Life Is Short

My apartment is on the second floor, so I don’t see who flings open my front door but I hear the footsteps racing up my stairs. My neighbor appears, breathless with excitement, “Deborah, Deborah, we’re calling all shamans. The tides have just acted wyrdly and the oil rig destined for the Arctic has run aground. We’ve got to support the kayakers praying out there on the water.” She bolts for the door so fast she forgets to tell me where.

I burst into tears of exuberance for miracles. The nature spirits are collaborating with human spirits. We CAN join forces, we can…

kayak

I feel as if I’ve contributed in some small way. Three of us went to the beach the day before to Make Artful Prayers, a project of Praying True, and to participate in the Global Earth Exchange, a project of Radical Joy in Hard Times. Added to prayers for the toxic beach and the forced removal of our Japanese American neighbors during WWII, we prayed for the softening of hearts and the opening of minds of all those involved with Arctic oil drilling. We prayed that the kayakers would be safe and be able to honor their commitment to respect and non-violence. We prayed that the corporate conglomerates – which are peopled by people just like us – would experience the surprise of their own cellular wisdom awakening.

At some point soon we have to say NO to more resource extraction, say NO to more ravaging of the forests and fields, say NO to more growth.

Unchecked growth is cancer
whether it’s in our human bodies or the earth body.

As an elder on this planet, I grew up before clear cutting forests and bulldozing wild meadows to build housing developments became the norm. I suffered the anguish of losing the wood beyond my back yard in one day – without warning. I came home from school and it was GONE. The grief for a nine year old dependent on that woodland for “family” was nearly overwhelming. Can you imagine what it was like for the deer and the rabbits and the foxes and the squirrels and the birds of all feathers? Can you imagine what it is like to be forced from your home as a Jew, or a Japanese American, or a Cherokee, or an Aschuar?  On this planet, we rob each other all the time
of our dignity and our birthright
in pursuit of money.

Limitless growth is cancer
whether it’s in our human bodies or the earth body.

oil rig
My Dad was an advertising man. One of his clients was a coal company. I learned a little about clean coal and dirty coal as a youngster. And I remember wondering about mining. ..digging all those tunnels deep underground. I wondered how the planet could handle the constant extraction – hollowing out for subways and tunnels for cars and draining underground aquifers to quench our thirst. The planet’s surface is a big swiss cheese and I still wonder when she’ll collapse on us.

Last Thursday I attended a lecture by Dr. Guy McPherson   titled: Responding to Abrupt Climate Change. He’s collated data from hundreds of scientists and presents a convincing argument for acknowledging rapid climate change as irrefutable. His bottom line: Life is short even if you live to 117, which was the age of the oldest known human being. You know what she said two weeks before she died: Life is short.

Life is short and our human species time on this planet may be very short compared to other mammals but that’s how it is. Since life is short, he suggests we honor it as the miracle it is while we live it. Choose to love and love some more. Love everything and everyone and make loving relationships your priority because when you die, as we all will, you won’t regret not having purchased the latest gizmo. You’ll regret not having ever told your son that you love him. You’ll regret not having stories… the kind of story made by remembering shared experience, where the first words are: “Remember when we …”

His other suggestion is: live a life of excellence. He said the word excellence needs to be defined by each person. For me excellence relates to integrity. It means I live a life that is congruent with my deepest yearnings, as authentic and transparent and real as I can be. And that feels so good.

Which brings me back to where I began this post: the call for prayers to support the kayakers and the oil rig and the Arctic waters and the call for awakening. Last night I attended a living myth – a gathering of community to welcome back the kayakers and witness their stories. This is the way it happens in the s/hero’s journey. In those myths, the return is honored by the s/hero sharing the boon of his/her travels and the community embracing the s/hero’s transformed Self.

I’ll tell that real life living myth next time.

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Dying to Live

My left leg feels frail, aches a little bit, doesn’t move quite right but I CAN put weight on it without excruciating pain. Three days ago, I couldn’t.

What happened?

I don’t know. After more than five hours at the ER, mostly hanging out in a wheelchair, the doc is mystified. Technology rules out the scarey things like blood clot and fracture. But my lack of other symptoms makes it hard to determine a cause.

So what’s a woman to do?

I retreat to my daughter’s home, bringing my two elder dogs with me. We all lie about, except my daughter, who brings all three of us food and drink when we need it. Walking on crutches isn’t as easy now as it was when I was in college and broke an ankle.

Until this unexpected detour, I’d been painting madly for several months getting ready for an art exhibit that opens in less than three weeks. Despite that time pressure, I decided to leave my painting gear at home and take a break, focus on my much neglected blog and other computer chores while waiting for healing to weave itself through me. And healing I am. I walked without crutches a little bit today and can bend my knee and stretch it out straight without pain, albeit a little stiffly

Our bodies are like tuning forks and I’m well aware that this malady illustrates exactly how I felt last week. My knees wobbled. I felt as if the rug had been yanked out from under me when I got the news.
kimbly  radiant hder

Apparently healthy, vibrant and vital, Kimberly Davis, 43, died on Monday the 11th of May. Though I never met her in person, she felt like a daughter to me. Online painting colleagues in several classes, we’d also produced the Fearless Sisters’ Oracle Deck together. I reveled in her colorful imagery, applauded the path she unerringly followed as she honored her muse and honed her creative gifts. For three days before my leg gave way, I’d been participating in a commemorative painting vigil with women from around the globe who also loved and admired Kimberly. Her loss and the power of globally sharing love and grief does make me wonder about the timing of my inexplicable leg pain. I know there is a deep connection between my body’s mind and the morphogenic field of empathic, mythpoetic response. So I do wonder about this leg of mine…I do.

Since I’m preparing for an art exhibit called The Many Faces of Gaia, I decide to paint a Gaia for Kimberly as my way to participate in the vigil. Here it is as a work in progress.
gaia for kimberly

While I paint, I ponder how losing Kimberly has filled many of us with the desire to live more fully, to be bigger and more true to our souls while we still breathe in these bodies. One woman painted for the first time in 18 months. Another painted a larger canvas than ever before – and it was a big one – 30” x 40”. Another woman brought all her images out from hiding. And I re-commit myself to pouring my love for life into painting more evocative and compelling Gaian imagery.

Kimberly’s passing has made each of us more than we were before.

And that makes me wonder how our values would shift if we all remembered our loved ones stand at death’s door, that each breath we take could be our last. Would we love more, play more and fear less, be more willing to change our greed driven priorities so all beings and ecosystems could thrive?

As I paint Gaia for Kimberly – She Who Blesses our Lives Eternally, I ponder the power of death to inspire life and give gratitude for mortality.

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What Makes Us Human?

Prairie dog lives threatened by building another mall.

Wolf lives threatened by removing them from the endangered list.

Spotted owl lives threatened by yet another clear cut.

Salmon lives threatened by yet another dam.

Whale lives threatened by yet another deep sea sonic boom.

Bear lives threatened by yet another pipe line intrusion through their wildnerness home.

Bee lives threatened by yet another pesticide.

Human lives threatened by yet more polluted air, polluted water, polluted food.

Human lives diminished by yet more uniformity, climate controlled habitats, windowless rooms.

Human lives devalued by money, economic disparity, persecution, displacement of habitat.

Human lives diminished by the illusion of needing safety…control… sterility…quick fixes.

Human lives detoured by institutionalized needs for speed, efficiency and greater yields..

Have we forgotten what makes us humans feel alive?

How animated we become when we sing and dance together. . .How entranced we are by the birth of a baby… How moved we are by the sacred process of dying. . . How falling in love makes us want to live. . .How creating something engages us with living in the moment. . .how creating something reveals the depth and expansiveness of the mystery within… How intimate conversation can inspire for days… How we breathe deeper and more easily when we sleep when we’re tired, eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirsty, spend time outside, and exert ourselves physically … How eye contact with the other moves our souls…How a glorious sunset can trigger tears, the aurora borealis pulls awe from our throats…How making meaning means everything…How helping another connects us. . .

Just asking: have we forgotten what makes us human?

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Painting Gaia continued…

On Friday, the 27th of February, 2015, I hung my first exhibit for a new series I’ve begun. Titled: The Many Faces of Gaia , painting more images for this series promises to carry me richly throughout this year, maybe for the rest of my life, because those Gaian faces are infinite. And each time I paint a portal and then the cosmos birthed through it, I am stunned by the surprises, the depth of communion these images evoke, the emotion. Though I’ve only painted four, I’m deeply committed to the fifth one

I think she’s titled: She Who Protects the Burdens of Spring and here she is in process:

gaia march 2015 035 (1024x833)

I will be sharing the process for Gaian Face # 6 with you as we work our way through the online course called Painting Gaia – Autumn/Spring 2015.

As I thought about my first four Gaias being seen publicly, I decided to prepare a statement to help the viewer appreciate why we artists are doing what we’re doing. Here is the statement followed by my first Gaian Face accomplished during the online class which started last November:

Gaia: “The earth viewed as a vast self-regulating organism.” New Oxford American Dictionary

Gaia: “A name for humanity’s Habitat, an ancient yet new name, which I understand to include Whole Earth and Cosmos—there is no seam separating Earth from Her Context.”
Glenys Livingstone, PhD author PaGaian Cosmology

Painting Gaia: “It’s exciting to imagine all the new images . . . that will come into being. The importance that these . . .images play in the psyche of not only our being, but the earth as a being, and further, the legacy that we leave behind for future earthlings cannot be underestimated…We are at a poignant time in history where Gaia is being re-membered, re-claimed, re-birthed and re-imagined. We are an integral part of deepening and developing a new relationship with the Primordial Earth Mother for it is essential to the future health of not only the Earthbody, but our bodies and the universal body.”
Jassy Watson, Artist and Teacher of Painting Gaia.

The Many Faces of Gaia: “At this pivotal moment in Human Evolution, our culture needs new storylines and new images for envisioning a reverent human relationship to our planetary home, our cosmic Habitat. These paintings, accompanied by short poems, are my articulation of that sacred interconnectedness between humans and the ALL-OF-IT.”
Deborah J Milton, PhD, Artist/Mentor

Finished Willow Gaia

Willow Wombman
Born to the elements
Feeding the seasons
Willow succors life

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Painting Gaia

Gaia has been a word in my vocabulary ever since James Lovelock first proposed his theories in the late 1970’s. Gaian theories made perfect sense to me then and they still do. They match my observations of the world around me. Our planet – Gaia – is a self-regulating series of vital interlocking systems of which we humans are only one. Unfortunately for Gaia as a whole, humans are a bent spoke in the wheel … capable of throwing all the other systems out of balance.

In ancient Greece, Gaia was considered a “primeval prophetess” offering wisdom to humans who would/could listen deeply. The expression, “keep your ear to the ground”, originated then and now still identifies the source of my true knowing.

We are a young species on this planet, even though by some accounts we arrived as long ago as 5 million years. The planet, however, is thought by scientists to be at least 13.7 billion years old. To get a sense of those time frames, imagine your arms stretched wide to either side. The tip of the little finger on one hand represents the planet’s birth while the white finger nail tip on the little finger of the other hand represents the length of time we’ve been here. That’s it! The tip of a finger nail…

human span

We humans are still babies,…I’ll give us a break here, maybe we’re toddlers,… in comparison to the maturation of other species . But imagine toddlers. They’re hell bent on poking and prodding, tasting and squeezing, ripping and tearing. Everything that lies in their path is consumable. More is better. Mine, mine, mine and NO!

All toddlers grow-up, but do not necessarily become mature adults. But at least we have the capacity. When we grow-up, we have the capacity to acknowledge the rapid rate of change on our planet, to question the source of happiness, to behave with decency and wisdom because we love life, our own and those of our families, friends, and co-inhabitants of this planet.

So what does Painting Gaia have to do with these musings?

A few months ago, my friend Trebbe Johnson of Radical Joy for Hard Times  was musing about the need for new images of the human relationship to the earth. The image of earthrise as seen from the moon illustrates the globe’s fragility but does little to inspire human caring for the planet. Other images, beautiful though they are, often show the planet being held in a human hand and though that’s true – the planet’s natural systems ARE in our hands – a hand held earth may also obscure a sacred truth. We are dependent on the planet in a way that the planet is NOT dependent on us.

Trebbe’s thoughts inspired me, so when I stumbled upon Jassy Watson Artist  who offers an online course called Painting Gaia, I knew I had to dive in. And though I have not completely avoided those images of the planet being cradled by a human form,

first mini gaia

I am devoted to painting Gaia because I’m learning that Gaia is more than this planet alone. I am learning to listen, listen, listen to the vastness of the entire panoply – from our origins 13. 7 billion years ago to who and what we are today. And we do that by painting in layers…beginning with the portal, the birth canal, the threshold over which all new life has to step….

portal

to be continued

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Lammas/Imbolc @ EarthGaia Feb 2015

Glenys Livingstone shares a global perspective that quickens my heart. I’m preparing here in the Pacific North West of the American continent for Making Artful Prayers for Imbolc – the Seasonal Moment on our hemisphere. I invite you to Make Artful Prayers as well. Expressing human gratitude to the galaxy in which our globe swims is powerful politics!

PaGaian Cosmology

On February 4th at 3:45 “Universal Time” (as it is named) EarthGaia crosses the midpoint in Her orbit between Solstice and Equinox. IMAG4697In the Southern Hemisphere it is the Season of Lammas – the welcoming of the Dark, post-Summer Solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere it is the welcoming of the Light, post-Winter Solstice. All planetary times for this Moment may be found at archaeoastronomy.com. Many around the globe will celebrate it on the traditional date of 1st/2nd February, and some at a time when the season feels right, and some when it can be fitted into tick-tock time – and there are other cultural variations of celebrating this transition of our Planet’s orbit around Sun.

Thomas Berry named the points of seasonal transition as “moments of grace”. In Pagan tradition they are known as “Sabbats”. I name them Seasonal Moments … with capitals as is appropriate to any holy day.

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Can the Ego Put Itself to Death?

I mix and mingle with some pretty amazing men and women all affiliated with the Dayaalu Healing Center on Bainbridge Island, WA.  At a holiday potluck, I met Kimberly Rafferty who describes herself as a scholar and philosopher of subjects related to Yoga Sutras and Sanskrit. I loved the fact that she declared herself a philosopher. In the last three years I have recognized that as an identifier for myself and have even added that title to some of my business cards. Artist, Eco-Psychologist and Philosopher.

So, when I discovered a post I’d written in June 2013 when I was participating in Cuppa Joe – a four week online course in all things Joseph Campbell, I decided it was worth repurposing since it’s relevant to my current musings. ( By the by, local folks can join Jeff Leinaweaver and me for a monthly Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythological Roundtable Group held in the classroom at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art – )

Can the Ego Put Itself to Death? Campbell poses that question on page 89 in my copy of The Hero’s Journey.

I hope not!

Seems our modern ego conjures a wide array of reactions, especially in those who seek enlightenment. Is the ego really needing to be slain or could there be another option?

Every time I remember that psychology is a brand new set of concepts on this planet – less than a nano second of linear time when you think of the evolution of our species, I realize  I may have contributions to make to that field of thought. Because of my years of experience visiting altered states of consciousness – spontaneous excursions when I was young, many years of analytic dream work, active imagination, spiritually responding to the land, learning from traditional Native Americans in Montana, creating, creating, creating and now more than twenty years of regular practice with Ecstatic Wisdom Postures – I’ve concluded that we need the ego.

My definition of and relationship to ego may be quite different from how Jung and Campbell imagined it. What if the ego is a semi-permeable membrane between this ordinary world of consciousness and the numinous world of non-ordinary experience? What if the ego is our help mate, our witness, our side-by for the soul’s work of spirit? What if the ego midwifes the birth of embodied spiritual wisdom?

How can science and spirit tango without the ego dancing the steps?

singing down moon

When we go on a vision quest, a s/hero’s journey, how can we bring back the boon to our community, if we don’t have an ego to do the work?

I’m fascinated by the differences between Jung and Campbell in their assessment of the timing of the s/hero’s journey. Standing in my shoes, the journey happens many times in one lifetime. The gifts of return are different each time. Developmentally, each crossing of another threshold closes the door to former patterns, a door that will be remembered but not reopened.

Jung says the journey takes place in the first half of life and includes the conscious psyche emerging victorious over the unconscious. (Italics mine.)   That word “victorious” suggests that the unconscious is an enemy, something that needs to be controlled, something to fear. Jung’s perspective reflects his era. We’ve arrived at new possibilities for defining both the ego AND the unconscious. I see the latter as a fathomless well of mystery that plunges deep within and soars to the boundless void without. The unconsciousness is the mysterium tremendum and a realm I want to embrace, not conquer. My more fluid, courageous ego allows that and my bodymind is the bridge between.

Beyond words

We are, after all, beholden to the unconscious for our human abilities to create, to mythologize, to imagine, to intuit, to string ideas together as I am doing here, etc.

Campbell suggests the journey is mostly in the latter half of life and that “mystical realization dissolves the ego.” (Italics mine.) Again, I don’t want my ego to dissolve because my ego allows me to stay grounded in the material world simultaneously co-existing with awareness of the oneness, the non-ordinary realities, the mystery guiding my responses to living my daily life on earth. Ego is my witness to all that is.

I like to think I am one of the imaginal cells for the evolution of humanity,( 1.) whole brained and with an animated bodymind. There’s the beginning of a new mythic storyline more congruent with the knowledge of our era.

just this

  1. If you’re interested in knowing more about my POV, you can watch a YouTube webinar I made describing how ecstatic experience has helped my ego reframe itself. Click on Ecstatic Wisdom Postures in the header above right here on my blog.
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