Guest Post by Deanna Fry, Circle Member & Mentor
Dappled sunlight dances across the forest floor. The lacey shadows of Western Red Cedar boughs play with fern fronds, both blown by the light breeze. Silhouettes so similar, so intricate, so exquisite; like fine hand-crocheted doilies. The damp coolness close to the earth rises as I choose a spot and kneel to sit down.
The deep red hue of the cedar roots, strong and protruding from the ground, contrast with the soft, green mosses that abound. The soil’s moisture greets my fingers tips as I lower myself to the blanket I have placed here on the earth. Inhaling the fragrance and freshness of the rustling forest, I close my eyes to better hear the soft gurgle of the small stream flowing behind me.
Exhaling, I begin to relax, and receive the infinite ‘Beauty of Creation’ that surrounds me. Taking time, I allow the sensations to penetrate deeply through the many layers of myself, right down to my core. Welcoming that familiar sense of calm, peace, and oneness that comes in places like this, I give thanks once again for the many Elemental Connections I am experiencing. The resonance when life meets life and surrenders into that Unity. Yes, this is the perfect spot!
I unpack the tools I have been given, excited and ready for the creative adventure I am about to embark on: two small discs of brilliant water colour paints, my water bottle, a clear plastic cup, a pencil, a skinny black sharpie marker, some paper towel, folded newsprint, more than several pieces of 5 x 7 water colour paper, and a blindfold. I arrange everything within easy reach and begin to follow the instructions, tying the blindfold into place over my eyes. The resulting darkness heightens my senses as I work through several of the preliminary assigned tasks with the pencil and sharpie marker, using my non-dominant hand. Awkward at first, I become more comfortable with the vulnerability of being in the dark, and of using only my left hand. I relax and surrender even more to the process.
Then it comes time to use the colourful round paint palettes. This is something it seems I have always wanted to try, and I am in a place I have yearned to visit since the late 1970’s. It is July 2013, and I am sitting in a forest on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, about to paint with water colours. I am attending ‘True Expressions’, a five-day Zen Buddhist retreat hosted by Peter Levitt at the Salt Spring Island Centre for Yoga. This is the afternoon ‘creative expression’ activity on Day 3, and I could not be more excited or grateful.
The fingers on my left-hand dip into the cup of water and find one of the paint palettes. It feels slippery and strange. My fingers move about, and then make their way to the fresh piece of water colour paper. I begin to gently dab what I imagine are colours on to its surface. Back to the water, then the paint, and again to the paper. Over and over. So wonderful, another piece of paper, the other palette, different pressures, textures and strokes. I become lost in the delicious depth and beauty of this amazing sensory and creative forest experience.
I become lost in the delicious depth and beauty of this amazing sensory and creative forest experience.
The bell to summon us back rings and I keep going, just one more page. The second bell sounds and I resign myself to stopping, so I may rejoin the group I know will be gathering in a circle on the nearby lawn. Dipping my fingers in the water one last time, I wipe them with the paper towel and remove the blindfold to behold my glorious creations. My heart drops, I lose my breath, and I am dumbfounded by what I see. Brown mush!
How could an experience so glorious as this have resulted in such ugly, plain, horrible pictures of brown mush!?!? Devasted, I gather everything up and return to the group. I am late. They are already paired off sharing excitedly about their experiences. I walk slowly around the circle surveying the marvelous works of art they have created. I choose not to show mine to anyone and burst into tears once back in my room. I leave my creations out to dry before heading down for dinner, feeling dejected.
The food here is outstanding, as is the company, especially after spending our mornings in silence together. The topic of our afternoon art session comes up at our table and I recount my experience to those sitting nearby. They assure me it couldn’t be so bad, that I am being too hard on myself. Someone encourages me to go get the pieces after dinner, and we sit down to consider them together.
They look a little different under the soft lamp light; dried, and not quite as dark, brown or mushy. She points out the subtleties in shape and colour and I begin to see what she means. Here there is quite a patch of orange, and there blue, running into purple, and then brown. I take out the fine tipped marker and begin to outline the patches of colour I am starting to see. The result is dramatic and intriguing. I keep outlining all the subtle shapes and colours I find. In fact, I can’t stop, and stay up late into the night guided by the beauty of what I am now creating … out of this afternoon’s disappointing brown mush.
My efforts continue the next day outdoors at a picnic table during our first break. The colours and shapes are even more distinct and pleasing in the bright sunshine. Giddy with delight as I work, I am compelled to keep outlining until all my pieces are done at the end of the day. I realize how quickly and harshly I had judged the products of my immersive ‘creative expression’ experience the previous afternoon. How I had allowed my mind/ego to invalidate the process because the product didn’t live up to my expectations. I am filled with compassion for myself, and a growing understanding and appreciation of varying perspectives on the ‘Creation of Beauty’.
I decide to find some scissors and cut my favourite design into small rectangles, so I may offer them as gifts to everyone at our Closing Circle the next day. I write, ‘You are one of ONE!’ on the back, a refrain we have been tuning into all week. When it is my turn, I share this story as the small pieces of my creation are received around the circle. “So beautiful,” I hear someone say.
I still carry that tiny card in my wallet. It reminds me that I am part of All That Is, and that whatever I create from this place of love and unity is ‘beauty-full’.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” we are taught. Young children, living in the abundant presence of the moment, paint, draw, sing and dance with purity and freedom. As we get older, we become more critical and self-conscious. To the point where most adolescents and adults are so inhibited by self-criticism that we claim we cannot do these things. This is so wrong; heart-inspired creative self-expression has become a lost art in our culture of judgement, materialism and infinite progress. Beauty is most often something we strive to acquire from outside ourselves; seldom satisfied for long, and in constant pursuit of the next dose.
As we get older, we become more critical and self-conscious.
Whether it is an item purchased, images on a screen, or the music we listen to, we attribute the ability to create beauty to professional artists. We stop ourselves from experiencing the process of creation from within. Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder; it first resides in the heart of the Creator. And we are all Creators at heart. It is our minds that have gotten in the way…and social dictates.
The Western religious paradigms of patriarchal monotheism, the Fall, Original Sin, separation, and the duality of good and evil have also disempowered us as creator beings. They set the stage for the advancement of the few at the expense of the many. By finding our way back to the childhood innocence within, and to the Elemental Connections we share with Nature, and others like ourselves, we begin to realign with the pervasive universal forces outside the minds of men.
After seven years, I recently took the watercolour paints and paper out again – while staying with friends at a cottage on a beach of the incredibly beautiful Georgian Bay. It was fall, and a few of us were already engaged online in weaving the Inspiration for our upcoming ‘Way of the Circle’ Heart Wood Gathering at Northern Edge Algonquin. Right hand, eyes open, with a brush this time, I looked out at the water and the sky, and allowed myself to paint intuitively. Then, after my pieces were dry, I outlined the myriad of shapes and colours I had created, for hours.
The experience was so immersive, so glorious and satisfying. The Beauty of Creation had once again inspired me toward the Creation of Beauty. And the results became a visual representation of the ‘unseen networks of support’ we were feeling and discussing as integral to our upcoming retreat. These networks exist beyond the mind and the collective conditioning of church, state, science and popular culture. We need only to be open to perceiving them through our senses, hearts and intuition. Eventually I cut my creations into small rectangles, taped them to magnets, wrote ‘Unseen Networks’ on the back, and gave them as gifts to everyone at the Closing Circle of our Heart Wood Retreat in October. Reminders of how much exists outside of our thinking.
There are so many unseen networks to support us at this unprecedented time on Earth. I have found them in many places over the years, often through my affinity to connecting with the life-giving elements of Water, Fire, Earth and Air. Like coming home, I have found loving support: in the BC forest among the cedar shadows and fern fronds, with fellow participants in a community of spirit, in aspects of myself previously hidden or unknown, through the extensive root and mycelial networks that nourish the trees and all manners of life on the planet, in momentary encounters with plants and wild animals, in the clouds, stars and our celestial family members, in the mesmerizing sparkle when sun or moon light meets water, in the flames of a fire or candle, in the guidance of Ancestors, Elders and other spirit helpers, and the Rainbow Bridges that connect us through time and space.
There are so many unseen networks to support us at this unprecedented time on Earth.
But most of all, for me, it is about our Elemental Connections with Mother Earth herself. We are a microcosm within a macrocosm, where the reciprocity of giving and receiving demonstrates our Oneness. And when we surrender to the Beauty of Creation, we become a Creation of Beauty. We become an integral part of the unseen networks of support. Welcome back home dear one of ONE!
Home Practice Invitation
Invitation #1: Painting
Why not take out or buy some painting supplies, a thin tipped marker and try some intuitive creating yourself? It could be blindfolded, with the fingertips of your non-dominant hand, or with eyes open and a paintbrush in your dominant hand. The idea is to paint what you feel, see, hear, smell, taste and sense intuitively … without trying to make it look a certain way, and without judgement. After it dries, spend some time outlining with the marker. Again, not through planning and thinking – but rather by hovering, softening your focus, and allowing yourself to be guided otherwise. When you have gathered your materials, you may want to find an inspiring place in, or with a view of, Nature … or start inside with the centering activity below.
Invitation #2: Centering and Creating
Find a private, comfortable, quiet place to sit and gently be with yourself for a while. Once settled, take some time to root into the ground and rise to the sky. Then greet and welcome all seven directions. Take several deep, cleansing breaths and feel yourself expand. Invite all your senses to open, and your awareness in the present moment to become clear.
Recall a time when you were in a place where you connected deeply with Nature. What did it look like, feel like, smell like, taste like, sound like? Allow yourself to create from this place of inspiration by drawing, writing, dancing, making music, or any other form of self expression.
Invitation #3: Centering and Imagining
If you don’t feel called to create in an embodied way, follow the instructions from, #2 above and then imagine what it might have been like to express your experience of this place creatively at the time you were there? Might you have felt the urge to dance, write, draw or paint? To hear and sing a new song rising from within? Allow your imagination free reign as you picture yourself creating in this beautiful moment. Check in again with all your senses until the visualization ceases naturally, and you feel complete. Finally, express gratitude for this place and consider whether there might be something you would like to do or create now to represent your experiences there.
Beauty Muse – Painting in Communion with Nature, a book written by Lisa Lipsett, the artist who led the water colour activity on Salt Spring Island.
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