Searching for Meaning

Do we ever really stop? Do we finally come to a place of deep understanding with a solid feeling of connection that lasts? Do we arrive there after years of turmoil and searching, content that we’ve arrived and never have to ride that train again?

It seems that during the winter season, we are called upon to go inside and sit with our questions. Where I live in the mountains, ready or not, winter comes with a definite icy awareness. I am indoors more. Today we are in the midst of a series of storms. To me, a storm feels somewhat dangerous. Being from the foggy city of San Francisco, regardless of how many winters I’ve experienced in the mountains, I feel insecure. I watch the snow rapidly falling, swirling, landing and sticking to the trees and ground. I wonder if it’s going to overwhelm me.

Although I understand the necessity and the actual blessing of snow, it unnerves me. It’s hard for me to appreciate the absolute beauty of snow although I sit within a warm and cozy cottage. It remains a foreign element to me. This feeling is exacerbated by STORM WARNINGS, AVALANCHE WARNINGS, the dread of power outages and downed lines. It happened one winter since I’ve lived here…we were without power for five days. It had been a heavy wet snow and took down electrical lines. Large tree branches had fallen across the streets making driving impossible and walking dangerous. I was fortunate to have an alternate heat source that didn’t rely on electricity. A few of us gathered and huddled around the little oil stove. When the power finally returned, I was flooded with relief.

Being without electricity for that period, I entered a primal part of myself. A part that is based in survival. And the certain awe that nature holds the final card. We witness it when we experience or hear about hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Our ancestors lived in a pre-technology, pre-electricity era not so long ago. They didn’t have the cushions of safety and security that we’ve come to expect in these times.

Sometimes, there is a quality of merging that takes over. I notice (despite the refrigerator’s occasional loud hum) a feeling of deep quiet. The snow has a way of muffling external noise from the nearby highway. And within that quiet, a calm descends. When I sit on the enclosed back porch and knit while staring out the sliding glass door, this feeling can supersede any fear. I have momentarily accepted winter, the snow and my place in the order of things. That is a place where I’d like to live from more regularly. In that place, there is quiet revelation. I don’t have the need to know more in such moments. The quest for meaning releases and I have an experience of deep peace and connection.

In the New Year, I desire that for myself and I pray that it extends around the world…the experience of deep peace and connection.

Blessings to you in the new year and always.

Loneliness and Creativity

Observation on a Buddha Rock

I know loneliness
a rock separated from a streambed
My particular glamour
is less appealing here
Like this displaced rock
am I commonplace
or too old

This rock
a misshapen Buddha
solitary Bodhisattva
witnessing the cleaving
remembering the whole

What dissension shattered humankind
into separation
Lonely and separate as this scarred rock
perhaps once praised for its cool detachment.
Who cares to take the time
to decipher the untold encrypted story

A star has fallen
to the bottom of the sea
fossilized
while a starfish rises
in the darkening sky
experiencing
alternate realities

God is in us–
is all right with the world
Has the solitary rock learned compassion
Is that the panacea for loneliness

by Christine O’Brien

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In her book, Freeing the Creative Spirit, Adriana Diaz guides the artist/reader/ creative explorer, into many exercises that enable creativity. The subtitle of her book is: “Drawing on the Power of Art to Tap The Magic And Wisdom Within.” One of these exercises invites the reader to find a rock. And then, to sit with the rock, examining its many surfaces. To see the rock as a living being and to become in some way intimate to its experience. To draw it from its various angles and perhaps to write about it as I’ve done in the poem above.

We seldom do this, stop and be present with an inanimate object. Who has the time? I certainly didn’t when I had a bustling household with children, husband and pets, a part or full-time job, extended family. I wonder though, if I had taken the time, even once-a-week, if I wouldn’t have been more present, more grounded and more available to myself and others if I had paused to deepen a connection to myself and to something in nature.

I titled this blog Loneliness and Creativity because when I feel lonely and venture into the creative space, loneliness disappears. In the naming and writing of this poem, the feeling of loneliness dissolved into “art.” Have you experienced that? It’s almost magical, in fact it is magic. It’s an alchemical experience. The base ingredients of one’s loneliness, feelings of isolation or separation blend with the pen, the paper, the paint, the brush, the clay, the camera–whatever the medium that you are using–and are changed into something higher and lighter.

I’ve experienced this more than once. And I know that I’m not the only one. When Covid hit the headlines in 2020 and we were told to isolate, I began to post photos on my Facebook page of the beauty that surrounds me living here in the mountains. Those of us who live here see it daily. However, I have family and friends who don’t live here and since I believe that beauty lifts the spirits, I made a commitment to do this. In this way, I connected with others indirectly. And, I also allowed myself to be the witness with the camera who recorded this beauty. And this beauty was a salve for me too.

All of this to say, we each have creative resources. Regardless of what any former teacher or person of influence in your life might have once told you, we are all artists and our unique way of expression has value for oneself and others.

Ecofeminism

Ecofeminism is viewed as a philosophical and political movement. It is the wedding of environmentalism and feminism. It is considered a branch of feminism that recognizes the intimate relationship between women and the earth as foundational to its analysis and practice. “Ecofeminist thinkers draw on the concept of gender to analyze the relationships between humans and the natural world.” Wikipedia

I am infatuated. I have been for most of my life but I didn’t realize it had a name. I have been intrigued by the relationship between women and nature. I have lived into it. I have written poetry and essays about it. I have desired and designed it. And, sadly, I have seen how this relationship, its components and unity, continues to be disregarded and maligned.

My mind cannot comprehend the separation of the human race from their environment. Friends explain it to me as “greed.” Ah, that’s what it is. And the lack of foresight in regards to if we continue to do, as we are doing, there is an end in sight. We are creating an uninhabitable planet for many species, including humans, of this place in the universe that we call our home.

We witness the extinction of companion species. “More recently, scientists at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity concluded that: “Every day, up to 150 species are lost.” That could be as much as 10 percent a decade.”

What? Really? Wow! That seems ridiculous. I guess that someone is out there cataloguing this. And it’s upsetting…why do humans think that they are untouchable. That they are an exception, or somehow exempt? Are we too protected and coddled by our society, living our lives vicariously through media entertainment? I don’t want me, my family or friends (or anyone really) to live in anxiety…but…don’t we need to face into the truth and make some changes, yesterday?

Ecofeminism, reweaving the human race into the world, on this planet, with all of the other life forms has become an imperative. As John Muir said “Nature includes us.” There is wisdom in realizing this.

She was made to give
© by Christine O’Brien

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they took and returned to her
in intimate ways
and each was happy.

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they plowed and sowed her
to feed the many
who had set up villages
and put down roots
and they took and returned to her
in amenable ways
and each was content.

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they came with their heavy equipment
and modern ways
scavenged in her very bowels
polluted her waters
bound her up in asphalt and concrete
rumbled heavy machinery over her bare breast
constructed factories and buildings
increased their numbers
to populate these structures.

They said “We will make her subject to us.”
They worked the many to support the few
–a masked feudal system.
And they took
and they took
and they took from her
and it was never enough.
It was her nature to give
and though she felt dishonored
she complied.

The earth she says
I was made to give.
take from my…
however her larder was less abundant
and she felt a certain exhaustion.
To continue giving
to those who showed no appreciation
nor reciprocity
seemed a betrayal.

How much longer could she sustain them,
sustain herself?
Where she had once given
from her abundance,
now she was giving
from her personal storehouse.

“Ah, I am tired,” she said.
“I’ll shake these ungratefuls
from my empty breast.
I’ve nothing left to give.”

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I hope and pray that this is not the story of humankind.
What are you and I going to do? What does your activism look like?

To the Places I’ve Never Been

Clutter has a way of reproducing itself it seems. Today, I ventured into the garage to continue clearing out things that I no longer need or want. I chose one plastic bin and brought it into the house. It is the bin with maps of places that I’d like to go and places where I’ve been. And it’s more than that, isn’t it. There is nostalgia for places that are no longer there–cafes, restaurants, motels, shops, etc.–the many places that were closed permanently due to the Covid virus. There is the remembrance of people I encountered along the way. There are memories of trips I took with someone, although mostly I explored alone.

I decided to make a stack of maps of places that I’d like to go. Bucket list items? There were a few stray papers that I had no trouble tossing. Then, there were the maps of places that I probably won’t visit. A rather big stack…the discarded dream trips. I’m going to package them and leave them on the newspaper stand outside of the post office. Someone is going to find them useful. I suppose I could wait and see if any of my friends might want some of them. No, at the end of the day, I want to feel like I let something go.

Within this bin, there is a surprise or two. I find a letter from an old acquaintance. It is wrapped around a pencil eraser, an emery board and artist’s blending stumps. This was given to me years before I seriously began making art. Reading the letter, I am brought back to a moment in time that I barely remember. His letter begins “Thank you for a delightful lunch in McCloud.” Apparently, I went out to lunch with this man, a gentle soul, sweet and tender. He was an enthusiastic student of life. If I remember correctly, he studied the Bhagavad Gita or some very intense and lengthy text. He delved into the deeper meanings of things and he was joyful. His name was Michael.

I had also tucked in a book published in 1999 “the Y2K Survival Guide and Cookbook,” because we wondered if 2000 was the end of the world (as we knew it)… I’m going to keep it, because, well, what do I know of the future. I found an ad for Stewart Mineral Springs. This was one of the places I relished visiting when I moved to Mt. Shasta. It was without a doubt one of heaven’s gifts to the earth. My sister, Kathryn, visited Stewart’s Springs years before I moved here. She said she felt like the Goddess herself (she was a Goddess). Draped in a flowing white sheet, descending into the Parks Creek pool, she felt transformed. Years later, I followed suit and dipped into the icy pool. It was truly a baptism of sorts surrounded by the abundant nature of this sacred site. It is now privately owned and inaccessible. A loss to the community and others.

And then there’s the article I saved on Blazing Gendered Trails, written in 1996 about groups of women gathering in the rustic outdoors to get in touch with nature…and themselves. Also, a newspaper clipping on Staying in Paris for under $90 by choosing your lodging in a less posh arrondissement. There is a whole newspaper section devoted to a Pilgrimage to the Island of Women, Isla Mujeres, a village off the Yucatan Coast. Waiting in line somewhere, I met a woman and we got to talking. By the time we reached the head of the line, she had written down her contact information and invited me to her retreat place, Gypsy’s by the Sea in Todos Santos…I wonder if she’s still there. Sifting through these articles, I am transported. Imagination is a great vehicle sometimes.

At the bottom of the bin, there is a message to me written in bold red letters:
JUST…
HAVE FUN
LAUGH
LEARN
BE YOURSELF
RELAX
TRUST GOD

…AND YOU’LL HAVE A GREAT TIME!

That sounds like good advice on living life.

Leaving the Past Behind

Do we ever really do this–leave the past behind?
If the past is what formed us, then it likely lives on inside of us. We can never really leave it behind. However, we can have integration and a certain resolution with it. Befriend it perhaps.

Happy New Year…

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And days of auld lang syne?”

Robert Burns

What is your relationship to the past?

Getting quiet is a way of integration and healing, I find.

I am a writer…I journaled for over forty years. As I leaf through those journals today, I’m returned to a time and place and a “self” who isn’t here in present time. I visit my younger self at various stages of my life through my journals. Is that what I want to spend the remaining years of my life doing? Revisiting what has been a mostly challenging past? Have I learned anything from it? Is this returning to and writing about it in present time going to enhance my life today? Does anyone else really want to read about my once-upon-a-time life?

Can I make something new out of this sow’s ear of the past? I hope so!

Realizing that I have less life ahead of me than behind me, what do I want this next round of life to be about? What do I want to bring to it? What do I hope to gain from it? What do I have to offer to others? These are some of the questions I’m asking these days.

There is a phrase, ‘taking stock.’ Basically, to me that means…generally looking at how I got to where I am today–taking an overview, if you like. Then, the next step is to get firmly grounded in the present time and place and age that I am. And from this steadfast position, I can effectively decide and choose what is serving my evolution and forward movement.

We are cyclical or seasonal beings if you like. When we are in touch with the rhythms and cycles of the earth, we can also be in touch on a deeper level with our own. For they are ever turning, ever changing, in motion. There is an optimism when connecting to nature in this way–in connecting with our own rhythmic response to nature’s cycles. Noting this, there is always an opportunity to deepen and evolve.

The new year marks a time of new beginnings. I don’t make resolutions anymore. I do align with new practices. I’m appreciating the cycles of the moon these days. The new moon is tomorrow. It’s a time for initiating something new or at least being open to a new idea and taking a step in that direction. Who doesn’t like the idea of making a fresh start?

I’m hoping for you, my readers the kind of year that heals your wounds and gently opens your heart to the wonder of being yourself on the earth at this moment in time. And the recognition that everyone else desires this healing and opening too. Blessed be.

How Wise Are You?

Is wisdom reserved for the elders? Can anyone, at any age have wisdom worth sharing?

How does one measure wisdom anyway?

I define wisdom as learning from experience and applying it to how you live your life.

One dictionary definition is “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”

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Do we learn from our experiences? Are we able to coalesce all that we have learned into a body of wisdom from which we make future decisions? That would be ideal. Then, I surmise, we would be able to learn from history. Even though something hasn’t been part of our personal experience, every historical event is held in the collective memory. Somehow, deep within, we know that we don’t want to repeat what lead to World War II, for instance. We’ve seen enough films and read enough books about the atrocities, haven’t we? Some of us have had relatives or acquaintances who’ve lived through those years. We might have heard their stories.

Yet, one can only wonder how far we’ve come when we see egocentric leadership who fans fervor in his/her followers. When division and dissension are made to look appealing, necessary or as the only way to make change–any wisdom seems to go out the window.

So, we don’t really have wisdom then. We’re wishy-washy, easily lead and already traumatized. We’ve lost touch with a grounded sense of truth that comes from honoring oneself and the other with compassion and creativity at its basis. By a grounded sense of truth, I mean the ability to sit quietly, go inside and ask the questions that lead you to deep (perhaps universal) truth. Compassion because it really is true that until “you walk a mile in my shoes,” you won’t know what my life has been. And creativity because creativity says “let’s do this differently…let’s collaborate…let’s figure this out together.”

Wisdom, that elusive exotic bird, the prize of a lived life or occasionally recognized in the naivete of youth. We should be praying for this. For leaders who have this quality. For leaders who love life and all of its inhabitants. For those who love the earth, our home in the universe. And we need to cultivate it in ourselves. Daily.

One way is to get out in nature as often as you can. And sit there. Sit there until you feel a deeper and truer rhythm.

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Do you claim your learned lessons? Have you freed yourself from the pretense that you don’t know what you do know? As a woman, there have been times when I let myself be smaller and didn’t own the wisdom I have. Perhaps I didn’t want to make someone else, usually a man in my life, feel inferior. That, I now know, serves nothing and no one. We don’t have to pretend to be less wise than we are. I don’t have to be less wise than I am. You don’t have to be less wise than you are.

Enjoy your day!

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.

Why Am I Here?

Every now and then, it’s a good idea to contemplate this existential question. Today, Thursday, October 29th, 2020 as I go about this day. I’ve decided to put that question at the forefront of my mind. I want to be with it as I weave in and out of the daily activities and encounters. It’s not as if I expect to find a final or definitive answer. It’s more like a present day review that addresses the question: Am I living what I value?

Waking up to a pristinely beautiful autumn day, I might answer “Perhaps I’m here to see and appreciate this inordinate beauty.”

As I sip my morning smoothie made with the abundant fruit harvest, “Maybe I’m here to express gratitude for such nourishing abundance.”

As I stand under a stream of hot running water, taking my morning shower, “More gratitude as I realize this is a privilege, not a right and that there are many others who don’t have running water, hot or cold.”

“Why am I here?” the question echoes and follows me around like a curious puppy discovering the world.

As I wield a paintbrush or write this blog, “Perhaps I’m here to be a creative channel.” And then,
to share my observations and art with others.

Then, as I go out into the world encountering others, it could be that I’m here to be the best version of myself. And to welcome the best version of you, the other.

As I strive to live my personal values, going out into the world, is what I stand in and up for recognizable to you? And do I meet you at that level, recognizing your uniqueness and what you stand in and up for?

Are we each here to welcome ourselves and one another into this grand, crazy, wild, chaotic, uninhibited expression of life!

I feel that one big reason I’m here (or that anyone is here) is to establish right reciprocal relationship with nature which includes us. Yesterday, in a telephone conversation with one of my brothers, he was feeling distress regarding the distancing between nature and people who live in big cities. He said that they have no sense of where their food comes from, how electricity is supplied, nor awareness of the interdependence and relationship between themselves and nature. The “city person” expects these essentials to be delivered to their doorstep. “They are spoiled,” he said. I have been a city person for most of my life. For the past twenty-two years, I’ve lived in the mountains. I do agree that there is a disconnect. And isn’t it then, up to each person to find that missing piece in their lives and reestablish right relationship?

In this time of Covid, there is a common theme of separation and isolation. It has been forced on us by the virus. Yet, if we could begin to re-establish connection to nature, maybe we’d feel less lonely. And, really, as I quest for an answer to why I’m here, I might remember that humans are social animals. And while there is a need for separation at this time, we are a chorus. We need each other. And it is through relationship that we remember why we’re here. For ourselves, for one another. There is a wholeness when you and I meet that can’t be fabricated in solitude. We are born alone and we exit in that way. However, while we’re here, we join our voices, fight for common causes based in our values and play outdoors in nature as often as possible.

For today, I’m going to keep it small…make the question a tiny one that sits there as I quietly observe myself and how I influence life and how life is influencing me.

There’s something else that is coming through powerfully as the day goes on. In this lifetime, I was born a woman. And with that comes a whole other question. I am a witness to how the world I’m born into disfavors women. How it disallows her innate rights of being. How it has enslaved or made women lesser than men in so many ways. Why am I here can be reframed into “Why am I here as a woman?” Is the world ready for women to be all that they can be, in their true power and dignity? I think that it’s about time. What do you think?


Note: I wrote this in October of last year…I decided that today is a good day to publish it as I reconsider my initial question Why am I here?”

Ecology

Why is ecology important? Ecology is the basis for a state of one’s personal and global well-being.  It recognizes the interdependence between people and nature (which includes us)  that is vital for food production, maintaining clean air and water, and sustaining biodiversity especially notable during this time of climate change.

Why is biodiversity important?  Each life form adds to an environment that works for many.

“Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play. For example, A larger number of plant species means a greater variety of crops. Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms.”

I might think I’m an independent person.  But if I consider everything that sustains me…water, air, food, sunshine and how all those things are delivered to me…I’d soon realize how very dependent I am.  Interdependence sounds better.  But it can only be effective if I live in a reciprocal way.  Not just taking things in…but giving back and sharing the bounty with others.  And respecting and caring for the source, the resources.

Many humans seem to think that they stand outside their environment.  I mean, they might live in a house or housing.  They might have a garden or a few plants on a balcony.  They might live in the city or a rural area.  Yet, they often think that they are separate from their environment.  That the effect of one on the other isn’t important.  There is also the peculiar notion that nature has to be dominated and that “humans know best.”

I wonder how we awaken to this interdependence and the need for reciprocity.  I wonder how corporate interests can continue to do irresponsible logging of tropical forests and fracking or dredging for oil.  I wonder how they don’t seem to consider the ways that this is impacting the local wildlife, the indigenous peoples there.  How it is drastically affecting climate change and that across this beautiful earth, we are all going to suffer for this irresponsibility.  Neither the very poor nor the very wealthy, neither the ignorant nor the very wise, neither kings, queens nor presidents are going to be spared if we don’t gather our wits and understand this vital relationship soon.

Ocean in Abstract

abstractocean1

This abstract was done in a class with artist, Laly Mille.  I divided the 9″x12″ 140# watercolor paper into four triangles.  They can be cut into individual paintings if I so choose.  When I look at this abstract painting today, I think I would leave it as an ocean study.  In my thinking, abstract equals the artist’s impressions of a subject.

There are the colors that I’ve associated with the ocean.  There is, perhaps, a horizon line.  There could be rock formations not far from the shoreline.  And there is definitely sky.  With clouds.  A mood is created.

When I present an abstract painting, I don’t like to discuss it very much.  I like it to stand alone, to represent what it represents and to allow the viewer to be drawn into it and have their own interpretation.  To encourage the viewer to fabricate a story around my impressions of the ocean.