Fragments Found

To become whole is to search for all aspects of self.

Ram Dass, the author of Be Here Now, a highly revered spiritual teacher, psychologist and one of the founding fathers of the psychedelic revolution, died just before Christmas 2019.  I grieved the loss of a man I never knew, as Ram Dass had shaped the foundation and spiritual development of my twenties.  Eventually my copy of Be Here Now grew dusty on my shelf as I moved onto other things, though, as he moved closer to the next world, I rediscovered his work and found it much more meaningful after all this time. The book that resonated with me in my youth was now speaking to me in a different way; I now understood it from an experiential place rather than one of knowledge.  There’s knowing, and then there’s knowing. You can read and study and examine ice cream, but until you eat it and experience it, you don’t really know what ice cream is all about.

Re-reading Be Here Now was like that for me, in the years since my first exposure to it, I had experienced much of what he wrote about.  I was floored at how beautifully he put spiritual experiences and concepts into words. Be Here Now’s simple message, given to us from Ram Dass’s guru, Maharajji; was a treatise on living in the moment and opening one’s self to the unity of consciousness.  The book is still a powerful and seminal piece of work that resonates today. Soon after my rediscovery of Ram Dass, I began to listen to his lectures, thanks to an extensive audio library preserved by organizations, friends and devotees. I found his lectures to be as uplifting and wonderful as his writing and wistfully wished I’d been able to attend one when I’d had the chance.

For Christmas this past year, I received another Ram Dass book: Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying and find myself in the same position of recognizing his words as profoundly meaningful.  Probably because I am working on healing issues from my past, this passage struck a chord:

“The work of releasing the past is not easy, however, especially when our minds are preoccupied with ‘unfinished business’.  It is a paradox of mindful living that without having embraced our past, we cannot let it go; or, as a sage once said, “we cannot transform what we have not first blessed.” 

There is a great difference between wallowing in the past, turning each detail over in one’s mind until one is stuck there, and experiencing it with one’s present consciousness.

By embracing the past with the present, our minds are able to enter in a kind of choice-less Awareness in which past experiences can float up and pass away with no clinging or judgement.  When we do that, the memories get neutralized, they become part of the backdrop of existence and the energy that has become locked into holding onto the past is released. We feel a little freer, a little more alive.”

Ram Dass, Still Here

It’s not easy to do self-work.  Honest introspection can open painful moments, hidden traumas and reveal places where we have been less than our best.  But I’ve come to believe, as Socrates said, an unexamined life is not worth living.  From a young age, I’ve wanted to know ‘why’. I’m filled with a curiosity which evolved from “why is the grass green?” to “why are they angry?”  and from there to “why did I react/behave/think that way?”  Behind many of these questions was a sense of fear or pain rooted in the past and it’s taken some digging to get to the source. But I believe Ram Dass is onto something; by bringing forth these painful moments, we can transform them by using our present consciousness to shed light upon the past.

I engaged a professional to help me as I’d gone about as far as I could go on my own; it was time for assistance if I wanted to make greater progress. In spiritual circles, this work is sometimes called shadow work, looking for the cause of faulty thinking patterns and beliefs that may manifest in your present. The work I’m doing now is the work of integration, finding the bits and pieces from the past that are stuck in my inner-child’s mind, unresolved issues that need to be brought into the present and healed.  Ram Dass goes on to say:

“Although we may have changed tremendously with age, we carry with us the interpretation and emotion effect of past events as they occurred then.  Is it any wonder we feel fragmented?”

I was surprised that he used the word fragmented, as that was exactly what I’d been looking for in my past experiences, fragments of my soul I’d left behind when events happened.  I used a few therapy sessions to guide me, but as an experienced meditator, once I knew the path backwards and how to retrieve these fragments, I went looking on my own.  I’d journal about what I’d find and what each part brought back to me.  It has been, as he said, uplifting, freeing and I do feel a more alive.  Writing wasn’t enough for me, so I painted the process, once again pulling from my current experience the fuel to run my creative engine. I used my art as a way to heal and to manifest my new reality… a soul in progress, coming together.  Each time I look, I find something, another fragment that returns like a piece of a puzzle. As they come home and click into place, the image of myself becomes clearer. I wonder, once all the puzzle pieces join up, what is it I will see?  A new me, stronger, freer, more alive than ever.

Still, sometimes there are fears, but my therapist says I’m on a rescue mission. I say, it takes courage to face your fears. No matter how old you are. And courage, just like anything else, gets easier with practice.

Integration

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The Mystic Artist

Art as a creative, spiritual experience

If you’ve been following along for some time, you’ll have noticed that I’ve veered off track from my original blog format. I’ve gone a long way from the “how I created this piece” to life stories to philosophical musings to where I’ve now landed… in the land of spiritual awakening.  My art tells the story of my inner life and this is where I am right now, deep into a blossoming of my heart. A few weeks back, I propped up a painting I thought I finished only to amend it with Posca markers and finally create the image I wanted all along. The Hamsa painting turned out so well, I did it again with the work shown below. While working, instead of my usual music, I listened to podcasts of Ram Dass and Alan Watts along with a few more “out there” interviews with people travelling rapidly on their spiritual paths… it was inspirational! I included the “before” image so you can see the change. If it looks familiar, I used this painting on a post from July.

move the slider to see the before and after image
Stilling the Mind

Lately I’ve been thinking a great deal about how the actual ACT of creating art lends oneself to the spiritual experience.  That art and spirit are linked in a deep way beyond what we see on the surface.  I’m starting to see that the action of creation is fundamentally and profoundly an action of divinity. When one creates something from nothing; see’s something organized where before was only chaos, that this action is like THE cosmic creator and links the artist to the creative and energetic force of the Universe.

Thus, the artist hears inspiration and in answering the call of spirit, is transformed into the vessel by which the song of the Universe pours forth for all to hear.  And so is born the Mystic Artist. Through which poetry and music flow, imagery reflects the real and the imaginary alike.

Merkaba Meditation at 3F Jack

2020 has been quite the ride. The energy of the planet is shifting and I feel something vast and profound. Now is the time to remember who we are inside and to foster love, compassion and kindness. Honor your heart and hold onto the light. We will weather this storm together, I’m sure of it!

Beyond sharing what I am hearing and then painting, I set out a challenge to you all: take the time to draw or create something every day… it doesn’t have to be time consuming, just create every single day for a month.  This small act will change you.  It will ground your energy, connect you to something larger than yourself and expand your mind.  And to back up my belief in the transformative powers of creation, if you do this, and then write to me about it, I will send you a signed card or print (5×7) of ANY painting on this blog (your choice) for FREE.  Write me about your experience (Skyevans01@gmail.com) and include a photo of all you created (a group shot is best) and tell me how it’s transformed your life. I’m sure it will! Great stories will be featured on the blog, maybe even some of your work.  This will be an exciting experiment; I’m looking forward to hearing from YOU!

Namaste dear souls ❤

Integration

Life throws you curves and the only constant is change. I know I’m not alone here, all of us are suffering in one way or another. 2020 has been a year like I’ve never seen… unprecedented in many ways. All these changes and all the upheavals have been hard on the collective consciousness and on my personal consciousness as well.

And so, I find myself in the studio painting. I paint to reconnect myself to the Universe and to sometimes keep myself from floating away. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but painting is like an anchor or a tether, it grounds my energy when it feels like I’m spinning out. Like I a took a turn too fast and lost control of the car for a bit; gravity has loosened its hold and things have gotten squirrelly.

Before the fires exploded in the West, I took out an old canvas from my storage rack, it was only partially completed with a desert landscape. I decided once and for all to make something of this painting I never finished because I didn’t like where it was heading. A lone hiker heading off into the desert, brilliant poppies in the foreground that were mere sketches, nothing fully fleshed out. Cactus poked up against a spring haze, purple rocks littered the trail. I never really liked it, so I figured I couldn’t ruin it if I plopped a big Hamsa prayer of protection right on top of the whole thing and played around with my Posca Pens.

I took something old from my past that bothered me and jumped right in, making it something new. Something vibrant, something with energy and life. First though, I had to make it about where I was now (I don’t live in the desert!). The best of my art is biographical, that’s where I open up my heart. So the cacti were hidden behind tall firs and oaks. The Hamsa hand covered up the hiker; I used oil paint with a fast dry medium to fill in the colors. I waited through the days of smoke and ash for it to dry and while I could have worked on it sooner, it was 14 days before I could get back into the the studio to work. And work through that feeling of skidding out of control.

It hurts my heart to see how polarized our country has become, small issues become conflated just as the spark of wayward fires have burned through thousands and thousands of dry forest and woodland. Just when I get used to one more shock of 2020, another one comes to the surface. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg took my breath away. She was such a hero to millions of women… it’s hard to remain centered amid yet another far reaching loss.

But eventually the smoke had cleared and rain washed away the ash and we were all able to breath again. I took my canvas and laid it flat, Posca pens made swoops and swirls, dots and spirals and connected the old with the new. This is the image of integration. Where we have been and where we are now, the all seeing eye of God, of the Universe, of love and peace. The Hamsa watches over us in a prayer of protection and healing.

The energy of reality is more than the form we see, it’s the unseen, swirling like a psychedelic dream, showing us that there is more to life than meets the eye. There are unseen forces at work, vibrating at a level few attain.

It’s my fervent prayer that all will be well, that the dream of democracy will not be burned out in a fire of polarized ideals and flagrant insanity that seeks to undermine the truth by spinning deceit and crying out in victimization. What you reap, you shall sow… our karmic debts are at hand and we seem to be paying a very heavy price. The physical world has laws… such as Newtons third law of motion: for each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We can’t really escape that kind of lawful karma. To those unbelievers, I am reminded of what a spiritual teacher once said: your belief is not a requirement of the truth.

We are all connected by energy. By the air we breathe and the water we drink. By our very small home upon planet Earth… there is no where else we can go. To become integrated is to understand this on a deeply personal level.

We are all in this together.

Fires of change

WE DO WHAT MUST BE DONE 9/15/2020

 

On Tuesday we lost the sun to smoke.

On Wednesday, ash rained down like miniature snowflakes.  And again, on Thursday.

And Friday and Saturday and on and on and on.

Some lost their homes, some, their lives.

Fighters fought fires.  Emergency calls on our phones.  Evacuation zones grew.

The names of the fires themselves, as if a person, but more like a place:  Holiday Farm, Beachie Creek, Lionshead, Obenchain, Almeda and so many more. Lists of fires.

We watched the news to learn about containment and wind direction and how we were now the most heavily polluted air on Earth.  Oregon? Us?

Double masks to go outside to tend to the livestock.  I worry over the toll air will take on my 19-year-old horse, the young horse, the flock of chickens, the deer, the birds, the insects and their tiny lungs.

Gray, every day, we seal up vents and stay inside.  We are quarantined within a quarantine; nothing is safe to breathe.

Those fleeing the fires are delegated to tents and RV’s in parking lots, the lucky get hotel rooms. Volunteers pass out food and water and clothes… if you have to be outside, I worry about your lungs too.

The sky was blood orange the day the fires erupted; six days go by before we see a passing patch of blue.

Phone calls and texts from friends and family: “How are you? Are you OK? Please come here if you need to evacuate.” Some are crying, distraught over the loss of forests and beauty and feeling the despair of thousands. We are not alone.

Fire came to Washington.  Fire came to California.  Fires have leveled towns I’ve known and loved.  Vida and Blue River are gone.  I bought stained glass in Vida from a glass artist and longed to own property on Gates Creek.  All are gone now; I imagine the glass, hundreds upon hundreds of glorious sheets now become colorful puddles of exquisite hues among the ashy remains of the workshop and a life of creativity.

All are gone… it’s hard to fathom.  And there are more… Talent, Phoenix, Detroit.

Inside, a hollow of despair, a sorrow unexpressed, shocked into silence.  One foot placed before the other, we do what must be done.

Hallway littered with bags and boxes, the horse trailer is ready for last minute packing if need be, though the fire won’t reach us, strange arsonists roam the neighborhood.  Unfathomable to the rest of us, he starts a fire in a nearby field and runs away.  It was the first, most dangerous day, the day of heat and wind and a countryside dried to a crisp from weeks of heat and sun.

I pray for rain, drawing mandalas of wet drops, watercolors soften the paper and I weave deep wishes of healing water to quench the fires and return us to a place where we can evaluate the damage.

That first step will be the start of our recovery.  We lean into it, but it’s not forthcoming.

The fires rage on.  Uncontained but for 15%, 3%, 10%… numbers too small to take comfort in, we need percentages that are heavy and healing: 75%, 80%, 100%.

The winds shift slowly.  Today we are downgrades to “Very Unhealthy” rather than “Hazardous”. For the first time in a week, we leave the house and I see people without masks.  A man in his car, windows open, smoking a cigar passes me and I stare at him, behind a N-95, inside my sealed car with the air circulating internally.  Incredulous.

I see someone walking their dog, also no mask.  The someone, yes, and the dog too.  My dogs look at me, eyes wide and wondering why I sit all day and watch TV.

It only seems like all day, the TV being on during the day is an event reserved for illness or injury.  But She IS injured… my beautiful Earth, my lovely mother nature.  She’s been burned and so I watch the news and then comedies to lighten my heart’s load.

I also can tomatoes, beans, make jams, salsa and pickle cucumbers.  The cabbage is turned into sauerkraut, the kale gets frozen.  It’s time to harvest the garden but the ash falls on our fruit and vegetables.  We run sprinklers, mini firefighters, we wash what we can.

We do what must be done.

We pray.

We cry.

We volunteer.

We donate.

We reach out.

We reach within.

We bake, we read, we watch.

We used to be able to go outside.  Now it’s been 8 days of indoor recirculated air.  I miss the wind and the freshness.  I miss my world of green and cool and supple aliveness.

And then, after indulging my loss, I remember my gratitude for all I have.  For my safety, for my home, my life.  I’m grateful for the experience.  There is much to learn in every day that passes. 

Crisis contains opportunity; surely there is a chance for personal growth through tragedy?

And yet… now, it feels too soon.  I’ll get there, eventually.  When I’m ready.

I’m not ready yet.

I’m still in mourning.

Still awaiting containment before the first step of evaluating can begin.

I project my consciousness forward into the moment where I learn that the rains have drowned out the fires.  When we can lay down our arms, drop our guard and relax in the antidote for fire: water.  I pray the water does its job but doesn’t add to the destruction though I know our winter rains will wash ash into our creeks and streams and rivers and that too will take a toll.

But we are not there yet… we are in the NOW.  Now is a moveable moment, and soon, the now will be a now after the fire. 

This too shall pass.

We’ve done what must be done.

Written 3 days ago, this is snapshot of where we were at. Last night, the rains began. So grateful.

Surrender

I drew this mandala as part of my healing process.

Within yourself lies a realm of deep wisdom.  We think we are the mind, but we are not. The mind is just a part of who we are; the body holds much of our life experience and at times, seems to have a life of its own. At times, it’s as if you are on auto-pilot.  You drive yourself home without even remembering the drive in the same way your brain breathes for you without thought and digests for you without reason.  You don’t have to ask your arm to catch a ball, it will reach up and do it automatically if you’ve trained it to do such a thing. I can ride a horse in my sleep, I’ve done it enough times.  And apparently, I can also saddle one while my mind is occupied elsewhere. (Confusing reference?  Please read my last post.)

Which is where the seed of my accident began.  On autopilot, I saddled up my horse and somehow must have missed a step because not 15 minutes later I was on the ground and hours later, contemplating how my life was going to radically change with rotator cuff surgery. There I was with a left arm that felt deaf to the commands of my mind, the signals couldn’t get through, certainly something was torn and mechanically in need of repair.

During the weeks since the accident, I have been thinking a great deal about the autonomic system and how it failed me after years of doing the same procedure countless times.  In the retelling of my tale to my friend Fran, I was loaned a book to shed some light on the subject.  Deep Survival outlines how chaos theory and active systems interact, how experts make mistakes, and how some mistakes can be deadly.  Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales is a study of accidents and why some people survive them and why some do not. I would highly recommend this book if you, like me, are invested in not just knowing how accidents happen, but why they happen.  I actually was comforted in learning more about how the brain works and how I missed crucial steps by being on autopilot.  It was my expertise in the subject (saddling a horse) that was the pivotal point in which the system of horse-saddling failed.

However, knowing more did not prepare me for the magic that was to follow weeks later as I settled into my recovery.  I do not use the word magic lightly… however, the brain is still a mysterious place, we have yet to fully understand all its secrets. But, before the magic, a quick backstory: 18 days after my trip to the ER, I was denied by my insurance to have a critical MRI ordered by my orthopedic specialist.  Without this procedure, he couldn’t give a definitive diagnosis and proceed with surgery, though clearly, I was heading in that direction as I’d failed all the mobility tests.  The only way to lift my arm was using the other one to carry it into place.  Even in bed I had to reach over to place my arm next to me, the shoulder refused to work as it should.  But the wisdom of the insurance company decided I should have physical therapy for 6 weeks before an MRI. I was stunned by the delay and what I saw as interference in my health care.  To repeal the claim would take longer than the PT, so I called and made an appointment for the next day to get started on what I saw as “going through the motions”.  I also made a critical decision at that point.  Rather than express frustration or fight with my emotional reactions, I would “let it go”.  I surrendered to the situation.

Surrender, as I read later in Gonzales’ book, is a critical part of survival.  By surrender, he means seeing the situation as it IS, not as we want it to BE. The sooner you can accept your surroundings, or your situation, the sooner you can get down to the business of survival and doing what must be done.

With surrender, I discovered an awareness of the healing choices before me: I could fight the insurance company’s policy and stomp about in righteous indignation or I could release my need to insert my will and see what would come next.

Surrender is not the same as “let it go”; I could never quite figure out HOW to “let it go”.  But the concept of surrender I understand because surrender isn’t a passive act.  Surrender is an action of acceptance.  For someone with a willful determination in life, taking an action to accept is much easier to DO.  “Let go” seems like a not-doing, I don’t know how to “not do”.  It’s funny though, as I further my meditation practice, I now understand “not doing” better. Still, “not doing” can’t be done as it’s more like the negative space in a field of objects. But I digress.

I surrendered to the denial of my MRI and that night, when I went to bed, I prayed for the strength and wisdom in knowing the difference between what I could change and what I couldn’t.  The Serenity prayer is near and dear to my heart.  I did not sleep well, the injury kept me up, it was still painful and limiting my usual sleep position.  At 4 AM, mind zipping from thought to thought, I arose and sat in meditation, but could not still my mind. After 20 minutes, I gave up and returned to bed. I sent out a prayer, a silent wish for acceptance and help to get me through the night.  And then, a few deep breaths later, I felt an urge to stretch.  I did so, and along with my right arm reaching above my head, my left arm joined it on its own!  The signal to stretch was transmitted to my arm and although it hurt a little at the top of the stretch, it went up just like it always had before.

Shocked at my arms’ response, I hopped out of bed and tried it again from a standing position.  Yup!  It worked; it wasn’t a dream! I tested it a few more times before waking up my husband to share the magical news.  I had no explanation other than a mystical one but I was flooded with emotions and cried with relief.

The next day my new Physical Therapist, Dr. Abbey, was amazed and pleased at this turn of events.  After reading the surgeons report, she did not expect to see me raise my arm.

“Believe me,” I told her, “I am just as surprised.  It went from not responding to this!” and I waved it up in the air.

“Well, the brain is remarkable.” She went on to speculate, “I can’t say for sure this is what happened, but the body remembers injury and since you had a previous injury in that same shoulder, when you traumatized it with your fall, the brain shut down the signals.  It remembered what happened last time and shut it down so it could heal.”

If this is not an example of the illusion of control, I don’t know what is. That the accident happened at all was out of my control; why wouldn’t the recovery be the same?

The previous injury Dr. Abbey referred to had been several years ago when I was struck with a frozen shoulder.  That shoulder injury had taken almost a year to recover from, hence my dismay at facing another prolonged recovery.  But clearly my brain and body had other ideas when it came to this injury which showed me, I wasn’t as in control of myself as I thought I had been.  I couldn’t even shape the outcome of the recovery!  And I had tried, weeks of follow up appointments, phone calls, trying to push forward my MRI until the day it was denied.  I did everything I could and it still was beyond my ability to affect the outcome.  It was THIS concept, coupled with the accident that was a huge wake up call.  I’ve thought about this a lot… but here’s the gist of it:

                                           

                  Do your best, but be prepared to surrender.  Not everything is yours to control.  Sometimes, not even your own body. 

 

I guess that’s where prayer comes into play.

The Illusion of Control

Stilling the Mind

In my last post, I offered the concept that choice is all we really have and to choose wisely but after a recent painful event, I pondered, do we really have choices?  I will get to that event but for now, if one considers the philosophic concept of determinism, one abandons free will which in turn points to having no choice whatsoever. The definition of determinism is thus: it is the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.

Take for instance the case of Covid.  If we choose to follow the recommended CDC guidelines, we will greatly reduce our chances of getting or spreading the disease.  Furthermore, it is suggested that we stay home as much as possible to reduce our chances of becoming a vector of transmission.  At this point, we all pretty much know why it’s a good idea to flatten the curve.

And still the pandemic goes on, month after month as hot spots move about the American landscape, this is a fire that has yet to be stamped out. Many people are getting tired and stressed by the length of our vigilance. We are an independent thinking nation of people and while many are embracing the challenge to not become another statistic, others are venturing out. I’ve seen more and more cars on the road as summer progresses and we “quaran-cheat” with parties, gatherings and celebrations.  We’ve needed this social time; humans are social animals.  Some choose to camp out in secret backwoods spots or spend time on a beach if it hasn’t been closed. As an avid backpacker myself, I watched as the Pacific Crest Trail association implored hikers to not attempt thru-hiking the trail this year.  Permits were revoked, trail angels and support faded away and hikers groused about it or applauded the decision depending on their ideas about the pandemic crisis.

In the effort at maintaining good mental health, I continued to hike my local trails as I am blessed to be in a place where I rarely run into other people.  My wilderness plans were focused on more remote locations away from the PCT which has become pretty well trod of late so I am in agreement with the PCTA’s decision regarding Covid-19.

The choice to stay within my comfort zone of risk, as in backpacking and horseback riding was sound as far as I was concerned.  I am very well experienced in both these things and have whittled down all risk as to be non-existent.  I am a safety star, careful my middle name.  Surely these activities will pose no risk to the general public, right?

Yes, and no.  Here’s where personal choice comes into play.  If you eliminate all risks, as much as is humanly possible what else can go wrong?  But it is exactly why we call things that go wrong “an accident” because life is unforeseen and unpredictable even when we do the best we possibly can.

Which is how I came to be in the emergency room of a hospital getting multiple x-rays to determine how many bones I may have broken on a remote national forest trail while riding my 100% safe and trustworthy horse.

Basically, shit happens.  Sometimes even when you use the power of your choices to become as well informed and as well prepared as you can.  Even when you are experienced and conscientious, aware and careful. One cannot factor on everything, and especially those factors you are unaware even exist.

Who knew that on that fated moment a deer would scare my husbands’ horse (they aren’t usually scared by deer) and that he would dump my husband then wheel into my horse and she would  jump in response and at that moment my saddle fittings would fail and dump me onto my shoulder?  Who knew that a second deer would boldly linger in the brush, then leap out, charge at our dogs and further frighten the already unsettled horses? Who knew that my shoulder would tear and I would be left with an unusable left arm to catch a frightened horse sporting a saddle sideways upon her ribs?

No one knew and least of all, me.  The me that not 15 minutes before had checked my girth to make sure it was fastened tight, less I have an accident!  The silver lining was that we hadn’t gone far; the bad part (besides being hurt) was that we had just set up camp for a long anticipated 3-day horse camping trip.  And there we were, just a few hours later, taking it all down and loading up for a drive home with a stop at the emergency room along the way.

Nothing broken, but in a great deal of pain, I took to my bed for days and slept off the pain meds and allowed myself to heal.  My ribs were severely bruised, making it even harder to get up and move about; my arm hung uselessly by my side. In the time between doctor appointments, I pondered all my choices that led up to that point, and wondered what I could have done to change any of the results other than remain safely at home.  And yet, accidents happen at home as well; I’ve personally torn my knee tripping over a wheel barrow.  My friend broke her leg in her back yard and another just spent 7 days in the hospital with complications from gall bladder surgery.  I myself had the same surgery a year ago and then returned with complications as well, both times having to leave the safety of my home with these serious ailments.

So where does choice figure in when sudden emergencies occur?  One can choose to stay home with the hope that they stay out of harms way, but harm can find you at home.  One can choose to live life and venture out as safely as possible and still, harm can find you there as well.

Which leads me to control and the illusion of control.  There are times when we may think we are in control of our destiny, that the choices we make, make a difference. We eat healthy, exercise, reduce our stress, contribute to society, brush our teeth, are kind to others. And then there are times that clearly point out how little control we have; control of our life isn’t always available, we just thought it was ours to choose, but it wasn’t.  It’s in these times of perceived tragedy and accidental injury that we see that control may not be ours to hold. No matter the free will we exercise over ourselves, ultimately, we cannot control everything.  Is this what is meant by faith and trust? Is it not the realm of faith that something, someone, some higher power has control and purpose and that there may be meaning in the chaos of circumstances beyond our control?  Is this the ultimate in trust?

I don’t subscribe to determinism, nor do I believe that we are entirely subjected to free will.  Perhaps it’s a combination of both a higher power and our own free will.  But, and here’s the kicker, one has to be aware of the choice before we are free to choose.  When someone reacts out of anger, triggered by old programs and patterns, they are not choosing if they are unaware there is a choice.  Choices come when one is aware.  It is our sacred mission in this life to awaken enough to see the choices before us, to transcend old habits and programs and find the free will that belongs to us.  Not all of our life is steered by our own free will, sometimes fate steps in and removes that illusion of control over our destinies.

Meditation may just be the easiest, simplest way to awaken to our egoic patterns of mind control that robs us of our free will and choices. In meditation, we exercise our ability to control wayward thoughts and old programing that keeps us from awareness and we bring our attention to the moment at hand. There are many techniques but the goal (if there must be a goal to stilling the mind) is learning how to find space between who you think you are and who you really are.  It’s listening to your inner voice and finding quiet knowing and clarity.  It is that clarity that awakens your mind to the choices in life that are before you.  Choices you never even knew you had.

And when you find your clarity to make awakened choices, you also may find the illusion of control and relax, surrendering yourself to something bigger and more beautiful than your own small self.  And that is a choice I can get behind.

Light Steps

 

Spirit Deer

A deer lightly steps upon a glowing moon-pool of light.  She moves cautiously, treading softly into the opening within a forest of antlers. This is a magical night of power and wisdom.  A night full of spirits where danger and safety are the same;  in this reality, there is no difference.  Yin and Yang, Black and White, Up and Down, Left and Right… all parts of the same life force energy that animates and binds us together.  We are one, the moon guides us, the light shows our steps, the darkness defines the light, the light dispels the darkness.

Go forth wise deer, go forth wise soul, go forth and do good, do bad, do nothing, do everything, there is no judgement in your doing. In the All That Is, everything is encompassed.  There is room for every kind of every… in the ALL.

The illusion of control is revealed for the illusion it is… all we truly own is our choices.  Our choices define us as radiant in the light, or robed in darkness, lingering in the shadows.  Our choices set forth ripples, so choose wisely deer one. Choice is what is dear.

There Is No Spoon

Deer Buddha

Recently, I participated in an online retreat with hospice chaplain, Amita Llamo.  Her book, DANDELIONS BLOOMING IN THE CRACKS OF SIDEWALKS, Stories from the Bedside of the Dying reveal the power of simple human kindness and the wisdom of beingness, even as we are faced with our own death.  Especially as we are facing death. While I enjoyed her book and wished I had read it (or something akin) prior to my father’s death 2 years ago, it was Amita’s 5-year meditative retreat that had me signing up for her Zoom retreat.  Amita shared with us her wisdom from this extended time spent in prayer, meditation and introspection.

Over 2 and 1/2 days, Amita introduced us to the concept of 4 worlds that exist simultaneously on Earth.  The first world, where we all live, is the world of form.  Everything measurable and quantifiable lives here.  You can describe it, taste it, weigh it, name it, see it… you get the picture.  The 1st world is every THING.  The 2nd world, is the world of relationships, how we connect to others, other things, the environment, ideas… it’s the world of concepts.  Many of us live here in our heads (maybe even more than our senses) and navigate back and forth between world 1 and world 2 and never go beyond the two worlds of things and concepts.

But as we get to world 3 and 4, we find worlds that are not generally “lived in” but merely touched in moments I will explain later.  Here we are limited by language and words to describe something that is not describable.  So, bear with me as I attempt to use first world words onto 2nd world concepts to illustrate 3rd and 4th world phenomena.

The 3rd world is the world of energy as it exists between form.  As an artist, I would call this negative space… everything that is not a thing.  I hadn’t considered that this negative space was an energy but it makes sense to me.  This energy can be found with a simple exercise: close your eyes and bring your hands together, but not touching, as if in prayer (palms together). Focus on the space between your hands, holding them apart about 5 or 6 inches.  Now, slowly, push them together and feel the space between your hands as they get closer and closer.  Do the same in reverse, pull them apart and see if you can feel the energy elongating from the compressed feeling when they were close together.  If your mind is quiet and you can focus on this exercise, you can feel the energy, almost like pulling etheric taffy.  Try it and see!  This is the energy of the 3rd world.

The 4th world is the collective whole of consciousness and divinity.  Amita described it as a cycle, and used the cycle of water to help us understand.  Water comes down as rain or is transformed into snow, which melt and flows into streams and rivers, eventually making its way to the ocean where it evaporates, transforming again into vapor which then makes clouds and the process begins again.  This cycle is inherent in all things and all non-things.

We reach world 3 and 4 in moments of Grace.  It can come upon you in deep meditation, or after sacred ceremony.  Some find it using psychotropic drugs or plant medicine, yogic breathwork or shamanic practices.  Grace can be found along the bedside of the dying or the birth of a child.  It can be found in the heartbeat of a horrible car accident where time stands still and suddenly you know more than can possible be imagined just seconds before.  Perhaps you have felt a glimmer of grace in a dream like state and it follows you into your waking world as you open your eyes onto the new day. Grace takes many forms but you know it when you feel it.

I have felt many moments of Grace and have glimpsed the 3rd and 4th worlds enough times to know these states exist and are as real as the laptop before me.  My chosen path is the path of meditation, which is why Deer Buddha, is the title painting for this blog post.  Both Deer Buddha and Sacred Cow (from the last post) came to me in a moment of Grace. I truly adore meditation as a path to Grace as it’s far sweeter and easier than sitting at the bedside of the dying or tripping out on acid.  Meditation is a gentle path to these worlds of energy.  I think, perhaps, that as an artist, I tap into these energy worlds and allow ideas and imagery to come through and then, in manifesting this creative energy, I bring these visions forth into the 1st and 2nd worlds.

As I align myself with these energetic worlds, there are more and more synchronicities and moments of divine Grace.  In lifting the veil, I raise my own energy.  As many other spiritual teachers have said, a rising tide lifts all boats.  In lifting my vibrational energy through the manifestation of creative spirit, I raise the energy of the collective.  As do all artists and creative souls; art is a spiritual practice!

In the 1999 movie, The Matrix, the hero, Neo, is on a journey to truth.  At one point, he meets a young spiritual acolyte who is bending spoons with his mind. Spoon Boy says to Neo,

“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible.  Instead, only try to realize the truth… there is no spoon.  Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”

The first time I heard this, I sighed in awe at the profundity of that simple message.  Change your mind and change your reality. But in the movie, Neo is not in the physical world, he is actually in a simulation.  For him, in that world, there is no spoon.  But when he leaves the world of the mind, he returns to a place where spoons do in fact, exist. We are faced with an existential dilemma, is there or isn’t there a spoon? Well, yes, in the many worlds idea of Llamo there is and there isn’t a spoon.

Many on a spiritual path are heavily invested in the physical world and miss the depth of existence by not being able to experience nor even imagine a state of Grace.  Some seek to live in worlds beyond the physical and strive away from where they are now.  They live in the future or ruminate over the past, disregarding the present.  They long for something new, different, better, pleasurable and move away from discomfort.  Buddha says that longing and desire is often the cause of much suffering as we fail to accept and allow and surrender to the reality, we live in.  Even longing for enlightenment is a desire that can cause suffering.

But if we look towards embracing all the 4 worlds, not just the manifestation of the physical world, nor only the etheric world, we begin to see the fullness of all the layers of reality.  We learn to recognize truth and see things more clearly.  All worlds are interconnected, and we are here to experience the many worlds in their own way; though we live in the physical, we are in the world, not of the world.  Sometimes we may even lift up the veil and see, there is a spoon AND there is no spoon. Both are true.

Dancing Green Woman
(She lives in another world)

This is NOT about Covid 19

sacred cow

My latest painting: The Sacred Cow

Well, here we are.  We seem to be experiencing a world wide phenomena most have never seen before.  It’s remarkable, amazing, frightening, overwhelming, unprecedented and yet, somewhat predictable as the world has seen pandemics before.

BUT, I’m not here to write about Covid 19 and the Corona Virus. I want to get back to blogging.  After 2 years of sparse contributions I’m ready to return to sharing my art and my thoughts.  If you recall, I said “see ya later” to the blog when I started to write my memoir following my hike down the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Well, I finished the book, and several rewrites/edits. I was shopping for a professional (read objective) editor and an agent to help with that when Covid hit my corner of the world. Book on hold, I hunkered down and hung out with the newly retired husband.  We worked on various home improvement projects and considered ourselves fortunate to have property where we can walk and garden and be outside in a gentle way as the rest of the world seemed to explode with a level of angst and anguish and fear.

Now, in the past few years, along with the writing, I began to go on meditation retreats of different kinds.  I went on a yoga retreat, a woman’s medicine circle, a couple of silent vipassana style retreats, a big, splashy new age retreat as well occasional stay-at-home retreats where I meditated in a small yurt on the corner of the property for days at a time. I even hiked another 60 miles solo on the PCT where I realized it just wasn’t the same and there were too many people on the trail to suit my need for solitude.  In the past week, I’ve completed a 2 ½ day on-line retreat via Zoom meetings. What a world we live in now!

All this retreating and self-reflection along with the writing project stirred up deep seated traumas that needed to be witnessed (by ME) and healed. I am stronger and happier for having taken the time to clean out the cobwebs as well as fix the broken parts of my foundation so that my emotional house can be strong and withstand the next thing life had to throw at it.  When Covid hit, I was struck with an initial sense of fear (a normal reaction) but my training and inner work helped me to settle down relatively quickly  and be in a place of peace as I live each day as they come and try not to predict or look too far into the future.  Will we face financial ruin?  I hope not, but I can’t do anything about it, we made our retirement funds as safe as we could. Watching the news is anxiety provoking, so we limit our exposure and between the two of us, we’ve come up with a “safe word” to remind the other when we get worked up about how a global health crisis has become political fodder and other inflammatory issues, the stress of this is not good for our immune systems.  Will we catch the disease and will it be fatal to my asthmatic-over-60-year-old husband?  Maybe, but we are in a quasi-quarantine and do all the surgical-clean procedures if we ever have to go out and bring things home (which we mostly don’t). I’ve done all I can do to make sure he’s protected, as well as protecting myself.  Worrying anymore beyond this won’t help and so I surrendered to the present and that’s pretty much where we live, in the present moment.

But not everyone lives in there and when confronted with a friend’s personal issues that had her flashing her anger onto me, I puzzled over her reaction and knew that there was a lesson to be learned.  Somewhere.  During a meditative moment where I studied a tree outside my window in depth, the lesson emerged and I’d like to share what I wrote in my journal.  There is a lesson here for all of us and it’s not just about navigating difficult times but about accepting what is right in front of us all the time.

April 16, 2020

We were asked (in the online retreat) to observe a natural thing and look at it until we saw more than what could be seen and knew more than we had known.  I stared intently at the willow that holds my bird feeders.  I took stock of its obvious qualities, length, shape, color, various dimensions. I looked at it with my “artists eye” and saw the negative spaces between the branches the way some turned up and down.  I saw the joints of the branches, the knurled look of older fingers, the supple greenness of new growth. I noted lichen growing on elderly parts and flourishing on the deadwood.  I saw where bird feet had worn bark smooth as they perched, taking advantage of my offered seed and suet.

I began to look at the fractal patterns, the new growth was a repeating pattern of the growth that had come before it.  Not yet twisted and tempered by time, the new branches, while straight, still contained the essence of what they would become.

And then I applied the fractal metaphor to my own life.  The bumpy encounter with my friend came to mind.  My usual methodology of “talking it out” had been closed to me so I found myself tracing the issues back in time.   It was there, in those fresh, new, supple branches of early development that I saw the fractal pattern that would now be the hallmarks of our older growth.

If relationships are like trees, then there are many, many varieties and species. Some, bear fruit and are nourishing, while others provide respite from summer heat.  Some age gracefully while other may fall apart, their time on earth a foregone conclusion, serving a purpose that is brief though no less important. All trees have their place, to appreciate the fractal nature of life allows each to be what it is.  Nothing more or less.  And thus, rather than lamenting that my willow-like friend will never be the sturdy oak of my aspirations, strong and reliable, knowing that she is more like the willow, I can relax and allow, finding beauty and peace in all forms of communion with others.

IMG_0573

Serial Muralist

So now I am a muralist.  A serial muralist. LOL! I just finished a commissioned mural for a dog trainer/pet sitting business. Diana had recently installed a large shed for her new alpacas and wanted the back of the shed to  beautify her property.  Her home-owner’s association (HOA) wouldn’t allow a sign at the end of her driveway, so she opted to have a mural of dogs as a way to indicate to her clients they’d come to the right place.  The shed is 30 feet long, but it is hundreds of feet from the road, so the perspective makes the mural about “sign sized” as seen from the road.

Drawing in progress. Cut-outs of silhouette dogs made the next step easier.

Diana found me through Eugene Urban Canvas, a clearinghouse for muralists in the Eugene, Oregon area. I got listed with EUC because I like painting murals, and frankly, I’ve done a few in my time.

Spray paint around the image cut-outs leave an outline “glow”.

I now have an under-drawing structure.

I started thinking about how many I’d done as I worked on this project and realized there are a fair amount of them stretching all the way back to my high school days when I painted an Arizona desert sunset on my bedroom wall.  Later, in my 20’s, I’d painted a VW Beetle on the garage door of my mechanic as trade for some work on my own vintage bug.  The mural showed the car on a road heading into the coast range mountains, yet another colorful sunset image. Quite a few of my murals have been of sunsets, people seem to really like the color palette of yellow and orange against a gloaming blue sky.

Among some of my murals I’ve painted a fairy princess posed with a crescent moon, a moon over the New York skyline, the city lights of Seattle, ponies peeking out over stall doors, giant horses running across the roof of a barn (at 100 feet long, it can be seen from planes as they land at the Eugene airport), a Star Wars themed sunset, historic images and once, the world series winning Oregon State baseball team. As requested by my client, the baseball mural featured images from the big event and so, sadly, it was painted over when the team won the world series again the following year. Good for them, but it made the mural completely superfluous! It was painted over and something more timeless and generic replaced my work; who knew they would win again so fast? Probably my shortest-lived mural, it was up for less than a year.

You can see this driving north on Hwy 99, just past the Eugene Airport (Oregon) on the west side of the highway.

The entrance to Goss Stadium at OSU… for about a year.

But that’s the nature of murals, they are generally considered public art, so they have to do their job as décor and if that job is linked to a business or a place in time, well, things change and so too then must the mural adapt or perish. I’ve come to accept the transitory nature of murals and have found the ones that last the longest, fit the best into their space and time. I once painted a Tuscan landscape in a client’s craft room, when they sold the house years later, did the mural survive the sale?  When the teen-aged girl who loves horses, grows up and moves out, will her mother still keep the pony visiting over the stall door?  I know my mother did not keep the desert sunset in my teen-aged bedroom; she redecorated and turned it into her sewing room, the sunset replaced with a clothes rack.

I encourage clients to have me paint their mural on canvas or large sign boards, that way if ever a move occurs in the future, the mural can be brought along, or even sold and transferred to a new owner. The Seattle mural benefited from this as the nightclub I painted it for, went out of business and the mural was relocated to another city.

Nine feet long is not easy to transport, but it survived the business!

It’s how I managed to get the fairy princess back, where she now graces my car-park wall. But, it’s also how the same fairy princess was stolen right off the Alpine Market wall and disappeared for a few weeks. She was MIA until the thieves realized they would never be able to display it without advertising their crime and so, late one night, returned her to the back alley behind the store.

Oh where did you go, fairy princess?

Murals have stories to tell, and my newest one is no exception.  While painting it, my client received calls from her Home Owners Association demanding she quit as the mural was unacceptable to them.  Diana had notified the HOA months before that a mural was coming (after they complained about her long white shed) but no questions were asked and nothing more was said about it until the day I outlined the image.  Unfortunately for the HOA, murals are not against the rules, so we continued on, despite further phone calls and a hastily penned letter.  Once again, a mural of mine has generated controversy; not everyone is a lover of the arts.  But when it comes to beautifying your property, it seems some have overstepped the boundaries of good neighbors.  I’m glad I’m not taking it personally that someone called my work “graffiti” before I was even done with it; truly, it says more about them than me.

Blocking in color.

The chief enemy of creativity is ‘good’ sense. Pablo Picasso

Clouds are coming along, grass area blocked in.

As for me, I love changes, change is all about new energy and growth. Change is the essence of creativity, and that sometimes takes courage. This time however, the changes that may be forthcoming could possibly be a renewed and updated HOA or if it doesn’t serve the people as it was intended, then perhaps its dissolution altogether?  It depends on what the neighbors say and how things progress from here on out. Diana is not backing down; she loves her new mural!  If you’d like to support Diana regarding the mural, comment below and I will forward your messages on to her.

Just about there!

There is power and energy in art, and sometimes, the bigger the art, the bigger the reaction.

Finished mural, All Wags and Smiles!

Art is standing with one hand extended into the universe and one hand extended into the world, and letting ourselves be a conduit for passing energy.  –Albert Einstein