Nature, the Harmonizer

When I’m in harmony with the natural world, the ducks are drawn to me.

Mountain lakes are amazing year around. If the winter is cold enough, Castle Lake freezes over. You can walk and/or ice skate on it. I have walked across it–yes, walking on water! It takes a bit of daring. We’ve seen those movies where someone falls through the ice. I don’t walk on it unless there’s been a long and hard freeze.

Now, it is spring and the ice is floating on the water as it melts into this new cycle. The wild ducks are flying in and skittering to a halt upon the lake.

This particular day, I arrived, walked towards the shoreline to take a seat on a boulder. Coming from my busy day with the energy of busy-ness, the few ducks by the shore swam hurriedly away. I sat for awhile, being there in the quiet and dearth of bustle. The beauty takes my breath away. Such awesome beauty brings tears to my eyes and seems to settle into my being. There is the rising awareness, a renewed consciousness, that there is so much more than I perceive.

When there is no hurry, nowhere else to be, nothing that I need to do–when I’m fully present–a calming effect occurs. The quiet of the outer natural world envelops and penetrates until I’m one with it. When that happens, I am no longer perceived as separate.

In fly two wild ducks, landing in their ungracious-seeming awkwardness. It actually looks like fun, as their webbed feet make a splash landing. One of the ducks swims off in her exploratory way, grubbing for food. The other one swims closer, very close. I watch her for a few moments. I expect her to fly off when I rummage in my back pack for my camera. She doesn’t flutter a feather. When an animal stays within range, I figure they want to be photographed. They remind me, and through my photography, I remind others that we share this planet with such an array of amazing creatures. There is always the daily miraculous when we pause to be aware of it. And, that we remember we are part of it, not separate, is imperative in these times.

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Sitting in nature, taking quiet time, revives and resettles your whole body, mind, spirit system. From this space, this place you are able to harmonize with your natural surroundings. Then, there is the opportunity to carry that energy out into your daily encounters. The world sorely needs harmony with something higher than what the media offers.

A Reckless Moment

Thank God for the reckless moment in painting.  I am in process with a piece.  Although I’m in motion, the painting is feeling forced.  Who am I trying to please here?  What god am I being obedient to?  The one who is too cautious?  The one who wants to be certain that others will approve?  The one who is critical?  The one who demands perfection?

Then, an abandon of sorts enters.  I swipe my brush across the canvas and a whole new direction is created.  It’s a must…to follow that reckless moment.  Once, in such frustration, I took black and white and squiggled lines across the canvas and left the painting overnight.  The next day, emerging from this chaos was the form of a tiger!  I brought her forth and voila, a whole new painting than was originally intended.

tiger.2014.final

That’s where the magic is.  When I become too precious about something in the painting, I try to preserve it and work around it.  But then, something else isn’t working.  The freedom for the piece to become what it truly wants to be is sacrificed to save this portion of the painting.

It’s like in writing, you’ve written a line or a paragraph that you think is absolutely brilliant.  The seasoned writer is going to tell you to toss it!  Yes, toss it because now it has become a block to the real writing that wants to come.  Don’t you hate that!?!?

For some reason, when I’m grappling with this inner unrest, I don’t recognize that this is a stage of the creative process.  I forget this almost every single time.  I want this painting to be finished.  I want to be satisfied.  I want my fellow artists to approve.  I want my audience to like it.  I want to be representational in my painting.  I want…I want…I want…

Then, the surrender once again to what is being asked of me.  Go wild.  Be reckless.  Forget the false gods that you have been trying to appease.  Abandon the old constraints and allow the next steps to unfold.  As has been said, be in the flow.

a quote from Thoreau

“I wish so to live ever as to derive my satisfactions and inspirations from the commonest events, every-day phenomena, so that my senses hourly perceive, my daily walk, the conversation of my neighbors, may inspire me, and I may dream of no heaven but that which lies about me.”  
Henry David Thoreau

For me, this quote symbolizes the independent spirit while recognizing the interdependency we have with our neighbors and the natural world. That said, the larger world is on our doorstep…through the ever-present media and its variable perspectives, we are bombarded with world events, political unrest, glaring social inequities, climate change, etc. It seems that while it is wise to be present with the commonest events and daily phenomena, we cannot bury our heads in wonder to the point where we ignore the outer chaos. What a helpless feeling though when we look at the state of human affairs.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting outdoors with three wise women poets. We were celebrating a birthday of one of the women, eating quiche, rhubarb pie and banana bread. We discussed that helpless feeling that arises when we ask the question: How does anyone wed oppositions? I, myself, experience my own inner duality…how do I present as a unified whole with such a split? Within families, there are opposite viewpoints, family members polarized against one another. Within my community, there are examples of polarization, immobility, the inability to see the other’s perspective. When both sides claim to have the final truth, how do we meet in the middle? We see how people go to war over opposing ideologies. There is a faction of people (me included) that considers war to be an obsolete way to handle our differences…yet there is ongoing warfare.

I often wonder what my part is today…growing this woman self, growing her out of the past that deemed woman second class, quieted her, effectively erased her voice from history. Writing poetry gives voice to what needs to be acknowledged and furthers the writer’s process. Ideally, it offers something to the readers.

The Future
© by Christine O’Brien

She blazes colors…
If I am to be a vessel for change
I can no longer be invisible,
nor quiet.
I review my early writings
of a woman chained to
outworn, disrespected roles.
Her models were false impressions
of what a woman should be.
Disloyal to herself,
while surrendering her salvation
to him.

She is silent in the midst
of her degradation.
She follows the mores
of how she has learned a woman
“should be, should behave.”
She has depths to which
she hasn’t dared to descend.
She has forgotten her worth,
her right to equal partnering,
muffled her voice,
disguised her face and figure.
She is depressed.

Her fire has gone into hiding,
but it is not extinguished.
Eruptions are scary
when you think you are only
malleable, adaptive, accepting
yielding and penetrated.
What does a spiritual,
grounded activism look like?

Too many of my women friends,
and me too, don’t look beyond today
or tomorrow…
“What’s for dinner,
are my needs well-met
is my family safe,
for now?
Have we defended against the virus,
sufficiently?
Are our cupboards full?
Are the essential workers
able to provide for us, hold us up?
For how long? 
Are the borders secure and
the air space protected?
Do we realize our interdependence? 
Yet?”

For if my sisters and brothers around
the globe–China, Africa, the Balkan Islands,
Indian Reservations, my next door neighbor–
are suffering, thirsty or hungry. 
If my clouded leopard in Malaysia,
my Spirit Bear in British Columbia,
my Tundra Swan’s very existence
are threatened, then so am I!
If the earth’s respiratory forests
are ingraciously removed
will I have the breath to speak
of upcoming peril?
Wouldn’t I rather
see the salvation that comes from
humanity arising,
not only in America
but across this expanse of earth–
our common, ever-shrinking home?

What, dear woman, with inner fire,
are you waiting for?

Six More Weeks of Winter?

So the groundhog predicted on February 2nd…that gives us three weeks down and three weeks to go approximately in the northern hemisphere. It’s all so unpredictable these days. Like everything else in front of us, we’re going to know how much longer we have of winter when it happens. Forecasting is a strange sport.

We’ve had a long inward time…much longer than we anticipated. Another writer, K. DuMont, said

“Time introduces a new character to our lives each season,
one with a temperature and a temperament that affects our own.”

So, what has your temperament been like lately? People here are talking about covid fatigue. Someone asked me today how that expresses itself for me. I thought about it and found myself talking about the things that I miss…like the ease of movement, sitting in a café leisurely sharing time and tea with a friend, hugs. The incentive to clean my house used to be strong if I knew I was going to have company coming over. Now, who cares. A pile here, a pile there. Visits to my family five hours away have been curtailed. Another friend asked if I take fewer showers than I typically would. And, the last time I had a professional haircut was over one year ago. I’m weary of the limitations. And, with that, I have a lot to be grateful for although sometimes it’s hard to remember. Humans are social beings.

Each of us has our own particular tale to tell around this unprecedented time as I hear it being referred to. I inquire within…if these are the rules of the game, can I safely bend them or come up with a creative solution to alleviate the loneliness (I live alone)? Without knowing how much longer that we have to do this cautious dance in the world, is there something I can offer to myself to make it a little lighter? Is there some sort of community (yes, we are grateful for ZOOM–but then there is ZOOM Fatigue?) Is there some other way that we can create community for ourselves? I’m open for suggestions. Even if you’re an introvert, you miss the company of people. Don’t you?

I was invited to do a collaborative painting with another artist. I received a panel through the mail. The first artist had etched the design–there was an original from which she created her own unique expression. As the second artist in the collaboration, my part was to embellish it. Which I did, adding color, collage and using various techniques to try to render something compatible yet unique to me. I then mailed the panel to a local art council. They gather the panels from several other participating artists to create a mural. That’s one way to connect with others. Interesting, but not totally satisfying.

I am, by nature, introspective. However, prolonged introspection–urgh. Regardless, winter is considered the season for the inward journey. According to author, Jamie Sams, in the Native American tradition, the bear is the guardian of the west and winter, the season for introspection. She says that “…bear seeks honey or the sweetness of truth in the hollow of an old oak tree.”

Over the course of this long time with your own company and thoughts, is there a sweetness of truth that you have gleaned. One thing? More than one thing? Share it under comments here if you like or at least share it with one other person.

A Delicate Balance

Recently, I watched a film produced by Patagonia–
The Refuge: Fighting For A Way Of Life.
The film illustrated the plight of the Gwich’in Nation of Alaska, specifically the area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“The Gwich’in population is located in northeastern Alaska, the northern Yukon and Northwest
Territories of Canada. Known as ‘The Caribou People,’ the culture and life of the Gwich’in has
been based around the Porcupine Caribou herd for thousands of years. The Gwich’in peoples
have relied upon the caribou for food, shelter, clothing, tools and medicine. So intertwined with
the Porcupine Caribou herd, the Gwich’in have named the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge
“Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” which translates to ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.’
The Coastal Plain is the destination of the Porcupine Caribou herd, which migrates to the Coastal
Plain each year to birth and raise their young. Not only does the life of the caribou begin on the
Coastal Plain, but it is also where the life of the Gwich’in nation is supported. The lives and
heritage of the Gwich’in are directly tied to the caribou herds – much like the Plains Indians
relied on the buffalo. Without a healthy caribou population, the Gwich’in culture would
struggle to survive.” from http://www.alaskawild.org/educate

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This painting is my tribute to the Gwich’in Nation in recognition of their intricate and interdependent relationship with the Porcupine Caribou. In legislating, thereby allowing corporate oil moguls to exploit this sacred region, we are influencing climate change to our detriment. In saving this region from such exploitation, we are not only protecting the rights of the Gwich’in Nation, the Caribou and migrating birds, we are protecting the future of a healthy earth for generations to come.

Blog on Hiatus

Hi Everyone Who Reads My Blog…

I hope that you’ve appreciated my art, poetry and essays over these past five years. I’ve taken short breaks at times, but mostly I’ve been here. As a writer, it’s been a good thing for me to show up to this writing space daily.

Life is certainly giving us challenges by the truckload these days. Sometimes, there is the need for quiet contemplation and introspection. It’s been forced on many by social distancing and sheltering at home during the pandemic.

There is so much going on in the realm of politics. In the US, it consumes the media and our minds if we listen to it for very long. There is such a basis of fear in the way the media delivers the news. The most immediate concern to me is Climate Change. We are each individually and collectively affected by this across the planet. I don’t know what has to happen before humans begin to relate to the earth in a more reciprocal way. Heaven help us.

We have leaders, outside of politicians, to guide us in accommodating the changes we need to make in order to survive beyond the next twenty years. There are solutions that can be implemented now. These are covered quite effectively in this book edited by Paul Hawken, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming. I might have mentioned this book in an earlier blog, but it bears repeating. My 25-year old granddaughter and her boyfriend were visiting recently. I handed the book to them to browse through. My granddaughter looked directly at me and said “I’m going to give this book as a gift to everyone that I know!”

It is a book that offers precise information about what we can do NOW to change course. It’s going to take strong leadership to do this. However, behind that leadership it’s going to take each and every person to line up across the earth. Forget the idea of different countries, cultures, religions, beliefs, skin colors, foreign languages–we need to unify to save our earth, which is saving ourselves and all the other amazing species in this one ecosystem.

Blessings to everyone

Christine
Mt. Shasta, CA, USA

The Backstory

The elephant shows up in my art more and more frequently.  I’ve posted this mixed media painting from 2018 a few times.  I don’t think that I mentioned the entire backstory for this piece.

I cut my little purple elephant from a photocopy of an earlier painting.  Whimsical, right?  But the actual photo of an elephant that I used as a model was an orphan in Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s Wildlife Refuge for traumatized baby elephants.  Many of them were orphaned due to poachers taking down their mothers and harvesting the ivory tusks for profit.  A very sad story that continues to this day!

I could see the trauma in the eyes of the little elephant.  A glazed, dazed look of dread.  For he had witnessed the violent death of his mother.  And then, he was left to wander in this confused and fearful state until he was rescued by a helicopter team and brought to the sanctuary.  Once there, it took these tender experts time to help him overcome the initial effects of the trauma.  Gradually, he was integrated in with a group of older elephants to help him with further recovery…to the degree that he could recover.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her husband, David, started the shelter for orphaned animals, especially elephants, many years ago.  He passed away in 1977 and Dame Daphne  continued the trust in his name.  She died in 2018.  I wondered if the work that she and her husband had so passionately lived was being carried on.  I am relieved to see that their daughter, Angela, who worked alongside her mother for twenty years, continues this heroic work with the help of her husband, their children and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust team.  This is really a huge task as the poaching continues.  It occurs to me (and to others) that if there wasn’t a market for ivory, then the elephants might have a chance.  However, there is a market.  How does one address such greed?  I read recently that if someone is bragging to you about their ivory collection or even a trinket that they have…show them a few photos of whose life was taken to add ivory to their collection.  In other words, shame them.

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There are 415,000 elephants remaining in Africa.  Recently 350 elephants died in Botswana.  Cause unknown.  So far, these deaths have not been connected to poaching–no tusks were removed.  Elephants are deeply feeling animals.  Some have said that they are mourning the loss of lives in their community.  I can believe this to be true.

 

What are you feeling?

Things are scrambled.  There is disorientation.  My brother in San Francisco doesn’t drive.  He relies on buses.  The buses are running but it’s always a risk.  Who else is going to be on the bus?  What are their personal habits of cleanliness and responsibility towards others?  He can’t get to his usual places to shop for the food he usually eats.  He is eating more canned food.  His health is suffering.  He isn’t getting the exercise he normally gets.  He lives alone, is a social being and feels cut off from his connections.  His lifestyle has been severely curtailed.  He lives minimally with a small carbon footprint.  Even with that, this is rough.

After a recent conversation with him, I felt sad.  I told him that he needed to eat healthy.  That much he could do for himself.  The stores where he usually shops are over-crowded making him less likely to shop there.  I told him he could have fresh produce delivered.  Regardless, he is down-hearted by everything that is going on right now.  Living in San Francisco, he feels the impact more than I do where I live.  Less freedom of motion.  His is one story among many…one good reason for kindness towards one another.

Expressive.1

This face came about from what I was feeling in the moment.  The words that I wrote  were:

There is so much that is going on that is challenging for many at this time.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.  An ongoing sadness and simultaneously, an awareness of the extreme beauty that surrounds us.  Concern for self and family and community, the world–the earth.  Humans haven’t lived softly on this planet.  Why have we distanced from the earth who sustains us?  There are so many questions hovering in the air.  I like to think that where there’s a question, nearby is an answer.  We have to pay attention–become conscious of the feedback that we are receiving from the earth and her other creatures.  We aren’t alone in this.  Why do we forget?

Then, yesterday, sitting in my tiny garden in the backyard, leaning into the uncertainty, a little hummingbird settled nearby, framed in a wire rectangle of the fenced enclosure.  It visited for an indeterminate time and we studied one another.  The rarity of such an experience always feels like an honoring.

This painting is a reminder to not run away from your feelings.  As they arise, do acknowledge them, embrace them, sit with them, be patient with yourself through them.  It is in this state of acceptance and bringing comfort to them that they are recognized and eased.  Have you noticed that?

In the midst of uncertainty, some things feel right with the world.  We look for those things.

Take good care.

Musings on What is Hard to Comprehend

how much longer

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to comprehend that a virus could be so powerful on so many levels.  It makes people sick, it takes lives, it travels across continents, it halts the workforce, it stops education as we’ve known it, it damages economies–giant corporations and small businesses alike are affected, it creates arguments of politics around to wear or not to wear a mask (in America anyway).  It separates families and friends.  It brings inequities, injustices to light.  It commands that we save the world with better choices as to how we use the world.  On and on.  I bet you can add to this list and that if we analyze the list we make, it seems that we could find good and not so good within it.

I appreciate the perspective that the virus is giving us feedback.  That any response from the earth is feedback to us as a human species.  Often we act dumb in the face of such feedback.  Often we ignore it for as long as we are able to.  Often we try to outsmart it or upgrade our technology or continue more forcefully in the direction that we’ve been going.  Even while we see that’s not helping.  In fact, proceeding as we have been is making things worse.  However, we don’t seem to know how to stop and turn ourselves around.

Why is that?

Why do some people accept that wearing masks could halt the spread of the virus and adamantly wear their masks in public?  Why do other people vehemently object to wearing a mask at all?  What is the motivating force beneath each of these stances?

These days, I am fortunate to live in an area that isn’t highly populated.  Although we are now getting tourists in the summer.  And our numbers have increased accordingly.
I get out very early and shop for groceries–when I shop early, the store aisles feel a bit more spacious and I feel calm as I shop.  This is one thing that I can do to lessen the intensity of these times.  When I shop early, I’m in better shape over the course of the day.  Returning home with my weekly groceries, as I handle each item, wipe it down or rinse it in a pan of water, I am tuning in more to the particular item.  I give it attention that I might not otherwise–a type of gratitude.  Hmmm.  Interesting.  I note this.  I could consider it a big hassle and I have…but today, no, I’m grateful.

I also notice the accumulation of plastic bags…the ones that don’t break down in a landfill, the ones that end up choking the sea creatures that we conveniently forget have a life down there in the astonishing depths.  What am I to do with these plastic bags?  Isn’t there, I wonder, an alternative to plastic!!!  How brilliant are we that we can’t come up with a solution here?  Wouldn’t our minds be put to better use in learning and practicing how to harmonize with our planet in reciprocal and beneficial ways?   Instead of strategizing war tactics or how to make it big in the stock market.  Think of the jobs that would materialize if we put our heads together to make the world a better place for all creatures great and small and including the earth.

“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one…” from a song that we all remember.  The truth is, we need to proceed wisely in a better direction or we won’t be earning our keep here.

Good Fortune

cat.

Good Fortune.  This piece began as a painting of a nautilus.  I lived with it for awhile and then, I changed it into something else.  A cat of good fortune.  I remember the figurines of Chinese porcelain cats from my own childhood.  Perhaps I’d seen them in magazines or in my Irish/German grandmother’s house in Bernal Heights in San Francisco.  Maybe I had seen them in the little trinket shops in Chinatown.  Regardless, I could use a stroke of good luck.  So I painted this cat to symbolize good fortune.

We do that, don’t we, imbue an object d’ art with symbolism.  I recently realized my tendency towards mixed media.  While I paint mostly with acrylics, I like dimension, texture and sometimes a 3D effect.  As if the subject is coming off the canvas a bit and announcing its presence.  I have some of my mother’s costume jewelry…two pieces were perfect for the eyes.

Lucky times.  Luck of the draw.
Reminding me of this Taoist story of the father and son…

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.

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Do we make our own Good Fortune, I wonder?  Is it unrealistic to consider that we are going to always experience only good fortune?  Is every event and circumstance intended for our growth?  Is any experience, whether perceived as good or bad, only for our evolution?  “Maybe?”