Thursday, November 30, 2006

On living and dying

I made the spirit doll in honor of my mother earlier
this year. She is one of three dolls that were made
alike, at the same time.

Each of them are now unique, due to the fact that myself and my sisters adorned them with personal mementos of my mother. My own doll holds a broach and pendant that belonged to her in this life.

The quilt is made from pieces of her clothing. My Father had it made as a gift after she died for her three birth daughters. When I feel a need to talk with her, I often snuggle inside, remembering our time together.

I have a new relationship with the people that have left this earth. My relationship with them did not die when their physical form moved on, but it changed drastically. Coming to terms with that new relationship is what the grieving process is all about.

I think about the life-death cycle often. I like to believe my family will honor my very strong feelings about not relegating death to a cold institution, a ridiculous and expensive coffin or service that does not celebrate life. It saddens me to see our loss of connection to the birth-death cycle in our society, our fear of touching and seeing death. We are, as a society, uncomfortable with death and it isn't healthy.

One of the most profound and moving essays on this topic was posted recently at the 37 days blog. "Forever Hold Your Penguin Dear" by Patti Digh is a fine example of words that reach right into your heart and stir the ancient truths about death and how we respond to loss.

I sat here this morning, with tears running down my face as I read the story of a family that chose to honor the death cycle in a beautiful and life affirming way. I read about the way they annointed this young person's body with herbs and oils, how they celebrated their connection to her both in life and in death. It moved me deeply and this story will hopefully inspire others to examine the rituals surrounding death and burial, and just how we honor the loved one that has left their body behind.

We humans grasp onto the gossamer threads of possessions left behind, of these scraps and bits that connect us to our loved ones. We dig into the past trying to hold memories, touch and voices. We talk to the spirits that move through the air, trying to convince ourselves of something real, something true, something that can't be taken away.

There is a fabulous quote that I keep nearby: "The hard inescapable phenomenon to be faced is that we are living and dying at once. My commitment is to report that dialogue." Stanely Kunitz is a wise man. I often question my work and whether I am archiving that living and dying experience in my own way.

Today I am alive and well. I have received the gift of another day of life, and moved one more day towards the grave. Every day we have is a gift. But every day is also one day less.
In becoming a parent we celebrate the fact that we have brought a new life into this world, but we often fail to remember that we have also brought another death into this world. Living and dying. That's what we earthlings do. I want to honor that process by celebrating the living and dying we're doing together, by weaving ritual around the process and drinking of the joy that is in it all.

Diana Jenner has inspired me time and again in the way that she has chosen to honor Hannah. I take pause today to remember not only the loved one's I have lost, but the chain of life reaching back into the millenia. I think of the ancestors that could not have imagined the world in which I live, the blood spilled on the ground which we walk every day without notice, the life and death that is all around us at every turn. I want to tread gently on this sacred ground, this sacred day....this day that will bring both life and death into our world.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Obos and stuff

I started today with a really great email from Robert Genn, who sends out a twice-weekly email to anyone that signs up for his brand of wisdom. It was about "Obos", stacks of rocks left for nature to reclaim, or the aware eye to find. Here's his email:

Dear Ren,

Some weeks ago an anonymous subscriber wrote: "The
Painter's Keys"
is not a website--it's a vision.
It's a vision of a universal brotherhood and sisterhood,
timeless and for all time. It's a vision of solitary
strugglers who are united in the obligation for quality
while serving their own individualist dreams. What we
artists do is noble and life-enhancing for others. It
requires a balance between outward learning and inward
contemplation. Thank you for providing this shrine."

I often think of these words. I'm deeply proud that there
are many who get the point. Our website is certainly one
manifestation of that shrine, and while it is not a physical
spot or a spiritual dogma, it might be a metaphor.

Years ago, I started placing small "obos" in remote places. An
obos is a Japanese term for a pile of rocks, often only three,
one on top of another. The obos merely says, "I was here."
Being an unusual configuration, it is obviously from the hand
of man. Further, if it is knocked down or desecrated, it is
easily rebuilt. There can be one at the bottom of the garden or
in a private corner of a public park. I've seen obos among
potted bonsai in a sparse apartment high above Park Avenue's
clatter. So you know what I'm talking about, I've asked Andrew
to illustrate an obos in the current clickback. See URL below.

On one of our west coast islands, I built a few obos on a rocky
foreshore just above the tide. Returning twenty years later, I
found them still intact and dressed in moss, as if spirited
there by some ancient coastal cult.

Obos is a destination, a sanctuary, a shrine and a focal point
that reminds us that we work with our hands. We are builders
and what we build is sacred. Obos may appear inconsequential
and be unnoticed by casual passersby. It's a private tribute to
something higher, something we might be striving for but find
difficult to attain. Approach obos with a relaxed, curious
mind. It can help with answers to questions not consciously
asked. Obos gives pause, a contemplative thought or a new
direction, a respite from clutter, a rededication to our
struggle and an affirmation of the value of our personal
effort. Obos is the carrier of a golden secret. Obos is like
art itself. Obos is a joy to build.

Best regards,


PS: "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw
that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy."
(Rabindranath Tagore)


I'm enchanted with the idea of "Obos" now. Four years ago, when my mother lay in the hospital dying and I was scheduled to fly home the next morning, I visited the beach with my children. In a very natural and flowing way, I sculpted a small shrine there, with the materials available: a feather, shells and driftwood. Art is available to us all, if we use the materials we have and express what is within. Obos are one way to share the joy of sculpting. Nature provides many chances for thoughtful expression.

Later, I responded to an email from a new aquaintance, the very woman that introduced me to the beautiful music of Amy Steinberg.
Susan Lachman is the person behind the voice of "women on air" that airs from Johnson City every Friday afternoon from WETS, an affiliate of NPR. I heard her interview with Amy once-upon-a-time and fell in love with the message and music. One of her songs reminds me regularly that I am "exactly where I need to be".

So I sometimes do, I googled Susan's name to see what else she's up to (I hope you don't mind Susan):) and found out about the "Leaf" project. where the artist Carol Ann Newsome creates these small works of art and leaves them all over for people to find. I believe she's planted 5,000 so far! Amazing project, fab idea.

Reading about the Leaf project led to information on something called the "Good Goddess" which I thought was a yearly festival, but after researching figured out it was a traveling art exhibition that was here many years ago. Darn!

Through that piece of information, I discovered an amazing artist named Charles Vess who lives just up the road in Abingdon VA. His work is absolutely stunning! Wander around a bit and enjoy the visual and mental massage.

You know, that's one of the greatest things about technology, the ability to make very fast connections with people, places and new information. I love that I can start with a serendipitous connection to a local person and go wandering about the planet finding other artists, art, ideas and inspiration. It's all connected and I love being a traveler discovering those connections.

**Above photo is by Joanna McKasy, taken at Denali National Park Alaska

Monday, November 06, 2006

37 Days

~*"Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.”~

There is a blog that I love to visit. The project started when the author's Father was diagnosed with cancer and died 37 days later. The focus is about what you would do if you had just 37 days left. Her challenge is to do something, anything for 37 days. I'm posting it here as I've decided to take this as an opportunity to practice some discipline.

For the next 37 days I will do at least ONE thing towards marketing myself. One thing towards getting some art classes started here or running a creativity workshop or getting my book proposal ready to mail off (or actually mailing it IN)....SOMETHING each day that helps me move forward with the marketing aspects of my passions, even if it's as simple as buying some stamps. 37 days. Five minutes, or 10 minutes or one action, it matters not. Just that I DO something each and every day.

Lives can change in the daily actions.
~*“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.”~

I have a book titled "The Power of 5" that outlines the importance of repeated actions. It's so easy to put things off because they seem large and intimidating.
Starting a business.
Taking a big trip.
Building a house.
Getting organized.
Losing weight.
Being healthier.

In reality, we just need to DO it.
It's not the grand, sweeping actions that define the pattern of our lives. It's the daily things and in just minutes per day we can create habits and begin entire journeys.

I believe in the power of daily actions. I believe in myself. I believe the next 37 days will open doors for me. And so I begin (or really continue, in a more focused manner).........

*Both quotes are from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.