Posts Tagged With: devotion

Indigenous to the Journey

Imagine a people whose origins were once lost to time but who are now thought to have come from northwest India…who—in their own region—endured plunder, massacre and enslavement over 500 years and beyond at the hands of foreign rulers. The result finally creating a diaspora, spread over the world, in search of home…over 1500 years to present day.

When doors were shut to them, the road and their culture endured. It was a way of life. They were so close knit—for mere survival—that, for many of their present-day groups, it’s still a taboo to associate with outsiders except for livelihood…when they themselves are considered so. They’re communal, strict about their traditions and syncretic religion. They’re known for passionate song, music and dance, having influenced jazz, flamenco, and even classical music. They are mostly entertainers, artisans, laborers and trades people. Along with the Jewish people, they were the first target for annihilation by the Nazis, and their women underwent forced sterilization. Despite this, their culture maintains the heady expression of freedom, along with protection of their own.

For the rest of the world, they largely retain an air of mystique and are reviled or barely tolerated. Objects of fear. After all, they live outside the mainstream. They’re different. How can “other” be good?

Their names for themselves vary depending on country—Romanichal (England), Romansæl (Norway and Denmark), Sinti (Germanic countries), Manush (France), Kalo (Spain, Wales and Finland)—or clans—the Kalderash, Machvaya, Boyash, Lovari and others.

The Romani or Roma people are known to non-Roma by a number of names depending where they are: gitans, ciganos, zingari, gíftoi and others, along with the derogatory term gypsy.

Dispersed as the Roma are, in late May, from great distances, they stream into a diminutive French town in the Camargue on the Mediterranean Sea. In a massive gathering, they come to venerate, celebrate and reunite through the passions of devotion, music and processional.

For it is here the three Marys, Sarah—and some say—Lazarus and Maximin landed safely on the shores of Gaul in their tiny boat, site of the present-day Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. To the Roma she is known as Sara-la-Kali, Sara the Black, their patron saint, an adolescent Egyptian maid who accompanied the Marys. To others, Saint Sarah is the daughter of The Magdalene and Jesus.

And we will be there…women on pilgrimage of spiritual travel…sourcing the ways of love and light. We will be there for the music, dance, making our own prayers as we witness Sara-la-Kali…Saint Sarah in her glorious vestments carried from the church on the shoulders of the Roma, accompanied by the famous Camargue white horses, into the sea.

In Latcho Drom—meaning Safe Journey—you can catch a glimpse of this passion toward the end. Latcho Drom is a 1993 documentary about the Roma by filmmaker Tony Gatlif, himself Roma. This film is a cinematographic masterpiece telling the story of a people through song, dance, music and community. It subliminally tracks their geographic diaspora until you finally realize the whole by the end of the film.

This version of the documentary includes sporadic English subtitles of lyrics, just enough to emphasize the beauty and—later—the poignancy of the scenes.

In one with exuberant music and celebration that continues late into the night until the fire has burned out, a man sings and gestures first to a woman in their circle and then to the moon…

…I have placed my bed in a delicious spot. How can I sleep without you?

 Later…

…In the grounds of my coffee cup, I see your image…It drives me mad…

 And much later in scenes toward the end…

…We are cursed to wander all our lives…Deliver us from our trials…We fled from hate…No one will ever change our way of life…Me? I am a black bird who has taken flight…

 Latcho Drom may be viewed in its entirety streaming online for free. This is a haunting, inspirational depiction of a beleaguered people with a rich heritage not widely known. Highly recommend. 1 hour, 38 minutes.

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The May 20-29, 2020 women’s pilgrimage, Spiritual Travel to Southern France: Sourcing the Ways of Love and Light, takes place in the Languedoc and Provence focusing on Mary Magdalene, the Cathars, art and bounty of the land. There are currently 2 spaces open with group size very limited to maintain depth of process and outcome for participants.

Categories: cultural interests, Film Review, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Film: Sacred Trances of Java and Bali

I want to say upfront this is the most remarkable film of its type I’ve seen. Just in the first seconds of the documentary, before an actual image came, the hair rose on the back of my neck. My skin tightened into goosebumps. The staccato chant I heard was well familiar to me.

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Bali Temple, 2007. Photo: Carla Woody

The film is specifically focused on the phases of ritual trance dancing of Java and Bali, particularly the horse dance where the dancer becomes the ‘horse’ he is ‘riding.’ It features elements to induce a trance: dance, drum, chant, whip, hyperventilation, meditation and acting ‘as if.’ Once entering trance, there’s no question the dancers are in another dimension altogether. To the point, after the ritual is complete, their fingers will not loosen from their stead or their body is completely rigid. These are no actors. You will see the dancers guided into and out of trance by the village shaman.

I appreciated the film underscored that these were ordinary people transformed into extraordinary personage through spiritual intent…and so affected return to their everyday lives. The shaman in one part was also shown in his work-a-day world as a government official in his village. One trance dancer was normally a farmer.

I know these things to be true through examples. Long ago, I remember participating in a Sufi retreat with a particularly adept Sufi teacher. At home he was a barista. I work with Maya religious leader-healer Xun Calixto who lives in a hamlet above San Juan Chamula in Chiapas. When not attending to his sacred duties, he works as a gardener.

Another interesting aspect highlighted is the syncretic nature of the religions in Bali and Java. Before other influences moved in and overtook them, Indonesia practiced pure animism. In Java, Hinduism arrived first, which the people incorporated for 800 years until Islam made inroads and prevailed. At that point, Hinduism moved on to Bali and remained. But in each instance elements of their original animism were maintained and expressed in isolated villages or special holidays, depicted well in the film.

To diverge a bit more, it made me think of the Maya people of Mexico and Guatemala, especially in San Juan Chamula. The church there was taken back from the Catholics in no uncertain terms. Yet, they have Catholic processionals on a saint’s day and allow the token priest to take part. The saints in glass boxes still line the walls. But the pews are gone and Maya forms of healing and prayer occur instead. It was a curiosity to me until I learned that the saints may be there, but the Maya people have their own stories about them, resoundingly connecting them to their land. The place is imbued with a sense of the sacred felt viscerally every bit as much as what’s shown in the film I’m reviewing.

You may be wondering how it is I immediately recognized the staccato chant that recurs throughout the documentary. In 2007 I was in Ubud, Bali presenting at a conference and elected to stay on afterward to experience more of its beautiful traditions. One night I attended a dance performance. I had no idea what it was but came highly recommended to me. I was myself entranced the entire time, not moving a muscle even for a while after it was over. It had a number of the same components I’ve discussed here—the ongoing staccato chant rising and falling—but also fire dancing and throwing with no one harmed. It was done at night. Mesmerizing. It’s stayed with me over the years. Whenever I thought of Bali, what I witnessed that night automatically emerged. Yet I had no reference for it until I watched this film. After I viewed it for the third time, I did some research and found the traditional Kecak ritual dance as a type of exorcism. The version I saw was created in the 1930s for Westerners by German artist Walter Spies and Indonesian dancer Wayan Limbak. Not exactly what was in the film. But still… Below you’ll see a good example of the Kecak dance I saw back in 2007.

It’s incredible the filmmakers—Elda Voelkel Hartley and Irving Hartley—were able to document these rituals, obviously done with great respect, which is why they gained permission. This 29-minute documentary is a true tribute to such sacred traditions. It doesn’t matter that if was produced in 1976. These things are timeless.

Watch the Hartley Productions full documentary Sacred Trances of Java and Bali for free streaming here.

 

 

Categories: Film, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

One By One

There are aspects of life I largely keep to myself. Not because I’m withholding—but because they’re too sacred to put into words. I’m quite sure that’s true for a number of readers here. When such depth exists, wrapping finite terms around it creates the risk of trivializing.  The vision or process leaks energy. The experience deflates to something more mundane.  That when the culmination—tangible or intangible—is meant to take its rightful place…as a part of who you are. Not what you do.

Good poetry or prose are exceptions. Now, there is specialized language, the kind that uses metaphor and symbol to transport. Stating it directly short-circuits the journey, cutting out the opportunity for readers or listeners to hitch a ride but find their own way.

I notice as I’ve been writing, I’m struggling with how to move into the territory I want to share here. I am a visual artist and rarely talk about my work. Although, I do regularly show my art online and in exhibitions. That’s different. The viewer can experience whatever they will. I don’t typically provide much input, maybe a simple narrative. At shows, I am sometimes asked to demo my work and am quite aware of my internal response.

How can I demo a process…that has turned into a prayer of sorts? A communion built over time? From the first vague spark of inspiration to that liminal point when something else takes over and I’m merely guided? That can be a long process because the spirit of a piece has lived with me for some time before it ever begins to take form? And I don’t create artwork…or write for that matter… just to do it? That’s the sacred part.

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The Ancestors Speak to Me  Oil and cold wax medium. ©2019 Carla Woody

There are the mechanics, of course. The how-to skill I can easily describe and sometimes show, taking the mystique out of the mechanics of artistry. I know someone is looking for something else when the conversation moves beyond the first question, how long did that take? To which I answer, depending on the piece, anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year or more. Then the next comment, you must have a lot of patience. To which I say, it’s a meditation to me.

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Hand of the Healer 3D mixed media. ©2019 Carla Woody.

If they move beyond that in the conversation, and it takes a deeper turn, I recognize someone who is on their own spiritual journey. We have more to delve into even if only for those few moments, and artwork has been the channel.

My friend Jacob Devaney, founder of Culture Collective and co-founder of Living Folklore, posted on social media about beadwork, his regalia and what it really means. I’m sharing it with permission here.

Beadwork is part of Creole Culture. It isn’t something for just women or grandmas. Not too different than Mala Beads for someone while meditating, or Rosary Beads for a Catholic. They are a prayer, each bead is the memory of an ancestor, it is presence, and it is an offering of beauty to the world when it is finished.

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Beadwork by Jacob Devaney.

 Life’s experiences are strung together like beads to make an expression of who we are, where we come from, and what we aspire towards. I don’t see beadwork as art, I see it as an expression of life itself, it is culture for me. In some circles, if I were to show up during carnival season with the same bead patches as last year, people would ask, “What did you do with your life since last year? We already saw these beads!” I know it sounds extreme and it is a form of teasing, but bead patches exemplify the time you spend reflecting, remembering your ancestors, being at home and giving to your community.

There are any number of devotional forms that express similar outcome. Several years ago, my friend Hilary Bee, a spiritual teacher in the UK, described to me how she was taught to make singing bowls, in the old way, by fire. That with each tapping of the small hammer shaping the bowl, a prayer was whispered simultaneously—and became integral to its structure. When I received the bowl she gifted me to carry, it was an incredible honor. I could feel the energy put into it, making its connection to me…and also release to wherever else it needed to go.

That is the intangible intent.

 

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, Creativity Strategies, Sacred Reciprocity, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Internal Constant in an External World

A couple of months ago I had two curious dreams in quick succession. First, meaning it was curious for me to even remember a dream. Second, that they came within a few nights of each other. My remembrance of any dream is a significant outcome in itself. Rarely literal, they present as a metaphor—realized after the fact—alerting me to shifting sands. A signal to pay attention, but its explication not quite straightforward.

I faced myself in a mirror and didn’t know who she was.

This one was quick, maybe a fragment of a longer dream. Quite disorienting.

I was in a celibate marriage of sorts but couldn’t see my partner.

This one was so real that, when I awoke, I continued lying in bed for some time searching to see where in my material reality it was true, and came up with nothing.

The last eighteen months for me have been quite intense. Never mind I had become more and more susceptible to the chaotic, tragic happenings in the world—especially in my home country—increasingly dealing with a sense of helplessness, anger and sadness…consistent perforations to my soul. Additionally, the nature of my work and family health was calling for ongoing attentiveness, sometimes venturing into places I hadn’t psychically visited, in the process generating much more than normal (for me) travel.

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Monsoon dawn. Photo: Carla Woody.

Now that I’ve been home for a few weeks, I’ve come to realize I was exhausted, close to burnout. Not an unusual state for people in the encouraged busyness, demands and fragmentation of this Western culture. I had experienced near burnout years ago and successfully backed out of it. I knew the territory.

A significant factor: I’d had little time for myself. I’ve been a daily meditator for more than thirty years. Yet, I found I was unable to do so. It felt shallow if I could even bring myself to sit as normal. There were a few cases where I behaved in ways uncharacteristic to me, felt badly afterward…and decided I was unfit for public consumption. Even remarking so to a few close friends. Clear signals something was off.

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Monsoon dusk. Photo: Carla Woody.

Then came two gifts in quick succession, not unlike the dreams.

Last week I flipped the calendar page and discovered I had an entire ten days with absolutely nothing scheduled with the exception of a massage a few days away. I blinked my eyes and thought, Oh no, what have I forgotten to mark down. I wracked my brain. Realizing there was nothing, I exhaled. I decided it was a minor miracle, and the Universe had a hand in it.

Then within a day, I somehow stumbled upon an interview of poet David Whyte, part of Julia Bainbridge’s mini-series on inner lives on her podcast The Lonely Hour. I was listening to it as I worked on one of my mixed media sculptures that had been languishing for months. Listening to David Whyte always puts me into an altered state. When he said this…I backed up the recording to hear it a few times more then wrote it down…

One of the nourishing things of being alone again is who this stranger is inside you. I feel you always meet a new you in the form of a stranger, and to meet that stranger you have to spend time alone.

 It stopped me short. I remembered the first dream from a couple of months ago.

And he mentioned inviting in invisible help.

 I remembered the second dream…and what I call my council that has been with me for as long as I can remember.

I’ve sensed for a time that some kind of personal evolution is on the horizon—potentially a revolution. I can’t tell you what exactly. This I do know. When any of us are at a threshold of spiritual passage, our internal and external worlds collude and collide somehow in an attempt to maintain the status quo or even regress us. It’s that biological response of the amygdala mistakenly recognizing opportunity for threat.

The times that I’ve experienced major spiritual breakthroughs are rarely when I’m with others, although the circumstances and interactions certainly may orchestrate the launch pad. It’s only when I retreat into my inner world that I’m ushered through another threshold by whatever means arrive. Silence, the abject beauty of the night sky, the words of a poem, the stroke of my paintbrush, and the quiet feeling comes that something is now different or renewed.

I’m a confirmed introvert, almost off the scale. I must have those empty spaces of remembering, engaging the Internal Constant always there with me…or I suffer. I’ve always wondered how extroverts do it in the ongoing involvement with people they thrive on. How does the break appear proactively, not being forced into it by circumstance?

In mainstream Western society, the need for retreat and being alone—even if only a few hours or days—is often misunderstood. It can be thought of as an act of withholding or selfishness. In reality, for a major portion of this society, it’s the gift they need to give themselves in order to be whole in the world. Also the allowance for easing back into the places and spaces usually frequented so as not to be shocked and overwhelmed by the contrast. It’s not a luxury. It’s necessary…and often the ground of change.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Healthy Living, Solitude, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Caring for Precious Lands

I’ve been listening to the audio version of Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors. It’s been a good companion over these last couple of days’ flights home. Particularly in long delays or crammed up against fellow passengers, it serves as a reminder that I’d rather be anywhere than where I am at the moment. And it takes me there.

I’m envious. Notified by a friend of an opening for fire lookout, he quit his job in Manhattan where he was a journalist and during the fire season lives in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico in a small box held up by stilts. He watches for fires and calls them in.

In some directions, the gaze settles on nothing but vast wilderness. It must have the same effect as gazing into a night sky unobstructed by human-made light. The more you gaze, the more the night sky invites, catapulting you into never-ending depth. There’s the sense of our small place in the universe and ancient knowledge we’ll never know. I imagine it could be a lonely job if you’re not cut out for this kind of solitude and little outside human contact. But for those who instead make friends with nature, find solace in silence and discover meaning in the wind, it must be pure heaven.

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Monsoon season. Photo: Carla Woody

Connors focuses on the 2009 fire season and walks us through his daily life, controversies through the years about the service natural fires perform, the cycle of nature, prescribed burns, what happens in drought years, and philosophical thought. I particularly found interesting his detailed description of sighting tendrils of smoke when he was out on the trail, knowing he was the first to see it, how he sent the alert and the actions taken from that point by wildfire fighters. Considerations if the fire got too close or overwhelming, what options he had to save himself.

I’d never heard of fire lookouts until I moved to the Southwest. Now the possibility of fire hovers in the back of my mind during the season. It’s come quite close to me a few times and otherwise engulfed local areas, leaving devastation and lost lives. And I always think of the animals.

One year — I think it was 2002 — I had a chance for a small taste of what it was like to be a lookout. An acquaintance had been one for years on Mount Union, the highest point at 8,000 feet in the Bradshaw Mountains of the Prescott National Forest.  He’d been inviting me out for some time. One weekend I decided to drive up there, quite the feat for the car I had at the time, especially as it had started to rain and fog was rolling in. Unbeknownst to me, it happened to be the weekend he was going down to Phoenix. I arrived just as he was leaving. He encouraged me to stay anyway.

The clouds had by now enfolded all. I could see only several feet beyond where I was standing in any direction. I was completely alone.

I went inside the cabin, having thoughts toward dinner. Choosing one from the many books Jon had, I carried my plate to the small table in front of the west window, which normally held a view level with, or above, far mountaintops. At the moment, I saw nothing but a solid white wall. And by now, the gentle rain had turned into a storm.

I glanced out the window and couldn’t believe what I saw. An immense fiery ball seemed to be hovering just beyond, in the ravine. I went out onto the porch to investigate. There it was—huge and blazing. How could the sun be coming to me in this way through the now torrential rains and impenetrable shrouding of clouds? I stood watching, awestruck, until the last remnants of this light finally disappeared.

Even though the storm was raging, I was compelled to sleep in the tower. I lugged my sleeping bag and a flashlight up the steep metal stairs, along with some water and Saint Thérèse’s book. After arranging my bed for the night, I stilled myself and just watched the scene before me. From an altitude of around 8000 feet and the further height of the fire tower, I had a sense of being on top of the world. The clouds had raised enough that I could see the panorama of lightning dancing across the land. I’d never seen such a demonstration of raw power. Some strikes seemed too close for comfort and the thunderclaps vibrated the tower’s cabin. But I just stood witness and found an uncanny metaphor in the stormy night to some of the inner turmoil that I’d brought with me to that place. Finding myself distracted and unable to read easily by flashlight, I lay listening to the sounds of thunder and raging wind for the longest time, feeling somehow perfectly safe. Peace was penetrating. I finally slept.

I opened my eyes very early the next morning. I heard no sounds of wind or rain. All was silent. I sat up. There were no clouds anywhere. Peace had come to the landscape. I could smell the fresh scent of washed pines coming to me through the small crack I’d left in one of the windows close by. My eyes came to rest on the mountain range toward the east. First light was appearing. I watched as the same fiery ball rose into view, smaller now, but its appearance just as profound to me. The cycle of renewal was complete.

— Excerpt from Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage

 

That night was so precious to me. I’ve never forgotten it. In such environments, things are more real somehow than at any other time.

Connors’ recounting also made me recall the years I lived in Germany. Especially those couple of years in a village where the road by the house ended several feet away in pasture, then shortly in forest. Forests in Germany always seemed manicured to me. Beautiful, but pristine and tamed. Each village has a forstmeister, or forest master. I wonder how their role compares to the fire lookouts and forest rangers here in densely forested lands of the US. I appreciate the wildness.

Fire Season will be of special interest to those in the Southwest and other such forested lands. He wrote of places I know. And for those who live in places like Manhattan, it may ignite something similar like it did in Philip Connors.

Widely available in print, ebook and audio.

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Honoring the Earth, Solitude | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Retrospective, Part II

Several months ago, I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2016 interview of Neil Gaiman on her podcast Magic Lessons discussing the creative process and other people’s expectations. If you’ve done something they like, they want you to repeat it. They don’t want you to surprise them with something else. The gallerist who wants a body of work. The publisher who wants a genre. No matter the author has a history of bestsellers. Write outside the genre they’re known for…and the publisher isn’t interested. What they’re really saying they want is consistency without risk to the bottom line…marketability.

Gaiman told a story. There are two types of writers: dolphins or otters. Dolphins are very good at doing tricks a trainer wants them to do — in exchange for a fish. They’ll do it over and over again. There’s some banter about the dolphin living in captivity and being very good about training the trainer to get what the dolphin wants. It all sounds like manipulation to me.

Then there’s the otter. No one can train an otter. Why would you want to do the things you just did when there’s the next thing to be done? That’s why there aren’t any otter shows…

It’s plain to see Neil Gaiman is an otter, quite the successful one. He’s readily described as a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics and drama.

Consistency — in the terms it’s meant by gallerists, publishing houses and art collectors — bores me to tears. That’s why I took a long break from oil painting. I’d done it off and on across nearly 40 years, with long pauses, until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. But the creative urges kept calling. So, I took up writing. Quite the divergence.

In hindsight, that was the point where I gave myself permission to be as diverse as I liked, and wish I’d done it much sooner. I’ve been so much happier ever since. It matches my nature, and I’ve never done well with attempts to box me in. I refuse to create in a formulaic manner. Fine for others. But for me, it would dull things down and dispel any feelings of awe the process can bring.

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Rolling Clouds. B/W photography, gelatin silver print. ©2004 Carla Woody.

My return to visual arts, finally, was black and white photography. It had always fascinated me. It was emotive. With tips from a photographer friend, I purchased a manual camera and began shooting black and white images. A few years later I discovered mixed media. By virtue of its very name it encourages exploring, combining things in ways to make it more than it would otherwise be using one lonely medium.

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Prophet Series: Warrior of the Spirit. Mixed media on gold leafed canvas. ©2013 Carla Woody.

Here at long last I’ve found a home. What it took was making the decision to create in the way that was most inspirational to me, not by the dictates of the outside world.

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Winter Solstice Mixed media on wood cradled panel. ©2015 Carla Woody.

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The Ancestors Speak to Me Mixed media on wood cradled panel. ©2018 Carla Woody.

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Of the Jungle Mixed media, 3D. ©2018 Carla Woody.

Second, after study about such things, I recognized how my mind works and why I rejected the formulaic method often preached. I accepted my difference instead for the formula my mind came up with that produces efficiently for me more often than not.

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I Hold the Keys Mixed media on canvas. ©2019 Carla Woody.

My personal strategy is in first creating the vision in my mind — the outcome — then gathering up piece parts, considering fit of different media, combining them in such a way most likely to induce the effect I envision. It’s a consistency I can abide by, and it’s rarely the same twice. The strategy isn’t step-by-step and usually not conscious, but a flow when functioning well.

But the most important thing I found? I said it earlier. Giving myself permission to hold the inspiration and strike out beyond any confine. Here is the same thing said in another form of mixed media.

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Read Retrospective, Part I.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Healthy Living, Personal Growth, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Retrospective, Part I

I had an invitation from an art docent group to speak about my work a few weeks ago. Since I’m a narrative artist, the subject was art as a form of storytelling. Their preferred method was a PowerPoint presentation — a format I hadn’t used in decades — with real life examples displayed so they could encounter them up close and personal.

How to best represent my art? Going back 35 years, long before it became a conscious outcome, each of my pieces had a story behind them. They came from my experiences. Initially, they centered on villages I’d wandered through and trails I’d followed through forests, particularly in Europe.

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The Florist. Oil on canvas, 1988. ©Carla Woody.

Later, it was more about what came from sacred sites, ceremonies and people who populated Indigenous lands where I returned over and over, conveying in some way what had touched and changed me, deepened my understanding of what matters in this life.

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Maya Prayers Oil on canvas, 2011. ©Carla Woody.

I’m quite clear about my personal evolution over the years — changes I chose that placed me on another track entirely — but I hadn’t realized how it affected my artwork as well. How could I have missed that? I’m like anyone else. I’d gotten so immersed in the day-to-day I hadn’t realized what was evident. Creating that presentation became a gift. It caused me to stand back and pinpoint how I got from there to here. In that moment, I became the observer, not the artist. Each of those pieces were part of a history that generated a visual story. I used the same strategy on myself — in the context of art — that I facilitate with others who want to consciously create a transition in their life.

In being our own witness, rather than being in it, things become apparent. It helps us make decisions. It serves as momentum to veer off a beaten path, to move through a threshold with intent. It naturally gathers energy that provides courage and reinforcement.

So that was my first decision. If these folks really wanted me to relay how art could tell a story, they were going to get a retrospective peppered liberally with how I’d progressed as an artist, what influenced me, and finally what was behind each image in the PowerPoint.

That decision took me to another level. I became aware that, over the last decade, creating art had become integral to my spiritual practice. For me, that means there’s an excavation of sorts that occurs in the process of creation. My intent is to express something deeper than a surface level image and initiate an evocative response from the viewer. To do so, I require myself to go deeper.

During my talk prep, I came across a quote from the writer James Baldwin.

The purpose of art is to lay bare the question hidden by the answers.

 I’d written and taught of this before, although I hadn’t considered art when I did.

…Like an unconscious mantra held in the mind, we ask a question in any given moment. In asking the question, the answer naturally comes to us. Therefore, in holding the thought, we ask the answer. This is the paradox that guides our lives.

We cannot ask a question for which there is no answer. Our minds can’t conceive of such…Through some fluke of determination when our minds can conceive of a wider reality, or at least have some inkling of acceptance, that conception will generate answers beyond the questions. This opening will then move us into new experiences through the wider framework of the mind—and we wonder how we got there.

—Excerpted fromStanding Stark: The Willingness to Engage

I noticed there was increased depth in my art when I made a simple adjustment about five years ago. I sit in the same place every morning when I do my early morning meditation practice. I learned long ago that energy builds up in a physical space when I return to it over and over with such intent. It becomes a natural segue, an anchor or portal through which I easily enter a meditative state. Energy lingers there—like a booster rocket—the same as when I close my eyes in a certain way, signaling readiness for a shift from ordinary reality, a surrender to non-ordinary reality.

The simple adjustment I made was this. I began to bring whatever piece of art I had in process and placed it within direct viewing distance from my meditation spot. Then when I opened my eyes, still in a deeper state of being, a communication started to occur. A communion of sorts. No, I didn’t experience discourse with my ordinary ears or eyes. But something happened. I formed a much greater connection and knowing. The artwork came to life and had its own expression. The piece itself became my guide in how to express its deeper nature.

Of course, you can do the same for any context you wish to explore…whether you place a physical object as I did…or project some representation—via visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory manner—of what you wish to consider.

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Read Retrospective, Part II.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Meditation, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Terroir: Honoring What Is Precious of the Earth

We were on secondary roads headed down to Nice when I saw the sign…small and low to the ground, easily overlooked, as they sometimes are in France — as if they don’t want to be too open about their treasures. It said Châteauneuf-du-Pape with an arrow indicating left. A little burst of joy, a bubbling of excitement when I saw the name of my favorite wine. Back then I didn’t know much about wine, still not so much. I just knew what I liked, and also had no idea there was a village by the same name. We veered off immediately.

A few kilometers from our destination, we saw another unobtrusive sign. It merely said Vin. We slowed down. Peering down the long dirt driveway, we didn’t see anything that looked like an operation. We did see a house and what looked like a large barn with cultivated fields beyond that. Well, why not?

When we got close, an elderly man, unmistakably French, emerged from the house and walked over to the car. He invited us to the barn, full of his own brand. What I remember most was his offer to taste a 1969 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, what a good year it was. There was no doubt. It was something quite special. We treated ourselves to a couple of bottles of the 1969 and filled the rest of the box with those from 1976. From there, we continued on to the village and had a thoroughly pleasant 3-hour lunch.

Then there was the time driving in circles in the Rheinpfalz of Germany. We had directions written out by a friend that looked more like an indistinct treasure map, siting landmarks but no village or street names. We finally pulled up to a house, in a row with other houses and grape vines growing up the hill. There must have been some distinguishing mark about that one causing us to stop there, but no sign. My memory is foggy now. I just remember our determination to find this place since it was described so effusively by the friend who gave us the map, and our hesitation wondering if we were in the right place. But just as the friend said, a robust German woman opened the front door at our knock and heartily waved us in. She led us down to the basement, a relatively small room with large wine casks stacked two high. Elsewhere was a small table for tasting with chairs, a worktable with a labeling machine and bottles in various stages of readiness for filling and corking.  She explained their process for winemaking and turned on the spigot of those casks whose contents were ready for consuming, and filled our glasses. We spent a lovely hour or so with her. She was quite entertaining…and the wine sublime.

These remembrances are from the 1980s when already these small wineries — vignerons who not only grow their own grapes in the natural way, doing the vigorous work required by hand, with distinct knowledge of their land, and also practicing the alchemy to produce fine wines — were falling by the wayside.  Corporations were taking over, as with everything else, where no one is connected to the process all the way through and may not have such an investment.

There is a French term increasingly used with some food and especially in wine circles: terroir coming from terre, meaning earth or land. Terroir has to do with the microclimate of a specific region — potentially merely a parcel of land — along with the soil type — down to the microorganisms — interacting with the surrounding landscape, farming and processing methods that produce the final result…and character. An individual personality.

Such wineries do still exist, those with vignerons who embrace the philosophy and practices of terroir. But not all can claim to be natural wineries, the grapes grown organically, not even a spritz of pesticide defiling the plants, all done in the old way by hand.

During my 2018 program in Provence we were to experience a marked contrast. We first stopped by one of the large commercial wineries for a tasting. The wine was good, and most of us bought a bottle or so for later. But none of us made a connection to the place or the tasting room host who did little to engage us. The performance was perfunctory. We were in and out. I have little memory of it except what I’ve relayed. Our next visit was another matter.

We followed a road just outside the tiny village of Sannes in the Luberon to find Les Tuiles Bleues. There is quite the romantic story attached to the name, The Blue Tiles, that I promise to tell you a little later. Les Tuiles Bleues is a natural winery sharing the 30 acres with the house, barn, other buildings and large wooded area. There are 6 acres where table grapes are grown and another 6 for the wine grapes. It’s important to note the woods were left as is, not just to look nice, but to provide oxygenation to the area.

Céline Laforest greeted us in a friendly manner and invited us on a tour. This is a family business. But right away there’s a strong sense that it’s always been a labor of love about preserving a way of life. First, we noticed the house, so typically Provençal and the unusual name. And now the story where the romance comes in…

France_TuilesBleuesHouse

Photo: CarlaWoody.

In the 1970s, Raymond Laforest, Céline’s father, decided he’d had it with the corporate life. His dream was to have a place where he could grow grapes organically, make wine and leave a legacy for his offspring.  Raymond  and his wife Chantal made the leap, and Les Tuiles Bleues was founded in 1979. As is often the case, things were tough getting it all off the ground.  It can be hard in those circumstances to keep your spirits up. But when things were the most challenging Raymond would break into an upbeat, happy song, Tu Verras by Claude Nougaro, reassuring Chantal…

Ah, you’ll see, you’ll see,

Everything will start again, you’ll see, you’ll see,

Love, that’s what it’s made for…

You’ll have her, your house with blue tiles…

And I will fall asleep…

The task done, laying against you…

Complete lyrics in English here.

The tricky times didn’t end back then. From year to year, there’s the risk of too much rain, not enough…all the considerations of farming, especially for those who do so naturally. But in very good years all aligns to produce stellar wines. Céline suggested we take a look at the vines. The dogs, Grenache and Lune, led the way. She lamented that they had a bad year for the vines but still managed to produce some good wine.

France-LesTuilesBleuesVines

Photo: Carla Woody.

We continued our tour of the winemaking areas and then on to taste the results from the grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Sauvignon and Ugni Blanc. I loved having the resident cats —Banane, Bambou and Rouflette — adding to the ambience of the rustic tasting room. Of course, Grenache and Lune followed us in as well, everyone harmonious.

Well, the wine! How do I describe it? Delectable. I experienced something quite unusual. At least, I’ve never had wine generate this effect before. I took a sip of the Syrah and my palate came alive. In the next moment…my Third Eye popped open. It was truly a visceral response, and I pronounced it aloud.

France_Jo-1

Photo: Jo Elliott.

I asked some of the travelers for their input, and comparison between the two wineries if they wished.

Patricia Potts: Les Tuiles Bleues felt more natural and intimate. I loved the way the animals lived in harmony. It was a reflection of the real world. Not perfectly groomed like the other winery but perfectly imperfect. I felt the indwelling spirit there. 

Share Gilbert: The winery belonged to her father… to pass his love of the earth and passion of making wine to his daughter…[It] was reflected in the wine. The flavors were pure, unadulterated and delicious.  The farm felt comfortable and welcoming. 

Jo Elliott: Les Tuiles Bleues had a feeling of family, animals and easiness, as opposed to the far more structured and orderly feeling of the other vineyard with its formal medieval gardens. It was this feeling of being a family business and the fact that the wines were totally natural and organic that I liked.

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Photo: Patricia Potts.

Our final delight was the detour we took on our way to the van. Over in the barnyard we met the geese and watched Céline feed grapes to Sidonie, Adélaïde and Amélie. They talked a lot.

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Photo: Patricia Potts.

We all bought wine but none of it made its way into our suitcases home.  For my part, I wish they were right around the corner. But it gives me a good excuse to return…as I will in May 2020 sponsoring another spiritual travel journey in Southern France.

France_Jo-2

Photo: Jo Elliott.

Les Tuiles Bleues is a treasure. Such vignerons magnifiques are increasingly harder to find. It’s all the sweat and love that only those living within the spirit of the land, giving great care and attention, who can produce the kind of alchemy responsible for popping open my Third Eye. I’m convinced of that and its personality.

Categories: Honoring the Earth, Sacred Reciprocity, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Heroic Journey of Maya Spiritual Leader Xun Calixto

Imagine you live in a rustic, tiny village and have barely ventured beyond the next town. Few westerners can imagine confining themselves to a small radius within the region of their homes. But in many parts of the world, it’s normal for any number of reasons. Now imagine if you were invited to travel beyond the borders that are familiar to you…all the way into another country? Would you go? Your answer will be telling as to the filter with which you experience the world. It’s usual to have at least some questions or trepidation about venturing into the Unknown. But would you let it hold you back? Or would you instead leap at the chance?

Don Xun

Totik Xun laying an altar in his home. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

I’ve known Totik* Xun Calixto for about ten years. He’s an important fixture during my Maya spiritual travel program when we visit his home in a misty hamlet above the Maya village of San Juan Chamula in the Chiapas highlands of Mexico. Xun came to his calling later in life, enduring a process that involved a number of hardships (not unusual for those sought out for that kind of sacred responsibility). He holds a private ceremony for us according to Tzotzil Maya traditions. Xun retains spiritual responsibilities within his community and is also revered as a healer. In his tradition, he listens to the blood by pulsing the wrist, and is able to determine the cause of any malady – spiritual, mental

Don Xun

Listening to the blood. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

or physical. The transmission he receives determines the coding – size, color and number of candles and specific accompanying prayers – of the curing ritual he does before his altar. Xun is quite forthcoming in describing to us what he’s doing and why from within his traditions, an approach that describes things in metaphorical fashion, often otherworldly. Sometimes a stretch to understand from a strictly western reference. But the curing isn’t for the mind’s understanding anyway, which can certainly get in the way if someone is too attached to intellectual knowledge.

This year’s Maya journey could be thought of as a pilgrimage. It took us through southern Guatemala, over the Mexican border to the Chiapas highlands and then down to the rainforest lowlands. I wanted to sponsor Xun on the Guatemala portion so he could experience and share traditions with Maya cousins. But I didn’t really know if he would consider going. It required him to travel on his own by bus, a long trip from his home all the way to our starting point in Guatemala City. Air travel was out of the question. I shouldn’t have wondered though. Xun was over the moon at the invitation.

Xun-1

Pure enjoyment. Photo credit: Bekki Davis.

It sometimes happens that, when any of us decide to take that leap outside our comfort zone, there are tests…as if to say…are you sure? Travel required a passport, which turned out to be a several months’ long, challenging process of back and forth travel to the large city of Tuxtla Gutierrez because Xun had no birth certificate. Without on-the-ground liaisons to accompany him there would have been a different outcome, and I’m in their debt. Just shy of two months prior to our launch, he finally had passport in hand. It was nail-biting time for me on the day of his anticipated arrival at our lodging in Guatemala City. The long ride required changes along the way, perhaps daunting for one who hadn’t traveled. When the front door sounded that night, I finally exhaled. Then took in the light of his ear-to-ear grin and added my own to his.

XunGC

Pure absorption, textile museum in Guatemala City. Photo credit: Bekki Davis.

 

XunSpinning

An invitation to spin wool in San Juan La Laguna. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

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Maximón. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

It’s a safe bet to say that Xun’s experience was one of bewonderment. I don’t recall ever seeing an adult be so open, just taking things in at every turn. A good role model for any of us. I never saw him rejecting anything unfamiliar but simply accepting, an appreciation of difference.

One of the most touching moments for me was when we were in the Tz’utujil Maya village of Santiago Atitlan and visited Maximón. Known as Rilaj Mam, Beloved Grandfather or Venerable Ancestor, Maximón is a trickster diety and protector, disguised in effigy, who may be petitioned through prayer and offerings of alcohol, money or tobacco, and interventions by his attending curandero. This tradition only exists in several towns in western Guatemala. Thus, unknown to Xun. Yet when we entered the small ceremonial house, Xun immediately dropped to his knees and began to pray before Maximón. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such an outpouring. In his own dialect, he chanted. Soon tears were springing from Xun’s eyes as he gestured, taking in all present, asking for blessings and healings for everyone. It was sincere and humble. He was present, no show for effect. It wasn’t long before my own eyes began to feel wet with emotion.

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Xun (2nd from right) in the home of Maximón. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

It’s impossible to orchestrate each person’s journey and I wouldn’t want to. Each has their own reasons for setting out on such a venture into the Unknown, even if not consciously known to themselves. Openings, difficulties and beauty occur. Resolve and resolutions integrate as they will over time, a part of the spiritual path.

I am very much looking forward to seeing Toltik Xun again next year, in expectancy for what these travels have come to mean for him. It was a real honor and blessing to have him accompany us.

✥✥✥

*Toltik means Spiritual Father, a title of reverence in the Tzotzil Maya dialect.

 

 

Categories: Gratitude, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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