Reflections on reflections

I had something happen a few weeks back that took me aback.  By that, I mean, I wasn’t myself, I didn’t even recognize myself and my reaction. It’s not like me to get so distraught, the level of my reaction didn’t match what was actually happening, and so, being the introspective seeker I am, I had to reflect upon it.  While I was processing this, I was working on a painting I had started prior to the incident.  Now, you may be wondering what happened, but let me assure you, the actual event is not important to my story… it in itself, is inconsequential.

What is important is what I learned about myself in regards to my emotional reaction. I knew all this before, but  apparently I needed the reminder. In the Zen-mindfulness state I’d been working on, I’d forgotten what it was like to live through a downpour of emotions. My reaction had me pondering it’s cause, so I made a list of stressful events in the last few months and came up with a good dozen crises that, at the time, I’d rolled with just fine, until this last thing that suddenly seemed like life or death. Making the list helped me remember to be kind to myself and give myself permission to be human. It’s really okay to make mistakes.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn.

I also realized that oftentimes, people in your life are a reflection of yourself. By trying to have them change so that you can feel better is like reaching out to a mirror and brushing it’s hair. When what you see is messy hair, try brushing your own head, not the reflection that you see.  The problem wasn’t really what I was seeing… the problem was me.

Ironic that I’d be working on another Women of the Wilderness painting at exactly this moment, and that it would feature a reflection of the Three Sisters in a snow melt pond.  The painting helped sooth my ruffled feathers and as I reflected upon the reflection, it all became clear to me.

The mountains are beautiful, majestic and bold as they march across the blue sky, jagged edges against a perfect day. Below, the trees tumble down obsidian cliffs and spread out on the lava and pumice strewn soil. It’s a nice image, but its composition lacks interest until you get to the almost perfectly round pond. It reflects the peaks, but it shows just a riffle of wind, reminding you, it is not the thing you see, but merely a reflection… a mirror.

Just like life, the thing you see in a mirror isn’t the thing at all. You can’t climb a mountain in a mirror; if you are going to climb mountains at all, you’re going to have to tackle the real one.

Reflection on a Reflection

My Three Sisters

I love the Three Sisters Wilderness.  It’s my home base wilderness.  It’s where I go to reconnect to the divine in a very deep and real and magical way. I’ve been hiking there for the past 32 years, so I call them “my girls”.  They are so beautiful, with their lava flows and cinder strewn meadows of wildflowers, an oasis of magnificence in central Oregon. For those who don’t know, they are named North, Middle and South Sister; AKA Faith, Hope and Charity.  Three characteristics that are well worth some effort.

I like that the girls have AKA’s, because I do too!  I rarely use my birth name and  since I’ve had three different last names in my lifetime, I don’t have a deep connection to the names given to me. I’ve chosen my name and my place in the world.  And I’ve chosen my totem mountains.

Which, by the way, are one of the very few mountains (named by the white man) with a feminine name.  Interestingly enough, they are rarely called by their “proper names” but are instead referred to by their relationship: The Sisters. Why do you think that is?  What does that say about our culture, or, our culture of the past, that a mountain could not have a woman’s name, nor be named after one?  Or if they did, it was best that we reference them by their family associations. Was it, that in the old days, men liked to label things that stuck up and out of the landscape as masculine? By that line of reasoning, then all canyons should be named for women, right?  Well, I’m doubtful as to that kind of reason, but that’s research left for another day.

Through my Facebook group, Women of the PCT, a sister hiker contacted me a year ago to buy the painting of Charity (South Sister) but the email was lost in cyber-space until I unearthed it and replied.  Did she still want the painting?  She did, but alas it was too small.  So, we negotiated a larger version to be commissioned and off I went, happy to oblige! I was thrilled to have an opportunity to paint my darling girls. To paint for a “hiker chick” was a bonus.  This is yet another trail painting in my series, The Wilderness of Women, only this time, it was a personal request and that made it even more special.

I chose several photos and compiled an image that doesn’t exactly exist in reality, to get them in this order, I had to squish them together a little bit.  I’ve used my “artist’s license”. You may not see this exact scene from a spot on the trail, but it exists in my heart.  An appropriate sentiment as that is where “my girls” will live forever. And when I am gone, please spread my ashes here, so I can be a part of them as they are for me.

Now, here we have it, My Three Sisters:

My Three Sisters
Oil on Canvas
2′ x 3′

Blue on Blue

PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA  A field of blue lupins echo the deepening sky as day turns to night.  (Based on the photo by Gabi Fulcher 2014)

IMG_0038 (2).JPG

When I started this painting I had no idea how blue it was going to go.  I had been doing a lot of inner work, thinking about my inner self, my concepts, my ideas, my integrity, my weaknesses.  Why do I think this way, what lessons are there to learn from our emotions… when I get frustrated or upset, what does that come from? Does it come from the situation at hand or from a lifetime of similar situations that make the current crisis seem bigger than it is?  I examined all my inner wounds like a forensic investigator, trying to make a case for guilt, innocence or acquittal.  I had no preconceived notions of the outcome but one word rose to the surface and I followed it like a flashlight in the darkness.

That word was compassion.  That I find the compassion in myself, that I nurture the compassion and choose the compassion rather than the hard edged anger and meanness that was trying to gain a foothold. I don’t like the hard edge… though I admire the strength anger has given me.  Anger is a good emotion, it’s a powerful one, but not one that should be driving my car.  You can’t make anger go away, but you can recognize it’s usefulness.  Anger is the fire that burns away the pain and takes you down to ash so you can rise again, clean and new and reborn.

Anger turned inward is depression.  There were too many times I had taken that anger and smoldered the flame with my body, inhaling the toxicity, allowing depression to take a toehold deep inside. And so, with the gray skies of the Pacific NorthWest dumping their seasonal load upon my home and myself, I found a deep blue streak staining my life. I had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit.  I just couldn’t do it, that blue funk was everywhere.

But then there was compassion.  And compassion led me to stories and places and videos and chat groups and forums and a greater understanding.  I followed every lead, turned over every rock, searched in all the drawers, cupboards and forgotten shelves.  The anger that had masqueraded as depression was swept out and dealt with.  The light began to shine again as we rounded the equinox and the sun literally returned to my part of the world.

With gratitude, I stood before a blank canvas and painted yet another in my Wilderness Of Women (WOW), a series of paintings from the trail.  All paintings are from photos taken by women hikers.  So far I’ve only done one from my own photo, the rest were taken by other women hikers.  This image of the PCT is from the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington State. It was sent it to me last winter by the photographer/hiker, Gabi Fulcher.  It’s been hanging in my studio for some time now… and well, now seemed to be it’s moment.

All these WOW paintings have a vivid saturation of color that connects my deep love of these wild places to my heart.  This one was the same in intensity, but different in just one word.  The word is “I”.  As in “I” painted it, because it doesn’t feel like “I” actually did.  I stood before the canvas after sketching it out in my normal fashion.  I was between the 6th and 7th chakra painting in my last series (see previous post) and using the same palette of color I was about to start when I hesitated.  I’ve done this before, and usually with good results, so I trusted the pause.  And I said to my muse: go ahead… you got this one.  Do what you like, I’ll just hold the brush.  And so, she did. Or he… it doesn’t matter, my muse is gender neutral.

Blue on Blue can speak for itself.  It’s so much more than me.  Just like the word compassion.