Archive for Gratitude

Wandering the Desert

The Pregnant Virgin by Sybil Archibald The Pregnant Virgin by Sybil Archibald
The Pregnant Virgin Mary by Sybil Archibald
Click the images for closeups, more information & more work in the Earthen Vessel series.
Painted clay and wood, 2011
58″ x 16″ x 16″

My heart howled
Held me hostage
Be a t b y b ea ttttt

Heart of mine why
did you beat in absent rhythm
instead of with earth’s steady drum?

Was it God’s own secret beat?
The chaos that crumbles old form
into fertile new earth?

I was a frail and helpless cage,
rattled from my depths
by a heart singing Your secret song.

Yet in that excruciating fear
crushed into stillness by that iron grip,

I heard the silence and
found You again.
How can I be anything but grateful?

My heart beats for You
I am a shell, one empty, cracked vessel,
your quietly waiting alembic,

fill me with honey
for I have had enough of pain.
-Sybil Archibald 2012

My last post, Emerging from the Desert, was a bit premature. Instead I have been wandering the desert seeking a way home. I found myself deeper in the cave these many months than ever before. Like the the Desert Fathers and Mothers who wrestled their own shadows, I was in such darkness that I must have been blinded by the Light. Again the great Artist** struck me low so that I could be raised up, my coarse clay smoothed and baked to form a stronger vessel to bear the creative light.

The past few months have been some of the scariest of my life. My last post saw me moving with happy heart to what I felt was home. However things didn’t click as expected. I was so tired doing anything wore me out. I assumed the move was responsible. As it turned out, the real cause was that half my blood was missing due to a bleeding stomach. I awoke one night and my heart was racing. My defibrillator, which once before had been a great awakener, began going off repeatedly. I ended up in the cardiac ICU and 3 bags of blood later everything began to calm down.

For 3.5 months my heart beat with strange and frightening rhythms. All I could do was lay there a prisoner from inside as chaos coursed through my body. Sometimes it lasted minutes, sometimes hours. Often it woke me up from what little sleep I managed.

Is it strange that now I find myself grateful for this traumatic time? Like every crisis before, this experience has shifted me deeply to the core. A load of unconscious pain I was carrying has vanished. Crisis throws a stark light on reality and forces you to see what you had before been blinded too. It was painful to see certain truths, especially about my family, but it is more work to cling to a false reality and try to make it real. That energy I used cling to illusion is now released and will be used for more creative purposes. I am now more able to step into present moment, where all true art is created.

During this time I was unable to do even the smallest things like cook diner or sit on the couch for an evening; making art was a complete impossibility. But now that I’m feeling better and my heart is on earth rhythm again I am chomping at the bit to get back to my work.

I intend to shift my work from the expression of suffering to the exploration of joy. In retrospect, I notice this transition was already beginning in my Earthen Vessel series. But this clear focus will be a fresh adventure for me. It’s something I never consciously conceived of before this newest brush with chaos. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I received this in a newsletter from Rob Brezsny, who I enjoy for his unique ability to reframe issues, his creativity and his wit:


More and more creative people find they do their best work when they’re feeling healthy and secure. We know writers who no longer need to be drunk or in agony in order to shed the numbness of their daily routine and tap into the full powers of their imagination. We have filmmaker friends whose best work flows not from the depths of alienated self-doubt but rather from the heights of well-earned bliss. Singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey is the patron saint of this new breed. “When I’m contented, I’m more open to receiving a lot of inspiration,” she has testified. “I’m most creative when I feel safe and happy.”

At the Beauty and Truth Lab, we’ve retired the archetype of the tormented genius. We have zero attraction to books and movies and songs by depressed jerks whose work is celebrated but whose lives are a mess. Stories about supposedly interesting creeps don’t rouse our perverse fascination because we’ve broken our addiction to perverse fascination. When hearing about illustrious creators who brag that they feel most stimulated when they’re angry or miserable, we unleash the Official Beauty and Truth Lab Histrionic Yawn . . . .

All I can say is amen to that!

** My name for the Divine

PS For all those who reached out from my last post. I’m sorry I didn’t respond. I hope you’ll forgive me 🙂 I look forward to connecting in the future,

Living in Gratitude

This video is really an audio recording of Caroline Myss speaking about gratitude and waiting. The pictures are nothing special, but the audio! It’s one of the most empowering things I have listened to in a long time:

Gitanjali # 37
I thought that my voyage had come to its end at the last limit of my power–that the path before me was closed, that provisions were exhausted and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that thy will knows no end in me. And when old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders.

Interview with Me & Blogs on Art & Spirituality

One of my favorite blogs on art & spirituality, Abbey of the Arts, has an interview with me today. This is the interview that prompted me post a photo of myself last week.
Self Portrait: Annunciation- Etching (c) Sybil Archibald
Self Portrait: Annunciation (Etching)

There are number of other wonderful blogs out there on art & spirituality besides Abbey of the Arts. Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order:

The Contemplative Photographer (A christian viewpoint)
Beyond Words
FEOTU (Sparse postings, but worth the wait)
Owl’s Wings (A pagan perspective)
The Tangled Stitch
Sacred Circle Mandalas
Heaven in my Foot
Peripheral Vision
Creative Everyday
Creative Juices Arts & Painting from the Wild Heart

Just on spirituality, here is an amazing post on gratitude and illness from Havi. I think you will appreciate it!!

My newest pieces were finally fired so I will post some pictures soon. I’m really excited about the new series of sculptures I just began this week. They are of mystics I admire. I’m working on Hildegard of Bingen now. Meister Eckhart is next. The best part is I get to delve back into their texts to prepare!

Blessings to you on this beautiful day.

Sybil Responds

I am utterly overwhelmed and humbled by the response to my last post. I received many lengthy letters from people, some of whom I have known for years and some who have never posted a comment before. If I have not responded to your letter yet, please know that I will and that I am just seeking words which are adequate containers for what I feel. There have also been so many beautiful and supportive comments both here and via email.

It is a great surprise to me that my words and journey have impacted people to strongly. This is a deep lesson about self-judgment and trust. I guess that none of us understand the wake our vessel leaves as we navigate through life. We may judge our contribution as small or meaningless, but if this has taught me nothing else, it is that we are not meant to judge ourselves.

We are meant to wade into the Light and embrace our path, trusting that if we pursuit our calling, we add to what is good and true in this world. Let us leave the judgments, good or bad, to others. In the end we may all be truly astounded, as I am astounded today, by how empty my own judgments were.

My heart is filled with love. You have filled me. Thank you.

A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?
– Mechthild of Magdeburg

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)

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.

Happy New Year from Art of the Spirit


The Fountain
How well I know that flowing spring
in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen.
How well I know where she has been
in black of night.

I do not know her origin.
None. Yet in her all things begin
in black of night.

I know that nothing is so fair
and earth and firmament drink there
in black of night.

I know that none can wade inside
to find her bright bottomless tide
in black of night.

Her shining never has a blur;
I know that all light comes from her
in black of night.

I know her streams converge and swell
and nourish people, skies and hell
in black of night.

The stream whose birth is in this source
I know has a gigantic force
in black of night.

The stream from but these two proceeds
yet neither one, I know, precedes
in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen
in living bread that gives us being
in black of night.

She calls on all mankind to start
to drink her water, though in dark,
for black is night.

O living fountain that I crave,
in bread of life I see her flame
in black of night.
-St. John of the Cross

I leave you with the beautiful poem describing the fecund stream of Divine Creativity. (And he describes it in feminine terms!)

My wish for you for the New Year: May you be blessed with deep connection to this stream, may your life and work abound with creativity, growth and love.

Thanks for reading this year. See you in 2008!

I don’t believe in luck, but I’m going with this anyway! 8 is considered an extremely lucky number in China so this is going to be a very lucky year. (Every little bit helps, right?)

Art of the Spirit Recieves Roaring Lion Award

A beautiful thing has happened. Gartenfische, whose blog is so extraordinary and moving, has awarded me “A Roar for Powerful Writing” award! I am so honored because I respect and admire Gartenfische’s work so much. She understands the mystical side of life and helps to guide me closer to the Divine. Thank you Gartenfische!
Roaring Lion Award
There is so much beauty in this world! Now I get to pass this award on to another blogger. I have to tell you it is next to impossible to choose. There are so many blogs with wonderful writing. But my choice has to be Princess Haiku. Her blog is beautiful and whimsical. But, also, she was one of the first to discover my blog and gave me so much encouragement through writing me my first comments.

I only have one award to give but I’d like to mention two other blogs whose writing I love: on spirituality, Jan & on life in general Mary Kaufman.

Illness & the Divine

You are in love with me,
I shall make you perplexed.

Do not build much, for I intend to have you in ruins.

If you build two hundred houses in a manner that the bees do;
I shall make you as homeless as a fly.

If you are the mount Qaf in stability.
I shall make you whirl like a millstone.

I spend a lot of time with kids. It’s wonderful and difficult at the same time. Children are brutally honest. As I’ve mentioned before, I have scleroderma. This condition has caused my hands & face to contract. It has also caused my jaw to come out of alignment so that my teeth do not meet up properly. In short, I look strange. This doesn’t usually bother me because I don’t think about it. That fact that my hands don’t open doesn’t really affect my life much except for a few things I’ve had to give up: piano, knitting & a few miscellaneous activities. Sometimes when I see a picture of myself from long ago I’m sad,
Anyway my point is, I am who am I regardless of my what I look like. There are some people who are perfectly gorgeous in everyway and are miserable. But that’s not me, I’m deformed but happy. But when I get around kids and they ask me why I look funny it does upset me because it’s a shock. I don’t remember I’m strange because I never think about it. I think this is God’s way of tempering me like a sword, throwing me into the fire to make me stronger.

To truly reflect the Divine in this world, we must learn to be present in every moment. We must be totally in the physical world without controlling it. It’s amazing how much I want to control the world. I want my face back, I want my hands. But I know that is just me controlling the flow of Divinity in this word. I won’t be a dam, I wish to be an open well, a channel between the ocean & the land. Clearing this channel takes letting go of everything I think I am.

Thank you hands that contract so I may expand
Thank you jaw that hangs open so I must speak
Thank you feet that ache so I must stay still
Thank you heart that weathers the storm so I may be washed clean
Thank You again and again
Thank You
-Sybil Archibald

Happy Holidays from Art of the Spirit

I have been neglecting my blog a bit this week in all the holiday madness. Thank you all for reading and I wish you the most wonderful holiday season. I’ll be back full force after Christmas. Until then I leave you with this optimistic thought from Dante:

This mountain of release is such that the
Ascent’s most painful at the start, below:
The more you rise, the milder it will be.
And when the slope feels gentle to the point that
Climbing up sheer rock is effortless
As though you were gilding downstream in a boat,
Then you will have arrived where this path ends.

I have certainly found Dante’s words to be true. I began my life in great difficultly and although my circumstances seem more trying now, traveling my path has trained me and made each step forward easier than the last.

May this season bring you deep connection to those you love.

Buying Paper: A Blast from the Past

Yesterday I went to NY Central Art Supply to buy paper. It was a weird, weird experience for me. I used to practically live there in the paper section. They have the most amazing paper selection- like you died and went to heaven! But around 15 years ago, I gave up paper and store-bought art supplies. I worked almost entirely on animal skin parchment and made my own paints & inks from scratch. I even made a lot of the pigments from vegetable and mineral sources. See my book Lapis & Gold for more on this. NY Central paper samplesUsing these techniques meant that I didn’t set foot in NY Central for 15 years.

Going there again was almost like going back to a childhood home and seeing someone else’s furniture. One of the sales people called me ma’am. I had my 7 year old in tow. I thought people were looking at me like I was an alien. And yet it was sweet to be there again. God I love paper! I love artists.

In all probability people weren’t looking at me like I was an alien. I just felt that way because nothing had really changed there except me. Even some of the sales people were the same. I felt I should be walking around the corner to have a beer at the Village Idiot (long since closed) with my friends and not return home till 3am. I suddenly felt I had no responsibilities at all and then my son grabbed my hand. I don’t have the body I had, I don’t have the mind I had, or the pain & suffering I had. It was beautiful and sad at the same time. A paradox- the truest indicator of Divine presence.

Vijay Kumar: My Etching Teacher

Today was a great day in etching class mainly because I got so much help from my teacher Vijay Kumar. Making the plate is the easy part; printing is a whole other story. I understand it completely on an intellectual level but, as usual, my mind fools me into thinking I know what I’m doing when I really don’t. The physical is a whole different process from the mental. And I definitely haven’t even begun to master it. Vijay is an excellent teacher and a wonderful artist. See his print below.

Vijay Kumar Print

It is such a blessing to have the eyes of other artists to push you further and more deeply into the creative process. I’ve worked in isolation for a long time and my interactions with the other students in the class and with Vijay are like honey. They are moments of sweet connection which allow me deeper access to the Divine well of creativity from which all art springs.

Art of the Spirit receives Blogger Award

Midnight. No wave,
no wind, the empty boat
is flooded with moonlight.
Dogen (trans. Stephan Mitchell)

I am honored to have received the “You’re an Amazing Blogger Award” from Princess Haiku who has taught me so much about blogging! She also tagged me with the “7 Random Facts about Me” meme.

Amazing Blogger Award

7 Random Facts about Me

  • My favorite artist is Frida Kahlo
  • I dream of living by the ocean
  • I have a mad passion for agastaches, lilies & English roses
  • My bathroom is hot pink
  • I don’t kill insects
  • I adore Cole Porter
  • I secretly wish to be a cabaret singer when I grow up (if only I could carry a tune!)
  • Thanks Princess Haiku! Now I’d like to pass this award along to Gartenfische who writes an astoundingly beautiful blog on spirituality. Tag you are it Gartenfishe in the “7 Random Facts about Me” meme.
    Update: I just realized that I don’t have to limit myself to passing this on to one blogger! I’d also like to pass it on to my other favorite spirituality blog: Heather’s Poor Excuse. She has such courage! Tag Heather…

    Thanksgiving & Our Three Things

    So there are 8 minutes left in Thanksgiving. Every year I find it funny how uncomfortable everyone seems with giving thanks. Even suggesting we go around the table and say something we are grateful for elicits groans and muttering. Honestly, I can’t understand it. We have so much in this country.

    A couple years ago we instituted “gratefulness” training in our house. I call it training because it’s surprising how hard it can be to focus on what is good in life. This is what we do: each night during diner, we go around the table and say three things that made us happy during the day, three things we have to be grateful for. We are not allowed to judge or comment on other people’s things, we just listen. Guests are given the choice to participate or not. So far everyone has joined in.

    Some days, it feels like a herculean task to come up with even one thing. But when you force yourself you discover there really are things to be grateful for even on the worst days- the beauty of a tree, a smile from your child, the taste of tea in the morning. The many things in life to be grateful for are easy to miss if you are not looking. Thanksgiving is a day which reminds us to look.

    What does this have to do with art? Everything because making art is an act of gratitude.