Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The meaning of snow in a dream

When I had snow in a dream, I used to think it represented my relationships with my family.  Cold and difficult to move through.  But maybe snow in a dream was about my family trying to relate to me. Covered over with stuff that requires extra care to navigate.  I no longer think this meaning of snow is a good match to my experience of family here on Cortes Island.

I have been reading a new book by Leonard Mlodinow titled Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior.  Just as the Journey Oracle card images connect apparently unrelated ideas, events, objects and understandings in order to allow my unconscious mind to free-associate meaning in an oracle card reading, so does Mlodinow say all our unconscious process mostly invents and invests meaning where we already expect to find it. So if I expect my family to be a cold weight in my memories, then there they are, breaking the twigs of my self confidence.

But wait!  I have a human and other-than-human family here on the island that are like the sparkle of transforming, melting snow.  The snow that holds a branch of life quiet and covered until suddenly its force is released in a shower of light. What a wonderful new meaning in my unconscious mind for snow: snow in a dream means the quiet moment before release into movement.

And the forest thrives on the snowmelt, like a time-release covering of nourishing crystal water.  Just as I thrive on discovering that I can change the meaning of symbols in my unconscious, and in so doing, I change my dreams, and when this happens, I change my life.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What is impermanence in life and art?

I went for a walk today to look for images for a new painting.  As I moved through my neighborhood forest, that borders a small cemetery, I thought about impermanence in life and in art. I have just finished a great book by Donna Tartt titled The Goldfinch.  The main character comments often about how art works go on beyond us, like a long distance runner that passes through our attention, but whose end of the race is far beyond our time and often even our culture.  So I was thinking about the impermanence of paint on paper, and life in physical form, and yet how art is immortality made real.

I noticed how last night's rain left water sparkles on bushes, but the image lacks both a central focus, and seems too obvious in its symbolism of the tangled foreground and dark recess beyond.

The path along the back of the cemetery has visual interest and balance between the vertical and horizontal elements, plus the large rock gives the eye a place to rest...but there is no tension between the concept impermanence and the image.

This old piece of perhaps logging equipment left to rust away in a corner of the cemetery has potential with some careful cropping so the "arrow" dominates.  The chain and wire fence and rotting wood all have symbolic meaning but now the concept is too visible, and the visual elements become only illustrations of it.  I prefer the relationship between concept and image in my paintings to be more like my reading the Journey Oracle cards--where interpretation is not based on fact so much as on intuition, symbol, synchronicity and analogy.

Some images are not really to inspire a painting filled with meaning about the impermanence of life and art, so much as they are a visual residue of a moments's emotion.  The broken pot, the accidental juxtaposition of words from the headstone, the poem written on stone.  As I walked on I was thinking that of course this combination of objects, feelings, and action is perhaps the most true experience of impermanence.

As I came back along the road I took a quick shot of the ferns because I loved the curving shapes, textures, and colors.  Now as I look at the image I am intrigued.  The complexity of detail is balanced by the large dark and light areas that give shape to the confusion.  The layers of concept are interesting: frail and substantial life, light and shadow, growing and cutting down...with the whole visual image washed over by a brightness that almost feels like cake icing.  And if the painted surface is large, more than 2 ' by 3 ' in size, then the shamanic teaching that everything that is, is alive and has meaning, may shine through with its own lesson about impermanence in life and art.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ask Nature for shamanic lessons

When I was first asking Nature to show me Her shamanic ways while I was teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design--doing what I thought of as "going to Nature School"--a student gave me a small twist of dried plant and said it was sweetgrass.  I searched in wild places until I found what I thought was more.  I braided and dried it, prayed to it and with it, hoarded its preciousness in my untutored ceremonies until all that remained was a small twist. 

One day I shyly unwrapped it for a First Nations friend who said he had never seen swamp wire grass treated so reverently and asked, “Is this plant a spirit ally of yours?”

At first I felt ashamed for my ignorance, and then I felt shamed before the plant.  Did not the sunshine and rain fall on one as much as on the other?  How could I now devalue what I had so honoured?

“Yes,” I said, “this is my teacher.”  This has been my relationship with nature ever since.  No one creature is better than another.  Each one is the perfect teacher of its unique qualities. 

This mentoring of attention, valuing, discipline and the training of vision without judgment became the shamanic lessons that led me to the creation of the Journey Oracle cards.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Achieving self-mastery

My birthday was several days ago, and at the beginning of my year I like to do a reading using the Destiny Cards, by Robert Lee Camp.  Even though I have created an Oracle deck and refer to Journey Oracle readings often, I also like to receive the perspective of other systems of intuitive wisdom. I noticed that this year my "Pluto" card is the King of Spades. Pluto represents what I want to accomplish or learn to deal with this year that will likely be challenging in some way.  The Spade King is the highest card in the deck and represents self-mastery in all its many guises.

Years ago I read about 4 powers, and found myself thinking about these in relation to achieving self-mastery.  Because I have worked to master painting with acrylics for my entire adult life, I decided to explore these powers in four paintings, each one representing a path to achieving self-mastery.

This painting titled Altar is to me an example of the power to know.  Photodependent realism means to me that every nuance of surface and shadow is included in the process of painting.  Nothing is left out and nothing is given more than its original significance.  Self-mastery begins with knowing that is as complete as possible for its own sake, grounded in the value of humble observation.

This work titled Farewell to the Desert epitomizes for me the power to act.   Much of the drama of the image is held in the tension between the image and the title of the painting.  There are stories here that glimmer with possibilities and variations.  My story contained in the painting is indeed the act of leaving the desert and my days as a student of Martin Prechtel.  Self-mastery is action and also the remembering and honouring of the history of the many actions that deliver one to this present moment.

This work titled Taking Mother Out to Tea is the result of the power to dare.   A peculiar symbol-filled view of a awkwardly alien landscape requires taking a chance.  Self-mastery means being responsible for one's choices and their outcomes, which is using true power and authority.

The fourth power is the power to keep silence. To my understanding this painting titled Touching Trees is an image of the silence we are asked to keep in the presence of great mystery.  It is not my place as the artist to explain away the power of the forms that present themselves.   The source image of the bottom two thirds of the painting was in a small wood chip I carried in my pocket while spending a year touching tree stumps in a clear cut with a fingerprint of red ochre.  Self-mastery is the ability to value the wisdom of humility; to understand that everything alive has meaning.

There is a second silence held with self-mastery.  This is the power to keep silence in the presence of knowledge, experience and perceptions that cannot be spoken.  Perhaps the greatest self-mastery of all is the willingness to let the self disappear in the service of the Holy.