Water Baptism- a dream reflection

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.

Light and Shadow: a Meditation

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.

Remembering Jordan

Creating art has changed for me in many ways. My eldest son, Jordan died in a car accident in March this year. He would have turned 26 on the 18th of March. For a few numbing months, lost in the shock of it I thought I would never paint seriously again. I remember in those first few weeks I took to watercolours, but in my mind they were just doodles. I felt I’d lost my mojo. I was and often still am overwhelmed by the grief that can be so intense words alone cannot describe it.

I’m back painting again. I only have a very short attention span nowadays, preferring to numb out emotion through whatever means easily accessible (food, alcohol, Netflix. Anything mindless) . But I’ve come to realise that through creating artworks ‘about’ Jordan, I’m also creating new memories ‘with’ him. This is an important distinction for me, and I suppose it is based on the belief that he is still ‘alive’ in the truest sense.

After a death you are still in a relationship with the person, however, now because of the chasm of death, that relationship is connected through pain. That’s why many grieving parents say they will never ‘get over’ the loss of a child, and they don’t want to either. That child is a part of you. A deep and indelible part. A parent-child relationship is an unconditional one where the parents’ role as nurturer causes such a strong psychic connection that their concern is always centred around the child’s safety and thriving.

We are accustomed to, as parents, to worry about our kids. We can be heartbroken and concerned for them. We suffer with their sufferings and rejoice in their triumphs. This doesn’t change after death. Through my artwork in some ways I’m saying, “are you ok Jordan?” “You are loved” “you are remembered” “You are amazing” , and a wonderful quote from one of his friends, “heaven adores you”. I suppose art has given me a way of nurturing him, including him and yes of course, remembering him and his time on planet Earth. I want him to be forever remembered by everyone who knew him. And if you know me I want you to know him, too.

When I studied art therapy I learnt about how art can facilitate these ‘altered states’ It’s not as mystical as it sounds. Altered states are just below the surface of our everyday pragmatic existence. You experience them when you are deeply involved in something. It’s a chance for your subconscious self, to come to the foreground of your awareness. This always happens when we dream, because we have no filter and our minds are not preoccupied with the mundane. When Jordan left us I realised how often I straddle these two states. I long to become aware of the spiritual, to learn how to notice little things he may be saying to me. Yet I am so deeply aware of how difficult this is. It’s frustrating, when we are alive we are truly bent away from seeing anything spiritual. So seldom do we scratch the surface of our existence. The times he has sent me a message, and I have been ‘awake’ enough to receive it, are held very deeply in my heart.

Because being creative helps us access this ‘altered state’ or dreamlike state of awareness, it has helped me understand my own pain, just a little bit. I’m someone who will feel something deeply then minimise things once I’m past the pointy end of my pain. A painting holds up a mirror in this way. When you are very emotional anyway, you develop tools to numb things over, so validating an experience is important. On another level, there’s the things we don’t know about the ocean that is our psyche, and engaging in art can be surprising. It can reveal things previously outside of our awareness.

So many people who have lost their precious children have also lost purpose. What’s the point? What’s the point in doing anything? Everything is meaningless. Life is about surviving until we can be with them again when we die. It’s only been nine months for me. So I have no answers and I feel like this often too. All I know, really on a very basic level, is I’m grateful for my art. I don’t even care what others think about it now. At the end of the day, it’s a comfort. It’s a comfort because of the tangible link it has to the Spirit. Music is the same, as is writing.

I will always remember Jordan saying-not that long ago- “oh cool mums getting her paints out. I love it when mum paints!”

Intuitive painting: exploring dreams in art

Come and explore dreams and find out how to utilise them in our artwork. You will have the opportunity to explore collage techniques, and other mediums that work well with acrylic paint. Your final outcome may be abstract, representational or somewhere in between. Dreams have been used by artists for centuries for inspiration and artistic content. Think of Dali, Chagall, Klimt, Rousseau, Munch, Kahlo….

You don’t need to intentionally ‘remember’ or write down your dreams to attend; we can uncover the wisdom in our dreams simply by being in the ‘here and now’ (the ‘Gestalt’).

This is not an ‘art therapy’ workshop as such, however, the mere act of committing ourselves to creating has wonderful benefits. Making art is an amazing vehicle that helps clarify our thoughts and feelings and also lays down neural pathways for problem solving and healing.

Date: Saturday February 20
Time: 1:00-5:00 p.m (afternoon tea included) Venue: My home Studio (Alyssa’s Art Garden), located in Medina (south of Perth).
Cost: I am offering my first workshop for free, since I would love your feedback so I can make them super awesome and relevant! I would ask, though that you bring your own canvas (a good size is 40 x 60 cm)
Register: Contact Alyssa on 0409 497 739, or msg me on my Art garden page.