Jewels
The Holy Longing

-Johann Wolfgang von 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.

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!

Shown here: The 2003 version of the Butterfly Woman Mandala.
Butterfly Woman Mandala (Spring): 2003, 24x24" Acrylic & Jewels

Revolutionary Love & Giving Thanks

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From my November Newsletter:
In our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop
upon the heart
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful
grace of God.
-Aeschylus

Dear Friends:
I first discovered this quote from the Greek tragedian Aeschylus while doing research in graduate school a decade ago. Robert Kennedy had recited this to a crowd during a campaign stop upon hearing of the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Kennedy was speaking to a grieving nation and it also resonated deeply with my own grief journey after the deaths of my brother and mother 25 years ago.

If we don’t turn away and numb the pain, those profound moments of loss that we all experience have the power to break open our hearts and to remind us of that which is most essential. Love, family (biological or chosen), health, community…a peaceful, sustainable, and just world. And for me, beauty and art of course.

Today, in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the abhorrent backlash against those of the Islamic faith, most of whom likewise desire a safe home, food on the table, and a peaceful world, may we have the wisdom to recognize that we are one human family.

I continue to be inspired by my experience at the Parliament of World Religions last month with so many inspiring visionaries from all faith traditions. A Sikh woman, Valerie Kaur, spoke of Revolutionary Love. I’m attaching the video link here and hope that you will be equally as inspired by her message.

Like many of you, I feel deeply the heaviness of our world but give thanks for this precious gift of life in all its complexities and possibilities. Thank you for your support and as always, I welcome your thoughts.

A blessed Thanksgiving to all.

In gratitude and love,
Amy

Hope Mandala

Hope Mandala
“Hope Mandala” Commission ©2015 Amy Livingstone

From my September Newsletter:
Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them –
The summer flowers depart –
Sit still – as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.

From The Autumn by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I welcome the Autumn and the element of water as it begins to rain while writing this message to you. Blessed rain after a long, dry, and hot summer. Though I appreciate the everyday epiphanies of time spent in the outdoors, the garden, and the thrill of growing tomatoes, the turning of the wheel guiding us toward our inner world is my true home. This is a fertile time for our creativity!

Through the summer I have been working on the mandala commission shown above. What I have titled the “Hope Mandala,” was commissioned by a lovely woman, Patti, who lives in the Boston area. It became clear in our exchanges via Skype and email that the universe had conspired to bring us together in order to manifest this work of sacred art that is both personal to her and universal in its message–hope and interconnectedness.

When I asked what she wanted to feel when looking at her mandala, she said hope and inner strength to preserve in her meditation practice. It became clear to her to dedicate her practice to the healing of the earth. I was thrilled that we shared this common vision and when I unveiled her mandala this week, she wept. The highest compliment I can receive for my work as it has touched the soul and why I refer to these commissions as soul-symbol mandalas. Learn more here.

Her chanting of the Great Compassion Mantra (Da Bei Zhou) immediately inspired my vision of Kuan Yin, Bodhisattva of Compassion, or She Who Hears the Cries of the World, to be at the heart of the mandala or yantra. Here, she holds the willow sprinkling the divine nectar of compassion and healing on our beloved mother earth. Behind her, the Taoist symbol of yin/yang symbolizes her dual nature/paths in life: The yang/masculine side as a finance person (represented by the mother board texture). The yin/feminine aspect of your Spiritual Self, who feels connected to the universe as represented by the Gemini constellation, her astrological sign (the twins reinforce her dual nature).

On a macrocosmic scale, these also symbolize the ways in which we are all interconnected in the web of life. Through our technology, our cosmology, and globally as expressed with the longitude/latitude, or energy meridian, that holds the mandala. We are indeed one.

The flowers in the thresholds at each of the four cardinal directions symbolize hope, healing, clarity of vision, and courage/devotion. As a Chinese American woman, I included the kanji which translates as hope.

Prints and cards will be forthcoming and a percentage of the proceeds will benefit an organization working towards the healing of our world. More to come.

I’m currently preparing to attend the Parliament of World Religions next month that is being held in Salt Lake City, Utah. I sense this will be a continuation of my graduate work in our world’s spiritual traditions and the way these studies have informed my work as an artist and activist on behalf of our holy mother earth. Imagining new works, ceremonies, and offerings will emerge from this interfaith and indigenous sacred gathering. Look forward to sharing more as the journey unfolds.

Contemplative Living

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!

The New Gospel (of Earth)

The Translator: 2014, 36x36" Acrylic (Inspired by "Walking the Borders" by William Stafford)
The Translator
(Inspired by William Stafford’s Walking the Borders.)

I was re-visiting my first book of eco-philosophy today, A Sacred Place to Dwell: Living with Reverence Upon the Earth by Henryk Skolimowski, that I discovered in 2003. Reading this sacred text was life changing and inspired me to go on to graduate school to study spiritual traditions and ethics within an interdisciplinary framework. Although I had considered an MFA and a Master’s in Art Therapy at the time, I felt called to this other scholarly path to better understand the disconnect between humanity and all of creation— philosophically, theologically, sociologically, and psychologically, etc. I wasn’t interested in being part of a contemporary art world driven by the notion of art-for-art’s sake or the pathologies of dis-ease associated with art therapy, though I bow in gratitude to those who follow the latter calling. My artwork has been a response to this original inquiry and The Translator especially speaks to the creation of a new language, what some are now calling “the new story,” of our interdependence and reverence for the earth. You can read about the painting here.

Skolimowski put forward this “New Gospel” and share that here with you.
For love of the EARTH!

The New Gospel

  1. The World is a Sanctuary.
  2. You were born creative.
  3. You hold destiny in your hands.
  4. You have the responsibility to do your part.
  5. The web of life includes all forms of life, human and non-human.
  6. Be compassionate to others.
  7. Be gentle to yourself.
  8. Be mindful how you treat your body.
  9. Be mindful of what you think and what you eat.
  10. You were born into a beautiful world.
  11. Your nature is divine.
  12. You divinity must reveal itself in your action.
  13. Suffering cannot be avoided.
  14. The fact of death cannot be avoided.
  15. Celebrate! The universe is in a state of self-celebration.
  16. What is your path of liberation? To begin with, you need to take yourself seriously.
  17. Oikos (Eco)—A Sacred Enclosure (oikos is Greek for ‘home.’)
  18. Achieve wholeness through your own effort.
  19. We are meaning makers.

ARTheology

 IMG_1241“Lovers of Creation” ©Amy Livingstone

“ARTheology is the transmission of spiritual guidance through the arts. The arts have played a crucial role in parable and the recounting of iconic moments from all world religions. Theology, or the collection of knowledge related to the study of God, has influenced the sacred art of every tradition….Sacred art is clothed in the language of the essential truth of that faith. When the purpose of art is our own salvation or liberation, we trust the good intentions of the author that art is being performed for God’s sake. How can art be redemptive in a post-modern, pluralistic, trans-denominational world? If art’s mission is to make the soul perceptible, then all expressions are redemptive for the artist. Creation IS redemption. To complete the soul being perceived by another, the art must be shared. The social context of art is necessarily an ethical arena where the intentions of the artist toward the beholder are central to the message in the work. An artist fulfilling the sacred legacy of their profession, dedicates their work to the liberation of all beings. Their art is uniquely suited to be a tap root to the collective psyche and zeitgeist of the moment, to potentiating an historic evolution of consciousness.” -Alex Grey, Visionary Artist. www.alexgrey.com

Intention and The Great Work

New Connexions Magazine. Ganesha ©Amy Livingstone, 2014
Show at the Doll Gardner Gallery. West Hills UU Portland
Opening at the Doll Gardner Gallery. West Hills UU Portland

The Journey
One day you finally knew  
what you had to do, and began,  
though the voices around you  
kept shouting  
their bad advice- 
though the whole house  
began to tremble  
and you felt the old tug  
at your ankles.  
“Mend my life!”  
each voice cried.  
But you didn’t stop.  
You knew what you had to do,  
though the wind pried  
with its stiff fingers  
at the very foundations,  
though their melancholy  
was terrible.  
It was already late  
enough, and a wild night,  
and the road full of fallen  
branches and stones.  
But little by little,  
as you left their voices behind,  
the stars began to burn  
through the sheets of clouds,  
and there was a new voice  
which you slowly  
recognized as your own,  
that kept you company  
as you strode deeper and deeper  
into the world  
determined to do  
the only thing you could do- 
determined to save 
the only life you could save.
-Mary Oliver 
  
My intention around expansion for the new year seems to be manifesting these days. (See previous post). I am having a show of my artwork at the Doll Gardner Gallery inside the West Hills Unitarian during the month of March, my ‘Ganesha’ is the featured artwork on the cover of New Connexions magazine, and I also had a wonderful interview recently with Robyn Purchia at EdenKeeper.org. You can read her article here. We share a similar passion and mission around the connection between religion and the environment. 
We all know the power of intention and holding a vision even when it’s not quite clear where it will lead. This is the path of radical trust and faith. I appreciated revisiting this poem from Mary Oliver that speaks to that calling we each have inside us to follow our heart in spite of the voices, or culture, shouting their bad advice. I believe deeply that we each have a gift to bring forward in service to what the late eco-theologian Thomas Berry called the Great Work of our time. We need all hands on deck if we want to ensure a liveable planet for future generations. When I spoke aloud my vows at the end of a ten-day training with environmentalist Joanna Macy in 2002, I committed my life to serving the healing of the earth and the welfare of all beings–human and non-human. That has seemed overwhelming at times but it remains the underlying intention for my life and work in whatever form that takes. Will you join me? 

Macy speaks to three areas of engagement during this era of transformation, or the Great Turning. Perhaps one of them will speak to you. Holding actions (boycotts, civil disobedience); creating new (sustainable) structures and institutions; and shifting consciousness around the reality of our collective interconnectedness in the web of life which has been my primary focus though I have also participated in numerous events and demonstrations around social/ecological justice over the years including the current campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. This year, I plan to share more about ways you might be inspired to get involved though I know so many of you are already doing such great work on behalf of our world.   
Always, it is my love of the earth, beauty, and the intersection where art, spirit, and earth healing meet that feeds my soul. What feeds yours?