Monday, June 4, 2018

Contracting and Expanding Boundaries

     The next two art journal explorations in my continuing journey through "The Sufi Book of Life- 99 Pathways to the Heart", by Neil Douglas-Klotz, deal with the opening and closing of our own boundaries. I believe most of us struggle with the setting and keeping of boundaries throughout our lives.

Pathway 20, Contracting Boundaries.

     To be honest, when I sat down initially to read and collect images for collaging pathway 20, Contracting Boundaries, my thoughts and the images I chose, were decidedly dark. I had been experiencing feelings of hurt and was in the process of closing myself down, retreating to the safety of my cave in true Scorpio fashion to lick my wounds.  In other words contracting my boundaries. I realize though that I needed to sit with those feelings and cry  and get it out, to voice my pain to my Self so that I could clear it. When you stop and witness your emotions their power over you dissipates. I could sit with myself and just be my own best friend. As the author states "The first step to capacity is consciousness. Feeling a muscle (or capability of emotion or mind) precedes using it properly. Not-feeling ties up energy that could be used in service to the Real."  So then I was able to get to the true meaning of this path for me and turn to the more positive, healing aspects of contracting boundaries. As Rumi's poem says...

"So your heart also contracts and expands,
Just like a bird needs to close and open 
It's wings to fly."

    To me my spiritual Self is very much like a garden, a contained, sacred space where I go to clear my head and heart. So my first thought was to make this page a garden refuge, A place that is beautiful, nurturing, and peaceful.  Why recreate the reasons for going within? Rather focus on the positive aspects of contracting.

     I covered the page in green tissue paper and contained the space with a border of brightly colored flowers.  At the top of the page I placed an image of a machine, into it's opening are stuffed phones, computers, and all the stuff that is vying for our attention daily. A woman is cranking the mechanism to chew it all up. I love her mischievous yet purposeful grin. Below the machine is a woman in a yoga pose, serene, empty, and peaceful.  A silhouette of another woman, clouds floating across her mind represents a visualization that I do, letting the thoughts of my mind float away.
      To have a productive garden you need  to prepare the soil so your seeds have a good growing ground. They need nourishment as they incubate,  and most importantly, they need time. I go to this place within when I need to recenter so I  can face they world outside with strength and a clear head.

Pathway 21, Expanding Boundaries.

     After contraction comes expansion, pathway 21, Expanding Boundaries. I worked on these two pathways within 2 days of each other as I felt the need to feel both contraction and expansion dealing with my own emotions and thoughts. I am so glad that I did as it helped me to come to terms with things within myself that I was struggling with. Sometimes you have to let go in order to make room for other people, things, and situations to enter. So many times in my life I have over extended my boundaries in hopes that I would be accepted, appreciated, liked. But what I have learned is that I need to extend the hand of friendship first to my Self and honor my own boundaries.

     This pathway explains that when we experience hurt a part of ourselves closes. We really don't want to go through that pain again so the shutters come up! That is why on this journal page I painted the background black so it appears as if the doors are closed. Problem is when we close up we shut every thing else out including new possiblities.

     I loved the accompanying poem by Shabistari whose lines inspired the images on my page.

     'I 'and 'you' focus light
Like decorative holes Cut
In a lampshade,
But there is only One light...

'I' and 'you ' throw a thin veil
 Between heaven and earth.
Lift the veil and all creeds
And theologies disappear.

Where 'I ' and ' you vanish,
How can I tell whether I 
Am in a mosque, a 
Synagogue,  a church
Or an observatory?

      Night gives way to the light. A picture of an ancient Italian city with its cathedral in the distance, another domed religious building to the side. Is it sunrise (opening) or sunset (closing)? I hung a light, pierced with silver Mylar beneath to reflect light.
The energy is radiating, a gradual expansion like the light in the sky. I stand in the center of this light and expand outwards though part of me I will keep contained so that I am always caring and honoring myself. Sometimes the bird needs to rest and it's wings are pulled tightly around itself. Other times it extends it's wings and soars into the heavens.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Opening to True Understanding

     Well, if it's one thing I have learned it is that life is always in a state of change. Just when you think you are going in one direction  life decides a detour is in order. The last time I posted about my continuing art journey through "The Sufi Book of Life- 99 Pathways to the Heart" by Neil Douglas-Klotz, I was making a major move and life change. It didn't work out. I moved again, back from whence I came and that's okay. I am happy!

     Someone said to me that perhaps I had made an error in judgment, but no I don't believe that it was a mistake. Sometimes we just have to try anyway. I believe these detours reveal something that we needed to see, feel or experience.  Funny thing was I was never so relieved in all my life to  leave a place. In fact I am proud of my Self for not staying. I have a tendency to stay and try to make something work when I know full well it is not healthy or right for me. I am also loathe to disappoint but I have also learned that my feelings, my convictions also matter. Honesty and integrity, truth, In a world where lies and deceit are rampant,  is hard to find and something I can personally not overlook. If you talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk.
Pathway 19, understanding names and forms.
      That's why this next pathway, 19 Understanding Names and Forms, Al-alim, resonates with me. It asks; How well do you know Yourself? This journey of life is about discovering our true selves. Every time we are faced with a situation that makes us uncomfortable, that is a sign to go deeper.  Embrace the anger, fear, trepidation, what have you, because in that moment there is an opportunity to peel back yet another layer of illusion, of societal conditioning, or a limiting story line that we have imprisoned ourselves within.

     I struggle between wanting to dive fully in, opening myself to all of what life has to teach me and the opposite frankly... living in a cave on top of a mountain away from everything and everyone. I do tend towards the extreme, all or nothing, but that is not realistic. So, how do we find and maintain balance?

     Understanding Names and Forms deals with the concept of blindly following the "face" of God at the expense of your own knowing. Again it's about integrity. We see this acted out today within fundamentalist religions from all faiths. People become so attached to the trap of "their way or no way" that they close themselves off to any other possibility.  Every religion speaks of the importance of knowing oneself.  If we seek understanding and learn to follow our own inner knowing then we open ourselves to trusting in our own journey. We allow the magic to unfold. We allow our lives and our selves to continue growing and becoming.

     In my collage for this pathway I immediately knew that I wanted to cover the background in bright yellow tissue paper. I am a fairly positive, upbeat person and yellow is the color of communication and inspiration. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum  it is also the color of being overly critical of self and needing everything to be clarified! Yes, I am overly critical with my Self and at times want everything to be explained. Spiritually speaking that is a Western way of thinking, that everything need be dissected and analyzed to death. What is wrong with just accepting something for what it is? Allow magic and awe into your life, it is infinitely more joyful!

     In my collage A woman opens a door within a series of blocks with many doors of different colors and images. It speaks to me of this search for knowing self and of endless possibilities. A face peaks out from a pillar. Do we ever know ourselves completely? Can I accept all of me, the light and the dark? If we don't peer into the shadows how can we ever hope to grow and become?

     A hand extended offers a gift. It is truly a gift to know and understand your self.

     A part of my Self gazes into the future landscape and symbolizes my love of nature, of being a part of my environment.

     Another hand holding up a glass with a focused image of a path dials in the need of seeing clearly and with optimism...seeing the beauty of life and recognizing that there are endless possibilities. A butterfly figure represents the transformation that can occur when the heart and mind are in balance and agreement.

     There is also a small image I cut from a copy of a painting called 'Form and Void, by Elizabeth Malaska. It "allegorizes the disparity between the mortal reality of the female form because it is an illusion." Perfection does not exist. Women especially look and find fault  with their own bodies. I too struggle with body image. I wish to be comfortable within my own skin, to own all of me and love all of me.

     When I know my true Self and work to clear that which does not belong to me, I  am actually making more room within for Unity to live and know itself through me.  This path asks you to "open to truth", open to a "larger view of yourself". Realize that the doors you must open will reveal both pain and joy but once faced they will surely lead you to a better understanding of  yourself and your lifes purpose.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Breathing With My Heart

     I am a walker by nature. To immerse myself in the landscape, rather than merely viewing it from afar, is to experience a real connection to the land, a kinship.

     Perhaps it is my creative eye that constantly seeks out the details of the wonders that hide within the tall grasses and wildflowers, on the woodland floor, or even in a city park; to catch the sparkle of reflected light from the wing of a dragonfly; to trace with my fingers the imprint of a deer's hoof left in the mud of a creek bank; to hear the hollow drum sound of a woodpecker rhythmically tapping against a dead tree trunk; or watching as a hawk drops from the sky, talons first, as he hunts his dinner....all of these things speak to me intimately. Bit more importantly,  being in nature fills my heart to overflowing.

     This earth, I believe, is more than a place that we are merely living upon, separated in our existence from everything else, but rather that we are extensions of a whole and vital organism. We have the power to choose whether we share our gifts and add to the beauty of life or whether we selfishly hoard them and add to the imbalance that is rampant on earth at this time. 

     Walking is a meditation for me. Concentrating on my breath, on the changing landscape, everything falls away. Especially during times of my life filled with stress and pain, loss and grief, walking has literally been a life line, pulling me back up out of the depths of my own darkness into the light of day once again.

     Quite recently I found myself in a situation where I was deeply unhappy. I had made some life changing choices that I quickly discovered were not right for me. The choices that I had made I did not look on as mistakes because when you set out to try and make positive changes one never knows how they will work out. For what ever reasons the situation was not a good fit. When we have invested a lot of time, money and effort we naturally feel hesitant to uproot ourselves once again. Oh what to do, what to do?

Walk. Walk. And walk some more.

     Then, one day, a thought popped into my head. (Thank you guardian angels). Hearts. I have a collection of hearts made from stone, pottery, and glass. I grabbed a few and dropped them into the pocket of my coat and off I went on a walk. I started placing the hearts against the Earth, within the bark of trees, nestled in moss, in a nest, within flowing water and in the crooks of tree branches.

     My eyes scanned the landscape for just the right places to position my hearts. It was a creative outlet. It took my attention away from my problems and quieted my mind so that in the end I was able to truly listen and see with greater clarity which ultimately led me to making more changes.

      I didn't realize at first that a subtle conversation was taking place as I was happily taking my pictures. I was looking for a place for my heart.

     A place where my heart was engaged, full to over flowing, where it was loved and where it could express its own love, a home. Sometimes it takes leaving a place to realize that it was the right place.

     Home IS where the heart is, where it is engaged and nurtured and nourished. It is a place where your own heart is connected to the 'Heart of the Universe' for you.  I also feel that in placing these hearts within nature I am drawing attention to the fact that love is everywhere.

     My heart had decided where it wanted to be...

     (All pictures taken by myself. 2018.)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Healing. Receiving. Opening.

     A lady bug came to visit this morning. I watched as she intently made her way across the window screen above my desk. How apropos I thought as I sat to write and share about my continuing exploration of the "Sufi Book of Life, 99 Pathways of the Heart" By Neil Douglas-Klotz through the pages of my art journal. The symbolism of this tiny beetle couldn't be timelier; She speaks of a time to work on fulfilling your dreams; of letting things flow naturally; of leaving your worries behind you and to not be scared of living your truth; on being spiritually and mentally inquisitive; of opening to rebirth and joy. Thank you little one. I hear you. Yet another "sign" today...

     I love these moments when you have a sudden realization that your life is being mirrored back to you by nature and through art expression. It reminds me to be attentive; to sit in wonder of the connectedness of life and of the beauty in every moment; of the importance of being aware that there is a continuous conversation going on all around me if I will only pay attention and listen.

     With the addition of these three new journal pages I will have explored my heart and spirituality through the first 19 Pathways of the "Sufi Book of Life" this year.  It struck me that these last three pages reflect exactly what I have been experiencing and preparing for in this moment. "Flowing Blessings." "Sustenance." "Opening to Unity's Breath". Healing. Receiving. Opening. I am grateful.

     Nearly a year has passed since I began this project. My life is now in major transition so it is only natural and healthy to spend a period of time in reflection. It is time to take stock, honor the journey, and be open to what I have learned. My boat needs to float before the rowing begins again, which brings us aptly to the pathway, Al-Wahhab, Flowing Blessings.

Pathway 16, Flowing Blessings.

     Pathway 16, Flowing Blessings. This path invites you to enter the Divine Flow of blessings in your life. Flow with it, don't try to paddle, don't fight against the current, just float. Allow it to carry you and trust that it will take  you where you need to go. It's all about trust and relinquishing the egos tight grasp that believes it knows better. Looking on Sacred Unity as a river of love that carries us, we gradually learn to not throw stones that will disturb that flow. Living a spiritual life is about creating a relationship with the Sacred based on love and trust. As the author says it is a friendship that grows slowly or one that he likens to "a fire that is kindled slowly from tinder."

     In my collage I wanted to capture the feeling of movement. One side of the page is a fast moving river in winter, steam hangs over the water, white water is churned up over hidden rocks but the flow continues. And rivers run to the sea so on the other side is a calm ocean with an island, it's craggy spires reaching towards the sun.
I bordered and divided the two halves with gold coin, symbolizing the richness of blessings found in the give and take of this special relationship. Boats filled with brightly colored flowers and food flow from the river to the ocean representing abundance. The radiating flower at the top stands for Unity and connection. Love spelled out in water droplets connects the whole. Trust that the river will never run dry. Right now in my own life I am flowing on a river of blessings as a new tributary has opened up and I don't know where it will take me but I know that I must trust and go. I am grateful. Al-Wahhab, I bathe in a waterfall of blessings. I celebrate all the varied ways of Being.

Pathway 17 Sustenance. 

     Pathway 17, Sustenance, asks you to consider your relationship with how you give and how you receive on all levels. What feeds my soul, mind and body? What are my gifts and how do I share them? Am I being receptive and mindful of the many blessings in my life and am I connecting with the life energy of all that I am consuming? When is enough, enough?

     Every image on this page nurtures me deeply. Mono Lake is one of those places that I have experienced a deep emotional connection. High in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California this remnant of a vast inland sea lies silently in-waiting. Tufa towers rise like spires of fairy like castles
From her waters and on still days you can't tell where the sky ends and the water begins as the clouds are so perfectly reflected in her surface. I always feel connected here, energized, my whole Being filled.

     A bowl of soup, is there anything more nourishing and comforting? Filled with vegetables and steaming broth it warms your body as well as your heart. I think it is also the perfect example of a food that we can share with others especially when it is made with love.  The secret to good soup is in the layering  of flavor, the "trinity" my Mom used to say (and she was known as the soup maker) celery, onion and carrot.
They always went into the pot first to sweat, to mingle, to caramelize a little or a lot depending on the recipe. The making of soup is also a practical and mindful way to use up leftovers, those bits and pieces that may end up being thrown away. When we are not aware we waste precious resources. This can be said of many things in our lives...time, relationships, money and energy.

     The accompanying sound to meditate upon for this pathway is Ar-Razzaq. The root word Ra shows us a raying forth of energy and Zaq shows us the "conscious container created to hold this power". That being said I added a plate of food rising like a sun over the water.  I added a spoon, another container of sorts and a vehicle with which to share. It hovers over the soup bowl.  The spoon is filled with a vibrant spice suggesting that sharing adds depth and flavor to life. We have a responsibility to share and it is becoming more and more evident that for the consciousness of the people upon this planet to change we must lead with love, with giving and with care taking. There is more than enough for all if we will only share. By feeding others we in turn feed ourselves and it is within this balance that we honor both giving and receiving.

     Which leads us to "Opening to Unity's Breath"pathway 18, Al-Fattah. For me this could not be more on target. I have just recently moved to another state. I have said goodbye to family and friends, a place that I really did enjoy living, and a wonderfully supportive spiritual community because I heard this call to do something completely different. It was taking a leap of faith. It wasn't easy, it was emotional, it was painful but as the author says in his book, "what is there to be afraid of?" He asks us to not fear the opening, to instead find they key that unlocks the door to your purpose in life.

Opening to Unity's Breath, pathway 18.
     In the foreground of this page there is a precipice, a rock ledge. Some distance from the edge a beautiful blue door with flowers  at it's threshold hovers in the air. What does it promise? A Goddess symbolizing the Divine Feminine spirit, a halo of light in her hair, breathes outward, opened. In Her breath feathers swirl and encircle a key that will unlock the door. It will take a leap of faith to reach that door. It requires both courage and trust. Are you able to let go of who you think you are? Are you willing to become, to open to something more? Again we return to how we give and how we receive; how we breathe in and how we exhale; one door closes and another door opens. Feel the Divine breath moving through you, guiding you, supporting you but know it is ultimately your choice, but why not, what do you have to lose? Isn't it far worse to stagnate, to have regrets. Take the leap...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Crowning Glories

Lydia. Found in NV.
     I have a weakness for antique photograph's of women, especially for unique and different ones. "Lydia" was the only information written on this striking photo. I love her strength, her intensity. No shrinking violet this woman. She wears this hat with confidence. A natural beauty.

Elegant woman.
     This photo had no name nor even a photographer's logo or city as some do.
This is an elegant woman in an amazing hat
which I would tentatively date to the 1890's to turn of the century. Her chapeau is complete with adornments, velvet and feather plumes. A lovely embossed leather clutch bag as well.

Postcard photo of lady.

     This photograph is a postcard which dates it after 1907 when Kodak made postcard backing available. This new concept made taking affordable photo's more accessible to rural America as keepsakes to share. On the back of this one, never mailed, written in pencil, it says, "from Mother to Huldiu. Was glad to hear from you once again." A day in town or perhaps on a holiday, purse in hand. Ever so slight smile on her lips. Her hat looks as solid and practical as she is.

Modern 1917 woman.

     This striking young woman was in-fashion as she posed for a profile shot of her wide-brimmed, floral embellished, sheer haloed hat in 1917. This  closer fitting
Hat did not need a hat pin and was easier to wear. This too is a postcard but has no message, name or city.

Mother & daughter.
     No they are not wearing hats but you must agree these are impressive, matching hair styles. Truly "Crowning glories"! I just had to share them in this post. No names, city and the photographers mark is too faint to read. Now that is some "big hair"!


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Beauty in the Light

"My Sea, My Sister, My Tears by Ntombephi “Induna” Ntobela.

I recently had the opportunity to see the exhibit Ubuhle Women-Beadwork and the Art of Independence, at Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio. To say that their beadwork is dazzling, exquisite, or beautiful is an understatement. Words don't do it justice, nor do my pictures do these pieces their just do, but I had to share because I made a connection with them. Something spoke to me on an energetic level, definitely an emotional one, perhaps even a cellular level. 

The Ubuhle artists community was begun in 1999 as a way to empower women living and working together in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Working with traditional skills they produced a new beading style on  a black cloth called ndwango. Many of the women are single mothers and their art goes to help support their families. The name Ubuhle means "beauty" but specifically the "shimmering quality of light in glass" which also has special "spiritual significance." As someone who also has had a long love affair with the way light reflects through glass ( a childhood memory, see my earlier blog post "It Takes a Village) I totally understand. There is a quality of light that I find meditative, and these brightly colored, swirling designs of tiny glass beads mesmerized me this day.

The playful colors, the textures and patterns, the memories interwoven through out, like this one "My Mother's Peach Tree, speak of the simple joy of life and living. It is exuberant, it is hopeful. What strikes me is that women, even dealing with extreme poverty and illness still see and feel the beauty of life and nature and are desirous to create and share that beauty forward with others. Women always strive to make things beautiful for their loved ones. 

Each woman in the community works in her own style and an average panel can take up to 10 months to complete.

There are a number of beaded works of Bulls and it was explained that each woman spent time with that animal, getting to know it and taking pictures of it so that over the many months of beading work they would be able to remember its characteristics.

As I walked through the first room I read a quote from one of the woman who had since passed away from HIV/AIDS, a disease that has taken 5 women artists now from their collective and has devastated their villages. She spoke of beading throughout her illness, how it helped her get through her days, how she believed she was weaving her Self, her essence, her memory into her art, into the very fibers of the textile she was creating. Something of her to leave behind as she knew she would not survive and for a moment I felt her and all of the women. I saw their collective beauty reflected back in the shimmering light cast from the thousands upon thousands of tiny glass beads. I connected with their joys and sorrows in every flower, animal and bird.

At the conclusion of the main exhibit we were directed to go upstairs to see this final, massive piece entitled "The African Crucifixion" which is 15' high and took over one million beads, and a year to complete. Seven artists made the panels and cross that make up this work. I found that when you moved out from the piece different images came to life that you didn't see up close. Birds suddenly appeared in trees, the stars in the sky above twinkled and patterns came alive in the swirls of space.
It was magical, it was beautiful, it was alive with memories and it radiated love.

"The African Crucifixion."
Thank you for sharing your art, your lives and your dreams with us. You are all truly women inspirit.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Preparing for Transformation

     Before we set off upon a new journey, whether it be a physical one, a fresh course of study, starting a new job, moving to a new city, or even pursuing a new spiritual path we need to spend time preparing ourselves.