I had loads of fun creating this. It’s my firm belief that an arts practise can be a form of meditation, deepening our ability to stay present in the moment, and also soothes our nervous system. For me personally it is also an outlet for spiritual and personal growth. Hope you enjoy 🙂
I want to share with you a dream I had, as the imagery was so powerful, it has given me much to reflect on. I’ve called the dream (and the painting above) ‘Water Baptism’
In the dream I was up in the clouds. There was a teacher with me, relating all sorts of wonderful things about a global perspective. I could see the horizon and the earth below, and it was glorious. But somehow I was slipping and wasn’t able to stay in the sky. So I fell. But the fall wasn’t dramatic as in many dreams, it was soft. I gently landed in the ocean, and woke up as I emerged, face first from the water, which was a beautiful aquamarine blue.
It feels like sacred ground to try to interpret this dream in a linear fashion. I think I will only be able to catch the overarching message, and trust that my deepest soul understands more than my conscious understanding. The most obvious metaphor to me, of the water at least, is baptism. Baptism is a way of representing an inner surrender, as death yields to life.
Submerged in the ocean, we are utterly engulfed by the water, but also buoyed up by it- if we relax. When we are drowning, they say the more we struggle to stay afloat, the more likely we are to actually drown because we are expending so much energy in our panic. To swim, one must learn the skill of relaxing into the water and thereby the body becomes its own life raft and floats. There is a humble beauty in yielding. To circumstances, to God, to who we are. In dreams every element can also be understood as parts of ourselves. So, even the body of water that held me is a part of me, perhaps that sacred space in my heart where God also dwells.
Dreams provide wonderful inspiration for art, and this one is no exception. For me, to paint a dream is a way of imprinting it onto my psyche, and I’m sure the meaning of this one will evolve just as I am evolving. Hopefully others too will be able to resonate with it, since after all, dream symbols are part of our collective unconscious.
St Theresa of Avila describes spiritual metamorphosis in terms of a butterfly which emerges after days and days of being in a cocoon spun around it’s body. It is changed on a cellular level, no longer resembling in any way the lumpen worm that chews its way through mulberry leaves. It’s not merely a worm with wings, it is utterly different, transformed. This body of water can also be seen in terms of a chrysalis. When we are in our mothers’ womb, we float in water, before we emerge into another reality…Truly, as the psalmist says; “Your ways are too wonderful for me too lofty to attain”. Some things are so beautiful and true that we can only trust that somewhere deep in our soul there is a flicker of understanding.
May we all find quiet trust in these waters as we surrender to it’s depths.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love…’
This is a little paraphrase from John’s Gospel. It’s a beautiful one to ponder because, for me at least, it evokes captivating imagery of oneness with our Creator.
The Vine…I love this image of God; I get a picture of roots intertwining with the earths soil, a part of the endless cycle of death and rebirth. It’s a picture of closeness, of imminence. God is not content to visit us with a glorified and overpowering presence- then leave. God is found in the very fabric of our existence, inseparable from our humanity as beings who need food, water and sun to nourish and sustain. Love has literally put her roots down right where we are, sustaining us moment by moment. In the words of teacher and mystic, James Finlay;
“Love is our origin, Love is our sustaining ground and Love is our destiny”
But then Jesus says, “Remain in my Love”
What does it mean to ‘remain in love’?
Although in the cosmic sense we are never separate from God, there is no doubt that there is a part of our being that is prone to becoming discontent and distracted. We struggle to remain, rest, stay, be.
When I am not remaining or resting in the Vine, I wither and contract. My own energies, agendas and obsessive thoughts lead to feelings of emptiness. I’m trying to meet my own needs, be my own protector and Source. It’s like I’ve put myself in a jar of stagnant water on the windowsill with secondhand light.
In yoga Nidra, a practise where the goal is deep relaxation, the guide will often say things like, “become aware of your right foot, let it become heavy, relax…” and so on with other body parts. When we rest our soul and spirit in God we can follow the same lines. We close our eyes, and with open hands, we come to God with all of our frailties, anxieties and circumstances. We surrender the need for control. We accept the day before us as a gift. Every breath we take in is also a gift, as the Spirit breathes through us…..We relax, remain, be. We are held and nourished no matter what state of mind we are in. ‘To remain in love’ is the awareness of this everlasting truth.
Like the cycle of the seasons, the day becoming night, the insects, birds and animals are being sustained; We too are being upheld, moment by moment.
Whatever is in your heart today, that feels pressing or overwhelming… Surrender it to the Vine. Your only task is to remain in love.
They move with the time of day and make visible the dance of the breeze. Dappling the world shadows are darkly mystifying. When I paint shadows, I often use all of the primary colours, undiluted and concentrated, so that the eye reads them as shades. Darkness gives depth, or at least the illusion of depth. The world is flat and bleached without shadows. In art and life, we need a “Yin” or negative space to balance out the bright and dynamic ‘Yang’ energy. The reflective yielding light of the moon to balance the sharp rays of the sun. We need winters’ solstice to make space for the active growth cycle of spring and summer.
In spiritual terms, the shadow is neither good nor bad, it just is. It’s a part of us that has much to teach us if we let it. It contains spaces that we can only just make out, like something in the corner of our eye, hazy and nondescript. We see reality as ‘through a glass darkly’ (1 Corinthians 13:12). Like the deep ocean, our shadow also contains things we cannot see at all. There is a universe inside of us. Often, we get snippets of our mysterious shadow selves when we remember our dreams, and wake, perhaps realising that there is a lot more going on in our psyches that what we are consciously aware. But we don’t need to remember dreams in order to gain the wisdom and insight of our shadow. It resides in all of our frailties, our insecurities and failures. It’s our very weaknesses that lead us to God, who is completely present both within our being and outside of us as an anchor for our soul. We discover the life of God in these hazy, elusive impressions. We come to understand that our worth is not found in achievements or the identity we have spent years trying to carefully construct.
Sometimes, every answer to every question seems to be a resounding “I don’t know”. Like tree in a storm, it’s delicate branches billowing in strong winds, we may feel that there is neither gravity nor ground. St John of the Cross says likens this shadow experience as ‘the dark night of the soul’. He says; “In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God”. The shadow place is being content in the mystery. Laying aside manipulations and grasping, and with open hands, we are fully immersed in the river of God.
Some people invest in binoculars for the express purpose of observing bird-life. They take great delight in identifying species by their feathers and their bird-call. It’s not hard, when you think about it, to understand why these enthusiasts are so captivated by the world of birds. Birds are rather enigmatic in a way. Many species don’t even store food, their nests are temporary and purposeful, and who knows where they go when they fly away, or what their daily routine is?
Birds visit my garden often. The parrots come to eat the lilly-pilly’s that hang over my back fence, and the insanely noisy red-tailed galah’s absolutely adore splicing off branches from my numerous cape lilac trees in early summer. I adore the swallows, too that sometimes visit our industrial-town beach. To me, they all seem like winged nomads, little visitors who appear, full of chatter, then vanish. They seem to have a bird-culture we humans know nothing about. I hear them ‘talk’ to each other and I wish I knew what they are saying. It’s startling to think how eerily silent the world would be without their melodic songs (although to be honest crow and galah songs sound more like a cacophony than a melody). Nonetheless, bird calls, to me, are like the singing bowls often used in meditation. I think they help raise our vibration, or our mood. They say to us; “Wake up!”
Like natures punctuation marks, birds connect our attention to both the heavens, and the earth. It’s no small wonder that angels are depicted as having wings also. They too, inhabit the air but are closely linked with life on earth. Some say that when you find a white feather it is a sign that your guardian angels are watching over you. A black feather is thought to indicate that a deceased loved one is nearby and sending a message of love. Why wouldn’t spiritual beings send messages in such a tangible form like a feather? It’s the perfect metaphor.
A beautiful quote from Meister Eckhart serves as something to ponder, as we allow ourselves become curious about the birds we see around us everyday:
“Every living creature is full of God and a book about God”.
So next time you notice a feather on the ground, pick it up. Allow it to connect you with the unseen realms and the present moment in the material world. Let the birds of the air share both their wisdom and wonderful attributes. All we need to do is listen to their story.
Take a walk, if you will, among the trees. For there are times when a walk in the forest is much more than just a simple walk in the forest.
Take the walk slowly. Set your intention to be as awake and aware as possible. Because of this, or perhaps just because of a moment of grace, you may notice the shifts in the air. The breeze, the wind has it’s own voice, it’s own ebb and flow. It goes where it will and you feel it on your face, and through your clothes. Perhaps it is speaking to you.
The paperbark trees that line the path also have a voice, something to say. They are like quiet sentinels, gentle guardians…maybe a little protective; if they could speak aloud they might say; “Tread gently here”.
You keep walking, deciding to take a different path than usual, hoping to see things with new eyes (how wonderful is it to have new eyes!) Yes, a fresh perspective is what you need right now…you think: “Something may pop out into the forefront of my awareness, because I’m fully focused on being present right now!” Nature is truly a Gracious giver. You can come as you are, and she always offers all that she is, reflecting your reality but also revealing something more. An earthy groundedness.
So you come across an interesting tree, so gnarly with termite mounds, yet it is still standing. And it seems pretty content. You think it’s a good idea to stop there and just kind of stand looking at it as if to absorb what it has to communicate. Later on you will reflect on this particular gum tree, how it stood flanking he path, and how it somehow reached out to you. How you, and the tree, and God even, are all one. How loving compassion must be even more real and tangible than a nature walk. You realise the tree, in all it’s diseased state was offering a beautiful earthbound solidarity toward the experiences you are travelling through. The world is but a mirror. As as above, so below. The Divine is not untouched by suffering or illness, it would seem, according to the wise old tree.
You decide it’s time to turn back now, travelling along the same path you came. You notice that beside the trees are shadowy pockets of low foliage. It doesn’t matter that you can’t identify the bushy plants and ground covers, but they are like mini forest walks, mini worlds, with their own pathways and clearings. A hidden subculture of nature undisturbed by human hands. It’s really quite magical, like a fairytale.
There’s so much beauty and mystery in our world. We walk beside a multitude of spirit companions, each with a different task and possessing a unique aspect of the Source of all life. May you have moments of grace where you can sense all that is around you, every good thing that is supporting you and quietly offering peace and consolation. May you learn to stop for a while and look at the trees.
The other night I had a visit from a lovely friend (social distancing, of course. We sat outside in my studio, drinking pink gin, painting and chatting). My friend has an amazing 10 year old son, Elijah, who has autism. He is incredibly creative and gifted artistically. She describes how he can just sit and watch bugs or nature in general for hours. He draws all the time- anything and everything that captures his attention. They are in exquisite detail and in a unique style that he has already developed. Whatever he does is with wholehearted interest, whether it be science fiction or fossils. It’s like the world is teeming with fascinating treasures waiting to be discovered. Because of this, our busy and noisy world is often overwhelming for him, causing him to shut down and not be able to contain his feelings or reactions. He is a person who sees things in way that is full of intense curiosity and joy.
Our conversation caused me to think about what it means to be really present in the here and now. It’s a state of being we all long for, I think, because most of us, even after difficult childhoods, have memories of being there- lost in awe and wonder, lost in the present moment. Times where, like Elijah, we reached that wonderful ‘flow’ state during our playtime. We were un-selfconscious, completely unaware of ourselves and how we were being perceived by others. We were absorbed to the point where the outcome of our play, whether it be a cubby house, tower of blocks, mud cakes or car tracks, was completely irrelevant; so focused were we on the present moment. Our imaginations were untethered. Magic and other realms existed, stories were not just tales, but four dimensional worlds. We would forget to eat, and have that sinking feeling of disappointment when it was time to leave or go inside. Eckhart Tolle describes this state as an inner spaciousness, where we are truly alive or awake, living from our ‘larger self’ which is connected with God or Source.
It must be said, to have a wounded inner child, or a childhood robbed completely is a deep tragedy that requires all the more courage and self-compassion to be able to embrace the present moment. But I want to focus on another aspect here. During this time of isolation, it’s easy to see how cluttered our lives, and consequently or minds, have become. As I said in a previous blog post, I have taken up the practise of Contemplative Prayer. It is a simple practise where the instructions are to take a comfortable seat, be still and silent thereby ‘consenting to God’s action and presence within’. When engaged with thoughts (or feelings or sensations), gently bring your awareness back with a sacred word of choice. The prescribed time is 20 minutes. I’m a novice at this. However, not only have I become excruciatingly aware of how much my thoughts repeat like a mouse on a wheel; but I have also noticed how seldom I really am present in the moment.
My son and I had a little chat about what he discovered on YouTube about dopamine. As a society, We have (unsurprisingly) become addicted to high levels of dopamine due to our fast-paced culture. The things that cause a rush in dopamine uptake are the things we do that offer instant gratification. This particular YouTube channel suggested a ‘dopamine detox’ day- days where you basically do nothing. You simplify, maybe read a book or write in a journal, but really make the effort to slow down the mind and activities. It reminds me of the Sabbath day in Christian and Jewish traditions where everybody rested from their labour one day a week. For many, the C-19 pandemic has been a forced Sabbath. An opportunity to reset and simplify.
Life truly is in the Now. The more we set our intentions to slow down, quiet out minds and ‘be’ rather than ‘do’ the more we can become aware of the presence of God (or Source) in our lives. I’m telling myself this all the time, because I have found it to be very slow progress! But whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we all are amazingly connected both to each other and to Spirit. There is a universal heartbeat in everything. The “I am” of God is reflected in all that is around us and also within us. We see practical demonstrations of this connectivity all the time- when you have been thinking about your mother and she calls you; when the dog becomes restless just before a family member arrives home. When you walk in the forest and sense the energy of the air, the insects, birds and trees.
It’s my sincere hope, that whatever circumstances you find yourself in at this time, your life will unfold into something deeper and more free. We are a collective in an energetic sense, yet at the same time are are all on our unique journey. Nobody knows your own life as well as you do. But I also want to offer hope and comfort in the sense that you and I are held and not alone in a universe that is both loving and benevolent. May you discover the treasures of awareness that your own inner child knows and remembers well. Like Elijah, make friends with curiosities that come across your path, no matter how commonplace they may seem to your adult mind. It is my prayer that we all find space for that joyful little kid that lives inside of us all to lead us on wondrous trails and unknown destinations.