Archive for January, 2008

Beautiful Video

New Sculpture out of the Kiln

I finally got this one fired:

Goddess by Sybil Archibald

Goddess by Sybil Archibald

Goddess by Sybil Archibald

Next post from the tropics!

On Winter

The Snowman
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
-Wallace Stevens

Right now I am in winter. I have experienced an enormous growth over two difficult years that included closing a business of 15 years and significant health issues. It has been a difficult yet beautiful and amazing time which bore much fruit. I feel there is very little about me that has not shifted in someway closer to God because of what I have gone through. That took everything I had. Now I am the ground that rests during winter in order to prepare for spring. I am embracing my own internal winter even as I prepare to leave the external winter for the endless summer of St. Thomas.

My suitcase is overflowing with canvas and paint. Images are flowing into my mind. What will happen? I do not know… It is a beautiful thing.

Sonnets to Orpheus XIII
Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.

Be forever dead in Eurydice-more gladly arise
into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.

Be-and yet know the great void where all things begin,
the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.

To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
creatures in the world’s full reserve, the unsayable sums,
joyfully add yourself, and cancel the count.

– Rilke Maria Rainer (trans. Stephan Mitchell)

On the Kindness of God

The dark night has at last ended
I have now seen You.
Inside the depth of my heart.
I do not know what magic abides
Inside me.
Around me is the desert,
Yet I am not parched with thirst.
-Sri Chimnoy

Today I received more instruction on detachment and following Divine will. I had planned to go on a day trip with family and friends. It was a one time deal, and something that had been planned for several months. I couldn’t because of the cold. I felt really devastated about it. I was overwhelmed with sadness.

My experience of the Divine is one of infinite kindness & I have been amply prepared to deal with grief. So I cried and cried. I embraced my sadness because I will not allow grief to stop up my well. I cried it out, I emptied myself and was still. In stillness I found the Divine again.

You might ask how this is kind? There is nothing my heart desires so strongly as closeness and service to the One. I know that the Divine is giving me my instruction in the kindest possible way that I am able to hear. In my early work, none of my figures had ears. I could not hear and my lessons were severe only because I wasn’t listening. Hence 11 shocks to my heart! Now all the figures in my art have ears. I do listen and my lessons have become easier. I am learning to trust, today was a lesson in detaching from my own will and trusting the Divine.

Self Portrait by Sybil Archibald
Early work without ears
Etching by Sybil Archibald
Recent work with ears

Say not in grief that she is no more
but say in thankfulness that she was
A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
but the putting out of the lamp
because the dawn has come.
-Tagore

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Today I am grateful for:
1) My friend Miriam
2) A good dinner
3) My dogs

The Promised Drawing…

OK, here’s the drawing I promised yesterday. It’s just a quick self-portrait to get my juices flowing… I’m not going to judge it, it is just a doorway back onto my creative path.

Self Portrait by Sybil Archibald

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3 things I’m grateful for today:

1) My time drawing
2) I felt good good when I woke up
3) My family

Joy: Shifting to Meet the Unshiftable

One day seven years ago I found myself saying to myself — I can’t live where I want to — I can’t go where I want to go–I can’t do what I want to — I can’t even say what I want to –….I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to.
-Georgia O’Keeffe

I haven’t posted this week because I’ve been feeling at a bit of a loss. I’ve finished a major cycle in my life. I have a wonderful trip coming up, but for these 2 weeks, I’m stuck in my home. Basically, I can’t go out because it’s so cold. It’s felt like a prison and I’ve been fed up like I’ve had enough. I’m turning 40 later this year and my life is nothing like what I imagined it would be.

Then I realized that I’m expecting my external world to change and make it all better. I’ve spent about 18 years of my life moving every year or two, always searching for a new situation that would make things better for me. It took illness to knock me flat on my back and stop me from running. I was forced to engage my interior world and I saw that my problems stayed the same in each move, only their faces changed. But my illness could not be changed by running, so I had to shift myself to meet it otherwise I could not have gone on with my life. I know I would have died years ago.

Now I’m back in the same place: the fact of winter, at least for now, can not be changed. I’m here with two precious weeks and all I can think of is getting away from the cold. I’ve stopped painting and writing and lost sight of the fact that this is Divine will; this time is a Divine gift. I must turn inward to mine for the gold. By shifting within myself, I can find the joy here even in what feels like a (temporary) prison.

I haven’t made any art since my operation so tonight I’m picking up my pen again. Tomorrow I’ll post a photo of my work. Who knows what it will be? See I’ve already found some adventure in my own home…. I live for adventure. It is my joy.

Work cures everything.
-Matisse

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A new practice: I will end each post with 3 things I am grateful for on this day:

1) My husband
2) It was a sunny day
3) I finally saw the Divine message in my situation

On Filling the Vacuum a Bit More

I leave next week for St. Thomas. I thought I would be staying with a friend, but someone just offered us a free apartment. The power of waiting is amazing! In the passed, I would have pushed to get this all set up months ago. We would have paid more than was wise for a much shorter time. My body really can’t tolerate the cold as it once did, so knew that I something would happen to help me and I waited. Really it can together at the very last moment. Part of me still can’t believe my good fortune! I am extremely grateful!

Picture of the Sun
What I love about St. Thomas is the intensity of the light. It fills you like glass is filled with water. You become infused with the sun. When mystics speak of seeing the light of God, they are not speaking of the light of the sun. And yet, in St. Thomas it becomes clearer that the two lights are one and it is only our eyes and minds which divide them.

I have not felt the desire to paint for quite a while. I have focused on drawing, etching & sculpture. Color is nothing more than reflected light and perhaps knowing the intensity of light I shall soon encounter, I begin to feel the colors of my painting again. Its a bit like seeing something out of the corner of your eye. You sense it’s there but you can’t understand it fully. I won’t think of what I will paint; that I will let flow through me when the time arrives. But it seems clear that I will be painting.

Yes, I know, this is nothing but thy love, O beloved of
my heart- this golden light that dances upon the leaves, these
idle clouds sailing across the sky, this passing breeze leaving its
coolness upon my forehead.
This morning light has flooded my eyes- this is thy
message to my heart. Thy face is bent above, they eyes look
doen on my eyes, and my heart has touched thy feet.
-Tagore (Gitanjali #59)

Filling the Vacuum a Little… Bringing Earth to Healing

Mother by Sybil ArchibaldSo today I’m allowed to lift my arm for the first time in a week. I still have to wait to lift it above my shoulder, but this is a happy day nonetheless! I also feel new energy and purpose.

Yesterday I spoke about holding the space open for the Divine to enter. It’s interesting, more happens when I wait and things that were unclear become clear. My family & I have thought for sometime of being away for part of the winter. Nothing was coming together so I sat back and waited. Now something wonderful has entered into that open space. It is a one month trip to sunny St. Thomas which I am going to use as an artist’s retreat. I’ll be packing a small bag of clothes, a large trunk of art supplies and my laptop.

The Living Hand by Sybil ArchibaldWhere I live just outside of New York City, I often feel disconnected from nature. Illness works on many levels it is most definitely spiritual direction on a personal level. But I have often wondered if it is something more too. Our bodies are the Earth. Creation stories from many peoples Apache , China, Aboriginal , African and of course the biblical story of Adam to name a few describe humanity as being created out of Earth. I have always felt that on some level my illness reflects the illness and decay of our planet. I firmly believe in the alchemical principle “As above, so below”. If we are pale reflections, echoes of our Creator, as physical creatures we must also be the echo of creation itself. Our blatant disregard for our own flesh must be on some level both manifestation and cause of the current plight of our dear planet.

So I will take my time in the lush tropical greenery of St. Thomas to enter into the act of creation through my art and writing, but also to envelope my body in its physical source, nature. Like a child estranged from its parent, my body will find healing in the Earth’s loving arms.

Eden by Sybil ArchibaldI have learned that I cannot control the illness in my body, greater forces than I can understand have plans for me for which I gladly wait. But I take heart. I believe physical healing is possible. I have always believed it and will continue my belief whether or not physical healing becomes part of my own path. What small steps I can take like resting, using my energy wisely, eating well or nurturing myself do have an effect. I must treat myself as if I were my own garden and this in turn must effect the Earth. My flesh is the land, it is Earth and the two cannot be separated except as an illusion in the human mind. My flesh is but a small grain of sand, but as I have said before, sand does have a way of piling up. The small ways in which we heal ourselves will begin the process of healing our planet.

Hail Mary

enter my hands

Full of Grace

fill me

Blessed art thou among women

flesh joined with spirit, Earth

oh endless Divine Womb

Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus

perfected jewel of creation present in every moment

Holy Mary mother of God

ancient well, connect me to Your eternal stream

Pray for us sinners now

let us heal the connection that has been sundered

and at the time

circle upon circle

of our death.

bring us lasting rebirth: flesh at with one spirit

-Sybil Archibald

On Not Filling the Vacuum

Vessel
Ancient clay vessel

I am the one You created from dust,
A handful of dust moving at Your wish.
You planted this seed,
This growth is obeying that command.
-Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir

I haven’t posted for a few days, but not for health reasons. I’m recovering well. The reason is, I’m holding my life open, trying to remain empty. A major cycle in my life has ended and this creates a vacuum. What I am doing now is stepping aside to let that space be filled by God and not by my own habits or ideas about what I should be doing.

This is very different for me. I’m used to charging forward with plan and making it happen. If there is one thing the last few years have taught me, my plan is nothing more than a worthless scrap of paper. I’ve been like a wild horse that has been broken. I am ready to serve so I am quietly waiting for the Divine to fill my vacuum. Holding that space open is drawing most of my energy right now. Operations are easy. This is more of a task!

Eckhart says:

If people find themselves in this way in pure nothingness, is it not better for them to do something to drive away the darkness and the abandonment? Should such people not somehow pray, read, listen to a sermon, or carry out other works that are virtuous so as to help themselves? No! Understand this truly that remaining quite still and for as long at a time as possible is the best thing you can do.

I guess again, I am seeking to be a vessel, but this time by surrendering in my life and not just during the process of creating art.

Thanks everyone who has though of me and kept me their prayers. It’s beautiful to remember how connected everyone on earth is and how we can help each other without ever leaving our homes.

Home Again

So, I’m back home. Everything went great. I’m still a bit hung-over from the anesthesia, but otherwise feeling well. Amazingly, so many of the people (the nurses, techs, anesthesiologist, & etc.) remembered me from a year ago. A little strange, but wonderful. I felt really well taken care of!

I’m brewing a posting about emptiness and new beginnings but I don’t think I should post anything substantial until I’m sure my mind is back to normal! Probably tomorrow…

Singing Image of Fire
A hand moves, and the fire’s whirling takes different shapes:
All thing change when we do.
The first word,”Ah,” blossoms into all others.
Each of them is true.
– Kukai

Heart Surgery and Fear

Sacred Heart by Sybil Archibald
Detail of one of my paintings

Tomorrow, January 9th, I’m going in for minor heart surgery. I will be discharged on January 10th. I know the Divine is involved here because on January 10th last year I went into the hospital with a serious heart issue. I will be leaving the hospital the very same day I entered it 1 year ago. No person could plan that.

This year has been an intense transformational journey for me. Last year I had an episode of ventricular tachycardia. It was very dramatic. I went into the hospital with a heart rate of 223 beats per minute. They called code blue, 10 people descended on me, just like ER.

Well, I have to tell you that it was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. In that moment, the first moment in my entire life, I surrendered completely to God. I had not one instant of fear. Every person treated me with beauty and I was carried through to safety. I believe my absolute calm and trust dramatically impacted this situation were I was mere seconds from death.

I spent 9 days in the cardiac ICU while they tested me in every way possible. In the end, they fitted me with an implanted cardiac defibrillator. When I left the hospital everything returned to normal except that the Divine hadn’t finished teaching me yet.

In March I got the stomach flu. The usual thing, I threw up for about 24 hours. When I got up the next day, I was walking down the stairs and I heard a pop. The only other time I had ever heard that sound was when I experienced a flash of Divine light. I realized my defibrillator had gone off. It continued to fire 11 more times in the next 5 minutes. If you don’t know what that means, I’m sure you’ve seen on TV doctor drama doctors administering a shock to a person with paddles. Well this is the same thing only delivered directly to your heart. It is excruciatingly painful.

The ambulance shuttled me off to the hospital where I found that my cardiologist had set my device too low. My heart rate was completely normal, fast because of the flu but normal. The machine went off because the programming was wrong.

I was completely traumatized by this. I jumped at every noise. I had nightmares of it going off again. I was afraid to walk down the stairs. Sometimes, I was so consumed with fear, I was literally afraid to move. I know it sounds terrible, but it turned out to be one of the most important experiences of my entire life. It is no mistake that I heard the same sound as in my vision.

Dealing with this has changed my relationship to fear. I never knew that most of my decisions were made out of fear. That fear regulated everything I did. This experience has liberated me from fear. I learned how to be with fear and still act, how sitting with fear instead of resisting it transforms it.

I learned to deal with my fear so well that when, I was faced with another truly fearful situation, I was ok. In September, I found out that part of my device had been recalled for delivering inappropriate shock (one woman had, I believe 58 shocks, in 1 hour) I did freak out for a day, but then I handled it. I took my time gathered all the appropriate information and 3 ½ months later I am acting. Not out of fear, but out of the knowledge that I am making the best decision for myself and my family.

People often think of fear in the context of what it stops us from doing, perhaps flying to an exotic local, changing or job, etc. But my experience is that we are so deeply unconscious of our fears that we actually think we like doing what we have always done. See Jan on this. I don’t do half of what I used to. It’s not because I’m sick. It’s because I won’t waste my energy on doing things just to please other people when they rob me of my life force. I never realized how terrified I was of disappointing someone or making them angry.Sacred Heart

I could never have started this blog before because I would have fear what people would say. Why do we hold back and resist change? We only get our mirrors dusty so they can’t properly reflect the One.

This cycle is done. On the 10th I will leave the hospital and I’ll be on to bigger and better things. I hope it is more art, but that’s not up to me, that is in the hands of the One.

I send you blessings. Thank you for reading.

Resistance

A man should shine with the divine Presence without having to work at it. One must be permeated with divine Presence, informed with the form of beloved God who is within him, so he may radiate that Presence without working at it.
– Meister Eckhart

If you can believe this, Facebook has a Meister Eckhart group! There are only 20 members, but still! Anyway I found this wonderful quote there from Eckhart’s Talks of Instruction. I love it because I think we spend, at least I do, an awful lot of time resisting the Divine. By trying to control everything we waste enormous amounts of energy. What would life look like if we didn’t resist it? How much natural creativity would flow out of us if we just opened completely to the One?

I touch God in my song
as the hill touches the far-away sea
with its waterfall.

The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.

Let my love, like sunlight, surround you
and yet give you illumined freedom.

Love remains a secret even when spoken,
for only a lover truly knows that he is loved.

Emancipation from the bondage of the soil
is no freedom for thee.

In love I pay my endless debt to thee
for what thou art.
-Tagore

Via Creativa?

More from Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi

Many and disparate waves do not make the sea a multiplicity; no more do the Names make the Named more than One. When the sea breathes they call it mist; when mist piles up they call it clouds. It falls again, they name it rain; it gathers itself and rejoins the sea. And it is now the same sea it ever was.

So Ocean is Ocean
As it was in Eternity,
Contingent beings
But its waves and currents.
Do not let the ripples
And mists of the worlds
Veil you from Him
Who takes form within these veils. (Jandi)

Beginninglessness is the depth unfathomed, Endlessness the shores of this Ocean.

….

Listen, riffraff:
Do you want to be ALL?
Then go,
Go and become NOTHING (p.78)

Amazing via negativa poetry. Until yesterday, the via negativa was my dearest desire. But I have been watching a number of Matthew Fox videos on youtube and he has opened my eyes to a new idea: the via creativa. Fox sees the via creativa as a path to the One through creative acts, which, is the whole topic of this blog! He sees the via positiva (also sometimes called the affirmative way) and the via negativa as building blocks to the via creativa. It’s a fascinating idea and I do feel the beauty in the world and the emptiness both while making art.

I will sit with this and perhaps I may embark upon a new path? Or perhaps this is the path I am already on…

Courage or Hubris: The Verdict is in

It is so unreasonable cold here! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!

A month or so ago, I posted about pushing and pushing to get a piece submitted to a juried show. That day everything went wrong. See here. I asked the question then, “was it courage (to succeed in the face of difficulty) or hubris (to force my own will)?”

Well the verdict is in. It was hubris. I didn’t get accepted to the show. This happens, it’s not necessarily a reflection on my work. Different jurors have different tastes and visions for shows. What is a reflection on my work is the terrible quality of the photographs. I looked back at them and they are horrendous. When you jury a show you get so many entries; the first thing you do is throw out the poor quality images. It’s like having a mistake on your resume. Major faux pas!

I was pushing so much, I didn’t even notice the pictures were terrible. I knew they weren’t perfect, but that is a huge understatement. That means I wasn’t present. I wasn’t listening. I left my body for my mind. Abandoned reality for my idea of what I wanted and I forced my will. Essentially I wasted two days which I could have spent connected with my family: one day to make the slides in duress & the next to recover.

Lesson: Pushing is bad, surrender is sweet. Pushing dams up the flow of the Divine, the One, into this world.

Matthew Fox Explains Eckhart and the Artist

With all the excitement of the holidays, I haven’t had much time to make art. I haven’t been sleeping well- a sure sign that I’ve abandoned my body for my head. I’ve been working hard on putting together my “Earth” page, which will hopefully be up by the weekend. It’s taking me so long because it is endlessly fascinating. One theme that seems to run though most of the writers, that people are disconnected from their bodies and one path to true connection with God is through connection to the Earth, creation.

It really is hard to maintain that connection between body and spirit in our culture. I grew up in LA, a soulless city if there ever was one! But LA had the ocean which I visited at least 3 or 4 times a week. I didn’t swim or play volleyball or get tanned; I just sat and stared at the ocean. The beauty of those moments would fill me and allow me to be still. Being still allowed my mind to quiet and my spirit to enter back into my body. Contemporary life is so busy. There is no time for stillness unless that time is made either by being sick or by choice. My illness has many complex spiritual reasons, but I’m sure keeping me still is no small part of it.

It took me a long time to learn to listen to the Divine. But now I understand that if I don’t do it now, the Divine will force me to do it later and it will be harder. So there is really no point in fighting. Yesterday & today I’ve made time to be still so I can reconnect my body and spirit. Oh the resistance! But when I finally was still, I felt myself come back. I felt more present and more centered. I was connected again and I felt the Divine enter into me because I made space. In that moment everything shifted for me. You cannot connect with the Divine without experiencing change. Hildegard of Bingen calls it “greening”. She says that “the word is all verdant greening, all creativity.”

This place of stillness which allows change is the same place I connect with when I create art. I discovered this amazing youtube video about this exact thing. In it, Matthew Fox explains Meister Eckhart’s views on artists:

He said a few things that really struck me:

    1) I copied this while he was speaking:

    Eckhart compares the work of the artist with the Annunciation scene. The spirit that comes over Mary and begets the Christ in Mary. He says this is the same spirit that comes over the artist and begets the Christ. So this is the Cosmic Christ being born in you. And of course it’s Eckhart who says, “What good is it if Mary gave birth to the son of God 1400 years ago and I don’t give birth to the son of God in my own person in my own work,” that’s art. What you give birth to is the Christ, or the Shekinah the wisdom, or the Buddha nature. You are giving birth to it just like Mary.

    He is basically saying by creating we are bringing the Divine more fully into the world. Fox is talking about the Macrocosm/microcosm, as above so below, when he talks about the artist giving birth to Jesus in their soul. The artist’s work is but a pale shadow of the Creator’s work, pale but significant. Just as Jesus shows us the perfection of matter, so the artist seeks to perfect matter, to infuse it with Spirit during the act of creation.

    2) Eckhart believed that sins of omission are greater that sins of pride. If you hide your joy, Eckhart says you are not spiritual…. Wow is that amazing. By hiding our joy, we dam up the fecund river of Divinity. We stop the Divine from entering the world. Artists are experts at hiding their work! Fox talks about art though out this video, but he does mean just painting. He means whatever is your joy, your job, caring for your family, hiking, etc.

    3) Fox feels that the creative nature of the Divine has been ignored in much of Christian theology, that there is too much emphasis on sin and redemption. Because we have forgotten God’s creative nature, we have lost our connection to creation itself. This is, in Fox’s opinion the cause of the destruction of our planet. (Interestingly, Fox doesn’t believe in original sin. He believes in original creativity. I’ll have a post about this interesting concept coming up.)

    4) Fox asks, “How can you know god the creator except by loving creation?” A poignant question.

    5) Jesus was an artist, a story teller.

I love most of what Fox says, but his use of the term “co-creator” makes me a little uncomfortable. As an artist, I don’t feel I am a co-creator with God exactly. Certainly I am there. I show up but I feel my job is to be present but empty so that the Divine can flow through me. The term co-creator gives the impression of control. Certainly it is true that that my work reflects me and each artist’s work bears their own distinct mark. The artist is like a filter through which the Divine stream flows. The more I am present in the act of creation, the more space there is for the Divine to fill. The less I control the creative process, the less I filter out of Divine presence.

I recently came across the artist statement of Canadian Heidi Thompson. She describes it like this:

While painting, I become immersed in the experience of the image changing, dissolving, reappearing, solidifying, then separating again. The emerging images often have characteristics which I had never imagined. I apply transparent layers of colour trying to create illusions of atmosphere – gas, liquid, smoke, dust, steam or changing surfaces of water, corrosion, ice and chemicals. Right before my eyes, the heavy solid nature of paint and paper seem to dissolve into impressions of finer substances. These finer substances then become subtler as they stimulate my sensations and provoke my imagination. The painting inspires thoughts, impressions, memories, and feelings – all finer qualities of the mind. What was once solid matter has now transformed into mind-energy. If painting is indeed such a vehicle, which can transform matter into fine substances and, then, into even subtler mind-substances, then it may be possible for the mind-experiences to transcend into something even finer – a sense of spirituality.

If I have succeeded even a small step toward my artistic goal, my paintings would show these levels of our nature – matter, energy, mind, and help the viewer feel something of his or her own spirit-soul. I know that painting aids the experience of these levels of my being. It allows me to experience how matter, energy, mind and spirit play together, guided by some invisible intelligence. And somehow, all these manifestations of existence seem to emanate from a greater intelligence – perhaps God or the Absolute. Sometimes when one of my paintings resonates a beautiful harmony and energy, I feel that a tiny part of the mystery of who I am is being unveiled and I am filled with great pleasure and love.