She Who Knows

SheWhoKnows.

There is the tale that is told so well by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her world-renowned book,  Women Who Run with the Wolves.  When I first encountered this book, I was in an independent bookstore, The East West Bookshop, down the Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I opened the book randomly and read a passage that was relevant to an experience that I recently had.  The hardbound book wasn’t in my budget.  I replaced it on the display table and walked away.  Then, after browsing for awhile, I was drawn back to the book.  Again, I randomly opened it and voila, another passage that claimed me.  I bought the book.  Every weekend, I’d read a chapter and integrate what I was discovering.  This book felt like a woman’s bible to me.  The mythology and tales that were woven in with a Jungian interpretation touched me deeply.  These tales, passed down from generation to generation, transported me into my own psyche in a way that had never happened before.

La Que Sabe, She Who Knows, was one of those stories.  The story goes…

“In the Southwest the archetype of the old woman can also be apprehended as old La Que Sabe, The One Who Knows. I first came to understand La Que Sabe when I lived in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico, under the heart of Lobo Peak. An old witch from Ranchos told me that La Que Sabe knew everything about women, that La Que Sabe had created women from a wrinkle on the sole of her divine foot: This is why women are knowing creatures; they are made, in essence, of the skin of the sole, which feels everything. This idea that the skin of the foot is sentient had the ring of a truth, for an acculturated Kiché tribeswoman once told me that she’d worn her first pair of shoes when she was twenty years old and was still not used to walking con los ojos vendados, with blindfolds on her feet.”
(excerpt from Clarissa Pinkola Estes)

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When I created this mixed media painting, I had no idea who or what was going to emerge.  But then, she did.  This painting is not about perfection of features…it became about expression of a deep feeling…the woman who has searched inside and encountered her own depths in search of her place in the world.  She does not feign timidity.  Pretense doesn’t work for her.  She decorates herself.  She is radiant and is comfortable with being in her own power.  She is not apologetic for being this powerful.

She has lived her life and learned from it.  She is present with you and deep seeing into human foibles and their underlying strengths.  She understands that wisdom is there for each one of us.  And, she holds patient compassion for herself and others as we sense into our own deep knowing.

The Ugly Stage

When painting a portrait…you soon arrive at THE UGLY STAGE!  That is when your mettle as an artist is tested.  You don’t see how you can possibly convert this ugly piece into a thing of beauty.  This is the time–you’ve been working on this for awhile already–when you want to walk away and abandon the piece.  It’s hard to imagine something
“pretty” coming out of this.

That said, experience has taught you that this is only a stage.  Stay with it.  Don’t give up too soon.  So you go forward in conversation with the piece to see what’s next. Then, what follows that?  You step back and then forward and bring this being forth to become who she is determined to be.

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Sometimes, often or always, there is a message in a painting.  The artist may have a clue  before she begins painting.  Then again,  it could emerge during her process with a piece.  Blending words with art is often an intriguing way of stating the message.  The word that sits in the lower right corner of the piece is “STORY.”  Like each one of us, the subject of this painting has a story to tell.  While we may not have a sense of her exact story, we get the idea that she has a depth of experience.  Those eyes convey something.  The mouth, neither smiling nor smirking, shows determination.  There is character in her chin…and so on.

If she were the heroine of your short story, who would she be?  That’s the thing about art, each person views a piece and then their imagination begins to conjecture a story.  We do that when we meet someone new also.  “Who are you?”  “Where are you from?”  “What brought you here?”  Then our judgments and old information come in and create a story before we even really know who we’ve actually met.  Interesting that we do this.  Make up stories all of the time.

Giraffe

As a girl growing up in San Francisco, an occasional treat was a visit to the San Francisco Zoo.  While I don’t support animals in captivity, I have to admit that while a child, it was an opportunity to see an animal up close that I might otherwise never see.  I remember the giraffe, tall, lanky, that neck that was so long, seemingly fragile yet strong.  I have an image of the giraffe, splayed legs as he stooped to pick up a piece of fruit on the ground.

The giraffe has a very large heart, larger than any other land mammal.  The biological reason could be due to the lengthy map of a giraffe’s body.  I know so little.  However, I have read that the giraffe, though not sanctioned as such, is an endangered species.  This saddens me.

In the wild, a giraffe can live for 25 years.  In captivity, it varies.

giraffe

 

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I honestly don’t know why this giraffe is blue.  Perhaps that was the color on my brush at the time and I didn’t want to waste it.  So onto the canvas
it went.  What frequently happens is that I see an image in a work in progress, in this case the giraffe, and I bring it forward.  I create a background for it.

Though not realistic, this giraffe certainly has personality.

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In a sense, with this sheltering at home, we have an odd opportunity.  We are experiencing a time that seems outside of time.  For those of who are blessed to have enough and to have our health, we have this sort of break where we can engage our imagination.  How could things be different?  How could things be better?  We are so yearning to return to “normal” whatever that means to you.  Really, was normal so great?  What about our lives and times could be reimagined?  What could be made better?  Not only for some of us, but for all of us?

I read that the Navajo Tribes are facing life and death challenges with the Covid 19 virus.  Most of these people don’t have running water and we know that washing your hands, cleanliness is crucial to preventing the spread of the virus.  I’ve read that the federal government has allotted some monies to help them but the Tribe can’t access the monies due to bureaucracy.  Really!  In a time of emergency direct assistance is blocked!

Can we imagine this scenario a lot better?  Shouldn’t every household in the US have running water, at the very least?

On the altruistic side, 21 medical personnel from UCSF in San Francisco have traveled to the Navajo Nations to give medical support  through its Department of Medicine’s Health, Equity, Action and Leadership initiative.  Doctors, nurses and other health care workers in the two-year fellowship assist with health care needs in rural and disadvantaged communities around the world.  Thank you.

Alright, I step off the soapbox (for now)…but this has brought up something I feel passionate about.  What are you feeling passionate about as you shelter in place?  How can you reimagine it better?

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A sweet video clip of this beautiful animal.

Feminist Slogans…a few

An individual woman is going to have her personal interface with the feminist experience.  Continuing with the theme of Feminism…my granddaughter asked me:

“What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the advancement of women’s rights?”‘

These too familiar slogans came to mind:

burn the bra
free love
Equal Pay for Equal Work
Different but Equal

Women wanted equal opportunity for advancement on the job.  In the early 70’s, I worked in a corporate setting in a personnel office.  The male establishment often brought up the oppositional point that a woman would likely get married, then pregnant and leave her job and fall back on her husband for financial support.  They perceived this as some sort of logical reason not to advance a woman on the job.  That said, for many years now, the necessity of a two-income household is without question in order  to afford a certain lifestyle.

I lived in San Francisco at this time.  My ex-husband was in the fire department.  Women were fighting for the right to be firefighters.  There had been height, weight and physical agility requirements.  Most women and men of lesser build couldn’t meet these prerequisites. The requirements were modified to allow women in the department.  They still had to meet certain requirements, but these alterations in the standard entry test opened the door to women.  Whether or not they were capable of doing the job was going to be tested on-the-job.

The sexual harassment laws have been evolving since the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission began defining what that meant in the 1960’s.  It seems to be taking awhile for the male population to take this seriously.

There is the ongoing question around a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.  It seems that with each change of administration, the abortion laws come up for question and review.

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Women come of age at different times.  In our own individual lives as women, it seems to be part of our growth to recognize when we are disrespected, mistreated, devalued. We come to understand that we must first respect and value ourselves.  With the strides forward of the individual woman, the macroscm is affected.  How we esteem ourselves teaches others how we expect to be treated.  No small task.  Lots to undo.

How do you stand not being the best?

Comparison is a tender spot for many an artist.  Last week, at an art exhibit where I had a piece on display, I heard myself repeatedly minimizing my painting.  I had already walked around the exhibit and seen the work of masterful artists, some of whom had been painting for their entire lives.  Inwardly, I went into “I’ve only been painting for five  years.  I’ve learned what I’ve learned from online classes, my own practice and experience.  I never went to art school.”  In other words, I diminished my art and myself.

When someone complimented me or said they liked the painting, I said “You’re being kind.”  I heard myself nearly apologizing for my piece!  Where on earth did all of this self-denigration come from?  Thinking about it in retrospect, it feels painful.

Yesterday, when a friend said I should send an online portfolio of my art to a larger venue, like San Francisco or the bay area at least, I nearly laughed.  “You must be kidding!” I said.  But she wasn’t.  She had seen several groupings of my art and said that she recognized my unique style.  “You have a style,” she said.  “Why not try?” she queried.

So here it is, in my face once again–the artist produces a product.  It matters less about the “expertise” of the painting as to what the process was for me.  What is the journey I took to bring this painting into fruition?  Did I take the journey with acquiesce or protest?  Did I allow myself to be guided by the question what next?  Did I push through the “ugly” stages and arrive at a better place?  Did I say what I wanted to say?  Did I fall in love with my piece, finally?  I DO NOT HAVE TO MAKE EXCUSES FOR ANY OF THIS!

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Being an artist, like being a human, isn’t about comparison.  It is about SELF-EXPRESSION, your personal process and if you so choose, sharing your gifts with others.
In the Desiderata, the author reminds us “always there will be greater and lesser persons [artists] than yourself.”  

Finally, he says, “Be cheerful.  Strive to be happy.”

 

 

Perspectives, Presence, People

I don’t write to convince a reader of my perceptions or thoughts.  I write to express what I see through the story lens of my life as I experience it.  Sometimes, I choose to share what I’m discovering.

I read books and watch films for entertainment and/or to expand my worldview.  It is fascinating to be educated to other ways of being and seeing.

When you follow the old adage “walk a mile in my shoes,” there is an opportunity for something to open up inside of you.

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I have a friend who periodically travels to awaken the heightened awareness that is necessary when one travels.  When she visits somewhere new, she experiences a greater aliveness as she navigates the unfamiliar.   Travel, in one sense, awakens her vitality.

The sameness of one’s environment can lead to a sort of lethargy?  It’s all so familiar.  It seems less likely that I can foster a feeling of novelty of experience in my daily routine than I could if I were traveling?  I recognize within myself the need to really cultivate presence in my daily encounters in order to be a witness to the daily miraculous .  Life is not humdrum.  We are, each one of us, walking, talking wonders.  Yet, because we are familiar, even predictable, I can assume the humdrum in my encounters.  For instance…

Typically, my long-time gardener and friend gives me his litany of complaints about his work.  I then respond in the usual way, commiserating.  I have an expectation that he is going to come and complain and I’ll listen and nod my head and hear him out.  In a certain sense, I’m not present with him in the moment.  I link his complaints together with all the other times he’s come to tend my yard.  I put up a certain sort of inner defense.  Today, as he is out there doing the yard work, I wonder about how I can be more present with him.  Can I choose to really see and hear him, his frustrations and his gratitudes, as if I were meeting him for the first time…that old Buddhist Beginner’s Mind.  Besides, having had recent losses, I do know too well that everything and everyone passes.  Nothing and no one lasts forever.  That realization alone can help bring presence to whatever the day brings.  Today, I’d like to be a bit more present with my friend.  To be a witness to his experience.  To see him anew.  To hear him anew.

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When I am given presence, I recognize it.  And I’m appreciative.

 

Fake It Until You Make It?

Have you experienced anything like this?

A couple of months ago, I attended an art opening.  I wasn’t feeling great.  Regardless, I wanted to attend this opening of two Native American artists, brothers.  One is a painter, the other a sculptor of animals.  I had been studying the mythologies of wise women archetypes, the energies that they represent.  This evening, I asked myself how did I want to presence myself.  I decided to stand taller than I felt.  I envisioned embodying the archetypes of the guardian, the alchemist and the priestess.

When I entered the gallery, one of the brothers approached me immediately and said “Haven’t we met before?” I answered, “No, I don’t think so.” A little while later, his sister approached me and asked the same question, “Haven’t we met before?” Again, “No, I don’t think so.” I told her that her brother had asked the same thing…somehow, I seemed  familiar to them.  Then, a third woman came up to me and repeated the same exact words!

This experience caused me to wonder about how we occupy ourselves.  I am timid.  I didn’t feel good.  Yet, when I called on the archetypes within, I was recognizable to others.  It was interesting to observe this and powerful too.  Yes, I did feel better by having invoked these archetypes which are within me…and you.  And it was reflected back to me by the responses from others.  

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An Aside
This art show was about caretaking the earth. The Native American culture has an ethic of earth preservation. This is illustrated in their art and stories. And in their ceremony, dance and song. The show was called “Reverence.”  I had an interesting conversation with the sister of the artists.  She collects rocks that reveal messages to her. One night she was instructed to go and find a stone. It was dark, mountain lions could be around. She followed the instructions, drove to a certain spot.  Even with her flashlight, she couldn’t find anything.  She got back in the car and was going to go home.  She was instructed to get out of the car once again. She obeyed and realized she was standing on a stone that was partially embedded in the earth. She pulled it free and brought it home. The next morning, she discovered three images in the stone.

Her story makes me wonder how well I listen to the instructions that come to me.

Who Do You Consult for Wisdom?

Truthfully, my parents weren’t my wisdom teachers, except perhaps through reversal.  And, reversal offers us some powerful lessons.  I didn’t go to them for guidance.  Throughout my life, I’ve gleaned wisdom from my own experience and through books and other teachers.

In contemplating who I consult for Wisdom, I discovered the term Wisdom Poetry.  It is  defined as “the type of poetry that contains some sort of moral or lesson, often written by an ancient scholar.”  Wisdom poetry is more of a theme rather than a branch of poetry itself.

Wisdom is sometimes personified, elusive creature that she can be.  Is she within?  Or dwelling in a cave on a mountain top far from where I live.  Tibet?  Nepal?  Or is she in the desert?  Zimbabwe?  Xanadu?  In the sky?  If only I could pinpoint the place, might I then be able to visit it, if only in my imagination?  Can I access her through my dreams?  Does he have a long white beard?  Do his eyes stare beyond the horizons of our own limited sight?

Is wisdom cumulative…I have these experiences and I hopefully learn from them.  I think that “real” wisdom is born of experience and that we integrate the lessons learned into how we live our daily lives.  And, perhaps wisdom has nothing to do with a person’s age although this wisdom poem below considers otherwise.

Wisdom
by Sara Teasdale

When I have ceased to break my wings
Against the faultiness of things,
And learned that compromises wait
Behind each hardly opened gate,
When I have looked Life in the eyes,
Grown calm and very coldly wise,
Life will have given me the Truth,
And taken in exchange my youth.

Writing Prompt:
Who do you consult for wisdom?