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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Shades of Light

This time of year all around our globe, two legged mammals called humans are celebrating the light. Right now, in the northern hemisphere we’re jumping for joy knowing that the longer days of light are returning. In the southern hemisphere they’re jumping for joy because they’re experiencing the longest day and the abundant play of summer – some people even dread turning toward the dark again.

You, who have followed this blog for several years, know that I stand on my dimly lit soapbox every winter Solstice to yell: I love the dark. I beg you – no, I DARE you – to celebrate its return next summer here in the north.

Please understand this. I’m not advocating for the dark forces to take over the world. I’m simply saying that the dark is the womb of all creativity, including the universe. The dark inspires mystery and illuminates wisdom. For instance, in the dark we become aware of the galaxies above, that immense vastness that reminds us of the miracle of life on this tiny globe. The dark literally elicits awe, allowing us to marvel at the sheer wonder of being here. Lovers inextricably intertwined, the marriage of dark and light gives birth to the whole shebang. I mean that seriously, which leads me to the power of value.

What do I mean by value? Value is, in this case, shades of grey – how dark is the darkest dark and how light is the lightest light. In photographic terms, value is identified by the grey scale.

And shades of grey define everything. Value is valuable! With no shadow, we’re blinded by the light. Value embodies the full range of greys to reveal form, perspective, depth, texture, to give shape to all things.

living on the edge (551x800)

Recently I’ve stumbled on the glorious constraint of making Artist Trading Cards ( ATC ). Tiny images, 2.5” x 3.5”, I discovered that ATC packs even come in black. I have loved the luminous mandala technique taught by Judith Cornell and have learned from her books how to draw a complex design with white pencil on black paper before adding any color at all. I grabbed my white pencil and a black ATC and voila, a lifetime ago or maybe about ten days, my life changed. These wee images have revealed my devotion to shades of grey. I realize as I write to you, though, that my passion wants to be called: devotion to shades of light. I love that word play. Shades of light describe my truth. I cannot stand in the sun without casting a shadow, even if it’s only under my feet.

12. Tuning into the Moon (534x800)

The coupling of light and dark is inviolate, nature’s way of teaching us how life works. That truth compels me to stay open. Shades of light ground me, make me, make us, solid. Thinking white is right and black is wrong traps us in literalism, …over which wars are fought. Insisting that the light alone brings enlightenment may be modern man’s Achille’s heel.

May we choose to live more metaphorically.
13. Finding Each Other (523x800)

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I Am an Animal

Anesthetized by homogenized urbanity and an uppity sense of being separate from everything else, most modern people forget we humans are animals.

I’ve had my own royal battle acknowledging that truth.

As a young one in the mid 1940’s, rolling around on the recently mowed suburban backyard grass, I felt at home in this green bladed tickly stuff, the cut emerald perfume inhaling me deeply. Flitting quickly, honey bees buzzed among the few remaining upright clover stalks, and I rolled carefully onto my back not wanting to smash a bee nor get stung. I faced the startling blue of sky, not yet dulled by pollution, a word not known to me then. Cupping my hands to screen out everything but sky, I plunged into the blue at the same time my shoulder blades dove out the other side of earth arriving in the country of China that I’d been told lay opposite me.

I lay there wondering at it all, wondering about property lines and my backyard. Where did our property end? Did it go six inches down, six feet up? Where did I really belong? What could I call mine? Why was there a fence keeping me out of my beloved woodland? I felt at home there where mystery and discovery flourished. But I knew the wood belonged to someone else.

My mother’s voice ripped me from my musing: “Deb, stop rolling around like an animal.”

“I’m NOT rolling around like an animal.”

“Oh yes, you are! You really are.”

“But, Mom, I’m not an animal. I’m me.”

“I know, Deb, but actually, humans are animals.”

“We are NOT,” I shout in horror.

“But we are. We’re animals, really.”

“We are not,” Doubt makes me cling stubbornly to my belief, “I’m not an animal. I can’t be. I talk. Dogs don’t talk. They’re animals.”

“But, honey,” she softens a little now, getting into her teacherly mode, “The scientists have figured it out. Biologists know. There are all kinds of animals…birds, reptiles, fish, spiders, bees, horses, elephants, all kinds… The humans are the kind called mammals.”

“But I can’t be an animal,” I remember my panic rising again. “I can’t be. I walk on two legs.”

“So do birds,” she says.

*****

That memory rivets me.

My family values, my era, my community taught me to deny my animal nature, and yet, I knew deeply that I was most at home with dirt, sky, wood, creek.

scan0005

I faced a huge crack in my world, a Catch-22 for my soul.

Childhood dependency exacerbated the issue. In my family, cleanliness was literally more important than godliness. Self-control, erudition, speaking perfect grammar with perfect pronunciation, those qualities ruled my days…starched and ironed dresses, white socks, combed hair, white gloves and purses on certain occasions – even at the age of 3.

proper deb

 

My era compounded the issue. The phrase “women’s lib” hadn’t yet been coined in the 1940’s and 50’s. Girls in school had only recently been given permission to play sports and we did it with gusto. Half court basketball was better than no basketball. BUT I ran, dribbled twice and threw the ball scared to death the whole time. My one-piece, buttoned to the neck, cinched waist with elastic holding the fabric tight at the thigh, royal blue “romper,” the standard physical education class uniform, had elbow length sleeves. Sweating armpits turned royal blue cloth to black and life as I knew it would end if anyone saw those tell tale signs. . . Girdled and stockinged, brassiered and high heeled, bleached highlights and bobby pins to tame my hair, nose matted with powder, cheeks blushed with rouge, I lost the home of my body – a dis-ease wildly prevalent today in different ways with different symptoms but still a viral phenomenon in youth and beauty oriented cultures.

not jst lady

Growing up in Pennsylvania didn’t help either. Propriety ruled. I got a hint of what I was missing when an Australian artist woman moved into our suburban neighborhood with her German physics professor husband. One day I took them to the public pool and she expressed her surprise that kids had to wear bathing suits in America. She told me that in both Europe and Australia, kids under the age of six swam nude. Her whole family routinely went skinny dipping in German hot springs.

Those differences in lifestyles and cultural values unhinged the doors caging my psyche.

At this time on our planet, we humans need to claim proudly our identity as mammals dependent on nature’s largesse. Whether urban born or not, we are indigenous by being born HERE, all of us everywhere. We are one of the animals forming the skin over the bones of our planet.

But we are unique in the animal kingdom: we kill and manipulate all the others, including members of our own species. For life’s sake, we need to change that behavior. We are technologically capable and scientifically adept humans who are also indigenous, wild two-legged animals. Recognizing that evolution has brought us to an era of wholebrained and mindbody wisdom offers the potential for moving beyond chaos, conflict and crisis to full compassionate participation in nourishing the web of life.

That notion elicits an audible WOW from my soul.

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The Frog Prince

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Living in a Wisdom World

Jeff Leinaweaver, PhD, is a renaissance man: professional storyteller, musician, global sustainability consultant, professor, radio talk show host, father, husband, mythologist …and friend. He invited me to help launch the Bainbridge Island Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythological Roundtable Group. ( That long name is mandated by the international organization to which we belong.)

I am so inspired by hosting our first session that here, now, three days later, my socks are still rolling up and down.

We listen to a two minute clip of Campbell himself talking about the four functions of mythology, the first of which is the Mystical. He says we have forgotten that the very ground of our being, the source of our consciousness, is mystery and that we come from and return to the darkness without answers and no precise definitions. Because we don’t acknowledge our mysterious origins, we have lost the capacity for awe, the very quality that makes us most compassionately human. This perspective sings in me because I live by the same melody.

But something greater unfurls as I absorb one of Campbell’s favorite myths in preparation for telling it at the meeting. On the surface, we all know the story of the Frog Prince, when the power of a kiss transforms ugliness to beauty. But in this version, perhaps older and closer to the original, there is no kiss but a …

 

splat (568x800)Now that wakes me. I start probing the story with inquisitive antenna. Why are ostrich feathers, not peacock, eagle or robin, on the heads of the horses? Why a gold ball and not one of silver or with green and blue stripes? Why does the princess seem like a child on the first day of the story and on the second is ready for marriage? And what about those bands around Faithful Henry’s heart? I tell you, once I begin listening to this story with my “third ear”, an endless array of exhilarating paths show up to carry me ever more deeply into amazement.

The most astonishing is this. The pivotal event takes place under an “old Linden tree.” Why not an oak, or a fig, or a maple or even a sweet pine? But the story specifies a linden. Being a researcher at heart and a “bookaholic” in my core, I turn to my own library and find: The Meaning of Trees by Fred Hageneder. Happily, linden is listed in the index.

I just about take flight with what I read. Not only are these trees a nectar source for bees and thus often nicknamed the “bee tree,” ( Isn’t that propitious given the plight of bees on our planet?) they’re also known as the “soothing tree” whose tea is good for the heart, calms children, eases diarrhea, high blood pressure, sinus conditions and skin problems. But here’s the really fascinating bit: the linden was the traditional hub of village life and the gathering place for both feasts and courts of law. Considered a sacred tree, it is “revealing that the ancients gathered, discussed and judged underneath the ‘female’ linden which represents mercy, rather than the ‘male’ oak tree” associated with the god Thor.

My mouth gapes open as I get it!

Our ancestors recognized guidance and wisdom in every aspect of the world around them and specified specifics in every story because they knew their community understood the significance. We’ve lost all that meaning! We are no longer embedded in a “wisdom world” and have to turn to secondary sources, as I did, to grasp the depth of meaning in the details of a story. We dismiss a treasure trove of information and interconnectedness when we deprive the world of sentience and relevance. As industrial/technological/information age humans, we have lost our ability to receive direct wisdom and unprocessed knowledge.

WOW, just WOW again!

No wonder we feel alienated and ungrounded. No wonder stories of all kinds are so important to rediscover, share with each other and imagine more of our own…discovering a living mythology for our time that nourishes a living world to which we belong.

 

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