“GEORGIA O’KEEFFE: I have been very fortunate, much more fortunate than most people. I don’t–for instance, I can imagine myself being a much better painter and nobody paying attention to me at all, but it happens that the things that I’ve been doing have been in touch with my time so that people have liked it.” From a PBS interview with Georgia O’keefe in August, 31 1997. (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/july-dec97/okeeffe.html)
“Most writers MUST have a day job. Before King hit it big he lived in a trailer, wrote in the water heater closet, and taught school. He was not a successful writer and he was ready to give it all up when lightning struck.
I’m still waiting for that to happen to me. We all are.” –anonymous.
I’ve been swinging a dream like a hammer for years. I create. That’s what I do. I write. I photograph. I paint. I’m trained to do so. I hope one day my creations will go into the world and bring back a better job, one with tenure, more laptop time in a mountain cabin, a book tour. I crave freedom, expansion, abundance, and more life in my living, and of course, more time to write. I want all of this, plus I want my creations, especially my writing, to be of twin service: entertainment and transformation. I want my audience to enjoy what they’re reading, and be challenged within their own awareness.
Who has time to digest words anymore?
To build an audience is nearly impossible in this day of closing bookstores and #hashtag blogs. For struggling artists like me, this karma of being the best-kept secret may never change no matter how gifted, how many years devoted to training, or how close I am to grasping the brass ring of the BIG TIME. Not being seen is a painful experience—not just for an artist—but also for all living things. In part, art relies on the energetic reciprocity of the other–the viewer, the listener, and the sensor. Only through this relationship is the life force breathed into the creative process and inspiration’s divine spark communicated into the world. Without an audience, creations die on the vine in the form of yellowed manuscripts, warehoused paintings, corrupted floppy disks, and if one is almost famous, museum basement archives.
With each rejection, the motivation to continue to work becomes more challenging. Rejection isn’t even rejection anymore—it’s a type of ghost-like invisibility. There was a time when the solicited would respond with a letter, hand written if they were very sorry for not accepting. Nowadays, there’s often no letter, rather, a cyber-space purgatory, the pit of nothingness where ones work goes but never returns. I’ve witnessed the fallout of talented comrades along the way who were unable to endure this virtual Bermuda’s Triangle. This slow death of the artist is often not due to a lack of effort or talent. It’s lack of reciprocity. Without an audience, art holds little meaning, and without art culture lacks an alchemical change agent. Yes, we can get full on fast food and pop music, but we all know that this lack of substance makes us sick over time. For the artist, without reciprocity, one’s rice bowl is empty and such soul starvation is not worth the effort to create. As a culture, it’s easy to become numb, and passive. There’s no time to slow down and digest meaning that would demand too much attention–bring on the Happy Meal and the non-news, bring on the sound byte. The world speeds forward, and we are powerless to slow down to reflect on who we really are. How does the artist stay motivated against such obstacles?
I believe that as an artist, I’ve had to learn to dissolve identity into the process of creation itself, which includes metaphorically dying. Not because there are any rewards to this process, but because the world needs people to remember how this is done. All of us, whether an artist or not, must let go of the passions we once held. Sometimes, this means letting go of the Artist’s identity. Done well, a person goes on to become something else, and create in a different way. Done poorly, the unused gift becomes a poison. For me, transmutation lies within these questions: How does one transform pain into creativity? How does one let go of the dream without letting go of the creative fire? How does one stay motivated when there’re very few tangible, external rewards?
I believe pain can be alchemically transformed. To do this, one must choose a path(s)—any path and practice. The more one can let go of who they think they are the more one accepts transcendent and transitory nature of being. Thus, if an artist is to continue working without rice in their bowl, they must discover a way to become the bowl itself. Like the Buddhist and Navajo priests who construct the most exquisite sand mandalas only to be released as a prayer to the water and wind. Like the songbird that bursts into song because it is the song. There can be no separation from Creative Mind, and no attachment to outcome. Doing so, the desolate mile is filled with joy. There’s no holding, only letting go. That alone must be enough. This is by no means easy—it’s called ‘practice’ for a reason, and for most of my life I’ve resisted such wisdom teachings because of my dogged attachment to progress and outcome, which has created more psychological distress. Through my practice of radical self-acceptance, I’m learning rejection’s transformational nature—the courage to let go and begin again. If I am unable to let go, or change the nature of my suffering, then any possibility of new creativity, new growth, is blocked.
The following anecdote in Lesson of the Swan is an example of I how I used my spirituality in this ‘alchemical’ transformational process. I’ve sought mystical experiences, and one path that lends itself to such exploration is Shamanic Dream Journeys. In a Shamanic Dream Journey, the intensive drumbeat drives the conscious mind into an altered state. It’s very much learning the art of lucid dreaming, and tapping into the archetypal language of the natural world. I’ve often brought a question, or intention, to the ceremony and allowed the dream to inform meaning. On this night, I brought forth my question: How do I transform rejection? A black swan emerged from the dream journey, angry at first, but quickly morphed into a ballerina. She danced. Theater seats were empty. She danced anyway. Little by little, attracted to her dance, the dark theatre filled. I was reminded to dance my dance, and make it not my business who watches.
In the following days, several more artistic expressions emerged; including another poem in a series about Georgia O’Keeffe called the Feast For the Dead. Once again, I experienced the joy of reconnecting to my deeper, authentic self. My pain became the raw material for new creativity, something extraordinary. By learning to accept life for what it is, and practicing radical self-acceptance, the distortions in my heart and mind dissolved—at least for that moment. Once again my bowl filled with spiritual food and my spirit was satisfied.
The Lesson of The Swan.
Jim held the Abalone shell, and fanned the sage with an adorned Eagle feather, a gift from pueblo elders. No Anglo person I’d known had ever been invited into the ancient Kiva ceremonies—Jim was the exception and it was a great honor. This Midwesterner had become a Shaman over the years, and one of the truest healers I’ve ever encountered over the two decades I’ve been a seeker. Tonight, he had an assortment of offerings for the spirits: corn meal, tobacco leaves, Palo Santo (a sacred, aromatic wood), sweet grass, and sage.
Smoke billowed, draped the windows and doors, dissipated, and cleansed the room as Jim systematically smudged the entry points. His silent prayers prepared the way for spirit by creating intention and welcoming. He’d traveled across the San Luis Valley to hold a Shamanic Drum ceremony at our home in Alamosa, a Wild West outpost, where a few friends and co-workers sat on floor pillows. He was on his way to Boulder where another group waited to be led in ceremony.
Many of the participants had never done a Shamanic Journey. “Creative visualization—like dreaming. A mediation of sorts,” I’d said.
“Are there going to be drugs?”
“No,” I sighed, as this is usually the first question asked in regards to indigenous ceremonies. It’s not that many people don’t find higher consciousness through plant medicines, and receive a great healing benefit, but I’ve always felt that mind-altering substances promote a spiritual by-pass. Personally, I want to be able to ingrate phenomenon and in order to do that, I need a clear mind.
No one spoke as Jim continued to prepare the room, but I could feel the curiosity and anticipation as he moved about with ease and purpose. He looked like a Shaman with his life-map lines on his weathered face, hair pulled back, and piercing eyes accustomed to peering into the veil; once a civilized man on gravy-train road like most of us who dissolve into numbness between the hours of 8 and 6. He’d opened his heart despite untold pain and found a return to his indigenous nature through the process of initiations and dying to the self. The room smelled like healing, and my body calmed. My spirit jumped, happy, ready. Working in the mental health industry, there’s not a lot of time to practice what I coach—make time for self-care, make time for my spirit. I needed to clear the suffering that I’d witnessed over the past several months; some of that suffering was my own.
While on a trip to Ghost Ranch, I’d written a divinely inspired poem. I’d felt Georgia O’Keeffe’s energy move through me and craft a poem beyond my ordinary ability. I seldom enter writing contests because I’ve experienced failure too many times. But I’d recognized the judge’s name, a person, who– like me–had an affinity for the Southwest desert, an understanding for mysticism, and an appreciation for Georgia O’Keeffe. This time, my work had a chance. Out of 300 hundred anonymous entries, there was one winner, and six runners-up. I discovered this on the official website long after a rejection letter should have arrived. That’d been my best shot in a long time to have such a gift received by a larger audience. Success was beyond my effort, and I was hurt. The bitter fruit of anger hurt even worse, and I had to release the internal tantrum, or be consumed.
So I sat on the floor with my little girl feelings, and challenged spirit to show me the way to transform this rebellion. Meanwhile, Jim blessed the drum, and lovinglyrubbed it alive with his palm. He then instructed us to stand, and gather in a circle. He smudged each of us, and used the feather to slice open the veil. He then tipped wing-point to each of our hearts. “Welcome.”
I was the last to receive the feather blessing and so had the honor of blessing and welcoming Jim. I accepted the shell and the eagle feather, and with some awkwardness, fanned the sage from his feet to his head. I used the feather to slice through the air, imitating his sweeping motion. “Welcome, Jim,” I smiled as I gently touched the feather to his heart. He thanked me, and we then returned to our places on the floor, while he sat on our blood-red chair, ceremonial drum between his feet, and instructed us on shamanic journeys.
“It’s good to set an intention,” he deliberately spoke. His voice was soft and clear, which I’ve always found reassuring. “Sometimes, you can simply ask to meet your power animal. That animal spirit serves as your guide—like a guardian angel. Visualize a place in nature that feels safe, comfortable–woods, river, or an ocean. Take time to explore. A place may appear–an opening under a rock, under the water, a knot in a tree. Investigate, get curious. More often than not this will be your way into the underworld, the spirit world. There, you might be greeted by your power animal. Don’t be startled. Sometimes they rush up to you because they’re excited that you’re paying attention. You may only see an eye, or part of a feather. Don’t be startled. Interact. You can ask, are you my power animal? They will tell you. And if you don’t see anything, that’s all right too. The drum is a healing. Trust, you will receive what you need.”
We took one more moment to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, before settling onto our blankets we’d stretched across the floor. Jim struck the first steady beat. The beat became the voice. The voice sang me into a trance. At first my mind resisted. I was aware I was lying on the floor. I was aware my chest vibrated. I was aware I was breathing. I was aware of my mind. I became aware of shadows–the animals had arrived, and I drifted into a lucid dream.
First to emerge from the darkness was my power animal, rabbit. In my first journey, rabbit appeared to me as a giant Hare, ears stretched into the star-lit cosmos like antennae. Rabbit: the mystical, sensitive being that appears and disappears into the legends of Celtic fog. Rabbit: affirmation that I’m on my path, and my teacher of how to be sensitive and survive this planet. Rabbit morphed into a raven and the raven flew with me only to become a wolf that ate me. I became the wolf and knew the power of intense focus. Each animal morphed into another, each carrying a symbolic message. I can’t tell you how long I traveled between space and time. I was transported through the dark into the light and back to the dark. From the shadow emerged sparkles on a lake. They twinkled like stars, and from the stars emerged a black swan, blood-red beak, feathers like obsidian–a beautiful blue-blackness–a terrible and awe-inspiring creature as dark as the deepest night. The Swan was angry, and with a mighty beat of its wings, rose up and confronted me with a forceful honking like a scream. At first I didn’t understand, but as Jim instructed, I asked although I wasn’t aware of the question. Fluid knowing returned to me. This was my creative nature. It was angry. I was angry. Nature was angry. How often has the animal world been discarded? I thought about the black swan shot on my parents’ lake. The elderly man with the gun said he was trying to shoot squirrels. Nothing is sacred, not even the sacred.
How to continue to create when no one cares about the creation? How do I transform this pain?
The angry swan stopped honking and changed into a ballerina. The lake dissolved into a darkened stage with this solitary dancer elegantly balanced and spinning on pointed toe. Dressed in black tulle, I recognized her to be the swan. She was breathtaking as she spun and leapt with sheer joy. I was in the shadows, the invisible observer, a shade, and saw row upon row of empty theater seats. She danced for no one, and as I watched, I knew she was too absorbed in her dance to care. I became aware of other ghostly shades as they drifted into the room. Quickly, the seats began to fill with the presence of ghosts. Suddenly, an audience filled the room, responding to the recognition of themselves twirling on stage. The ballerina single-mindedly became one with the divine. She was life itself. The ghosts had lost their ability to commune with God but had not lost their desire or need. Being free of identity, the ballerina and the ghosts could became ONE in the dance. They were both in the nature of God. This is the Lesson of the Swan.
Jack Rabbit Hollow Production.
“The most enduring has been the gift of compassion and a deep understanding that all suffering is illusion of separation, including death itself. ” From Noah: a supernatural eco-thriller by Patricia L. Meek
The Story Behind “The Crucified Bird.”
1986 was the last of an agriculture golden age for California as many small farms there and around the nation were in decline. The medfly was on the attack and there was increased spraying, the kind of chemical warfare that would one day trigger my grandmother’s Parkinson’s. Los Angeles wanted the water. Farmers were bitter with this battle. My grandfather, disgusted by the fled urbanites, complained they should all go back to the city if plow dust disturbed them. It was a changing eco-system, and my father recognized that.
My father, who built the Louisiana State University photo department, was on sabbatical. San Joaquin Valley in central California was his proposal, and we set off to capture a moment of time about to change forever. I was there to carry equipment and to gopher. No slight task as Dad worked with a large format camera, an 8 x 20 banquet camera, film holders as large as TV trays. Digital was in its infancy, and I was writing college papers on one of the first Macs as boxy as a microwave. My father had no idea that twentieth century photography was a dying craft shrouded in silver-gelatin. Great photographs were pure know-how and darkroom magic, but they were in decline as was the changing landscape we were documenting. My job was also to drive, pay attention, pour water, hand over driving snacks, and provide moral support. Trapped in a car with my Dad, I became a listener—a skill I still use in my current life as a therapist.
Our base camp was Lindsay, California, were we stayed with my grandparents on their small “retirement” grove they’d named Last Chance Ranch. It was an abundant life, filled with the literal fruits of ones’ labor. The kitchen table was laden with sun-ripened grapes and the bloodiest tomatoes I’d ever seen. The electric juicer was a whir every morning. Grandma picked low hanging fruit from the nearest tree. Almonds and chocolates stashed in every candy jar. My grandparents, who had grown through the depression, had the mentality: I’ll never go hungry again, and thought no one else visiting their home should either.
By eight o’clock, the car was packed, the breakfast dishes were rinsed, and we were on our adventure, headed up to Camp Nelson where the Sequoias trees grew to the size of Redwoods, and locals still found pleasure in jumping off rock cliffs into deep pools of mountain water. A lot of work went into my father’s craft, and he carried with him a many concerns. What he looked for was in the language of light, but light was always fickle and to set up a photograph took time. There were other worries as well: heat, snakes, the sudden farm truck barreling past on the narrow road with no shoulder. The psychological concerns, however, were even heavier to bear. He carried the stigma that the art world did not care about any “back woods southern professor,” and felt the pain of that obscurity. At that time, he was fond of the saying, no honor for a prophet in his own country. In my own lifetime, I’ve only seen this disparity become more divided as coveted New York shows are held for the children of wealthy patrons. Art programs have been cut from secondary education, not to mention anything labeled “liberal” arts is non-meritorious in the activity of making money. The academic jobs that supported my father have disappeared. Ask any adjunct professor (I myself was one for many years), who are the white-collar migrant workers? Professionals of all ilks have been marginalized. Human resources, natural resources—all gobbled up to feed the American way—manifest destiny to the brink of destruction. In 1986, we knew things were changing, we just didn’t know how soon nor how dramatic.
I first saw the bird left to rot on the barbed wire. It was carrion, a death eater. Still, no way to leave one of God’s creatures. I was disgusted, but that bird became a symbol, perhaps a portent of these things to come. The Crucified Bird was a way to describe the sacrifice of the natural world, the end of a way of life. We are all dying. All moving towards God. My grandparents are dead. The family farm is long gone, acres of olive tress plowed up. The water is going to Los Angeles. Parkinson’s is showing up in younger people, thirties and forties. My father is retired, taking naps in his chair. He’s dealing with the battle of a lifetime, a deteriorating body that will one day lead to his death. I work with the disfranchised, the desperate, and the broken. I hear the stories of lives sacrificed. All the while more mental health programs have been dismantled, and the cries of the people lift their voices. Why?
We learn to live—like all life—on the edge. To find our way to forgiveness for what is. The Crucified Bird has long been buried under the drought-dried grasses of California’s richest agricultural valley. In one-way or another, we are all crucified birds.
© Patricia L. Meek
Author of Noah: a supernatural eco-thriller.
“The Crucified Bird” will be reprinted in an upcoming issue of Redux: A Lliterary Journal.
“The Crucified Bird,” Puerto del Sol, Volume 29, Number 2, New Mexico State University, Summer 1994.
AWP Intro 1993 for Fiction. National Competition for the Introduction of Emerging Writers in Fiction and Poetry. Ivan Gold, Judge
In sacred art, which is not limited to iconology, there is an invitation into a deeper healing by entering light, space, and form. Finding the sacred is collaborative process between imagery and viewer. By allowing art to open the psyche, there is a transcendent meeting point between creativity and universal oneness. Offered as a meditation, sacred images are a transmission of divine love. By incorporating these visual meditations into a daily practice, the viewer is better able to settle the mind to begin an inner journey into self-awareness. It’s only in the contemplative practice that one is able to find a means to transmute suffering into joy, and thus scared art has the capacity for profound healing.
Art is powerful because the imagery carries with it a higher frequency, not only in the colors, light, and form (form bound by sacred geometry, which mirrors the architectural universal principles), but also in the creative process itself. If open, the viewer is able receive the intended benefits of the creative process. It is the intention(s) of the artist that can transmit the seeds of transformation.
For hundreds of years, cloud imagery has been a powerful captivation for writers, painters, and more relatively recent, photographers. There is a rich photographic tradition from Edward Weston who photographed clouds in Mexico in the 1920’s, to Alfred Stieglitz in his 1930’s series called, “Equivalents”, and to Ansel Adams in the great western landscape of the 1950’s. These masterworks captured a single glorious moment of time. Contemporary photographers all across the world continue to work as subject the sublime nature of clouds
Clouds provide a transcendent purity because they are both secular and sacred, not bound by human constructs. They are timeless, beyond mind, beyond religion. Clouds are the reminder that change is constant. When one takes the time to be in relationship with clouds, they teach us how to flow by not being attached to form. All shapes have a possible meaning and the possible meanings are infinite. By allowing ourselves to let go and relax, we return to our true nature, a state of bliss being. This is our Christ nature, our Bodhisattva, our Sat Nam. It is our immutable, timeless selves, our universal nature. Ironically, it is the immutable part of self that is able to transcend circumstance. When we get out of our cognitive constructs, losing ourselves so-to-speak, it makes room for the divine instant to rush in and fill our deeper psyche. It is in that moment that we are filled, able to receive unlimited joy. It is in that divine instant that we too become as timeless and as vast as the sky and as varied moment to moment as the clouds. We are whole.
Clouds help us return to that joy of knowing our inner self, and it is that joy that has the power to heal. Who of us does not recall the instant pleasure of being in one of nature’s vast and varied rooms, starring out into the infinite sky, thankfully losing ourselves into mindlessness. Some of us may have been told to stop daydreaming, to “get your head out of the clouds.” For a while, we learn to believe that we are better off to be outside of our illumined daydream. We essentially become separated into the struggles of productivity. Then some of us forget how assessable is our healing. We forget who we really are. Who we really are is met time and time again in the sacredness of the divine instant, in that space of timelessness. For the love of clouds, it is the cloud that knows that best.