Archive for Healing
Below is a new video interview about the meaning behind my work. I hope you enjoy it. Blessings, Sybil
Sometimes I am so terribly tired of being sick, of laying in bed while other people take vacations and walks, while they go to shows and out to dinner. I feel like stone in a river while life rushes by me. I want to scream, to tear my hair out, to throw myself from a window and end this prisoner’s life. But then I think of my beautiful husband and son. I feel their deep and abiding love and I know I must soldier on. They make me remember what is good and why I am here. But there are some days I still wonder how am I supposed to go on.
That’s when I think of Beethoven. Beethoven who lost the world of sound so essential to a composer. Losing your hearing as a composer must be something like losing your sight as a painter: an unimaginable, potentially spirit killing loss. But it didn’t kill him. He endured his loss and many other ailments to produce music that is filled with Light, not clothed in the darkness of his illness. His music heals and lifts up its listeners. It surrounds, embraces, and fills us with love. But he had to transcend his pain to get there. In a letter to his brother, he wrote that his hearing loss:
… brought me to the verge of desperation, and well-nigh caused me to put an end to my life. Art! art alone deterred me. Ah! how could I possibly quit the world before bringing forth all that I felt it was my vocation to produce? And thus I spared this miserable life — so utterly miserable that any sudden change may reduce me at any moment from my best condition into the worst. It is decreed that I must now choose Patience for my guide! … This is no slight trial, and more severe on an artist than on any one else. God looks into my heart, He searches it, and knows that love for man and feelings of benevolence have their abode there! Oh! ye who may one day read this, … , and let any one similarly afflicted be consoled, by finding one like himself, who, in defiance of all the obstacles of Nature, has done all in his power to be included in the ranks of estimable artists and men. Beethoven’s Letters (1790-1826), translated by Lady Wallace, pp. 45
His art is what kept him going through all the darkness. I understand because art also keeps me going. Beethoven is an exemplar to all struggling artists. He inspires me to keep going. My sculpture, praises his great efforts and perseverance in the face of such enormous limitations. In my dark and desperate times I think, someone stayed the course and brought Light from darkness, maybe I can too.
Sometimes I wonder if Beethoven needed his illness to produce the work he did. He listened through unstoppable ear ringing blocking out the world and heard deep and true silence. In that silence, he heard God’s heartbeat and translated it for the human ear.
This accomplishment of Beethoven’s is my goal too. Art is my way of seeking the Divine. By journeying toward the source of all creativity, I hope to leave tracks for others to follow as Beethoven did. Any contact with the “Divine Artist”, touches the deep well of generative creativity that cannot help but be healing. My greatest desire is to create art that is healing for its viewers. To heal through art is a lofty goal that I may never reach, but Beethoven spurs me on in art and life. When I paint or sculpt, I find all my feelings of despair evaporate and there is only now, this present moment where everything is good and I am. Bless you Beethoven where ever you are.
To see more photos and detail of Beethoven: Listening to God’s Heartbeat click here.
This is the story of the sculpting, breaking and repair of my St. Francis of Assisi sculpture and how it parallels my own spiritual transformation.
Something in me responds deeply to St. Francis and his life. When I contemplate him, I immediately feel more myself because he was so completely himself. He did nothing out of obligation or appearances, only out of freely given service. When I open to him, I see who I am and my own struggles but I see them through the larger lens of love. My vision of what my own story means expands and I am healed.
Making this sculpture was a remarkable spiritual journey. Francis was the first piece I started in my Earthen Vessel Series and also the longest to come to completion. The first time I thought he was complete, he had no arms (See image to right).
At that time, I was quite ill and confined in body and spirit. I had not yet found the confidence to act in my art and fully express my vision. Hence the his lack of hands, a symbol for our ability to act in the world.
I next sculpted the Pregnant Virgin: A Creative Vessel:
It was a liberating experience for me. As the Virgin Mary’s back is open to receive, so I opened and for the first time in many years and felt complete freedom and harmony in creating. Then when I looked back at St. Francis, I knew he needed arms though at the time I was not conscious of why.
I added arms and I also painted his pedestal. It was the first of the series to have a completed pedestal and I was so excited to see my vision fulfilled.
Then my life changed dramatically. My family and I decided to move from Florida to the Northeast and in the tussle of the move, Francis fell over and was shattered.
When I saw him scattered across the floor, I was not immediately upset. My first thought was, this is me. I am scattered and broken just as Francis. On a deep level I knew that repairing this sculpture was a necessity, that it was integral to my spiritual development. Somehow I felt that once it was repaired something in me would have been repaired. So, I collected every piece like a treasure and saved them.
Several attempts to fix him shortly after the fall met with no success. Something always failed to work or got in the way. Finally in September of this last year I enrolled in a sculpture class so I could get some ideas on what to do. The teacher was able to suggest something, but almost the next day and before I could do anything, my heart went haywire. I went through 3 months of complete agony as my heart raced and danced unrhythmically in my chest. I could barely leave bed. It was this forced seclusion, like a desert sandstorm scouring the landscape clean, that left me a new more whole person. It stripped away the past and located me squarely in the here and now for the first time in my life.
Shortly after emerging from bed I began to work again. As I started painting, the flood gates opened and I knew it was time to return to Francis. This time, his shattered parts came together with ease and he was repaired.
When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.
– Barbara Bloom
My sculpture is not the same as before it broke, but it is richer in meaning. I did not mend his cracks with gold like the Japanese, but I left the scars of his fall visible. This sculpture now caries a deeper message about the value of wounds in our lives. It also carries the charge of my own healing captured in the creative act of making this piece. Please forgive the terrible photos. The colors did not translate and I will get quality images taken soon but I hope they will give you an idea of his repair.
The arc of this sculpture’s journey illuminates a deep truth: sometimes we must be broken because we are too small. And more importantly, that the act of breaking is an act of love because the breaking brings the possibility of true and deep healing. We are meant to be bearers of the Light but our beliefs and ways are often too small for our aspirations. Thus, we must be broken so we may be reformed as a greater more loving vessel, so we are able journey where our hearts desire.
This sculpture’s journey, also parallels St. Francis’ own life’s story. He was a nobleman with every advantage who went to war. But while away, he was imprisoned and became very ill. An early biographer, St. Bonaventure’s (1217-1274 CE) wrote in The Life of St. Francis :
Since affliction can enlighten our spiritual awareness (Isa. 28:19), the hand of the Lord came upon him (Ezech. 1:3), and the right hand of God effected a change in him (Ps. 76:11). God afflicted his body with a prolonged illness in order to prepare his soul for the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
His illness changed him. It broke him of his privileged life and when he returned to Assisi he could not continue as he had before. In the end, he stripped off his clothing in the center of town and, naked, left his wealth and family behind (See pedestal panel to the right: St. Francis Renounces Worldly Goods).
But it was his very brokenness from war and illness, a seeming tragedy, that allowed him to reform and be the amazing example of love he eventually became.
Pedestal Panels: St. Francis Receives the Stigmata, St. Francis Preaches to the Birds & The Death of St. Francis
Later in his life, St. Francis received the stigmata, the sacred wound of Jesus’ crucifixion. At that time he became a physical symbol of the connection between brokenness and love. Bearing the stigmata softened him and deepened his compassion. It connected him to the Artist (my name for the divine) and to the unceasing flow of divine creativity. But at the same time it anchored him securely in the physical world and reminded him always that he had a body; that he was here to be and act in the physical world. That he bore that anchoring pain without suffering over it, is part of what made him extraordinary. For more on this see my post on St. Francis’ story of perfect joy.
Our own experiences of pain and brokenness are mirrored for us by St. Francis’ life and also by the stigmata that he bore. I planted aloe vera in his stigmata to illustrate the healing power our wounds can bring to our life. Our brokenness and wounds leave their mark but free us to become greater than we are. Making this sculpture and taking a parallel journey from brokenness to wounded wholeness has freed me. This sculpture was the key to unlocking an unconscious mental cage I was inhabiting. I am forever grateful to St. Francis and the shining example of his life.
With love, Sybil
Don’t Make Lists
Every day a new flower rises
from your body’s fresh soil.
Don’t go around looking
for fallen petals
in a fairy tale, when you’ve
got the golden plant
right here, now,
shooting forth in light from your eyes,
your awakening crown.
Don’t make lists,
or explore ancient accounts.
Forget everything you know
-by Dorothy Walters
For many years, I have resisted showing my artwork and being public. I know I write this blog and the world can see it, but to me it seems more like a journal or a private conversation with friends. Somehow meeting people face to face, having to explain each time that I can’t shake hands and seeing their reaction seemed too much. But now it doesn’t.
My latest heart issues, stripped all that away. Now it’s hard to imagine why I crawled into myself like that for so many years. That time was like being in a monk’s cell. A time to face down my inner demons and connect to the sacred fountain of creativity, to find my artistic voice.
But now I am leaving the monastery and stepping out by showing my Earthen Vessel Series in process at the South Orange Maplewood Studio Tour on Sunday June 3rd. I also gave and interview to Patch:
Here are the details of the Studio Tour:
The Baird Center
5 Mead Street
South Orange, NJ 07079
11am to 5pm
Sunday June 3rd
If you are in the area, I’d love to meet you.
A friend just reminded me of this beautiful poem. Thanks Katherine!
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error ! –
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?
Last night as I lay sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error! –
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
– Antonio Machado
I may just have to incorporate this image into my next painting….
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:
GAZING INTO THE ABYSS OF HAPPINESS
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,
Form in Void
The tree is stripped,
All color, fragrance gone,
Yet already on the bough,
Ikkyu Sojun 15th century
Three years ago, my family and I moved from the Northeastern United States to Florida. This summer we returned to the north- a circle complete, a spiritual trial survived.
We headed south seeking warmer weather and improvement in my health. My husband’s business closed so we sold our home and moved to paradise with a smile, happy to leave the busy northern pace and the weight of our possessions. More than anything, we sought a simplified life with deeper connections to one another and less stress.
I undertook this journey with an open heart. I was happy to begin a new adventure, but was blindsided by what happened. Within a month of moving I contracted shingles on my left eye and for 3 years my health related challenges never settled down. For example, my esophagus stopped working and I had a long period where I had to be on a liquid diet. These various issues kept me pretty much in bed. Under the circumstances, I found it difficult to meet people and became removed from the flow of life around me.
My life was literally stripped of everything but my family and my art. Friends, my house, my garden, life as I knew it had evaporated and I had no ability to replace it. It was definitely not what I expected upon moving to paradise and you won’t be surprised to hear that I experienced many dark days and nights.
At the time it seemed unfair and unbearable. Now, however, I see the reason. After meditating on the early desert fathers of Christianity, it is clear why I needed to be separated from my active life. The desert fathers believed that social interaction interfered with spiritual growth. They escaped into solitude deep in the desert. In In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (Treasures of the World’s Religions), John Chryssavgis writes:
“Desert” (eremos) literally means “abandonment”; it is the term from which we derive the word “hermit”.…The desert signified death: nothing grows in the desert. Your very existence is, therefore, threatened. In the desert you will find no one and no thing. In the desert, you can only face up to yourself and to every aspect of your self, to your temptations, and to your reality. You confront your own heart, and your heart’s deepest desires, without any scapegoat, without any hiding place.…After all, you cannot hide in the desert; there is no room for lying or deceit there. Your very self is reflected in the dry desert, and you are obliged to face up to this self.…The desert is a place of spiritual revolution, not of personal retreat. It is a place of inner protest, not outward peace. It is a place of deep encounter, not of superficial escape. It is a place of repentance, not recuperation. Living in the desert does not mean living without people; it means living for God. Antony and the other desert dwellers never forgot this.
The desert fathers forced themselves to face who they truly were, to wrestle and triumph over their demons. I was not so brave. I didn’t willingly undertake the loss of everything as they did, but none the less, this is what happened. I was left with myself alone. Everything that I ran to escape, the anxieties, the pain, the loss was there to greet me.
For many years this blog charted not only my spiritual journey, but my struggle to make art. When I lived up north, the pain of making art was hard to bear. It brought up my internal struggles, grief and anger: all these years in bed while careers were made and lives lived. In Florida, after about a year of being forced to sit with all of these feelings, they began to trickle away. Even my fear of being immersed in the creative process began to melt. I finally surrendered and art became my lifeline as it was in the beginning and always should have been.
I would rest up for days and then drag myself into the studio. Gradually it happened, I began to hit my stride again. This feeling I hadn’t had in 15 years of illness began to creep over me. I was in the process of becoming the vessel I always longed to be. I felt the creativity surge through me. I felt life begin again inside.
Now that I’m back in the Northeast, I’ve left the desert and returned to the true land of paradise; here where my association to others is strong and my friends are happy to see me. My material possessions- my garden and house are gone but my connection to life is restored. I have to be grateful for the difficulties and pain I experienced in Florida, because in journeying through I found myself again. The desert ends up being a beautiful place. I have unearthed that space within that acts as a door between heaven and earth. It is an entrance for creativity to flow from the Divine into the material world. I am only one of many, many doors, but it gives me heart to go on. My job is to protect that space from the busyness of everyday life; to grow it like the garden I once had, a desert transformed.
Here are some examples of what I’m currently working on:
St. Francis of Assisi (Dimension: 55″x 18″) / The Pregnant Virgin Mary ( Dimensions: 55″x 18″ )
Click the images for more views and closeups.
St. Teresa of Avila
For more of my new work check my online gallery.
I am speechless with excitement because I just discovered that one of my favorite poets, Dorothy Walters, has her own blog: Kundalini Splendor. It is filled with beauty and wisdom just like her poetry. Walter’s work inspires and feeds me on a deep level. Take for instance this poem, which tells the story of my life:
A Cloth of Fine Gold
You may think
that first lit flame
was the ultimate blaze,
the holy fire revealed.
What do you know
This is a sun that returns
again and again, refining, igniting,
pouring your spirit
through a cloth of delicate gold
until all dross is taken
and you are sweet as
in god/the goddess’ mouth.
She intimately understands the relationship between Creator and creator. This next poem pinpoints my experience of my own vision of the Virgin Mary,my Annunciation, and my ensuing illness:
Preparing to Meet the Goddess
Do not think of her
unless you are prepared
to be driven to your limits,
to rush forth from yourself
like a ritual bowl overflowing
with sacramental wine.
Do not summon her image
unless you are ready to be blinded,
to stand in the flash
of a center exploding,
yourself shattering into the landscape,
wavering bits of bark and water.
Do not speak her name
until you have said good-bye
to all your familiar trinkets —
your mirrors, your bracelets,
your childhood adorations —
From now on you are nothing,
a ghost sighing at the window,
a voice singing under water.
These poems make clear the paradox of the terrible rending of life that is at the same time a beautiful gift, like the healing wounds of the stigmata.
Our job is, like alchemists, to heal and rarify matter. We are made for that nexus point where Creator & creator merge into One. Where Spirit infuses matter, where Light penetrates dark, and where we embrace our status as scared wombs born to give birth to the Divine.
I saw Copying Beethoven this weekend. I highly recommend it as a movie that really explores the spiritual path of making art. Here is an excerpt which sums up what I have been saying here. I couldn’t find a shorter cut, but check at about the 3 minute mark where Beethoven explains the spiritual purpose behind making music:
Here is the direct link for email subscribers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PSyxwaTICs&feature=related
Peace flows into me
As the tide to the pool by the shore;
It is mine forevermore,
It ebbs not back like the sea.
I am the pool of blue
That worships the vivid sky;
My hopes were heaven-high,
They are all fulfilled in you.
I am the pool of gold
When sunset burns and dies, —
You are my deepening skies,
Give me your stars to hold.
My theme for this year is creating peace. In my last post, I wrote about my belief that we can release some of the pressure building up in the wider world by addressing that chaos and pressure in our own little garden. By changing our interior selves we powerfully effect those around us for the good. With this in mind, I have been ferreting out all the sources of pressure and turmoil in my own life. To my surprise, I find they are all internal. It’s not the breaking of a glass in the kitchen that brings turmoil, it’s my response. The more I resist a situation, the more upset is created.
I recently became aware of just how much I resist everything. My greatest resistance turns out to be to my own feelings. I resist feeling angry, sad, or experiencing uncomfortable memories; I even resist feelings of love and connection which are too intense. When I am resisting, I have to throw myself into doing something, anything so I won’t have time to feel. This unconscious need to do, causes more turmoil than anything else in my life. I end up forcing things to happen in ways are destructive instead of allow things to unfold in their own time. And because art cannot be forced (it must be allow to unfold), this behavior also kills the creative impulse and the artist’s connection to the divine flow. It clogs the divine well and gums up its receiving vessel.
Since Thanksgiving, I have worked tirelessly to not resist my feelings. As a result, I experienced about a month of intense, overpowering anxiety- an anxiety so strong I almost felt I wouldn’t make it through. It woke me at night and stalked me during the day. But I stuck with it. When anxiety bubbled up, I would stop and be still, embracing the fear as long as I could hold it. Then I’d take a break and enter back in. Eventually, I passed through this intense cloud. It was breathing that got me through, huffing and panting, almost like I was in a month long labor.
Amazingly, this has experience has shifted my whole being. I know real quiet and peace for the first time in my life. My connection to my family is deeper because I can tolerate and hold more feelings of love. Now when something comes up, whether it’s anger, anxiety or pleasure, I’m there to I feel it instead of running away. For the first time ever, I have a physical sense of being here on this planet and a consciousness of my “vesselhood” and the value that that holds. I’m tossing out the clutter from my vessel left, right and center. I am an open jar waiting for Divine creativity to fill me.
In closing, here is a picture of my newest sculpture of St. Francis and a link an old post containing his writing on what is perfect joy. I’m going to put together a video of him, but this week it’s so cold I just have to stay in bed with a heating blanket! Peace- Sybil
With all the chaos and turmoil in the world it is easy to be overwhelmed with despair, to feel there is nothing that can ease the world’s suffering. Perhaps the truly gifted and great can transform the wide world, but most of us can make a difference just by transforming our families and friendships.
The last 5 years have brought tremendous upheaval to my life- from health issues and financial changes to a major long distance move. I made it through all of these changes because of the presence of one person: my husband Barry.
He is a dear, kind soul and his support has been everything to me. Over the 16 years we have cobbled together a beautiful life from two very different cultural perspectives. My husband is Jewish and from a religious family. Although I was never brought to church as a child, my family has a strong Christian heritage that includes ministers and missionaries stretching all the way back to Elder William Brewster on the Mayflower.
Barry’s family is oriented to the group. They have large family parties that include 2nd and 3rd cousins. They are close-knit and care about keeping everyone together. My family, on the other hand, is scattered to the wind. We were raised with the idea that the individual was most important. There is never even pressure or expectation that we should be home for holidays. Our families are the complete opposite.
Barry & I fell in love and then we spent the next 16 years figuring out how to mesh these two disparate viewpoints. I learned to keep a Kosher kitchen and Barry learned to dress a Christmas tree. But the deep learning came by discovering how to respect each other’s culture. I went in with a healthy admiration for Judaism, but had my openness severely challenged by the clash of cultures. How does the individual, the one who prides herself on being different from everyone, interact with the group? I was like a square peg in a round hole. In the beginning I blamed Barry’s family for me not fitting it, but I came to realize the problem was in me. I wanted things my way, the way it had always been.
I am deeply grateful for this experience. I was a fraud. I thought myself so liberal and open, but when it came down to it I couldn’t accept that people did things differently from me. This experience has softened me. After all these years I can truly accept and honor our differences. I love that I get to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, Passover and Easter. I love that I am constantly forced to be open and accepting. And more than anything I love the dear man, who has challenged me to keep on living, to forgive, and to live up to my own lip service about who I am.
In the beginning of our relationship, there was so much conflict and upset because of these cultural differences, but we surmounted these differences. Over the past 5 years we have been through upheavals that would have torn many families apart in relative peace. This gives me great hope for the world. Cultural differences can be overcome, but not necessarily by changing the outside. When we can’t change the external situation in the world around us, we can look for the darkness inside, root out the judgments against others and our own attachment to having things our way. We are not powerless, we can create true peace in our own lives. This familial peace is like stone falling in a stagnant pond. The waves will fan out through the world.
All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.
Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.
Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
as of the master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.
Over the past 6 months or so my hands have almost completely contracted into fists. I have limited movement in my two index fingers and a bit more in my thumbs and that’s it. I get along just fine, but from time to time I feel the loss of my ability to play the piano. Today I was a concert and I felt the twinge, just a seductive hint of self-pity. When I came home this video was in my email via Triumph of the Spirit.
I mean, do you think God is trying to tell me something? The joy and life in this woman is astounding for anyone, not just a person with disabilities. She embraces what she has, her gift, with gusto and joy. I loved playing the piano, truly, but I never had a gift for it. I am no musician, more like an amateur crafter filling a Saturday afternoon. I believe this video was sent to me to show me how to let go of suffering over my hands and embrace my gift. Each of us has a gift, perhaps not the one we would choose or perhaps we dislike the way it is given. But, wow, look what is possible if we embrace it.
“Come to the edge.”
“We can’t. We’re afraid.”
“Come to the edge.”
“We can’t. We will fall!”
“Come to the edge.”
And they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.
– Guillaume Apollinaire
During the first part of this video, I was close to tears. I’ve written about my deep connection to Hildegard’s life before. In college, I even made a pilgrimage to Bingen to visit Hildgard’s bones and the corner of earth where she lived. Fox starts with pictures of the places of her life, places I visited and then goes on to her illness and her awakening at the age of 41 or 42. I am close to turning 41 and have dealt with dramatic & debilitating illness for many years. There are obvious parallels and it hit me forcibly that Hildegard’s life is an exemplar for my own. Not that I could attain her genius and connection to the Divine, but I could attain her commitment to her creativity process, her respect and love of the physical world and possibly even a reprieve from illness although not necessarily how you may be imagining.
I have no expectation of my illness being lifted from me, but I do have hope. And this is, perhaps, why this video effected me so profoundly. I do have evidence that making art heals me. See here and here. But more than that, I have felt art remove the idea of illness from my system. When I work illness disappears. I’m just there. I enter a state where illness simply does not exist. It is state of freedom where I can embrace my physical nature bur not be burdened by it.
Most of my life, the physical world has seemed a burden to me. Once a long time ago, I met an amazing fellow, a pagan jewelry maker and musician of the highest caliber. He said something to me that was so shocking to my system that it shifted everything for me. He said:
I love this earth, I love the pleasure, the pain, the fight, the food, the suffering.
He said it with such relish. It was clear that he really did love being a physical being. It never occurred to me that anyone would want to do anything else but escape Earth and leave physicality behind. From that moment I considered for the first time ever, embracing my life on Earth. My illness which has bestowed so many gifts, helped force my down to Earth as well. By leaving me with little strength, I could not occupy my time with a million little distractions. It was just me and my body learning to dance for the first time.
Hildegard revived herself through her arts writing and painting, physical acts which channel Divine energy into the world. Throughout her work, she embraces nature and the Earth.
Oh greening branch.
O greening branch
O greening branch!
You stand in your nobility
Like the rising dawn.
Rejoice now and exult
And deign to free the fools we are.
From our long slavery to evil
And hold out your hand
To raise us up.
-Hildegard of Bingen
This is just one example of how she sees God in nature and nature as part of God. It was Hildegard’s job to express this. God rushed through her like Niagara Falls, pouring into this Earth. This is what Victor Frankl has to say about our purpose in life. (He is speaking about is time in a Nazi Concentration camp.)
We had to learn and we had to teach the despairing men that it did not really matter
what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop
asking about the meaning of life, and think instead of ourselves as those who were being
questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation,
but in right action and in right conduct. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of
life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.
Everyone has his own specific mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment, which
demands fulfillment. -Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Thanks Alive on All Channels)
I have my assignment. Hildegard is my example. Create, create, create.
Don’t change: Desire to change is the enemy of love.
Don’t change yourselves: Love yourselves as you are.
Don’t change others: Love all others as they are.
Don’t change the world: It is in God’s hands and he knows.
And if you do that change will occur
I have heard so many artists, myself included, say they want to change the world. It’s a radical idea that change comes from a state of complete acceptance not from any actions we take. This state of acceptance is actually just being truly present. That something needs changing is a judgment. If you are completely in the present moment you are not judging and there is nothing to change.
Art is created in the present moment. In the present moment your body may be still, but your being is in action. It is in sync with the continuous and unceasing emanation of Divine Creativity and Consciousness. This is why art can change the world. It does so not through action, but through this deeply connected state of being. Divine Creativity becomes manifest in the world through the energy captured in the painting, sculpture, or other form of art.
This week I worked with a group of kids ages 5 to 9. As I was teaching them to draw a person, they started with the usual complaints about mistakes made. I stopped the class and told them
In art there are no mistakes. In art there are no mistakes. Everything that happens is just something to work with.
I’ve said this before many times, but this time was different. I felt that statement go into to the kids. There was a special kind of silence, an active silence, as they processed and took in this statement. When they went back to work, they produced the most beautiful drawings. Far more expressive and detailed than anything they had done before. It was really stunning. Why did this happen? Because for that short time they entered into the present moment fully. They released the judgment of “mistake” and changed the world by shifting their beings. It was beautiful to see.
I just joined an interesting group, a kind of a Facebook for Creation Spirituality. Creation Spirituality is something I’ve become increasingly interested in as I explore my artistic process through this blog. I don’t agree with Matthew Fox, the founder of CS on everything, but he usually hits the nail right on the head when it comes to the creative process.
I wholeheartedly agree that art is a form of meditation and process is more important that product. It’s great that he talks about making art as entering into relationship with the Earth. It is also about entering into relationship with Spirit. The artist, consciously or not, seeks to merge Spirit and matter to create a greater whole.
Fox says the artist will have no peace until they express their creativity. I have absolutely found this to be true in my own life. I love the line “If your creativity is not busy about healthy things, it’s going to be busy about making you neurotic.” He quotes Otto Rank*, after a failed suicide attempt saying, “I must give birth everyday or die.” This is an amazing statement, but one I think is true for artists. Fox takes it a step further by telling us that everyone is an artist and everything we do can be an art if it is done with heart. If we connect to our soul and not just our minds we connect to the protective and healing properties of making art. I recently spoke about how art protects one from descent into fear. Fox understands that art is balm against many forms of disabling mental distress.
* Updated with name of Otto Rank. Thanks Matt!
Since I posted yesterday it has really sunk in, the only thing stopping me from making art is myself. I feel totally liberated. How exhausting it has been to lay blame everywhere. It’s not my schedule or my health, my family or my house, it’s me. Or perhaps it would be better to say it’s something in me. That something is fear.
The act of creation is so overwhelming and terrifying that sometimes I cannot physically bear it. I have to run away, turn on the TV or read email just to escape. True creation is one of the most intimate acts a person can experience. It is a direct connection with the Divine, like plugging in to an electrical socket. One could easily liken the fear of making art to the fear of death. It is the profound fear of loss of self, of annihilation in the Godhead.
While making art, an artist opens themselves completely to God. The creative energies of Above wash through them, merging and mingling with the artist’s heart. The resulting work is the fusion of created matter with Spirit. This is the job of the artist: to bring Spirit into the material world. An artist cannot help but be transformed by the process and the prospect of such a profound transformation is terrifying because it is not directed by the self but by God.
Yesterday and today I waded in to fear so deep that I thought I wouldn’t find my way back out. I wanted to jump out of my skin. I almost ceased to function because I was so overpowered with anxiety. So I dialogued with my fear, drawing it every couple hours. As I drew, I entered deeper into relationship with this fear and began slowly to understand it. I began to feel affection for it in an odd sort of way. I could see how this fear has literally shaped my life by controlling my actions. It now feels like a benevolent, but misguided friend trying to protect me. By understanding it, I have gained freedom. Freedom of movement and more freedom to engage with the Divine. I am ready once again for that full bodied devotion with which I practiced art 20 years ago (when I was too young to know fear) where every waking moment is met as a chance to create. I feel that hunger again to drink from the spring of Eternally creativity and to fill a cup to pass along.
Here are my sketches engaging my fear.